Computers live by Murphy’s Law: “Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.” Which is why, at some point, your computer will freeze, or flicker, or even shut down. Most of us are comfortable using computers as long as everything is going smoothly.
Maybe your old computer is just running slowly.
Below are five common computer problems that you can usually solve yourself. Computers have many moving parts, and you may eventually decide to call in reinforcements. But with a little direction, you may be able to fix minor issues all on your own.
1. Unexpected reboots
Troubleshoot an unexpected reboot with a program called WhoCrashed. It scans your computer to identify the problem, and it may suggest a solution. According to WhoCrashed, the problem may not have anything to do with hardware; instead may be related to its device drivers. Or it may be a problem with pieces of coding called kernel modules.
One caveat: WhoCrashed states that “the software is not guaranteed to identify the culprit in every scenario,” so if the problem persists, you should consult a professional.
Mac users have another option: you can find a folder under ~/Library/Logs/DiagnosticReports/ which will have detailed reports of application crashes and hardware issues.
2. Basic software troubleshooting
A recurring freeze could be the result of a buggy program. Windows users can try the keyboard shortcut CTRL + SHIFT + ESC to open Windows’ Task Manager and then select the Performance tab. In Windows 8.1 and 10, you might need to click the More details link at the bottom of the Task Manager to see it.
- Start using your computer as normal, but keep an eye on the CPU, memory and disk categories.
- If the computer freezes, and one of these shows an unusually high number, then that could be your answer. Make a note of which area was really high then restart the computer and open Task Manager again.
- This time, however, choose the “Processes” tab. Sort the list by CPU, memory or disk, whichever was really high last time the computer froze, and see what process pops up to the top of the list as the computer freezes. This should tell you what software is acting up so you can uninstall or update it.
You might also have hidden software, such as a virus, causing problems. Be sure to run a scan with your security software to uncover something that shouldn’t be there.
To view open processes and computer resources usage, use the Activity Monitor. The quickest way to access the Activity Monitor is by using Spotlight Search. Click the magnifying glass on the right side of the menu bar at the top of your screen, or press Command + Spacebar to open a Spotlight window and start typing the first few letters to auto-complete Activity Monitor. Just press enter to access the tool.
Another way of accessing the Activity Monitor is through the Launchpad. The Activity Monitor is in the Other folder. Optionally, you could then drag its icon to the dock for easy access in the future.
3. Basic hardware troubleshooting
Maybe your computer freezes in both normal mode and Safe Mode. This may be a problem with your computer’s hardware – your hard drive, an overheating CPU, bad memory, or a failing power supply. In some cases, it might also be your motherboard, although that’s a rare occurrence.
Usually, with a hardware problem, the freezing will start out sporadically, but increase in frequency as time goes on. Or it will trigger when the computer is working hard, but not when you’re doing more basic things. Fortunately, you can run some checks and see if that’s the case.
Use a program like CrystalDiskInfo to check your hard drive’s S.M.A.R.T. data for signs of impending failure. A program like SpeedFan can tell you if your computer processor is overheating, or if the voltages are fluctuating, which might be a problematic power supply.
If you want to go more in-depth, you can grab a diagnostic CD like FalconFour’s Ultimate Boot CD. It has plenty of other tools for checking out your computer, including MemTest for putting a strain on your computer’s RAM to see if it’s working OK.
If your computer is newer, it might still be under warranty, in which case you’ll want to contact the manufacturer or seller.
For an older computer, you need to decide if it’s less expensive to repair or replace it.
Apple has two built-in programs, Apple Hardware Test (for Macs built in 2012 or earlier), and Apple Diagnostic (for Macs released in 2013 or later).
To access either program, disconnect all external devices and close all your windows. Then go to Apple Menu >> Restart, then hold down the D key. This will automatically fire up Apple Diagnostics, which will analyze your computer and present a report.
4. Pop-up ads and odd messages
Running into a pop-up ad while you’re surfing used to be a serious annoyance, but modern browsers include pop-up protection to prevent the clutter. If you still see regular pop-ups on more than one site, it could be a badly configured browser.
Then again, if pop-ups are coming at you when your browser isn’t even open, you may have a virus. This is especially true if the pop-ups advertise some magic cure-all to your “virus woes.”
If you are bombarded with pop-up ads, first run a scan with anti-spyware software to double-check. Try SpyBot Search & Destroy because it digs deep into your settings to find any problems spyware has left behind.
Keep an eye on your email’s “sent” folder and on your social network posts. If you notice emails and posts that you don’t remember sending or posting, it’s likely that you have a virus.
Apple’s macOS has long been touted as the virus-resistant operating system, but it’s not invulnerable, and Apple-targeting viruses are becoming far more common. Try Malwarebytes for Mac, a popular malware removal tool which is comparable to SpyBot Search & Destroy.
5. Getting things going again
The oldest advice is sometimes the best: if you want to get your computer back on track, try restarting it.
Remember, though, if your computer freezes, you won’t be able to restart the computer using the on-screen menu. Instead, you’ll have to press down the power button and hold it until your computer shuts off. This is sometimes referred to as a “Hard Reboot,” and although it’s not ideal, it is essentially the same thing as restarting.
Another thing you can do that’s easy is clearing out your browser’s cache. This won’t fix every problem, but it does help by giving you a blank canvas to work with.
The process is very easy. Every browser has a different method, but here’s how you can do it in Chrome. Go into your browsing history, then click the button at the top that says, “Clear browsing data.”
Of course, if these simple fixes don’t help, then you might have a bigger problem to worry about. Maybe you just need to buy a new computer.