Cheat Sheet

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

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.

  • Resist the temptation to upgrade Windows. Rather than upgrade, buy a new PC with the latest version of Windows preinstalled.

  • Back up. Back up. Back up.

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

  • If the optical disc doesn’t format, throw it away.

  • The best way to troubleshoot disk 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 supply brick to ensure that it’s not too hot. If it is hot, disconnect the power supply.

  • 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.

General PC Software Troubleshooting

Software problems are tough to fix because dozens of programs are simultaneously running on your PC. Here are suggestions for solving the problem without going insane:

  • Run Windows Update for the latest software versions.

  • Use the Update Driver button in a device’s Properties dialog box to ensure that you have the latest software drivers.

  • System Restore can save your butt. Set restore points often. Restore your system whenever it goes hinkey.

  • If the computer runs fine in Safe Mode, the problem isn’t with Windows itself.

  • Regularly scan your PC for viruses and spyware.

  • Use the Task Manager to determine which programs have stopped running.

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.

  • There’s no need to run multiple firewalls. A single hardware firewall on the router works best. If you don’t have one, run a software firewall.

  • Share folders on the network in Windows 7 and Windows Vista by using the Advanced Sharing button to access the Sharing tab in the folder’s Properties dialog box.

  • When restarting 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 small switch somewhere.

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 hard drive usage occasionally to ensure that you don’t run out of storage.

  • Run the Check Disk program to scan the hard drive for errors.

  • Regularly run Defrag on Windows XP computers. Some versions of Windows do not automatically schedule disk utilities.

  • Clean your PC and vacuum the keyboard. Use the proper material to clean the LCD 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) in Windows Vista.

  • Do configure the firewall to allow local network traffic so that your computers can share hard drives and printers.

  • 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.

  • Do let recipients know beforehand when you send them programs as e-mail attachments.

  • 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 download unknown software from the Internet.

  • Do change the SSID for your wireless router.

  • Do remember that “stuff” happens.

  • Don’t blame yourself when the computer crashes.

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