A Tale of Computer Troubleshooting
I’m a tech. And a one-man Help Desk. And I’ve been one for a long time.. since Windows 95, to give you an idea. The other day I get a call. (No surprise there.)
The caller tells me that when they went to turn on their computer that morning.. the screen is solid black. And they are quite concerned, of course, as they have tons of work to do that needs doing yesterday.
They tell me it’s an old Dell with Windows XP, and, no, (unprompted) they hadn’t visited any naughty sites, nor seen any ‘strange behavior’.
So I ask some questions, and have them try rebooting, you know, I go through the SOP.
They tell me the power light comes on, they can hear the fans, and that it “sounds normal.. there’s just nothing on the screen.” (am I hearing a case of the notorious “black screen”? No, this is a Desktop.)
So what would your diagnosis be?
You might guess the monitor died.. right? That they need to go buy a new one?
Well, I tell the caller that there are several possibilities (causes) as for their ‘black screen’ trouble, either hardware or software, and the only way I could zero in on it would require I have access to the machine (not over the phone), and that in all fairness they should be thinking about buying a new machine instead of repairing that old XP. (I wrote It is time to face facts and finally dump Windows XP way back in early 2011.. 2 years ago now.) Pay me to rescue and transfer their data, not keep a relic alive for another .. who knows how long?
Well, that’s not an option, so can I come over? And .. I don’t have much money.. (why do people always say that..?)
So I go over to their house and quickly verify that, as I suspected, it is not a dead monitor (by plugging one of my own).
See, my first suspect, and line of thought as I was driving over, was that a Windows Update had ‘gotten stuck’. Why? Because the day before the call was ‘Patch Tuesday‘, and Update glitches are a cause of startup failures (and black screens). I knew this last batch of Updates had had some troubles.. as two other calls, the day before, had shown. In short, a software failure.
And I knew there were other possible suspects. I have been doing this a while..
But when I powered up their machine to test my monitor/video cable. I heard something my caller had failed to mention — five long beeps, with a short beep. Which points at hardware. Those beeps are a code, you see, and their number and sequence tell a tech what is wrong (um.. at least, that’s the idea behind POST Beep Codes.)
So I powered up my laptop and went to the Dell website and downloaded the technical manual for that model, and looked up the beep code and discovered that the code I was hearing meant that their problem was a failure with the RAM memory.
Which will also produce a ‘black screen’.
So I looked at the RAM specs and then went out to my car and grabbed my package of 2x 1GB PC3200 DDR modules out of my kit (for just such occasions) and went back in their house, opened the computer’s case, popped out the old RAM and put mine in, and BINGO! — their computer started right up, faster than before. (Because their old modules were only 512 MB’s).
And I charged them $75. (One half-hour labor plus the parts.)
My client was delighted and flabberghasted. They were expecting to pay much, much more.. And they not only were able to get right back to work, but had gotten an unexpected upgrade.
I tell you this story not to blow my own horn, or drum up more clients. I tell you this because my client, upon hearing the bill, expressed what I find to be an extremely prevalent conception out there in “average computer user” land — that technicians are crooks, gougers, and/or incompetent, and/or always tell you to buy a new device.
Or they think they can “Google it”, and fix it themselves.
I tell you that story to try to explain why that conception, out there, common though it be, isn’t fair to us techs.
We know what to look for (and listen for), what questions to ask, and can (usually) get right to the heart of the trouble and get you back online again in jiffy. In today’s marketplace, with literally TONS of unemployed IT types willing to fix your computer, we simply cannot gouge in our pricing (were we so inclined).
And if we tell you a part needs replacing, it does. And I (and I’m sure other techs, too) do not profit on parts — we order ‘em cheap and pass the saving on to our clients.
.. to test my theory, try googling ‘black screen’. See how many answers you have to read before you find “replace your RAM”.
I know this little story isn’t going to change the world’s view of repair techs but.. if your computer won’t start up, the screen is black, and it’s beeping at you? Be sure to tell your tech about them, won’t you? Have a great day, everyone!
“When it comes to computers we can find ourselves getting into all sorts of situations where it is very difficult to assess and fix the problem. For example, a couple of friends of mine recently ran into a situation where the windows updates service was broken on a computer they were working on and they had to resort to researching the matter on the internet in order to get a fix.” Read more..
Today’s quote: “You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.” ~ Walt Disney
Copyright 2007-2013 © “Tech Paul” (Paul Eckstrom). All Rights Reserved.
All we really have, in the end, are our stories.
Make yours great ones. Ones to be proud of.
April 24, 2013 - Posted by techpaul | advice, computers, consumer electronics, how to, Microsoft, tech, troubleshooting | beeping, beeps, black, black screen, blackscreen, computer, dark, FAQs Help and Tutorials, Microsoft Windows, operating system, Power-on self-test, Random-access memory, screen, troubleshooting, Windows Update, Windows XP
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• About Tech Paul
I am a (semi)-Retired CompTIA Certified computer & network technician, and the owner of Aplus Computer Aid. I have been building/fixing networks and computers since Windows 95 was the new kid on the block.
I have regularly posted how-to’s and tricks & tips and general computing advice here since 2007. (Use the Search tool to find answers.) Sometimes I answer (your) specific questions in an article if I believed the answer is generally helpful to “everyone”. All the writing you see is my own, typos and all. There is an implied “IMHO” in what you see here.
You can write to me using this form.
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