Computers have revolutionized our world to the point it is almost impossible to imagine what our lives would be like without them. Sadly, our PCs are not invincible and maintenance sometimes is necessary to keep them running at the optimum level. Typically there are three main reasons why units don’t function correctly: a conflicting change to settings, malware and viruses or a mechanical issue.
The good news is that all three areas can be addressed (and in many cases fixed) by you without the need of a tech guru like we have at our Fort Worth computer repair shop. Even if you find yourself unable to fix the problem, following this process before making the call for help can save time for the repairman and give you a deeper understanding of what to do next.
Let’s start with the basics:
There may be times when your operating system becomes unresponsive–a status colloquially known as ‘freezing’–and with a wide variety of reasons why, the average user can be quickly overwhelmed. The good news is that there are some very simple things you can do that will in many cases, solve the reason for the freezing and bring your computing experience back to normal. While many of you will have upgraded to Windows 10, we’ll focus on Windows 8 and 8.1 as the process is essentially the same and will cover those who have yet to make the leap.
The first step is to attempt to discover whether the root problem is a software issue or not. The best (and first) way to do this is to reboot your system into Safe Mode. This is accomplished by pressing the F8 key (or Shift + F8) as your PC boots. Safe Mode is primarily used to diagnose and fix the majority of problems within your computer’s operating system.
This isn’t the only way in, however. If it works for you, by all means continue below. For those who find themselves having a difficult getting in (especially if your boot time is extremely quick), here are some alternative ways to access Safe Mode:
MSConfig – You can use the System Configuration Tool (msconfig.exe) by entering ‘msconfig’ in the search bar located in the left hand charm menu (or right click the 8.1 start menu icon, clicking Run and then entering ‘msconfig’). Go Boot tab, Boot Options and check the Safe Boot box followed by OK. Restart your computer and upon boot you’ll be in Safe Mode.
Shift + Restart – At the Windows login screen you can press the power icon and then press and hold Shift + Restart. You see a screen asking you to choose options, go with Troubleshoot, Advanced Options, Startup Settings and after a prompt advising you of possible changes you can make, including Safe Mode, continue with Restart. Upon restart, you’ll see nine settings to choose from, including safe modes variants including networking and command prompt options.
System Recovery Boot – This one applies to Windows 8 only. You have the option of booting from recovery media (there’s instructions on how to create a recovery CD/DVD/USB below). A large majority of manufacturers allow you to boot from external sources without going into the BIOS by pressing F8 before Windows boots. This can vary however, so if F8 does not work for you, try F9-F12 or even the Escape key. Most times, during the boot process, there will be some on-screen indication of which button you need to press. Alternatively, some manufacturers have included a special key specifically for this action, so it would be advisable to take a look at your owner’s manual just in case.
You may also change the boot order manually (and in most cases until you change it back) by entering the UEFI/BIOS setup. You would follow the same steps as before but you must have the media inserted to your computer before you boot.
*Note: Please be careful to not modify other options while in your UEFI/BIOS as it is possible to make your system inoperable if you don’t understand what you choose.
Manufacturers differ on how the UEFI/BIOS is presented so look for a choice resembling Boot Sequence. Once there, you can either tick/untick selections or choose from numbered options while moving entries up and down with either the U and D or PGUP or PGDN buttons.
Okay, on to Safe Mode.
When in Safe Mode, there are limitations to your functionality and many non-essential components that are present in normal usage are disabled so you can single the problem out more easily. One of the most important (and awesome) diagnostic findings in Safe Mode is its stability; if you are able to access programs and other diagnostic tools then chances are great that your trouble lies within a software issues like malware, failed drivers or other programs that keep the operating system from behaving normally.
This brings you to a decision point:
If there is improvement, try the following:
– Uninstall any recently installed programs, devices or drivers.
– Ensure you have only one anti-virus activated.
– Check to see if a Windows upgrade is possible; if so, complete it.
– Update any consistently used programs along with their respective drivers.
– If you find that a specific program causes the malfunction, first try updating the program. If that doesn’t work, uninstall it until you can find either a newer or older version to install.
– Scan your system for malware and remove any that’s found.
Sometimes, even with all of the above performed, you still have problems. If there’s no improvement, then it’s on to troubleshooting the hardware.
When examining potential problems in the hardware section of your PC, the most fundamental thing our computer repair technicians do is make sure that the unit is completely turned off. Auto mechanics rarely work on cars while the vehicles are on and the same is to be said here. Secondly, you should always seek to ground yourself; this protects your system from electrical static discharge which could damage the PC further.
With the machine off and you being properly grounded, try the following:
– Clean the areas that attract the most dust (e.g. fans, power supply, etc.).
– Thoroughly check all cables for poor connection or damage.
– Make sure all attachable components inside fit snugly (e.g. RAM sticks, graphic cards, etc.)
