Troubleshooting Your PC

Troubleshooting Your PC

5.0 2
by M. David Stone, Alfred Poor

Trouble with your PC? What do you do if your hard disk crashes or all you see are black lines on your monitor? With this handy "Troubleshooting" guide, it's easy to pinpoint — and solve — your own hardware and software problems. Fast! Each section opens with a troubleshooting chart to help quickly diagnose the source of the problem. It offers


Trouble with your PC? What do you do if your hard disk crashes or all you see are black lines on your monitor? With this handy "Troubleshooting" guide, it's easy to pinpoint — and solve — your own hardware and software problems. Fast! Each section opens with a troubleshooting chart to help quickly diagnose the source of the problem. It offers clear, step-by-step solutions to try right away, plus a full chapter of things to do to stay out of trouble or learn a new trick. Continuous support via the Troubleshooting "Latest Solutions" Web site provides monthly updates on additional problem solving information. Books in the "Troubleshooting" series are colorful, superbly organized, and easy to read, giving even novice users the confidence to fix it themselves — without sending their PCs to the shop or wasting time on futile trial and error.

Editorial Reviews
Nobody knows as much about PC troubleshooting as these PC Magazine experts! In this concise, friendly, low-cost book, they've identified the top 100 problems you're likely to encounter and delivered the solutions in human-readable English! It's all organized with flowcharts, so you can find your problem fast -- with quick-access charts, prevention tips, top 20 problem lists, lots of screen shots, and more. So what's bugging you about your PC? Can't hear your audio CDs? Onscreen type's too small? Intermittent boot problems? Slow graphics? Deleted a file you still need? Spilled coffee on your keyboard? Printer ain't printing? USB device isn't recognized? No worries, mate: Your fixes are right here.
Intended for users who don't know anything beyond the basics, this guide uses flowcharts and descriptive solution spreads to help readers diagnose and solve problems with hardware such as crashing computers, rattling disk drives, psychedelic screen colors, nonfunctioning joysticks, optical drive problems, error messages, and far more than we may like to contemplate. An appendix guides the reader through a Windows reinstallation. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (

Product Details

Microsoft Press
Publication date:
Eu-Undefined Series
Product dimensions:
7.61(w) x 9.45(h) x 0.96(d)

Read an Excerpt

ChapterComputer slow or losing time

  • My computer is losing track of the time
    • Source of the problem
    • How to fix it
  • My computer seems slow at startup
    • Source of the problem
    • How to fix it
  • My computer takes a long time to switch between programs
    • Source of the problem
    • How to fix it (in Windows 98)
  • My computer takes a long time to switch between programs
    • How to fix it (in Windows 2000)
  • My files take a long time to load
    • Source of the problem
    • How to fix it
  • My computer’s graphics seem slow
    • Source of the problem
    • How to fix it

Computer slow or losing time

My computer is losing track of the time

Source of the problem

The original IBM PC couldn’t remember what time it was when you turned it off; you had to reenter the date and time whenever you turned it on. Some companies came up with products that solved this problem. IBM sidestepped it in the IBM AT by including a tiny battery that let the onboard clock keep time until the computer was turned on again. This battery is now a nearly universal feature for computer systems, and it also provides power to the CMOS memory that stores the Basic Input/Output System (BIOS) configuration settings.

If the battery power runs down, however, the clock can run slower than designed, and lose time. This is the most common cause for a computer’s clock falling behind. There are other possible causes, however, such as software problems. Diagnosing whether it’s a hardware or software problem is easy; if the system loses time while it is shut down, it’s a hardware problem. If it loses time while it’s running, it’s a software problem.

