What to Do When Your Laptop Gives You an Error Message

When your laptop gives you an error message, don’t panic. Write down the error message, including any code numbers. Then write down as much as you remember about what you were doing on the laptop just before the message appeared. Had you just loaded a program, or executed a particular command? How many programs were running at the moment?

Look for an indication of the source of the message. Do you see the name of a particular piece of software or software maker in the note? Is the note merely informational? (Your antivirus definitions need updating, for example.)

Windows XP displays some error messages that offer assistance in repairing the problem; if your laptop is connected to the Internet, clicking the button takes you to a Web page that offers some suggestions for fixing the problem.

Does the note tell you that the laptop has stopped? One tipoff is the dreaded “fatal error” message. You may be able to restart the laptop by clicking a button within the message or you may have to force a power-off or a restart by pressing Ctrl+Alt+Del and then selecting Shut Down. If that doesn’t work, turn off the power to the laptop as a last resort.

If the laptop restarts and works for a while, and then the message reappears, consult your notes and see if this was a recurrence of the same sequence of events that caused the failure before.

Sign on to the Internet — on another laptop if necessary — and seek assistance. For a Windows problem, go to the Microsoft Knowledge Base at http://www.microsoft.com and type in the title of the error message. For a third-party software problem, go to the support section of that manufacturer’s Web site and look for a solution there.

If you can narrow down the cause of the problem to a particular program, consider uninstalling or updating the program.