It has been a long day and it is time to settle in front of the computer and play a nice relaxing game of solitaire. But wait! What is this? The computer has gone nuts! Error messages, and beeping, and self-destruct messages - well maybe not those messages! Before freaking out take a deep breath and follow some basic troubleshooting steps to determine the source of the problem.
The first step in troubleshooting system issues is to determine if anything in the system has changed which could be the cause of system problems. These are the question to ask when troubleshooting:
Has any new hardware or software been installed?
In many instances, the addition of new hardware or software can cause problems with a system due to conflicts with older hardware or software. If any new hardware or software has been installed, there is a good chance that this is the culprit behind the problems. Either remove the offender or contact the manufacturer to determine how to solve the issue. Also, be aware that is can occur from the installation of service packs or software patches not just new software.
Have any new web sites been visited or software been downloaded from the Internet?
So you heard about a great new site that offers the coolest screen savers that you just have to have! The screen saver is downloaded, installed and looking pretty funky but your computer is also acting funky. There is a good chance that along with the screen saver, some form of adware or spyware has been installed that is causing the system issues.
Were any new emails received recently?
Years ago, it would only be suspicious emails that a computer user would need to worry about but now every email can be a possible issue. The best way to protect any email is by the use of virus scanning software but this is not a 100% guarantee. If you have opened an email or attachment and notice that the computer is not working properly there is a chance that the email contained unwanted content.
The next step in troubleshooting system a system is to use some helpful utilities to detect and remove the causes of the system problems.
Add/Remove Programs (Start | Control Panel | Add/Remove Programs)
This utility lists most of the programs that are installed on the system. This list is useful for determining if there is any rogue software, such as adware, installed on the system. In addition, the listing will displays the last time a software package was used allowing to identify software that is not used and can be removed from the system.
System Information (Start | Programs | Accessories | System Tools | System Information)
This program provides a wealth of information about a computer. When first opened the program displays the System Summary page which includes a listing of the following information about the system:
- Operating System Name and Version
- System Name
- System Manufacturer
- System Model
- System Type
- BIOS Version
- Windows Directory
- System Directory
- Boot Device
- User Name
- Time Zone
- Total Physical Memory
- Available Physical Memory
- Total Virtual Memory
- Available Virtual Memory
- Page File Space
- Page File
Though the above information may not directly help in resolving a technical issue chances are that if technical support is contacted this information will be necessary.
Several sections of the System Information utility are useful when attempting to diagnose system issues. If the problem appears to be software related then it is important to determine what software and processes are running on the system. This can help determine which component is causing the issue.
To obtain a listing of software and processes that are running select Software Environment from in the System Information utility then look under Running Tasks and Startup Programs.
- Running Tasks provides a listing of all tasks and software currently running on the system and where the program is located.
- Startup programs displays a listing of all the software and utilities that start when the system is started.
The System Information utility is also useful when trying to resolve hardware issues on the system. From within the utility select Hardware Resources | Conflicts/Sharing or Components | Problem Devices to help troubleshoot hardware problems.
In addition to the above utilities, it is strongly advised that the system have virus scanning software and adware/spyware software installed. Though these utilities cannot stop all infections from occurring it can greatly reduce the chances of a machine being infected – not to mention will be the only line of defense to clean the system if it is infected!
If the above troubleshooting tips do not help determine the cause of system, problems there are a few other avenues to explore.
- If the software or hardware is under warranty, contact the manufacturer for help.
- There is a good chance someone has already solved the same issue. Search for the problem on the Internet or post to discussion boards for help.