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The Ultimate Guide To IT Troubleshooting

There’s no doubt that computers have done a lot for our lives, and there are so many things that we do each day that rely on them functioning perfectly. This seemingly simple piece of technology has been created to make life a little easier, but what happens when it all goes wrong and our computers have problems that we just can’t fix?

There are many different parts to a computer including screens, wires, keys, and cases, and in addition to all of this, you’re also dealing with software. When you put all of it together there’s the potential for a lot of problems to arise, but it doesn’t all need to be bad news.

IT or information technology is a broad subject that covers just about everything there is to do with computers and telecommunications, and when there’s a problem with our most prized possessions you can usually guarantee it’s going to be an IT issue. However, IT can be a tricky subject to broach, especially if you have little knowledge about computers.

Therefore, troubleshooting an IT problem is usually quite a detailed process and it involves looking at the simplest resolutions first and then working your way through to the more difficult ones. For many people, this means calling in help from the experts who can talk help through any issues that might be occurring and hopefully come to a quick resolution.

This simple guide will go through some of the more common problems that arise when working with computers, whether you’re in the office or at home. We’ll look at how troubleshooting has improved over the years thanks to the help of the internet and how to know when it’s time to call in the experts to get some serious help.

The History Of IT And PC’s

When IBM launched the world’s first personal computer in 1981, nobody really had any idea how much it would transform our lives and become such a major part of what we do. These computers might seem slow and bulky compared to today’s standards, but they were amazing devices that were set to change the world. Although there had been many variations of computers released prior to this, it’s still considered the first computer ever made purely for personal users.

With the launch of home computers, though, came the need for guidance and assistance on an electronic device that nobody had ever used before. Way before we could easily Google for assistance or use a search function in the operating system that would troubleshoot the problem for us, things were done a little differently with these early models.

Even the initial setup of these computers in 1981 and the years prior was a difficult task and usually required someone coming to the home or office to do so. The specifics of the environment around the computer were even quite detailed so as to avoid overheating or damage being done. When compared to today, these computers were quite sensitive and so a lot of the IT problems were related to the hardware.

Early computers, like the first IBM PC, came with quite lengthy user manuals that were intended to walk you through any potential problems you might have. There were support staff contactable by phone, however, this wasn’t always a fast solution, and you would need to phone a computer technician in your area to come and help.

Although these personal computers were certainly a major leap in terms of development, those in IT believe that the real changes started once computers were able to connect with each other. Whether it was through a LAN (Local Area Network) or over long distance WAN (Wide Area Networks), the introduction of the internet made it easier than ever to fix problems on your computer or put you into contact with those that could.

Improvements In Troubleshooting Over The Years

There isn’t much that the internet hasn’t improved in our lives but the people to benefit the most where those involved in IT. Although troubleshooting was possible before we had access to the internet, it wasn’t anywhere near as fast or as accurate as it is today now that we’re able to share information quickly with people all over the world.

Man at a computer.

Before we had the internet, we had to rely on manuals to get guidance, hire technicians to physically come to our homes or offices and fix the problems, or use whatever minimal resources were available within the storage of the computer. This, of course, made it slow for problems to be fixed and often relied on old and outdated information to do so.

Now that we have access to the internet, both IT experts and everyday people alike, troubleshooting is something that can be done in mere minutes. There are ways to access help online from experts, regularly updated help and search functions on operating systems and programs, as well as the World Wide Web at your fingertips that allows you to search for anything that comes to mind.

When we look back at how we fixed IT problems before the internet, it’s amazing to see we progressed as far as we did. It could be days, weeks, and even months before your computer problems were solved and usually at great expense, so we’re extremely grateful that troubleshooting has advanced as much as it has today.

What Is An IT Technician?

You might have heard of larger corporations and companies having their own IT team, and this group or individual is responsible for all of the IT support within the organization. This role can be as simple as setting up email accounts for users or more serious like solving problems with the network servers.

As computers are usually hard for everyday people to fix when there’s an issue, an IT technician is a crucial part of the modern world. Whether you have someone dedicated to fixing yours at work or you need someone for assistance with your home computer, chances are you’ll need to rely on someone in IT to troubleshoot or solve problems for you at some time or another.

