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Troubleshooting Hardware and Performance : Dealing with Error Messages, Performing a Clean Boot, Using the System Recovery Options

11/30/2012 6:34:39 PM

1. Dealing with Error Messages

Error messages come in all forms, from simple warnings to the stop errors and "the blue screen of death," which causes the computer to stop dead in its tracks. The more serious errors are often accompanied by one or more of the following pieces of information:

  • An error number: An error number will often be a hexadecimal number in the format 0x00000xxx where the italicized numbers could be any numbers in the message.

  • Symbolic error name: Symbolic error names are usually shown in all uppercase with underlines between words, such as PAGE_FAULT_IN_NONPAGED_AREA.

  • Driver details: If a device driver caused the problem, you might see a filename with a .sys extension in the error message.

  • Troubleshooting info: Some errors will have their own built-in troubleshooting advice, or a Help button. Use that information to learn more about what went wrong.

Whenever you get an error message that you can't solve just by reading the advice presented on the screen, go to http://support.microsoft.com and search for the error number, or the symbolic error name, the driver name, or some combination of words in the text or troubleshooting of the error message.

If searching Microsoft's support site doesn't do the trick, consider searching the entire Internet using Google or Bing. You never know, someone out there may have had the same problem and posted the solution somewhere on the Internet. When using a search engine, provide as much detail as possible to get the best results for your problem.

2. Performing a Clean Boot

The biggest problem with hardware errors is that even a tiny error can have seemingly catastrophic results, like suddenly shutting down the system and making it difficult to get the system started again. Clean booting can also help with software problems that prevent the computer from starting normally or cause frequent errors.

Not for the technologically challenged, this procedure is best left to more experienced users who can use it to diagnose the source of a problem that's preventing the computer from starting normally. The procedure for performing a clean boot is as follows:


A clean boot is not the same as a clean install. During a clean boot, you may temporarily lose some normal functionality. But once you perform a normal startup, you should regain access to all your programs and documents, and full functionality.

  1. Close all open programs and save any work in progress.

  2. At the Windows desktop, click Start and enter msconfig.

  3. The System Configuration Utility opens.

  4. On the General tab, choose Selective Startup and make sure the Load Startup Items check box is cleared.

  5. Click the Services tab.

  6. Select Hide All Microsoft Services and click the Disable All button.

  7. Click OK and click Restart to reboot.

To return to normal startup after diagnosis, open the System Configuration Utility. On the Services tab, click Enable All. On the General tab, choose Normal Startup and click the OK button.

3. Using the System Recovery Options

For more severe problems that require repairing an existing Windows 7 installation, troubleshooting startup issues, system and complete PC restoration, using Windows Memory Diagnostic Tool, or getting to a command prompt, you'll need to use the System Recovery Options. This method should only be used by experienced users who can perform such tasks from a command prompt.

To boot from the Windows disc, first make sure that the drive is enabled as a boot device in the BIOS with a higher priority than any hard drives. Insert the Windows disc into the drive. Restart the computer and follow these steps:

  1. During the POST, watch for the Press Any Key to Boot from CD or DVD prompt, and tap a key.

  2. After all files load from the disc, click the Next button on the page that is prompting for language, currency, and keyboard type.

  3. On the next page, click the Repair Your Computer link near the bottom of the page.

  4. Windows will bring up the System Recovery Options dialog box, which looks for an existing installation of Windows 7. If your system requires special hard drive controller drivers, you can click the Load Drivers button so your installation of Windows 7 can be located. If you see your version of Windows 7 in the list box, select it and click the Next button.

  5. The next window shows all of your options for recovery.

The System Recovery Options window provides different troubleshooting tools based on your set of circumstances:

  • Startup Repair: Use this option if your system won't start up. This could be for any number of reasons including a bad or misconfigured driver, an application that attempts to start at startup but causes the system to hang, or a faulty piece of hardware.

  • System Restore: System Restore restores back to a designated restore point. By default, Windows is making restore points of your computer that store the state of your system. You'll be able to choose a restore point for your system from a previous day when you knew your system was performing correctly. The System Restore option will not alter any of your personal data or documents.

  • System Image Recovery: For this feature to work, you would need to have done a backup in the past. Windows will search hard drives and DVDs for valid backups to restore from.

  • Windows Memory Diagnostic: Some of the issues you may be experiencing may be the result of memory problems. Windows Memory Diagnostic Tool will perform tests against the RAM in your system to see if there are any problems. For this tool to run, click the link, which will prompt you to restart your computer now and check for problems or to check for problems the next time you restart.

  • Command Prompt: The Command Prompt option is for experienced users who need to access the file system and run commands specific to Windows 7. Only choose this option if you're sure you need it, and be careful when using the Command Prompt.

When you're finished using the System Recovery Options, you can click either Shut Down or Restart to exit. For additional information on System Recovery Options, use Help and Support and search on System Recovery Options.

4. Troubleshooting Performance Problems

This section covers basic troubleshooting in terms of using Task Manager and Control Panel tools to monitor and troubleshoot performance. Keep in mind that hardware and software go hand in hand, so performance problems can be caused by either one. For example, if a device is malfunctioning or improperly configured, it can lead to performance problems. Likewise, having too many programs running at one time can eat up valuable memory and processor time, also foiling performance. So, don't assume that performance problems are always caused by hardware or software — the problem could well be one, the other, or both.

Figure 1. Task Manager sorting the processes based on CPU percentage.

If your CPU Usage chart consistently runs at a high percentage in Task Manager, you may be running two or more firewalls. Most likely, you'll need to disable and remove any third-party firewalls, or disable the built-in Windows Firewall.

Also, scan your system for viruses, adware, and other malware, and remove all that you can find to eliminate their resource consumption.

If neither of the previous suggestions fixes your problem, you may need to see if an individual process is keeping your system overly busy. To do this, use one of these methods to start the Task Manager:

  • With Windows running and while logged on to the computer, press Ctrl+Alt+Del and click Start Task Manager.

  • Click Start and type taskmgr to locate and start Task Manager.

  • Right-click the taskbar and click Start Task Manager.

Once you're in Task Manager, click the Processes tab and then click Show Processes from All Users. This will list all of the processes running on the system. Next, sort the information in the grid based on CPU, as shown in Figure 50-5. Just click the CPU column to sort by CPU utilization.

If a task is spiking CPU utilization but not staying at a consistently high rate, first identify the processes by sorting by CPU, then when you've determined which processes are using the most CPU time, sort by process name to watch how those processes are using the CPU.

You should be able to identify the process that is using the majority of your CPU. You have a couple of options at this point:

  • Use the name of the process under the Image Name column to search the Internet to see if the process is a valid file or a potential virus. If it is a virus of some form, you'll need to update your virus definitions and rerun your virus scan. If it does not appear to be a virus, you'll need to contact the vendor who provided the software to see if they can help troubleshoot the problem.

  • Short term, you can right-click the process and choose End Process. Sometimes applications run into problems or situations the developer never imagined and the process gets stuck in a loop, which taxes the CPU. Restarting the application will reset the process, hopefully avoiding the circumstances that put the application in a loop. In addition to using Task Manager, Windows 7 includes several other utilities located in the Performance Information and Tools Control Panel applet.

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