RAM, or Random Access Memory

Know your computer hardware
To check for the amount of memory (RAM, or Random Access Memory) in your computer, rightclick on My Computer, click Properties, and look for the information toward the bottom of the window. The RAM is the memory that your computer writes to and reads from in all open programs.
Therefore, if you have a relatively small amount of memory, that means that the computer can only
process a limited amount of information at a time, and everything will run more slowly. Imagine the
difference between working with 16 MB (megabytes) of RAM and 512 MB!
Memory can usually be added to a computer to upgrade its performance. It is much easier to get
information on what the computer needs if it is a commercially manufactured one than if it was locally custom-built. If you have a factory-built computer, note its make and model (look on the front
of the case and/or the label on the back). Go to <http://www.crucial.com>, click on Memory Upgrades, and do a step-by-step search for specific information on the type of memory it uses, the
standard amount of memory it was shipped with, its maximum capacity, and the configuration of its
banks and slots. Fortunately, there are also good explanations of memory terms! You will also see
their prices for memory modules. Armed with this information, you can confidently purchase the
right kind of memory to upgrade your computer.
To find information on the drives in a computer, right-click on My Computer and choose Explore.
You will see all of the local and network drives listed in the left pane, with their assigned letters, as
in the example below left. The listing will vary, depending on the configuration of each machine.
Typically, A is for the floppy drive, C is the hard drive, and D is the CD drive. However, as an example, installation of other drives may push the CD drive lower in the list, and change its assigned
drive letter.
Right-click on a drive, choose Properties, and an information window will open as shown below
right. The first tab is a graphical view of the drive capacity and free space. Click on the other tabs
for more information.
Know your ports
Mouse and keyboard ports are both round, and usually have a mouse or keyboard
symbol next to the port to identify it. Comparing the cables themselves, the mouse
cable will be thinner than the keyboard cable. The plugs and ports may be colorcoded, but if the peripherals are not original with the system, the colors may not
match! Barcode scanners are frequently connected to the keyboard port, with a Ysplitter for the keyboard connection. (Some older keyboard connections are large and
round, and some older mouse connections are for serial ports.)
Serial ports (left) are a squared-D shape (DB-9).
They are an older type of connection, but are
still commonly used with some peripherals.
Parallel ports are also the squared-D shape (DB
-25). This is your local printer connection. Sometimes, flatbed scanners or zip drives connect to
the parallel port, and the printer will in turn be
connected to that device.
USB connections are very commonly used for all kinds of newer devices. The ports are narrow rectangles, and
there are usually two or four on the back of a computer. Some newer computers also have USB ports on the front
for easy access. USB hubs with multiple ports are available, so a larger number of devices can be used. Theoretically, up to 127 USB peripheral devices can be connected to a single computer. USB connections are the only kind
that are designed to be ‘hot-swappable’, that is, that can be connected and disconnected while the computer is up
and running.
Network connections may be integrated on the motherboard or on a card in an expansion
slot, as shown at left.
Modems for dial-up connections (card shown at right) are usually in an expansion slot, and may have two ports for phone
lines. If so, be sure the cable for your dial-up Internet connection is plugged into the one labeled "Line" - not the one labeled
Network and phone cables (and their respective ports) look very similar, but the Category 5 network cables and cable ends are
larger. There is no danger of connecting the cables to the wrong port, because they won’t fit!
Monitor cables connect to the port on the video card. These are also
a squared-D shape, with 15 pins, and are often color-coded blue.
Unlike serial ports, the pins are on the cable end of this connection.
A logical approach to troubleshooting
The best tools you have to work with are inside your head! You probably know more than you think
you do - so put that knowledge to work, and use the following steps to work on any computer
Observe the problem
You already know what the computer should be doing - so what is it doing wrong? Has it worked
correctly in the past? Has anything been changed on the computer (software or hardware added, or
settings changed) that may be causing a conflict? Is the problem random, or consistently
repeatable? Does the problem go away after the computer is restarted?
Define the problem
Try to narrow down the possibilities by the process of elimination. Does the problem occur in one
program, but not others? If the computer is networked, is the problem system-wide, or specific to that
machine? Does it happen every time, or only under certain circumstances? Do you get error
messages that give you clues or tell you outright what the difficulty is?
Begin to resolve the problem
Start very broadly by restarting the computer, then checking power and connections. If the problem
is with a specific device, are the lights on? Does the computer recognize the device? Has this
problem happened before, and if so, how was it corrected? Talk to other people who may have been
faced with the same situation. Go to troubleshooting websites and do some research - don't spend
time figuring it out on your own if someone else can tell you exactly what to do!
Before you get too deep into the resolution, check to see if the computer or device is still under
warranty. If so, contact the manufacturer for possible solutions or replacement.
Document your work
Write down the things you have checked and the steps you have taken to resolve the problem. If it
does not work, you will know what to undo. If it does work, you will have it on paper so you can
repeat the procedure if the problem arises again.
Final words of wisdom
Be patient and persistent, but give yourself permission to walk away from it for a while if you get
really frustrated. It is surprising how often a potential solution will come to you when you are busy
with something entirely different! At the very least, you will be able to tackle it again in a better frame
of mind.
Troubleshooting printers
There are a number of factors that all printers have in common; whether you have a dot matrix, bubblejet,
inkjet, or laser printer, you will still look for many of the same things.
First, know what kind of printer you have. The make and model number are usually on the case, and often
the type of printer. (For example, Hewlett Packard 722c InkJet or Hewlett Packard LaserJet 4100N.) It is
extremely helpful to have the installation software and user’s manual identified and easily accessible.
Common types of problems
Some of the most common issues relating to printers involve power, connections, and paper jams. More
complex problems involve printer settings and drivers. Be sure to note what kind of error message you are
getting, if any.
First, verify that the printer is plugged in and turned on. (Some printers have an on/off switch, some don’t.)
Check both the power cord and the surge protector. If the indicator lights are working, you have power. If
some lights are amber or red, or are blinking, check the user’s manual to see what that means. Press the
online button to see if that corrects the problem.
If an error message indicates that the computer is not communicating with the printer, save your work and
close all programs, then shut down the computer. Check the printer cable at both ends by removing and
replacing it, being careful to seat it firmly. While you have the cable end disconnected, be sure to check for
bent pins. These can usually be carefully straightened with needle-nose pliers or a nail file – once! If you
have a switch box, be sure that the switch is set correctly for the computer/printer you are using. Restart the
computer and try printing again.
If you are trying to print to a network printer, check your network cable. Log off and back on to the computer, to be sure that it is properly logged in to the network. Can other computers on the network send to
the printer? If so, you know that the problem is with your computer or its connection, not the printer itself or
the entire network.
Paper and ink/toner
Be sure that the printer has enough ink or toner. Check the paper path and remove any paper jams, and be
sure that the printer cover is firmly closed.
Test printing
Try printing from a different program. Open a word processing or text document, type a few words, and see
if that page will print. If so, the problem is with a particular software program.
Be sure that the printer you use the most has a check
mark by its icon, indicating that it is the default printer.
If it is not, right-click on its icon and select "Set as default".
Right-click on the printer icon, and choose Properties
from the drop-down menu.
This will open the Properties window. It will look different for different kinds of printers, but here’s where
you will find settings and options.
You should also find a “Print Test Page” button. Click
on it to see if a test page prints correctly. A test page
will often print technical information about the printer
and driver. If the page does not print correctly, click
the Troubleshoot button in the test page window and
follow the Windows troubleshooting tips to see if following any of the suggested procedures will correct
the problem.
You may need to reinstall the printer, if nothing else works. Be sure you have the printer’s installation software at hand before you begin! Installation may require the appropriate Windows CD
for the system you are working on, so find it, too.
Printers can often be installed using the Printer Wizard. Click Start > Settings > Printers. First,
highlight the printer you are having problems with, and press the Delete key. This will remove
the printer. Restart the computer, open the Printers window again, and click the Add Printer icon
to open the Add Printer Wizard. Select Local Printer if the printer cable is connected directly to
your computer, or Network Printer if it is accessed through the network. Follow the steps to add
the printer. When it asks for the manufacturer and model of your printer, put the floppy disk or
CD into the drive and click the “Have Disk…” button.
Verify that the wizard is looking in the correct drive for the information (A:\ for a floppy disk, often but not
always D:\ for the CD-ROM drive). Complete the installation, and print a test page at the end.