At this point, after doing all of the above, you should have a clear understanding of what’s wrong. Granted, this is not an all-inclusive list of possible factors to your computer not running optimally, the computing process has been so well refined over the decades that users with a little savvy should have no problem keeping their units running for years. That said, if, even after completing all of the previous steps you still find issues remain, try the following:
One of the most useful tools for fixing problems that persist beyond the initial steps is the Windows Restore. Either you or your system can create backups that can be recalled when you need them. Your system will essentially roll back to a time before you started having issues and arguably the best part about it is that you won’t need to worry; your files are safe and sound.
One thing to note, however, is that System Restore likely will not delete any viruses you may have and definitely won’t fix any hardware issues, but for most users this is a way to get your unit back to running as efficiently as it did before things went haywire.
Every PC manufacturer handles system restoration a little different so if this is your first time or the first time in a long time, your best bet is to refer to your owner’s manual as it should guide you through the entire process in as painless a way as is possible. In the event that you don’t have access to the manual, visit your PC manufacturer’s website to find information on the process.
For Windows 8, either swipe for mouse over the right edge of the screen and select ‘search’. Alternatively, you can click the Windows button + Q. Type ‘recovery’ in the search field. The User Account Control box should pop up next, select ‘Ok’. Again, how the information is displayed may vary but you should be able to select a point in time before where you are. Windows 8, 8.1 and 10 automatically create restore points weekly. Important changes, like driver or application installs also cause a restore point to be created.
Once a time has been selected, your computer will reboot after rolling back in time. It’s a fairly quick process, typically only taking a few moments to complete.
Should everything up to now not solve your problem, a near sure-fire way to get back up and running is to re-install Windows. Some might argue that this is the simplest means of fixing the problem but in that same breath you’re talking about losing everything that isn’t backed up elsewhere. A fresh install is highly recommended to be done every six to twenty four months because over time, as you install and uninstall programs, save files and modify your computer’s registry, bits and pieces of files get left behind and all of that clutter begins to add up, meaning a loss in performance.
Create a System Image
You can make this process a lot smoother by preparing a bit before trouble arises so we’ll touch on things you should do when the weather’s fair and once trouble brews as well. First, you should create a system image. Follow the steps outlined above for creating a restore point but this time select ‘create a system image’.
You will then be asked where you would like to save the image; an external hard drive (or thumb drive, if it is large enough) is your best bet. The size of the system image can vary but it is safe to say that it will be at least a few gigabytes. Ensure everything looks correct and then start the backup process. You now have a way to reformat your system should you ever need to.
Another advance in modern computing that just about everyone is happy for is the invention of the hidden partition. Hidden partitions are invisible sections of your hard drive that can be used to restore your operating system. Recovery partitions became popular due to many users not having access to the bundled in recovery media that used to come with their PCs and laptops. This is equally true of those that purchase their computers secondhand. Today, most manufacturers include this secret section but it is worthwhile to know for certain that you have it before you need it.
To find out, go to Computer Management by either right-clicking the start button and selecting it or opening Run and typing ‘compmgmt.msc’. From there, click Storage and Disk Management. Generally, if there is one present it will be labeled Recovery or Restore but it can also be just a very small drive. The only way to know for certain (other than perusing the owner’s manual, visiting the manufacturer’s website, Google in general or viewing Computer Management) is to try the steps below without inserting any recovery media.
It should also be noted that there are two types of re-installation: ‘Refresh’, which resets your computer back to factory settings without erasing your data and the traditional re-install that rids everything and starts you back at the beginning.
We’ll talk about ‘Refresh’ first.
Your personal files will be safe if you take precaution in where they’re placed. Files left on the desktop won’t be deleted. The same goes for the folders that are automatically installed such as Downloads, Documents, Video and Music. Anywhere else and they’re good as gone. Your Windows Store and account settings won’t change either.
To get started, open ‘Change PC Settings’ from the left-hand charm. Then, select ‘Update and Recovery’, ‘Recovery’ and ‘Get Started’ under ‘Refresh your PC without affecting your files’. There is a chance that your system may ask for a backup disc (which you’ll have ready if you’ve followed the steps above in Create a System Image); insert the media and you’ll then be greeted by a rundown of the steps the system will be taking next. You’ll be shown a list of desktop applications that will need to be reinstalled; follow the prompts and then you’ll see the refresh process work with updated percentages. At the end, your unit will restart a few times and once that clears, you’re good to go.
Finally, let’s cover full on re-installation.
The process is very similar to refreshing so follow the steps above except select ‘Get Started’ under ‘Remove everything and reinstall Windows’. You’ll be given the choice of whether you want remove your data quickly or perform a more thorough deletion; the latter will take more time to complete (we’re talking several hours) and the best choice if you want to be absolutely certain that whatever malware of virus resides on your unit is completely removed.
In conclusion, while there can be any number of issues you and your computer may face, the good news is there are options you can take yourself to either fix or better understand the problem at hand. Still, if your PC is in need of care and you’re not sure what to do, give us a call at 817-756-2241 and our Fort Worth Computer repair technicians will get you back up to speed in no time flat!