Computer Maintenance and Troubleshooting Handbooksad.JPG (11715 bytes)

By Rose Nelson
Last Updated 1/31/99

This online manual offers tips for effective troubleshooting and advice on solving basic computer problems. This may be a starting place in trying to solve problems, however this is not meant to be a comprehensive source for troubleshooting computers.   As time permits and computers change, additions will be added to this manual. 

I.  Troubleshooting

II. Maintenance

III.  Easy Fixes

IV.  Windows 95 Application Errors

V.  Windows 3.X Application Errors

VI.  Memory Problems

VII.  Peripherals

VIII.  Key Points to Remember

Troubleshooting Model

Whenever you are trying to solve a technical problem rather it be on your computer or your car, its helpful to break the problem down into steps isolating each component.  The troubleshooting model from (A+ microcomputer Support and Services Student Manual 1) offers a method for solving computer problems.

First, Isolate the Problem

Next, Resolve the Problem

Finally, Confirm Your Resolution and Expectations

PC Troubleshooting Toolsdisk.JPG (3097 bytes)Picture of a person typing on a keyboard

Here are some tools that may come in handy for maintaining and troubleshooting your computer.

Routine Computer Maintenance

Running Microsoft Diagnostics (MSD) Windows 3.x or DOS machines only
This is a utility program that gives you information about the type of computer you have.  MSD provides information on RAM, hard drive space, operating system, version of DOS, peripherals and much more.  MSD is shipped with certain DOS versions and Windows 3.1.  If you are upgrading your computer or troubleshooting problems, MSD is a helpful tool.
1.  From Windows drop to an MS DOS prompt or from DOS simply type MSD at the "C" prompt.    C:>MSD (lowercase or uppercase)

2.  Press the enter key and this will launch MSD.
A message will appear that MSD is examining your system resources.  You will then see a screen with a listing of computer components you can select and examine.  Simply follow the commands at the bottom of the MSD screen to view details of the individual components such as operating system, video, disk drives, etc...

Creating a system boot disk
Windows 95
A system boot disk allows you to jump start your computer when it is having problems booting.  It is a good idea to create a system boot disk for each computer or at least for each version of the operating system you are running.

1.  Insert a blank floppy in  your diskette drive
2.  Click on the Start Menu to pull up menu options
3.  Click on Settings
4.  Select Control Panel
5.  Double Click on Add/Remove Programs
6.  Click on the tab-"start up" disk
7.  Click the button creating a start up disk

Windows 3.x
1.  Insert a blank floppy in your diskette drive
2.  At the DOS prompt type FORMAT A:/S

 Scandisk is a utility program included in DOS 6.0 or higher and windows operating systems that checks for errors on your hard drive.  Errors occur when file clusters are lost,  programs have aborted (crashed),  or corrupt files.   Scandisk checks for errors on your hard drive correcting and repairing depending on the type of error and damage incurred.  It's a good idea to run scandisk about once a week.  Be prepared it can take two hours.  Long lunch breaks or evenings are good times to run it.

Before running scandisk make sure all other programs are closed-this includes screen savers and virus protection software.  In Windows 3.x or  95, hold down the Alt key while lightly pressing and releasing the tab key to view applications that are still running.

Running Scandisk from Windows 3.x versions
1. From a  C prompt in DOS type Scandisk C:
When running scandisk, make sure you are at a C prompt and not the MSDOS prompt within windows.
Switches in Scandisk allow you to customize how you want to run Scandisk.
To add a switch simply add the type of switch to your command line as demonstrated below. (You type what is in red print)
You can add more than one switch

Scandisk Switches
/ALL       checks and repairs all local drives
/AUTOFIX      fixes damages without prompting for user input
/CHECKONLY  Checks a drive without performing any repairs
/CUSTOM   Configures and runs scandisk based on settings within the SCANDISK.INI
/NOSAVE  Used with /AUTOFIX, this deletes lost clusters without
saving them as files
/NOSUMMARY  Prevents scandisk from pausing at summary screens. Used with /CHECKONLY or /AUTOFIX
/SURFACE  After other checks are completed, scandisk will perform a
surface scan of the hard drive.
/MONO   Sets scandisk to run with a monochrome monitor

list from A+ microcomputer Support and Services Student Manual 1 copyright1997

Running Defrag from Windows 3.x versions
1. From the C prompt (not within Windows MS-DOS prompt) type DEFRAG C: /F
2. The /F is for full optimization of disk

Defrag Switches
/U    defragments files, leaving space between files
/B    Reboots the computer after optimization
/SKIPHIGH   Keeps DEFRAG from using extended or upper memory
/Sx    Sorts files by a specified order
/H    Moves hidden files during optimization
/G0    Disables the graphic mouse and character set
(0 is a zero)
/LCD    Runs DEFRAG with a LCD color scheme
/BW    Runs DEFRAG with a Black and White color scheme

*list from A+ MicroComputer Support and Services Student Manual 1 copyright 1997

Running scandisk from Windows 95
1. From the Start Menu click on Programs
2. Choose Windows Explorer
3. Click once on the C drive icon to highlight it.
4. Right click once.  This will bring a pull down menu.
5. Select properties
6. Click on the Tools tab
7. Click on the check now button
8. You have a choice between standard and thorough.  Although a thorough scan takes an hour or more, it scans the entire surface.

Running defrag from Windows 95

Defrag is a utility program included in computers running DOS 6.0 and higher and Windows operating systems.  After time, as you save and delete files on your computer individual files are saved in scattered arrangement across your hard drive because the computer cannot find a continuos block in which to save the file.  Defrag arranges these scattered files in continuous blocks again, making it easier for your computer to retrieve the file next time.  Defragging your hard drive speeds up file access times and extends the life of your hard drive because actual mechanical movement of drive is reduced.  ()  Always run Defrag AFTER Scandisk so errors are checked before the files are rearranged.  Run defrag monthly.  However, you may want to run it more often if you do much file saving and deleting.

