how to troubleshoot a computer

Anyone who has not faced that black screen is visiting from Mars. It can get more intimidating with beeps, pings and error messages, king of which is “Shutting down- Fatal Error” or something equally ominous.No need to scramble for shelter. No call for panic. A computer works on logic, so you too have to revert to that to fix the issue. Often, the fix is simple, locating the problem not so easy. It is imperative to have a full backup of your computer. This is best accomplished with an online service that can be updated regularly. An external drive does the trick too but can pose problems. Different operating systems have different solutions as to how to troubleshoot a computer. Linux is not covered here and Mac to a slight level. We will restrict the discussion to Windows, though it is not very different for Macs except the key combinations. So let’s dive in.

How to Troubleshoot Your Computer?

A desktop computer offers a great advantage when it boils down to basic troubleshooting. It can be opened up, cleaned, aired, etc. Most often, the simple act of rebooting solves the misfire. But assuming this too returns a zero, we first turn to some house-cleaning. Most problems arise due to stuffing the system drive or c:\. This should be reserved for program files alone. When setting up, keep a second drive for storing stuff like photographs, documents, scans and what have you. Also, make and keep a recovery disc and a bootable disc in your toolkit for such emergencies.

So your optimal setup computer is stuttering. We will try to fix this using common troubleshooting techniques.

Run A Thorough Virus Scan

Any computer owner worth his bytes will have a paid anti-virus program running, be it Kaspersky, Semantic, 360 Total Security, or whatever. These are regularly updated, unlike the free versions which are of little use.

The first step to troubleshooting a computer is running a full scan which will bring to light any detected abnormalities being neutralized. Before running the program, check for any updates.

The problem in most cases is malware and spyware. These can creep into the computer through free software downloads

Update Your Software

Most updates are bug fixes basically. So updating software, your operating systems is a vital cog in the health of your computer. It is recommended that updates should be left on automatic so that the computer updates itself regularly when an update is made available. Manual updating is a poor option as one may forget or be unaware.

Cut Down On the Bloat

Another common cause of a computer slowing down and consequently tripping is cramming too many programs or storing all your documents on the system drive, c:\. This chokes the drive. Imagine a table on which many things are constantly dumped. It becomes nearly impossible for you to find a certain item from the muddle. This is what happens in a computer. It takes longer and longer to respond to commands as it searches for the data. You need to give drive C some breathing space.

  • The fix is simple. Create another drive and shift all documents there.
  • Uninstall all unwanted programs.
  • Defragment disc.

Test Your Wi-Fi Connection

Staying connected to the Internet is important. First of all, you will not miss out on updates. If the internet connection doesn’t work, check the WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup).

Operating System Reinstall

 You will need to take a full back-up before you reinstall. You can use an external drive but a better option is an on-line backup such as Mozy, or Box. But this option of reinstallation is seldom called for.

Common Issues to Solve When Troubleshooting A Computer

Power Button Will Not Start Computer

Check all power connections

  • Wall socket. Connect up an electrical device such as a lamp to verify power availability.
  • Adapter. Try swapping with an identical adapter and see if that works.
  • If the computer is connected to a ‘surge protector’, check it for proper functioning. Some have a reset button on them.

If nothing works, we have to assume the power button is defective.

An Application Is Running Slowly

  • First, quit the application.
  • Restart the application.
  • If still slowing down the computer, Update the application.
  • If no change, consider uninstalling and reinstalling the application.

An Application Is Frozen

  • To force quit an application, call up the Task Manager with Ctrl + Alt + Del and kill the offending application.

For Mac, go to Restart Finder. Press Command+Option+Esc. This opens the Force Quit Applications dialogue box. Select Finder and click on Relaunch.

  • Restart the computer.

All Programs On the Computer Run Slowly

  • Run a full virus scan.
  • Depopulate drive C.
  • Refragment drives.
  • Run disk cleaner.
  • If too many windows are open, close those which are not needed.

One of the most frequent causes is programs running in the background. Disable all TSRs Terminate-and-Stay-Resident). To do this, go to Task Manager (Ctrl+Alt+Delete), under the Startup tab you can see all applications running. You should disable those which are not needed.

If your anti-virus program is scanning, overall performance will slow down. Wait for the scan to complete, performance will appreciably improve.

Disk Cleaner does not clean up all temp files. This is best performed manually. Type %temp% in the search bar (Windows 10). In other versions, open Run and type. This opens the ‘temp’ folder. Open it and erase all the files in the temp folder. If any files are in use, you cannot delete them. They will be skipped.

