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How to Fix Your Computer on the Cheap

If your computer stops working properly, before you spend any money at the shop, try these quick (and inexpensive) fixes. Fixing your computer doesn’t necessarily mean devoting a lot of time or money:

  • Plug it in. Sure, it sounds silly. But industry experts get paid big bucks to say that unplugged equipment is the leading cause of “electrical component malfunction.” Check your power cord in two places:

    • The wall outlet

    • The back of your computer (or whatever you’ve plugged into one of your computer’s ports)

    If you use a uninterrupted power supply or a surge protector, check three places:

    • The back of your computer

    • Your computer’s power cord into the UPS or surge protector

    • The UPS or surge protector at the wall outlet

  • Restart. Try closing the troublesome program and restarting it. Doesn’t cure the problem? Then log off from Windows, and log on again. If that doesn’t fix it, shut down Windows and your computer, and then turn it back on after about 30 seconds.

  • Install a new driver. Drivers serve as translators between Windows’ language and the language spoken by a manufacturer’s particular part. The better the translator, the smoother the conversations. Installing an updated video driver, for example, can fix irregularities in the display you’d been blaming on your monitor. An updated sound driver might rid your music files of odd noises or garbles.

  • Google the error message. When your computer gives you an annoying error message, write it down on a scrap of paper. Then type that error message into the search box on Google (www.google.com). Be sure to type in the exact error message, and put it in quotes.

    Thousands of frustrated people have seen that same error message. Dozens of them have already posted that error message on the Internet, begging for answers. And if you’re lucky, it won’t take long before you find the few people who’ve posted solutions that could be as simple as clicking the right check box.

  • Find and remove malware. Malware programs — programs designed to do harmful things — try to sneak into Windows when you visit Web sites. Some malware hops onto your computer surreptitiously, others piggyback on programs offered by sneaky Web sites. The free Microsoft Security Essentials program prevents some malware from installing itself. The program also removes any malware it finds living inside your computer.

  • Run System Restore. Windows includes a wonderful tool for setting things right when they go wrong. Called System Restore, this tool remembers the good times — when your computer worked fine and all the parts got along.

  • Check for overheating. Nobody likes to work when it’s too hot, and your computer is no exception. First, dust the fan’s round grill on the back of the computer. Second, clean the vents on the front and sides of your computer case or laptop. And don’t tape cards or cheat sheets across the front of your computer’s case — they can block the air vents.

    Don’t just blow on the dust, either. The microscopic flecks of spittle in your breath can cause problems with the computer’s moisture-sensitive internal components.

  • Install a new power supply. When computers simply refuse to turn on and do anything, and you know that the power cord isn’t loose, it’s probably because the power supply died. Power supplies almost always include a built-in fan, so if you don’t hear a fan whirl when you turn on your computer, your power supply probably needs replacing.

  • Run Check Disk. Windows comes with several programs designed to keep it running trouble-free. If Windows starts giving you some vague, unidentifiable trouble, run Check Disk (right-click your hard drive’s icon and choose Properties→Tools).

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