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- Al, Grogan, Scott, Alex -

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How do you troubleshoot a computer problem?

Do you ever wonder how some people are successful at troubleshooting various computer problems, while others seem to be unable to find a direction to even look? Successfully resolving a computer problem is not a special gift; it does not require a unique talent, it does not take years of experience. While experience helps, everybody can resolve PC issues as long as one keeps a few simple, but important things in mind.

Try to understand the problem

Before you do anything; analyze the situation, try to understand what is happening, make a list of the symptoms of the problem, isolate the area where the problem is most likely located, and make a list of things to check.

For example, if you have a problem with your computer not booting, no lights at all, think about what this means before you do anything, and analyze the situation. A logical conclusion would be that there is no power. Now think about what is necessary to get that power to your PC: An outlet, maybe a power strip, a power cable, a power supply, a power switch, etc.

Now that you have analyzed the situation and have isolated the area where the problem might lie, you can now start troubleshooting.

There is a method to the madness

Any successful troubleshooting of a computer problem starts with a very basic premise. Approach the problem logically and methodically. Yes, think like Mr. Spock! Take one step at a time and progress logically from one step to the next.

To demonstrate this with our example, you start at the beginning with the outlet in the wall. Make sure you have electricity at the outlet that the computer plugs into. You could do this by plugging in another device that you know is working, e.g. a lamp. Then check the cords, and any thing that is between that outlet and the computer (UPS, Surge Protector, etc.). The important thing is that you proceed one step at a time, and if you change anything, change just ONE thing and try the computer again.

Narrow it down logically and be sure to keep track of your steps, preferably by making notes on some scratch paper so that you can retrace your steps and keep track of what you've tried so far.

Isolate and Replace

The idea here is to eliminate possibilities while you seek a way to solve your problem. Often, the most effective way to eliminate a possibility is to substitute a known working device in place of the suspect device. As an example, if your monitor stays black, is it the monitor or the graphics card? Hooking up a monitor that works from another computer and seeing what happens will let you eliminate your monitor as the source of the problem or identify it as the source of the problem.

Think outside the box

Don't get locked into a narrow-minded approach or solution that you are sure is "IT". All too often, it isn't and when you have locked yourself into that solution, you make it much more difficult to correctly identify the problem. To stick with the example of the monitor not working, don't assume it must be the monitor and just focus on the monitor. The monitor could be working just fine, but it does not receive a signal from the video card because the video card was not seated correctly and slipped out of its slot. Or to use our earlier example with the computer not booting, don't limit your troubleshooting to the computer. Maybe the problem was that the outlet it is plugged into, is controlled by a switch that accidentally got flipped to the Off position. Be sure to look at the whole picture.

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