How to fix it

  1. Before you do anything else, open the CMOS configuration utility for your computer and record all the settings. If you lose them during the battery replacement process, having a record of them will make it much easier to get your computer running again. Your system may give you an on-screen prompt as it boots to tell you what key to press to start this setup program—.often it is either the Delete key or the F2 key—but some systems have a separate program. Check your system documentation for details, or contact the system manufacturer. If you have an MS–DOS–compatible printer attached to your computer, you may be able to print the screens by pressing the PrintScrn key; if not, you’ll have to record the data by hand.
  2. If your computer is running Windows 98, start Windows and create a floppy boot disk: open the My Computer window, right-click on the floppy disk, choose Format, choose the Full Format Type option, and then check the Copy System Files check box. (If your computer is running Windows 2000, you’ll need to create the floppy boot disk using another computer that is running Windows 98. Note that this will erase any data that’s on the floppy.)
  3. Exit Windows and turn off the computer. Restart the computer and enter the CMOS configuration utility. Set the correct time and date in the CMOS settings, and then exit the utility. Boot using the floppy disk, and then turn off the computer and leave it off for an extended period; overnight is ideal.
  4. Turn the computer on, and before it can boot from the floppy or hard disks, open the CMOS configuration utility again. Check the time. If the time is accurate, then you have a software problem, and should check for programs or drivers that may be causing the slowdown. Try disabling them all, and then adding them back one at a time to find the offending party. See "My computer seems slow at startup," on page 58 in this chapter, for detailed information on how to disable programs and drivers at startup.
  5. If the computer lost time overnight, you have a hardware problem. Make sure you’ve read our warnings about working safely in "Working inside your computer," at the beginning of this book. Then shut down the computer and open the case.
  6. Look for a battery on your motherboard. Different motherboards use different types of batteries, but they are typically either shaped like a coin or a barrel. If the battery is mounted in a holder, remove it and get an exact replacement. Be sure to match the voltage carefully, since different mother.boards have different requirements.
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  8. If the battery is soldered in place, look around the motherboard for a set of pins that are labeled BATTERY or something similar. If you don’t see such a label, consult the motherboard documentation or the manufacturer’s technical support to find out if the pins are labeled with a code, such as JP6 or something similar. Also find out the voltage required by the motherboard. You may be able to buy a battery with a connector that will match the pins and provide the correct voltage.
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  10. If you can’t locate anything that looks like a battery, look for a chip made by either Dallas Semiconductor or Benchmarq. These are chips that contain the clock and CMOS memory, as well as a battery. The battery is rated for up to 10 years of use, but it is possible for one to give out in less time than that. If the chip is mounted in a socket, you can get a replacement—for about $30 or less—and insert it yourself. If the chip is soldered directly onto the motherboard, you’ll need to find a professional repair service to make the replacement.
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My computer seems slow at startup

Source of the problem

You boot your computer, and then you wait… and wait… and wait… until finally Microsoft Windows loads and is ready to run. But you don’t have to twiddle your thumbs waiting for it to load—there are some things you can do that may speed it up. They all relate to the same cause: You may be loading more than you need to.

How to fix it

  1. Choose Start, Programs, Accessories, System Tools, and then choose System Information, if this option is available. (System Information is not available in all versions of Windows, but some other Microsoft programs also install it.)
  2. In the Microsoft System Information program, choose Tools and then choose System Configuration Utility, if that option is available. (Depending on your version of System Information, you may not have a Tools menu.)

If you have the System Configuration Utility

  1. Choose the Startup tab, and clear the check marks for any programs you don’t want to load every time Windows loads.
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  3. Choose the Win.ini tab, and click the plus sign next to the [windows] section. Look for lines that begin with load= or run= and clear the check marks for any items you don’t want to load.
  4. Choose OK, and then exit the System Information program and restart Windows.

If you don’t have the System Configuration Utility

  1. Anything that you can do through the System Configuration Utility you can do manually as well. Start by finding out what programs are loading along with Windows. Immediately after starting Windows, and before running any programs, open the Close Program dialog box—in Windows 95 or 98, do this by pressing Ctrl+Alt+Delete.
  2. On a freshly installed system, with nothing but Windows loading, the only entries you will see in the Close Program dialog box are Explorer and Systray. Anything else is extra and is slowing down the time it takes Windows to finish loading. You need to track down each program, figure out what it is, and decide whether you really need it to load every time you start Windows.

  3. TIP:
    Two other things that can slow down Windows during startup are having to load lots of fonts or read through a long Registry. Try deleting any fonts you don’t need, using the Windows font utility, and consider trying a utility to clean out unused entries in your Windows Registry. Be sure to make a backup of the Registry first.

