Tech Tips, Simple steps for a simple life

Odd Problems...
How is your PC behaving?
Every PC, either desktop, laptop, server, or workstation has odd problems that pop up from time to time.  Here are a few of those issues, and solutions.

The system's fan is whining loudly

A loud fan can be the result of a number of minor problems. The common cause is dirt. A dirty fan, clogged with dust, is highly inefficient and works harder to handle its cooling duties. As the fan struggles to cool the system, it produces the whirring sound. A quick cleaning should do the trick. If the fan is new and you're still hearing a loud whirring, your problem may be "ambient heat." You need to operate your PC in a cool environment. Many PCs get louder as they get hotter, with the fans spinning faster to keep the system cool. Be certain your PC is clean and cool and you'll run trouble-free.

Your PC spontaneously reboots

This problem can three main causes:

  • Hardware
  • Operating System
  • Malware (virus)
Hardware: A long-standing mystery solved - the processor is overheating! If rebooting occurs in a PC that you've just built, try re-seating your CPU's heat sink. Make sure you're using the proper thermal gel and spread it evenly between the heat sink and the processor. If inadequate amounts of gel have been applied or low-quality gel has been used, the system will reboot as the CPU heats up---and builds in the uneven "pockets" created by the uneven gel. Also: check to see if you've removed the protective sticker on the bottom of the heat sink (don't laugh---it happens!). And by all means, make sure your motherboard supports the CPU you're installing. If these steps check out and you're still experiencing spontaneous reboots, your problem may be one of the following:
  • Overclocking: We do not recommend overclocking (you always overclock at your own risk).
  • Memory Timing: The fix? Go into your BIOS and set your memory on "Auto" or at a more conservative setting and see if the reboot problem goes away.
  • Oudated BIOS: Make sure you have the latest BIOS for your board. You can determine if your CPU is supported by browsing the BIOS updates of the motherboard's manufacturer. If you're running a Pentium 4 Extreme Edition and notice that it's only supported with the latest BIOS updates, you may have located the problem!
  • Inadequate Power: If you've made significant component upgrades---with the exception of the power supply---your power supply may be overstressed or failing due to heat or age.
Operating System: If you've migrated your OS and other files from machine to machine to machine, it may be time for a clean install.  Reinstall your operating system - this will install the proper drivers for the system as it is now.  Many times this solves the problem completely.
Malware (Viruses):  There are several viruses that specifically cause reboot loops.  There are ways to prevent this, but the best solution is make sure you have an up to date antivirus software.  If you experience random reboots, it is always a good idea to check for "under the radar" malware - Microsoft offers an excellent tool to locate and kill such malware.  For more information, or to download the Tool click here.
Optical Drive (CD or DVD) Runs Slower and Slower....

In this case the villain may be dust, since optical drives rarely "slow down" on their own. Optical drives either work---or they don't, so a mechanical problem is ruled out. What most likely has happened is that your dive has accumulated a layer of dust. Here's the fix: You'll need a can of "spray air" (available everywhere). Eject the disc, exposing the empty tray and spray into the drive with short bursts - BE SURE TO USE THE CAN UPRIGHT - and be sure to spray at an angle so the dust will be expelled out of the drive. Do not spray continuously or turn the spray can upside down (doing so could introduce moisture into the drive or freeze components). Repeat this process a few times, then try test the drive.  There are also optical drive cleaning discs available that can be used.

Possible Bad Memory Module

If you have multiple RAM modules installed, you can install just one DIMM (or pairs if required) in your motherboard at a time and run the machine to observe for errors. This isn't a completely reliable way to test RAM, but can yield results if a module is significantly defective (as opposed to a single memory cell). As an alternative, your can download the Microsoft Memory Diagnostic Tool software (available here).

When playing PC games continuously for a long time, the computer randomly crashes or reverts to the desktop.

Random crashes in games can be the result of a few different problems. Typically, it's heat, a driver, the Windows install, a virus, a software incompatibility, or a problem with the game. The first thing you should do is check for a patch for any of your games that are crashing. It seems like common sense, but frequently we receive complaints from people trying to run games that have been patches available but never downloaded.  Once you've updated your game, you may need to update your videocard and chipset drivers. Download the latest videocard driver from the company that manufactured your card's chipset. You should also check for newer drivers for your motherboard's chipset whenever you update your videocard drivers. Outdated motherboard chipset drivers are one of the main causes of general system instability. If you've updated all your hardware, but are still having problems, you may have a heat issue (see the article above as well). Open your case and look at your AGP card. Is there another card right next to it? If there is, you should consider moving that card to another slot. A card directly next to a high-end videocard can disrupt airflow enough to cause overheating issues with today's top-of-the-line videocards. If freeing the neighboring slot doesn't alleviate your problem, try adding a fan that fits into one of your PCI slots and exhausts hot air from the bottom of your PC.  Also look at the articles above for other possible solutions

