It might appear strange to introduce troubleshooting so early, when talking about basic computing. Nevertheless it’s a fact of life that electrical devices go wrong and I believe its’ helpful to have some idea what you can do when this happens.
If at anytime, you feel uncomfortable or unsure when troubleshooting then don’t feel pressured to carry on. Take a short break and try later. Alternatively ask a friend or family member to see if they can help or know someone who can. Be aware though, that some people are not as knowledgeable as they think they are.
If you decide you need a professional, be aware that they charge for their services, so shop around.
Despite many stories that you hear, modern devices are quite reliable and robust, and in many ways are becoming self-healing – But from time to time things can go wrong and there are some basic steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of something happening and how to diagnose what’s wrong.
In many instances, computers can be just used, out of the box with little user configuration needed. Portable devices are similar, except deciding what apps you want on the desktop (excluding iOS and iPad OS, where Apple largely decides that for you).
Modern Computer devices are mostly setup to automatically update the operating system, without user interference and it’s usually best to just let this happen. The same is also true of the applications running on the device, on iOS and Android devices the relevant app stores will run in the background updating your apps.g
On computers, applications will either update automatically or prompt you to update, when you run them.
When on websites always be aware of advertisements that offer to scan for “drivers” (a device driver or hardware driver is a group of files that enable one or more hardware devices to communicate with the computer’s operating system), or “system problems”. Some are well meaning and will do the job (sometimes for a price) or might be malware that will do harm. Generally, if you have a reasonably new computer, the operating system will scan for and download such files for you. On older systems you may have to seek out drivers yourself, but this should always be from the manufacturers website.
If you are someone who spends a lot of time writing long documents or are working on spreadsheets, get into the habit of saving the file every five or ten minutes – This may well save you a lot of work later.
There are numerous applications available, some inbuilt, that you can use to backup important information to an external drive (never, never backup to the same drive as your data is stored, because if the disk fails you lose everything.
There are companies who offer to recover data from drives – Be aware that despite their claims there is no guarantee that they will be 100% successful – Check the small print.
Many issues with a device can be resolved by simply restarting the device – If your tablet or phone doesn’t have a restart option then just turn it off and then turn it back on again. This just refreshes the system and often helps.
With external devices such as printers, often just turning it off and on again or removing the connecting cable is all that is needed (sometimes restarting the computer, at the same time, helps). Printers are very robust and in 95% of cases the issue will be with the application, on your computer, that controls the printer. The remaining 5% is where there is a bang from the printer or smoke coming out of it.
Always remember to save anything you are working on before you restart or shutdown otherwise any unsaved work will be lost.
If you encounter a problem with the operating system or an application, that prevents you from carrying on with the task, and the error keeps happening then write down what has happened so that you, or a support line, can research it. The type of information you will need to write down is:
Operating system (e.g. Windows 10 or Mac OS)
Application name (if it’s the application that is at fault)
What does the message say, include any codes as well as the text?
Is only one application effected or more?
What was you doing when the error occurred?
If you have a support package, ring them and describe what happened (99% will be very happy with you because you have bothered to write down what has happened).
You MUST have your device with you when you ring.
The support technician will talk you through troubleshooting steps – Don’t get frustrated if the steps are something you have already tried as there is a reason why they do this. Even if you think you know more than the technician (and you might) be patient.
More frequently the support technician may want to remotely connect to your computer – This is perfectly normal and can be a very quick way to resolve the issue. However this is not the same as someone ringing you up unexpectedly saying they are from Microsoft, BT, Virgin (etc) and there is something wrong with your computer – Unless you have already opened a fault request with your support team and they have said they will ring you back, the unexpected call will most likely be a scam – Just hang up.
If you don’t have a support contract then all is not lost You have the option of taking your device to a local computer shop, or you can research it yourself by using a search engine such as Google or Bing. In the search box just type the error message and you will get information back.
It’s a good idea to monitor your hard drives to ensure that they do not fill up. As a general rule of thumb, a computer must have 10% of its hard drive space free to run smoothly.
On a Windows computer open Windows Explorer and look on the left for an icon called This PC. Click on this and look in the right-hand pane for the C: drive (the hard disk). It will graphically show you how much space is in use, if the drive has a red bar then it is almost full, and files must be moved to another drive.
