Fix (Common) PC problems
Having trouble with your computer? You've come to the right place. Even if you don't know a computer language (or want to), you can solve several common PC problems on your own.
In this article, we offer many ways to do what you need to do in Windows 7 and Windows Vista. Often, there may not be a Help topic for Windows XP, but the process is often the same as in Windows 7 or Windows Vista. The only difference is usually where to find the link in Control Panel. Most often, it’s just a matter of slightly different wording in the heading or the text describing the task. Don’t worry. If you search in Control Panel, you’ll usually find the link you need.
F1 is magic: Get help on your PC If you can’t figure out how to complete a particular task in your software program—and you’re using a PC—the most important shortcut to know is the F1 key. Just push it while the program—Word, Excel, or whichever program you’re using—is open and active, wait a moment, and the Help window specific to your active program will appear. See an F1 key demonstration. The F1 key works with almost all Microsoft products, so it’s a helpful starting point for a wide variety of problems.
The basics If you’re encountering a different kind of obstacle – your new device won’t appear on your desktop, an application you added won’t run, you see an error message, or your computer is refusing to start up – here are a few preliminary steps:
- Many issues can be resolved by simply checking to be sure that all of your plugs are connected properly. After you are sure of that, try restarting (“rebooting”) your system. Turn your computer off, and then back on a few seconds later. If the problem continues, follow the steps below.
- Write down the contact information for Microsoft Customer Service and Support, should you need to consult an expert. Take a second to print the below instructions as well, and keep them handy as you walk through the troubleshooting process.
Locating the problem Microsoft provides a couple of free options to help you locate and fix the PC issue you’re encountering:
Online: Is your PC showing an error message? If so, write down the exact number and wording of the error message, and search for it on the Microsoft Fix it Solution Center. In many cases, the Fix it center provides a "hot fix," which is an automated solution you can run on your PC with just one click! Even if you don’t see an error message, you may be able to find the solution in the Fix it center, either by topic or by searching. You can also check Microsoft Answers and Office Answers.
Download: You can try out the new Microsoft Fix it Beta. Just download it to your machine, follow the instructions to set it up, and then it will tell you if you have any updates to run. Note: Once you run it, the system will ask you to set up an account, or you can sign in with your Windows Live ID. Also, the Fix it Center will ask you to send information about your computer.
Walk through your system yourself: If you’d like to understand more about the issue you’re seeing, walk through the steps below to help you figure out if the problem is related to hardware, software, or the operating system (such as Windows 7, Windows XP, or Windows Vista). The following are some common indicators that can help you decide which is the right answer.
We recommend you start at the top by determining if your software is working, using the Software errors section that follows. If the issue persists, proceed to the Hardware trouble section and then to the System failure section. The lists on the right side of this page may also help you narrow down the type of trouble you are experiencing.
Software errors If programs refuse to install, won't appear on your desktop, can't seem to run without freezing, don't load at a decent speed or function properly, or Internet access is unavailable, here's how to troubleshoot:
- Confirm that your PC meets the software's minimum system requirements. If it doesn't, you'll be unable to run the program without upgrading your computer's hardware. Note that PCs which barely meet or just slightly exceed these minimums may run the software more slowly and can be less reliable. Windows 7 and Windows Vista users can reference the Windows Experience Index to quickly gauge their PC's general capabilities.
- Close open programs and windows that you're not currently using. These can eat up system memory and processing power, slowing your PC or preventing additional software from running. Try running the program again.
- Check available hard drive space. Roughly 5 to 10 percent of your hard drive's total storage allotment should be left free to ensure optimum system performance in Windows 7 and Windows Vista, prevent crashes, and keep Windows running at top speed.
Note Use Disk Cleanup to free more space:
Check for program updates and information on frequently encountered issues at the software manufacturer's Web site. For Microsoft products, you can also load Windows Update for Windows 7, Windows Update for Windows Vista, or visit the Microsoft Download Center. If you install an update, restart your computer, and attempt to run the program again.
- Reboot your computer and try loading the program again. If it still won't load or work correctly, you may need to uninstall the software and then reinstall it from scratch and reboot again. Advanced users can also try these advanced troubleshooting tricks in Windows 7 and Windows Vista.
Whether you have a modem or a Windows 7 or Windows Vista home network, answers to common Internet access and online networking problems can be found at Microsoft Help and Support. Quick references include:
Hardware trouble Should equipment fail to turn on, be recognized by your system, or function properly, follow these steps to address some of the most common hardware issues:
- Determine that equipment has been assembled correctly, by consulting your product manual or referencing the manufacturer's Web site.
- Confirm that your device is securely plugged in and receiving power. For equipment that relies on an A/C (wall outlet plug) power adapter, you can double-check that the outlet is functioning correctly by plugging in another device and observing if it starts up or begins charging.
- Check to see whether equipment is properly connected to your PC by making sure all cables are securely plugged into the correct ports.
- Verify that hardware is turned on.
- Look for error messages displayed on either the equipment itself (commonly found on a small LCD screen) or on your desktop. Solutions for many of these can be found in your product manual or by checking this comprehensive database.
- Install or reinstall drivers for the device in Windows 7 or Windows Vista. Windows automatically searches for drivers when new devices are connected and notifies you of any available updates. It may be necessary to manually install them yourself, if these files are contained directly on the device, on a CD/DVD sold with the equipment, or on the manufacturer's Web site. To activate setup, just double-click on the driver installation program. You may need advice for Windows 7 or Windows Vista if the installation program fails to run.
- Confirm that you're using the latest drivers for your hardware. Manufacturers routinely issue patches to correct errors and inconsistencies that users encounter. To do so, simply use Windows Update, visit the Microsoft Download Center, or check the Download or Support section of the manufacturer's Web site.
- Reboot your system and test the device again.
System failure Can't get your PC to start up or shut down? Is Windows stalling out, randomly turning your computer off, or rebooting without warning? Follow these step-by-step instructions to restore system health.
- Confirm that your PC is plugged into an electrical outlet and receiving power. If so, reboot and see whether the problem persists.
Hard drive failure
In a worst-case scenario, system failure may be caused by a damaged or corrupted hard drive. There are many warning signs that may indicate this problem:
- Your system won't boot.
- No operating system is detected.
- The computer hangs during startup.
- Your PC is making strange noises.
If you are concerned about the safety of your files, try the following options before paying to send it to a data recovery specialist: