By Patrick Swem
Team Lead – Client Services Engineer
Trivalent Group, Inc.
Computers can be frustrating for everyone, but even moreso when something isn’t working. Whether you are a seasoned IT Engineer or a fledgling Office Assistant, issues arise that seem, at the moment, a monumental and insurmountable roadblock. While I am not able to walk you through any and all issues you may experience in this blog, I hope that you will take away a few items that you can use in the future.
***Please be advised: If you are not comfortable with any of these procedures, please do not perform them. Instead, reach out to a local repair shop (if this is a home computer) or your IT department or a third-party help desk/managed service provider such as Trivalent (if this is your office computer). ***
You may be asking, “Why is he going over this? I know how to hook up my computer!” This is definitely not to make anyone feel bad, far from it. I have run into issues myself where my home computer was off for a week and simply wouldn’t power on when I wanted to use it. One of the issues? My son saw the computer was off and needed a surge strip, so he took mine. I was angry, of course. Not at him, at least not initially, but more that my computer wasn’t working. And being an engineer, well, I overlooked the simple things and tore my computer apart first. I just want to save you the same troubles.
First thing? Your power button. If you are hitting your power button and there are no noises (fans coming on) and no lights, it is likely that the computer became unplugged. Check the power connection to your computer, the connection to the AC adapter (if a laptop), and the connection to the power outlet. Often, the computer was moved or the cord stepped on inadvertently, dislodging the cable from the back of the tower or the laptop’s AC adapter. If the power cord is connected to a surge protector or power strip, the power switch on this device could have been flipped as well (I have done this often to my computer at work; it is more common than one would hope). These are all things to check. It never hurts to disconnect and reconnect these cables, and doing so could resolve the issue.
If you have lights on your computer and it sounds like it is running but you have no display, the likely culprit is a loose video cable. Check this at both ends, i.e., on the computer and on the monitor. As with the power cord, there is a tendency for these to come lose, whether from kicking the cable under your desk or from moving your monitor to and fro. If you recently switched from VGA to DVI or another type of video cable, you may want to go through the monitor’s menu to make sure you have the correct input selected. Please refer to your monitor’s manual for how to do this, as it varies from model to model.
These are just a couple of things you can review if your computer isn’t, or doesn’t seem to be, turning on for you. It is always best to verify that all cables are securely connected if you have issues and to work to determine which device is not working (monitor, keyboard, mouse, etc.), to begin troubleshooting.
First item up for grabs: rebooting your system. No one likes to lose what they are working on, but there are times when you have no alternative. Whether your system has locked up or is running slow, the first thing you should think about is rebooting your system. Rebooting the system will clear the memory, and you will typically see a performance increase after the reboot.
The majority of computer users allow their systems to run for weeks on end, either locking them, logging off of their user account, or simply staying logged in. This can keep applications running in the background, which can increase the amount of memory in use by an application, which creates performance degradation. Another benefit to rebooting is to allow any security patches/updates to apply, making your device more secure.
Next up: Task Manager. Task Manager shows you the running applications and services on your Windows device. While I do not recommend you shut everything down or end processes, this is a good tool that can show you some performance metrics, along with showing applications using the majority of your computer’s resources.
There are several ways to access this tool, but I am only going to show you one of those methods. There are a few keyboard shortcuts you can use that work for Windows XP and newer, but those can get confusing for some. Instead, if you right-click an empty space on your taskbar, you can choose Task Manager (The taskbar is the bar that shows your open applications and starts with the Start Button and ends with the Clock/System Tray.).
The Performance tab will show you the resource usage of your computer in real-time. The Details tab gives detail on all of the running applications, both in the foreground and in the background. I want to stress this: I am not recommending that you close any of these applications. You will see several things here that you may not understand and you may be tempted to close/end the services because of that, but please don’t. We are simply going to use this to determine what, if anything, is taking up a large amount of resources. You can sort by the headers shown. Sorting by CPU will show you the applications that are taking up most of the CPU’s resource, and you can sort by Memory to see applications taking up memory resources. This information can be used to help understand if your Microsoft Excel, for instance, is taking up a lot of resources. If it is, switch to that application and close it (from within the application), and reassess your computer to determine if it is running better.
Now for a touch of complexity. It is best to determine what is causing the issue. This may sound easy, but it really isn’t. While your computer may not be having any issues, you may feel that your computers is slow because webpages aren’t loading quickly. Or perhaps Excel is taking a while to perform calculations. This helps to understand and troubleshoot. If it is web browsing, try another website. If that is slow, try another one; we want to have a good array of testing. If all pages seem to be slow, then that could point to an issue with your Internet service provider. Knowing that will save you time and money because, if you feel it is a computer issue, you may decide to take it to a local computer shop to have it repaired, only to find out there is no issue with the computer itself.
I hope that in some way, this information has helped you and provided you with some things that you can do to help with troubleshooting any issues you may run into. And remember, if you do not feel comfortable with any of this, that is OK. Computers are complex, and troubleshooting can be as frustrating as experiencing the issue!