How to Troubleshoot Common PC Hardware Problems: Part 1

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Updated 10/7/2020

Some of the most common PC hardware problems that need troubleshooting are:

  1. Your computer won’t turn on.

  2. Your computer turns on, but still doesn’t work.

  3. Your computer screen freezes.

  4. Your computer has insufficient memory.

  5. You get a CMOS error.

  6. Your operating system is missing or your hard drive isn’t detected.

  7. You get the blue screen of death.


When it comes to hardware, some techs may have trouble assessing what steps to take to figure out what’s wrong and how to repair it. Which component is having the issue? Should you just replace the component? Should you try to troubleshoot the software first? 

In this article we’ll go over how to troubleshoot common PC hardware issues (seven of them, to be exact) and the best way to go about fixing them. Remember this, though. The most basic tip is to always try the most obvious solutions first. It could save you a lot of time and frustration. 


Problem #1: Your Computer Won’t Turn On

This is a common problem that often offers a simple solution. 

  1. Is everything plugged in? I can’t tell you how many times I have come across a “broken” computer that simply had an unplugged component.

  2. Try plugging into different power outlets. It isn’t uncommon to blow a fuse, especially with more power-hungry systems.

  3. Is either the monitor, mouse, or keyboard the only thing not working? If so, try plugging in a different one to see if that does the job. Most of the time, replacing one of these is cheaper than attempting a repair.


Once you’ve completed the above steps, it’s time to look at the tower. 

  1. Are the lights on in the front or back of the tower? If not, the power supply unit (PSU) may be turned off.

  2. Next, you can open up your tower and look at the motherboard. Most have a small LED light built in to show if power is running to the motherboard. If it’s turned off, you can either try using a PSU tester, or replace the PSU. Never try to open a PSU and try to repair it yourself as this is extremely dangerous. 


Problem #2: Your Computer Turns On, But Still Doesn’t Work

If power is obviously flowing to the computer system and its peripherals, there may be a component issue. When you first turn on the computer, do you hear or see anything out of the ordinary? Many times the computer’s Power-On Self-Test (POST) will let you know what’s going on with the machine. 

Beep Codes

If you hear any beeps when your computer turns on, they can help you troubleshoot common PC hardware problems. Here’s a list of beep codes (hint: remember these if you’re taking the COMPTIA A+ exam).

  • No beep but the system turns on and runs fine - Under normal circumstances, most computer systems will beep one short beep when turned on. If yours doesn’t, your “beeper” may have died out.

  • No beep - The power supply is not plugged in or turned on. Or, the power supply is completely dead.

  • Steady, short beeps - The power supply may be bad or the voltages might be wrong. A replacement would usually be necessary.

  • Steady, long beeps - The power supply has gone bad.

  • Long, continuous beep - Your Random Access Memory (RAM) sticks may have gone bad. If there is more than one stick installed, try taking one out to see if the computer boots. If it does not, try the same thing with the other stick. This will tell you which stick has gone bad and you can replace or upgrade accordingly. If there is only one stick installed, you will need to replace or upgrade it to fix the problem.

  • One long, two short beeps - There has been a video card failure. Your first action is to try reseating the video card. This often solves the problem when the computer system is connected to projectors because the VGA/DVI/Video cable gets moved so often that the card can be slowly unplugged. If reseating doesn’t work, replace the video card. 


Problem #3: Your Computer Screen Freezes

When your computer freezes and isn’t responsive to your mouse or keyboard, the first thing to do is just wait. Sometimes it will just take a few minutes for your computer to process. Then, end-task the non-responding program. If that doesn’t work, turn off the computer by holding down the power button and then rebooting into Safe Mode (don’t forget about saving your work first, if you can). 

If you’ve tried all of this and your computer still won’t unlock, you may be dealing with either defective hardware or a defective device driver. If this is your case, replace the defective piece immediately so it doesn’t cause further damage. 

Another thing you could be dealing with is a virus that is overwhelming your system. Run a virus scan, remove the virus, recover or reinstall damaged files or software, and implement the latest security software.


Problem #4: Your Computer Has Insufficient Memory

Receiving an “insufficient memory or disk space” error message can usually be solved (at least temporarily) by closing extra windows to free up some RAM. If you’ve done that and the error still comes up, you can try rebooting your computer and installing the latest operating system update. 

If you really don’t have enough available memory and space (which can be checked in Windows 10 by pressing the Windows-R button and typing perfmon in the Open field to run the Performance Monitor), you can uninstall or delete any unused or unnecessary files, especially those of the video/music type. Your final solution is to add more RAM.


