Basic PC troubleshooting for the layman.
By darkbreeze See all their Tutorials
This is really just a reference collection, since despite there being multitudes of threads containing all the steps you should really take when trouble starts, we get asked the same questions over and over again.
I realize that won't change, but rather than repeat posting those steps every time, on every thread, it's much easier and less time consuming, for us both, to simply provide the most common troubleshooting tests and a few really good links all in one place in order to eliminate unnecessarily long threads.
The first thing you should do, if this is a new build or you've just completed the installation of a new hardware component prior to the troubles starting, is read the very good sticky at the following link and triple check all the items listed there as more often than not the problem can be resolved by taking the time to perform each of those steps. If in doubt about any particular step, ask, or google it. There are often quite helpful images available here and at various other forums to assist with identifying whether or not something should look a particular way or is installed correctly.
Try the steps at the following two links, FIRST, if you haven't already:
*Perform these steps before asking about NO-POST issues
And if the problem is very likely to be hardware related, and you've just built the machine but have never had a successful post, or cannot post on a previously working machine, these steps outlined by Tradesman1 are a good way to find the issue:
*Bench testing to troubleshoot POST or no boot issues
If that doesn't help to resolve the issue, or it's NOT a POST related issue, then the following should be helpful in determining the issue. Not every problem will be found by performing every test below, but a good many of them will and at the very least you will have hopefully eliminated many of the potential issues to the point where more specific measures can be applied.
How to post images of hardware or test results in order to help with troubleshooting.
In order to help you, it's often necessary to SEE what's going on, in the event one of us can pick something out that seems out of place, or other indicators that just can't be communicated via a text only post. In these cases, posting an image of the HWinfo sensors or something else can be extremely helpful. Here's how:
*How to post images in Tom's hardware forums
Run HWinfo and look at system voltages and other sensor readings.
Monitoring temperatures, core speeds, voltages, clock ratios and other reported sensor data can often help to pick out an issue right off the bat. HWinfo is a good way to get that data and in my experience tends to be more accurate than some of the other utilities available. CPU-Z, GPU-Z and Core Temp all have their uses but HWinfo tends to have it all laid out in a more convenient fashion so you can usually see what one sensor is reporting while looking at another instead of having to flip through various tabs that have specific groupings.
After installation, run the utility and when asked, choose "sensors only". The other window options have some use but in most cases everything you need will be located in the sensors window. If you're taking screenshots to post for troubleshooting, it will most likely require taking three screenshots and scrolling down the sensors window between screenshots in order to capture them all.
For temperature monitoring only, I feel Core Temp is the most accurate and also offers a quick visual reference for core speed, load and CPU voltage:
http://i59.tinypic.com/1252loz.jpg*Download Core Temp
When it comes to temperature issues, taking care of the basics first might save everybody involved a lot of time and frustration. Check the CPU fan heatsink for dust accumulation and blow or clean out as necessary. Do not "vacuum" out your case or heatsinks as vacuuming is known to cause static electricity which can be damaging to components. Other areas that may benefit from a cleaning include fans, power supply internals, storage and optical drives, the motherboard surfaces and RAM. Keeping the inside of your rig clean is a high priority and should be done on a regular basis.
And CPU-Z offers a lot of information including memory configurations, RAM module part numbers, motherboard model number and revision information and some minimal GPU specs. They also offer "skinned" versions of the utility with ASUS ROG, Gigabyte G1 and OC and ASRock Formula versions.:
Test power supply with paperclip and multimeter
Checking system voltages by way of HWinfo or the BIOS is all fine and good, it will give you a fair general idea of what's going on with your PSU, but there are many cases when that's not possible or the issue needs a far more accurate accounting of the power to individual circuits. Sometimes, in cases when the system fails to even start for example, it's necessary to know if power is even being delivered to the motherboard or other components so you can narrow down the list of usual suspects. Here's two ways to test the PSU.
The first will tell you if it powers up at all, and the manual test which requires the use of an electrical testing meter, preferably a digital volt-ohm meter or DVOM will allow you to determine without doubt whether or not the PSU is providing the essential power requirements where it's needed.
*Watch paperclip test tutorial
*Watch manual power supply test tutorial
Run Seatools for Windows or DOS
When a drive issue is suspected or the system won't boot at all, but does POST, you may need to test one or more attached drives. In order to do this, whether prior to booting into the Windows environment or once you've already booted Windows, you'll need a utility to perform the advanced testing necessary which is often not possible using the drives built in tests.
For systems that can't get into or install Windows, the Seatools for DOS utility will be helpful. You can generally create bootable media with this utility on CD, DVD or USB media. The Windows version can simply be downloaded and run from your desktop. For the Windows version I recommend running the Short drive self test and the Long generic test. There are also other tests available in the utility like the S.M.A.R.T test but the Short DST and Long generic will usually be all you need to determine most drive faults.
*Download Seatools for Windows
*Download Seatools for DOS
Run Memtest86 or 86+
Pretty self explanatory here. Memtest is a memory module testing utility that is fairly accurate at finding and reporting errors that occur while the memory is under instructional stress. I recommend running it for the full 7 passes but modules with serious errors will usually throw errors fairly early, within the first few passes.
That's not always the case though, so test thoroughly and be sure to test each module individually, with only that module installed. That will allow you to know which module has issues and has the added benefit of not resulting in false errors, which often occurs when testing multiple modules simultaneously.
Once again, there are options for creating various types of bootable media, as Memtest needs to be run in a non-Windows environment.
System File Checker is a utility in Microsoft Windows that allows users to scan for and restore corruptions in Windows system files. Although the following link indicates Windows 8, SFC is compatible with all versions of Windows since Windows 98. The steps are the same for Windows versions prior to Windows 8.1.
*How to run SFC/Scannow
Check device manager for remarked devices
It's always possible for issues to be related to an individual hardware component or peripheral so checking for remarked (Device manager will generally show some kind of symbol, whether it's an exclamation or question mark) devices in Device manager located in Windows control panel. Don't confuse "Device manager" with "Printers and devices". They are two different applets/utilities.
If you open Control panel and change the view to large or small icons, you'll see the listing for Device manager. Once in Device manager, if there are remarked devices which will be indicated by the category being already open to the device listing and have a symbol next to the component in question. If no devices are remarked then there are not any fundamental issues with hardware devices such as hardware that simply isn't working correctly or in need of a driver update.
If there are remarked devices, you can use the following to help with solving those issues:
*How to use the Windows device manager for troubleshooting
*Microsoft article: Troubleshooting device driver issues with device manager
Run VRAM test utility and Furmark GPU stress test.
Both these utilities can be useful in diagnosing GPU related issues:
*Download Furmark GPU stress test utility
*Download CUDA GPU memtest utility
Check boot and OS partition structure
Checking partition structure, especially in cases where prior OS boot partitions may have existed on one drive or another can be resolved by managing the partitions using Disk management.
*How to manage drive partitions in Windows
Disconnect potential problem devices
Disconnecting devices like secondary or optical drives, changing connections to SATA headers, reseating cables or entirely removing the device from the system can also be helpful. On systems that have both aftermarket GPUs as well as integrated graphics, removing the PCI graphics card and using the iGPU from the motherboard or processor can be helpful to diagnose the issue by process of elimination. As with the bench testing methods listed above it's often helpful to just remove everything that's connected to the motherboard and power supply that isn't absolutely necessary in order for the machine to operate on a basic level. Plugging devices back in one at a time until the problem resurfaces may be the only way to isolate the issue in some cases.