  4. Open Windows Explorer and find the Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Startup folder. The program shortcuts in this folder will load automatically every time you start Windows. Delete any shortcuts you don’t want, or move them to a different folder in case you want to move them back.
  5. Other programs load based on command lines in the WIN.INI file. To edit the file, choose Start, Run, type sysedit in the Open text box, and then choose OK. Then select the window for WIN.INI.
  6. Look for the part of the file that begins with [windows], and under this header look for a line that starts with load= and another that starts with run=. Either or both of these lines can include the names of programs for Windows to run. Delete any that you don’t want to run.
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  8. If you made any changes in WIN.INI choose File, Save, and then close the System Configuration Editor by choosing File, Exit.

My computer takes a long time to switch between programs

Source of the problem

Windows lets you open more than one program at once, which can be very convenient; it’s like having more than one book or file folder or pad of paper on your real desk. Just like your real desk, however, there are limits to how much will fit on it at one time. At some point you’ll need to bring over an extra table to hold everything that you’re working with. Windows is no different.

Windows uses the memory in your computer to hold programs and data that it’s using. When you ask it to use more than the memory can hold, it uses the Windows swap file as something called virtual memory. That means programs and data are written to temporary storage on the hard drive to free up the real memory for the current task. When you switch tasks and want to work with something that has been parked on the hard disk, Windows writes part of the current memory contents to the swap file, and retrieves information you need. Unfortunately, as fast as hard drives are, they are much slower than memory, and it can take a considerable length of time to move all this information back and forth. And the slower the hard disk, the more time it will take.

When you have more than one program open in Windows, you can choose the Task Bar at the bottom of your desktop to switch between them. If you’d rather keep your hands on the keyboard, just hold down Alt and press Tab. This will open a window showing all your open applications, and you can press Tab—while still holding the Alt key—to move between them and select the one that you want.

One way to address this problem is to speed up the hard drive, as discussed in "My files take a long time to load," on page 64. The most effective approach, however, is to come at this issue from the memory side of the problem.

How to fix it (in Windows 98)

  1. Watch your computer’s disk drive activity light—if it has one—or listen for hard drive activity when you switch between applications. If the light comes on, or you hear hard drive activity, you need more memory in your system.
  2. To find out how much more memory you need, start by booting your system and starting Windows.
  3. Before you open any programs, choose Start, Programs, Accessories, System Tools, and then choose the System Monitor application.
  4. If System Monitor is not available, you’ll need to install it. Choose Start, Settings, Control Panel, and then choose Add/Remove Programs. Choose the Windows Setup tab, and then make sure the System Tools check box is checked with a white background in the check box. Choose OK, and then follow any prompts, such as instructions to insert the Windows disk.
  5. Load System Monitor. If there are any graphs showing, choose Edit, Remove Item, and then remove all the items.
  6. Choose Edit, Add Item to open the Add Item window.
  7. Select the Memory Manager item in the Category list.
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  9. In the Item list, select Swapfile in Use, and then choose OK.
  10. Chose Edit, Add Item, Memory Manager, and then select Unused Physical Memory.
  11. System Monitor will show two graphs in its Window. The Swapfile In Use graph shows how much information, if any, has been parked on your hard disk. The Unused Physical Memory graph shows how much memory is available.
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  13. Now open all the programs that you typically use at one time. The Unused Physical Memory count will drop, and the Swapfile In Use count will rise as you open each program. When you’re finished, look at the count for Swapfile In Use; for best performance, you’ll want to add at least this much more memory.
  14. Consult your system documentation to find out whether the motherboard can accept that much additional memory. Also find out what combinations of memory module capacities you can install at one time, and what other specifications you must match: rated speed, type of memory, parity, and size of the modules. Note that you may need to remove some smaller capacity modules in order to make room for larger capacity modules and reach the total you need.

My computer takes a long time to switch between programs

How to fix it (in Windows 2000)

  1. To find out whether you need to add memory to your computer, start by booting your system and starting Windows.
  2. Choose Start, Run, type perfmon in the Open text box, and then choose OK.
  3. Choose the System Monitor node.
  4. Choose Add.
  5. From the Performance Object drop-down list, choose Memory.
  6. From the Select Counters From List list, choose Available Bytes.
  7. Choose Add, and then choose Close.
  8. Now open all the programs you typically use at one time. System Monitor will graph how much memory is available in your computer. A value less than 4 MB indicates that you need to add memory to your computer.
  9. Consult your system documentation to find out whether the motherboard can accept more additional memory. Also find out what combinations of memory module capacities you can install at one time, and what other specifications you must match: rated speed, type of memory, parity, and size of the modules. Note that you may need to remove some smaller capacity modules in order to make room for larger capacity modules.

