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PC 101: Solving Basic Computer Problems

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Technology is great...when it works just the way it's supposed to. But when something goes wrong with your computer—maybe it slows down or you can't get an Internet connection—you can curse the computer age because now you can't get anything done.

Very few of us know how to fix computers, but it's worse for computer novices. In fact, very few of us even know what makes a computer come to a halt.

Here's a glimpse at the top computer troubles, what causes them to happen, and what you can do to address or fix a computer glitch.

Computer slowdowns.

Sometimes this happens: No matter the speed at which you type or click, your computer just isn't able to keep up the pace. You also have to wait longer than normal for programs to open and for your documents and other files to open. Everything takes longer that it's supposed to. There are few possible reasons your computer might be slowing down:

  • Viruses
  • Spyware
  • A hard drive that's too full

If that happens, you don't have to get rid of the computer. A few fixes might solve the problem and get you back on track. There's a way for you to clean up your hard drive and eliminate files you no longer need. And by updating/installing the latest antivirus and antispyware software, you can eliminate any hidden programs that were slowing you down.

Take those approaches before giving up on your computer.

Computer freeze-ups.

If you have a computer that freezes up—where nothing at all is happening—you might worry that your computer has been taken over by some mysterious bug. That might be the case...but it could also be just a computer "hiccup."

At that point, even an IT expert would start with this recommendation: It's time to "reboot"—simply restart your machine. Sometimes that move alone does the trick, even with today's slickest computers.

You'll need to ask someone how to reboot the machine if you don't know how, but it usually involves simply holding down the on/off key until the computer turns off, waiting a few minutes, and then turning it back on.

Many times when you turn it back on, everything opens up fine and work returns to normal. Of course, if it happens again and again, that could be an indication of a virus, a bad program, that you need to clean your hard drive or add more memory.

Your computer makes loud noises.

Most of the time, your computer should operate quietly, so that the most you hear is the soft, steady hum of the internal fan. If your computer starts making strange noises (at least noticeable new noises), you need to pay attention. In the worst case, your hard drive (the internal disc that contains and runs all your programs) could be dying. That's why it's important to back up all the data on your hard drive routinely so you don't lose it to a hard-disk crash.

Dropped Internet connection.

Because our lives have become so dependent on our Internet connection, not being able to go online is not only frustrating, but it also affects our ability to get things done, such as pay bills, do homework or shop online.

An Internet connection that's "down" isn't always a computer problem: In fact, the problem usually lies elsewhere and is often easily fixed. Oftentimes, your modem or router is the source of the problem.

If you call your Internet Service Provider (ISP) and ask to talk to someone about a technical problem with your connection, they can tell you if it looks good from their end and should be working on your end. If everything seems okay, they may give you this simple advice: to get back online...and it usually works.

You can take the same steps when your Internet is down, without calling your ISP. Just try this and see if it works:

  1. Keep your computer plugged in.
  2. Unplug the power supply to your modem.
  3. Then, unplug the power supply to your router. Wait a few minutes.
  4. Plug your router's power source back in. Wait 30 seconds.
  5. Plug the modem's power back. Give everything a few minutes.
  6. Then test your Internet connection. If it doesn't work right away, try restarting your computer.

Most of the time, that procedure will restart your Internet. If it doesn't, then it might be time to take a look at your modem or router. How old are they? Maybe one of them needs to be replaced.

Remember—sometimes your Internet connection might simply be "down." If your ISP is doing work in the area or if there's a power outage on their end, it will affect your connection. You can always call and ask them, "Is the Internet up?"

Your power supply is dying.

New and old computers can both have problems. Old computers die out, and sometimes new computers have bugs (just like a new car can sometimes have a glitch).

If your computer won't turn on, there's a good chance that the power supply isn't working anymore. Believe it or not, power supplies are actual equipment and are not just electrical cords—and they can be the source of the problem.

You can hold down the on/off button to see if it turns on. If not—and you're not able to get inside the computer to spray off dust to see if that helps—you'll probably want to see a technician.

A power supply that stops working doesn't spell doom for your computer. A new one might be all that you need to get the power back on and the computer up and running.

Make a new friend.

This article covered the basics in a nontechnical way. That's because computer issues can easily get very technical and confusing, which is why it's also a good idea to find someone you know who is computer-savvy when you're having a problem.

A good friend might be able to troubleshoot a problem right over the phone. They can also give you quick advice on whether the problem is large or small. And with the right kind of incentive (free lunch?), you might get them to come by your house and check things out for you.

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