Really Basic Troubleshooting Techniques

This may not be good for business, but here are some really basic troubleshooting techniques that any computer user can use on their own, before calling somebody like me.

  1. Be like Sherlock Holmes: Assume there is a particular cause to your problem, and that you can discover the cause and fix the problem. Remember what Holmes said: "Once you have eliminated the impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."
  2. The first thing to figure out is whether the problem is caused by bad hardware or bad software. Start with looking for hardware problems first. Generally it takes less time to rule out hardware problems than software problems.
  3. If something isn't working at all, check whatever cables connect this something either to a power source, or the computer to a peripheral. Unplug and replug any cable that appears loose. Or the cable could be damaged and needs to be replaced.
  4. If a particular peripheral -- printer, display, or another external device -- no longer works, try finding a similar device and replacing the problematic device with the replacement. If the replacement works, you've found the cause.
  5. Teach yourself how to use the tools your computer's operating system gives you to maintain your computer's hard drive, including optimizing and defragmenting the data stored on your hard drive.
  6. Learn about the troubleshooting techniques of your computer's operating system. Most operating systems have a "safe boot" feature which allows you to start the computer without loading third-party software. If the problem goes away, then you have a better idea of what causes it.
  7. Be ready to reinstall the computer's operating system. Usually this does not mean you will lose any of your own data. However, you may need to reinstall some software.
  8. The two cardinal rules of computing are: Save, save, save your work as frequently as possible, and Backup, backup, backup your important files onto another permanent storage device, like a CD or DVD, or an external hard drive.

Of course, this last point doesn't help you if you already have a serious problem. But starting to do this today, or learning how to set up a backup system, is a very good idea. Better to start good habits without learning the hard way why these good habits are important.

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