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Computer Hardware Troubleshooting

Updated on August 15, 2009

Troubleshooting hardware issues with your computer can be a daunting task. The key to being able to repair your computer in record time, and with the least amount of cost and headache is in learning to identify the source of the problem. Once you have identified the components that are causing your computer to misbehave, repairing it becomes a relatively simple process.

I hope that my technique of troubleshooting computer hardware will be of use to beginners and experts alike. These ideas are applicable not only to PC troubleshooting, but may easily be applied to troubleshooting Apple computers or any type of computer that has the standard (Motherboard, Processor, RAM, Hard Drive, etc), layout that you find in your average PC.

When you are faced with a computer hardware malfunction that has your computer down on its knees begging for mercy, the number one tool in my arsenal can be summed up in 3 words: Simplify the Configuration!

This basic technique has helped me solve problems dealing with computer networks and very complex computing systems such as those used by NASA, Pixar Studios, and other corporations who need their computing systems up and running 99% of the time. There is no such thing as 100% up-time for a computer, at least not that I have ever seen.

Before I go any further there is one Supreme troubleshooting question you should always ask yourself when you are looking at a problem with any electrical device: Is it Plugged In?
I mean no insult to any of my readers, you just don't know how many times that question has saved the day.

Another very important point: if you are experiencing problems with your computer but it still boots up enough to run a system backup, Run a System Back Up! Backup your data before proceeding into any type of PC troubleshooting. If you are unable to backup your data, move forward carefully and take your time, or call someone who knows what they are doing if you are unsure.

Simplifying the Configuration

Begin by assessing the symptoms of the problem your computer is exhibiting. Before you start pulling apart your computer trying to identify the problem, try to be sure it is not a software issue. Have you installed any new software or hardware recently? Does it power on at all? If not, check the plug. If it is plugged in and there is definitely power coming to the plug and your system shows no signs of life, you most likely have a failed power supply, or the breaker on the power supply needs to be reset, if that is the case evaluate "Why did the breaker kick in" before you reset it and plug it back in. Also be VERY careful working around power supplys and things of that nature, you can get a serious shock. If you have any doubts, hire a professional.

If it powers on, do you hear some beeps when it first boots up? If your computer beeps when it first boots up, then this is most likely the BIOS on your motherboard attempting to give you a clue as to the nature of the problem. Those beeps can be a huge advantage in troubleshooting, write down how many beeps there are and if they are long beeps or short beeps. Then look at the manual for your motherboard or conduct an internet search to find the beep codes for your motherboard / bios.

If those above items do not apply to your situation and you are fairly certain you have a hardware related issue, then its time to start simplifying the configuration. First, disconnect all peripheral devices (printers, speakers, external drives, etc) except the mouse, keyboard and monitor. Try and boot the system and note any changes in symptoms. If the system boots normally and the problem appears to be gone, then try adding back your peripheral devices one at a time with a graceful shutdown and reboot with each new device added. If it still didn't boot after removing peripherals, try removing the keyboard and mouse and try it again.

Now I know many people just plug in peripherals like USB devices while the system is running, and thats ok most of the time, but when trying to narrow down the scope of a computer hardware problem you need to be methodical. Shut it down, add a peripheral, boot it up, still work? If yes, repeat until you find the peripheral causing the problem.

If removing all the peripheral devices did not allow your computer to boot up properly then you may be looking at a problem with the internal hardware and if you are knowledgeable or gutsy enough to attempt it, you would start by reducing the system to basically just the motherboard, ram and video card. You can even remove the ram and try and boot it and see if your motherboard at least attempts to boot, of course you will get an error about no memory installed.

Removing the video card for troubleshooting is a little tricky, you can't see whats happening when it boots up. Most of the time if I suspect its a video hardware problem I would just swap in a video card that I *know* is good and see if that improves the problem. Another factor in troubleshooting video is that it is usually self apparent, because you will tend to see strange behavior in the output to your monitor when you have a failed video card.

So now your computer is just a motherboard, video card and some ram. If it seems to boot properly but just complains that it has no Operating System to boot, then the next device you want to add is the main hard drive. The system should boot properly at this point as long as the motherboard, ram, hard drive and video card are good. If it doesn't you have narrowed the problem down greatly.

If the computer booted normally in that configuration, then continue to shutdown the computer, add a device or card one at a time rebooting after each hardware change so that you can isolate the problem. Always think about "what changed?" when using this PC repair strategy.

There are so many different types of errors that can occur on a computer I do not even try to bog down my mind by knowing every possible situation, I just apply my computer hardware troubleshooting technique to the problem so that I can narrow down the variables to the minimum and go from there. It works amazingly well in most cases, especially when dealing with computer hardware troubleshooting.

-Netadept

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    • profile image

      Kevin Walker 7 years ago

      Hi again, further to my comment above I just wanted to let you know that your article has inspired me to set up a self help website for enthusiasts of the DIY approach to computer repair.

      Kind regards and many thanks.

      Kevin Walker.

      computerrepaircenter@computer-repaircenter.com

      http://www.computer-repaircenter.com/

    • profile image

      Kevin Walker 8 years ago

      Hi, great information I can certainly make very good use of this on my own PC!! There is a real need out there for a good reliable source of technical information such as this and there is a growing use of online support and self help which is good especially when it is reliable and for FREE!

      Regards, Kevin Walker.

    • profile image

      drey 8 years ago

      Hi netadept,

      I do computer troubleshooting and still learning. :) your tip is really essential for a computer hardware technician newbie to start with. The method you explained is narrowing down and isolation method of troubleshooting. You inspired me more to make a blog or hub to help more young and or beginning computer technicians to help them sharpen and hone their skills. This day, I developed a blog ( http://clhidohsr.blogspot.com )dedicated to give a report on an actual troubleshooting procedure done to serve as a database or an example on how to properly troubleshoot computer systems. Please give more tips on computer troubleshooting so that I can then use your tips to share to our fellow computer technicians. Please Visit my blog and any advice or correction is welcomed to better inform other technicians. :)

      cheers!

      drey

    • netadept profile image
      Author

      netadept 8 years ago from Northern California

      Thanks Cynthia! I'm working on my next hub right now. :-)

    • cynthiaalise profile image

      cynthiaalise 8 years ago from Los Angeles

      This is great. I hope that you will have time to write more!

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