How To Fix Your PC, The Right WayS

It’s happened to us all. You get home from a long day at work and you want to blow off some steam with an hour of gaming or maybe browsing the web, but when you tap your mouse button or punch the power switch, the unthinkable happens. You’re SOL.

Whether the system is red-lining, the OS is BSODing, or your Internet is slow, this frustration is familiar to any person who drives a PC. You’re faced with a problem that stops you dead in your tracks. If you’re a savvy self-tech, you run through your proverbial checklist of areas to look at. But not everyone is so experienced, and even old hands have holes in their troubleshooting repertoire. So, in the interest of providing the most useful advice to the greatest number of people, we’ve compiled a list of the top five problems that could impact each of your computer’s major hardware or software subsystems and our best advice on how to fix them. This is our in depth computer repair guide.


Storage Problems

What to do when your hard disk is dying and your SSD is sputtering

Problem: Hard Drive Disappears

Solution: If it’s a drive that was previously visible, the first step is to see if the drive shows up in the BIOS (check under Boot). If not, swap out the SATA and/or power cables. If the drive shows up, run CHKDSK on it by right-clicking the drive in My Computer, choosing Properties, then the Tools tab, and then “Check now” and “Automatically fix file systems errors.” If the drive continues to give a ton of errors, and is behaving erratically but is visible in Windows, copy all data off it immediately if you can, or run Data Recovery on it STAT. If the drive is not visible in Windows, your options are limited to the Freezer Trick (an hour or so of extreme cold sometimes sets things straight) or expensive forensic-style data recovery.

If this is a brand-new drive that’s not showing up, you need to initialize it first. Right-click My Computer and select Manage, then Disk Management and follow the prompts.

How To Fix Your PC, The Right Way

Problem: Optical Drive Disappears

Solution: This classic conundrum involves either a missing drive or one that stops functioning suddenly. Put on your big-boy pants and type regedit in the Start menu search box, then navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Class\{4D36E965-E325-11CE-BFC1-08002BE10318}. If you see an entry named UpperFilters, delete it. If you see an entry named LowerFilters, delete it. Once you’ve done this, exit Regedit and reboot your system. In most scenarios, your optical drive will reappear and/or magically begin working again. Note that you may have to reinstall software that accesses the optical drive (e.g., burning software) to get back to 100 percent functionality.

Problem: Drive Not Reporting Full Capacity

Solution: This is usually an issue with 3TB or 4TB drives, as 2TB drives should have zero issues in Win7 (WinXP users might have to download a utility from the drive’s manufacturer to allow for a drive with 4K sectors). Out of the box these 3/4TB drives are typically MBR disks, which limits a partition to 2TB (actually, 1.8TB or so) relegating the rest to a separate partition. If you want the full capacity in one partition, you need to convert the disk to GPT. To do this, type cmd at the Start search box; at the prompt type diskpart, then list disk, then select disk X (substituting X for your drive number), then convert GPT. Now go to Disk Management and create your massive single partition.

Problem: SSD Performance Is Slow

Solution: If you’re using a hard drive and it feels slow, don’t worry; that’s how they are for the most part. If you’re using an SSD and its slow, there is a problem. If you’re not sure if it’s slower than spec, download CrystalDiskMark and see what kind of sequential-read/write speeds you are getting. Second, make sure the drive is connected to the native SATA 6Gb/s ports on the motherboard. You can’t rely on color, only your mobo manual, to tell. Third, go into the BIOS and make sure the SATA port for that drive is set to AHCI mode instead of IDE mode, as that will usually give you better performance.

Problem: AHCI Causes BSOD (blue screen of death)

Solution: Sometimes, people install Windows 7 without AHCI enabled, only to find out that enabling it after the install causes a BSOD. To fix this, you have to edit the registry. Press Windows + R key, type regedit, then navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\services\msahci. Then right-click the word Start on the right-side and click Modify. Change the value in the window to “0” and click OK. Exit Regedit, reboot the system, and change your SATA controller to AHCI; you will boot right into Windows.

