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[ The PC Guide | Troubleshooting and Repair GuideThe Troubleshooting Expert ]

Using the Troubleshooting Expert

While I think that the Troubleshooting Expert is a great idea, and I hope that you do too, I have to concede in advance that a web-based troubleshooting tool has certain limitations. I have had to make some compromises in my design of this tool and I have had to accept that there will be some things about it that will not work as well as others.

The Troubleshooting Expert works by presenting a number of problem categories from which you can select. Within these are subcategories that contain the descriptions of specific symptoms. Some of these are related to the system overall while others are specific to a subsystem or component. You will hopefully be able to find a symptom that matches the problem you are having; if not, try looking in a different area.

Once you have selected a symptom to diagnose, you will either be given a subset of categories to choose from, or you will be asked a question and given a choice of answers. The choices are listed in the index frame. Depending on what you tell the system, it may come up with a proposed cause quickly, or it may take a bit of work. When it is done, the Expert will tell you what its best guess is at the cause of your problem, and will suggest possible solutions to the problem as well.

The Expert's analysis of each problem or symptom is presented in three sections, listed in the contents frame on the right-hand side:

  • Explanation: A description of what the problem is that you are having, or what the symptom you are seeing really means. For example, this would include explaining an error message, or telling you what it means when you get to that section after answering a question in a previous section.
  • Diagnosis: The Expert's current "thinking" about what the problem is that you are having, and what the problem is or might be.
  • Recommendation: The steps that the Expert feels it would be best for you to pursue at this point. There may only be one step that it thinks makes sense at your current position, or there may be several. If there are several points listed here, then they are (unless stated otherwise) alternative ways to address your problem, and they are normally listed in the preferred order that you should try them. So attempt first to try the first recommendation, and if it doesn't solve the problem try the second, and so on. You don't necessarily have to do them all.

Note: The order of recommendations listed is also influenced by how easy or expensive the task is to perform. If you are having memory problems, for example, swapping the memory modules with another set is a good test to see if the memory itself is the problem, but most people don't have extra memory lying around to do this. Therefore, this is reserved as an option until other simpler possible causes are examined.

Since this is a computerized system, not a person, it is somewhat inflexible, and it is entirely possible that the Expert will get things wrong. If it does, try using your browser's "Back" button (or the "Up" link) and trying a different path within the system (by answering some of the questions differently.) You may then find a clue to help you out; or you may just find an area of the Expert where it is weak. Feel free to provide feedback if you think you have a common problem (not something totally bizarre) that others could benefit from by having it included here.

Before you start using the Expert, I would urge you to do the following:

  • Read the Site Warnings: Before you do any work on your PC, please read the site warnings. If you are unwilling to read and heed these warnings, you shouldn't be using this site.
  • Read and Follow the "Steps To Take First": Performing these procedures and tests before you start a specific troubleshooting section will greatly increase your chances of solving your problem.
  • Read the General Techniques Section First: Familiarizing yourself with the troubleshooting techniques and ideas presented in this section will not only help you with your current problem, but will make you a better problem solver who is less reliant on tools such as this one. It's worth checking out.
  • Remember That The Troubleshooting Expert is Not Comprehensive: You are not going to find the answer to every PC problem here, not even close. There is so much hardware and software out there that I could never hope to cover every possible situation that arises--as it is I had to leave out a lot of material and the thing is still too big. I hope to expand the Expert as I learn more about PCs and more about what common problems other have, but the focus will continue to be common problems and their solutions. I have tried to be as complete as I can given my time constraints.
  • Know How to Interpret what the Expert Concludes: No computerized expert system can replace a human technician, and the main reason why is the lack of broad experience and intuition, and the inability to adapt the analysis to unusual circumstances. My goals in writing the Expert were to help get you on the right track to solving your problem, to provide ideas as to what might be causing the difficulty. Misdiagnosis of a problem is going to happen with a system like this. Make sure to pay careful attention and discard any conclusions or recommendations that don't make sense based on your own situation.
  • Be Patient With the Expert: The questions and categories that are in the Expert are modular, with answers in one part of the tool sending you to questions in other areas. On some occasions you may seem to be asked questions you've already answered once before; this is because you are in a different part of the Expert where the context of your previous answer hasn't carried forward. There is no way to avoid this without making the Expert ridiculously large and cumbersome.
  • Follow the Links: While the rest of this site is designed so that you can use the scroll bars in the content frame to move from topic to topic easily, the Troubleshooting Expert works best when you strictly follow the links. This is because the information you are supposed to read is based on how you answered a previous question. For efficiency purposes I have multiple sections in the same file in many places, and scrolling through the file will take you to answers unrelated to what you previously selected.

Next: Troubleshooting Boot Problems

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