Computer Problem? Test and Fix it Yourself

Category: Hardware

Has your computer been acting strangely? If you've already ruled out viruses and gremlins, a more likely reason is an error caused by a hardware component that's flaky, damaged, or overheated. Here are some tips and tools to help you diagnose and fix those annoying or intermittent computer problems that just seem to pop up for no apparent reason...

Testing Your Hardware

Computer problems that happen on a repeatable basis are usually pretty easy to diagnose and fix. For example, you try to run a certain program and it locks up your computer every time. Uninstalling, reinstalling or upgdating a program may solve the problem. A malware scan may find and remove a virus. But when problems pop up randomly, or they don't happen every time, you need to do some detective work to find the cause.

In this article, I'll introduce you to a virtual toolbox of useful diagnostic utilities that you can use to test your hardware, detect problems and possibly even prevent a future problem from happening.

Monitoring System Temperature and Voltage

I often say that heat is the enemy of electronics. And just like an automobile engine, excessive heat in your computer's components can cause them to malfunction, seize up, or become damaged. As I've discussed in my article [REVEALED] Your Computer's Worst Enemy, some of the symptoms of overheating include sluggish performance, software crashes, as well as random reboots and restarts.

Test and Fix Computer Hardware

Modern computer motherboards are equipped with sensors to detect the temperature and/or voltage of the CPU, hard drives, graphics adapter and the motherboard itself. You can download free software that will monitor these components, and alert you if any potentially dangerous conditions are found. SpeedFAN is a long-standing favorite temperature monitoring utility. It also monitors voltages in various devices and the speed of the fan(s) which cool your CPU, power supply, and other components. Unfortunately, the download link on the SpeedFan website is hard to find. Be sure to click the Download link near the top of the page (next to Screenshots). On the next page, look for "The latest version is..." You'll find the download link there. Clicking other links on the site may not get the desired result.

Another tool to display temperature readings is Speccy. Speccy reads temperature sensors built into your motherboard, graphics adapter and hard drives. In addition to that, Speccy also gives you detailed information on every hardware component inside your Windows computer. I do recommend that you try one or both, just to make sure your computer isn't running hot. Many times, reducing the temperature inside your system unit (or a specific component) will "magically" fix a problem that's been dogging you.

Testing RAM Memory

Did you ever have a car that ran just fine, except once in a while, when you're turning left on a Tuesday, just after a full moon, it makes a funny noise and almost stalls? Sometimes a faulty or flaky RAM chip can cause seemingly random system glitches, such as lock ups, restarts, or the dreaded Blue Screen of Death. Let's say you have 8 gigabytes of RAM memory, installed as a pair of 4GB chips, a pretty common scenario. There might be a defect on one of those chips, which only causes a problem when a certain amount of memory (or a certain program) is being used. (Note that RAM memory is not the same as your hard drive storage.)

Memtest86+ is a tool that will help you test the RAM memory in your Windows computer, to see if it's functioning properly. Unlike the quick BIOS tests run when you start up your computer, Memtest86+ does a thorough and rigorous test of all RAM, and will report if any problems are found. One of the most common problems is when a program writes data to a memory cell, and an adjacent cell is erroneously written with the same data. It's also possible that a faulty memory location will record the wrong value, or no value at all. These errors occur rarely, but when they do, the results can be unpredictable. It might be something you'd never notice, like the wrong shade of blue in one tiny pixel of a large photo. It could manifest as a system crash, or the computer might refuse to boot up at all.

I recommend that you install the Memtest86+ software on a USB flash. Memtest86+ is a stand-alone program, which requires you to restart your computer, and boot from the USB or CDROM you just created. If your computer doesn't boot up into Memtest86+, you'll need to change your BIOS settings to set the USB or CD as the first boot drive. I suggest that you try Memtest86+ if you have what appears to be a random software problem, but it's also a good idea to run it once in a while (maybe just once a year) to make sure all your RAM memory is in good working order.