On a Mac go to the menu at the top of the screen, and click Go > Computer and select the hard disk (usually Mackintosh HD). Then click on File > HD. This will tell you the size of the hard disk, how much has been used and how much is free.
All devices are affected by age and battery condition. As manufacturers upgrade Operating Systems, it does put a strain on system resources (due to the compact design upgrading hardware is often difficult or impossible). Battery condition is another factor – You can only recharge a battery so many times, and as you recharge eventually the condition of the battery’s cells deteriorate and the time period between charges will shrink – Again because of device design it is often not possible to replace the battery and the device has to be disposed of.
As devices age, you may find that more modern apps may not work on older devices.
Low cost handhelds and computers often have inferior or out of date hardware that means the device won’t run as effectively as a more expensive or newer version.
Below are some general tips on basic troubleshooting on each operating system – Note that this won’t cover every scenario and be aware that as manufacturer update their systems new features may be added, or amended.
Windows has an inbuilt protection system to prevent, in the majority of cases, harm being done to the operating system. This is popularly known as The Blue Screen of Death (BSOD) – The first thing you will know is that the computer automatically restarts itself. Generally Blue screens are caused where a driver misbehaves and before it can do any damage Windows steps in and reboots.
While the Blue screen is showing you will see an error message, as mentioned above take details. Often the Blue Screen will not happen again, but if they start to happen frequently this might be a sign of serious issues and professional help should be sought
Often you will need to fully shut down the computer when this happens and the only option open to you will be to long press the power button until the machine shuts down.
Shutting down a computer using the long press should always be the last resort, as doing this frequently can cause serious harm to the hard disk and can lead to disk failure.
Once the computer has shut down, wait thirty seconds and then power on the computer and log in. If you get any subsequent error messages write them down as well.
Microsoft has incorporated into windows 10 a number of troubleshooting routines that you can run to help resolves small issues.
To find and run the trouble shooter, navigate to Settings (Start > Settings) and then click on the Update and Security icon. Scroll down on the left of the screen and select troubleshoot. Choose the trouble shooter that best covers your issue, then follow the on-screen instructions. Occasionally you may have to run a trouble shooter more than once.
Hard Disk clicking or Fan constantly running
A clicking hard disk often means one of two things. A connector on the drive has worked loose and is making\breaking connection. Alternatively, it may mean that your hard disc if failing. In either case quickly take a backup of all your important files onto a external drive and seek professional assistance.
A fan constantly running can also have different causes. If you have been working for a long period on your computer, especially laptops, or processing photographs\videos that does put extra strain on the device and is normal behaviour.
A build up of dust in the machine, blocks air vents and makes the computer overheat causing the fan to run. On older machines parts can overheat – in either of these scenarios you should consider getting professional help as an overheating computer will run slowly and will eventually break down.
Computer running slowly
A number of things can cause this.
You have an old computer that is no longer coping
Too many applications open at the same time
Low disk space
Adjust performance to suit the capabilities of your machine
Disable unnecessary start-up programs (programmes that automatically start when Windows boots up
To adjust performance
In the search box on the taskbar, type performance, then select Adjust the appearance and performance of Windows in the list of results.
On the Visual Effects tab, select Adjust for best performance > Apply.
Restart your PC and see if that speeds up your PC.
To stop unnecessary programs starting automatically
Do this with care as if you disable a key program your computer may malfunction – As a rule of thumb leave alone anything with Microsoft in the name, anything with the word updater (or a variation of this) and your anti-virus.
Select the Start button, then select Settings > Apps > Start-up .
In the Start-up Apps area, find the program you want to stop from starting automatically and set it to Off.
If you don’t see the above then press Ctrl + Alt + Delete, select Task Manager, select Start-up, select the program you want to stop from starting automatically, then select Disable.
Reboot the computer. If you notice that the computer is working incorrectly then repeat the above process, re-enabling one application at a time until the issue is cured. Remember which application restored normal connection and then disable again the other applications.
Macs don’t get the Blue Screen of Death – In Mac World they are called kernel panics.
Generally, if a Mac encounters a serious system error you get a message on screen, telling you to restart the machine.
As for Windows computers, if the above happens frequently you would be wise to seek professional help.
If you turn your Mac on and get a grey or blue screen (usually the machine gets stuck at the apple logo), then this can mean that there is a problem with hardware (e.g. a printer, monitor or drive) attached to the machine.