You may get a message during this installation procedure that informs you that the printer must be installed
from the manufacturer’s software, and the wizard will close. Put the CD in the drive and the program should
run automatically. Follow the instructions to install the printer directly from the CD.
Error Messages and Documentation
We are now entering perhaps the most dreaded aspect of computing... the blue screen of death, frozen
computer work-stations, popping monitors, intermittent lockups and the dreaded puff of smoke! Yes folks,
we have finally arrived at what you came for and this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to your solutions, so sit back, relax and take it all in... who knows, this may be your lucky day and you will be able to
leave with an answer to one of those pesky questions you have had for a long time!
First Line of Defense
Documentation of your error messages and restarting your computer are perhaps two of the most crucial
aspects of PC troubleshooting. Document everything.... the date, time, computer you are using, error message received, what you were doing when the error occurred, if you just installed any new software and if
you did what was it, did you just apply any operating system (O.S.) patches, have you opened any e-mail
attachments and so on. The more information you can arm yourself with the better.
Once you have a detailed account of what is happening, shut down your computer and restart it. Some
computers may be totally locked up so your only option is to shut it off totally and/or unplug it and restart.
[please only do this final option on a server as a last resort!] Once the computer restarts note any error
messages that may occur. If the system reboots with nothing more than the "windows was improperly
shutdown" message, retrace your steps and see if you can recreate your problem. If the problem does not
pop up again the reboot most likely resolved your issue. However, keep your documentation of this issue
in a troubleshooting log book for future reference.
Programs Freezing
Most likely you have had a computer program freeze up on you. One day you were sitting there at your
desk typing away on a document or working in some other program and at the click of a mouse or push of
a key the program stops. Nothing you do will bring it back. Hopefully you have been using the practice of
"save often" as you will loose whatever data you had entered after you last saved. Listed below I have outlined the steps that should get you going again.
Steps to end a program that no longer responds:
1. Press and hold the Control + Alt + Delete keys, then release.
2. A Close Program dialog box will appear.
3. Left click once on the program that is not responding
4. Left click on End Task.
Step 5 is only a precautionary step... it's not needed, but I highly recommend it.
5. Save all other open programs that you might have been working on, close them and reboot your PC.
Some words of wisdom
1. You may have to repeat the above steps many times to shut down the program that has froze.
2. Pressing Control + Alt + Delete twice in a row quickly will reboot your computer. Please note that if you
do this you will lose information in the programs you have running on that computer unless you had
saved them.
3. If all else fails and you can not get your program to end or if your computer locks up you have no other
choice than to reset or restart the computer.
Crash Recovery, dealing with the Blue Screen of Death [BSOD]
If you’ve ever used Windows, chances are you’ve experienced the lovely shade of blue associated with
the famous Windows Stop Error of “Blue Screen of Death”. Although this error occurs less frequently in
the newer operating systems, this error occurs whenever Windows senses a software, hardware, or
driver error which will not allow it to continue operating properly.
Often if you’re lucky the problem will resolve itself with a simple reboot and will go away. More typically
the BSOD is a signal of much perspiration and frustration and will hang around and bother you until you
nail down the problem that is causing it.
For those lucky enough to have never seen this lovely shade of blue….
Once again, the BSOD occurs when Windows detects a problem or error from which it cannot recover.
The operating system halts and throws diagnostic information displayed on the blue screen, much of
which is nonsense to the average person and even most pc techs. In Windows XP all stop errors are
numbered according to the circumstances that caused the error. You can then look up the number and
use the information gathered to begin troubleshooting the problem.
Reading the BSOD
A typical BSOD stop error like the one above can be divided into three parts, and in Windows XP actually displays some helpful information and some clues to why the error occurred.
In this diagram the bugcheck information shows the number of the stop error (the long hexadecimal
number after the word STOP:) and then a more friendly text based name for the stop error. In this case
The second section, ‘recommended user action,” is pretty generic and contains advice for the user on
possible steps to begin troubleshooting. This information tends to be the same for every BSOD stop error
although the main advice “try restarting your computer” is really the best possible first step to take.
The third section “driver information” may contain some very important information. If an actual driver is
associated with the stop error it will be listed here. This can give you something to work on in the case of
a reoccurring error.
