My methods of troubleshooting computers

Basically, what I’ve learned in the past two weeks of dianosing problems with a system is that in most cases, you need to test the hardware level before testing software. The following is what I do so far, but I’m really in need of any additional tips, links, and/or articles that have more things I can do.

The Process of Hardware Troubleshooting

First and foremost, the Ultimate Boot CD is one of my favorite tools for troubleshooting systems.

I’ll test the memory first. Memtest86 does this job well, and doesn’t require any user intervention. Basically, after booting the CD and selecting the program it’ll run forever. The Memtest86 website states:

The time required for a complete pass of Memtest86 will vary greatly depending on CPU speed, memory speed and memory size. Memtest86 executes indefinitely. The pass counter increments each time that all of the selected tests have been run. Generally a single pass is sufficient to catch all but the most obscure errors. However, for complete confidence when intermittent errors are suspected testing for a longer period is advised.

I’ll basically run this test overnight. In the morning, hopefully Memtest86 will have gone further than Pass #1. If that’s the case, and there’s no errors, I’ll move on to hard drive diagnostics. I’ll go into the BIOS, find out what type of hard drive(s) are in the system, and boot into that software utility. There, I’ll take time to do both quick and extended tests.

If that tests out fine, I don’t know where to go from here. It’s most likely a motherboard issue, but how do you test that?

The Process of Software Troubleshooting

If there’s a spyware problem, I’ll tell the person that the only way to get 100% cleanliness is to clean install Windows. That in itself will probably take 2+ hours, including the hard drive format, Windows install, drivers, Windows updates, and whatever essential programs that needs to be installed. The two cons with this is the time and that all the data will be wiped out. So, you’d need to backup all important files (e.g. documents, photos, music).

However, if the person wants to do everything possible to try and clean Windows as much as possible before going the more drastic route, I use the instructions listed in the Majorgeeks forum thread “Basic Spyware, Trojan And Virus Removal“.

After doing all the steps outlined, I’ll check the programs installed and make sure they’re running the latest versions.

What else?

I don’t know. Like I said above, I’m open to more suggestions. If there’s something better, I’d love to hear about it so I can do my job more efficiently. Thanks!

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Bryan Villarin

Bryan is a Community Guardian at Automattic. He's also a photographer, card magician, and cat whisperer. (Thanks to my friend and colleague Steve Blythe for the sweet photo!)

7 thoughts on “My methods of troubleshooting computers”

  1. I’ll have to check out that Ultimate Boot CD. I’ve used Memtest before, though, which is a great tool.

    I bought a 512MB stick of memory. Popped it in, and stuff started crashing regularly, especially memory-hog stuff, like Half-Life 2. I did a few tests, first with the new stick in, then with it out.

    Bad stick of memory. Really weird, seeing as how it was Kingston brand, and I bought it from newegg. They replaced it though, so it’s all good.


  2. re-installing WinXP shouldn’t be so scary! If you look into an unattended installation, you can “pre-configure” much of any settings. You can also integrate (aka slipstream) service packs and updates into the installation. All of this saves a great deal of time reinstalling! I use BartPE (I understand it has similarities to UBD), it is derrivied from MS’s WInPE. It has network support and supports an external USB drive (not plugNplay, it must be connected at boot) so it is painless to save anything or everything before proceeding. A clean install of Win XP is an annual event.


  3. Thanks DJ. I’m not scared of doing clean installs – I do them at work for our workstations almost regularly! 🙂

    I’ve written about unattended installs using nLite. However, if you take care of everything properly, it shouldn’t have to be an annual event.

    Hmm, maybe I should talk about that? I’m sure it’s been run into the ground, but I guess it’d be if people were interested in what I do to take care of my system. *shrugs*


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