How To Fix Your PC, The Right Way


USB

What to do when it won’t plug nor play

Problem: Some USB Ports Don’t Work

Solution: Nonfunctional USB ports could be caused by a few things. If the ports are front-mounted, make sure the internal cables are connected properly and that the requisite USB header is enabled in your system BIOS. If the ports are soldered on the motherboard (and enabled), open up Device Manager and see if any USB root controller or hubs are reporting a problem. If so, a driver update/reinstallation may resolve the issue. It’s also possible that the physical connectors have been damaged (or a fuse has blown), in which case you’ll have to re-solder some new ones onto the board. If the USB ports are associated with a third-party controller, be sure its drivers are installed, because Windows may not recognize the controller automatically.

Problem: Slow File Transfer over USB

Solution: Windows Vista and 7 have some known USB performance issues, so the first thing to do is run Windows Update and make sure your OS is fully patched. We’d also advise installing the latest drivers for your motherboard’s chipset and any discrete USB controllers. You could also try setting the USB drive to performance mode. Open Device Manager, right-click the USB drive, and choose Properties from the menu. In the resulting window, click the Policies tab and tick the option labeled “Better performance.” Please note, this feature will enable write caching, so you’ll have to use the Safely Remove Hardware option when disconnecting the drive to prevent any data loss.

How To Fix Your PC, The Right Way

Problem: USB Hub Doesn’t Work

Solution: This problem is almost always caused by insufficient power being supplied to the hub. If the hub came with an AC adapter, make sure it’s plugged in and working properly. And if you’ve got the hub plugged into a front-mounted USB port, try connecting it to a rear port that is soldered onto your mobo. Rear-mounted ports can usually provide more power (or more stable power), which can resolve some issues with finicky hubs.

Problem: Charging Phone over PC’s USB Port Takes Forever

Solution: Standard USB 2.0 ports connected on a root hub have to share 500mA of current (USB 3.0 powers up to 900mA). If you’ve got a bunch of USB devices connected and the port your phone is plugged into is competing for limited power, it will take much longer than normal to charge. Try plugging the phone into a different port (preferably USB 3.0, if possible) or disconnecting other USB devices while charging.

It’s worth noting that some motherboard manufacturers—such as Gigabyte—have begun incorporating high-powered USB ports that can deliver up to 2.7A of current onto their boards. If you want to rapidly charge devices while they’re connected to your system, it may be worth checking out one of these boards.

Problem: USB Device Is Not Recognized

Solution: USB devices are usually as plug-and-play as you can get, but if a particular device isn’t recognized properly, it may be incompatible with your USB controller or require drivers to be manually installed. Compatibility is very good with USB controllers native to modern chipsets, but we’ve seen some incompatibilities with some discrete USB 3.0 controllers that are yet to be resolved. Should you need to install drivers for the device, plug it into a USB port, then go to Device Manager, right-click the device, and choose Update Drive Software from the menu. Then, you can search the web for drivers automatically or point the wizard to any drivers downloaded from the device manufacturer’s website.


Video Cards

Gee, pee-yew!

Problem: GPU Is Slow

Solution: If your GPU is lagging, the first stop on the road to redemption is a driver update. Both Nvidia and AMD are engaged in a drivers arms race, with each company updating its drivers with an OCD-like frequency that’s impressive. And always check to see if there’s a new driver before you launch a brand-new game. You can find your driver version easily in both Catalyst Control Center under Information/Software, and in the Nvidia Control Panel. Overheating can also cause the GPU to throttle its clock speeds, so monitor your temps using the software provided by your GPU manufacturer.

How To Fix Your PC, The Right Way

Problem: Multicard Setup Not Working

Solution: Dual-card setups can be problematic for a number of reasons, and getting them recognized by Windows is the first challenge. If CrossFireX/SLI isn’t an option you see in the software, ignore your motherboard’s color coding and move the second card to a different PCIe slot. Games are a different story, as the drivers have to include a profile for a certain game, benchmark, or application to allow both cards to function, so there is usually a bit of a wait after a game comes out for a compatible driver (EVGA uniquely offers temporary profiles for new games). Assuming dual-card mode is enabled in the drivers, and the game has been out awhile, your SLI/CrossFireX bridge could be faulty, but that is rare. You can try forcing dual-card mode via the Catalyst Control Center or Nvidia Control Panel, but success is hit-or-miss when doing this.

