Having trouble with your computer? You’ve come to the right place. Even if you don’t know a computer language (or want to), you can solve several common PC problems on your own.

F1 is magic: Get help on your PC

If you can’t figure out how to complete a particular task in your software program—and you’re using a PC—the most important shortcut to know is the F1 key. Just push it while the program—Word, Excel, or whichever program you’re using—is open and active, wait a moment, and the Help window specific to your active program will appear. The F1 key works with almost all Microsoft products, so it’s a helpful starting point for a wide variety of problems.

The basics

If you’re encountering a different kind of obstacle – your new device won’t appear on your desktop, an application you added won’t run, or your computer is refusing to start up – here are a couple of preliminary steps:

  1. Before adding any major hardware or software to your system, make sure you’ve recently backed-up as a safeguard. By using the automatic backup functions, you can schedule regular upkeep for maximum convenience.
  2. Write down the contact information for Microsoft Customer Service and Support, should you need to consult an expert. Take a second to print the below instructions as well, and keep them handy as you walk through the troubleshooting process.
  3. Many issues can be resolved by simply checking to be sure that all of your plugs are connected properly. After you are sure of that, try restarting(“rebooting”) your system. Turn your computer off, and then back on a few seconds later. If the problem continues, follow the steps below.

Locating the problem

Ask yourself if the problem is related to hardware, software, or the operating system (such as Windows XP or Windows Vista). Below are some common indicators that can help you decide which is the right answer.

If you’re uncertain, don’t worry. Just start at the top by determining if your software is working, using the Software section that follows. If the issue persists, proceed to the Hardware trouble section and then to the system failure section.

You can also find really helpful information at Microsoft Help and Support. If you’d like to search by individual program, try the Product Solution Center. Or check the columns and blogs found on the Windows Community Web site, where you can find helpful input from experts and fellow computer users.

The lists on the right side of this page may also help you narrow down the type of trouble you are experiencing.


Software errors

If programs refuse to install, won’t appear on your desktop, can’t seem to run without freezing-up, don’t load at a decent speed or function properly, or Internet access is unavailable, here’s how to troubleshoot:

General issues

  1. Confirm that your PC meets the software’s minimum system requirements. If it doesn’t, you’ll be unable to run the program without upgrading your computer’s hardware. Note that PCs which barely meet or just slightly exceed these minimums may run the software more slowly and can be less reliable. Windows Vista users can reference the Windows Experience Index to quickly gauge their PC’s general capabilities.
  2. Check for compatability with Windows Vista.
  3. Close open programs and windows that you’re not currently using. These can eat up system memory and processing power, slowing your PC or preventing additional software from running. Try running the program again.
  4. Check available hard drive space. Roughly 5 to 10 percent of your hard drive’s total storage allotment should be left free to ensure optimum system performance, prevent crashes, and keep Windows running at top speed. To free more space, use Disk Cleanup in Vista or XP Check for program updates and information on frequently encountered issues at the software manufacturer’s Web site. For Microsoft products, you can also load windows update or visit the Microsoft Download Center. If you install an update, reboot and attempt to run the program again.
  5. Uninstall or delete unwanted programs to cut down on clutter and remove any drain on your system’s resources.
  6. Disable programs you don’t use to to prevent them from automatically loading when Windows starts. Reboot and try the program again.
  7. Defragment your hard drive in Windows Vista or XP to improve performance.
  8. Scan for viruses and spyware. Windows Defender and Windows Live OneCare can help detect and prevent threats, along with preventing annoying pop-up notices and unauthorized home network intrusions. You can scan your PC for free.
  9. Reboot your computer and try loading the program again. If it still won’t load or work correctly, you may need to uninstall the software and then reinstall it from scratch and reboot again.
  10. Consult Microsoft Help and Support and the Windows Community. If live assistance is required, first contact the software manufacturer’s customer support department. For additional assistance, try Microsoft Customer Service and Support.

Internet Connectivity

Whether you have a modem or a home network, answers to common Internet access and online networking problems can be found at Microsoft Help and Support. Quick references include:

  • Dropped signals
  • Finding wireless networks
  • Internet connection problems
  • Network connection issues
  • Slow speeds
  • Using Internet Explorer

Hardware trouble

Should equipment fail to turn on, be recognized by your system, or function properly, follow these steps to address some of the most common hardware issues:

  1. Determine that equipment has been assembled correctly, by consulting your product manual or referencing the manufacturer’s Web site.
  2. Confirm that your device is securely plugged in and receiving power. For equipment that relies on an A/C (wall outlet plug) power adapter, you can double-check that the outlet is functioning correctly by plugging in another device and observing if it starts up or begins charging.
  3. Check to see whether equipment is properly connected to your PC by making sure all cables are securely plugged into the correct ports.
  4. Verify that hardware is turned on.
  5. Look for error messages displayed on either the equipment itself (commonly found on a small LCD screen) or on your desktop. Solutions for many of these can be found in your product manual or by checking this comprehensive database.
  6. Install or reinstall drivers for the device. Windows automatically searches for drivers when new devices are connected and notifies you of any available updates. It may be necessary to manually install them yourself, if these files are contained directly on the device, on a CD/DVD sold with the equipment, or on the manufacturer’s Web site. To activate setup, just double-click on the driver installation program. You may need advice, if the installation program fails to run.
  7. Confirm that you’re using the latest drivers for your hardware. Manufacturers routinely issue patches to correct errors and inconsistencies that users encounter. To do so, simply use Windows Update, visit the Microsoft Download Center, or check the Download or Support section of the manufacturer’s Web site.
  8. Reboot your system and test the device again.
  9. Consult Microsoft Help and Support, the Windows Community, or the manufacturer’s Web site for assistance. The following resources also offer solutions to common problems with popular devices, including:
    • Audio and sound cards
    • CD or DVD drives
    • Digital cameras
    • Speech recognition
    • Keyboards
    • Mice
    • Monitors and video cards
    • Network adapters
    • Printers
    • Recordable media
    • Scanners
    • TV tuners
    • USB devices
    • Webcams
  10. If all else fails, contact the hardware manufacturer’s customer support department. You can also try your computer manufacturer’s customer support group or Microsoft Customer Service and Support for additional assistance.


System failure

Can’t get your PC to start up or shut down? Is Windows stalling out, randomly turning your computer off, or rebooting without warning? Follow these step-by-step instructions to restore system health.

  1. Confirm that your PC is plugged into an electrical outlet and receiving power. If so, reboot and see whether the problem persists.
  2. Try restoring your system.
    • To do so for Windows Vista, see here.
    • Windows XP users can click this link instead.
  3. Check to see if you have a memory problem.
  4. Scan your hard drive for errors.
  5. Look for driver problems.
  6. Try advanced boot options and working in safe mode.
  7. Did you just install a new hardware device or driver before Windows stopped working? Determine the cause and address the problem.
  8. Repair your PC using the Startup Repair function.
  9. Reinstall Windows.
  10. If troubles remain, consult Microsoft Help and Support or the Windows Community. If you still need help, contact Microsoft Customer Service and Support.

Hard drive failure

In a worst-case scenario, system failure may be caused by a damaged or corrupted hard drive. There are many warning signs that may indicate this problem:

  • Your system won’t boot.
  • No operating system is detected.
  • The computer hangs during startup.
  • Your PC is making strange noises.

If you are concerned about the safety of your files, try the following options before paying to send it to a data recovery specialist:

  • Resurrect your hard drive.
  • Retrieve files using a boot CD.
  • Employ free system recovery tools.