Troubleshooting Computer Hardware & Software

  • As basic as it sounds, restart­ing your com­put­er can resolve many prob­lems. Try it before you change any­thing.
  • What­ev­er is going on, doc­u­ment it care­ful­ly. Write down any the exact text of any error mes­sages, as well as exact­ly what you were doing when the error occurred. It’s very dif­fi­cult to help some­one who sim­ply says, “It won’t work” or even “Word keeps crash­ing.” The more infor­ma­tion you can gath­er or pro­vide, the more eas­i­ly it can be fixed. If Word crash­es every time you try to access a doc­u­ment on the LAN, that’s impor­tant infor­ma­tion. The prob­lem could be with with your net­work access, not with Word. When any­thing crash­es on a Win­dows sys­tem, you will usu­al­ly see a dia­log box that has a lit­tle “More” but­ton — hit it and write down the infor­ma­tion (I know, it’s long). Some­times the crash is actu­al­ly in Win­dows (if it says user.exe or kernel.dll or some­thing about insuf­fi­cient GDI resources, it’s often a Win­dows prob­lem) rather than in the appli­ca­tion you were using.
  • Think the prob­lem through log­i­cal­ly. Use what­ev­er you do know. For instance, if you can check email, but you can’t send email, the prob­lem is prob­a­bly in the out­go­ing mail set­tings of your email pro­gram. If you can send email, but you can’t get email, check your incom­ing mail set­tings and your pass­word for the account (on some sys­tems you can send email with­out a valid pass­word, but you can’t receive it). If you just installed a new ver­sion of the dri­vers for your video card, and when you reboot­ed Win­dows you could­n’t get a dis­play, it is unlike­ly that you have a hard­ware prob­lem. Reboot using your emer­gency boot disk (you have a cur­rent one, right?), get into Win­dows in safe mode, and change the video dri­ver back to some­thing gener­ic. Don’t go pulling the video card out of the com­put­er or wor­ry about replac­ing it or the mon­i­tor. (Yes, you laugh — but I heard a sup­posed sup­port per­son tell some­one to do that once.)
  • Be method­i­cal. Do not change three things at once. Try one thing at a time. If the first does­n’t fix your prob­lem, set it back the way it was and try the next thing. Hey, you doc­u­ment­ed what you changed, right, so it isn’t hard to put it back that way, is it?
  • If the prob­lem is with one par­tic­u­lar pro­gram, remove it. See if the com­put­er behaves prop­er­ly with­out it. Then restart the com­put­er and install the lat­est ver­sion of that pro­gram. Keep every­thing else closed. Does it still crash?
  • There is a time to walk away and take a break. Total­ly away. Out of the build­ing. Get food. Walk the dog. Play steal the flag with your kids. Just do some­thing that is 100% unre­lat­ed to the prob­lem you’re work­ing on, because you can push so hard that you’ll get frus­trat­ed and burnt out and do some­thing rash. Be good to your­self, clear your mind, and relax. The prob­lem will still be there when you’re ready to go at it again, and you might well have come up with a fresh approach in the mean­time.
  • Know when to get help. Every­one has to do that some­times.
  • Think log­i­cal­ly about who to call for help. If you can’t get your email on your new com­put­er, it might seem rea­son­able to call up the com­put­er com­pa­ny. But what sort of mes­sage did you get when you tried to get your email? Did you read that care­ful­ly? Did it indi­cate that the prob­lem was with your user name or pass­word? Then you should real­ly be call­ing who­ev­er pro­vides your email, prob­a­bly your inter­net ser­vice provider, because the com­put­er com­pa­ny can’t help you fix that pass­word. They can just tell you where to put the prop­er pass­word and user­name in when you have them.

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