How to Troubleshoot Computer Hardware

by Larry Amon

Troubleshooting computer hardware can be extremely frustrating because the symptoms you see are not always directly related to the problem. Having a bad stick of RAM can make the screen blank when booting up, but it has nothing to do with your video card. If you go through a specific set of troubleshooting steps, though, you can almost always narrow down your real problem and solve it in a shorter time frame.

Test the hardware. Make sure you know where the hardware problem really exists. If you just installed a new piece of hardware and it doesn't work or you suddenly have problems, the problem might be your new hardware--but that isn't always true. Sometimes problems show up coincidentally at the same time you have installed a new piece of hardware. Uninstall the new hardware and see if the problem still exists. If it does, it could be that you either knocked something loose when installing your new hardware or the problem lies elsewhere. Try installing your new hardware several times to make sure it is not the problem.

Make sure everything in your system is installed correctly and is fully connected. Even if it seems connected the best thing to do is remove all of the hardware that might be loose and connect it again. This is more likely to be a problem when installing cards such as video or sound cards. The cards need to be seated completely to work, and due to the close proximity of other cards it frequently happens that cards are knocked loose. A seating problem also occurs often when installing RAM or a CPU. RAM is seated similarly to cards in that it must be pushed with a bit of force into a slot. RAM can sometimes fit in the slot in either direction but only works in one position. A CPU is usually a square that fits in only one way and will stop your entire system from working it is not put in correctly. The CPU will be full of pins around the square with one pin missing to match up with the empty pin hole in the CPU seat.

Test the hardware under several different conditions. Try testing the hardware in different situations to see if it works at all. If it works during some applications but not others it may be defective and needs to be replaced. This may also indicate that another piece of hardware is defective, and you should try replacing any related hardware. For example, if you have a video problem and after troubleshooting you find nothing wrong with the video card, try replacing the monitor.

Check the cables. Hard drives and CD drives and other optical drives all have to be connected through cables. Make sure the cables are inserted firmly and in the correct position on the drives and on their connection to the motherboard. Putting the cables on backwards won't always cause the hardware to fail completely; instead, it may cause it not to function correctly or it may cause some other piece of hardware to fail first.

Replace or upgrade your hardware drivers. If your hardware is working partially or not at all, sometimes installing updated drivers can easily fix the problem. Go to the website for the hardware manufacturer and see if there is an updated driver. Go to the Control Panel and click on "System," "Hardware" and "Device Manager." Double click on the hardware selection for which you want to upgrade the drivers. Click on the "Drivers" tab and click on "Update Driver." Follow the menus and select the updated driver.

Check compatibility. Check the manufacturer's and the operating system's website to see if there are any compatibility issues. If all else fails try replacing the hardware.

About the Author

Larry Amon has been working in the computer field for more than 10 years and has experience writing scripts, instructional articles and political commentary. He has been published online, as well as in "NRB Magazine" and "Delmarva Youth & Family." He started a nonprofit media organization in 2000.