My PC is playing up. What should I do before I do ANYTHING else?

If you've come across Channel 4's sitcom 'The IT Crowd' you'll be familiar with the catch phrase "Have you tried turning it off and on again?"

For those in the know, the reason this phrase became so funny was that it is so unbelievably true. There are no end of instances where this may solve a problem. Or at least... it used to! With the latest version of Windows the phrase now must be "Have you tried restarting it?".

So, if you are experiencing some sort of glitch on your PC, before going any further, give it a try. I've lost count of how many times I have been asked to fix a PC problem and all that was required was a restart.

But, and I cannot stress this enough, you MUST select Restart and not Shutdown.

I am still using Windows 7, what should I do?

If you are still using Windows 7 then you are probably aware that it came to the end of its life on 14th Jan 2020.

This doesn't mean that it will stop working, just that it is no longer supported by Microsoft and so they will no longer be providing security updates for it which fix any vulnerabilities discovered in the software. So, if a hacker were to find a vulnerability after that date and write a malicious program (ie Virus/Malware etc) to try and exploit it then Microsoft will not fix the problem. If you were to then receive that program, say in a spam email, your system could be compromised. Depending on the 'payload' of the malicious program you could potentially have all your files encrypted or have all your sensitive data stolen.

The solution is to replace Windows 7 with the latest version, which is Windows 10, and is a free download from the Microsoft website. Subject to the capabilities of your existing hardware, you can then upgrade to Windows 10. It is most likely you are currently using either Windows 7 Home or Pro versions in which case, the upgrade is free.

Why is my PC slow?

The performance of a PC is determined by both the software and hardware.

Software

When your Operating System (ie Windows) is first installed on to a PC its performance will essentially be the best possible (albeit there are some tweaks that can be done to make it better but that aside for the purpose of this article).

However, your OS can be considered like a living entity. Over time it becomes 'tired' and gets clogged up with changes it makes to itself (updates etc) and changes you make to it like adding and removing software and even just simple day to day usage. All of these will reduce the speed of your PC.

Some of these changes can be reversed by doing some 'housekeeping' of your OS but you will never get the performance back to how is was on day 1. The only sure-fire way to get it back to its original performance is a more drastic approach by wiping it clean and reinstall it. Your PC will now work as it did on day 1, however, any changes you have made and/or any software or data you had added since then will be gone.

Hardware

Unlike software, the hardware that makes up your PC doesn't change or degrade over time (it may fail but that's another issue). The overall performance of your PC will depend on the performance/capability of the individual hardware components.

However, some of these components can be upgraded and as a result will increase the overall performance. The 2 main components that can feasibly/practically be upgraded are the memory and the hard drive.

Upgrading the hard disk drive (HDD) to a faster solid state drive (SSD) involves removing the existing HDD, transferring its contents to a new SSD and then reinstalling this in the place of the old HDD.

Upgrading the memory is a simply process as memory modules simply clip in to the motherboard.

Remember that the overall performance is a function of both the software and hardware so if for example the software is performing badly, upgrading the hardware will help but it will only allow the poorly running software to run poorly, faster!

My 'wifi' has gone slow. What can I do?

This, or words to that effect, is one of the most common complaints and the go to solution is quite often to complain to your service provider. However, you may be wasting your time!

Most problems can broadly be divided into one of two areas, 'wifi' or 'broadband', but your service provider (again broadly speaking) is only responsible for your broadband, not your wifi. So before wasting hours on the phone it is best to find out more to see if your service provider can/will actually help.

The whole wifi/broadband thing is unfortunately a complete subject in itself and so too much information to put here. Hence, diagnosing these types of problems can be time consuming and requires some technical knowledge. The following is just an outline...

Your Broadband is the connection between your service provider and your hub/router. It can fail due to many reasons but most of these occur outside of your premesis and so are out of your control. Your service provider is therefore responsible for these unless the problem is between your phone line wall socket and hub/router.

Your Wifi however is the radio connection between your hub/router and your device. This will be affected by your local 'environment' eg how far away you are from your hub/router, how thick the walls are inbetween the 2, interference from other devices in your house. These are all your responsibilities, so your service provider will not help you with this.

Is my data safe?

A PC by itself should never be considered as an invulnerable data store. In fact, one of the most common parts of a PC to fail is the hard drive which is where all your data is stored.

If a hard drive fails, then more than likely all the data on it will be lost. (It may be possible for a specialist to recover the data, but this will cost £100s). To safeguard against this happening, you must take a backup of your data. A general rule of thumb is to have your data stored in 3 different places and at least one of those to be in a different location.

Why isn't my start menu working?

The start menu not responding to a click of the start icon has been a bug in Windows 10 ever since it was released. The problem occurs less frequently with the latest version but still happens occasionally. The solution is simply to right click the start icon. You will get another menu. From here, select to restart the PC (refer to the first article in this list). After the restart has completed the start menu will work properly again.

Why is my wireless printer not working?

Wireless printers have a habit of sometimes not connecting to your PC. The first thing to try is to restart everything that may be causing the problem so try the following (in this order)...

  1. Turn off both your printer and wifi router/hub
  2. Turn the wifi router/hub back on
  3. Wait a couple of minutes
  4. Turn the printer back on
  5. Wait a couple of minutes
  6. Restart your PC (refer to the first article in this list)
Why has my wireless keyboard or mouse stopped working?

It gets easily forgotten that wireless keyboards & mice need batteries in them to function. So, before going any further, check the batteries.

My PC is complaining that my hard drive is full. What can I do?

A hard drive can easily be replaced for a larger one. It will involve removing the existing one, copying the complete contents of the drive on to a new one and then installing the new one into the PC.

My PC has started making strange noises. What is happening?

There are a number of cooling fans inside a PC. Depending on your environment (dust etc) or simply their quality, these fans may wear out over time. When they do they invariably start to make noises. All the fans inside a PC are replaceable so it is time to get them replaced else your PC may over heat.

If however you hear a metalic clicking sound then you need to act immediately. This may be your hard drive about to fail. Make sure you have all your data backed up and have it investigated.

Why is my email program randomly asking for my password?

A common problem with email programs eg Outlook, Thunderbird etc, is that they will occasionally ask for your password out of the blue. Assuming that you haven’t changed your password yourself then this is most likely due to a simple glitch at your email provider. Assuming that is the case the solution is to simply wait until the glitch goes away or is fixed, then your email program will start working again.

However, there is a 'gotcha'! The majority of people will enter their password because they have been asked for it but sometimes the password may have been forgotten, so an incorrect one gets entered. Once the fault at the other end is fixed the email program will continue to try to connect using the incorrect password and hence will keep requesting the correct password indefinitely.

So, if your email program unexpectedly asks you for a password, just ignore it and more often than not it will start working again shortly.

What is the best Internet Service Provider at my location?

This is a common question that gets asked, especially by people moving into a new house. Unfortunately though, assuming we are talking about a 'regular' ADSL or fibre connection, the service provider that you use is probably actually one of the least important factors in the performance of your connection.

It is more down to the infrastructure up to your location, which is supplied and managed by BT Openreach, but unfortunately you have no control over this.

The other main issue is wifi, assuming you use it, which is a function of the layout of your house and where you put wifi routers/devices etc.

It is therefore a better suggestion to go with your 'preferred' provider based on previous experience and knowledge of the equipment they supply, their services and support.