Troubleshooting Computer Problems

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Every computer is a system that has a processor, hard drive, memory and other components for communication, i.e. audio chip, graphics chip, network chip. The main component of every computer is the processor. And while may seem that the processor is the most important component, in reality all the components are equally important. Here is why it is like this. Imagine that something wrong happened to the graphics chip and it does not show any image on the computer screen. Well, you can’t use the laptop because it does not work properly anymore. The same will happen if the processor were to fail. The computer would be faulty. 

Unfortunately, in a computer there is no inbuilt redundancy. The only exceptions are the hard drive and memory on servers. 

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How the computer works

If we would were to simplify how a computer works, it would be as follows. The processor takes data from the hard drive and processes it in the memory in the way in which the operating system and the programs tell it to. After that the processor writes it back to the hard drive or keeps it in the memory for further instructions. The result it can show with the help of a graphics chip on the screen or send it to the internet using the network chip. It also can play sound with the help of the audio chip. 

What Fails Frequently?

Most likely to fail is the hard drive. Today this is almost replaced with new media called the solid-state drive, but there are billions of hard drives still out there.

The most frequent fault is defective disk surface. Some so-called sectors become unreadable but they can be remapped as hard drives have some sectors in a reserve for this purpose. However, in general if bad sectors start to appear this hard drive is doomed. 

Another failing part or a part that needs attention to be precise is the processor heat sink. It has so-called heat sink paste which dries out after a couple of years and becomes a heat isolator.

The operating system itself is not perfect. It receives attacks from viruses and as a result you’ll have a slow system, or in a worst-case scenario encrypted files by some ransomware. 

What are Diagnostic Tools

I do not recommend using universal diagnostic tools that claim to diagnose your computer fully and then fix the faults. It does not work that way. What I recommend is using specialized diagnostic tools that are free and very effective. 

For hard drive - GSmartControl.

For memory (RAM) - MemTest.

For the logic board to check temperatures - CPUZ Hardware Monitor. 

For the processor and graphics chip - OCCT

Some bootable CDs have a bunch of good tools but it is hard to work with them unless you know what you are doing. Everything is buried deep down and there is no user guide or any sort of explanation of what to do with it. 

You can use also UBCD to have some great free tools, but it is also difficult to use for a novice.

Replacement Parts

If you want to repair a computer and need a part eBay is probably the best place to look. 

Warranty

Before you do any replacements or open your laptop or desktop computer I recommend checking whether is the warranty is already expired or not. Some computer retail places offer an extended warranty. For example, John Lewis in the UK offer a two-year warranty for laptops. Also, Apple extended their warranty period up to four years because of a failing NVidia graphics chip. 

How to Disassemble a Laptop 

If you have decided to replace memory or clean the processor heat sink there is good news. Almost all modern laptops have easy access to the processor heat sink, memory or hard drive. 

If you can’t access the heat sink then I recommend checking disassembly guides for your laptop model online. Here it is impossible to have all the laptops described. In general all laptops are getting easier and easier to disassemble. However, laptops made by Apple are always difficult to disassemble, especially the old ones, which are just a nightmare. 

Screen Replacement

It is not so difficult to replace a screen on a laptop. You will most likely need a Philips screwdriver and a plastic card (a credit card would do). On some laptop models you need to unscrew a few screws that hold the bezel, then remove it. The screen is usually fitted to the hinges with screws that you need to unscrew. On some models nuts that are fused into the lid become loose or brake. As such, you need to be careful when unscrewing those screws holding the LCD screen and holding hinges. 

Hard Drive Replacement

On modern laptops the hard drive is easy to replace. It is usually located underneath the laptop or it is slid in from the side. If GSmartControl is showing red horizontal lines and you decided not to risk and replace the hard drive, there are a few other options. You can get the same type new hard drive with bigger storage capacity or a solid-state drive (SSD) that will have less storage but will be blazing fast, or you can get a solid-state hard drive (SSHD) which is a hybrid one and has a usual disk and also has a small amount of memory (SSD). Solid-state hard drives are an inexpensive option that offer higher speed. 

