Computers nowadays are a great deal more reliable than they were 15 years ago. However they still are mechanical devices, and all mechanical devices are subject to breakdowns. It can be very distressing when your machine begins to “lock up” or stop responding, or starts to a blank screen. There are several simple steps you can do to try and cope with these type of problems and find out why your computer is not operating as it should.
Hardware or Software?
The first thing you need to determine is whether the problem is caused by hardware or software. That is to say is the operating system or an application causing the software to lock up or failure to boot, or is it a malfunction in the hardware?
For a computer that is locking up the most common cause will be a software issue which is caused by a program that stops responding or “crashes” while running. This can be the result of a driver conflict, memory overflow, or code access violation. In general the easiest way to resolve the issue is to shut down the program, reboot the system, then try running the application without any other programs running in the background. For Windows based machines you would use the Task Manager to quit background programs by hitting Ctrl, Alt, and the Delete key at the same time, then quitting all the items listed under the program tab.
If the problem goes away then you would need to be certain that you check the programs you have running at startup for updates or a newer version. If the system still freezes or stops responding, then you would want to check with your hardware manufacturer if there are any driver or system updates available for your computer.
In one sense, it is simpler to troubleshoot a computer that isn’t starting up to the operating system desktop. The first thing to do when your computer will not completely boot up, is to restart, holding down the F8 key, and boot to the Last Known Good Configuration to see if it will successfully load the operating system.
Most computers on the market today come with a bootable CD that can be used to try and start the computer up. You would need to check with the hardware manufacturers troubleshooting guide on how to boot from the disk, but this usually requires changing the boot device order in the system setup program that runs at startup.
If the computer does start up with the disk, then most likely the problem will be a software issue. Many times there are ways to recover from a system crash by using the Windows System Restore feature or by restoring the system using a backup copy.
If the computer fails to start from the disk or if it will not even start up enough to allow you to try the Last Known Good Configuration, then the likelihood of a hardware problem is much higher.
Troubleshooting the Hardware.
Sometimes you can easily tell what is wrong with your computer simply by undoing the last change that you have made to the system. Some failures are also straight forward; if you hear a grinding sound and your computer won’t start up or tells you it is missing the boot disk, then your hard drive is the problem. If you hit the power button and nothing happens,; the power light doesn’t come on, then you are likely looking at a power supply failure. If you hear the hard drive running normally but there is no picture, then a video card or monitor problem is likely to have occurred.
Most manufacturers nowadays have built into their computers a hardware testing routine which runs when you first start your computer. Usually it uses a sequence of LED lights to indicate if a failure has happened or not. If the computer is running normally, then the LED’s will briefly flash at power on then settle to a steady green light on one of the LED’s to signal that there is no failure. If there is a failure, the computer will stop during POST( Pre Operating System Testing) and the LED’s will show a pattern that indicates where in the hardware startup sequence there was a failure. By their simple nature these LED’s do not substitute for testing the hardware manually.
Testing the hardware manually is mostly a process of elimination. You strip the system down to the most basic level, then start adding hardware back until the problem returns. By its very nature, the computer will not function “normally”, but you can generally tell when the computer POSTs normally or not.
You want to be very careful when doing this troubleshooting step. You need to frequently touch an exposed bit of metal on the computer case to discharge any static electricity that may have built up or wear a grounding strap. You would again want to check with your computer manufacturers documentation on how to open up the computer case and remove the hardware.