Once again, these errors can be caused by incompatible software, or incompatible device drivers and
Fortunately with Windows XP and Windows ME there is a simple way to troubleshoot a stop error without
having to be familiar with all of the tech language they throw at you on the BSOD.
Troubleshooting Software and Driver BSOD stop messages
Boot your computer up in safe mode (tapping the F8 key while your computer starts up). One of the first
things you should do after you boot up in safe mode is to do a virus scan and a spyware scan. Everyone
should have antivirus and anti-spyware on their computers as there are very good programs available to
download for free from grisoft.com (AVG antivirus free edition) and lavasoft.com (ad-aware). If anything
was found and eliminated on any of the scans, do a start, shutdown, and attempt to start Windows normally.
If this does no help, boot back up into safe mode. The next step is to use the built in utility in Windows ME
and Windows XP called “System Restore”. A diagram of the system restore window is below:
System Restore - continued
System restore works by creating restore points whenever you install new software, new hardware, or
new device drivers. To use the system restore utility go to: Start / All Programs / Accessories / System
Tools / System Restore.
This utility gives you the option to restore your computer back to a date of a known good configuration.
It works in the background. All you have to do is to start the utility. The catch to system restore is that
you have to have the utility turned on
before you can use it. In today's PC configurations with mega gigabyte hard drives there isn’t a good
reason to have system restore turned off. System restore reserves part of your hard drive space to create restore points anytime there is a major configuration change with your PC. However, the space it
uses is minute and can save you a lot of headache when you have problems so it is worth it to have it
If system restore does not correct your problem the only way to resolve it is to manually troubleshoot
the problem.
1. Stay calm.
2. Make backups regularly.
3. Expect problems from time to time.
4. Have a current inventory. [Box up/Label documentation/disks/drivers/Licenses]
5. Close all programs and restart before trying anything else.
6. Verify everything is connected before calling for assistance.
7. Document your error messages and problems.
8. Exercise patience.
9. Narrow down the problem by the process of elimination.
10. Know when to stop [if you are getting in over your head].
11. Know who to call if you can't solve it.
12. Walk away from the problem for a short time.
13. Research your item before buying it.
How Operating Systems Work
If you have a computer, then you have heard about operating systems. Any desktop or laptop
PC that you buy normally comes pre-loaded with Windows XP. Macintosh computers come preloaded with OS X. Many corporate servers use the Linux or UNIX operating systems. The operating system (OS) is the first thing loaded onto the computer -- without the operating system, a
computer is useless.
More recently, operating systems have started to pop up in smaller computers as well. If you like
to tinker with electronic devices, you are probably pleased that operating systems can now be
found on many of the devices we use every day, from cell phones to wireless access points. The
computers used in these little devices have gotten so powerful that they can now actually run an
operating system and applications. The computer in a typical modern cell phone is now more
powerful than a desktop computer from 20 years ago, so this progression makes sense and is a
natural development. In any device that has an operating system, there's usually a way to make
changes to how the device works. This is far from a happy accident; one of the reasons operating
systems are made out of portable code rather than permanent physical circuits is so that they can
be changed or modified without having to scrap the whole device.
For a desktop computer user, this means you can add a new security update, system patch, new
application or often even a new operating system entirely rather than junk your computer and start
again with a new one when you need to make a change. As long as you understand how an operating system works and know how to get at it, you can in many cases change some of the ways it
behaves. And, it's as true of your cell phone as it is of your computer.
The purpose of an operating system is to organize and control hardware and software so that the
device it lives in behaves in a flexible but predictable way. In this article, we'll tell you what a piece
of software must do to be called an operating system, show you how the operating system in your
desktop computer works and give you some examples of how to take control of the other operating systems around you.
All desktop computers have operating systems. The most common are the Windows family of operating systems developed by Microsoft, the Macintosh operating systems developed by Apple and
the UNIX family of operating systems (which have been developed by a whole history of individuals, corporations and collaborators). There are hundreds of other operating systems available for
special-purpose applications, including specializations for mainframes, robotics, manufacturing,
real-time control systems and so on.
At the simplest level, an operating system does two things:
1. It manages the hardware and software resources of the system. In a desktop computer,
these re
sources include such things as the processor, memory, disk space, etc. (On a
cell phone, they include the keypad, the screen, the address book, the phone dialer, the battery and the network connection.)