Problem: Screen Corruption and Artifacts

Solution: Graphical corruption is usually due to one of two things: a video card that is either overheating or dying. First, check your temps using software like MSI Afterburner, EVGA Precision X, Asus GPU Tweak, GPU-Z, etc. Anything below 80 C is fine but a well-cooled card typically doesn’t exceed 70 C. Second, take your GPU out of the case and give it a good cleaning with compressed air, and after you reinstall it, put some cool air on it by removing the case door for a bit, or manually turn up the fans to 100 percent using the above-mentioned software. To see if your card is dying, try running it in a friend’s system to test; conversely, use his or her card in your system. Also, if you are overclocking, immediately go back to stock speeds.

How To Fix Your PC, The Right Way

Problem: Display and Resolution Issues

Solution: While not as common, you should never overlook a cable/connection issue as the cause of your problem. If you are running 2560x1600 resolution, you probably need a dual-link DVI cable (and therefore a dual-link DVI port on the video card, as well—some DVI ports are single-link, so check). DisplayPort also runs at 2560x1600, but VGA and single-link DVI do not. Also double-check the input source for your LCD, as that’s a mistake that even non-rookies make. And double-check the cable you’re using—swap it out if possible.

Problem: Second Display Not Recognized

Solution: First, make sure you are running the latest drivers. Many systems that are running the default Windows drivers have issues with this. Second, make sure you have gone into the control panel of the drivers to enable the second display. Third, some DVI ports do not work if you are using a VGA-DVI adapter, so if there are two ports on your card, try them both. If you have everything set normally in the drivers, make sure your Windows settings are configured properly, and that you have multiple displays enabled.


CPU

It’s usually not the culprit

Problem: CPU Is Overheating

Solution: Don’t assume that high temps automatically warrant a new heatsink. The cooler is likely dust-clogged (try cleaning it), or the fan is dying (requiring a replacement). Or the heatsink has been poorly installed—remove it and remount it with new thermal paste. (Incidentally, degraded thermal paste alone can be the culprit. Here are our picks for the best thermal paste). Other possible causes include the case fans—clean and check them. Or a newer, hotter GPU could have swamped your case’s ability to stay cool. A BIOS update could also change the fan profiles from what you had set. Also keep this in mind: If your CPU is seemingly running “hot” but the machine isn’t blue-screening or throttling clock speed, you probably don’t have to sweat it.

Problem: CPU Is Slow

Solution: CPU performance issues typically come from misconfiguration in the BIOS or overheating. First, verify your chip’s clock speed by running CPU-Z (www.cpuid.com) while running a CPU load in Cinebench 11.5 (www.maxon.net). If the clocks are correct (remember, chips don’t Turbo under heavy loads on all cores), compare your Cinebench 11.5 scores with others on the Internet. The scores should be within a few percentage points of others. If the scores are close, the CPU is not “slow;” it’s something else in your system. If the scores don’t match, you may have a thermal issue. Check that your heatsink hasn’t come loose, reapply thermal paste, and clean the heatsink and fans. A BIOS update could also be needed, as well.

How To Fix Your PC, The Right Way

Problem: CPU Is Unstable

Solution: CPUs rarely “go bad.” They typically work or don’t work. Usually, it’s everything around them that breaks. If you’re overclocking, stop. Try to isolate CPU problems by running a CPU-intensive app such as Prime95. If it blue-screens, check thermal issues first (see “CPU Is Overheating”). Also check your RAM with Memtest86+ (www.memtest.org). Check your power supply connectors to the mobo and GPU. If the PSU is overheating and failing, it could cause crashes. Failing PSUs cause power sags, which can look like a bad CPU, too. If you have a known good PSU you can swap in, do so. Oddly enough, a failing GPU can resemble a CPU failure, so if you have a spare GPU or an integrated option, try switching to it and testing again.

How To Fix Your PC, The Right Way

Problem: CPU Is Always Under a Heavy Load

Solution: Heavy CPU usage can be a sign of malware, so make sure your AV is updated and run a full system scan. Also consider running a secondary scan using Malwarebytes Free (www.malwarebytes.org) and any of the free web-based scanners such as those from Trend Micro, Bit Defender, or ESET. Also check to see that your own AV app isn’t thrashing the system by doing a scan—check the running processes in Task Manager (Ctrl + Alt + Del, Start Task Manager, select Processes.) Click the CPU column to sort by usage and begin searching the Internet for each suspicious process name.

