How to tell whether your computer problem is related to software or hardware. Telling the difference between software and hardware issues.
- [Instructor] A good first step toward resolving a computer issue is to determine whether the source is hardware or software. This determination isn't easy to make. Malfunctioning hardware can make software, particularly Windows, behave erratically. Likewise, bad software can make it appear as though hardware is to blame. The good news is that hardware issues are often detected when the computer starts, or not. When hardware fails, it doesn't work, and the device simply isn't available.
In this movie, I cover various ways to determine whether an issue is hardware or software related. The tools I mention are covered in more detail in later movies. For example, when the PC starts up, it performs a power-on self test or POST. If any hardware fails to operate, a message appears on the screen, and if the monitor isn't working, you hear a series of beeps from the console's speakers. The POST doesn't catch all hardware failures, but it's the first step in checking whether a hardware issue exists.
After the PC is started, the next step is to check for hardware issues using the Device Manager. Tap the Windows key, type Device Manager, press the enter key to choose the top item on the list, and open the Device Manager window. You see a list of all your PC's hardware. If any devices are malfunctioning, their section is open, and they're flagged with a yellow triangle, such as those items shown here. The solution could involve reinstalling a device driver, which is covered more specifically in a later movie, but two tricks you can perform before then are to disable and re=enable the device, or swap out the hardware.
To disable a device, right click on it, choose disable, confirm that you want to disable it, and it's disabled. Now you re-enable it and hopefully that solves the problem. Right click, choose enable. And, in this case it didn't. The other way to resolve some hardware issues, specifically with peripherals, is to swap out the hardware. For example, you swap out a mouse, keyboard, or monitor with one that works.
If the swapped-out hardware doesn't malfunction, then you know it's the original peripheral that's at fault, and not something else in the system. To solve the problem, replace the defective hardware. Internal components are more difficult to swap out, but failure of these items is a wee bit more obvious. A fried power supply just doesn't work. The fan doesn't whir, and the PC doesn't turn on. The solution is to replace the power supply, and I recommend that the replacement be rated at a higher wattage than the original.
For example, a 500-watt power supply to replace a 350-watt power supply. Other internal components can be swapped out or replaced as well, but you'll probably opt for replacement, and not swapping, which is time-consuming. For example, you can replace a video adapter, memory, and the mass storage device. These operations require some technical skill, plus they involve software issues such as reinstalling new drivers, or even restoring the entire system from a backup.
Troubleshooting software involves discovering which problem is causing the issue. Generally speaking, software issues are consistent, but which program is causing the trouble? You start with the operating system, Windows, then hardware drivers, and finally, the programs that you run. You can tell whether or not Windows to blame when you start the PC in Safe Mode. If the problem persists in Safe Mode, then it's an operating system issue. You take steps in Safe Mode to address the problem, which is covered in another movie.
Drivers are software programs that control your PC's hardware, such as the network driver, printer driver, and so on. When a driver malfunctions, the hardware doesn't work properly. The solution is to update, or reinstall the driver, and if that doesn't work, then the hardware could be to blame. Software problems beyond Windows and drivers are specific to one program only, and usually they're consistent. You perform the same action and get the same buggy results, a crash, or some other malfunction.
These problems could be due to bugs, or the sign of an improper software installation. If the problem is a bug, then it must be addressed by the program's developer. The best you can do is to check the developer's website, and ensure that the bug exists. This topic is covered in another movie. If the software issue isn't a bug, then it's probably hardware, in which case you perform diagnostic tests on the PC to confirm that the hardware is functioning properly. PC dealers and repair places I've spoken with have three general rules when it comes to determining whether a problem is hardware or software.
If the problems is inconsistent, it's hardware. If the problem is consistent, it's software. And if the problem is with the PC's firmware, which is the motherboard circuitry, then it will just drive you nuts. Above all, keep in mind that the root of all PC trouble is change. Whether you've changed hardware or software recently is your biggest clue to finding a hardware or software solution.
- Diagnosing the causes of PC issues
- Troubleshooting hardware and software
- Performing startup and system restore steps
- Accessing the Task Manager
- Using the Registry Editor
- Fixing Windows
- Maintaining storage drives
- Restoring network connectivity