How to identify some of the most common computer problems?

There are various computer problems that can occur, both with computers and with laptops. Certainly, it is hard to give a recipe of diagnosing all types of problems, but still we can narrow it down significantly. This is the first part in a series on this same topic, because there are many different things that can happen.

Laptop is too hot after a bit of usage

Now, it often happens that your laptop is getting really hot in certain circumstances. Before assuming this is a problem, ask yourself the following questions:

1)    Am I using the laptop in bed, on a sheet/cover/pillow/legs? If the answer is yes, then you should know that it is very risky to use a laptop that way as it will wear it down faster, and then again you can sometimes lose sight of the fact that the ventilation holes are covered without even knowing. Before thinking further of what the problem is, if you still need to use that laptop in bed, buy an external fan first and see what happens if you use that.

2)    Are you in a hot area? Are you outside, using the laptop in sunlight during summer? Sure enough, the sun has enough power to increase the temperature and, in extreme cases, burn your laptop down. Unfortunately, that is not dramatic and can really happen. So, if you are using your laptop outside, you need to watch out for the weather. Is it rainy? You need covering. Is it too hot? You need to stay under an umbrella or somewhere where the laptop is not under direct sun exposure.

3)    Am I using the laptop in normal conditions, normal temperatures? If the answer is yes, then you may have a problem of objects covering the ventilation partially or completely. Check that first before assuming that it’s a problem.
Now, if you double checked and you still know it’s weird and too hot, check about your activity on the laptop. Gaming means higher temperatures, and so does photo editing, video rendering, software programming in tools such as Visual Studio, and much more. So, make sure that you know that your activity doesn’t influence the actual temperature.
If you still say it’s too hot, and you’ve checked every possible way, the problem could also be the make and model of the laptop. For example, some Lenovo laptops are operating on higher temperatures by default, especially if you compare them with Asus for example. Hence, you need to know what the “normal” is for your laptop make and model.

If you’re down this far and you’re not like “thanks, I solved my problem” then you’re probably dealing with dust/dirt inside your fans, ventilating holes and surrounding areas, or even the fact that your thermal paste is not doing its job anymore. So then the solution is to take it apart and clean it, and also apply new thermal paste wherever needed. Yes, not any thermal paste works on the CPU, and not any quantity is fine to be applied. A correct application is also mandatory. So, if you are not completely certain that you know what you’re doing – leave it for professionals to deal with it.

Computer starts slowly

This is a tough one. Why does your computer or laptop start slowly? What can be causing it and how? The answer is complicated as well, because it’s a lot of factors working together.
The first thing you need to know is what the configuration is – hardware – or in other words, what resources does your machine have? Then, you need to know whether those resources satisfy the official Minimum Requirements for the operating system of your choice. Of course, having the minimum requirements met doesn’t guarantee flawless or quality operation – it just guarantees that it will be able to run. The Recommended Configuration – if available – is what you need to measure things with. The same applies for Windows and Linux distributions as well, but also the other operating systems out there – because, besides Mac, Windows and Linux people do use other operating systems.

The next problem is the hard disk or the solid state drive (HDD or SSD). Now, both of these have a life span or a given MTBF (mean time before failure), which is longer for any HDD and shorter for any SSD as of now. Then, of course, hard disks will slowly fail over time – which means that once you purchased a laptop or computer, the hard disk runs smoothly. Now, depending on the usage – whether you’re a power user or simply a home user – it will slowly “die” away, and speed and performance will fade away gradually. Sure enough, there are great tools out there to check the health of any HDD or SSD. My recommendation is using Hard Disk Sentinel, because it’s simple, can be used for free if you don’t want to purchase it already and then it really explains what’s going on.

This is an example running on a laptop that has the Windows 10 operating system on an SSD and then another HDD for data storage. Performance and health is measured with this software, but you can check temperatures as well in real time!
Then, for hard disk, there is the so-called fragmentation. Fragmentation, to be simply put, means that you have a book, but its pages are separated from each other and scattered all around your room – and you need to read that book now. So, that’s why the operating system may sometimes take a long time before opening a certain program or file.
Another factor is startup – which programs start together with your system? In Windows systems, you can access the Run command (typically Win+R on keyboard) and type in “msconfig”.

This is the main screen of System Configuration (msconfig.exe) in Windows 10. Then you need to go to “Startup”.

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You need to open Task Manager, but in Windows 7 for example programs that are started with the operating system are shown here already.

So, as you can see, the programs that will start up with the operating system are shown, and you can right-click on any item and choose disable. The same in Windows 7 is a checkbox, no right-click.
Then, last but not least, other factors that would make your computer start up slowly:

1.    Windows is filled with clutter/virus/malware/spyware/adware. You need to clean it up or reinstall a clean version!

2.    Your hard disk has bad sectors or your SSD is slowly failing you. In this case, you need an urgent backup and physically replacing the unit with a new one.

