A Brief Guide to Solving the Most Common Computer Problems

As they become more sophisticated and diverse, computers also present an ever-growing range of issues to frustrate their users. With a practically unending number of possible configurations and hardware combinations, it can be difficult to determine the exact cause of a problem unless you have a very good knowledge of the inner workings of your system. However, while there are many possible problems and a multitude of possible causes, there are some common computer issues which most of us face on occasion. The following takes a look at some of the most common problems on desktop and laptop computers running Windows and provides you with some things to try before approaching a technician.

Computer Won’t Turn On

Assuming that you have double-checked the power cable and switches, yet your computer still won’t turn on, it could be a critical hardware fault to blame. However, before giving up hope, try the following.

  • Try a different power point or try another appliance in the same power point to determine whether or not the computer itself is at fault.
  • Open up your computer and make sure that the components are properly seated in their sockets. Things like loose memory sticks and add-in cards will usually prevent the computer from turning on. Components can become dislodged after a move, particularly in the case of desktops. Before touching any printed circuit boards, be sure to ground yourself by touching a metal surface first.
  • Determine whether or not there has been a short circuit. Thoroughly examine the inside of the computer to see if there are any burned out components. If there are, they will need replacing. Things like power surges, overheating, water damage, dust and lightning strikes can all cause a short circuit.

Display Truncated or Low Resolution

If you notice a problem with your display once Windows has started up, it is most likely due to a problem with your graphics card drivers or settings.

  • Determine the make and model of your graphics card and download and install the latest drivers directly from the manufacturer’s website. Note that it is generally better to obtain the drivers from the chip manufacturer (usually nVidia or AMD) rather than the component assembler.
  • Ensure that your display is running at its native resolution. All flat-screens have what is called a native resolution which is the one that they are optimally viewed at. To change your screen resolution, right-click on the desktop, click “Screen resolution” and choose the recommended setting from the dropdown box.

No Sound from Speakers

Assuming your speakers are correctly plugged in and turned on, sound-related problems are also most likely to be associated with the drivers.

  • Determine whether or not your sound card driver is causing the problem. If you see a red overlay on the volume icon in your system tray, there is most likely a problem with the driver. Determine the manufacturer and model of your sound card and download and install the latest drivers for it. If you have on-board sound as most computers (especially laptops) do, then you will likely have a Realtek sound chip.
  • Right-click on the volume icon in the system tray and click “Playback devices.” Ensure that the right sound device is selected as the default device

Computer Crashes before Windows Launches

There are many reasons why Windows may fail to start, but most of them can be fixed easily enough unless you have fallen victim to an especially bad malware attack or your hard disk is damaged somehow. Try the following if Windows fails to startup and/or presents you with a blue screen error message on boot.

  • Mash the F8 key as soon as you turn on the computer. In Windows 8, this should bring you to the new recovery mode. In older versions of the operating system, the screen will look quite different, though it serves the same purpose. Launch your computer in Safe Mode. In Windows 8, click “Troubleshoot” followed by “Advanced options” then “Windows Startup Settings.” Click “Restart” and choose Safe Mode when the computer restarts.
  • Open your antivirus program, ensure that it is up-to-date and run a complete scan of your system to remove any possible malicious software infections.
  • Use System Restore to restore your computer to an earlier time before the problem first occurred. You can also run System Restore from the recovery screen rather than booting up into Safe Mode.

Computer Running Slowly

There are literally countless reasons for a computer to run slower than it should do, but here are the most common causes and ways to fix them.

  • Prevent unused programs from running automatically at system startup. In Windows 8, you can configure startup programs from the Advanced Task Manager (accessible from the right-click menu on the taskbar) and in earlier versions from the Startup tab of the msconfig utility.
  • Ensure that your computer is not overheating. Sometimes, the processor or graphics card clock speed will be throttled back to prevent damage caused by overheating. Your computer’s interior should be kept free of dust. Components should be cooled with adequately large heat sinks and working fans. Installing a case fan can also help.
  • Open your antivirus software, ensure that it is up-to-date, and run a full scan of your computer to get rid of any possible malware infection which may be slowing your computer down.
  • Optimize your hard disk performance by running Disk Defragmenter and Disk Clean-up. Both of these tools are accessible by right-clicking on your hard disk in “My Computer” and clicking “Properties.”

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