Troubleshooting Computer Problems – How Hardware Failures Can Put Your Small Business at Risk

Jean J. White

I can say that in my 18+ years of computing, one of the most frightening things about PCs are hardware failures. Nothing can take the bottom out your stomach as fast as the worrisome “click…click…click” sound of a dying hard drive. Or worst the “dead and ominous silence” coming from a lifeless power supply unit.

Despite all the advertising about how fast and reliable computers can be; the dirty little secret of the computer industry is that hardware failures are both common and expected. It is not a question of “if” your computer system will have a fatal “crash-n-burn” but of “when”.

As a small businessperson, whether you are just starting out or a hardened vet of the “store wars”, you simply can’t afford to have your company crippled due to a hardware meltdown. Every hour you are down due to a computer failure is a lost hour of productivity.

Common Hardware Failures

That is why you should take the time to learn and understand how to prevent or reduce the most common hardware problems. In my experience, the following things cause the bulk of the hardware failures:

  1. Under-powered, dead or failing Power Supply Units
  2. Over-heating issues (dust bunnies in the equipment and under-ventilated computer boxes)
  3. Corrupted or improper device drivers (which is really a software issue)
  4. Power surges, lightening strikes, brown-outs and other electrical problems
  5. Outdated BIOS (another software issue) or bad motherboard (a definite hardware issue) or an old, overworked hard drive.
  6. Other parts: bad RAM, video cards, sound cards, network & modem cards

Not All Acts of Nature

Now some of these failures are “acts of nature” or the power company and you will have little control over them. But most of the above failures occur due to:

  • A. Improperly installed parts (someone put in the wrong thing or used a “lemon” part)
  • B. Improperly configured parts (bad or corrupt device drivers again)
  • C. Damaged or defective parts (broken or dead components)
  • D. Poor maintenance (ya didn’t do your housekeeping)

A) Improperly installed parts can happen at the factory level, at the local repair shop or from parts coming loose just from the unit being banged around while moving. Sometimes you just get a lemon or an underpowered part that just plain won’t work right in your PC. Your best bet is to determine the bad part and to have it replaced.

B) An improperly configured component happens when a device driver goes bad or becomes corrupt. The only thing you can do in this case is to download the latest driver software from the vendor and reinstall it. This is why you need to know where your computer came from or at least where the parts came from. Most reputable vendors keep device drivers available on their websites.

C) Truly dead parts must be replaced with similar or superior quality components. You can easily learn how to do this yourself or take it to your local computer repair place.

D) Good maintenance consists of cleaning out the computer case with canned “air” every six months or so; occasionally wiping down keyboards, mice and monitors with the correct cleaners; making sure the box is setup in a moderately dust-free environment and using the proper size surge-protector to prevent unnecessary power fluctuations.

Action Plan:

Here’s what you need to do today:

  • Download and run, Belarc Advisor (www.belarc.com/free_download.html). This free little utility will build a detailed profile of all the software and most importantly all the hardware devices installed (by brand/model if known) inside your machine.
  • Using the info, you just collected, locate and download all your hardware device drivers. They should be on the Recovery/Restore CDs that came with your machine. If your CDs are lost or misplaced, go online to the computer’s manufacturer (Dell, HP, etc.) and download your drivers from their support site.
  • Make backup copies to all the device drivers and information you got from the Belarc Advisor.

Just remember that for hardware repair, you really only need to know how to do two things: reinstall something or replace something.

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