My files take a long time to load

Source of the problem

If you think that your hard disk is slower than it used to be, you may be right. The more you use it, the more likely each new file is to be broken into pieces scattered around the disk, instead of having all the pieces stored together, where the drive can retrieve them more quickly. Also, a hard disk can develop problems areas, so it has to re-read data from a particular spot several times to get the information right.

Issues like these can slow down a hard disk, but you’re not necessarily stuck with the slow performance. There are some things you can do with your hard disk to make it go faster. If these steps don’t work, the hard drive may have a problem you can’t fix. If all else fails, you can consider getting a faster hard disk drive.

If there’s anything in computing that’s as certain as death and taxes, it’s that next year’s programs will be bigger and create larger data files than this year’s programs. One result is that when you upgrade your software, you’ll often spend significantly more time waiting for files to load from your hard drive, or, once you’ve finished working with them, waiting for them to be saved. Keep this in mind when you’re considering upgrading. If the version you’ve got makes your computer a tad slow, odds are that the upgrade will make it downright lethargic. And you may want to hold off the software upgrade until you move to a new computer.

How to fix it

  1. The first step is to make a backup of your hard disk. If it has a problem, then you might be about to lose your data. Even if there isn’t a problem, it’s still a good idea to make a copy in case something goes awry.
  2. If there is a particular file that seems to take a long time to load, listen carefully to the hard disk while it loads. If you hear a repetitive sound that doesn’t occur when loading other files, the drive may be having a problem reading a portion of the disk. Even if you don’t hear any indication of a problem, however, it’s worth confirming that there is none.
  3. Open My Computer, and right-click on the drive that seems slow.
  4. Choose Properties from the shortcut menu that pops up.
  5. Choose the Tools tab.
  6. The top area is marked Error-Checking Status (Error Checking in Windows 2000). This area will display a message indicating how long it has been since you last checked the drive for errors. Choose the Check Now button.
  7. In the ScanDisk window, make sure that the drive you want to check is selected in the Select the Drive(s) You Want To Check For Errors list. In the Type Of Test section, choose the Thorough option. Clear the Automatically Fix Errors check box if it has a check in it. (Windows 2000 simply asks whether you want to automatically fix errors and whether you want to attempt to recover bad sectors. Don’t select either option; simply click OK and let the tool scan your drive.)
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  9. Choose the Start button.
  10. ScanDisk will check the file system for errors and then scan the surface of the disk to test for errors or weak spots. This can take a half hour or more, depending on the capacity and speed of the hard disk. If the program finds any surface errors, you may want to get a third-party disk utility program—such as Symantec’s Norton Utilities or Gibson Research’s SpinRite—that can provide more rigorous testing and help you recover and move any files that have been damaged by the defects.
  11. If your hard disk passes the ScanDisk test, the next step is to defragment the files on the drive. Files get fragmented when a file is deleted and a larger one is written in its place, with part of the file placed elsewhere on the disk. Hard disk performance decreases when the heads have to jump all over searching for the different pieces of the file being loaded. Defragmentation writes all the parts of each file in contiguous parts of the disk, making access faster. Windows has a disk defragmenting utility. Close the ScanDisk window (or the summary window in Windows 2000), and return to the Tools tab in the hard disk Properties window. The Defragmentation Status section of the Tools tab will indicate how long it has been since you last defragmented the hard disk. To defragment it, choose the Defragment Now button. (In Windows 2000, you’ll then need to select the drive and choose Defragment.)
  12. The program will proceed to defragment your files. If you choose the Show Details button (not available in Windows 2000), it will display a map of the files on the hard disk as it relocates and consolidates them. When it is finished, you should note that files open more rapidly. If the hard disk still seems slow, you may want to consider purchasing one with faster performance specifications.

