Determining source: Hardware or software

From the course: Troubleshooting Common PC Issues for Users

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  • Course details

    Are you a help desk specialist or the go-to technical troubleshooter in your department? If people rely on you to diagnose and fix their computer issues, this course was designed to help you help them. Join PC expert Dan Gookin as he takes you through a number of diagnostic and repair steps. First, he explains how to determine if the source is hardware or software related. Then, he provides instructions on how to resolve the most common issues, such as dealing with errors, leveraging the Task Manager, fixing Windows issues, and more. In addition, he also demonstrates maintenance techniques to help protect storage drives, as well as how to address problems you encounter with devices like printers and monitors. He wraps up with how to restore network and internet connectivity.


    • Click here to view Dan Gookin’s instructor page

      Dan Gookin

      Mad Genius

      Dan Gookin is the author of more than 120 titles. He has been writing about technology for over 20 years.

      Dan combines his love of writing with his gizmo fascination to create books that are informative, entertaining, and not boring. Because his 120 titles have 12 million copies in print that have been translated into over 30 languages, Dan can attest that his method of crafting computer tomes seems to work.

      Perhaps his most famous title is the original DOS For Dummies, published in 1991. It became the world's fastest-selling computer book, at one time moving more copies per week than the New York Times #1 bestseller (though as a reference, it could not be listed on the NYT Bestseller list). From that book spawned the entire line of For Dummies books, which remains a publishing phenomena to this day.

      Dan's most popular titles include PCs For Dummies, Word For Dummies, Laptops For Dummies, and Droid X For Dummies. He also maintains the vast and helpful website,

      Dan holds a degree in communications/visual arts from the University of California, San Diego. Presently, he lives in the Pacific Northwest, where he enjoys spending time with his sons playing video games inside while they watch the gentle woods of Idaho.

    Skills covered in this course

  • Troubleshoot PC issues yourself

    - [Instructor] A good first step toward resolving a computer issue is to determine whether the source is hardware or software. This determination isn't easy to make. Malfunctioning hardware can make software, particularly Windows, behave erratically. Likewise, bad software can make it appear as though hardware is to blame. The good news is that hardware issues are often detected when the computer starts, or not, when hardware fails it doesn't work and the device simply isn't available. In this movie, I cover various ways to determine whether an issue is hardware or software related. The tools I mention are covered in more detail in later movies. For example, when the PC starts up, it performs a power-on self test, or POST. If any hardware fails to operate, a message appears on the screen. And if the monitor isn't working, you hear a series of beeps from the consol speakers. The POST doesn't catch all hardware failures but it's the step in checking whether a hardware issue exists. After the PC is started, the next step is to check for hardware issues using the Device Manager. Tap the Windows key. Type Device Manager. Press the Enter key to choose the top item on the list and open the Device Manger window. You see a list of all your PC's hardware. If any devices are malfunctioning, their section is open and they're flagged with a yellow triangle such as those items shown here. The solution could involve reinstalling a device driver, which is covered more specifically in a later movie. But two tricks you can perform before then are to disable and re-enable the device, or swap out the hardware. To disable a device, right-click on it. Choose Disable. Confirm that you want to disable it. And it's disabled. Now, you re-enable it and hopefully that solves the problem. Right-click, choose Enable. And in this case, it didn't. The other way to resolve some hardware issues, specifically with peripherals, is to swap out the hardware. For example, you swap out a mouse, keyboard, or monitor with one that works. If the swapped out hardware doesn't malfunction, then you know it's the original peripheral that's at fault, and not something else in the system. To solve the problem, replace the defective hardware. Internal components are more difficult to swap out but failure of these items is a wee bit more obvious. A fried power supply just doesn't work. The fan doesn't whir, and the PC doesn't turn on. The solution is to replace the power supply and I recommend that replacement by rated at a higher wattage than the original. For example, a 500 watt power supply to replace a 350 watt power supply. Other internal components can be swapped out or replaced as well, but you'll probably opt for replacement and not swapping, which is time consuming. For example, you can replace a video adaptor, memory, and the mass storage device. These operations require some technical skill, plus they involve software issues, such as reinstalling new drivers or even restoring the entire system from a backup. Troubleshooting software involves discovering which problem is causing the issue. Generally speaking, software issues are consistent, but which program is causing the trouble? You start with the operating system, Windows, then hardware drivers, and finally, the programs that you run. You can tell whether or not Windows is to blame when you start the PC in Safe Mode. If the problem persists in Safe Mode, then it's an operating system issue. You take steps in Safe Mode to address the problem, which is covered in another movie. Drivers are software programs that control your PC's hardware, such as the network driver, printer driver, and so on. When a driver malfunctions, the hardware doesn't work properly. The solution is to update or reinstall the driver, and if that doesn't work, then the hardware could be to blame. Software problems beyond Windows and drivers are specific to one program only, and usually they're consistent. You perform the same action and get the same buggy results, a crash or some other malfunction. These problems could be due to bugs, or the sign of an improper software installation. If the problem is a bug, then it must be addressed by the program's developer. The best you can do is to check the developer's website and ensure that the bug exists. This topic is covered in another movie. If the software issue isn't a bug, then it's probably hardware, in which case you perform diagnostic tests on the PC to confirm that the hardware is functioning properly. PC dealers and repair places I've spoken with have three general rules when it comes to determining whether a problem is hardware or software. If the problem is inconsistent, it's hardware. If the problem is consistent, it's software. And if the problem is with the PC's firmware, which is the motherboard circuitry, then it will just drive you nuts. Above all, keep in mind that the root of all PC trouble is change, whether you've changed hardware or software recently is you biggest clue to finding a hardware or a software solution.

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