The role of an IT professional these days has certainly changed, though, with fewer people wanting to take their computers to a store to have them fixed. The preference today is to do everything online, and thankfully many of the complex IT problems can be solved this way.

The Most Common IT Problems That Occur For Everyday Users

When people think about IT troubleshooting they’re usually imagining something complex and hidden well within the computer, meaning an expert tech guide would have to write complicated code just to solve it. There are actually many parts to a computer both physical and otherwise, so the common problems that are seen by these IT experts can vary quite a bit.

Hardware Problems

The hardware of a computer refers to any physical parts that it uses, including wires, monitors, and keyboards. With this many working parts running together it’s not surprising that hardware issues make up a lot of the problems that occur with computers. Usually, these are harder to diagnose than software problems but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be fixed. Here are a few of the common issues that arise with a computer and their hardware.

Fixing hardware problems.

Blank Display Screen

As one of the most common hardware problems on a computer, it’s comforting to know that this is usually one of the easiest to fix. If your screen isn’t displaying a signal or is showing random and unusual colors, there are some things you can try before you start to panic. Check the cords are connected in the right places and that the power is connected. See that the pins are secured on the CPU if you are having color issues.

Freezing Computer

When your computer starts to freeze it can be a cause for concern, but this is usually just a matter of spending some time with the hardware to solve it. The most common cause for a frozen computer is overheating, and this can happen for a few reasons. Either the computer is stored in a place that’s too hot or not allowing for circulation of the internal fan has died or gathered too much dust, and it will have to be cleaned. If these don’t work, you may need to take some of the pressure off the CPU by closing some programs and applications.

Failing To Start Up

Sometimes our computers just don’t want to start, and it can be a scary experience when you think that it may never turn on again. Usually, you can try to do a startup in safe mode and see if that fixes anything, otherwise, it may be a sign of a bigger problem with failed hardware.

Problems With Shutting Down

If you find that your computer continues to shut down by itself or is taking longer than usual to do so when requested, this is usually due to a hardware issue. Having your computer shut down without warning can make it hard to save documents or files you might have been working on so it’s a problem you’d want to get fixed sooner rather than later. Sometimes, though, this can be caused by a virus or software problem, so it’s best to get professional assistance.

Mouse Or Keyboard Not Working

These important parts of the computer might not actually be inside the device but when they have an error they will make it very hard to work. Luckily, replacing a broken mouse or keyboard is relatively cheap when compared to other computer parts. You can check for broken wires, uninstalled drivers, unplugged cords, or sensors that might be causing the problem before you go any further though.

Dead Hard Drive

The hard drive is your main storage component of the computer so when something goes wrong with it, it can have quite a big impact. If you suspect this might be the problem then it is usually one of the more expensive parts to fix and may even need to be seen by a professional. You should try and get as much data from it as possible before going any further.

Booting Errors

Not to be confused with startup errors, the booting error usually happens when you’re performing a reboot. This means your computer won’t start or reboot as requested. Usually, it can be a problem to do with the wires or perhaps a disk or drive that you’ve inserted into the computer.

Driver Related Problems

The device driver of a computer is a program specifically made to run a piece of hardware. Although this might sound like a software problem, because it is used for a piece of hardware we would class it as such. This can be because of a dated version of the software, actual problems with the hardware itself, or compatibility issues between the hardware and the computer.

Software Problems

The software of a computer relates to the parts that include data or computer instructions. Software is not physical and refers to any information that is processed by the computer, its systems, and the data within. When you’re having an issue with your computer, these are the most common areas solved with IT troubleshooting.

Error displaying on a red screen.

Firmware Problems

Firmware is an inbuilt part of the computer and is responsible for low-level control of the hardware. Firmware can be found in things like ROM and flash memory as they are non-volatile memory devices. This type of software is considered to be just as important as the operating system you choose, and even other devices like printers and USB flash drives use some form of firmware too.

Because firmware has been designed for a very specific purpose and a specific command on your computer, it can be hard to rectify a problem for yourself, and it’s not like standard software that you just install and uninstall as you need. Often times, issues with firmware are due to the developer making an error and this can easily be updated and fixed with the new release.

