Think about what a computer really does. Never forget that all a computer really does is manipulate 1s and 0s. It uses a number of mechanical devices and software to let it do this and to communicate that information with you. When you have a problem with the computer, the problem has to do with its ability to manipulate that information.
What are the key processes that need to be considered?
Electricity – A computer requires a clean, uninterrupted source of electricity to operate. Not having that will cause problems sooner or later.
Processor – This is where the code is actually manipulated and it must work properly for the computer to work properly. Fortunately, the processor chip is one of the most reliable parts of the computer when run at its recommended settings.
Memory – SDRAM, RDRAM, or whatever memory you have must work well or there will be errors. This is where the computer stores the data it is manipulating.
Storage – You have to keep the information somewhere. That is usually the hard drive. If the harried is having problems, then you can expect to have problems.
Along with all those things are the motherboard and the various peripherals that link it all together and allow us to see and hear the data or share the data with other computers. Remember that each of these devices have specific functions, but the four mentioned above effect everything we do with the computer. If the problem is a system-wide one, then we should take a hard look at these four devices.
So far, I have focused on hardware problems, but we should note that software can also cause problems. Poorly written code, corrupted files, buggy drivers, and other software issues can cause problems that can be difficult to solve. The same principles apply though. Understand the problem, record the symptoms, isolate the problem area, and eliminate each possible cause via a methodical step-by-step approach until the problem is solved.
For example: If your fax software is causing problems, start by uninstalling and reinstalling the software to eliminate the chance of corrupt files. If that doesn’t work, uninstall and try different software. If the problem persists, you have eliminated the application as the cause for the problem and can proceed to the next step. It may be a problem with the OS, and the particular part of it that the fax software hooks into. This may require a new install to correct, or you may be able to use a repair tool (like Windows’ System File Checker [SFC]) to identify and fix the problem. If the problem still persists, it may be time to look at the modem and see if it’s a hardware problem.
A very common problem area that crosses the border between software and hardware are drivers. Keep in mind that most hardware components in your computer need drivers to function properly. Unfortunately, no driver is perfect. If your problem involves weird behavior of a certain hardware component such as printer, video card, sound card, etc., then the first step should be a visit to the manufacturer’s web site (you can find a list of manufacturer’s web sites at /links.html#manufacturers) to download and install the most recent driver.
You might not be alone
When you troubleshoot a problem, keep in mind that you might not be the only one that ran into that issue. Most manufacturers keep some sort of FAQ or knowledge base on their web site with a list of solutions to common problems and/or offer patches that might fix your problem. It is always a good idea to consult the manufacturer’s support pages to cover all your bases.