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Monday, December 31, 2001

First aid for your computer
Vipul Verma

DESPITE being the best friend, a computer is still a mystery for a majority of its users and they do not know what to do in case there is a problem. Even with basic problems, the user would normally need the help of some computer expert to put it back on the track. However, for the basic computer troubles, all you need is a little logic and some understanding of your computer.

A majority of PC troubles begin with the hard disk, as that is where most of the activity takes place. The problems related to the hard disk could be of two types: 1) Related to the hardware, i.e., bad sectors, or 2) related to software, i.e., problems related to the operating system or program-specific problems. Therefore, if there is any problem with your PC, whether it is the problem of hanging up, slowing down, or any other like the blue screen of death, then the first thing which should draw your attention is the hard disk. In the hard disk, you must first try to locate the root of the problem, though this could be somewhat difficult for the average user. But Windows comes bundled with some great system utilities like "Scandisk," "Defrag" and "Disk clean-up," which can help you a lot in case of any trouble. Run these programs in the following order. First, the disk cleanup utility, and then run the scandisk in the "thorough" mode, followed by disk defrag. These utilities will take care of most of the basic problems and will set your system right. Also, you will get to know of any physical troubles in hard disk, like presence of bad sectors or any other media problem.


Once you have taken these steps, and you find that your PC still continues to give trouble, then the real investigative task begins. Now, as the first step, disable the antivirus program and try to reboot your system. If the problem goes away, then you can safely assume that the problem was due to the antivirus program, which is also a basic cause of troubles in majority of PCs. However, if the problem still persists, then you will have to take the help of Windows again and reboot your system in the safe mode. If you do not know, how to boot your PC in safe mode, then simply press and hold down the CTRL key while rebooting your PC and automatically you will get the option of rebooting in safe mode during the process of booting. Safe mode is a very helpful but often ignored option of troubleshooting. Under the safe mode Widows gets loaded with the least set of drivers and thus helps in pinpointing the problem. If the things work fine in the safe mode, then you are sure of one thing-the problem is not related to hardware, because if it were, then it would be reflected in the safe mode also. If the problem is seen in the safe mode also, then the possibility is that there could be some problem in the hardware.

Let's take the first case, where Windows boots properly in the safe mode. The strategy for troubleshooting should be to hunt down the program or driver that is creating problems. This can be done in two ways. First, click on the Control Panel and then click on Systems. In the System properties window, click on Device manager and then look at the list of hardware and drivers in that window. If there is any hardware or a drive against which a yellow color question mark (?) or mark of exclamation (!) is seen, then the device in question is not working properly. Reinstall the driver or update the driver for the particular device and set it right so that the sign mentioned above goes away. Here you must set all the devices right for proper functioning. Once you finish this, examine the programs loaded on your system for any possibility of errors. If there is any error reported then you should reload that particular program. However, if everything is found correct, then you must hunt down the programs and drivers that eat up a lot of the precious memory. And the major culprits in this case are games and fonts, reduce these programs to the minimum and restart your PC. You may find your problem has disappeared. Talking about the second case mentioned above, where Windows running in the safe mode also gives problem, reload Windows again to rule out any possibility of a problem in the operating system or system files. If after the reinstallation of Windows the problem disappears, then you have a reason to cheer. However, if the problem persists, then hardware may be suspect.

In this case, two things have to be kept in mind. First, if at the time of running scandisk some bad sectors are discovered, you can safely assume it to be a problem of the hard disk. However, if there were no bad sectors reported, the finger of suspicion could point to, first, the RAM and then the motherboard. For troubleshooting in the RAM card, just unplug it from the motherboard, clean its lower part with a dry cloth, and plug it back in your system and restart. At times the RAM card gets loose and creates problems. In some other cases, over a period of time a black coating forms on the lower part of the card that goes into the slot and causes problems. Cleaning helps in most cases. If this does not work, then try using a RAM card from some other computer and check your PC's performance. Alternatively, if you have two RAM cards installed on your PC, then you can take out one and check the performance and then, after replacing the first one, take out the other chip to test the performance. If the things get right by this exercise, you may give yourself a pat. Otherwise, you may have to get your PC examined by a hardware expert for any problem in the motherboard. You should by now be an expert in computer first aid.