Problems With The Operating System

Every computer is unique and the best way to categorize them, apart from the make and model, is to see what operating system they run on. This refers to the low-level software program that helps the computer perform basic tasks and run, managing both the software and hardware attached to it.

The three most common operating systems are Mac, Windows, and Linux, each offering something unique to users.  Here are the ways that each of the OS stands out and what type of users they would suit.

Windows

By far the most complex of all operating systems for the computer, every new Windows system has been designed so that it supports previous versions. This means you will be able to run programs that were made for DOS on computers that were created in 2018.

Mac OS

Mac is generally known as the safest of all operating systems as it’s not prone to viruses or cyber attacks, however, it’s not ideal for people who like little control over their computer and the ability to adjust it.

Linux

Working on the same UNIX operating system as Mac, it can be hard to tell these two apart. The main difference is that Linux was created as a free learning operating system and there are many open source programs that you can use and download for yourself.

Thankfully, when issues arise within the operating system it’s usually easier to find a solution thanks to prompts and information provided by the system itself. If you’re unable to resolve it with these solutions you will need to look for assistance elsewhere. Common problems include programs not running, programs causing a system crash, and being able to perform simple tasks within the OS.

Other Software Problems

The software on our computers is complex, but people often mistake the problem for something far more serious than it is. These are just a few of the common problems that you might encounter on your computer and what they usually mean.

Under Construction sign placed on shift.

Abnormal Applications Behavior

The programs we use on our computer are pretty simple so when something goes wrong it’s usually glaringly obvious. For example, a banner isn’t showing up in Microsoft Word or your internet browser isn’t performing its usual functions. There’s a good chance you accidentally changed some settings or inadvertently did something to the application which can be easily reverted back to default.

Slow Running Software

When you click on a program and it feels like hours before it finally launches or the commands within a program are slow and unresponsive, this is usually a software problem. There are a few ways you can see how deep the problem goes including cleaning up the hard drive and reinstalling the software to see if it makes a difference.

Applications Not Installing

If you’re trying to download or install a new application on your computer and it’s continuing to fail, this is usually to do with the software itself or inadequate space on your computer. First, check that there is no new information available about the software that may indicate issues and then look for signs of damage to any physical components of it (like the CD-ROM). Next, look at the available space on your computer and see if there’s enough free to facilitate the installation.

Internet Related Problems

The internet has certainly been a gamechanger for everyday people and those working in IT, but in the same token, it has also created another world of problems to deal with. Here are a few common IT issues that arise due to the internet and some simple solutions for how you might be able to solve them.

A little figurine of a man with a pick, cutting down the internet cable.

Security

Being a computer owner means you need to remain vigilant about what websites you visit, what information you enter, and the credibility of people or companies you deal with online. Hacking can occur when you make yourself and your computer vulnerable so you need to be aware of your computer’s security settings and how to optimize them.

Antivirus Software

Antivirus software is an essential part of computer ownership that keeps you protected from threats online. People can easily access your information, corrupt files, and go as far as identity theft when you don’t have the right protection in place. However, these programs also have issues on their own that can lead to problems with the rest of your computer. Investing in a security package that features antivirus software is a smart move for anyone who owns a PC or laptop.

Downloads Taking Too Long

People often assume that slow downloads are a problem with your computer or a lack of space on the hard drive, but they’re usually a result of slow internet speeds. You can run a quick diagnostic test that will show your internet speeds and then go from there to fix it.

Losing Internet Connection

Although a lost internet connection can usually be blamed on your service provider, it’s not always the case. When you’re consistently dropping out of service it can be extremely frustrating especially when you are paying a premium price for your plan. Sometimes this can be an issue with your computer, the modem, or even other software, so there are a few things you can try before calling in help.

Common Windows Issues

Microsoft has always enjoyed a space at the top of the rung as the most popular operating system around, and although their numbers have dropped somewhat this is still certainly the case. One of the main reasons for this is that the PC market itself has seen a decline overall, but it doesn’t mean that Windows still doesn’t hold the number one spot.