My computer’s graphics seem slow

Source of the problem

Moving graphic images across the screen takes a lot of work, for several reasons. Chances are good that you are running your display at XGA resolution—1024 by 768 pixels—and at least 64 thousand colors (also known as high color or 16-bit color depth). With high color, there are two bytes of information required for every dot on the screen. Run that through a handy calculator and you’ll see that it translates to more than 1.5 million bytes of data. That’s a lot of information.

Now think about the work your graphics adaptor has to do, whether you’re scrolling through a word processing document or playing a game and moving through a 3-D scene being rendered on screen as your character moves though the 3-D world. Almost all of those 1.5 million bytes of data gets changed as you move—and almost instantly. Maybe you shouldn’t be so surprised when graphics performance seems slow, because it’s a small miracle that it’s as fast as it is. The simple truth is that older cards have slower memory than current cards and offer poorer graphics acceleration—a name for features that speed graphics movement. However, there are a few things you can do to make sure you’re getting the best performance you can from your graphics adapter card, short of throwing it out and buying a new, high performance card.

If you’re running movie or animation clips—such as .AVI files—and you get herky-jerky motion on the screen, the graphics adapter may not be at fault. Make certain that the source device, such as a CD-ROM drive, is capable of reading the data at the full speed. If the data stream is too large for the device, you’ll get breaks in the playback, and you’ll get a stuttering motion.

How to fix it

  1. As a first step, you should confirm that the problem is really a slow graphics card and not that some other part of the system is feeding information to the graphics card too slowly. It’s easy to find a benchmarking program on the Web that will isolate your graphics card for testing and report the results. (A quick search on Yahoo! for graphics and benchmark and program turned up a variety of programs to choose from.) You can use one of these to get a measure of how fast (or slow) your graphics adapter really is, and you can compare it to results for other cards to help put the benchmark results in context.
  2. When you look at the results from benchmarking programs, keep in mind that there is a vast difference between 2-D and 3-D graphics. Business applications and most older games typically deal with 2-D graphics only. Windows Solitaire is a good example, with cards that move only in two dimensions. Many newer games, and some graphics and design programs, use 3-D graphics, with objects moving through a 3-D space—rotating and changing appearance based on rules of perspective, shadow, and so on. If you don’t use programs that take advantage of 3-D effects, it doesn’t matter if your graphics adapter scores poorly on a 3-D benchmark. Only the 2-D score matters.
  3. If the graphics score is lower than you’d like, check out the vendor’s Web page for a newer driver. More than any other category of hardware, graphics adapters are notorious for early production units shipping with drivers that aren’t really ready. If you bought your system when the card was still relatively new, it may have come with a driver that simply doesn’t take full advantage of the card’s capabilities.
  4. If you find a newer driver on the vendor’s Web site, download it. Then back up at least your Windows directory, and preferably your entire system, so you can return to a working state if something goes wrong. Then install the driver.
  5. If the new driver doesn’t improve the graphics performance noticeably, or even if it does, but the improvement isn’t enough, consider setting your driver to use fewer colors. First find out your current settings: right-click on your desktop and choose the Settings tab.
  6. Look in the Colors box to see your current color depth setting. If it says True Color (32 bit) or True Color (24 bit), consider changing it to High Color (16 bit). In many cases, you won’t notice the difference even for graphics and photographs. And you’ll cut down the amount of information your graphics adapter has to move around by a third (going from 24-bit to 16-bit color) or half (going from 32-bit to 16-bit color).
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  8. To change the color depth, open the Colors pull-down menu, choose the new setting, and choose OK, and then follow the instructions on screen. (Windows may tell you that it has to restart the computer, or it may give you a warning that some programs could operate improperly if you don’t restart the computer.)
  9. If you’re still not satisfied with the boost in performance, and you don’t mind if photos and graphics have a banding effect, consider changing the color depth to 256 colors.
  10. If you’re still not satisfied with the graphics performance, consider getting a new, higher performing graphics adapter card.

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Troubleshooting Your PC 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Not the 'end all, be all' of troubleshooting. But it is definitely an excellent resource for anyone.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The book has the best layout and content that I've seen in quite awhile. I have taught computer repair. This book is a good primer for developing good troubleshooting techniques. The book has excellent flowcharts. Directions are written in clear steps. Excellent use of type size and color makes it quick and easy to find topics. The graphics are superb. The section on printers is very well conceived. I would recommend the book for all levels of expertise.