The “Art” of Troubleshooting Computers

By Martin Jansen, Owner of Jansen-PCINFO

In the good old days, I used to support computer users by going to their desk.  I developed a rapport with the users as we worked together to solve computer problems.

Today, for better or worse, computer support people are tied to their desks as they “remote-in” to computers trying to solve issues.  The user is often merely a conduit to access the computer.  And it may ignore the possibility that the user is causing the problem in the first place through repeated behavior.

Over the years I have developed some basic troubleshooting skills that anyone can use to solve minor computer problems.  When I speak of computers, I am referring to desktops, laptops, Chromebooks, Macs, iPads, tablets or smartphones.  Anything with a computer brain.

The Basic Reboot or Restart

I know, help desk support is infamous for telling users to restart their computers, but for good reason – it solves a lot of problems.  When any device starts acting weird or doesn’t do something it used to do, I first suggest a restart to reset the computer components.

Simplify Hardware and Software

Usually not much one can do with tablets and smartphones – they are all-in-one devices.  For desktops, laptops and Chromebooks, however, they often have USB peripherals plugged-in.  Remove or test peripherals to see if the device acts normally without.

Inside a desktop, PCIe cards may be malfunctioning.  Pull those cards and start the computer.  If all works well after removal, slowly introduce peripherals back to the computer to see if any are at fault.

Also on desktops, make sure all monitor cables, keyboard/mouse and power cords are securely attached.  If not, these can cause all types of problems.

The Simplify adage also has to do with computer software.  I am not a big fan of having applications autostart with the boot of the computer.  Even browsers can have problems by having the setting to remember to open multiple tabs upon start – the websites may have been changed causing unusual behavior.  Simplify computers by reducing the number of autostart applications and tabs in browsers.  On tablets and smartphones remove unused apps and close out running apps.

Head Scratcher

On one remote call the desktop user was passed from the help desk to advanced support.  The user was calling from his cell phone and said they couldn’t see anything on his monitor – it was totally blank.  We had the user make sure everything was plugged in correctly.  He had to get down under the desk to try and perform these operations.  Next, we had him try to pull the blue VGA cable from the back of the computer to see if one of the pins was bent. It was then that he reported that he was having trouble seeing anything.  The power was out in the whole building!

Maybe you can figure out what we told him to do next.

Common Computer Problems and Solutions

  • Computer won’t start. Possible Solutions: Check power supplies, loose cables, or hardware. On tablets and smartphones, make sure the device has a good charge and hold in the power button for ten seconds and then try to restart.  Worst case, follow the reset procedures which will restore to original configuration.  WARNING: This will remove apps and personal data.  Not a deal breaker if most data is also in cloud storage.
  • System crash. A system crash is when your computer stops working suddenly and without warning. Possible Solutions: Remove any virus, check hardware and power sources.  If possible, update your computer on restart. Worst case, restore from backup and replace malfunctioning components.
  • Slow computer. A slow computer can be frustrating, but there are a few things you can do to speed it up. Possible solutions: Upgrade memory if possible and replace the hard drive with a SSD. You can also try running a virus or malware scan and remove any potentially unwanted programs.  The sad fact is that hardware gets older with time.  As devices get upgraded with latest updates the hardware may no longer be sufficient to run some demanding operating systems.  Fortunately, alternative operating systems such as Linux Mint are less demanding and can run well on less hardware.
  • Frozen screen. Sometimes computers, no matter the operating system, freeze up.  This can be caused by an OS, software malfunction or a virus.  Possible solution: restart the computer, i.e., hold in the soft power button until the computer powers down and then restart.
  • Slow internet. There are a few things you can do to speed up your internet connection. Possible solutions:  Your internet speed from the Internet Service Provider (ISP,) may be inadequate for family needs.  Do a speed test to check for download and upload speeds.  Make sure you are using a strong Wi-Fi connection, and try restarting your router. You can also try using a wired connection instead of a wireless connection if the device allows.
  • No internet. If you lose your internet connection, there are a few things you can do to try to get it back. Possible Solutions: First, check to see if your router and modem are turned on and functioning normally. If it is, try restarting both. You can also try restarting your computer. Check for outages or call your ISP on your smartphone.
  • Overheating. Too much heat is the enemy of computers.  If your computer is overheating, it can cause problems such as slow performance, system crashes, and even hardware damage. Possible solutions: Open the case on desktops and clean dust from power supply, CPU cooler, motherboard and fans.  Canned air can blow components free of dust.  Keep the computer in a cool place and maintain airflow. Sometimes, the thermal paste needs to be replaced on CPUs.
  • Use Resources. The internet is a wonderful resource for determining the cause of computer problems.  Search for the symptoms of computer issues and find if someone else has resolved your particular problem.


It is possible to fix your own computer problems, but if totally stumped and require help, you can always call a computer professional, like me, for some free advice.