Hopefully you will never need to read this. It is a panic guide to keep by your computer before calling for help. We donít mind answering your questions but we arenít available at 2AM or Sunday afternoon when you really need help.
1. System completely dead. Check your power (The computer is connected to the cord is connected to the surge protector is connected to the outlet is connected to the fuse ...). Plug a lamp into the surge protector to test it. If it has power go to step 2.
2. System has power and comes part way up. If there is a floppy in the drive, remove it and reboot. Check all the cables and connections by removing and replugging them (they can feel solid but be at an angle and not make a solid connection). Be sure your monitor is turned on and bright. Be sure a key is not sticking and that there is nothing caught in the keyboard (turn it upside down in the air and give it a thwack).
Most computers have a battery to keep certain things like the time and date from being forgotten while the machine is turned off. In some cases the battery is also needed to boot properly. If your computer is older than 3 years, suspect the battery. This may be easy to replace yourself if you know the setup settings for your drive etc. (hint: DOS and Windows folks, right now, while your machine is working fine, go into the boot setup and copy down the numbers; exit without changing anything).
Your operating system (DOS, Windows, Mac OS) may have gotten erased or corrupted by mistake. Reload your system software.
If none of this works, contact someone about hardware repair. If the place you bought it is no longer an option, call us. We keep a list of names of folks our customers have found helpful ó please let us know of good (or bad) repair shops.
3. System crashes frequently, doesnít seem to be a particular software package. Have you upgraded your virus protection software lately? It can only protect you well if it knows about the latest viruses. Most are upgradeable on-line or by calling the company and paying an upgrade fee.
Mac users should try rebuilding the desktop (hold command option while your system re-boots) and/or zapping the PRAM (hold option shift PR while system 7.5 reboots, command shift option while choosing control panel in system 6)
Did you find the problem started after installing or removing a piece of software or hardware? DOS and Windows users: Are you sure of your hardware interrupt (IRQ) settings? Can you cause crashes not to happen by removing the new item or replacing the old? If so, you might contact the manufacturers involved (see box) to see if they know of any incompatibility.
Now that we are getting into summer someone is going to rediscover that computers are heat sensitive. Does your problem occur only after the computer has been on for a while and then once it is warm recurs even after re-booting? Is the room over 85°F or the machine in the sun? Be sure the computer has good air flow and vents are not blocked with papers. Some folks even resort to aiming a fan at the computer. Is the internal fan working? Air should flow out the back of the machine (near power cord).
A heater, toaster, welder, motor etc. sharing the circuit can draw down the power to the point your system wonít start or crashes when the other device starts. Moving to another circuit or getting a voltage regulator and/or isolating transformer will fix this. Some parts of town (Belltown, Pioneer Square, parts of U-district for example) have inconsistent power. A voltage regulator may fix this.
If you are fairly sure the problem is with software rather than hardware, simply reloading your operating system to cure sporadic crashes is usually futile. A ďcleanĒ reinstall may be needed: Back up all your work, (DOS and Windows users: copy your autoexec.bat, config.sys, win.ini, system.ini for reference in case you have problems) and any programs whose master disks may have been damaged. Copy down all your program registration numbers. Be sure you have a working install kit for your operating system and a bootable floppy. Format your hard drive and reload your operating system. Reload your most used program. Work with it a week to see if you still have prob-lems before loading misc. games etc.
4. Problem seems to be with a particular software package. Can you cause it to occur? Is it always the same message? Copy it down and contact the manufacturer (see side box). Sometimes a new program seems to crash less after you learn how to use it: youíve learned the path they tested and donít wander into untested territory anymore.
5. Problems printing. Is the printer turned on, selected and has paper? Can the printer print a test page (see your documentation)? Remove and replug all cables (they can feel solid but be at an angle and not make a solid connection).
Are you using the correct driver? Are all the choices correct? I have talked to people who set their printer to print to file and forgot to change it back.
Mac users: can you see your printerís name in the chooser? If not, the problem is in the connection to the computer; if so the problem is in the software. Try printing from a different package using a different font to see rule out a problem with either the font or the software.
Many years ago I did phone support for a living. Here are some tips:
Try the place you bought it before con-tacting the manufacturer. They want & need your good will. If they sell many of the item, they should tell you of similar complaints. They may have a direct line to the manufacturer. Support good service: qualified staff and time to troubleshoot increase the cost of doing business. If lowest price is your only criterion, you get the service you bought and the good folks go out of business.
Do your homework first: Read your documentation. Check the READ.ME file that comes with each product. (Yeah, I know itís written in geek) Any caller who has at least tried to figure things out before calling is taken more seriously.
Check their web site: they may even have a patch to download (the address is probably www.theircompanyname.com).
If you donít need an immediate answer, try a clearly worded Fax giving exact symptoms. Some companies say they donít answer faxes but if it is a problem they know how to fix, youíll probably hear back in a week or so.
If you do need to call have your serial number, operating system and all symptoms written out beforehand. The east coast generates the most calls so lines are least busy when they are at lunch or going home (10 or 3).
Give us a call at 206-523-0872 if you need further help.
copyright 1998 Karen Seymour
Back to Articles index Back to The Computer Workshop home page