By Computeractive staff [17-03-2003]
The most annoying thing about a PC going wrong is trying to identify exactly what the problem is. Telephone help lines can only get you so far and take up precious time, not to mention money.
Most PC problems, however, are easy enough to pinpoint, providing you know what to look for.
Thatâ€™s where our PC problem-solving guides come in. Each one addresses a specific symptom and, by working through the step-by-step instructions, you should be able to find where the fault lies.
Where possible, weâ€™ve also provided solutions to glitches, but some rather more serious problems can only be fixed by the manufacturer or a specialist repair service.
MY COMPUTER WONâ€™T SWITCH ON
Is the PC or monitor plugged in and the power switched on?
Obvious, yes, but youâ€™d be surprised how many people this catches out. Check that the PC or monitor power lead is firmly inserted into the socket at the back of the case and that the mains plug at the other end of the lead is firmly plugged into the mains socket.
Some PC power supplies also have an on/off switch, so check that this and the mains plug socket are switched to â€˜onâ€™.
Has the fuse in the plug blown?
Just like any other electrical device, the fuse in the mains plug on a PC or monitorâ€™s power lead can blow. Your power lead will almost certainly have a moulded plug with a small hole for the fuse. Youâ€™ll need a small, flat screwdriver to lever off the fuse cap and prise out the fuse.
Thereâ€™s no way to tell if a fuse has blown just by looking at it, so simply replace it with a three-amp fuse. Replace the fuse cap and reconnect the cable to the mains socket.
If youâ€™re using a gang plug adapter, check the fuse in its plug too. These usually use a 13-amp fuse, so be sure to replace it with one of the same type.
Is the plug socket working?
Itâ€™s possible that the mains socket on the wall isnâ€™t working. Try another electrical device in the socket, such as a lamp, to see if it is carrying a mains supply. Alternatively, try the PC power lead in another socket, if possible.
If none of your mains sockets are working, the chances are that the mains circuit breaker has been tripped. Youâ€™ll need to look at the main fuse box in your house and check to see if one of the switches has been tripped.
If it has, move the switch back to the â€˜onâ€™ position and try your PC again. If your fuse box uses fuses with fuse wire, turn off the fuse box and remove fuses until you find a blown one.
You will have to replace the fuse wire with new wire rated at the same amperage. If a fuse hasnâ€™t blown, you will need to call an electrician out to take a look at the wall socket.
Monitor or graphics card problem
If youâ€™re still not getting a picture, you may have a problem with the monitor or graphics card. If your monitor doesnâ€™t have a captive monitor cable, you can try replacing this. Otherwise, you need to take your PC for repair.
Did the PC make any beeps?
If a PC fails the self-test thatâ€™s performed automatically when itâ€™s switched on, it will emit a series of beeps that give some clue as to what is wrong.
Problems that typically produce â€˜beep codesâ€™ relate to the processor, memory and graphics card but they donâ€™t have to be serious; a memory module that isnâ€™t fitted properly can cause them, as can an improperly fitted processor.
Beep codes vary, depending on the BIOS the PC uses. Your motherboard manual should tell you the make of your PCâ€™s BIOS and possibly even what the beep codes mean. Alternatively, look at the sites below for more help.
Is the monitor power light on?
The power light on a monitor has two states: green and steady when the monitor is powered and receiving a signal from the PC; and either amber or flashing green when itâ€™s powered but has no signal. If thereâ€™s no light, the monitor isnâ€™t getting any power.
Is the monitor cable connected?
Make sure that the monitor cable is still connected to the VGA or DVI socket on your graphics card at the back of the PC. Also check the end that connects to the monitor.
Potentially serious problem
Following the steps will have told you if the problem lies with your monitor or your PC. If itâ€™s your PC, the likely causes are a damaged power supply, motherboard or processor. Armed with this information, you should take your PC for repair.
Iâ€™M HAVING TROUBLE LOADING WINDOWS
Does it successfully complete the memory and hard disk test?
The first thing youâ€™ll see on your monitor when you switch on your PC are the results of its automatic self-test.