Testing Your Hard Drive

Your hard drive is the permanent storage space for your computer files. Don't confuse this with RAM memory, which is just temporary working space for programs. To keep them straight, think of RAM as the top of your desk, and your hard drive as a filing cabinet. A hard drive should outlast your computer, but you never know. Hard drives can develop bad sectors, due to excessive use or faulty hardware. A power surge, a dropped drive, or software glitch may result in lost or damaged files.

If you hear odd noises from the hard drive, or you're seeing errors such as "file cannot be accessed", "error reading disk", or the more ominous "no fixed disk present", it's time to run some tests on your hard drive. Windows comes with a disk diagnostic tool called CHKDSK that can analyze and fix certain errors. Other tools such as Seagate SeaTools, and the Hitachi Drive Fitness Test may be helpful also. See my article Your Hard Drive Will Crash in 3, 2, 1... to learn more about the signs of hard drive failure, links to these programs, and other hard drive maintenance tips.

If your hard drive is not able to boot up, or it appears that you've lost all your files, don't depair just yet. TestDiskis a powerful free tool that can recover lost hard drive partitions, recover deleted files, and even rebuild scrambled files.)

Testing Your Speed

Would you like to know if your spiffy new computer is performing at the advertised specs? How about testing the impact of installing new RAM, a graphics adapter or hard drive? Or maybe you'd like to go head to head against your friend's PC, to see who has the faster rig. Fortunately, there's an abundance of software that will test and benchmark the performance of your computer's components.

PCMark tests a wide range of components. PCMark will simulate and report on a variety of conditions, such as web browsing, gaming, general computation, image manipulation, and data storage. There are free, Advanced, and Professional editions, depending on your needs.

Other options, such as SuperPi, NovaBench and SANDRA, are discussed in more detail in my related article [SPEED] Is Your PC Fast Enough? If you want to test or tweak your Internet connection speed, see How Can I Speed Up My Internet Connection?

Do you know about other tools that help you to test, tune or tweak your hardware? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Computer Problem? Test and Fix it Yourself"

Posted by:

Randi Byrd
27 Feb 2024

I have been a fan for ages but with multiple sclerosis with vision difficulties(tip of the ice berg) (All the movement also sparks migraine); it is extremely difficult to read your articles which are so helpful.

Posted by:

Ernest N. Wilcox Jr. (Oldster)
27 Feb 2024

@Rand1 Byrde,

If you use Firefox (I do), open Settings (Hamburger icon in the top-right corner of the window), scroll down to the Fonts section. Below the default font and size setting, is the Zoom setting. I check-mark the 'Zoom text only' option, and set the default zoom level at 120%. This setting works for me, but you can experiment with it until you find a zoom level that works well for you. If you use a different browser, it probably has a similar setting.

Ernie (Oldster)

Posted by:

28 Feb 2024

Browser pages can be size controlled by holding down CTRL Key and rolling mouse wheel back or forth.

Posted by:

28 Feb 2024

WARNING: Especially as Bob's article deals with
physical problems with our desktops, etc. Half way through last year I was surprised to see MS Defender suddenly appear in my Win8.1pro setup. I did not question it but would have if I had known that this was a precursor to sabotaging my computer to make me change to the latest Win11.

The latest Defender on 26th February crashed my screen resolution and left me with a small blank square centre resolution page. NOW I can prove it is MS at fault (and that is being generous) because a System Restore confirms it is the Update. I can remove the small square by NOT updating Defender but am unable to use the resolution.

A search on Google has many accusations that the actions of MS are a means to force us to purchase the latest W.11 and I am beginning to feel that the FREE Defender was a bribe.

Being Win8.1pro makes it difficult to find a solution compounded by MS making it too difficult to speak to them and ask for help.

Simple suggestions as to the repair of my screen resolution (without telling me to change the Graphics Card) would be welcome - thank you.

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