Your computer is never going to crash at 4:29 p.m. on
a Friday before a long weekend when you couldn't care
less if it stopped working. It will crash twenty minutes
before a critical deadline when you are trying to get
something done. Needless to say, this will be extremely
While solving computer problems can often be complex,
more often than not, some basic troubleshooting will
help you quickly fix the more common problems, which
are often the simplest ones. Here are the ten steps
you should go through to systematically troubleshoot
basic computer problems:
1. Take a deep breath and don't panic.
Stand up and step back from your computer. You want
to approach things in a systematic, calm, and controlled
manner. Panicking likely won't help solve your problem,
and it could make it much worse, including causing you
to lose valuable data.
2. Save your current work. Before
doing anything, make sure you save your current work
so that you don't lose it. Save it on the hard drive
or on a floppy disk. It doesn't matter where, just make
sure you save it.
3. Backup your critical data. If it
looks like your hard drive may crash or the computer
may not start up again, take steps to backup your critical
data while it is still working and before you turn it
off. Hopefully you have a recent full backup and will
only have to backup your most recent documents. Consider
copying the data to a network drive or burning it onto
4. Reboot your computer. Turn your
computer off, let it sit for two minutes, and reboot
it. Sometimes one command of the hundreds a computer
executes every second can cause corrupted memory or
other temporary unexplainable problems. Rebooting will
clear out all the gremlins and gives everything a fresh-start.
5. Is everything plugged in properly?
Asking this a question may seem very basic, but you
will be surprised how often it can often be the fix
you are looking for. Cables get bumped or work themselves
loose over time. Make sure they are all snug and tight.
If you want to look under the hood, and are comfortable
doing so, ideally you should check the cables and connections
within your computer case as well. You should also make
sure all cards and memory are firmly seated by gently
but firmly pushing them into their respective slots.
6. Ask yourself what you did last.
Did your problems start just after you installed new
software programs or updated hardware drivers? This
can be a great clue as to the source of a problem.
7. Is your hardware happy? Unhappy
hardware is often the source of problems. To check your
hardware, right-click on My Computer, select Properties,
click on the Hardware tab, and then the Device Manager
button. This will open the Device Manager dialog box.
It lists all the hardware devices on your computer.
Devices that aren't working properly will have a yellow
exclamation mark next to them. Double-click on the problem
devices to open a dialog box that may have details on
the problem, and a listing of suggestions on how to
8. Check you computer for nasties.
Run a complete system scan with your anti-virus software
(make sure you update your virus definitions before
you run the scan). You can do a free online scan at
TrendMicro's Web site (http://www.trendmicro.com/).
You should also scan your computer for adware, spyware,
or other malware with a product like Ad-aware (http://www.lavasoftusa.com/)
or SpyBot (http://www.safer-networking.org/).
Scanning your machine with two of these products can
be helpful as sometimes you will find something that
one product missed.
9. Install software or driver updates.
If it seems one program or hardware device is acting
up, check the manufacturer's Web site for updates. The
code in most software is thousands if not millions of
lines long and it is impossible for software companies
to find all the bugs in their programs. As users discover
problems, software and hardware manufacturers often
release revised software or updated drivers that include
new code to address newly discovered problems.
10. Check online support. If you get
as far as this step, your problem is probably more complex.
Most hardware and software manufacturers now have extensive
support information online in searchable databases.
These are often called Knowledge Bases. Microsoft's
support page is at http://support.microsoft.com/.
Odds are someone else has already experienced the same
problem you have, and you can often a solution online.
Good luck with your troubleshooting.
Dan Pinnington (dan.Pinnington@lawpro.ca)
works for the Lawyers' Professional Indemnity Company
to help the 20,000 practising lawyers in Ontario avoid
malpractice claims. He speaks and writes frequently
on a variety of risk management and legal technology
topics. Through practicePRO (www.practicepro.ca)
he provides Ontario lawyers with practical how-to
resources aimed at helping them succeed in the practice