|Practical Computer Advice
from Martin Kadansky
|Volume 12 Issue 7
|My Most Common Initial Troubleshooting Advice
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Does this happen to you?
My most common, initial troubleshooting advice
- Your computer starts acting strangely. It's slow, webs sites don't load properly, programs freeze or crash, or you get the dreaded spinning cursor for more than a minute or so.
- Your internet connection seems slow or stops working, or your wired or wireless network disappears.
- Your smartphone or tablet starts having unusual problems that don't resolve when you try the usual or obvious things.
- Your printer or other device won't work at all, or partially works but shows odd behavior.
The first thing I recommend is to power the device off, wait a moment, and then power it back on again.
While this won't fix every problem, it's quick, it's easy to do, it's a reasonable place to start, it doesn't hurt (if you're careful), and it can often clear up odd problems. On the other hand, you may have more than one issue, so be prepared for additional troubleshooting if this simple technique doesn't solve the problem.
See below for my more specific advice.
Windows or Macintosh computers
First, I recommend that you save your work as best you can, i.e., save any open documents, note the web sites you have open (and any text you've entered into any forms), etc.
Then, if the odd behavior seems specific to one particular program (Microsoft Word, Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Skype, etc.), I suggest first closing (quitting) and reopening just that program.
If that doesn't clear up the problem, use the Shut Down command to completely power off your computer. Give it a moment to rest, and then turn it back on again. The Restart command is similar, but doesn't actually give the computer any time with the power off.
If your computer is stuck and you can't get to the Shut Down command, try pressing and holding the power button steadily for at least 10 seconds. That forces most computers to power off. Only use this technique as a last resort, not on a regular basis.
With a laptop computer, it sometimes also helps to remove and re-insert its battery while it's powered off.
Internet connection issues
If you're having problems with your internet connection, first make sure that you (or anyone else who shares your connection) are not in the middle of a big download or upload, an online conversation, filling out an online form or application, streaming a movie, watching a live event, etc.
Then, if your modem and router are separate devices, I suggest powering them both off. Next, power on your modem and wait for it to get fully operational. Then power on your router and wait for it as well.
If you have a single combination modem/router device that many ISPs like Comcast and Verizon use, power it off, wait a moment, power it back on again, and wait for it to fully start up.
In either case, rather than pressing each device's power button (which sometimes doesn't turn the device off entirely), I prefer to simply unplug the power cable. Do not unplug any other cables. If you're not sure which cable supplies the power, do not guess. Instead, have someone else you know and trust do this for you.
Smartphone or tablet issues
If your portable device (iPhone, iPad, Android, etc.) is having odd problems (connection issues apps not working, problems sending or receiving email, etc.), try fully powering it off and on again. You'll probably start by pressing and holding the power button, but the exact method varies with the device.
Issues with printers or other computer devices
If your printer (or scanner, external hard drive, USB hub, etc.) is acting strangely, I recommend:
Issues with other devices
- Let the current print (or scan) job finish, and wait for the device to become idle.
- If the device is an external hard drive or a USB hub with any external hard drives plugged in, either "eject" the drives from the computer, or Shut Down the computer.
- Power off the device using its power button, if it has one.
- Pull out the power cable from the back of the device, or from the wall outlet or surge protector. Do not unplug any other cables.
- Wait a moment, then plug the power cable back in again.
- If needed, power it back on using its power button.
If you're having trouble with a cordless phone handset or some other battery-powered device, you should try removing and reinserting (or replacing) its battery, and also unplugging/replugging any power cables (charging cable, charging base, etc.).
Where to go from here
How to contact me:
phone: (617) 484-6657
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I love helping people learn how to use their computers better! Like a "computer driving instructor," I work 1-on-1 with small business owners and individuals to help them find a more productive and successful relationship with their computers and other high-tech gadgets.