How to Diagnose General Computer Hardware Problems


Mr. Turtledove was, for years, a computer support manager. Over those years he developed a simple and effective way to determine the basic problem with computer hardware malfunctions.

So, your computer is not working at all. How do you know what to do next? Calling in service can get expensive, and who wants all the hassle of unplugging everything and dragging the computer to a service shop?
Print this out and use it as a checklist. At the end of this process you should be able to make a decision about what to do with your computer.

  • Before you start this initial functionality test, UNPLUG YOUR COMPUTER and the other attached devices. Make sure NO ELECTRICITY is coming into your system. On a positive side, oftentimes an unplugged system is the root of all the dysfunction. Best practices in computer repair demands that you start with the most obvious, thus the simplest, problems. This saves time and expense.
    By doing this you may discover the cause right off the bat. Now, how did it get unplugged? I'm afraid I can't help you with that one! By the way, ALWAYS complete Step 2 before plugging the computer in, if you discover this is the issue.

  • As weird as it sounds, inspect and SMELL YOUR COMPUTER BOX. If it smells like burning metal or plastic, or something looks melted or darkened, go no further. Do not attempt to start your system as there may be a fire hazard inside of it. Do the same with your monitor.

  • Check to see if your computer components are CONNECTED CORRECTLY. Again, start simple. You never know when someone has accidentally and inadvertently moved a wire. If you have your computer's instruction booklet (you did keep that, didn't you?), get it out now. Make sure even small things, like your mouse, are correctly installed. Yes, something small like that could hang your system.

  • Assuming all parts are correctly plugged in, and there is no smell of burning, now PLUG YOUR COMPUTER INTO AN ELECTRICAL SOURCE. Again, do not do this if you suspect something is burning.

  • Before you start your computer, please get ready to listen for sounds. Your computer technician may ask you about the nature of any sounds at startup. Get a small piece of paper and a pen - be prepared to write down a description of sounds. Now, START YOUR COMPUTER.

  • WRITE DOWN SOUNDS. I know that seems weird, but use such words as "whirring" and "scratching" or "high pitched," whatever describes the sound best.

  • TURN OFF THE COMPUTER at the first detection of a burning smell, or of a high pitched sound that irritates your ears. If you notice one of these things, shut the computer down, unplug it and call your technician. If this is the case, you will not be able to repair this problem.

  • If your computer boots normally and there are no strange sounds, your system may not have major hardware issues. Over time, however, LISTEN to make sure the SYSTEM FAN COMES ON. As the computer heats up this should kick in. A burned out fan can age a system rapidly. Run a large program, such as a web browser. If the fan makes strange sounds, shut your computer down immediately.
    If the fan does not come on after about ten minutes, it may not be functional.
    If your hardware starts failing over time, be prepared to tell the technician about this fact.

  • LISTEN for any kind of SOUNDS as the DISK DRIVE LIGHT flashes. There should be a "normal" hum as the disk drive spins and searches for data. Again, if you hear a strange sound, shut your computer immediately down (if necessary, disconnect power).

  • MAKE A LIST of any HARDWARE CHANGES you made in the last month or two. Your technician may want to know about anything you added.

  • If everything is working properly, consider having a technician do a "once-over" check and a CLEANING OF THE CASE. Sometimes burning smells come from dust inside your box. You should get a qualified computer technician to inspect your computer once a year or so.

  • If you are still having problems, CALL YOUR TECHNICIAN and make sure you have a list of sounds, computer changes, and your computer model and specifications available. Be able to describe what is going on. Any information on sounds, changes and hardware that you can give that person will be helpful.

  • Keep your TECHNICIAN'S PHONE NUMBER on your computer. Use a sticker on the side. On that sticker make sure you describe your computer's model number, manufacturer's name, what operating system you use, and how much memory is in your computer.

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