Basic Computer Troubleshooting Tips

I have compiled some basic computer troubleshooting tips for you. If you have any queries or problems that need us to troubleshoot for you, feel free to contact us.

BASIC COMPUTER TROUBLESHOOTING

  1. The system’s fan is whining loudly.
  2. Your PC spontaneously reboots.
  3. Your Optical Drive (CD or DVD) Runs Slower and Slower….
  4. I have four pieces of RAM installed and I’m pretty sure that at least one is bad. What’s the best way to test RAM for errors?
  5. Sometimes when I play games for a long time, my computer just randomly crashes to the desktop.
  6. My new Athlon XP system is telling me that my brand-new Athlon XP 3200+ is only Athlon 2200+!
  7. My optical drive has suddenly slowed to a crawl reading discs, and it refuses to read some discs.
  8. I just bought a new PC, and now my PocketPC refuses to connect via the USB port.
  9. PC BUILDING TROUBLESHOOTING

  10. I just built a new machine and am experiencing totally random crashes. What are the possible culprits?
  11. I’m building a new PC and have the motherboard mounted inside the case. When I push the AGP card all the way down in the slot, the end of the metal tab on the slot cover hits the bottom of the case, preventing me from inserting the AGP edge connector all the way.
  12. HARD DRIVE TROUBLESHOOTING

  13. I just plugged in a brand-new hard drive but it’s not showing up in Windows XP.
  14. My system crashed, and when I rebooted, my RAID array was no longer working properly.

GENERAL TROUBLESHOOTING

The system’s fan is whining loudly.

Solution: A loud fan can be the result of a number of minor problems. The common cause is dirt. A dirty fan, clogged with dust, is highly inefficient and works harder to handle its cooling duties. As the fan struggles to cool the system, it produces the whirring sound. A quick cleaning should do the trick. If the fan is new and you’re still hearing a loud whirring, your problem may be "ambient heat." You need to operate your PC in a cool environment. Many PCs get louder as they get hotter, with the fans spinning faster to keep the system cool. Be certain your PC is clean and cool and you’ll run trouble-free.

Your PC spontaneously reboots.

Solution: A long-standing mystery solved! If rebooting occurs in a PC that you’ve just built, try re-seating your CPU’s heat sink. Make sure you’re using the proper thermal gel and spread it evenly between the heat sink and the processor. If inadequate amounts of gel have been applied or low-quality gel has been used, the system will reboot as the CPU heats up—and builds in the uneven "pockets" created by the uneven gel. Also: check to see if you’ve removed the protective sticker on the bottom of the heat sink (don’t laugh—it happens!). And by all means, make sure your motherboard supports the CPU you’re installing. If these steps check out and you’re still experiencing spontaneous reboots, your problem may be one of the following:

  • Overclocking: Unless you are an expert, else we do not recommend overclocking.
  • Memory Timing: Go into your BIOS and set your memory on "Auto" or at a more conservative setting and see if the reboot problem goes away.
  • Outdated BIOS: Make sure you have the latest BIOS for your board. You can determine if your CPU is supported by browsing the BIOS updates of the motherboard’s manufacturer. If you’re running a Pentium 4 Extreme Edition and notice that it’s only supported with the latest BIOS updates, you may have located the problem!
  • Inadequate Power: If you’ve made significant component upgrades—with the exception of the power supply—your power supply may be overstressed or failing due to heat or age.
  • Finally, if you’ve migrated your OS and other files from machine to machine to machine, it may be time for a clean install.

Your Optical Drive (CD or DVD) Runs Slower and Slower….

Solution: Again, the villain may be dirt, since optical drives rarely "slow down" on their own. Optical drives either work—or they don’t, so a mechanical problem is ruled out. What most likely has happened is that your dive has accumulated a layer of dirt or dust. Here’s the fix: You’ll need a can of "spray air" (available everywhere). Eject the disc tray and spray into the drive with short bursts—and be sure to spray at an angle so the dust will be expelled out of the drive. Do not spray continuously or turn the spray can upside down (doing so could introduce moisture into the drive. Repeat this process a few times, then try test the drive.

I have four pieces of RAM installed and I’m pretty sure that at least one is bad. What’s the best way to test RAM for errors?

Solution: Since you have four pieces of RAM, you can install just one DIMM in your motherboard at a time and run the machine until it crashes. This isn’t a completely reliable way to test RAM, though. As an alternative, download Memtest86 (www.memtest86.com) and create a bootable CD. Memtest86 does a fair job. It runs several test patterns through the RAM. If a piece of RAM passes these tests, swap it with another DIMM and continue your tests. Even better than Memtest86 is Ultra-X’s RAM Stress Test Pro 2, which is a self-booting diagnostic plug-in card. This card uses a comprehensive set of test patterns to assess your memory, and we’ve found that it finds bad pieces of RAM that other testers miss. Keep in mind that it may not actually be a stick of RAM that’s bad. The problem may in fact be a bad DIMM slot. If all four pieces of RAM pass the test, you may have to rerun them in each individual slot on your motherboard. Finally, your motherboard’s BIOS usually set RAM timing by reading the SPD setting on the module. If the SPDs are set too aggressively (we’ve seen this), it may cause problems. You should consider going into the BIOS and manually tweaking settings such as your CAS latency to a more conservative setting.

Sometimes when I play games for a long time, my computer just randomly crashes to the desktop.

