Troubleshooting & Maintaining PCs All-in-One For Dummies, 4th Edition
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Dive into this guide for your PC troubleshooting and maintenance needs. Refer here for tips, tricks, and information when your computer starts acting funny. Sadly, funny computer smells aren’t covered.

PC troubleshooting © Milkovasa / Shutterstock.com

Important info for my PC

Here’s a handy place to keep all of your PC’s important info, in case you need to get the PC 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:__________________________

Internet provider’s phone support number:________________________

Startup key to press to display Boot menu:
F10, Enter, other: ___________________________________________

Startup key to press to enter UEFI program:
F1, F2, Del, 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. Sometimes, just signing out of Windows and signing back in can fix the problem.
  • Rarely do you need to reinstall Windows. Use System File Checker in Safe mode 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.

General PC hardware troubleshooting

You should check a few standard things before you get your elbows greasy and end up with cables 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?
  • Are the wires intact, not frayed or split?
  • Is it turned on?
  • Press and hold down the Power button for several 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 hardware 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). Here are some suggestions:

  • Run a firewall.
  • Use antivirus and antispyware software to ensure that whatever comes in over the internet won’t mess up your computer.
  • Using cloud storage is a great way to share files without having to bother with sharing individual folders on a network. If you have local network storage, use it for file sharing.
  • Most internet connection woes are fixed by restarting the modem.
  • To restart the network, turn everything off. Then turn on the modem, the gateway/router, any switches, and, finally, the PCs attached to the network.
  • Ensure that the wireless NIC (network interface card) has been enabled on your laptop; check for a hardware switch, which could be a key combination or a physical button.
  • Remember that sometimes a website can be down. Sometimes the entire internet can be down. The problem may be network-wide and not specific to your computer or local network.

Regular PC maintenance

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

  • Keep your PC’s files backed up.
  • Create a one-time system image of your computer’s mass storage device, which includes Windows itself plus any recovery volumes and the EUFI (unified extensible firmware interface).
  • 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), a thumb drive, a 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’s some good advice for things you should and shouldn’t do when 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 check regularly with the Windows Security Center window. Ensure that antivirus and malware protection is always working.
  • 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 open unexpected email 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.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Dan Gookin has been an author, editor, ghostwriter, and a public official. He's written more than a dozen Dummies books on technology, with a special focus on PCs, the Android operating system, and Microsoft products. And in 1991, he was the author of the very first Dummies book, DOS For Dummies, which started the whole enterprise.

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