Tech – for Everyone

Tech Tips and Tricks & Advice – written in plain English.

Troubleshooting the Blue Screen Of Death

BSOD’s, spontaneous reboots, freezing, and “incorrect password” lockouts. Bad computer. Bad.


Ah yes, the Blue Screen of Death. I sincerely hope you never see this rascal. The BSOD, or more properly, the Windows Stop Message, occurs when Windows detects a problem from which it cannot recover. The operating system halts and ‘diagnostic information’ is displayed on a blue screen as a series of hexadecimal numbers (there actually are a few humans capable of understanding, and using this information to effect repairs…but as far as I know, they all live in Seattle) which, frankly, will be of little use to the average user. Usually, a simple reboot resolves the issue. But sometimes it doesn’t–you reboot, Windows loads, you get the Welcome screen, and bingo! BSOD. Wash/rinse/repeat. Aargh!!!

If this happens to you, the odds are pretty good that you have (quite recently) added a new device (or card) or memory module to your machine, or installed a program that your machine just doesn’t like.
If it was a module, device, or card, try removing it and restoring your machine to the way it was before the install. If you run for a day or so with no BSOD’s, then you can be fairly sure you’ve found the culprit. It may be that the device is defective. It may be that you didn’t install it exactly correctly [maybe it didn’t “seat” all the way into its slot?], or maybe your machine was being fussy the day you installed? Don’t give up on your new card/device/module just yet. Go to the manufacturer’s Website and download the latest device driver for your version of Windows, and “unzip” and install it (by double-clicking on the downloaded file). Then reinstall your card/device/module–taking extra care to fully seat it, and double check your wires and cables–and reboot. If it is a defective unit, it will not be long before our friend the BSOD revisits…return the unit to the seller (or manufacturer) for exchange or refund.

If you suspect a recently installed application (or…Microsoft Update) is the cause, then use the Add/Remove Programs tool to uninstall it. (XP+older: Start> Control Panel> Add/Remove Programs, Vista: Start> Control Panel> Uninstall a program.) [Note: in Vista, uninstalling Updates is done through Windows Update itself, not Add/Remove.]
If you are unable to get into Windows, reboot and start hitting the F8 key to get into Safe Mode. [For more info, click here] Again, run for a day or two, and if you do not experience any BSOD’s, you’ve (most likely) found the perp. Again, you need not despair and abandon the program. It may have simply been an incomplete or corrupted install that was causing the stop errors. Try reinstalling it, but first make sure that there are no other applications running–turn off your AV, your IM, and close IE. You will soon know whether it is simply an incompatible or poorly written application.

I am going to stop here, but I want to acknowledge that this is far from a complete discussion on all the possible causes (nor cures) for BSOD’s and the other woes mentioned at the top of this post. I will return to this topic again, and I invite your comments and critiques, and suggestions. I close by suggesting you also read my article on the Windows System Restore tool (click here) and reminding you that — should all your efforts fail, my services are available at

Today’s free link: Sandra Lite from SiSoft. This is a benchmarking and system analysis tool that shows you a wealth of information about the workings of your computer, and detects areas that aren’t working as well as they should.

Copyright 2007-8 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.jaanix post to jaanix

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May 3, 2008 Posted by | advice, BSOD, computers, device drivers, hardware, how to, PC, performance, Plug and Play, removing Updates, Safe Mode, System Restore, tech, troubleshooting, Vista, Windows, XP | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Troubleshooting with the Help and Support tool

In yesterday’s article, Windows’ built-in Help Desk, I reminded folks of the largely over-looked troubleshooting and How To tool built into Windows — Help and Support — and told you that today I would show you how to troubleshoot hardware and software issue using it. So here goes.

Let’s assume (for example purposes) that for some mysterious reason your computer no longer makes any sounds. If you double-click on a music file, Media Player looks like it’s playing, but you hear nada, zero, ziltch. Yesterday, it played Chopin’s Concerto #56 perfectly, but today you get a big fat cup full o’ nothing. You have, my friend, what we in the Biz call “a sound problem”.

To help resolve this problem, and get your MP3’s “bumpin” again, launch the Help and Support tool by clicking Start >Help and Support.
You could follow yesterday’s advice and enter “no sound” in the Search Help textbox, but today we’re going to leave that method as our “fallback position” and instead click directly on the “? Troubleshooting” icon/link… because, we got trouble, and we need to shoot it.