Solution: Random crashes in games can be the result of a few different problems. Typically, it’s a heat issue, a driver issue, or a problem with the game. The first thing you should do is check for a patch for any of your games that are crashing. It seems like common sense, but frequently we receive complaints from people trying to run games that have been patched three or four times. Once you’ve updated your games, you need to update your video card and chipset drivers. Get your video card driver from the company that manufactured your card’s chipset, either ATI (www.ati.com) or nVidia (www.nvidia.com). You should also check for newer drivers for your motherboard’s chipset whenever you update your video card drivers. Outdated motherboard chipset drivers are one of the main causes of general system instability. If you’ve updated all your hardware, but are still having problems, you may have a heat issue. Open your case and look at your AGP card. Is there another card right below it? If there is, you should consider moving that card to another slot. A card directly below a high-end video card can disrupt airflow enough to cause overheating issues with today’s top-of-the-line video cards. If freeing the neighboring slot doesn’t alleviate your problem, try adding a fan that fits into one of your PCI slots and exhausts hot air from the bottom of your PC.

My new Athlon XP system is telling me that my brand-new Athlon XP 3200+ is only Athlon 2200+!

Solution: It sounds like your motherboard’s bus speed is set incorrectly. You see, you probably bought an Athlon XP 3200+ that runs on a 400MHz bus (which is actually a double-pumped 200Mhz bus). For the motherboard to recognize the CPU as a 3200+, the CPU has to run at 2.2GHz, or 2,200MHz. The CPU reaches that speed only if the motherboard is set to an 11 multiplier and with a 200MHz bus. So, 11×200=2200. If your motherboard’s frontside bus is set to run at 166MHz, the CPU would boot at 1833MHz. It’s no coincidence that this is the same speed at an Athlon XP 2200+. To correct this, reboot your machine and go into the BIOS by hitting DEL or F2 during boot. Look for the section that lets you change the bus speed. Hopefully we’re right and it’s set for 166MHz. Increase it to 400MHz, save the settings, reboot and you should have a 3200+.

My optical drive has suddenly slowed to a crawl reading discs, and it refuses to read some discs.

Solution: Optical drives usually don’t expire gradually; most simply stop working without so much as a death rattle. It’s much more likely you drive’s lens has accumulated a layer of dust.

Get yourself a can of compressed air at the local geek emporium, and eject the disc tray. Spray into the drive with quick, short bursts at an angle (so the dust is more likely to be expelled from the drive). Do not spray continuously or with the can upside down, because that could introduce moisture into the drive. Give the dust a minute to settle, and spray the innards again.

I just bought a new PC, and now my PocketPC refuses to connect via the USB port.

Solution: This problem occurs if you plug your PocketPC in before installing ActiveSync. Check the Device Manager by right-clicking My Computer, selecting Properties, clicking the Hardware tab, and then selecting Device Manager. If you see an Unknown Device entry, delete it by right-clicking it and selecting Uninstall. Restart you PC, install your PocketPCs drivers from the manufacturer’s disc, and plug it in again.

PC BUILDING TROUBLESHOOTING

I just built a new machine and am experiencing totally random crashes. What are the possible culprits?

Solution: Random crashes are always hard to diagnose, so let’s cover all the bases. The first area to check is your drivers. Make sure you have the latest drivers for all your hardware, especially the motherboard chipset drivers. You should also make sure you’ve downloaded all Windows Updates. Next, consider your power supply. If you’re running a midsize 300-watt PSU, and upgraded to a late model Pentium 4 CPU or Athlon FX, or are just running several hard drives and PCI add-in cards, you should upgrade your power supply to a 400 watt or thereabouts model. Inadequate power to your components can cause the entire system to lock up at worst, or just cause certain components to malfunction or stop working. The final consideration is cooling. Ideally, you should have a decent size fan in the lower front of your case sucking in cool air from the outside, and a large exhaust fan above your AGP card pull air out of the case.

I’m building a new PC and have the motherboard mounted inside the case. When I push the AGP card all the way down in the slot, the end of the metal tab on the slot cover hits the bottom of the case, preventing me from inserting the AGP edge connector all the way.

Solution: Even though every ATX motherboard and ATX case should be exactly the same dimensions, there are still small variances that can create problems when transplanting your hardware into a new environment. It’s fairly common for the video card to not quite fit, and when this happens the solution is to simply bend the end of the metal slot cover away from the board ever so slightly. This will afford it the extra millimeter or so of clearance the card needs to fit all the way down into the slot. But be careful!

HARD DRIVE TROUBLESHOOTING

I just plugged in a brand-new hard drive but it’s not showing up in Windows XP.

Solution: All brand-new hard drives are sold unformatted and thus don’t show up in Windows until they’ve gone through the formatting process. To get up and running, connect the drive, boot your PC, and at the Windows desktop right-click the My Computer icon and select Manage. Click Disk Management in the left-hand tree, and every drive connected to your system will show up. Simply right-click your new drive and select New Partition. Then follow the steps to get your drive up and running.

My system crashed, and when I rebooted, my RAID array was no longer working properly.

Solution: RAID arrays can stop functioning for several reasons, but it’s usually a case of a cable coming loose or something in the BIOS being reset. Serial ATA cables easily come out of their drives, so check them first. If everything is connected properly, you should also check to make sure that the ports your array is plugged into are set to "RAID" rather then "IDE.". Because these ports often double as either standard IDE ports or RAID ports, they must be set in the BIOS to one or the other. Be sure to check here first if your array suddenly disappears.

Is this Basic Computer Troubleshooting Guide useful to you? If you have any queries or problems that need us to troubleshoot for you, feel free to contact us.

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