Do you know what to do if your screen goes blank? What to do if your PC or Laptop beeps at startup? Or what if you can’t seem to close an application, or can’t hear any sound from your speakers? Whenever you have a problem with your computer, don’t panic! There are many basic troubleshooting techniques you can use to fix issues like this. In this lesson, we’ll show you some simple things to try when troubleshooting, as well as how to solve common problems you may encounter.
General tips to keep in mind
There are various things that could cause problems with your computer. No matter what’s causing the issue, troubleshooting will always be a process of trial and error using a process of elimination —in some cases, you may need to use several different approaches before you can find a solution; other problems may be easy to fix. We recommend starting by using the following tips.
- Write down your steps: Once you start troubleshooting, you may want to write down each step you take. This way, you’ll be able to remember exactly what you’ve done and can avoid repeating the same mistakes. If you end up asking other people for help, it will be much easier if they know exactly what you’ve tried already.
- Take notes about error messages: If your computer gives you an error message, be sure to write down as much information as possible. You may be able to use this information later to find out if other people are having the same error.
- Always check the cables: If you’re having trouble with a specific piece of computer hardware, such as your monitor or keyboard, an easy first step is to check all related cables to make sure they’re properly connected.
- Restart the computer: When all else fails, restarting the computer is a good thing to try. This can solve a lot of basic issues you may experience with your computer.
Using the process of elimination
If you’re having an issue with your computer, you may be able to find out what’s wrong using the process of elimination. This means you’ll make a list of things that could be causing the problem and then test them out one by one to eliminate them. Once you’ve identified the source of your computer issue, it will be easier to find a solution.
Let’s say you’re trying to print out invitations for a Wedding, but the printer won’t print. You have some ideas about what could be causing this, so you go through them one by one to see if you can eliminate any possible causes.
First, you check the printer to see that it’s plugged in and switched on. It is, so that’s not the issue. Next, you check to make sure the printer’s ink cartridge still has ink and that there is paper loaded in the paper tray. Things look good in both cases, so you know the issue has nothing to do with ink or paper.
Now you want to make sure the printer and computer are communicating correctly. If you recently downloaded an update to your operating system, it might interfere with the printer. But you know there haven’t been any recent updates and the printer was working yesterday, so you’ll have to look elsewhere.
You check the printer’s USB cord and find that it’s not plugged in. You must have unplugged it accidentally when you plugged something else into the computer earlier. Once you plug in the USB cord, the printer starts working again. It looks like this printer issue is solved!
This is just one example of an issue you might encounter while using a computer. In the rest of this lesson, we’ll talk about other common computer problems and some ways to solve them.
Problem: The Computer Won’t Turn On …
This is a common problem with some interesting solutions. Often overlooked, some solutions can be the most simple.
There are two main symptoms to take into account before going too far into the repair: Is it the monitor or the computer that isn’t turning on? It would be a shame to start opening up a computer system to test for bad parts if it’s the monitor that’s the problem.
If the tower turns on, and the monitor does not, the first step should be the most obvious, but is often overlooked — check if it’s plugged in. I can’t tell you how many times I have come across a “frozen computer” that was simply a case of an unplugged mouse or keyboard.
Always take a second to try the most obvious things first. It could save you a lot of time.
Assuming everything is plugged in and properly seated, try plugging in another monitor to see if that one works; don’t forget to try different power outlets as well, it isn’t uncommon to blow a fuse, especially with more power hungry systems.
These steps should help you figure out if it’s the monitor itself, the cable, a wall fuse, or possibly the graphics card/motherboard. If the second monitor works, you are likely dealing with a bad monitor. Unfortunately, in this case, there isn’t much you can do. Most of the time, it ends up cheaper to replace the monitor altogether than to try to get it repaired.
If the monitor seems to work, but the tower doesn’t turn on, the first thing you’ll want to check is the power supply. A good test of this is to see if any lights turn on in the front or back of the tower. If they don’t, the power supply unit (PSU) may be at fault. Some PSUs have a dedicated power switch, if it does, ensure that it is switched on.
Next, you can open up your tower and look at the motherboard, most motherboards have a small LED (light) built in to show if power is running to the motherboard. If you can’t find any evidence that power is properly running to the motherboard, you can either try using a PSU tester or a replacement PSU.
It is not uncommon for PSUs to go out, so this is most likely the problem and a replacement is in order. Never try to open a PSU and try to repair it yourself, this is extremely dangerous; with replacement PSUs being so inexpensive, it really isn’t worth the risk.
Problem: The Computer Turns On, But Still Doesn’t Work …
If you are able to see lights turn on and power is obviously flowing to the computer system and monitor, there may be a component issue. Whenever I deal with a computer “not turning on” or freezing up, I always like to follow a path running from the wall, to the monitor, and finally to the computer itself.
One thing to note when you first turn on the computer and the power comes on, is do you hear or see anything? Many times, the computer’s Power-On Self-Test (POST) will let you know what’s going on with the machine. If you hear any beeps, that is a great way to figure out what the issue is.
There are a variety of POST “beep codes” listed on the CompTIA A+ exam:
- Steady, short beeps — The power supply may be bad, this is a good one. We tested the power supply to see if it turned things on, but what if it’s not turning everything on? Or if the voltages are wrong? This POST test helps us narrow the cause down to the power supply. A replacement would usually be necessary.
- Long continuous beep tone — Memory failure. This is usually what you hear when one or both of your Random-Access Memory (RAM) sticks goes bad. If there is more than one stick installed, try taking one out first to see if the computer boots, if it does not, try with the other one. Usually, this will tell you which stick has gone bad, and you can replace or upgrade accordingly. If there is only one stick installed, you will need to replace or upgrade to fix the problem.
- Steady, long beeps — This is another POST code that noted a bad power supply. The difference is, while the “steady, short beeps” code notes that the power supply may be bad, this POST code notes that is has gone bad.
- No Beep — Not hearing a beep is also listed on the exam, and notes the most obvious resolution. Just like we went over in the beginning of the article, the A+ exam will expect you to know that no beep can mean that the power supply is not plugged in, or not turned on. This can also be a sign of the power supply being completely dead.
- No beep (system turns on and runs fine) — This one is a bit elusive, but if you make sure to check every once in a while, you can save yourself some troubleshooting later on. If the system works fine, but does not beep once when you turn the machine on, your “beeper” may have actually died out. Under normal circumstances, most computer systems will beep one short beep.
- One long, two short beeps — This POST code means that there has been a video card failure. Your first action should be to try reseating the video card, if any. This can sometimes solve the problem altogether as some computer systems, especially those that are often connected to projectors, will move the VGA/DVI/Video cable so often, that it will actually slowly unplug the video card enough to stop working. If reseating the video card does not work, it may need to be replaced. Again, once you get into smaller, more complex components, the resolution becomes cheaper to replace than to repair.
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