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Basic Troubleshooting Steps

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System or Windows 9x will not boot up

  • Check for the obvious: Are all of your system's cables connected, and is everything plugged in ?
  • Look for clues: Restart the PC and carefully watch your monitor for clues to a hardware failure. When a component successfully initializes, a confirmation message usually appears on the screen. If a part is malfunctioning, your PC may display a failure message hinting at the problem.
  • Safe Mode: Start Windows 9x in 'Safe Mode', by holding down the key just before Windows boots. Select 'Safe Mode' from the Windows Startup Menu to load a bare-bones OS without drivers or start-up programs.
  • Boot again: If the PC boots in Safe Mode, reboot, return to the Windows Start-up Menu, and choose 'Step-by-Step Confirmation'. This will load one driver at a time. With luck, you'll be able to identify which driver or component is acting up.
  • Check to boot log: If the PC is still struggling, reboot, go to the Windows Start-up Menu, and choose 'Logged (/bootlog.txt)'. This generates a log file called bootlog.txt in your root folder that will record each step of the boot process and confirm its success or failure.
  • Call for help: Though the log file is pretty technical, examining it with a text editor may provide clues. And if not, it will still be invaluable to a support technician.

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Working Under the Hood

  • Unplug: Just shutting off the main power supply won't do it. Many systems continue to pipe a little juice through, even when turned off. To be safe, disconnect your modem and network cables, too (if applies)
  • Get organized: Make sure you have plenty of workspace.
  • Get grounded: Your body can build up enough static charge to fry the delicate circuits found in your computer. Your best protection is to wear a grounding strap on your wrist, which you can buy at most electronics shops. At the very least, touch your hand to the PC's metal case before handling any circuit.
  • Be careful: When you're pushing and pulling add-in cards, don't forget that circuit boards are delicate. And never twist an expansion card. Seating cards in expansion slots sometimes requires a bit of force, but make sure you apply it gradually and evenly.
  • Use real tools: Don't attempt to work on your system with such low-tech tools as a butter knife. You may not have the leverage to turn stubborn screws and you could slip, hurting yourself or damaging your circuit boards.

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Replacing Hardware Drivers

  • Get the right version: Know the exact model number (and sometimes the serial number) of any hardware device before you go to the vendor's website for drivers.
  • Don't be a guinea pig: The Beta in beta driver can be rearranged to spell beat - which is what you'll do to yourself when a beta driver crashes your system. If there is no justifiable reason the update your driver, stay away from beta drivers.
  • Follow directions: Read all the documentation you can find, and do what it says. The vendor knows the best method for installing its drivers.
  • Uninstall old drivers first: If you're replacing and existing card, remove the old drivers before you put in the new hardware. If the device installed software when originally setup, uninstall it either through the uninstall icon created in the Programs group or through 'Add/Remove Software' in the Control Panel. If not, go to Device Manager by right-clicking 'My Computer' and selecting 'Properties'. Find the old device and hit the Remove button. Since you can't remove a graphics card in Device Manager, change its driver to the 'Standard VGA driver'.
  • Never interrupt a driver installation: Always finish installing a driver and then, if you're having second thoughts, uninstall it. Stopping in mid-installation may change or damage key system files.
  • Justify doing it: If your graphics card, sound card, and so forth are working fine, why upgrade to the latest driver ? Examine the details on the vendor's website to see whether there's a compelling reason to mess with Utopia.

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Windows 9x Troubleshooting Tools

  • Troubleshooting Wizards: Both Windows 95 and Windows 98 contain a number of wizards designed to help solve hardware conflicts and other problems. To see a list of available wizards, select Start->Help, choose the Index tab, and type 'Troubleshooting'.
  • Device Manager: It's a great tool for tracking down hardware problems and for changing settings. Right-click 'My Computer' and select 'Properties' to find Device Manager. A yellow circle with an exclamation point warns of trouble.
  • System Information Utility: Find this Windows 98 applet at Start->Programs->Accessories->System Tools. The utility has three sections: Hardware Reources gives you a picture of IRQ, DMA, and other resource assignments, plus conflicts; Components lists all problem devices and supplies driver information; and Software Environment identifies the currently running programs.
  • System Configuration utility: Located under the System Information utility's Tools menu, this program allows you to edit, disable, and enable parts or all of your system files - such as system.ini and autoexec.bat. Doing this can help pinpoint the source of a problem.
  • System File Checker: Another tool housed in Windows 98's System Information utility, this application scans for corrupted or otherwise nonstandard versions of critical files. Then it helps replace the bad files with the original version from the Windows 98 cd-rom.
  • Registry Checker: Perhaps the most important of the System Information utility's programs, this checker scan your Registry and repairs certain types of problems. Its most important function, however, is to back up and restore Registry files (system.dat and user.dat) and other key files.

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Printer Problems

  • Check you power and paper supply: Make sure the printer is online and has paper in its tray. Clear the printer's memory by turning the printer off, waiting a few seconds, and then turning it back on.
  • Check your cable: Make sure you printer cable is firmly connected to both the printer and the PC. If your current cable is old, poorly constructed, or too long, signals may not reach their destination in coherent condition. Try replacing the cable if possible.
  • Now check your ports: Go to Device Manager by right-clicking 'My Computer' and selecting 'Properties'. Go down to 'Ports (COM and LPT)' and double-click on the LPT1 setting. Confirm the 'Device Satus' box is free or IRQ and DMA conflicts.
  • Mediate: If you've got a DMA conflict with your parallel port, check to see if it's configured as an ECP port. ECP is used for most (not all) new printers; it speeds up printing by using your PC's RAM. If your printer uses ECP and you have a DMA conflict, assign your parallel port and unused DMA via the CMOS setup program and/or Device Manager. If your printer doesn't support ECP, you need to configure the parallel port to a slower, compatible setting in the CMOS setup. Most PCs offer four settings. First try EPP mode and if that doesn't do it try Standard, it is the slowest, but it comes closest to being universally compatible.
  • Get a new driver: Drivers sometimes become corrupted or outdated. Go to the Printers folder by selecting Start->Settings->Printers, and delete your printer's icon. Then check your printer vendor's website for an updated driver, if you find one, download it and install it. If not, reinstall your current printer driver via the 'Add Printer' icon with the original vendor's printer driver.

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Network Troubleshooting

  • Make sure all cables are firmly in place: Replace any cables that are crimped or have loose connectors. Unplug and replug others to eliminate the chance of a loose connection.
  • Ping around to test the connection: On a TCP/IP network, get to a DOS prompt and type Ping Computername (where Computername is the name of a second machine); you should see four replies if your configuration is correct.
  • Make sure the hardware is working properly: Look at the network cards and the hub; flashing green lights mean your physical connection is fine. Make sure you haven't accidentally plugged into the Uplink (MDI-X) port, which is used to connect two hubs.
  • Update hardware drivers for your network adapter: If you have trouble configuring a new network card, download the latest drivers from the manufacturer's Web site.
  • When in doubt, reboot everything: Get your server up and running first, then bring clients up one by one. If no clients can connect, you probably have a misconfigured server or a hardware problem.

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