My Computer Died. What Now?!

Computer problems are frustrating. Becoming frustrated during the troubleshooting process will only lead to more problems. So the important thing to do first is take a deep breath, think happy thoughts, and plan out your course of action. Have tools ready, restore disks and drivers. This will save you time and patience.

Before you begin, jot down notes about any recent activity you have taken: Have there been any software changes? Did you recently add any new hardware? Did you unplug the PC and move it across the room?

If there have been no changes to the PC or its environment, then its time to pay attention to precisely what happens, if anything, when the PC boots.

Your first clues will be given during the POWER ON SELF TEST (POST). A successful test results in a short, single beep. This means that the BIOS received no errors from the hardware initializing during the boot process. If there was a problem, the BIOS would issue a beep code specific to the BIOS manufacturer that describes the nature of the problem. It is important to know what BIOS is on your motherboard. You can determine this by watching the name that flashes in the upper left corner during boot, or by opening the case open and looking for the BIOS chip. Common BIOS manufacturers are AMI BIOS, AWARD and PHOENIX. An example of an Award BIOS beep code for a video card problem would be one long beep followed by two short beeps.

If you get no beep code, and everything seems to be spinning inside the case, then the main culprit is probably the processor.

Memory – Memory errors could generate a “201: Memory Error” message on the screen. Any error codes beginning with 2 indicate a memory error.

Keyboard – a problem with the keyboard will result in a “301: Keyboard Failure” error message followed by a short beep. System may halt or may ignore the error.

Floppy – any problems will result in a “601: Floppy Disk” error code appearing on the screen.

The Power Supply, or PSU
another main culprit in hardware failures. The Power Supply is the first connection to the outside world and can be damaged by unclean power, brown-outs, spikes and blackouts. The PSU will appear to function normally, but may actually be damaged. If you're lucky nothing will happen when you press the power button. Nothing at all. But usually the lights will flash, the hard drives will spin, and you will immediately eliminate the PSU because it appears to be functioning correctly. Thus, you are taken down a frustrating road of trial and error while attempting to find the source of the hardware problem.

Since power supplies are relatively inexpensive and by far the easiest piece of hardware to swap out. We recommend replacing this first if there are no POST codes or hints to any other device being bad.

Software Troubleshooting

If the PC passes the POST, the hard drive begins to load the operating system into memory. Software no w takes over and will sometimes generate errors at this point. If you cannot boot properly at this point in the game, then you should first see if you can get into SAFE MODE. Safe Mode is accomplished by repeatedly pressing the F8 key during this critical moment . A new menu will appear with boot options. You can choose Safe Mode here or a Step by Step Confirmation that will ask you to confirm when loading devices and drivers. Keep your note pad handy because if you choose this option, you will need to know exactly what failed.

If, by luck, you are able to get into Windows, you can then run Scandisk (or CHKDSK) to determine if something is wrong with the file structure. Or you can navigate to the Device Manager in the Control Panel (under SYSTEM) to get a visual on any devices that have errors or or conflicts. You can disable hardware here or update drivers.

In Conclusion, Whatever the problem is, it's important to take a step back and look at the situation. Is it hardware or software? Did I change anything? Do I have a backup? Maybe I should simply reformat and reinstall? Or perhaps I have a virus or Trojan?

Routinely backup your important documents [read our blog on backing up], do basic preventive maintenance on the fans and keyboard with compress air, use an Uninterruptible Power Source for your power supply, routinely update your virus definitions, and defrag monthly. These are a few of the basic techniques that will keep things running smooth.

No More Windows XP?

Not quite yet, at least not completely. Microsoft has laid to rest rumors that it might reconsider pulling Windows XP from retail shelves and from most PC makers next Monday. Large manufacturer's like Dell have already announced their intentions to charge a $50 penalty per computer than comes loaded with XP instead of Vista! Quite a price to pay when it actually cost less than Vista..

Microsoft's Bill Veghte wrote to customers reiterating that June 30 would be the deadline when Microsoft halts shipments of boxed copies to retailers and stops licensing the operating system directly to OEMs. However, Veghte did leave the door open to all computer makers, even the largest, who want to continue selling new PCs with XP pre-installed. 'Additionally, Systems Builders (sometimes referred to as "local OEMs"), may continue to purchase Windows XP through Authorized Distributors through January 31, 2009,' he wrote in the letter. 'All OEMs, including major OEMs, have this option,' said Veghte.

At the same time, Microsoft confirmed Windows 7 would ship in January 2010. Who, if they have not already, would install Vista now?

Does Your Computer Run Like a Snail?

As a working PC tech, this is one of the most common issues that I face day in and day out. Although it happens to varying degrees, everyone at some point realizes that their computer is not performing like it used to. To some the slowdown process is gradual, to the point where they hardly notice until someone else uses their computer and complains. For others, it happens very quickly so that there is a sudden and unmistakable loss of usability. Whichever is the case for you, here are some general guidelines to help you in diagnosing the cause (or causes) of the slowdown.

The first thing I suspect when someone tells me that their PC is running slowly is that they may be dealing with adware or spyware. Typically, a computer infected with this type of malware will display other symptoms as well. Odd behavior such as pop-up ads, your internet home page changing, sudden closing of your browser or even system crashes are all symptomatic of a Spyware/adware infestation. Whether or not you are experiencing any of these additional symptoms, you should scan your PC with a good antivirus/antispyware program. My personal favorite is AVG Internet Security and I highly recommend it. Whichever program you use though, just make sure it has a good reputation.

Another common source of system slowdowns is a highly fragmented hard disk. Disk fragmentation happens over a period of time and may happen so gradually that you don't even realize how poorly your computer is performing. Fragmentation usually doesn't cause other symptoms, so if your PC is otherwise acting OK then fragmentation may be the problem. Windows has a built in defrag utility, however it will not defragment especially large files and some system files such as your Paging File (sometimes called the Swap File) or the Master File Table. To run at peak performance you should use a third party defrag utility such as Diskeeper. Third party programs 'one-up' the built in Windows utility because they have the advanced features that allow you to defrag the entire drive.

Lastly, another reason many PC's start to lose performance over time is that too many programs are running in the background. This happens over time because software developers assume that you want to run their application every time you're at your computer. So for your "convenience" they helpfully add their app to the startup group. That's fine except by the time you've added 30 or 40 new programs to your computer, you've got 30 or 40 programs starting up automatically every time you boot your computer. With all these programs hogging precious resources from your system, there isn't much left to do the things that you want to do.

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