Memory Replacement or Upgrade

If you have checked with MemTest and found out that the memory is actually faulty in your laptop, I suggest replacing it yourself. It is easy to do on modern laptops. The memory is usually located underneath the laptop behind a plastic lid. On older laptops it is sometimes located underneath the keyboard. 

How to choose a good memory. You can’t upgrade memory on laptop or desktop computer to a newer type. So, if you have DDR2 you can’t install DDR3. Actually, there would be not that much difference between DDR2 and DDR3. But the difference between DDR1 and DDR2 is huge; DDR2 is much faster. In general computers with DDR2 are still good machines, whereas those with DDR1 are already antiques. So, if you have a slow laptop there is a chance it is because you have an older RAM, DDR1. 

Here are a few tips on how to upgrade the memory. Make sure the modules that you buy match in speed and memory amount. It’s better to buy modules from one source to make sure it is the perfect matching pair. 

Buy memory modules from a well-known brand like Samsung, Crucial, and Kingston. Usually the memory comes with a lifetime warranty. 

What about Viruses

In general it is safe to browse online and receive email if you know where not to go and how to keep your email off of your computer. I do not use any antivirus but I browse with Firefox internet browser which has some security and protection features. My laptop never connects directly to the Internet and is connected to a wireless router that has an internet firewall installed. 

It very much depends on what type of virus infecting the system. One type of a virus will just sit there and wait to attack websites. Another type is designed to encrypt files and will later ask for money in return for the encryption key. 

I do not use mobile Internet that is offered by mobile phone companies. The problem with this is that it connects the computer directly to the Internet and there is no or a very weak firewall. 

Network, Router, Modems and Wireless Internet

Home networks are easy to troubleshoot because they usually consist of an internet (ADSL) modem, wireless router and connected to that router, computers. Laptops usually connect to the wireless router wirelessly and desktop computers usually connect to it with a cable. Cable connections usually give less trouble. Wireless connections are often slower but lately are catching up for speed with cabled connections. 

Each router and other network devices have some sort of light. When everything is ok and all devices are connected properly those lights are usually green and blinking. The blinking means that there is communication between devices. Usually lights are green, but sometimes they can be amber or red. However, when everything is working properly those lights should blink from time to time. 

Cleaning

It is very important to keep your computer clean. Dust usually causes overheating problems on laptops and desktop computer. The place to look to clean is the laptop and desktop cooling fan. Because they are always on, they gather a lot of dust inside the heat sink. It is easy to clean a heat sink on a desktop computer because it has easy access to all the components. You need to unscrew a side cover and the four screws that hold the heat sink in the place. 

With laptops it is a little different. How easy it is to clean largely depends on the laptop’s model. Each laptop model from the same manufacturer is different, so on some models the heat sink is under a big cover underneath the laptop. 

Before You Troubleshoot Your Computer

Make sure that it is not connected with USB or FireWire cable to another device. For example, if you have a faulty external hard drive and you connect it to a laptop you would notice how slow the laptop becomes. And if you try to access the data without knowing that you are using a faulty drive you would wonder why the laptop can’t read the data from the external hard drive. 

Troubleshooting Windows 10

The only one problem I encounter with Windows 10 is that on laptops with small storage space, like on cloudbooks, netbooks, etc., there will be a problem with Windows 10 update. In other words, the update will fail and it will not tell you why. 

Here is how to get around this problem. Click start and type cleanup and hit enter. This will calculate for some time space that it can make free. Scroll down slightly and make sure Temporary Files is checked. Click OK and confirm file deletion. It will most likely make just enough space for Windows 10 to finish its updates. 

Windows XP

This is good operating system. However, it is now very outdated and some programs will not run on it no matter what you do. If you encounter this problem please find an older version of the software and it will most likely run. 

Battery Life

How long the battery holds depends on what device you are using. For example, a wireless card will noticeably reduce the time that a battery can hold. 

The laptop screen is probably the number-one battery power consumer. 

Some gaming laptops have a lower battery time because they have a dedicated graphics processor that is also power thirsty. 

