My Tech Support House Call

Category: Reference

I received a call from a friend, who was seeing random freeze-ups, the dreaded 'Blue Screen' and some other problems on her computer. So I popped in to see what I could do to cure this pestiferous PC. 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 leery of anyone who calls himself Doctor Bob. I do have a degree in Computer Science, though, and over 35 years of experience in the fields of Programming, Technical Writing and Assorted Geekery, if that helps to rebuild your confidence in me. But for now, let's return to the details of the damsel in digital distress...

Paging Doctor Bob...

My neighbor and her husband are parents of five young children. (Already I knew that Bad Things can happen to a computer with five kids clicking anything that moves.) She asked me for a referral to a computer repair shop, because of the frequent freeze-ups, ill-timed intrusions from Safe Mode, the bothersome Blue Screen of Death, and her pesky printer. 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 Your 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 already had an up-to-date version of AVG Free Edition, but no protection is perfect. (See PC Matic Gets a Zero! for my current favorite anti-virus software.) My goto favorite for quick on-demand malware scanning is MalwareBytes. I downloaded the free version of this 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 Startup Repair tool. None of them found any problems, or suggested any additional action. I checked my list of 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 give them a stern look. 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 insubordinate inkjet 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...

 
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This article was posted by on 3 Oct 2022


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Most recent comments on "My Tech Support House Call"

Posted by:

Ryan James
03 Oct 2022

I got a chuckle that you had to search your own past writing to remember the tools. Age, Bob?

Thanks for the Privazer reminder. I have it on my computer, keep updating it as notified, but never think to run it. I will do that now.


Posted by:

Doc
03 Oct 2022

BOB - PLEASE REPLY, COMPATIBLE WITH PCM? c-below:

I, too, use PCM, and understand that it is very unhappy with CCleaner and MBAM. I notice that Speccy is made by the same folks, I hesitate to download it. CAN YOU COMMENT ON IT'S COMPATIBILITY? I was wanting to monitor my temps since Speed fan started to get a tad wonky-weird on me.

ALSO FROM SPECCY WEBSITE, SOFTONIC, - [update of 06/22 make it seem current], I found this as well:

"Since Speccy has not been updated for a while, two types of information may be misleading, which are the temperatures and VRAM numbers. While the temperature may not be accurate, current degrees are listed beside CPU and storage. . . .]

I know you don't comment often, mostly I'm curious about compatibility with PCM. With a Dell that their Tech Support can't seem to ever get working correctly, I am a tad leery of installing something that might give me false positives, or positive false reading-- thanks!

EDITOR'S NOTE: I've never had a problem with PC Matic and CCleaner. You can always whitelist a program if PCM flags it.


Posted by:

Ken Maltby
03 Oct 2022

Never underestimate the ability of the 'stern look' as the solution to misbehaviour. I learned that from my father. He was also the master of the lower (deeper) tone of voice when telling you off. Sadly, when I became a Foster Parent here in North America I was told that 'telling off' was not allowed. I even had to describe what I meant, when I put it in my monthly reports :)


Posted by:

Herb
03 Oct 2022

Dr. Bob: Referencing your comment at the end of the article... Yes! That is why God put you here - to be a blessing to people who are able to learn things, but need a plain English explanation. I'm pretty sure I'm older then you, so if things work out right, you'll be explaining things to me for the rest of my life! ;-)


Posted by:

Ernest N. Wilcox Jr.
03 Oct 2022

Hopefully, this will help Doc (and perhaps others), who posted earlier today (I'm not Dr. Bob, but I do know a bit about PCs):

I monitor my CPU cores in real time using a small, lightweight, and free utility named Core-Temp (https://www.alcpu.com/CoreTemp/). I configure it to display the highest CPU core temperature (I have a 6-core device) in the notification area (next to the system clock). To configure the tool as you want, choose the Options menu, then Settings.

I discovered this utility back in my Windows XP days (perhaps earlier than that) and I have installed it on all my computers ever since. It is actively maintained, and it gets compatibility updates for new CPUs when appropriate. Any time one of my computers start acting up, my first reaction is to check the Core-Temp icon to see if my CPU is getting hot. If not, I look at Speccy to see if any other devices in that computer are getting hot.

My computers don't usually act up because I religiously perform a set of monthly, semi-annual, and annual system maintenance routines (the list is too long to enumerate here) to keep them all running smoothly. Among the things I do is to check for Windows updates on the Wednesday after the second Tuesday of each month (the second Tuesday of each month is known as Patch Tuesday because Microsoft releases their monthly cumulative update on that day). I use SUMo to inform me when third-party software updates become available (e.g.: LibreOffice, Core temp. etc.), although there are other update monitors available that you may prefer.

I keep a list of installed software, and I check it monthly. When I find an app that I no longer need, I remove it. These two actions are the most important things I do to keep my computer running smoothly. I keep my machines up to date, both the OS, and any third-party apps I use, and I remove any app I am no longer using.

Finally, I approach the Internet with a healthy dose of skepticism. This helps keep me safe from most malware, etc.

I hope my tips help,

Ernie


Posted by:

Maura K
04 Oct 2022

Dr Bob was also the role played by Rowlf the Dog in the soap opera spoof “Veterinarian’s Hospital” on The Muppet Show back in the late 70s. I don’t recall if we tagged you with the name at Big Blue but I know we always dropped by for help with the odd problems. Thanks for continuing to doctor our machines!


Posted by:

Sandy Jewell
04 Oct 2022

I'm an oldie who has been tutoring other oldies in laptops, mobiles and tablets for about 14 years.Your info has been very helpful to me over this time.
Solving problems is my forte' and running a variety of free checks quite often does the trick.


Posted by:

Michelle R
04 Oct 2022

I’ve been using Privazer for years and I love it, especially for those friends who have problems with their computers. Usually, just running Privazer clears up any problems. Thanks, Bob, for all you do. I’ve learned so much from your articles over the years.


Posted by:

ChrisR
04 Oct 2022

Go on, Bob! We're all techy nerds here (mostly!) - do tell how you found the Canon printer problem.


Posted by:

TN
04 Oct 2022

Just a quick comment to thank Dr. Bob for all he does and also a shout-out to Ernie Wilcox whose comments are always filled with tons of useful information (would love to learn your "too long to list" PC maintenance protocol sometime).


Posted by:

Egbok
05 Oct 2022

Been using PC Matic since a supplier offered me a free 1 yr. subscription back around 2000. Haven't looked back. I think PCM does everything for me, because I don't do anything except let it run. Thanks Bob for your weekly updates, it's been enormously helpful to keep me free from the gotchas.


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