3.    Windows boot has been wrecked by a virus/program/wrong setting. Sometimes only a clean install can fix it.

Check the above, and also check the follow-up on this article for more on the common computer problems!

Cluttered and stuck Windows 7 (may apply to versions before 7 as well)

Oftentimes, there are issues with Windows 7 or even the versions before, such as Vista, XP and the classics (Win 95, Win 98, Win 2000, etc.). But what happens actually? Whose fault is it? How does the problem appear and, in many instances, is there a better solution than a clean reinstall of everything? If you need a clean reinstall, why do you need it?

We’ll now try to address all these problems. Let’s check a few of the simplest things that can cause things to run slowly or to start up slower than your CPU and available RAM would allow. For instance, by hitting Ctrl+Alt+Del in Windows 7, you get the following view:

It’s under the performance tab. Now, in this test, we have 86 processes eating up 74% of RAM, and we’re speaking about a total of 6 GB RAM! Interestingly and oddly enough, even Windows 7 could run at the speed it does on the test computer, but having a weaker and older CPU with 2 GB of RAM. So then, what is causing this? The background processes launched by a multitude of different applications that are installed can explain what is happening and why it is happening. For example, you may think or assume that only 4-5 processes should be running in the background. That is not accurate, because Windows alone has dozens and it depends on various system settings to know which ones you could stop or even completely deactivate. However, beware of the wise-guy phenomenon! Just because you know how to kill and stop Windows 7 processes doesn’t mean you won’t mess up your PC/Laptop and render it useless in a matter of minutes.

So, I strongly encourage you all to do your homework – check what is really going on, why those processes are running, and which depends on which and what impacts it would have if you stopped it. Let’s check this issue deeper now.

First off, these are the processes. Let’s not mess with them yet, but check services as well. It’s even services that can eat up RAM and you won’t even know it necessarily! Click on the services tab and then click on the Services button to get a detailed view.

While the applications on each computer are different, you will see something very similar to the following screen:

Here, you can sort the existing services and then it’s better to check the ones running, thus having “Started” under their status. Those are the ones that require immediate attention, while the rest can be checked after you’ve made sure that only needed services are running and nothing else.
It’s a long list, and you need to understand each item. For example, check this:

The Adobe Acrobat Update Service, while useful, can be stopped. How to make sure you’re still up to date? It’s as simple as checking manually once per week, as there’s very low chances for Adobe Acrobat Reader / Professional to release updates every 3rd day.

Now, you can go further, because the Startup Type is set to automatic. Let’s say we want to know fully disable it, so we go to Properties.

Now you see the service is stopped, and then you see a dropdown with startup types. What settings does it allow? See the list:

Now, what I’m going to change it into is the “Disabled” option. After choosing disabled, we need to click on Apply and then on OK.

As of now, the services list will show you that the Adobe Update was disabled. This means that even if it was just using 10 MB of RAM, it won’t use any from now. Considering that you may have 60 or 300 services based on your configuration, each part counts!
I want to show you that not every Service is to mess with, for example:

Yes, I can’t say that you won’t hear YouTube anymore if you stop Windows Audio, but I can’t say that you will hear it either! You may hear it in a lower quality, or stop hearing it, or even experience a blue screen or other software/hardware failure that lasts until you re-enable this service. So my recommendation is that you should really study each Windows service hard, in order to know if it’s safe to be ever disabled or not.

Now, another thing to check is which processes use up the most of your free RAM?

As you can see on the screenshot above, Mozilla Firefox with a few tabs open eats a few GB of RAM all alone! So, whether this means that browsers are not memory-usage efficient, or some websites are very poorly coded or heavily loaded with scripts, or simply it’s better to use 1-2 tabs at the same time – I’ll leave it for you to decide. One thing is certain: if you know that this is happening with Firefox, Chrome or any other browser of your choice, it’s better to close some tabs or maybe all of them and then reopen only with the tabs you really need right now. The rest? You can easily navigate through pages later as needed, especially if you’ve bookmarked the pages that you intend on visiting frequently.

Another part to check is the famous System Configuration. Type Win+R or search in the start menu:

You will now be able to work the magic:

You can disable services starting up from here as well, check here at the Services tab:

If you click on Hide all Microsoft services, you’ll only have what you’ve added on top of it, for example:

This is useful to double-check your settings and make sure everything is as planned.
The startup tab then controls which applications to start with the PC – which you need to check and see if you need them all, or only a part. Ideally, that list should have less than 10 items, out of which 2 should be the Antivirus and the Firewall.

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