Here’s a little guide I thought I’d write to help with general Windows troubleshooting. It’s a first step that you can take yourself before looking for help on the internet or paying hard earned money at your local computer store (where they might follow this guide anyways).
First - Did you change anything recently?
This question includes
- Installing/Uninstalling software
- Installing/Uninstalling hardware (this includes USB keys, Cameras, Printers, etc)
- Changing Windows options
- Changing software options
and more. Anything that you can think of that wasn’t simply using the computer, write it down. If you do get to the point where you ask for help from someone, they’ll probably want to know that information.
If you did change something, try to change it back. If you installed new software or hardware, try uninstalling it. If that solves the problem, check the manufacturer’s website for any information on incompatibilities with your system (usually found under Support or Drivers/Information).
Second - Are there any Error Messages/Codes?
One of the most annoying problems that Tech Support receives from customers is that the customer gets an error message from their computer, but they click “OK” before writing down what the error is.
That being said, if you are getting an error message, write it down! After that, Google is your friend. Simply visit www.google.com and enter the error code or message. Chances are that you’re not the first person in the world to have encountered this problem, and the answer is out there waiting for you. If you can’t find the solution yourself, whoever’s going to help you will want to know this information as well.
Third - Have you checked for Malware on your system?
Malware is any type of software that is designed to cause harm to your system. This includes viruses, worms, trojans, adware, spyware, and more.
A good first step is to update your anti-virus definitions, and run your anti-virus scanner (you do have an anti-virus program, right?). If your anti-virus program doesn’t find anything, visit http://housecall.trendmicro.com, and run the online scanner there. If that doesn’t find anything, then the good news is that you probably don’t have a virus.
Next thing to do is get the trio of anti-spyware software.
- Ad-Aware Personal SE
- Spybot Search&Destry
- Microsoft Anti-Spyware
Install each of these programs and update them. Then use each one to scan your system for spyware. If the program tells you to clean/fix problems, do it.
Fourth - Do you have the latest drivers for your system?
Check the manufacturer’s website for any driver updates since you bought your computer. Outdated drivers may have bugs in them that cause strange behaviour. The most important drivers to consider are Chipset drivers and Video drivers.
If you have a video card made by ATI or nVidia, check those websites for the latest version of the Catalyst (ATI) or ForceWare (nVidia) drivers. In all likelihood, you’ll find the most up-to-date drivers there.
After all that, you now have to get into the nitty-gritty. It sounds scary, but it’s not that bad.
You have to figure out what part of your system is causing the error. If the problem always comes up when you’re typing in Microsoft Word, there’s no point in checking your hardware, right?
These are probably the easiest to solve, since the error is coming from one place.
Try uninstalling the software, and then reinstalling it. If the software has an option to “Repair”, ignore it. I’ve often found that this doesn’t help all that much. Check the manufacturer’s website for support information, updates, and/or patches.
If you’re getting problems with Explorer crashing or similar problems that happen with all software, it could be a Windows problem. Go and grab your Windows CD and put it in your CD/DVD drive. If the Windows Setup screen appears, click Exit.
Access the Run command by clicking Start->Run and typing in cmd. A command prompt window will appear (remember the good ol’ days of DOS?). Type in sfc /scannow and wait. This will check your system files against those from the CD to make sure that all the correct system files are in place. Once this has finished, reboot your system.
If you’re getting errors about memory not being able to be read or written at 0xXXXXXXXX (a bunch of numbers and letters), then you’ve probably got a problem with your RAM. Download Memtest86+ (http://www.memtest.org/) and burn it to a CD. Boot your computer from the CD and run Memtest86+. You’ll probably want to leave this running overnight as it takes a while to check for all possible memory errors.
Another good test to run is Prime95 (http://www.mersenne.org/freesoft.htm). Install the software and run the program. Go to Options->Torture Test and select Blend. Let the program run for a good long while (overnight if possible). If you wake up and the computer is still chugging away, then it’s a good sign.
The Blue Screen of Death
Ah… the memories of Windows 95/98/Me…
I’ve only had one BSOD on my computers since switching to Windows XP. Most of these are caused by driver problems or hardware errors. Hopefully, if you’ve followed the guide to this point, you shouldn’t be experiencing any BSODs.
If your computer is restarting with a flash of a blue screen, go right-click on My Computer and select Properties. Under the Advanced tab, click on the Settings button under Startup and Recovery. Here, uncheck the box beside Automatically Restart.
The next time your computer gets a BSOD, it won’t automatically restart, and you’ll get a chance to write down the STOP code that you receive. Write down the full line under Technical Information - something similar to
Technical information: *** STOP: 0x0000004e (0x00000099, 0x00000000, 0x00000000, 0x00000000)
Some extra points (Thanks Takeshi):
- searching using the short notation STOP 0x0A is often the same as the long notation 0x0000000A thus making it simpler;
- if the message contains a specific message like DRIVER_IRQ... then this immediately gives a clue about a driver problem;
- if the message lists a specific file, xxx.sys then it's well worth Googling this too.
- most of the BSODs are hardware related but some are due to software conflicts
Those are at least the basics of my troubleshooting. If you’ve done all that, go ahead and ask your friends or local computer gurus for help.
The most important thing to remember - Google is your friend!
If anyone has any suggestions, let me know.
This post has been edited by Zxian: 05 November 2005 - 10:48 PM