In every Windows 9x and Millennium Edition
(Me) system, there are thousands of software and
hardware components that interact with one another.
When one of these interactions turns into a head-on
collision, the result can be a system crash, a sudden
slowdown, or an undecipherable error message.
So, how do you troubleshoot and fix broken Windows? The best way is to narrow down the
possible causes of a problem. Grab a pen and a piece of
paper so you can write down any important details.
Then ask yourself these eight questions.
- Did your PC work at some point in the
If your system was working yesterday and is
having problems today, try to identify everything that
has changed. Have you installed any new hardware
or software? Did you update a device driver? Did
you download something from the Internet? If you
can remember doing something before your problem
began, focus on that action first. If you're
struggling with a new feature or program that has never
worked properly, you should suspect a setup problem,
either with Windows or with an application program.
- Did the problem begin after you installed
a new program?
Antivirus software and firewalls are notorious
for causing conflicts with other software. If you
think you have a software conflict, follow the
instructions to uninstall the software using Windows'
Add/Remove Programs feature. (See "Uninstall
Troublesome Software.") If the symptoms go away, you've
identified that program as the cause of your problems,
and you should visit the software developer's web site
to see if an updated version is available.
- Did the problem begin after you installed
new hardware or updated a device driver?
Hardware drivers work at the microcode level in Windows, which interacts directly with the
program code in your software. So a bug in a device driver
can cause serious symptoms, such as system lock ups,
fatal error messages, and general protection
faults (GPFs). If you encounter these problems, find
the problem device in Device Manager and disable
it temporarily. If the problem goes away, you've
found the cause. (See "Resolve Driver Problems.")
- Do you receive a consistent error message?
Write down the exact text of the error message.
If you know the exact wording, you can usually find
detailed help using the Microsoft Knowledge Base
GPF messages can be found at http://support.micro soft.com/support/kb/articles/Q82/7/10.ASP.
- Can you reproduce the problem?
If you can identify a specific set of actions or
keystrokes that consistently cause the problem, you're
in luck. Write down the actions or keystrokes. You
may need it later if you have to call Technical
Support. After you try each troubleshooting step, use that
specific set of actions or keystrokes as your test.
- Does the problem only occur after
you've been using your PC for a while?
If your computer runs fine first thing in the
morning but crashes after an hour or two, you should
suspect heat-related problems. (See "Keep it Cool.")
- Have you run out of disk space?
Music files (.MP3), movies (.MOV, .AVI, and .MPG), digital pictures (.JPG, .BMP, and .GIF),
and other files can fill up your hard disk. If you use
Windows 98 or Windows Me, try running the Disk Cleanup Wizard. This utility can tell you
whether you're running out of room and help you clear
away some space. (See "Give it Space.")
- Are you running low on system resources?
Each running program consumes a portion of Windows' precious system resources. When you run
low on system resources, Windows may begin slowing down or behaving strangely. When you run out of
resources, you're guaranteed to crash. To learn how
to avoid resource problems, install the System
Resource Meter. (See "Keep Track of Resources.")
Keep system resources above 20%. If they dip below that figure, you risk crashing. Figure out
which programs are using lots of resources by watching
how much resources drop when you load programs.
Don't get fooled by the amount of free system
resources supposedly available when you start up.
To speed up startup, Windows 9x and Me defer
loading some key components. If you open and close a
few programs, you get a much better idea of what
your baseline resources actually are.
With these eight steps you can find most
Windows problems. Go through this checklist to start
troubleshooting and fixing broken Windows.
Uninstall Troublesome Software
Here's how to uninstall a Windows 9x program:
- If the program includes its own group on the
Programs menu, look for an Uninstall or Remove menu choice. If you find this option, run it.
If not, continue to the next step.
- Click the Start button, choose Settings, and
click Control Panel.
- Double-click the Add/Remove Programs icon.
- Scroll through the list of programs on the
Install/Uninstall tab and select the one to remove.
- Click the Add/Remove button to start
the program's uninstall utility.
- If prompted, choose the Automatic option to
remove the program completely without any input. If the program offers a Custom option, you
can choose to approve all changes before they occur.
- If prompted, restart your computer to
complete the uninstallation process.
- Delete any unnecessary shortcuts from the
Start menu, Quick Launch bar, and desktop.
Resolve Driver Problems
Here's how to track down any hardware driver:
- When you're having hardware problems, the
first step is to check for an updated device driver.
- Your first stop is the PC Drivers
HeadQuarters site at http://www.drivershq.com. This site
has links to patches, BIOS updates, and drivers in more than two dozen categories.
- You can also download, from the same site,
a useful utility called Driver Detective, which
scans for installed drivers on any system, regardless
of which Windows version you are running.
- Then try the WinDrivers Driver Search Engine
at http://www.windrivers.com. You can look for drivers by company name.
Keep It Cool
Here's how to keep your PC cool:
- Check the fan and make sure air is blowing
from the inside out. A broken fan will cause
problems in no time.
- If your PC's BIOS includes a temperature
reading, check it by restarting and going into the BIOS setup after you've been running for a while.
- Clean out those dust bunnies! Take your
PC's case off and blow out dust that may be
clogging up ventilation ports.
- With the cover off, check the wires on your
CPU fan. The CPU fan is mounted on your CPU and blows heat away. If the CPU fan stops
working, your PC will too.
Give it Space
Here's how to clean up temp files:
- Click the Start button and choose Programs,
then Accessories, System Tools, and Disk Cleanup.
- Choose the disk to clean up (usually C:) and
let the wizard work. Its report tells you how much space unneeded temporary files are consuming.
- Check that box and click OK to perform
Keep Track of Resources
Here's how to install the System Resource Meter:
- Open Control Panel and double-click the
Add/Remove Programs option.
- Click the Windows Setup tab, then select
System Tools and click the Details button.
- Check the System Resource Meter box and
- Close all dialog boxes.