Scroll down until you see the category that applies to your particular issue, in our example that is the “hardware and drivers” category. Device issues are often driver issues, and so it is good to make note of the first option (you may need to come back to it), but the second option most closely resembles our hypothetical issue.. so we’ll click on it; “Troubleshoot sound problems”.
The Help and Support tool will ask you a series of questions to help narrow down the different possibilities: answer them as closely to the actual symptoms as you can. In this case, Help and Support wants to know do we hear anything at all; so it asks, silence? or, garbled static noise hissing?
Let’s continue to play along as if I hear nothing at all, so I select the top choice — “I can’t hear sound from my computer”.

Here’s the results.
And guess what, folks? This is (basically) the same series of steps I would take if you contacted me for my help at my online support business. My only argument with the bullet-points listed here is that the first one — going into Device Manager — should be listed last. There’s no sense messing with device drivers if it turns out that your kitten has playfully pulled the speaker wire out of the back of your machine!
(I have described Basic Troubleshooting Procedure here before: Question 1: Does it have power/is it turned on? Question 2: Is it plugged in/connected?..)

Other than that small critique, following the steps listed here will resolve the vast majority of “sound problems”, and doing it yourself will not only make you feel smart but save you money as well.
And remember, this was only one sample example. Help and Support covers an amazing range of questions. Just yesterday, I used the Help feature of Word to remind myself of the keyboard shortcuts for using those funny-looking foreign alphabet letters… You know the ones.. those letters with the little circle, or Tilda, over them (Ctrl+Shift+@, letter)?
Sure, there will be times when Help and Support’s troubleshooting steps do not resolve your issue (such as if our hypothetical sound card had up and died on us) and you can then “expand your search”.. rephrase your search keywords..or, contact a live Support person.
When you do call, your using H&S and trying the steps there, will also have saved you money; because you can tell the Tech, “I have checked the wires and the power.. and the Mute button and Volume control. Device Manager is not showing any yellow exclamation points or question marks. Help!” Saves time.

Today’s free link: If you work with digital movies on your PC, and find yourself frustrated with formats and High Def, Dr. DivX is the best free tool around.. or, so I’ve heard from sources I trust. I haven’t tried video editing yet, and I’m not eager to start. (People who know how to edit home movies, and make them look ‘professional’, suddenly become quite popular.)

Copyright 2007-8 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

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February 20, 2008 Posted by | advice, computers, hardware, how to, PC, tech, Vista, Windows | , , , | Leave a comment

Windows’ built-in Help Desk

Did you know that you have your very own Tech Support/Answer Man (..ahem, pardon me. Answer Person) living inside your Windows PC? 

One of the most useful Windows tools and services is also the most over-looked, ignored, and misunderstood. This tool can help you solve technical issues and/or show you how to do things.. and it’s free. (We here at Tech–for Everyone [me, myself, and I] are big fans of anyone who combines the concepts “useful” and “no charge”.) I am referring, generally, to the “Help” finder (the little search window) in Microsoft programs (such as Word and Excel); and specifically to the machine (operating system), the troubleshooting tool called “Help and Support“.
This red-headed stepchild of Windows tools should be the first place you go when your speakers stop working.. or you cannot remember how to set your “homepage” to the Wall Street Journal. You access it from the Start button–

(in XP…)
And in most programs (“applications”) the Help can be found in the upper-right, as in this example using Internet Explorer..

Vista’s Help and Support welcome window looks different than the “Pick a task”-oriented welcome page in XP and older versions, and I think the changes are to our advantage.

When looking for answers and solutions, the Search tool is often your best bet. Remember that searches use keywords to try to produce relevant results (machines cannot, yet, understand what you’re trying to say, but they can make matches to words and letters and symbols) so don’t type in too complex a sentence.

Let me demonstrate with a simple example: let’s say that I want to add Word to the icons down by my Start button (the “Quick Launch” area). I don’t type in “how do I put Word down by my Start button?” That will produce results using the keywords “Word” plus “start”. What I want to do is “add (a) program” to my “Quick Launch” (or, “Taskbar”). Right? So I use those keywords.
This produced 30 ‘matches’, and by looking down the list I find that the third one down is the most likely to have my answer. So I click on that link and see what I get.
The pictures show me I’m on the right track, and sure enough, the first link is almost an exact match to what I am trying to do.. with the “how do I” understood. I click on “To add a program to the Quick Launch toolbar” and expand the answer.
And there you go. I have run long for today– but tomorrow I will return to this topic and demonstrate how to use Help and Support to troubleshoot hardware and software problems.. such as if your sound stops working.

Today’s free link: The Microsoft WindowsHelp website is all about help and How To. Find tutorials, guides, and answers.. direct from the folks who wrote the software.

Copyright 2007-8 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

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February 19, 2008 Posted by | advice, computers, how to, PC, tech, Vista, Windows | , , , | Leave a comment