Hold the power button down to turn off the machine, then disconnect all external hardware except the mouse, keyboard and monitor (if you have a monitor with a laptop disconnect the monitor as well). Then restart the computer if the machine starts ok then shut down, and re-attach one external device, reboot and see if everything is ok. Then repeat the process with any other devices adding one at a time and reboot until you find the device responsible. It may mean that the device that caused the issue needs replacing.
If removing all external devices doesn’t cure the problem, get professional help.
If, whilst using your Mac, you get a spinning Beachball on screen, then this is a sign that the computer is busy, and you will have to wait until it’s stopped before you do anything else.
Don’t be tempted to just keep clicking with the mouse as all this does is queue up commands for the computer to action one the beach ball stops and usually you will just get more beachballs.
Possible reasons for the spinning beachball are:
The computer is just busy
Too many programs open hogging resources
The machine is showing its age
Try not to open any more programs than you are actually working on.
Another reason for slow running is that you are getting low on disk space. If this is the case then get rid of programs you no longer need and move large folders (e.g. photos and music) to an external drive
If your computer takes an age to load, again there are possible reasons for this. Possibly your machine is just getting old. Another reason is that you may have lots of programs running at start-up.
To reduce the number of programs automatically starting when you turn the computer on then open the Users & Groups pane of System Preferences and click the Login Items tab, and you’ll see a list of apps (and even files and folders) that open every time you log in. (This list is different for each user account on your Mac.) More often than not, items appear in this list because apps added them to it.
Most apps that do so ask you for permission first or offer an ‘Open at Login’ checkbox for you to check, but not all are so well behaved. In any case, you can add an item to the list manually by clicking the plus sign (+) button or remove an item by selecting it and clicking the minus sign (-) button.
As with Windows be very careful which programs you stop running at start-up. If you stop a key system application from running your system will not work properly and might even refuse to start. Likewise ensure that your anti-virus is always set run at start-up.
With Windows computers there are tweaks that you can make to enhance performance, Macs tend to do this automatically.
Be aware though, with laptops, boosting performance will reduce the time between charges.
How to fix a frozen Mac
If your problem is that your Mac has frozen in the middle of a task, or an app has become unresponsive, it is possible to Force Quit it by right clicking/control clicking on its icon in the Dock and choosing Force Quit.
Alternatively, you can Force Quit an app by pressing Command+Alt+Escape at the same time.
Hold down the power button to achieve a reboot. As mentioned for Windows avoid doing this too often as it can damage the drive.
Be aware that if you have to Force Quit or reboot your Mac you may lose some data.
Generally, Android is a robust Operating System, problems encountered tend to be caused by age, low specification components and poorly written software (remember many apps are free so the author may not invest a lot of time in his app).
Another factor in performance is that whilst Google have created the Operating System, each device manufacturer is able to amend the original system in their own way. When you look at the menus in one manufacturers device and compare it with another you may notice some differences, this coupled with the industries habit of creating low cost devices and then not updating them compounds the issue.
Common issues are:
Battery drain – As well as age there are other reasons why your battery doesn’t last very long. In most cases now, gone are the days when a device charge will last a couple of days – Most devices require, depending on use, a full charge at least once a day. Two options to reduce usage are to reduce screen brightness and occasionally to engage battery saving mode. Because of device differences the only way to find these settings is to go into settings and use the search box to find the relevant controls.
Frozen or slow apps – Devices typically begin to slow down as their internal storage fills up. Try deleting unused apps and photos. In addition, you should close open apps that you are no longer using, delete app cache, and limit the use of live wallpapers. An app’s cached data can be deleted by going to Settings > Apps, selecting a certain app, and choosing the Clear Cache option.
Connection Issues – Possibly in a area of poor reception. If you have are having a problem connecting to Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or your cellular network, enable Airplane mode for 30 seconds, toggle it off, and try connecting again. Sometimes simply toggling the specific connection can also solve the problem.
Unresponsive screen – Try turning the deviceoff and back on again.
As with all devices turning off and back on again can work wonders
iOS differs from Android, in that it is less configurable, with regard to what you can put on the desktop (with Android you can put as much or as little as you want, iOS puts everything on the desktop (though you can move apps to a different home screen or group apps into folders if you wish).
The central core, of the iOS operating system, is protected by design from apps going wrong. The app may still go wrong but there is only a remote chance of the central core being affected.
