General Approach to Solving PC Problems

The general approach

Presented below are some useful tips to remember when troubleshooting PC-related problems:

1. If it ain't broke, don't fix it

If your PC computer works perfectly fine, why fiddle around with it? You may be creating more problems than you've bargained for.

For example, Microsoft may issue a software patch for one of your programs. And yes, you should keep a copy of this patch in case you discover a problem. But if your program is working fine, there is no need to update using the patch. Otherwise, you may create new problems with other programs that are trying to operate properly in a new patched-up environment (should they rely on common extensions or libraries).

Otherwise, if you must update something, obtain the latest and most complete updater after every 12 months.

2. Backup your data

Before embarking on any type of trouble-shooting exercise, always backup the data on your hard disk (i.e. the disk you are going to be working on!). Even better, try to keep a backup copy of your entire hard disk and, if a problem should occur, make a second backup of your latest data just before you begin tinkering with your computer. It can make an enormous difference!

For example, suppose you want to tinker around with your Windows folder and you may discover later after a restart of your computer that you cannot get back to the desktop or, worse still, you cannot load Windows XP. While there is a feature in Windows XP to help you restore your system, by having an old or recent backup, you can easily and more completely restore your system software to its original state and so enable you to restart your PC properly.

3. Keep troubleshooting simple

If something goes wrong on your PC computer, the last thing you want to do is press a whole bunch of keys, switching things on and off, sending commands to your PC and so on. In all likelihood, by doing so, you may actually make things more intractably complicated than it should be.

If you have a problem with your PC, stop and take a deep breath. Why not have a cup of coffee if you need to. Or instead, get a notepad and write down what the problem is. In this way, the solution to your problem may come with a fresh and relaxing mind.

4. Do one thing at a time

When you start to tackle a problem on a PC, always do one thing at a time. Otherwise, you will lose track of what you have done and may create more problems than you should.

5. Changes often means more problems

When a problem occurs on your PC computer, it is almost invariably has to do with the fact that something has changed. So what has changed?

Ask yourself the following questions: Were you recently connected to the Internet? Did you move the computer or some other device? Have you downloaded a program or file that was infected with a virus? Or perhaps the registry has extra garbage bloating the file slowing things down and perhaps stopping some applications from running properly.

Also consider the possibility that you may have loaded a new DLL extension or control panel or some other software and this may be causing you some grief because of internal software conflict. And what about the fact that you may have added a new hardware device and your computer and/or software cannot handle this change? Did you also upgrade an existing program which may have made it incompatible with other programs or hardware device?

Or perhaps your program is so old that it needs to be reinstalled again (simply because no digital data can remain intact forever on a single storage medium)!

Whatever changes have occurred, if something was changed, try to work out what it was that changed and put things back to how they were before. Does the PC work again after restoring to its old settings?

6. Software programs are never perfect

About the only other time a problem may occur and there has been no changes done to your PC is when a program has inherent instability or incompatibility issues that need patching up due to poor programming. For example, you may be using an old browser to visit a web site that uses new Javascript commands and your browser cannot handle it. Or perhaps your program may have an inherent "memory leak" that is not properly cleared out at certain times (e.g. the dreaded Adobe Acrobat "Exchange" 3.01 program).

To solve this instability issue, you will need to check which program is causing you the problem, go visit the web site of the company who created your program, and see whether they have an upgrade or patch to solve your problem.

7. Insufficient memory

Perhaps the most common problem facing any computer user, especially for the newer variety of software running on any old PC, is not having sufficient memory to run the software (whether it is a recently installed driver for a new hardware device, or a large and complicated new software like Microsoft Longhorn).

Try getting a bigger hard disk to take advantage of the built-in virtual memory features of Windows XP, or consider increasing your physical RAM memory to help get that extra space to run your programs properly.

Or maybe it is time to purchase a new PC?

8. Use quality disk repair, recovery tools and anti-virus software to track down and repair problems

Run your anti-virus software for problems. And try running Microsoft's DiskScan (a good tool) and get yourself a utility to fix and optimise the registry file. But remember, always backup your data before using any disk repair utility. And try to run the disk repair utility from a different disk, usually a startup CD.

9. Reinstall your software

As a final resort, reinstall the application and/or system software from the original installation disk. NOTE: Use a disk repair utility first to check for disk problems before reinstalling the software.

10. Can't find something?

And if your problem is you can't find a file, maybe it is time to bring some order to your information. For example, if you have a bunch of photo files downloaded from your digital camera named 01.jpg, 02.jpg, 03.jpg and so on in one folder, and in another folder you have downloaded different photo files from another day with the same name, you are likely to find yourself in a situation where one day you will muddle up the files with the sames names (e.g. lots of 25.jpg) and accidentally replace one file with another. Also, to find the one important file would be difficult if you have a bunch of files named in an uninspiring manner as shown above. So name and date your folders and give meaningful names to your files. It would also be wise to archive on a separate disk all the files you rarely use. Or trash the files if you know for sure you will never use them again. Then you can free up hard disk space and have fewer files, making it easier for you to find what you want.

Take your time!

The process of tracking down problems on any computer, even the seeming simplicity and ease of use of the latest Windows XP PC, is actually potentially slow and laborious. To do a quality job (unless you have experience with the problem and know the solution), you will have to spend adequate amounts of time to locate the problem and to solve it in the best way possible over the long-term.