Doctor Bob's Tech Support House Call
I received a call from a friend recently, who was seeing random freeze-ups, the dreaded 'Blue Screen' and some other problems on her computer. I decided to pop in and see what I could do. Come along for this tech support house call, and learn the tools and techniques I use to diagnose problems like these...
Paging Doctor Bob... Doctor Bob...
Long-time readers will already know the terrible secret that I'm neither a medical doctor nor a Ph.D. I got the Doctor Bob handle while working at IBM, because I was always helping people fix whatever was wrong with their computers. I accepted the nickname, and thought it was funny, because there was a weather man named "Doctor Bob" who was a popular on-air personality at WABC radio back in the 1970s. Word somehow got out that he wasn't a real meteorologist, and he was fired.
So the moral of that short story is that you should be leary of anyone who calls himself Doctor Bob. I do have a degree in Computer Science, though, and over 30 years of experience in the fields of Programming, Technical Writing and Assorted Geekery, if that helps to rebuild your confidence in me. But now, let's return to the saga of the damsel in digital distress...
My neighbor and her husband have five young children. (Already I knew that Bad Things can happen to a computer with five kids clicking anything moves.) She asked me for a referral to a computer repair shop, because of the freeze-ups, unwelcome intrusions from Safe Mode, the Blue Screen of Death, and her printer that had stopped working. I knew they had little money to spare, and the Geek Squad (or similar fixit services) would probably want to extract at least $150 for their efforts. So I popped in at lunch time, hoping that I could make things right with a few tools from my bag of tricks.
The first thing I did was install Speccy, to check for overheating problems. A computer that's running hot can be the cause of seemingly random system shutdowns and freezes. (I used to recommend SpeedFan, but that website is filled with so many deceptive download links, that I no longer send people there.) Speccy informed me that all of the components were operating at normal temperatures, so I didn't bother to open the system unit and inspect for dust. See What's Going On Inside My PC? to learn more about Speccy and another free diagnostic program you should know about.
Next, I decided to do a malware scan. This computer running Windows 7 already had an up-to-date version of AVG Free Edition, but no protection is perfect. (See
PC Matic - An Overdue Review for my current favorite anti-virus software.) My goto favorite for quick on-demand malware scanning is MBAM. I downloaded this free utility and ran a scan, which reported that nothing malicious was found.
At this point, it seemed appropriate to run some hardware diagnostics, but my memory was failing me. (Don't you love horrible puns?) A quick search on AskBobRankin.com Windows repair and recovery tools inspired me to run CHKDSK to scan for hard drive errors, the Windows Memory Diagnostic Tool to check for flaky RAM chips, and the Windows 7 Startup Repair tool. None of them found any problems, or suggested any additional action. I checked my list of Ten Free Tech Support Tools, and it didn't seem like any of those were needed here.
As a final measure, I decided to run PrivaZer, the awesome free disk optimizer, registry cleaner and privacy enhancer that I reviewed a while back. (See Clean and Sanitize Your PC With PrivaZer to learn more.) And voila! In the process of running all these scans and tests, I had restarted the computer several times, and everything seemed to be working fine. No freeze-ups, no Safe Mode, no Blue Screen, and no viruses. It's possible that putting the system through all these paces somehow magically solved the problem. It's also true that computers instinctively fear me, and tend to behave better when I'm nearby. Anyway, I declared Victory to my friend, and Hooray for free software tools.
And then I remembered that I hadn't fixed the non-working printer problem. My friend had already tried the Windows troubleshooter, and learned that the printer device driver software had somehow gone missing. She had even gone to the Canon website, and downloaded what promised to be the solution. I was impressed at her efforts. But the process of getting this creaking MF3100 back to good turned out to be very nerdy and obscure. After wading through a stream of unhelpful websites, wizards and workarounds, I finally got the printer re-installed and working. The story is too long and horrible to repeat here. If I had to do it again, I'd have run over to Best Buy and bought them a new printer. There's just no way a non-techy Joe or Jane would EVER figure this out, and that's a shame. Maybe that's why God put me here. :-)
Feel free to forward the link for this article to anyone who might find it useful. Your comments and questions are always welcome, please post below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 4 Nov 2019
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Doctor Bob's Tech Support House Call (Posted: 4 Nov 2019)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved