Hardware Diagnosis takes on a lot of different faces in the I.T. world but there is a general order of operations when troubleshooting hardware issues. We can go over some of the tell-tale signs of basic computer hardware issues.
Computer Hardware Diagnosis Tips
1. P.O.S.T. (Power On Self Test) Beep – One of the standards in the industry is a simple power check. When you turn on the computer does it make a beep? One single beep? Computers are designed when you turn them on to check for the most basic components they need to operate. For example: Processor, Memory, Video Card. These three items are critical and must be included in the computer’s guts in order for the system to post. If the basic components are there then you should usually hear a beep. This tells you that the Power On Self Test was successful.
If you do not hear the P.O.S.T. Beep, then chances are you have a bad motherboard or processor. Usually if you have some type of memory error either on the video card or within your RAM memory sticks you will get a sequence of beep codes that indicate failure of memory. In any of these cases you will need to have either a professional computer shop test your components or buy replacements yourself and combine them to see if you can fix the problem.
2. Hard Drive Failure – This can be kind of a grey area, because hard drives consist of both hardware components and magnetic data written to the hard drive’s platters in the form of positive and negative charges, which are then interpreted as bits either 0 or 1. So if your hard drive data is corrupted…you will often end up with an operating system error telling you some file is missing or corrupt. But why did this happen? It is possible to lose data or end up with corrupt data because of hardware failure as well.
So we use some basic software utilities to test the hard drive. There are a ton of different utilities available. Most Hard Drive manufacturers provide a disk with their retail products to test the drives. Some computer manufacturers provide built in drive test utilities that can be accessed from a boot menu. Usually pressing a function key on boot allows one to access these built in features. If those are not available to you then you can search for different types of bootable “images”. You might try taking a look at this MajorGeeks Page for more available programs.
3. Video Card Failure – Usually if your video card starts going bad it can happen one of two ways…it will just stop sending signal through the card if the video processing chip has given up the ghost. Time to replace it. You can try another monitor screen if you think the signal is not getting through. This helps make sure that you are not mis-diagnosing the issue. Otherwise you might notice in game play or in other graphics intensive environments that you get something called “artifacts”. These are usually strange looking angular shapes that show gaping holes in the video card’s rendering of the graphics. It’s usually best to just replace the card then.
4. Memory Failure – If you suspect the RAM memory is failing, the best thing you can do is run a utility to test it. Either a bootable utility from the boot menu that is built in to your system or pick up a copy of MemTest which is available to burn onto CD and use as a bootable tool. It is usually recommend to test one stick of memory at a time. Additionally you can replace the sticks of memory if you have extras to see if makes a difference. Symptoms of memory failure usually include programs crashing for no apparent reason.
5. Motherboard Failure – One of the most common ways to note a motherboard failure is when the system does not boot up or even power up. When this happens. It is possible that it is the processor…but it is good to take a look at the motherboard. Physically examine the capacitors on the motherboard. They look like little barrels. If they are swollen and/or discolored that means the motherboard is having some major issues with power in that area. Capacitors can be unsoldered and replaced…but usually only if you are desperate or super geeky.
6. Processor Failure – If the processor is bad…you might have had some occasion on which to smell that funky smell we call giving up the smoke. The processor gets kind of stinky, like that smell of burned plastic when it gets fried. The best way to test a processor is to stick it in another machine to see if it will power and boot up. If a processor is dead….it will not heat up (in most cases). And it will not boot either. It will not give you a P.O.S.T. Beep either.
7. Power Supply Failure – If a power supply is bad, chances are your system will not power on. But it can be possible to have power supplies that are intermittently bad. Usually in this case you will have random power failures and sometimes blue screens of death (BSOD’s). Most computer stores have power supply testers and can tell you if the unit is just bad or if the voltages are inconsistent or sub standard to the requirements for 3, 5 or 12 volt settings. Best to just replace a bad power supply.
8. Monitor / Screen Failure – The easiest way to test a bad monitor is to plug in a working one to your computer. If you video card gives signal to the new monitor, then double check your conclusion of bad monitor by plugging your monitor into another computer. If it does not power up…you know your monitor is bad.
I hope some of these tips help you solve your computer issues. If not, then don’t forget to give me a call. Many things can be resolved using remote online support through your broadband internet connection.
Greg Eddolls – Owner/Operator – TFS Networks