PC problems? Troubleshoot them in 10 steps

PC problems? Troubleshoot them in 10 steps

Summary: Being methodical when you troubleshoot PC issues can save time and frustration — and it also gets users back to work more quickly, says Jack Wallen


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  • Describe the problem

    PC problems are a fact of life. Hardware, software or user error may be the cause, but so many things can go wrong that it's often difficult to know where to start the diagnosis.

    I do a lot of remote support, so I've had to learn how to troubleshoot an ailing PC without being in front of the patient. Of course, everyone has a preferred method, but I thought I'd set out the steps I like to follow. This is what I do from the first call from the user.

    1. Describe the problem
    Before jumping onto the PC, I gather as much information as possible. I get the user to describe what's happening, when it started and whether any incident coincided with the onset of the problem. Often, this information gathering leads straight to the solution. Even better, it sometimes lets you know that a reboot is all that's needed to solve the problem.

  • Define the affected subsystem

    2. Define the affected subsystem
    In some instances a problem relates to a specific subsystem of a machine — such as printing. Some users articulate that fact, but others will just call, saying, "My computer isn't working," when what they mean is, "My printer isn't printing." Sometimes multiple subsystems are affected, such as printing and mapped network drives. The combination of those subsystems will often lead you straight to a solution.

    Image credit: Boyan Yurukov/Flickr

  • Is it hardware or software?

    3. Is it hardware or software?
    If an end user complains about an issue such as a slow PC, one of the first things I check is the hardware. Is there enough RAM? Is there enough free space on the C drive? And if the problem is network related, are the lights on the network card blinking, on, or dark?

    If these areas don't yield an answer, don't immediately assume the issue is software related — there could be hard-drive issues. But before you delve deeper into the hardware, now is a good time to do some software checks. If nothing becomes apparent once you've investigated the software, come back to the hardware and do a drive-test or defrag.

    Image credit: Don Fulano/Flickr

Topic: Apps

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