Last month, we discussed several utilities to help troubleshoot memory and hard drive issues. However, many of the problems you’re likely to encounter will be software related. Most will be minor problems, like a driver that fails to load or a program that consistently generates an application error. But others, like a virus infection or corrupted Windows system files, might prevent your PC from starting.
Fortunately, a wide variety of available utilities can analyze and resolve your issues. Many of these are free, and Windows comes with a number of tools capable of resolving most issues.
The first step is to isolate the cause of the problem. Not all PC problems have an obvious cause. So like a detective at a crime scene, you need to get the answers to some important questions before you can proceed. Here are a few examples:
- When did the problem start?
- What were you doing when you first encountered it?
- Has anything changed on the system recently?
- Was new hardware or software installed?
- Have any drivers been recently updated?
- Did you have any services running at the time of the incident, such as an automatic backup or virus scan?
The answers should help you develop a theory about the problem’s origin. While I can’t address specific situations, I can provide you with general guidelines along with some of the tools I use when troubleshooting systems.
Troubleshooting Utilities for Windows
Two of my favorite troubleshooting utilities are CCleaner and Glary Utilities. Both perform similar tasks and can be quite helpful when troubleshooting your PC. For instance, both can clean and optimize the Registry, and each contains a startup manager that can enable or disable the applications that load with Windows (a common cause of PC problems). Each can also uninstall applications and free disk space. Glary also includes a few additional utilities that deserve special mention:
- Process Manger: Monitors all of the running processes on your system just like Windows Task Manager, but it also assigns a color-coded safety rating bar to each process. Green indicates a safe process, red a bad; or at least questionable one. You can click on any process to find out more about it, plus you can either block or terminate any running process.
- Internet Explorer Assistant: Manages Internet Explorer add-ons and can restore hijacked browser settings, making it easy to eliminate unwanted tool bars, BHOs (Browser Helper Objects) and even downloaded ActiveX components.
- Windows Standard Tools: Provides easy access to many of the utilities built into Windows, like Check Disk and Disk Defragmenter. The System File Checker scans all of the protected system files and verifies their authenticity. If it discovers that a protected file has been overwritten, it replaces it with the proper file.
When troubleshooting a PC you also want to look drivers. These small programs tell the operating system how to use a piece of hardware, and they’re notorious for causing problems. Windows Update will often replace a driver on a system because a newer one is available, but for whatever reason, it doesn’t work.
The simplest solution is to revert back to the driver you were originally using. You can do this in two ways. The easiest method is to open Device Manager and double-click on the device in question, move to the Driver tab, and press the Roll Back Driver button. Or you can just reinstall the driver using the original software.
System Restore, which is built right into Windows, is one of the most valuable troubleshooting tools I use is actually. It helps you restore your computer’s system files to an earlier point in time when your system was working well. It’s a safe way to undo system changes to your computer without affecting your personal files, such as e‑mail, documents, or photos.
It’s always a wise precaution to create a System Restore point before installing any new software. To create a system restore point go to Control Panel and select Backup and Restore. Windows 7 users click Recover system settings or your computer. Vista users select Create a restore point or change settings. You can use CCleaner and Glary Utilities to access your saved System Restore points, or you can launch it directly from Windows.