A system is incorrectly reporting processor type or speed

It may be that your motherboard's bus speed is set incorrectly. For example: a Athlon XP 3200+ that runs on a 400MHz bus (which is actually a double-pumped 200Mhz bus). For the motherboard to recognize the CPU as a 3200+, the CPU has to run at 2.2GHz, or 2,200MHz. The CPU reaches that speed only if the motherboard is set to an 11 multiplier and with a 200MHz bus. So, 11x200=2200. If your motherboard's frontside bus is set to run at 166MHz, the CPU would boot at 1833MHz. It's no coincidence that this is the same speed as another processor model, an Athlon XP 2200+. To correct this, reboot your machine and go into the BIOS setting by hitting DEL or F2 during boot. WARNING - changing BIOS settings can significant affect your system, and should be performed by a knowledgeable technician only!  Look for the section that lets you change the bus speed. Hopefully we're right and it's set for 166MHz. Increase it to 400MHz, save the settings, reboot and you should have a 3200+.

When ripping a worn CD, the copy has tracks that have skips
This is a common problem.  Most software that rips a CD will copy only what it can read, and usually does not accurately report errors.  This can be easily fixed. Go to (it is in English and FREE).  Exact Audio Copy rips audio it double-checks for accuracy, and if it detects any discrepancies between the original and the rip, it will extract the data again and again until it has determined that the result precisely matches what's on the disc. If the error correction is unable to compensate for a flaw in the disc and the data is irretrievable, Exact Audio Copy will let you know, sparing you from unpleasant surprises later.

A wireless laptop will not connect to a wireless router, or even see it
Usually Wi-Fi connection problems are the result of configuration errors, incompatible firmware, or interference with another router. It's easy to fix firmware issues-all you need to do is download the latest firmware for your wireless router from the manufacturer's web site (refer to your wireless routers manual for more information). If you've installed the firmware update and still can't connect, your next step is to temporarily disable WEP or WPA (security). If you can connect to the router when security is disabled, check all your WEP settings. You need to use exactly the same key on your router and any machines that connect to it wirelessly. Also make sure the Authentication Type on each of the PCs matches the setting on the router. Troubleshooting interference issues is more complex. First, you should change the default channel. Most routers shipped today are set at channel 6 be default, and the sheer traffic can create a lot of interference. You should also uncheck the field that says, "Automatically connect to non-preferred networks"-there is no advantage to the feature and it can cause your computer to behave erratically if you're in the proximity of the other networks - position your laptop right next to the router and try again. If you're still having problems connecting, there may be a hardware problem on your laptop. Check Device Manager and make sure there isn't an exclamation point beside your Wi-Fi device. You should also try connection to another router that you know works properly. Finally, try connecting to your network using the same settings, but a different brand of Wi-Fi card or adaptor.  If all else fails, contact your router manufacturer's tech support line. You may actually have a faulty router.

A broadband connection seems like it's downloading slow
Sadly, there isn't much you can do to improve your broadband connection's real performance without spending more money to upgrade your existing service.  However, there are many things that affect the apparent performance of your system online.  Try closing applications, and exploring what you currently have running in memory (via your Task Manager's Processes listing).  Close all open programs, restart your browser, and see if your performance does not improve.
There are a whole lot of products out there that claim to "improve your broadband speed" but it is important to first look at your system.  If your performance is significantly slower than the advertised claims of your provider, you should also contact your ISP. For services advertised as full-speed, we expect a minimum of 50kB/s download speeds and prefer to see our speeds top out over 100kBs. If you are paying for a high-speed broadband connection, but are seeing less than 50kB/s downloads, you should switch ISPs!

Can't see the other computers on my home network from my laptop
First, you need to make sure that each computer you want to connect to belongs to the same workgroup. (Remember the workgroup has a name, be sure it is the same name on each machine - same spelling/same case.)
Open the Start Menu and right-click My Computer. Go to Properties, then Computer Name. If your workgroup name doesn't match, you can change it by clicking the Change button. Some versions of Windows only show the computers that actually have shared folders or printers, so make sure you have at least one folder shared on every computer you're trying to connect to.
If that does not solve the problem, the next step is to temporarily disable your firewall. By default, most firewalls block the ports used by Windows networking, keeping even legitimate users from connecting to your machine. If all your machines use the same workgroup and your firewalls are disabled, and you're using a wireless router, your problem could be the router. If your wired machines can all see each other, but a wired machine can't see a wireless machine, it's almost certainly the router's fault. Barring a firmware update that fixes the problem, check with your router manufacturer for a newer version of the firmware. If that doesn't work, you may need to get a newer router. Here's one last tip: You can try to connect to your computer's specific IP address instead of its name. To find the IP address, go to the Network Connections control panel, right-click your network card, and select Status. The IP address is on the Support tab. Once you have the IP, you can go back to your other computer and put // into the Explorer address bar. If you have shared folders on the PC you're trying to connect to, they should show up immediately.