1. AFTER running Scandisk, click on the Defrag button below Scandisk
2. Select the option to Defrag now
3. A message will appear telling you the defragment percentage of your drive.  Even if the message indicates you don't need to run defrag, I would suggest running it on a drive that is 3% or more defragmented. Again, there are advanced options for Defrag.  Unless you know what you are doing,  I would leave it on the default settings.


Computer Environment

Cleaning out the Cache Files
Each version of Netscape and Internet Explorer has slightly different methods for deleting cache files.  Here is a general method for cleaning cache files that should apply to most browsers.

1. From the Start Menu choose Programs
2. Click on Windows Explorer.  In windows 3.x Click on Main icon then File Manager.
3. On the left-hand side of the screen, you will see the "C" drive and all folders underneath it. Click on the browser folder e.g. Netscape, Internet Explorer, etc.…
4. If you don't see the browser folder listed, click on program files and from here select your browser file.
5. In the Browser file select the Cache folder.  You may have to look a bit within folders to find the Cache folder.  Don't be afraid to explore.
6. Once in the Cache folder, select all the files listed and click delete.
One file will remain.  This is a rudimentary file that your system won't let you delete.
7. If this method of deleting cache files does not work, click on your start menu, click on "find files or folders", make sure the "look in" box  is directed at "C" drive, type in cache and try to find it this way.  For Windows 3.x select Main and then File Manager.  Select File and choose Search.  Type in cache.

Easy Fixes to Common Problems
Here are some questions you want to ask before you consult computer manuals or call in a technician.  Remember, always look for the obvious first.

The following section describes two application errors common to Windows3.x and Windows 95.  Use this section as an guide for dealing with various application errors you may get on your computer.

Windows 3.x Application Errors 

Example:  I just loaded a new software program and now my computer won't boot?

First, Isolate the Occurrence

Did you install new hardware or software?

Entering Device Manager in Windows95

Device Manager lists all devices installed on the computer and the drivers used for that device.  If you are having problems with a certain device such as a printer or a modem, you can use Device Manager to check for correct settings and possible conflicts.

Control.JPG (10740 bytes)

This image displays the Device Manager.

Alternative Boot Options for Windows 95'
Having trouble starting your computer?  Does it constantly hang as it is launching Windows?   Here are some options for jump starting your Windows 95 computer.  Just as you boot your computer and before you get to the Windows 95 screen, quickly press "f8" to interrupt the load process.  (the f8 key is above the numbers on your keyboard usually right above the 9 and 0 keys )  The f8 option may vary according to computer manufacturer.  You may also try the "delete" key or the "escape" key.  Refer to your computer manual as to how to interrupt this normal boot process.

A text menu should appear with different options for booting.

1.  Normal-Regular boot into Windows 95

2.  Logged-creates a bootlog.txt file. This is simply a file that lists what drivers loaded successfully.

3.  Safe Mode-This allows you to start windows without drivers loading (you will see less colors in your display if you choose this option.) This is an effective means for troubleshooting problems. From safe mode you can unload an application that caused your system to crash.     However, certain devices such as printers that rely on drivers software may not work in safe mode.

4.  Command Prompt-C prompt boot.  This allows you to boot from a DOS Prompt.

Fatal Exception Error

Fatal Exception Errors are errors that cause your program to abort. Usually all you can do is close the program and restart.  These can be tricky errors to solve.  Here are some things you want to think about when trying to resolve fatal exception errors.

Solving Fatal Exception Errors

Troubleshooting Fatal Exception Errors

General Protection Fault Errors(GPF)

GPF's are much like Fatal Exception errors only they occur in a Windows3.X environment.  They are caused when two applications try to write to the same block of memory.

Solving GPF Errors

Memory Errors

"Insufficient Memory to Complete this Operation"

Save the work you have already done, close all applications, then reopen the application that was running when you received the error message.  If the program works when you reopen it, it is likely that too many programs were open simultaneously exhausting system resources.

Computer Mice

Computer mice are often an easy computer fix.

For movement problems with the mouse from the Start button select Settings then Control Panel and Mouse.  A window will appear displaying mouse properties.  The various tabs across the front of the mouse window allow you to control mouse functions.

Mouse properties and various tabs for changing the properties.

Mouse Not functioning Properly


Problem:  The monitor shows no picture

Problem: Computer displays limited colors.

Signs of Video Display Troubles

If your screen is completely white or gray and you hear buzzing noises, this could indicate video card troubles.  Before you panic, make sure all cables are secured from monitor to CPU.  Try using another power cord for the monitor to see if this may be the problem.

If screen appears distorted around the edges and the color does not look right,  you may have  incorrect display adapters.  Select Start, Settings, and Control Panel.  Double click on System Icon and select Device Manager.   You will see a listing of devices.  Double click on Display adapters to view the type.  If there is a yellow exclamation point next to device, there is a conflict.  To view conflicts for a certain device, click on the device, select properties, and select the general tab.  There should be a description of the device and why it is not working properly.


Problem: Printer Does Not Print.

Things to Try...

Key points to Remember when Troubleshooting


(1997)  A+ Microcomputer Support and Services Student Manual Vol 1-2. (Revision 1).  St. Louis: Wave
     Technologies International.

(1998) Schmidt, C.A.  The Complete Computer Repair Textbook. El Granada: Scott/Jones Inc., Publishers.