The Computer Is Frozen

  • Sometimes your computer takes a hike and refuses to respond; it freezes. Your mouse is ineffective nor can you shut down running applications.
  • Head to the Task Manager and using the Ctrl+Del+Alt combination and under the processes tab, restart Windows Explorer. For Mac, go to Restart Finder. Press Command+Option+Esc. This opens the Force Quit Applications dialogue box. Select Finder and click on Relaunch.
  • Directly switching off the power in such situations is never recommended. Power surges can cause irreversible damage to components. But with no choice in this situation, press and hold down the power button for 5-10 seconds to shut down.
  • If the computer still does not shut down, as a last resort, unplug the computer from the wall outlet and remove the battery.

The Mouse or Keyboard Has Stopped Working

These are plug and play devices. All drivers are preloaded and as the name suggests, all you need to do is connect up and they will run.

  • If you are using a wired mouse, check connections, or change ports if available.
  • If it is a wired mouse you are using, high chances that the batteries have run down.

The Sound Isn’t Working

  • Check volume level
  • Check external speakers connected correctly.
  • Check for sound with headphones.
  • If no sound still, reinstall the audio codecs

The Screen Is Blank

  • The computer may be in sleep mode. Click the mouse to wake up.
  • The computer may not be on.
  • The monitor may not be connected or may be wrong.

All the above remedies address basic troubleshooting issues. The real problem could be much deeper. So let’s delve a bit deeper into the issue of hardware problems.

Solving Other Problems

Corrupted hard disk

The characteristic symptoms of a bad hard drive are:

  • When reading, copying, moving or deleting data, an error message is displayed.
  • Booting problems
  • Very slow operation of the computer
  • Error messages randomly popping up.
  • Repeated computer reboots.

Testing the Health of Your Computer

  1. Run the command ScanDisk or chkdsk to check if anything is physically wrong with the hard drive.
  2. Run Defragmenter to arrange the contents of the drive to make it run effectively.
  3. Sometimes you may receive an S.M.A.R.T. message.
  4. In such a case, Boot from the Windows CD, enter Recovery Console and give the command chkdsk /f to fix any hard drive errors.
  5. TestDisk Seagate Sea-Tools are other good utilities for repairing hard drive errors.
  6. Create an Ultimate Boot CD (UBCD). How to do this is beyond the scope here, but detailed tutorials are available online. It includes files needed to run diagnostic tests on the CPU (Central Processing Unit), RAM (Random Access Memory), hard drive, video card, and other key components.

Virus Hunting

A full virus scan should be run. Steer clear of free anti-virus software. Other than detecting viruses and gunning them down, they optimize boot-time, clean the disk and have other utilities bundled in.

Scan for Malware

Your malware and spyware are the sources of Trojans and other common viruses. The ant-virus program will inoculate your computer. Malwarebytes offers a free version that may be used to flush out the system. It comes highly recommended even if you have an anti-virus program installed.

Hardware Conflicts

Use the Windows Device Manager and you can readily see if any conflicts are being posed by the Hardware elements.

Windows Updates

Check for any pending Windows updates and run them.

Drivers Update

Drivers are required for almost all applications. Usually, they are built into the operating system. The Device Manager will point out if there is any driver inadequacy

Online search

For specific problems, the net is a treasure trove.

After making any of the changes or running the programs outlined, reboot your computer.

Some tips on Increasing overall performance.

  • Heat builds up in a computer. There is an inbuilt fan. You can check if it is running by placing your hand at the outlet.
  • Position your computer to maximize airflow and draw away the heat.
  • Dust is the death knell of computers. Clean yours regularly but gently.
  • Upgrade Memory. A rule-of-thumb is 2 GB for a 32-bit system, and 4 GB for 64-bit.
  • Hard drive upgrade
  • Increase or upgrade processor speed.

The above is mostly addressed to those in need of direction when your computer starts acting fickle and is hence a troubleshooting guide of sorts. The most common problems are so obviously solvable. Seeking redress through professional consultancy can be avoided. Also, as the owner of a computer, some literacy on your part as to at least the troubleshooting process for your computer is a must. Your computer is essentially your interface with the world; it is fast, instantaneous and important both for work and play. Invest some time to upgrade your proficiency. It’s well worth it.


Please enter your name here
Please enter your comment!