Diagnosing fatal errors
Feb 21, 2008, 9:25 GMT
Washington - Blue screens, system lockups, or sudden application shutdowns - they're all among the most unnerving of computer glitches.
And they can be the toughest to diagnose. There are, though, ways that you can play the troubleshooting detective to get a handle on what might seem to be the most inscrutable problem. Read on for some suggestions.
Q: Sometimes my computer will reboot for no apparent reason. When it restarts, Windows says that it has recovered from a serious error, but I have no idea what the error is. How can I begin to troubleshoot this?
A: Your goal should be to try to find a clue about what caused the problem. Start the easy way. Think about whether you installed any programs or updates recently, and back out of the changes, if possible.
What you might not know is that Windows keeps a log of all system errors that occur. To find the logs, right-click My Computer, and select Manage from the resulting pop-up menu. A dialog box labelled Computer Management will appear. Click the Event Viewer entry, and in the right-hand pane double-click the System entry. There, you'll see a lot of log files. Anything that is preceded by a red circle labelled Error is a system error that has been logged by Windows.
Double-click the Error log, and an Event Properties dialog box will open. Here, you'll see an explanation of the error. You may not understand the explanation. But there will be a hyperlink within the dialogue box that will take you to a page at Microsoft.com that attempts to elucidate the issue.
While Microsoft's more detailed explanation still may be of little assistance to you, you should be able to copy some of the key parts of the explanation - especially any program or driver names mentioned - into a Web browser in order to further troubleshoot the issue. Through a process of elimination - knowing what you've installed recently - you should be able to narrow the problem down.
Q: Whenever I use my speech recognition software, my Windows XP computer shuts down at random intervals, showing me a blue screen with a lot of confusing text on it. 'If this is the first time you've seen this,' the screen says, 'restart your computer.' I do this, but the problem persists next time I run my speech recognition software. How can I troubleshoot this?
A: What you're experiencing is known in the industry as the 'blue screen of death.' Now you know why: you get a blue screen, with some generic text about how your computer has shut down, and then some 'debugging' information, most of which probably looks like another language to you.
Usually, though, toward the bottom of this blue screen, there will be a line preceded by a few asterisks. This line is XP's attempt at trying to diagnose which particular component of your computer was at fault for the shutdown. You might, for instance, see the name of a driver file listed - often with the extension of 'sys,' as in 'rtkhdaud.sys.'
That line often contains the key to solving the problem. If you happen to know which program has installed the file referenced on the blue screen, then you have a good chance of solving the problem. If you don't know, you might try searching for the filename on the Internet. Often, doing so will allow you to ferret out which program uses this file. Driver files - which control hardware that is attached to your computer - are at fault for blue screens.
Also, if the problem occurred only recently, think about which programs or hardware devices you have installed recently, and use a process of elimination to try to get rid of the errors. Uninstall software programs one at a time, and do the same for hardware that you recently added.
Q: Lately, my Windows computer slows to a crawl. I'm not sure why. It's not exactly frozen, but everything takes a very long time. Switching from one window to another can take several minutes. How can I diagnose the problem?
A: You need to find out what program or process is hogging your system resources. To do this, press Ctrl-Alt-Delete to bring up the Task Manager. From the Task Manager, select the Processes tab. There, you'll see a list of programs and processes that are currently running on your Windows computer.
The list of processes can be sorted by clicking on the column heading according to which you would like to sort. For instance, to sort the list of active processes by CPU, click the CPU column heading. You want to do this in order to determine which process is consuming the most CPU cycles - and thus slowing down your computer.
Once you have sorted tasks by CPU, you'll probably notice a process named System Idle Process at the top of the list. You can ignore this. Anything below that, however, that has a high number is probably responsible for the slowdown you experience.
Try to identify the program to which the process belongs simply by reading the name. If you can't figure it out, type the name into an Internet browser, and search for it on the Web. The application to which it belongs will probably be identified quickly. You can kill the process by right clicking its name in the Processes tab and selecting End Process from the resulting pop-up menu.
Once you have identified the program that is consuming all of your CPU cycles, uninstall it. That should solve your problem.
--- Have a computer question? Send it to the Computer Helper at firstname.lastname@example.org.