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by Ray DeCosta

Q. My computer isn't working. What's wrong with it and how can I fix it?

A. Any question about repairing a computer must be accompanied with a minimum amount of information. The person trying to diagnose the problem cannot do so without knowing much more about the situation other than "the computer doesn't work". Any computer is a complex mix of hardware and software that usually requires a certain amount of investigation into the cause of your problem.

At a minimum, information that a repair person would require consists of: brand and model details, type of Operating System, program(s) in operation at the time of failure, error messages, sounds, what was displayed on the monitor screen, etc. The information able to be provided will, of course, vary with the problem. Adding to the complexity is that some error messages vanish so quickly that you don't have a chance to read them.

Something that's very helpful when there's a problem is to obtain a list of all your system information BEFORE trouble strikes. While you can go through your system and develop this list manually, a quick-and-dirty way to accomplish this important task is to use Belarc Advisor which is available for free here. This program will run through your system and compile a list of all the components, programs, drives and plenty of other necessary information. It's important to print out the result - if your computer quits, it will not be possible to retrieve this report.

Some problems are "semi-routine" and can be easily investigated and corrected. For example, a computer which boots up successfully only to shut down or go "black screen" within 5-10 minutes most likely suffers from a heat build-up. This is usually caused by an accumulation of dust or other debris on the heat-sensitive components such as CPU or video card. Typically a problem with the video card will result in a blocky or pixilated appearance just prior to "black screening". In either case, a physical inspection of the computer's innards is in order and then a thorough cleaning should be performed if warranted.

Published: Courier 1/17/15 - Page 7A