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Document Content:
Basic PC Troubleshooting Checklist

Checklist Overview:

This document provides an overview of how to troubleshoot basic computer problems. The four main areas that basic PC problems fall into are first described (in column one of shown tables) then proposed solutions are given (in column two of shown tables) to fix the problems.

A basic troubleshooting sequence checks four things in a fixed order: hardware, BIOS, operating system, and applications. Perhaps you already know what all of these items are, but just in case, let's review them.

Introduction:

The physical parts of the computer are known as hardware.

Hardware includes the monitor, the system case, the motherboard, the keyboard, the mouse, and so on. Any part that you can touch and see is a hardware component.

Hardware is just a heap of metal, plastic, silicon chips, and electrical circuits. It doesn't know how it should behave. For that instruction, it turns to software, which is the programming code.

Software

Software is stored on a disk (such as a hard disk, floppy, or CD) until it's needed, and then it's loaded into memory and executed.

Perhaps you see the catch-22 situation here: the software must run from memory, but memory is hardware and can't do anything until software commands it.

Firmware

This problem is circumvented by a special category of software called firmware. Firmware is software that's permanently stored on a hardware chip. Its name comes from the fact that it's not exactly hardware and not exactly software -- it's something in between the two. When the computer starts, a firmware chip called the BIOS is accessed. Its low-level startup instructions are read into memory and processed, making it possible for the operating system to load.

Software Levels

There are two levels of software: the operating system and the applications. Windows is the operating system on the vast majority of computers; other operating systems include the Mac OS, Linux, UNIX, and MS-DOS.

User Interface Control

The operating system is in charge of the user interface -- that is, accepting and processing human commands -- and also talking to the hardware. An application runs over the top of the operating system, and allows the user to do something useful such as write a letter or calculate a budget. Where's the problem?

Solutions:

So, what's the problem with your PC? The first step is to determine in which of the four aforementioned areas the problem falls.

It may be a hardware problem if the following situations exist:

Problem: Proposed Solution:

The device does not seem to be getting power or will not power on. There is no colors on the device LED lights on the front or back of the unit.
  1. Check power connector on device.
  2. Check power oulet.
  3. Check cable connection from device to power outlet.

The device is making a strange noise, such as grinding or whirring.
  1. Check device.
  2. Clear dust and particles out of device with can of compressed air.

The PC sounds like it's starting up but there's no text on the screen.
  1. Check video cable.
  2. Check monitor cable.
  3. Check power cables going to video card and monitor device.

The BIOS and operating system do not see the device, even though you've run the device's Setup utility or installed its driver.
  1. Run BIOS setup to configure problem device.
  2. Check jumper settings on device (if device is hard drive or optical medium).


One or more fans on the computer that used to spin are no longer spinning.

  1. Replace fan.

The PC runs fine for a few minutes but then locks up or shuts down after it gets warmed up.
  1. Run virus checker.
  2. Run MSCONFIG.
  3. Uninstall unused software.

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It may be a BIOS problem if the following situations exist:

Problem: Proposed Solution:

Someone has recently made a change to a setting in the BIOS Setup program.
  1. Run BIOS Setup and restore default settings.

The hardware device you want to use is set to Disabled in BIOS Setup.
  1. Run BIOS setup and enable device or configure settings for component.

You find information about a known problem with your PC that can be corrected by installing a BIOS update.
  1. Flash BIOS chip with lastest BIOS update.

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It may be a Windows system problem if the following situations exist:

Problem: Proposed Solution:

The PC seems to start up okay, with text on the screen, until it tries to load the Windows desktop.
  1. Run antivirus scanner.
  2. Run MSCONFIG to disable third party programs from starting up with the system.

Error messages appear when you first start Windows.
  1. Restart computer.
  2. Troubleshoot error message accordingly.
  3. Run Windows System File Checker.

Error messages appear that are not associated with any particular application.
  1. Restart computer.
  2. Uninstall conflcting software.

Windows locks up for seemingly no reason, and it doesn't matter which application you're using.
  1. Check airflow through system.
  2. Re-seat data cables for hard drive and motherboard power.
  3. Run hard drive diagnostics.
  4. Run Windows System File Checker.

A certain device will not work in Windows even though it appears to have power.
  1. Update device drivers through Windows Device Manager.
  2. Shut down computer, open computer case, unplug power cable to device, wait 30 seconds then plug it back in.

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It may be an application problem if the following situations exist:

Problem: Proposed Solution:

The problem occurs only when you try to run a certain application.
  1. Disable problematic application.
  2. Check for program updates to problematic application.

An application terminates unexpectedly, either with or without an error message.
  1. Use alternative application.
  2. Check for program updates to problematic application.

The computer locks up when you're using a certain application.
  1. Restart computer.
  2. Check for program updates to problematic application.

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Real-life PC problems can be messy and complicated, and can involve more than one component, but the preceding checklist can give you a place to start when you're PC is having trouble.


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