Computer busted? Ten steps to troubleshoot your PC

Computer busted? Ten steps to troubleshoot your PC

Summary: So many things can go wrong that it's often difficult to know where to start the diagnosis.

TOPICS: CXO, Hardware

 |  Image 1 of 10

  • Thumbnail 1
  • Thumbnail 2
  • Thumbnail 3
  • Thumbnail 4
  • Thumbnail 5
  • Thumbnail 6
  • Thumbnail 7
  • Thumbnail 8
  • Thumbnail 9
  • Thumbnail 10
  • 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. In this gallery, TechRepublic's Jack Wallen gives his best advice on where to start. Happy hunting.

    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
    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

Topics: CXO, Hardware

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • RE: Computer busted? Ten steps to troubleshoot your PC

    It is not just puters, I repair all sorts of commercial electronics including puter woes.
    People refuse tell me that they just did something to cause the problem even after I repeatedly ask. They refuse to let me know that the local 'repair guy' was messing with it before it broke. Still I get it done and move on to the next. As long as morons exist I will have a job.
  • RE: Computer busted? Ten steps to troubleshoot your PC

    "If an end user complains about an issue such as a slow PC, one of the first things I check is the hardware."

    I'd disagree with a hardware first approach for performance issues, for the following reasons:

    1. Any machine should be responsive, if everything is set up correctly. Hardware rarely causes issues by itself.

    2. Most complaints are about things going slower than they used to be - which usually indicates a software change.

    3. Fixing software issues is cheap and fast. Fixing hardware issues means having to pay for and wait for parts. Might as well knock out the cheap/fast possibilities first.

    4. The #1 cause of performance issues at the last IT position I was working at was drive fragmentation. Systems that have been up for years, but never defragmented. Worse yet, a higher level admin had locked regular users from even trying to do so, so I had to do it myself every chance I got.

    Fragmentation is something that users almost never think about, and it wasn't until Vista/Windows 7 that Microsoft made it scheduled by default. XP systems tend to suffer greatly from fragmentation.

    "If not, this situation becomes a challenge, as it eliminates the option of remote troubleshooting."

    There are so many problems that just can't be solved remotely, usually because they kill connectivity. Not to mention the loss of the social aspect. We are a world that is too hooked to our technologies, and we really need to get out more and actually socialize with each other. I much prefer an in-person approach.

    Remote troubleshooting is fine for minor issues or when the user is very far away, but I'd rather visit the user in person.

    "Ask for a demonstration"

    Totally, and that's actually usually the first thing I turn to rather than one of the last things. Seeing the issue in action will 90% of the time lead to an immediate recognition of the actual problem.
  • Hardware maintenance guide.

    This article provides in-depth maintenance and prevention information for electronic devices. It includes information on how to correct home wiring issues that may cause computer and other electronic device failure or other dangerous conditions.
  • Duplicate Post, Deleted.

    Duplicate Post, Deleted.
  • RE: Computer busted? Ten steps to troubleshoot your PC

    I've had a number of times, esp./w home & small business users, where a house call showed a box loaded w/cat hair glued in place by tobacco smoke. or similar crud. No way would this have come out w/o a hands-on check. Sometimes it's the root of the problem, but even if unrelated it's gonna cause trouble in time. The obvious is heat, but a build up of sticky nicotine & dust or hair can either degrade a connection, or worse, short-circuit printed circuits on mother board and other places.
    The auto-defrag on Vista is often useless, on XP and Vista I'll install "Smartdefrag", a freebie from Runs in background, costs nothing (but we should donate a bit) and is a vast improvement over the Win. thing, which you should disable when you install, run, & set Smartdefrag on auto.