According to the Federal Digital Analytics Program, Windows is still the most popular user-end operating system and holds a market share of 49.2 percent of PC users. These huge numbers mean that IT troubleshooting problems related to Windows are a big enough category on their own and worthy of a special mention. Here are some of the common problems that Windows users might face.

Bandages placed on a windows icon.

Older Version Of Windows

When you’re trying to update your software to a newer version of Windows, you might be faced with a common error. Some people find that their computer becomes stuck on an infinite loop with a black screen that states ‘Restoring Your Previous Version of Windows’. This is one of those unfortunate times when you’ll need to be patient and wait for the command to finish, which some people have reported taking days.

Windows Is Not Compatible With Other Software

People found that with newer version of Windows, including Windows 10, that some of their applications were no longer working. If this is happening to you, you can simply change the Compatability Mode in your settings so that it reverts back to a previous version that will allow you to run the program.

Slow Speeds

Windows may sometimes run slower than usual, and this can be quite an annoyance for both home and office users. If you’re experiencing slow speeds you can do simple tasks like deleting old files out of your junk and close down any background applications that might be running and taking up memory.

Undoing A Mistake

Modern computers have been designed to make it virtually impossible to make a mistake on them, but if you find that you’ve done something you really can’t undo you might want to do a complete system restore. Choosing this option lets you turn back the clock to a specific time before the mistake was made so you can start again.

Blue Screen Of Death (BSOD)

The biggest and scariest problem that Windows users have to deal with is the dreaded Blue Screen of Death (BSOD). Anyone who’s ever experienced this for themselves will know just how terrifying it can be, but there are things you can do to try and solve it before you reach for help.

Blue Screen Of Death

Aside from the scary sounding name, the Blue Screen of Death is also known as a stop error. The blue screen appears on your Windows computer after a fatal system error and is also known as a computer crash. This means that your operating system has reached a point where it can no longer function safely or be used, and it needs urgent attention.

Common Causes Of BSOD

The BSOD has been present in Windows versions since 1993 when the Windows NT 3.1 was released and occurs in all systems since then.  The cause of this error can be due to a few different things:

Hardware: This relates to any pieces of hardware in or connected to your computer malfunctioning. These problems include overheating of the computer, issues with your power supply, faulty memory, or hardware that is running beyond its limits.

Driver Software: Most commonly these low-level software programs can cause the BSOD. If a regular application on your computer crashes it will do so without wiping out the entire system like this, so you can safely assume it’s from hardware driver software or another installation process.

What To Do When You See BSOD

Usually, the first reaction to a BSOD is to panic, due to the severity of the error. Some people might even want to try and fix it for themselves, but be aware that this can take a few hours of work to do so and a little bit of knowledge about computers and the Windows operating system in general.

In order to know how to undo the problem that occurred, you can ask yourself what it was you just did. Did you just install something new that potentially caused the crash? This can mean a new piece of software, new hardware driver, or even a Windows update from online. Something obvious like this is the first thing to consider and usually the easiest to solve.

If there was an action directly linked to your BSOD then at least you know what’s caused the problem and can hopefully backtrack your steps and undo it. For those times when you’re not sure what exactly caused the problem then it can be harder to solve, and this is when you might need to get help from an IT expert.

What Should You Do When You Encounter A Problem?

As computer owners, especially those with less experience than we’d like, it can be scary and uncertain when an error occurs with your computer. The first response is usually to panic and then try random things until we can hopefully fix whatever just occurred.

The safest approach to take, though, is putting the internet to good use and searching for an answer that might point you in the right direction. There are plenty of helpful people out there that can assist with basic computer problems and give you step by step instructions about what might work.

Computers can be sensitive machines so taking matters into your own hands when you have no experience doing so can end up causing a lot more damage. Take your time to search whether it’s using the Help function of your operating system or performing a quick Google query to see if others have experienced the same. This should always be your first step and also a good indicator of whether or not you can fix it on your own.

Knowing When To Ask A Certified IT Technician

Unfortunately, there are going to be times when an internet search can’t help or when you’re unable to find troubleshooting tips online. It may be that you’ve found help but can’t comprehend the instructions, so you need to reach out to the experts.

