Computers are complex devices, with multiple areas in which something can go wrong.It can occasionally be difficult to determine the source of a problem, as a variety of problems can present with near identical symptoms.Fortunately, Windows comes equipped with a variety of maintenance, diagnostic, and repair tools already built into the system.
Stability issues can be caused by multiple problems, and even be the result of multiple issues occurring.Some basic maintenance can prevent stability issues from forming, or clear up stability issues that are just beginning to occur.In some ways, computers are like vehicles.Basic oil changes and the occasional tune-up can keep things running smoothly for long periods of time, but neglect the basic maintenance and the problems that do arise are more likely to be catastrophic.
Updates are vitally important to the smooth operation of Windows operating systems.When a Windows system begins to malfunction, the first step should be to check the status of updates.Ensure all high priority security updates have been downloaded and installed.However, if the operating system began malfunctioning immediately after the installation of a system update, it may be best to go back to a restore point prior to the installation of the update, then decline then update.It is best to create a system restore point before installing any updates.
A malfunctioning operating system should be thoroughly checked over an up to date antivirus and anti-malware programs. Many stability issues are caused by viruses, often when the virus is able to exploit a flaw in a system that has not been properly updated.If a virus is detected, the computer may have to be rebooted into Safe Mode or into the Recovery Console in order to restore the system.
Windows contains several utilities for ensuring proper maintenance.Error checking and disk defragmentation are two critical maintenance features that should be run regularly.Error checking can be run from the command line by typing the command ‘CHKDSK’, or by accessing the tool in the Properties window via My Computer.Error checking will locate bad sectors, lost clusters, and similar issues and repair the problems if possible.Error checking is also referred to as Scandisk or Check Disk in older versions of Windows.
The system configuration utility can be used to disable start-up programs, but a third party utility such as CCleaner can do a much better job, and clear up registry issues as well.If there is less than 500MB left on the hard drive, CCleaner (or the control panel uninstall utility) can be used to remove unused programs.
The task manager utility can be used to determine if a process is acting as a resource hog, allowing that particular process to be addressed.The performance console in the task manager logs CPU and RAM usage to assist in determining how the computer’s resources are being used.Task Manager can also be used to ‘kill’ a resource hogging process, though this feature should be used with caution to ensure that a process needed for the system to run isn’t killed by accident.
The Device Manager utility is used to determine if all device drivers are up to date and working properly.The Device Driver also has a rollback feature that allows a recently updated driver to be returned to a previous version.
If no other option succeeds in solving the problem, Windows also includes a system backup utility enables files and folders to be backed up to a variety of devices, from network drives to tape.Windows XP utilizes the Automated System Recovery to do a complete reinstallation of the operating system.
When Windows Vista fails to boot, it is possible to boot from the installation media into the System Recovery Options.The System Recover Options Menu has several items that can be used to repair a malfunctioning operating system, such as startup repair, system restore, and complete PC restore.It also contains a diagnostic tool that will enable the user to determine if the problem is caused by bad RAM.Bad RAM is a common error.
Another common error is for a disk to be left in a drive when the computer is set to attempt to boot first from that drive.The computer may try to boot from the disk and fail, causing the system to not boot at all.If the system fails to boot, a quick press of the eject button can ensure that time is not wasted on more complex trouble shooting for this simple fix.
If Windows does get past the initial boot, but fails when loading the actual GUI, the problem is likely a buggy device driver or registry error.The Advanced Startup Options can be accessed by restarting the computer and pressing F8 after the POST messages.This will enable the user to boot the computer into Safe Mode, which loads only the basic drivers for the keyboard, mouse, mass storage, and system services.The Device Manager can then be used to locate the source of a driver error.Suspect devices can be disabled or removed, or updates can be applied.The Device Manager may also display a warning icon that indicates an unknown device.Safe Mode can be enabled with Networking to determine if the problem is a network driver.A version of Safe Mode also exists that loads the command prompt, should the problem lie in a corruption of the Explorer.EXE program that would cause the desktop not to display at all.An uncorrupted version of a damaged file can then be copied into the operating system files.
The Safe Mode can also be used to create backups of files and folders should it be determined that a System Restore or reinstallation is necessary.Anti-virus and anti-malware programs can also be updated and run from the safe mode to determine if a virus is causing the boot problem.
If the problem is a device driver, the Help file for that device may contain a link that would allow a new, updated driver to be downloaded or provide an explanation for how to configure the driver for the current operating system.
If Windows fails immediately after installing a new driver, but before the user logs on again, a possible option is to use the Last Known Good Configuration option.Once these options have been taken, the user can then reboot normally to determine if the repair was successful.
In troubleshooting, often the best way to find a solution to the problem is simple to inquire of the user what occurred at the time the trouble started.If a new device was just installed, the problem is most likely a bad driver.If a new application was just installed, it is possible the problem is a registry error or virus.A few quick questions to the user can properly direct troubleshooting efforts.
Windows XP is no longer actively supported by Microsoft, thus when adopting a new operating system standard, it is probably best to go with Windows 7, assuming the company wishes to stay with Windows.Windows 7 fixes some of the problems that were prevalent in Windows Vista while at the same time operating similarly enough to Vista to make user transition easy.Windows 7 has improved upon several of the trouble shooting system utilities, making it easier and faster to repair problems when they do occur and to do proper maintenance to prevent problems from occurring in the first place.Many registry and driver errors are fixed automatically without user intervention.
Additionally, when adopting a new standard, backwards compatibility is usually more possible than forwards compatibility.Getting older applications to work with a newer operating system is usually easier than getting newer applications to work with an older operating system.
Due to the lack of maintenance and security updates, as well as the improvements in technology from 32 to 64 bit, companies using Windows XP should begin phasing it out in favor of Windows 7.Utilizing the most up to date version of Windows helps ensure that needed updates will be provided in a timely fashion and that tech support is available should problems occur.Additionally, software tends to be developed with the intent of using the most recent platforms, thus updating to a more recent operating systems helps ensure that new software will work with the company’s computer systems.
Schmidt, H. A. (2010). The Complete A+ Guide to PC Repair. (5 ed.). Addison-Wesley.
Meyers, M., Jernigan, S., & Crayton, C. A. (2010). All-in-one CompTIA A+ Certification Exam Guide, (Exams 220-701 and 220-702). (7 ed.). New York: McGraw Hill.