Like all devices, the age of the device and the battery condition may mean that older devices take longer to process instructions.
If you find that an app is not working correctly (bearing in mind the above), then try the following steps:
Restart the device and try the app again
Check to see if your iOS device is uptodate (see below)
Check for app updates – Go to the app store icon and tap on updates, install any updates and try the app again
Close the app – Quickly double tap on the home screen button. You should see small thumb nail pictures of open apps, find the app that is not working correctly and flick it up with one finger. Press the home button again and try the app again.
Remove the app – Touch and hold the errant app until the icon starts to “jiggle”. Tap the “X” in the top left corner of the app and a pop-up window appears asking to confirm delete. Tap delete and then press the home button once.
Go to the App store icon, tap to open it, and search for the app. Download it, as you did before and see if the issue is resolved.
If the issue is not resolved, then it is possible that a) the app itself may have a problem, or b) your iOS device is no longer fully compatible with the app. You must decide to either put up with the issue or search out an alternative in the app store.
To update an iOS device, follow the following instructions:
Plug your device into power and ensure you are connected to the internet. Do not remove it from the power source until the update is complete.
Tap Settings > General > Software Update
If there is an update available, tap download and install. You may be asked for your password
At some point you will be prompted to allow your device to restart to update, allow this. The update may take some time, but you will know that it is complete by tapping the home button – If you see the login screen the update is complete.
Frozen or unresponsive device
Press and hold the power button to turn the device off. Once the device is off turn it back on again to see if the issue is resolved.
Recharge the device – If iPhone is very low on power or if the battery is fully depleted, charge it. If the iPhone’s battery is extremely low on power, the display may remain blank for up to two minutes before a low-battery images appears. If your iPhone displays a low battery image, it can take up to 20 minutes of charging before the iPhone will start up. You can press the Home button to check the current charging status.
Check for device updates as above
If nothing else works, then the only option is to restore the phone to its factory default.
NOTE – Restoring your device is a drastic step and is a last resort, and before doing this you may wish to consult professional advice before taking this step.
To factory restore your device, first do an iCloud backup.
On iOS 11 or later: Go to Settings > [your name] > iCloud > Manage Storage > Backups.
On iOS 10.3: Go to Settings > [your name] > iCloud. Tap the graph that shows your iCloud usage, then tap Manage Storage.
On iOS 10.2 or earlier: Go to Settings > iCloud > Storage > Manage Storage.
Then tap your device name, listed under Backups to see the date and size of its latest backup. Next:
Go to Settings > General > Reset, then tap “Erase All Content and Settings.”
On the Apps & Data screen, tap Restore from iCloud Backup, then sign in to iCloud.
Proceed to “Choose backup,” then choose from a list of available backups in iCloud (it’s usually best to choose the most recent backup), then reset. You will be prompted for your password and then the device will restore itself. Again, this will take some time and you will know when it is complete when you are back at the login screen
Once you are logged back in, you may find that apps that require passwords will require you to input the password again.
Other Places Online to Get Help
There are many communities (also known as forums), that have been setup, to provide free assistance with computer problems (including printers).
For each site you will need to register – It’s a good idea, when you post a question to these sites to tell them your level of competency with the subject you are asking about. This way when people answer they will, hopefully, phrase the answer in a way that is helpful to you.
When asking the question try to include the following information:
Application name (if it’s the application that is at fault)
What does the message say, include any codes as well as the text?
Is only one application effected or more?
What was you doing when the error occurred?
Remember to say thank you when you reply as this will further encourage people to help you
Listed below are some examples of sites that might be useful – Others exist.
https://answers.microsoft.com/en-us – The official Microsoft Support Community
https://www.tenforums.com/ – Independent forum concentrating on Microsoft products
https://discussions.apple.com/welcome – The official Apple Support Community
https://forums.macrumors.com/ – Independent forum for Apple products
https://support.google.com/ – The official Google Support Community for Google products
https://androidforums.com/ – Independent forum for Android products
https://uk.amazonforum.com/ – Official Support for Amazon Fire products
http://www.kuforum.co.uk/kindlefireforum/ – Independent forum for Kindle Fires
Each hardware manufacturer (for example for computers and printers), will also have a support forum and in some cases if you have just bought an item you may be able to open a support request directly with the supplier\manufacturer. The address for this help is usually in the devices box.