Certified IT Technician

If you’re finding it too complicated to solve the problem yourself or are concerned about the data on your machine and possibly losing or damaging it, it’s probably best to ask for professional IT assistance. Any problem that stops you in your tracks and doesn’t seem to have an obvious solution is one that you will need help with, and in this day and age, there’s nothing wrong with reaching out for expert advice.

However, the days of lengthy waits at computer shops or waiting for someone to come to your house and service it just isn’t feasible anymore. The best way to get instant help is to use an online IT service that can fix your problem faster than anyone. These experts offer that little bit extra than what you’ll find on a free Google search and they’re perfect for the problems that you just can’t fix.

General PC Troubleshooting Tips

There are plenty of specific problems that occur with our computers, and sometimes they might just not run as smoothly as they usually do. Before you go searching for help or worrying that you’ve done some permanent damage to your computer, there are some simple things you can do first.

Restart computer

This is the easiest step to try first and one that will surprisingly solve a lot of problems. If you’re able to use the computer, perform a system restart that will shut the computer down briefly and then start it again. More often than not, things will have returned to normal by the time the computer turns back on.

Check Cords And Cables

As much as we don’t want to admit, sometimes our computer problems aren’t actually to do with the computer at all but more with our forgetfulness. If your screen isn’t working or the computer is failing to turn on, don’t jump to conclusions about broken hardware. Check the power ports, outlets, cables, and cords to make sure everything is plugged in. If need be, pull them out, dust them off, and then plug them back in securely.

Update Software

If you’re finding things running a little slow or a particular application doesn’t seem to be working, you might need to update them to a newer version. Windows usually has a setting for automatic updates so check that this is on, otherwise, you can perform a manual one. For programs specifically, check their settings to see that you have the latest version.

Keep An Eye On The Space

Computers come in all different sizes depending on how much memory they hold so some will be capable of more. If you’re someone who has movies, music, videos, pictures, and various applications and programs on your computer, there’s a good chance you’re taking up too much space. Spend some time once a month clearing out junk and anything unused and you might find it runs faster.

Write Down Error Messages

When you come across a scary error message there’s no need to panic. The best approach is to write down the message or take a picture of it with your phone so you can refer to it later. If someone is giving you IT support they’ll likely want to know exactly what happened and this is crucial information.

Write Down Troubleshooting Steps

If you’ve encountered a problem and are trying to fix it yourself, it’s best to make a note of exactly what steps you’re taking to do so. This way, if you need extra help from IT you’ll be able to tell them what you’ve tried so far and what did or didn’t work.

Run A Virus Scan

Viruses are an unfortunate part of owning a PC in this day and age, so if something doesn’t seem right with your computer then they could be to blame. Do a scan with your antivirus program and let it run all the way through to completion then check to see if something suspicious might be causing the problems.

Close Background Applications

For those who leave their computer running for days on end, it’s easy to build up quite a collection of applications in the background. Each application uses a certain amount of memory to run and when you have many going it can slow things down or cause problems. Check with your task manager to see what’s running, how much space it’s using, and whether or not you actually need it.

Getting Help From The IT Experts

There’s no denying that computers have changed the way we live, do business, interact with friends and family, and view the world. What once were bulky and complicated machines are now straightforward and easy to use, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t still without their problems.

IT troubleshooting has always been such an important part of personal computing, and even in the very early days when we looked through user manuals or took our computers into a shop for help from a technician, we wouldn’t have gotten very far without the knowledge and skills of these IT geniuses. When a Google search or Windows help query can’t help you out, there are people out there that can.

Keyboard button for an IT expert.

Thankfully, IT troubleshooting is now just as simple as our computers are themselves. No longer do you need to read a lengthy book to find solutions or wait for weeks to get your computer back from the store, as we can now access everything we need on the internet. These online IT experts work around the clock to solve problems at any time of day or night and let you get back to your most important device faster than ever.

Sometimes there are problems that we just can’t fix on our computers, and there’s nothing to be ashamed of if this happens to you. Expert help is just a click away and it’s now more affordable than ever. Living without our computers just isn’t an option in this day and age, and thankfully it doesn’t have to be anymore.

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