Troubleshooting Basics

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As stated previously, this document will use a cookbook approach, meaning that you should find the symptom you are experiencing (system doesn’t boot, system locks while booting, keyboard doesn’t work, system locks or crashes after running awhile, etc.), then follow *every* step that is outlined. Do not skip any step or assume that you’ve already checked it. This may cause a lot of frustration when you find that the one step you skipped was where the problem lay.

Once the basics have been covered, we will present a table of symptoms which will link to a page which provides the series of steps you should follow in your attempt to identify the problem. There may be additional tests you might identify which can be performed, particularly if you have special diagnostic equipment for this purpose, so don’t take this as the definitive troubleshooting guide.

I would truly appreciate any comments or suggestions for future editions of this document. I certainly do not know everything, and most people who have ‘opened the hood’ on their system have experienced some problem that turned out to have a simple solution had they just looked at it objectively (or known a little more). So, with that behind us, let’s get down to business.

Where Do I Start?

Obviously, the best place to start is at the beginning. I know this sounds obvious, but it is often the best way to find the problem and it only takes a few short minutes.

First, you absolutely must have the documentation handy, or you can all but forget fixing most problems. The user’s manual may be your only source for jumper and dip switch settings. If you know the manufacturer and model number, you may be able to get a replacement manual, but too many components these days are ‘generic’ imports, with no manufacturer name on them. This is a good reason to stick with name brand components, even if you have to pay a little more.

Second, you must gather your patience, discard your ego, and be willing to accept that *you* may have done something wrong. Only after you have double (or even triple) checked everything should you begin to consider that the hardware might actually be defective. I cannot tell you how many returns I have checked out only to find that a jumper or BIOS setting was the problem.

Finally, you need to be very observant, note all of your symptoms, and gather some more patience. Some problems can be tracked down by carefully observing the behavior of the system. For example, I once experienced a problem where the system would lock up sporadically for no apparent reason. After trying many things, I finally noticed that the lockup only occurred when a sound was supposed to be played. This made it fairly easy to figure out that the video driver was conflicting with the sound card (after several more tests), and by getting an updated video driver the problem was solved. This would be very difficult, if not impossible to diagnose over the phone, so again, it is very important that you gather as much information as possible before calling for support.

Besides, what is more fulfilling than to diagnose a difficult problem, and say that you solved it by yourself? After all, if upgrading were truly easy, there would be no challenge or satisfaction in doing it yourself (and the ‘experts’ would have no reason to charge exorbitant fees!!).

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