Cheat Sheet

Troubleshooting & Maintaining Your PC All-in-One For Dummies Cheat Sheet

From Troubleshooting and Maintaining Your PC All-in-One For Dummies, 3rd Edition

By Dan Gookin

Behold! The people on the Internet who give away stuff you’d have to pay for just 20 years ago are at it again. Free of charge, here is an online guide for your PC troubleshooting and maintenance needs. Refer here for tips, tricks, and information when your computer starts acting funny.

Important Info for My PC

Here’s a handy place to keep all your PC’s important info in case you need to get it fixed. Print this page and fill in the blanks. Keep this sheet near your computer for quick reference.

  • PC purchase date:

  • PC make and model:

  • PC serial number:

  • PC manufacturer:

  • PC dealer:

  • Manufacturer’s Web support page:

  • Manufacturer’s phone support number:

  • Customer number:

  • ISP’s phone support number:

  • Start-up key to press to enter Setup program:
    F1, F2, Del, Enter, other:

  • Start-up key to press to display Boot menu:
    F10, Enter, other:

Mantras of the PC Troubleshooter

Change causes trouble. Recall the items you’ve changed recently and you can better pinpoint problems and devise solutions. Use this list as a starting place.

  • Restart Windows to cure common ills.

  • Rarely do you need to reinstall Windows. Use the System File Checker to repair damage to Windows. Reinstall only after an unrecoverable disaster.

  • When your computer is more than five years old, the problem is most likely the computer itself. Buy a new one.

  • The best hardware upgrades are memory and storage, in that order. If the system needs a new processor, it’s better just to buy a new PC.

  • Back up. Back up. Back up.

  • Use safe mode for troubleshooting only; do not run applications or finish your work in safe mode.

  • Create a System Repair Disk. Label it. Keep it handy.

  • The best way to troubleshoot mass storage is to understand what a file is.

General PC Hardware Troubleshooting

There are a few standard things you should check before you get your elbows greasy and end up with screws and computer parts strewn all over the floor. Review the items in this list first to determine what’s wrong.

  • Is it plugged in?

  • Is it connected?

  • Is it turned on?

  • Press and hold down the Power button for five seconds to turn off any computer.

  • Hot things cause trouble. Ensure that the console’s air vents are unobstructed and that the fan is on. Touch a power brick to ensure that it’s not too hot. If it is hot, unplug it.

  • Check the Device Manager for conflicts detected by Windows.

  • Swap out questionable hardware with hardware that works to help pinpoint the problem.

  • The printer must be on and online or selected before you can print.

PC Network Troubleshooting

The Internet is such a big part of using a computer that when you run into network trouble, you’ll want to pull out your hair (assuming you have hair).

  • Run a firewall.

  • Use anti-virus and anti-spyware software to ensure that whatever comes in over the Internet won’t mess up your computer.

  • It’s better to use Advanced Sharing options to share folders over the network than to use Homegroups. You’ll find the Advanced Sharing button on the Sharing tab in the folder’s Properties dialog box.

  • Most Internet connection woes are fixed by restarting the modem.

  • To restart the network, turn everything off. Then turn on the modem, the router, any switches, and, finally, the PCs attached to the network.

  • Ensure that the wireless NIC has been enabled on your laptop; check for a hardware switch, which could be a key combination or a physical button.

Regular PC Maintenance

One way to prevent trouble is to be a stickler for maintenance. While it’s possible to use a PC and never maintain it, you’ll find your computer-human relationship boosted by following these key words of advice:

  • Keep your PC’s files and the system backed up.

  • Check the mass storage usage in the This PC window to ensure that you don’t exceed capacity on any drive.

  • If you suspect mass storage problems, run the Check Disk utility to scan the drive for errors.

  • In Windows 10, you don’t need to regularly run disk optimization utilities; it’s done automatically.

  • Do not defragment an SSD (solid state drive), thumb drive, media card, or any flash memory.
  • Clean your PC and vacuum the keyboard. Use the proper material to clean the LCD monitor. Avoid using caustic chemicals (ammonia, alcohol) to clean a touchscreen monitor. Keep dust and pet hair out of the console’s vents.

The Do’s and Don’ts of the PC

Here is some good advice for things you should and shouldn’t do when it comes to using a computer in a sane and useful manner.

  • Do pay attention to the User Account Controls (UACs) warnings. They imply that a setting change affects the entire system or could post a security risk.
  • Do run a firewall, and allow expected traffic to access the local network and Internet. Only deny unexpected firewall requests.
  • Do run PC security software, such as Windows Defender. Keep the software activated and updated.
  • Do install Windows updates as they arrive.
  • Do classify public wireless networks as Public whenever you make a connection.
  • Don’t open the PC’s case unless you first turn off and unplug the thing.
  • Don’t run the Defrag utility on an SSD, a media card, or a thumb drive.
  • Don’t open unexpected e-mail attachments.
  • Don’t reply to alarmist email messages or requests for access to certain websites. When in doubt, phone the business claiming to send the message to confirm that it’s legitimate.
  • Don’t download unknown software from the Internet.
  • Do pay attention to the prompts when downloading software to ensure that you’re not automatically installing shopping buddies, toolbars, or alternative search engines.
  • Do update your wireless router’s settings upon initial configuration.
  • Do remember that “stuff” happens.
  • Don’t blame yourself when the computer crashes.