Problem #5: You Get a CMOS Error

The CMOS (complementary metal-oxide semiconductor) is an onboard chip that stores information ranging from the time and date to system hardware settings. If you get a CMOS alert message showing up on your screen, it’s likely you need to replace the CMOS battery located on the motherboard. Remove it carefully, insert a new battery that is exactly the same as the old one, and enter the CMOS values to the defaults.


Problem #6: Your Operating System Is Missing or Your Hard Drive Isn’t Detected

If the message “Missing Operating System” shows up on your screen, there are four possibilities the problem could be (and four ways to solve it):

1. The basic input/output system (BIOS) doesn’t detect Windows’ hard disk, or the disk failed. If you know how, take out the hard drive and reconnect it. If that doesn’t work, the hard drive’s interface is forbidden or the hard drive is seriously damaged. 

Restart the computer and watch for the message telling you which key to strike to go into the BIOS. The key can vary from system to system so you may need to use a search engine to find the instructions for your system. Be sure to strike the specified key as soon as you see the message. 

In the BIOS highlight the hard drive and set it to “Auto”. If it’s still invisible, you need a hard drive repair or replacement.

2. The BIOS settings are incorrect. Set the BIOS back to Default State.

3. The Master Boot Record (MBR) is damaged or corrupted. Rebuild the MBR using either the Windows installation disk, the Windows repair disk, or a bootable partitioning tool.

4. The Windows boot file partition isn’t active. Start the computer using a bootable partitioning tool. If that doesn’t work, set the wrong partition to ‘inactive’ and activate the correct partition.


Problem #7: The Blue Screen of Death

The blue screen of death (BSOD) appears when Microsoft Windows has an unrecoverable, critical error that causes a crash and subsequent data loss. This can be caused by the low-level software in Windows crashing. 

When the BSOD occurs, the computer automatically creates a minidump file and restarts the computer. If the blue screen appears again, follow the prompts, identify and search for the error code online, and learn how to fix the problem.

Some of the common solutions are to:

  • Make sure your computer isn’t overheating. If it is, close unused applications, check the fan is working properly, and conduct a good dusting after the computer is turned off before trying other solutions for an overheating PC.

  • Boot into Safe Mode before trying to fix a problem.

  • Test your hardware components and check the computer’s memory for errors.

  • Check for incorrectly installed or buggy drivers. Install updated drivers.

  • Scan for Malware that is causing the crash.

  • Reset or reinstall Windows. 

Use System Restore to get your computer back to its previous state. If it works, you probably have a software problem on your hands.


Signs You Need to Call a Professional 

If you don’t feel confident doing any of these troubleshooting steps, the answer is simple–call an IT professional. There are no reasons to risk the life of your computer (or your own safety) just to tinker around and avoid putting in a ticket. 

Other signs you should pick up the phone are:

  • Your first or second try doesn’t fix the problem.

  • You are having troubles with a laptop, rather than a PC. Laptop repairs are harder and more expensive to fix yourself for a number of reasons, namely:

    • Detecting what is failing is difficult and time-consuming due to tiny components put together with hundreds of screws and a lot of tape
    • Integrated circuits and boards are expensive to manufacture and can’t be lifted out or opened up, making repair impossible.
    • They use proprietary components that are impossible to find replacements for, especially since they are not designed to be repaired.

Professionals go to school, attend regular training, and attain certifications to continually master current technologies. They really are your best asset, so don’t hesitate to ask for their expertise.

Or, if you find yourself enjoying the work of troubleshooting your PC, take a course to learn more!


Final Notes

One of the main ways to avoid having to know how to troubleshoot common PC hardware problems is to put a higher emphasis on preventive maintenance. Most people (and companies) tend to just ignore or patch up burgeoning problems. These can be short-term fixes for minor things, but the value of following a long-term strategy that will keep the technology reliably up and running well cannot be understated. The elements of time, frustration, money, and security will always add up to be more than what procrastination is worth. 

And of course, there will always come a day when it’s time to start from scratch with a new computer. Technologies are changing for the better every single day. You may want to just take the plunge and get something spiffy, speedy, and state-of-the-art. 

So do your duty, give props to your IT team, and learn more from Pluralsight!

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Mike Rodriguez

Mike Rodriguez is a computer technician with over 8 years of experience in the IT field. He has completed training in CompTIA A+, Network+, Computer Business Applications (Microsoft Specialist), Web Page Design and Graphic Design, and is working on completing his CompTIA A+ and CCNA certifications. Mike has experience working as a computer technician for two local school districts, as well as freelance computer repair work with, which Mike owns. Music is another one of Mike's callings. Using his technical experience, Mike promotes local musicians in Salinas California through his website where local musicians and businesses can gain promotion to a worldwide audience.