Troubleshooting Common Hardware Problems – CompTIA A+ 220-802: 4.2

| May 26, 2013

When hardware fails, a number of messages and errors can occur during boot and in the operating system. In this video, you’ll learn how to troubleshoot lockups, boot problems, overheating, random reboots, and many other problems.

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When our hardware stops working, nobody’s happy. So in this video, I’m going to take you through some common hardware problems and how you might be able to resolve them.

One of the most frustrating hardware problems is when the system locks up with no messages whatsoever. Everything stops on the screen. It’s as if it suddenly is frozen in time. You can look into the event log, but usually with hardware problems like this and the system stopping completely, there’s usually nothing written into that Event Viewer.

Just because the screen is frozen, doesn’t necessarily mean that the operating system has stopped completely. So check to see if you can see any flashing lights from hard drive access. You may want to hit your Num Lock key and see if those status lights change or try pressing Ctrl-Alt-Del and try to get control back of the operating system and see if it recovers enough to put information onto the screen.

Sometimes problems like this will occur after we’ve made some type of change to the system. Maybe we’ve added a new hardware driver. Maybe we installed and operating system patch. You may want to consider all of those things that might have occurred now that this problem is happening. Then you may be able to back your system up or recover to a previous date and time and see if the problem is still occurring.

Ultimately if that restore point doesn’t resolve things, then we may also want to perform a hardware diagnostics. You want to be sure that anything that might be interrupting the system has been checked and checked very thoroughly. So an overnight test of memory, of your video, and other components may help you find where a problem might be occurring.

One very quick hardware test is the one that occurs when you power on your computer. This is called the power on self test. And it checks a minimal hardware configuration for your PC.

It checks to see if your video is there. It checks to see if the memory is inside of your computer. It checks other components as well. That way it does a basic overview of what might be running inside of your computer.

This is not a comprehensive test. But it does give you an idea if these particular components are working or not. If your video is having a problem, then you’re obviously not going to get messages on your screen. In that particular case, your system is going to send beeps through the system speaker. And those beeps will correspond to a particular error message.

Every BIOS is a little bit different. So check your manufacturer’s documentation and it will tell you exactly what number of beeps is associated with what kind of problem.

A blank screen certainly is indicative of a video problem and maybe the beep messages will help you determine where the problem is occurring. But sometimes the problem is associated with the BIOS configuration or you may be able to modify the BIOS and instead of using a separate video card that you’ve installed, you can tell the BIOS to use the built-in video and work around some of the problems that might be occurring.

Sometimes you’ll notice that your computer tries to boot from the wrong device. Maybe you’re using an external USB drive and when you start your system up, it tries to boot from that external drive, rather than booting from the internal drive inside of the computer. If you look at the BIOS, you can set what particular drive starts up first and you can change the order in which these will start. You need to look at the BIOS configuration and you can modify those so that it’s going to start in the way that you would like for your system.

If you start up your computer and you notice that it is looping through the startup process, it looks like it’s going to start and then it restarts the computer again, then you’ve got some big problems. So one of the things that you can do is to try to determine where the problem is occurring. Is it occurring during the BIOS check, where it’s doing the power on self test? Or is it starting to load the Windows operating system and we start to get a splash screen with the Windows logo and then everything starts over again?

By making that determination, you may then be able to decide if the problem is related to your hardware or perhaps it’s related to your Windows configuration. If you’re getting a splash screen and Windows is trying to start up, maybe we can revert our Windows configuration back to a previous date in time or maybe we have a backup nearby that we can then replace onto this system and get everything running again.

If we power off and we unplug our computer and then we plug it back in and power on, it still knows about the configuration of your computer. And it knows this because on your motherboard somewhere is a battery. And that battery is maintaining that BIOS configuration. If the battery goes bad or if the battery no longer has a charge, then obviously the configuration of your computer is going to be erased every time you lose power to that PC. And it may give you a prompt saying that the configuration isn’t valid or that the date and time is not correct. And if that occurs, you may be looking at replacing that particular battery to resolve the problem.

If you’re having problems with the change that you’ve made to your BIOS and you can’t get into the BIOS and reset that, you may want to clear out all of the configurations by removing the battery. There are also sometimes a jumper on the motherboard that you have to set. So make sure you look at your manufacturer’s documentation to determine the best way to clear out that BIOS configuration.

Our computers give off a significant amount of heat. There’s so many different components inside of our computers that are heating up the system, things like the CPUs that we’re using, our video cards. We have memory that gets hot. And all of these have to be cooled.

One of the best ways to cool down our system then is with some cool air that we bring through our computer using fans. We’ll usually have the fans pass over the warm equipment or perhaps there are heat sinks on top of those devices that are taking all of the heat and moving it up, so that the air can pass through and cool it that much faster.

