It happens to everyone at some point. You're doing something on your computer, whether it's an important project, some aimless browsing, or trying to beat your high score on Solitaire, and without warning, something goes wrong. Your computer shuts down, or the screen flickers or freezes.
Sometimes it's just a glitch that goes away quickly. But sometimes you wiggle the mouse, click the buttons a few times, tap some keys on your keyboard and get nothing. Your 21st-century piece of technology is useless. So, what do you do next?
Most of us are comfortable using computers as long as everything is going smoothly. But, when something goes wrong, we don't know where to begin.
That's why we've put together five common computer issues that you can usually solve yourself. You just need to know how to troubleshoot the problem. Take a look at these tips so that you're ready the next time your computer acts out.
1. Unexpected reboots
If your computer has ever unexpectedly rebooted and turned blue or shut down without warning, you know how nerve-wracking that can be. Or, has your computer ever shut down as it's opening up, or suggested you work in "safe mode?"
Those "safe mode" messages often pop up after you accidentally turn off your computer without shutting it down. But when that happens for seemingly no reason, you may have an expensive problem on your hands.
However, you can troubleshoot this issue with a program called WhoCrashed. It scans through your computer to identify the problem, and it may suggest a solution.
If you're staring at a blue screen, you may be thinking, "There's a problem with my computer." But, according to WhoCrashed, the problem probably doesn't have anything to do with your hardware.
It may be related to your device drivers. Or it may be a problem with pieces of coding called kernel modules.
WhoCrashed will analyze your computer to find what's causing it to crash. It's easy to use and it does a thorough analysis of your computer. Note: WhoCrashed states that "the software is not guaranteed to identify the culprit in every scenario."
If it helps you, great. If not, you should make sure your device drivers are up to date. If that doesn't help, you may need to contact a professional computer repair person.
2. Basic software troubleshooting
An occasional or consistent computer freeze could be the result of a program acting up. Use the keyboard shortcut CTRL + SHIFT + ESC to open Windows' Task Manager and then select the "Performance" tab. In Windows 8.1 and 10, you might need to click the "More details" link
Start using your computer as normal, but keep an eye on the CPU, memory and disk categories. If the computer freezes, and one of these is really high, then that could be your answer. Make a note of which area was really high then restart the computer and open Task Manager again.
This time, however, choose the "Processes" tab. Sort the list by CPU, memory or disk, whichever was really high last time the computer froze, and see what process pops up to the top of the list as the computer freezes. This should tell you what software is acting up so you can uninstall or update it.
You might also have hidden software, such as a virus, causing problems. Be sure to run a scan with your security software to uncover something that shouldn't be there.
In cases where your computer freezes during startup in normal mode, but boots OK in Safe Mode, the problem could be a program that's loading during the boot sequence. Use a program like Autoruns to selectively disable the programs that begin at startup and see which one is causing the problem.
If your computer is freezing during startup no matter what, and it's at the same point, then the problem could be corruption in Windows or a hardware problem. A quick way to tell is to grab a Live CD for another operating system, such as Linux Mint or Tails, and boot with that.
If the other operating system boots OK, then you're probably looking at a problem with Windows and might need to reinstall. For those using Windows 10 (and 8), it has a Refresh/Reset feature that's supposed to return Windows to a factory state. It's under Settings >> Update and recovery >> Recovery. If Windows is having trouble starting, it should pop up a Recovery option during boot that includes this, or you might have to use a disc.
If the non-Windows operating system has trouble too, then it's time to look at your hardware.
3. Basic hardware troubleshooting
A computer that freezes both in normal mode and Safe Mode or with another operating system, can often indicate a problem with your computer's hardware. It could be your hard drive, an overheating CPU, bad memory or a failing power supply. In some cases, it might also be your motherboard, although that's a rare occurrence.
Usually, with a hardware problem, the freezing will start out sporadically, but increase in frequency as time goes on. Or it will trigger when the computer is working hard, but not when you're doing more basic things. Fortunately, you can run some checks and see if that's the case.
Use a program like CrystalDiskInfo to check your hard drive's S.M.A.R.T. data for signs of impending failure. A program like SpeedFan can tell you if your computer processor is overheating, or if the voltages are fluctuating, which might be a problematic power supply.
If you want to go more in-depth, you can grab a diagnostic CD like FalconFour's Ultimate Boot CD. It has plenty of other tools for checking out your computer, including MemTest for putting a strain on your computer's RAM to see if it's working OK.
If your computer is newer, it might still be under warranty, in which case you'll want to contact the manufacturer or seller.
For an older computer, you need to decide if it's less expensive to repair or replace it.
4. Pop-up ads and odd messages
Running into a pop-up ad while you're surfing used to be a serious annoyance, but modern browsers include pop-up protection to keep these annoyances away on most sites. If you're still seeing regular pop-ups on more than one site, it could just be a badly-configured browser.
However, if pop-ups are coming at you when your browser isn't even open, it's likely you have a virus. This is especially true if the pop-ups advertise some magic cure-all to your "virus woes."
If you are bombarded with pop-up ads, first run a scan with anti-spyware software to double-check. I like SpyBot Search & Destroy because it digs deep into your settings to find any problems spyware has left behind.
Most viruses have one goal in mind once they infect your computer: to spread the virus as far as possible. An easy way to do that is to send messages to as many of your friends as possible in hopes they'll get infected, too.
These messages can show up anywhere. The virus might try to send out spam through your email account. It could take control of your Facebook or Twitter and send out spam, too. In almost all cases, it will include a link or attachment to the virus somewhere in the post.
Keep an eye on your email's "sent" folder and on your social network posts. If you notice emails and posts that you don't remember sending or posting, it's likely that you have a virus. Here is what you need to know to take your account back.
5. Getting things going again
OK, this might sound obvious, but one of the easiest things you can do to get your computer working better is to restart it.
How many times have you spent hours trying to figure out what was causing a computer problem, only to have the IT guy fix it by rebooting? No, your IT guy does not have the "magic touch." What's really happening is that sometimes computer problems are temporary. When you restart your computer, it clears its memory and reruns program startups.
Something important to note here is that sometimes the problem you're having won't allow you to restart your computer properly. For example, if your computer freezes, you won't be able to restart without pressing the Power button down and holding it until your computer shuts off.
This is sometimes referred to as a "Hard Reboot," and although it's not ideal, it is essentially the same thing as restarting.
Another thing you can do that's really easy is clearing out your browser's cache. This won't fix every problem, but it does help by giving you a blank canvas to work with.
The process is very easy. Every browser has a different method, but here's how you can do it in Chrome. Go into your browsing history, then click the button at the top that says,"Clear browsing data."
Of course, if these simple fixes don't help, then you might have a bigger problem to worry about. It could also be caused because your computer needs a cleanup.