Upgrades

Every laptop and desktop computer can be upgraded. Usually what can be upgraded is the memory and hard drive. Sometimes we upgrade the processor, but on some laptops this is a very hard task. 

Usually we double the memory amount and upgrade the hard drive to a solid-state drive. Sometimes people upgrade the wireless card, but I don’t think this is necessary. 

Laptop Troubleshooting Check List

Download this check list as a pdf document

•    Processor thermal paste replaced with a fresh one,

•    The processor is not overheating,

•    The cooling fan is clean and working properly,

•    Windows 10 Transparency Effect disabled,

•    There is enough memory (for Windows 10 4GB is a minimum amount of memory),

•    GSmartControl shows no red lines in Attributes and Error Log tabs,

•    Laptop passes MemTest test with no red lines,

•    The laptop is checked with antivirus; there are no viruses.

•    Temperatures are checked with CPUZ HWMonitor, and there are none above 70 degree Celsius,

•    Laptop passes PassMark BurnIn Test with no errors,

•    Laptop passes 10 min OCCT both the processor and graphics card tests,

•    The hardware is not too old to run Windows10. Some old graphics cards will struggle with Windows 10,

•    The motherboard is clean from dust; there is no damage to it,

•    The media card slot is working,

•    The computer has DDR2 memory or newer (DDR1 memory is too old to run Windows 10 efficiently),

•    If Windows 10 is too slow, consider installing Windows 7,

•    No drivers are missing in the Devices section. Download drivers from the manufacturer’s web site or use Driver Easy to get missing drivers.

•    If it is still slow set Power Plan to Balanced or High Performance,

•    Video card drivers installed,

•    A fresh copy of Windows installed,

•    USB ports are not damaged and working,

•    BIOS is set to defaults,

•    Memory modules are identical: of the same memory amount, speed and from the same manufacturer,

•    If working with big media files consider upgrading to SSD drive,

•    The power adapter is powerful enough (4.5A is enough for most laptops),

•    The power adapter is new. If it is used one consider replacing it with a new one,

Desktop Computer Troubleshooting Check List

Download this list as a pdf document

•    Processor thermal paste replaced with a fresh one,

•    The processor is not overheating,

•    The cooling fan is clean and working properly,

•    Windows 10 Transparency Effect disabled,

•    There is enough memory (for Windows 10 4GB is a minimum amount of memory),

•    GSmartControl shows no red lines in Attributes and Error Log tabs,

•    The computer passes the MemTest test with no red lines,

•    There are no visible puffy capacitors on the motherboard,

•    The computer is checked with antivirus; there are no viruses.

•    Temperatures are checked with CPUZ HWMonitor, and there are none above 70 degree Celsius,

•    The computer passes the PassMark BurnIn Test with no errors,

•     The computer passes 10 min OCCT both the processor and graphics card tests,

•    The hardware is not too old to run Windows10. Some old graphics cards will struggle with Windows 10,

•    The chassis fan is clean and working,

•    The motherboard is clean from dust; there is no damage to it,

•    The power supply is clean; a fan inside is clean and working,

•    The power supply is tested with PSU tester,

•    The media card slot is working,

•    All cables inside are connected properly,

•    The power supply has enough power, (gaming graphics cards need more power),

•    The computer has DDR2 memory or newer (DDR1 memory is too old to run Windows 10 efficiently),

•    If Windows 10 is too slow, consider installing Windows 7,

•    No drivers are missing in the Devices section. Download drivers from the manufacturer’s web site or use Driver Easy to get missing drivers.

•    If it is still slow set Power Plan to Balanced or High Performance,

•    Video card drivers installed,

•    A fresh copy of Windows installed,

•    A network card is taken out (if there is one), some faulty network cards slow down the PC,

•    Graphics card is properly seated,

•    USB ports are not damaged and working,

•    BIOS is set to defaults,

•    Memory modules are identical: of the same memory amount, speed and from the same manufacturer,

•    The computer is not connected to any network,

•    If working with big media files consider upgrading to SSD drive,

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