The memory will be checked (usually as a count up from 0Mb), as will the presence of the hard disk and other drives. Some PCs will hide this information behind a manufacturer logo but, in either case, if your PC seems to get no further, thereâ€™s a problem.
Potentially severe problem
You have a problem with your hardware. As the screen comes on, the likely culprit is an expansion card (but not the graphics card), memory or hard disk.
If you know how, you can check inside the PC to see that everything is connected properly or look in the BIOS screens to ensure that a setting hasnâ€™t been inadvertently changed. Otherwise, contact your PCâ€™s manufacturer for assistance.
Have you installed any new hardware recently?
New hardware can play havoc with a previously working PC. If youâ€™ve installed any hardware, including a new mouse or keyboard, remove it and, if appropriate, replace the original hardware and see if your PC works.
Is the keyboard connected?
A PC usually checks for a connected keyboard as part of its initial self-test and, if one isnâ€™t found, it can prevent it from booting. Check that the keyboard hasnâ€™t become disconnected from the PC.
There are two types of keyboard connector: USB and PS/2. USB keyboards should be plugged into any USB port; PS/2 keyboards should be connected to the keyboard PS/2 port, not the mouse PS/2 port. Some keyboard PS/2 ports are purple (mouse ones are often green).
Is there anything resting on the keyboard?
An object resting on the keyboard and holding a key down can cause an error when the PC is turned on. Make sure that thereâ€™s nothing on the keyboard or that no keys are stuck in the down position.
If your PC reports a memory problem, this means that one or more of the memory modules on the motherboard has a fault. This could be as simple as a module not being fitted in its slot properly or that the module has failed completely.
Floppy disk problem
Floppy disk drive errors can be caused by anything from a loose connection to a broken drive but this is seldom a serious problem.
The problem can usually be bypassed by pressing the F1 key at the â€˜Press F1 to continueâ€™ message on-screen.
You can check inside your PC to see that the floppy disk drive is properly connected to the motherboard by its IDE cable (a flat, grey cable with black rectangular plugs at each end) and that it is also connected to the PCâ€™s power supply.
Otherwise, you can simply disable the drive in the BIOS so that the PC doesnâ€™t check for it. Look in your motherboard manual.
Is there disk in a drive?
Your PCâ€™s BIOS may be set to check to see if it can boot from the floppy and/or CD-Rom drives before the hard disk.
If thereâ€™s a disk in either of these drives, this can prevent the PC from booting. Remove all CDs and floppy disks and restart the PC.
Was your hard disk detected?
A PC will check for the presence of a hard disk during its self-test and will display its findings on-screen. If no hard disk is found, this will only cause an error when it comes to booting.
If no hard disk is detected, it may be down to a loose connection. Check the hard disk connections inside the PC.
If the connections appear to be correct, the hard disk itself may be faulty and you should contact the PCâ€™s manufacturer.
Hard disk problem
If your hard disk is detected but Windows refuses to load, there are three possibilities. First, the BIOS could be set to boot from a disk other than the hard disk. Second, the hard disk itself may be faulty.
Most likely is that your Windows installation may have become corrupt and this is one for your PCâ€™s manufacturer to sort out.
I HAVE INTERNET CONNECTION PROBLEMS
If your PC is new, it may not be set up to access the internet. The simplest way to do this is to use a CD-Rom from an internet service provider (ISP) and go through its set-up procedure.
Alternatively, if you have both your ISPâ€™s and your account details, you can set up a connection manually. Go to Start, Settings, Control Panel and double-click on the Network Connections icon.
Then, either click on the â€˜Create a new connectionâ€™ in the Task Pane or double-click on the New Connection Wizard icon.
Click on Next twice and on the next page select the option â€˜Set up my connection manuallyâ€™ and click on Next. If you are using a dial-up modem, leave the next page as it is and click on Next.
Make sure that there is a tick by your modem in this window, click on Next again and then give your new connection a name.
The next page prompts you for the telephone number that the modem must dial. In the next window you must decide whether to restrict the connection to your use only or for everyone who uses the computer.
The next step is to enter your ISP account details. Click on Finish and your new connection is now ready to use.