If you’re trying to determine just how hot a computer might be, you can use some software they can examine the sensors that are inside of your computer. One that I use is called HWMonitor. You can find it at cpuid.com. And it brings up information on the screen that gives you an idea of just how hot your computer is getting.

That way you can do some troubleshooting. Perhaps take some settings and then clean out your system. Make sure the fans are spinning properly. Clear out any dust. Turn the system back on and see if it’s having the same problem with the heat. That way you can start to determine where your problems might be occurring as it relates to heat inside of your computer case.

One thing your computer should not be doing is making a lot of noise inside of the case. Most of our components are solid state and the ones that aren’t, are making a very simple hum, perhaps some fans that are moving or a hard drive. If we are moving a computer from one place to the other and we noticed that something maybe jostling around inside of it, we hear some rattling, then some of the components that are inside of that case may be loose.

We may want to take off the cover. Make sure everything is seated properly. Make sure a heat sink hasn’t fallen off and is rattling around inside of the computer. We don’t want anything that’s inside of our computer to also short other components. So make sure you remove anything that might be rattling or moving around inside of the case.

If you’re hearing scraping, well that may be a much more significant problem. Occasionally when hard drives begin going bad, you’ll start to hear some very odd noises, some scrapes and some clicks coming from those devices. And that may be your warning sign to do a backup as soon as possible.

Sometimes clicking noises are relating to fans that might be going bad. They’re spinning very quickly inside of your case and they do go bad. So you want to make sure that the clicking noises or any problems that are in there relating to the fans are resolved, so the inside of your computer stays as cool as possible.

It’s said that the smoke inside of your computer is really what’s keeping everything running. And if you let the smoke out, then nothing’s going to work properly. Obviously, we don’t like to see smoke on our computers. And if we smell smoke or smell a bad odor coming from our computer, then it’s probably some type of electrical problem. Whenever you run into that kind of problem, you want to disconnect the power as quickly as possible.

Remember that our motherboards are still getting power even after we’ve turned off the computer. The only way to make sure nothing is powered up is to remove the power cord from the back of your computer.

After smelling smoke or a bad odor, we may want to open up our system and do a visual check. Make sure that you don’t see any capacitors that might have blown. Look for something that is a little black on the motherboard or something doesn’t look quite right. Once you’ve done a full visual inspection, it may be time to do a hardware diagnostics to determine where that particular smell might be coming from. And you certainly want to check out every component inside of that to make sure there’s not going to be any problems in the future.

Some components on the inside of your computer will have status lights associated with them. We see this all the time with network connections. There may be a light there that shows status or power. Maybe it’s an adapter card that’s inside of your computer that has these lights on the side of it that are going to tell us about how that particular component is working.

You can use those status lights to help determine if the component is working or not. If the device goes bad and you notice the status lights are giving an error message or they’re not coming on at all, that may point to some hardware in that computer.

If you’re turning on your computer and nothing happens, then you can probably bet that there’s some type of power related issue on your system. So you may want to get out your multimeter, check to make sure you’re getting power from the wall outlet. Make sure that power is getting through the power supply and onto the motherboard of your system. And maybe then you can help determine where the problem might be occurring when you start your computer.

A more frustrating kind of problem is when your system is running fine and then intermittently you have a problem. It’s not when you perform a particular function. It’s seemingly random, whenever it occurs. That certainly points to some type of hardware issue. So perhaps this would be a good time to perform an overnight or a more comprehensive hardware check.

You also might want to check software drivers. A badly written software driver can cause problems as well. So make sure that there haven’t been any changes or make sure that you’re running the latest version of your software drivers.

If you power up your computer and the fans are spinning but nothing else is happening, then something is going on with the power that’s going to your motherboard. Maybe the power supply is providing enough power for the fans, but not enough power for your motherboard to get going or perhaps the motherboard is having a problem. Because the fan power is coming directly off of the power supply, it’s not relying on the motherboard. So your fans are working fine, but perhaps your motherboard is having a problem. That may be a good time to swap out the motherboard and see if the problem is resolved.

One thing we hate to see is this blue screen, the Windows Stop Error or what we call the blue screen of death. That BSOD is one that really stops everything in its tracks. This is where Windows stops completely and it requires a reboot to get things running again.

There’s some information on the screen they can be very important. And most of this information is written into a log. So you should be able to go back to your Event Viewer to determine what happened in the past.

Sometimes we’re not there when a blue screen occurs. So we can go back to our Event Viewer and see exactly what has occurred and what those error messages might have been. Once we have those details, we may be able to track down exactly where the problem is occurring.

This blue screen might be able to point us for instance to a particular file, that we can then check to see if we have a newer version, an updated device driver. Maybe the information that’s provided in the error is going to tell us more about what’s going on. And the information at the bottom, although it’s a lot of details and hexadecimal information, we may be able to provide that to the technical support team for the manufacturer and they may be able to resolve what’s going on with your hardware.

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Category: CompTIA A+ 220-802

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