Seven classic PC symptoms

And how to fix the underlying problems

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Symptom: Computer won't boot up past POST ("power-on self-test," the preboot sequence)

Could be: A hardware issue.

The fix: Take note of any messages or beep codes -- even if they seem cryptic -- because they give details of the problem, Obenshain says. You can use them to search online or to search a vendor's Web site for information about what might be wrong and how to fix it.

In addition, try to isolate the problem by disconnecting any external pieces of hardware connected to the machine and rebooting to see if any of them could be the problem, Obenshain says.

If you added a new piece of hardware and couldn't boot up, it could mean that there's something physically wrong with it, or that there's some incompatibility between it and your computer, or that the driver on that device isn't compatible with a piece of software on your machine, he explains. "So the quickest, simplest test is to take off the new addition and see if that's the fix," Obenshain suggests.

After a few weeks without additional problems, you'll have a better idea of whether you addressed the real problem, he notes.

Also, those who are more tech-savvy can open up the desktop casing to make sure all the cables are secure. Sometimes a cable can be jostled loose when a computer is moved.

Symptom: Problems launching a software application (e.g., won't launch, freezes up computer, produces an error message, etc.)

Could be: A conflict with other applications.

The fix: Try the System Restore function to remove any recent changes. "It removes any system settings, like if you changed your desktop from a picture of a puppy to a picture of the beach, or any software added since the last restore point," Bivin explains.

If your computer has problems launching applications soon after you've installed new software, uninstall the new application and then install it again to see if that solves the problem, he advises.

You should also check for and install updates on existing software, he adds.

Symptom: Blue-screen error

Could be: Hardware or software problems.

The fix: You can look at Event Viewer in Computer Management to get a brief description of the error and maybe even reference support articles. (To access Computer Management, click Start and then click Control Panel. Click Performance and Maintenance, click Administrative Tools, and then double-click Computer Management.)

"It will tell what file caused an issue, so you can identify whether it was hardware or software that caused it," Obenshain says. You might just need a software update to get things rolling smoothly again.

Otherwise, you can use the messages that appear to search for a probable cause and solution. If the computer is successfully able to boot and you're working in Windows and getting error messages, you can go to Microsoft's support site to find troubleshooting info or, if it's a known problem, the steps to resolve it, Obenshain says. He notes that the messages might not make sense to the user but could mean a lot to IT professionals.

Symptom: Peripherals won't work

Could be: Corrupted software.

The fix: It's tempting to think that your printer is kaput or your PDA is on its last legs when it won't work with your computer, but it's often just faulty software, Meister says. "The software that allows the computer to talk to the hardware sometimes gets corrupted or deleted or changed," he explains.

The fix could be as simple as uninstalling the software for the device and then reinstalling it, he adds. Look for and install any updates, too.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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