Problem: CPU Only Works in Single-Channel Mode

Solution: First, make sure the RAM is OK by running Memtest86+ (www.memtest.org). If the RAM clears, check the slots for debris and swap out the DIMMs for known good RAM. If crashing persists when put into dual-channel mode, you likely bent a pin installing your CPU. We’ve seen this on LGA1366 and LGA1155 platforms several times. It can be fixed by taking a sharp knife and carefully straightening the pin in the socket (or on the CPU in AMD chips).


Network

Why can’t it just work?

Problem: Internet Connection Drops

Solution: The most likely culprit is your ISP (Internet Service Provider), so prepare to wait on hold. Before you do, though, try some basic troubleshooting.

If your system(s) connects through a router, connect the system directly to your modem to see if the router has a problem, and also cycle the power on your broadband modem. But don’t just quickly hit its power switch or reset button. Unplug it from power for a few seconds. Plug it back in and wait for the modem to resync with your ISP’s network before testing the connection again. If you find yourself resetting your modem monthly or even weekly to resolve Internet connectivity issues, a call to your ISP is in order. There may be an issue that only a modem replacement or a service tech can fix.

Problem: File Downloads Take Forever, Ping Times Suck

Solution: Contrary to popular belief, there aren’t any tweaks that will significantly speed up or improve Internet connection speeds. If your connection is usually fast, but slows during peak hours or only when connecting to certain sites, there may not be much you can do. You should certainly run a broadband test to see where your speeds actually are. ISPs usually have a guaranteed speed band that, if you’re under, they will either fix or charge you less for. Also, power cycle your modem and router. Check your router’s log to see if you have an unauthorized guest sapping speed. Streaming Internet cameras, or streaming Netflix to multiple devices will also sap performance.

Problem: Can’t Access New Server/NAS/PC from other Systems

Solution: There are a number of things that could cause a new system/NAS to be inaccessible from other machines on a network. First, make sure the new system is definitely connected to the LAN properly and that its network controller is active. And also check that the system’s configured with the correct IP address. If the server or NAS is on a different subnet, for example, it may appear to be connected to a network, but it won’t be visible to your other systems. With a standalone NAS device, you’ll have to log into its configuration menu, navigate to the LAN settings, and then enter the proper IP address (or set it to DHCP). To change an IP address on Windows 7 systems, you’ll want to go to Network and Sharing Center, click the Local Area Connection, then click the Properties button, highlight Internet Protocol Version 4 (TCP/IPv4), and then click Properties again. You can change the system’s IP address on the General tab.

It’s also possible that your client PC has network discovery disabled or an overzealous firewall that won’t let the system see other devices, so check that, too.

How To Fix Your PC, The Right Way

Problem: SSID Appears but Can’t Connect Using Wi-Fi

Solution: Wi-Fi connectivity problems are almost always caused by interference or firmware and/or driver incompatibilities. The first thing to try is to simply reset your wireless router in case something’s gone wonky that a reboot might fix. Pull your router’s power cord, wait a few seconds, and then plug it back in. Once the router has fully booted, try to connect again.

If the issue persists, the wireless channel being used by your router may be congested. Download a utility like Insider (www.metageek.net) to your laptop, or Wi-Fi Analyzer to your smartphone, and scan the wireless networks in the area. If your router is using the same channel as many others within range, log into your router’s configuration menu, navigate to the wireless network section, and change the channel to the one that’s least used in the area.

If that doesn’t help, try updating the router’s firmware. Hit your router manufacturer’s website and check for a firmware update. If one is available, download it, and then log into the router’s configuration menu and apply the update (this process will vary from router to router—consult your manual). Once the firmware update is installed, configure the wireless network settings and try connecting again. Updating the drivers for your wireless network controller is worth a shot, too.

Problem: Internet Connection Is Unreliable

Solution: Unreliable or intermittent Internet connections are usually the result of a hardware or signal problem at some point between your PC and the web. Some of these problems you can fix, others may require a service call from your ISP.

The first thing to try is resetting your modem and router and swapping out the network cables between them. Kill the power to your modem and router, wait a few moments, and then power them back up. Also, be sure to use known good cables to connect the devices together. We can’t count how many times a faulty cable has caused funky issues on a network. If the problem persists, give your ISP a call and have it run a diagnostic to check the signal strength and quality on your line. Should your ISP find a problem, odds are it can be fixed by a service technician.

For information on how to fix problems with Windows and more, keep reading over at Maximum PC. [Top image: KJBevan / Shutterstock]

How To Fix Your PC, The Right Way

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