Fix your PC before you call an expert

Windows can be scary place if you’re no computer expert and your PC goes wrong, but most glitches can be solved by following these tips. If you know what a USB port looks like, chances are you’re regularly called upon as the ‘IT expert’ by friends and family whenever a computer goes bust or a window mysteriously disappears.

1. Be Google smart
Google can be a huge help when it comes to specific error codes and very detailed problems. It’s less useful for “my PC is running slowly” queries. Include as much detail as you can, putting “+” before keywords that must be matched and “-” before keywords to exclude.

3. Safe Mode
Tap F8 during boot-up to access the boot menu. Choose Safe Mode to launch a special stripped-down version of Windows that keeps drivers and background utilities to a minimum and looks like it’s straight out of 1995. Safe Mode can be used to uninstall programs or devices, or run fixes, if you can’t get into Windows normally.

2. System Restore
Windows’ built-in roll-back feature will undo recent changes to the registry and hardware and software setup of your computer, without affecting your personal files and holiday photos. It’s a good place to start if something has very recently gone wrong. You’ll find System Restore via Control Panel.

4. Overheating
If your PC crashes at seemingly random times — in other words, there’s no particular software program or hardware device that prompts it — it’s possible that your computer or laptop is overheating. Invest in another fan or a laptop cooler if you think this may be the cause.

5. On-demand scans
A whole bundle of problems are caused by viruses and spyware, from slow performance to unexplained reboots. It goes without saying that you should keep your anti-virus and anti-spyware tools right up to date, but you might want to run an on-demand scanner as well to get another opinion — Spybot Search & Destroy and Microsoft’s own Safety Scanner are two good choices that won’t interfere with your existing security tools.

6. Background noise
Sluggish performance that degrades over time can be due to more and more programs deciding they’d like to run in the background. Open Task Manager (right-click on the taskbar) to see what’s actually using up the RAM and CPU time on your PC — if any of the entries under Processes and Services don’t make much sense, run a quick Google search for details of what they are.

7. Selective startup
If you find any superfluous entries in Task Manager, chances are they’re being launched with Windows. Scour the Startup folder on the Start menu to find and remove anything you don’t really need all of the time. For more control over the Windows startup process, type “msconfig” into the Start menu search box and hit Enter — the subsequent dialog lets you make detailed changes to which services and tools can launch automatically at the same time as the operating system.

8. Motherboard beeps
If your PC gets so far and no further, and you find it beeps at you and shuts down before Windows even starts loading, the problem is at a lower level. Motherboards will alert you to what’s gone wrong by the number of beeps — check the user manual to find out what they mean, or look for a digital copy on the manufacturer’s website.

9. No power
If the PC or laptop doesn’t get going at all, either you’re in the middle of a power cut, your power cable is faulty, or the power supply unit/battery is bust. See if you can source a cheap spare cable or battery first, as a PSU replacement will cost significantly more.

10. Forums
If you do have to turn to the web, locate the developer or manufacturer’s official support forums before you turn to Google. You may find there’s a particular fix available or advice from other users. For smaller freeware programs, you may even find posts from the developer.