If your ISP connection has been set up but Windows isnâ€™t using it, go to Control Panel and double-click on Internet Properties.
There are several tabs along the top of the dialogue box that appears. Click on one labelled Connections. There are three options about halfway down. Select the one for â€˜Always dial my default connectionâ€™ and then click on OK.
If your PC tries to make an internet connection but fails, the telephone line may be at fault. Check that your modem cable is properly connected to both the modem socket and the telephone socket.
Itâ€™s also worth checking that the socket itself is working by plugging in a telephone. You can try connecting the modem to a different telephone socket.
Some telephone voicemail services change the dial tone when there are new messages waiting and this can confuse some modems.
The simplest solution is to delete any waiting messages to restore the dial tone but you can tell the modem not to check for a dial tone before dialling.
Go to Device Manager and right-click on the modem entry. In the dialogue box that appears, look for a â€˜Wait for dial tone before diallingâ€™ option and deselect it.
A problem with the modem driver is indicated by a yellow exclamation mark next to its entry in the Device Manager. Reinstalling the driver may fix this but you should uninstall the modem driver first by right-clicking on its Device Manager entry and choosing Uninstall.
To do this right-click on My Computer on the Desktop and choose Properties. On the dialogue box that appears, click the Hardware tab and then the Device Manager button.
To reinstall the driver, youâ€™ll need the original modem driver CD-Rom. Restart your PC and, when Windows starts, it will display a message to say that it has found new hardware. Put the CD-Rom into the drive and work through the steps to install the driver.
Sometimes Internet Explorer can become about whether or not you are connected to the internet. This is because Windows handles the connection to the internet separately to Internet Explorer.
The definitive way of checking that you are connected to the internet is to look for a small picture of two computers in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen.
If it is there your PC is connected to the internet. If it isnâ€™t, open the File menu and click on the option to Work Offline if it has a tick by it. Explorer will now accept that it is connected.
PRINTER ISNâ€™T WORKING
Check the cables
Before you make any changes to the printer software, make sure that the power and printer cables are properly connected and that your printer has power.
If youâ€™re using a parallel printer, make sure that it is directly connected to the PC and not through any other device, such as a scanner or Zip drive.
If a USB printer is connected to a hub, make sure that it is connected to the PC and powered.
If your printer is displaying a flashing light, itâ€™s likely that is has a problem. First make sure that there arenâ€™t any foreign objects inside the printer case (ballpoint pens are a favourite).
If your printer has a paper jam, follow the manualâ€™s instructions on how to remove it.
Many printers wonâ€™t work if there is an error light displayed and other printers wonâ€™t work if they run out of ink. Check the manual to see if the error lights mean there is a problem with the ink cartridges. You will probably have to replace the cartridge before your printer will work again.
Is your printer set as default?
Click on the Windows Start menu and go to Settings, Printers. When the Printers window appears, make sure there is a black circle with a white tick displayed on-top of your printer icon (or the icon for the printer you are trying to use). If thereâ€™s no tick, right-click on the icon and select â€˜Set as Defaultâ€™.
Printer not installed
If your printer is not displayed in this window, you need to install the drivers and software supplied with the printer. If you no longer have the software, you should be able to download it from the manufacturerâ€™s website.
Click on the Windows Start menu and go to Settings, Printers. Right-click on the icon for your printer and choose Properties.
If the print quality is not as you expected, you should check the paper you are printing on and the print quality and paper settings within this dialogue box.
If your PC displays an error message when trying to print, it might be sending the information meant for your printer to the wrong place.
Open your printer settings and click on the tabs to locate a menu that is usually labelled â€˜Print to the following Portâ€™.
If your Printer is connected to the printer port you should select â€˜LPT1â€² in the driver. If your printer is attached to your PC using a USB cable, select one of the USB options and try printing again.
Clean the nozzles
If your prints are not up to the quality you expect, the print cartridge nozzles may need cleaning or aligning, or the cartridges may be running out of ink.
Typical symptoms of these problems are white streaks across the page or missing colours. Refer to your printerâ€™s manual for advice on cleaning or aligning the print heads, or replacing the cartridges.
Setting up your new PC