Whether you’re dealing with your dad’s decade-old computer or your own custom-built gaming rig, troubleshooting PC problems is a part of everyday life. Before you make that support call, try your hand at some home tech support.
I know it sounds like a no-brainer, but before you do anything else, restart your computer. Matthew Petrie of Falcon Northwest technical support says that most of his customers solve their problems with this simple step. “This long-standing maxim can work wonders,” says Petrie. While you’re at it, make sure that your operating system is fully updated by running Windows Update. Neglecting updates could deprive you of important bug and performance fixes. If you’re having problems with a peripheral, try switching it on and off. If that doesn’t work, try disconnecting and reconnecting the device. As a last resort, download the latest drivers and perform a full reinstall.
The first step to fixing a slow computer is to verify that your machine is the actual source of the problem. Videos that seem to buffer forever, and websites that take ages to load, may not be your computer’s fault. Geek Squad agent Derek Meister claims that many people mistakenly identify a slow system as the problem when “it’s actually not the computer, [but] their broadband connection.” See “Downloads are taking forever” below for instructions on how to use Speedtest.net to diagnose a slow connection.
If the problem is your PC, check whether you have plenty of free space on the hard drive holding your operating system. Windows needs room to create files while your system is running. If your hard drive is maxed out, performance suffers. Now is the perfect time to clear some space.
Speedtest.net is your best friend when you’re having connectivity problems. Run a speed test to see what your download and upload speeds are. Ideally they should be at least 50 percent of your Internet service provider’s advertised speeds, with a ping under 100 milliseconds. If the speeds seem solid, make sure that you aren’t inadvertently downloading or uploading anything. Many torrent downloading programs run in the background and minimize into the system tray instead of the task-bar. Check your network hardware. Updates for network cards aren’t all that common, but if your card’s manufacturer offers a newer driver, download it. Resetting your router and modem can help with connection problems, too. Most routers and modems have reset buttons, but pulling the power cable for a second or two can do the same thing. Don’t cut the power for much longer, or the hardware may reset itself to factory defaults.
Computer Keeps Restarting
Hardware problems are hard to diagnose and solve. First, confirm that you aren’t just getting the latest wave of Windows updates, which can automatically restart your computer during installation. Then work on updating all of your critical system drivers. Your graphics card, motherboard, and network card drivers are crucial.
Pop-Up Adds on Desktop
If you’re not running your Web browser and are still getting pop-up ads on your desktop, you’ve most likely installed adware—a program that displays unwanted ads. Although benevolent adware exists, most of the time adware is up to no good. Getting rid of it isn’t easy. Running a full scan with credible antivirus software is your first step. If that program doesn’t find and remove the adware, turn to Malwarebytes Anti-Malware Free, a great utility for removing all types of malware. Just make sure to disable your standard antivirus software before running it.
Google Seems Odd
Browser hijackers are a particularly nasty breed of malware. Such programs take over your Web browser and can stealthily redirect your Google searches and other queries to fake pages meant to steal your personal information or to further infect your system. Running a real-time antivirus utility is the best way to stay safe. If your browser has already been hijacked, uninstall the browser and use your antivirus program in conjunction with Malwarebytes to remove the intruder.
Confirm that your computer is within range of your wireless router. Weak signals mean weak connections. Next, make sure your PC’s wireless card has the latest drivers. Try letting Windows troubleshoot for you by right-clicking the Wi-Fi icon in the taskbar and selecting Troubleshoot problems.
Let’s assume that your printer’s drivers are up-to-date, and that it has enough paper and ink or toner to print. Try turning the printer off and on. Unplug the printer and plug it back in. Check your printer’s print queue by looking for the printer icon in the system tray and double-clicking it. The print queue shows you the status of each job as well as the general status of your printer.Ensure that ‘Use Printer Offline’ isn’t checked. Sometimes, printing while your printer is turned off can cause Windows to set your printer to work offline, and that can stall jobs sent later.
Email Attachments Don’t Work
If you have ever encountered an attachment that you couldn’t open, it was probably because you didn’t have the software necessary to view the file. The usual suspect is the .pdf file, for which you can download a free PDF reader. If your problem involves a different file format, a quick search on the attachment’s file extension should tell you what type of program you need. If the attachment lacks a file extension (which might happen if it was renamed), adding it back should set things right.
Programs Aren’t Working
Before you call tech support, make sure that the software you’re trying to run is compatible with your operating system. Older software might not function on Windows 8, and an app created for Mac OS X definitely won’t run on your Windows PC. A 32-bit program might run on your 64-bit operating system, but it doesn’t work the other way around. If an online game balks, you might be missing the required plug-ins—Java and Flash are the usual culprits. Most browsers will alert you to install these items if necessary.
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