A new hard drive is not showing up in Windows XP

All brand-new hard drives are sold unformatted and thus don't show up in Windows until they've gone through the formatting process. To get up and running, connect the drive, boot your PC, and at the Windows desktop right-click the My Computer icon and select Manage. Click Disk Management in the left-hand tree, and every drive connected to your system will show up. Simply right-click your new drive and select New Partition. Then follow the steps to get your drive up and running.

The disk runs a lot, even when not using the computer
This sounds like a classic case of spyware infection. You need an anti-spyware application.  These applications scan your hard drive for potential spyware and will help you remove it if detected. If the application detects spyware on your PC, it will either automatically remove it, or give you instructions that allow you to remove it.

E-mail frequently stops working. stalls when receiving and sending or it reverts to "localhost"

There's an outside chance the problem could be a virus, but the most likely culprit is your antivirus program itself or your spam filtering program. These apps work by situating themselves between your mail program and your e-mail server, then taking a look at every piece of mail you receive. But if one of these programs crashes or needs input from you, it will hold up the e-mail download and your mail program will think the connection has died. If this happens, just restart your antivirus program and spam filtering program and try downloading messages again.

2 Common Email Problems and What To Do About Them

When it works well, e-mail can be great.  It’s hard to beat e-mail for everything from staying in touch with family to requesting information from businesses or other organizations.  Want to send the same message to several people?  Communicate with someone across the continent?  Transmit photos, manuscripts or other information?  For speed and efficiency, this virtually instantaneous medium is one of the most convenient features of modern life.
Email Problems
But e-mail is not without problems.  If you key in the name of an intended recipient but your message keeps bouncing back, you might not be singing e-mail’s praises.  Ditto for attachments that won’t open or other such nuisances.  With just a little patience, though, you can readily overcome most e-mail problems.  What follows are 4 common e-mail problems along with solutions for overcoming them.
Problem – Returned Messages
This may be the most frustrating of all e-mail problems.  After taking the time to create a message, you click on the “send” button and consider your task accomplished.  But the next thing you know, the message pops up in your in-box with a heading that it did not reach its intended recipient.
Solutions :
First, take the simple step of checking to see that the address of your recipient has been entered correctly.  This may seem obvious, but sometimes the only thing wrong is a misplaced letter, the use of “com” instead  of “net”, or some similar error.  If you know the correct address, this is a straightforward matter of double checking each character. 
If not, you might need to experiment by sending multiple messages, or by entering alternative addresses with slight variations.  Under this approach, you simply keep track of which messages are bounced back and compare them with the overall list of addresses you used.  If you sent four variations but only three were returned, you have solved the problem by the process of elimination.
Sometimes the source of your problem lies with the recipient.  If messages to other addresses go through but fail here, try to contact the intended recipient by other means and report the situation.  The cause may range from a temporary problem with the recipient’s server to a switch to another e-mail provider, to a full in box.  In this case, simply waiting may be the best recourse.  Or a phone call or other communication may be required on your part to obtain the correct e-mail address.  If all your messages are being returned, you may have a connection problem.  See below for more details.
Email Problems
Problem 2 – You Have Lost Your Connection
Sometimes a failure to send or receive e-mail can be traced to a lost connection with your Internet service provider.
If you see a “failure to connect” or “no response” message or have otherwise determined that you have failed to connect, double check to make certain there are no physical problems.
First, check your cables and connections.  If you use a dial-up modem, listen to make sure it produces the normal high-pitched dialing sound.  If not, the problem could be a loose connection.  Locate the phone cord that runs from the back of your computer to the phone jack, and then make sure that each end is plugged in snugly.
If you will don’t hear the expected dialing sound, check to make sure your phone cord is undamaged.  If it seems worn, replace it with a new one. 

 Other steps include making certain the line is plugged into the right port, and checking the phone jack by plugging the cord into a different jack.  If you hear the dialing sound after any of these steps, you have made a successful connection.

Connection problems may be more common with dial-up modems than with broadband connections, but the latter are also dependent on physical connections.  A loose wire or poorly connected cable can easily be problematic.  Sometimes a glitch occurs that can be best addressed by repeating portions of the initial set-up process.  A simple fix touted by Verizon technical service reps for some DSL (digital subscriber line) customers is to disconnect the three lines from the back of the modem and then reconnect them in a specified order.  When this action is taken, the online connection is immediately regained.
Email Problems
If you are online but keep getting bumped off, the lost connection can be the result of an unintended software command.  In Outlook Express, for example, you will find the command “Hang up when finished.”  If the box in front of this phrase is checked, the connection will automatically be severed each time you send or download e-mail.  Sometimes a misdirected click of your mouse will cause you to place a check in the box even though you do not realize it.  Simply click on the check mark to make it disappear, and the hang-ups will cease.
These 2 common e-mail problems are quite easy to determine and when rectified will make your emailing experience more enjoyable.

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