2. It provides a stable, consistent way for applications to deal with the hardware without
having to know all the details of the hardware.
The first task, managing the hardware and software resources, is very important, as various programs and input methods compete for the attention of the central processing unit (CPU) and
demand memory, storage and input/output (I/O) bandwidth for their own purposes. In this capacity, the operating system plays the role of the good parent, making sure that each application gets
the necessary resources while playing nicely with all the other applications, as well as husbanding
the limited capacity of the system to the greatest good of all the users and applications.
The second task, providing a consistent application interface, is especially important if there is to
be more than one of a particular type of computer using the operating system, or if the hardware
making up the computer is ever open to change. A consistent application program interface
(API) allows a software developer to write an application on one computer and have a high level of
confidence that it will run on another computer of the same type, even if the amount of memory or
the quantity of storage is different on the two machines.
Even if a particular computer is unique, an operating system can ensure that applications continue
to run when hardware upgrades and updates occur. This is because the operating system and not
the application is charged with managing the hardware and the distribution of its resources. One of
the challenges facing developers is keeping their operating systems flexible enough to run hardware from the thousands of vendors manufacturing computer equipment. Today's systems can accommodate thousands of different printers, disk drives and special peripherals in any possible
The operating system's tasks, in the most general sense, fall into three categories:
Processor management
Memory management
Device management
Processor Management
The heart of managing the processor comes down to two related issues:
 Ensuring that each process and application receives enough of the processor's time to function
 Using as many processor cycles for real work as is possible
Memory Storage and Management
When an operating system manages the computer's memory, there are two broad tasks to be accomplished:
1. Each process must have enough memory in which to execute, and it can neither run into the memory
space of another process nor be run into by another process.
2. The different types of memory in the system must be used properly so that each process can run
most effectively. The first task requires the operating system to set up memory boundaries for types
of software and for individual applications.
Device Management
The path between the operating system and virtually all hardware not on the computer's motherboard
goes through a special program called a driver. Much of a driver's function is to be the translator between
the electrical signals of the hardware subsystems and the high-level programming languages of the operating system and application programs. Drivers take data that the operating system has defined as a file
and translate them into streams of bits placed in specific locations on storage devices, or a series of laser
pulses in a printer.
Because there are such wide differences in the hardware controlled through drivers, there are differences
in the way that the driver programs function, but most are run when the device is required, and function
much the same as any other process. The operating system will frequently assign high-priority blocks to
drivers so that the hardware resource can be released and readied for further use as quickly as possible.
One reason that drivers are separate from the operating system is so that new functions can be added to
the driver -- and thus to the hardware subsystems -- without requiring the operating system itself to be
modified, recompiled and redistributed. Through the development of new hardware device drivers, development often performed or paid for by the manufacturer of the subsystems rather than the publisher of the
operating system, input/output capabilities of the overall system can be greatly enhanced.
Memory vs. Hard Drives
From a troubleshooting standpoint there are still those who are confused about the differences and the role of
the hard drive and memory in a computer.
The hard drive is the place where your files are physically written to and where your data and software installations stay until they are physically deleted or removed. Below are two pictures of hard drives.
Internal hard drive
External hard drive
Memory or RAM (Random Access Memory) is a chip that is inside your computer case that acts sort of like a traffic
manager. RAM eliminates the need to swap programs in and out. When you open a program, RAM allocates enough space in memory so that your application doesn’t need to keep going back to the hard drive to retrieve information.
Below is a picture of a random access memory chip.
Types of processors
Most everyone is familiar with the different brands of computers. HP, Dell, IBM, Gateway, and Apple
are just a few of the brand names available to purchase. There are also PC’s that are called clones
that are built by local PC retailers. While these machines may operate normally most of the time,
sometimes they can be the root of a problem you are having.
Basically a clone uses the same parts as a whole that go into most any PC you can buy. The difference is that most shops building these PC’s are probably going to use the most least expensive
parts that may not work the best together in the whole process of making the PC work.
Most people will work with three types of processors.
1. Intel - 286, 386, 486, Pentium, Pentium I, Pentium II, Celeron, Pentium III, Pentium IV, Dual Core
2. AMD - AM286, AM386, AM486, AM5x86, K5, K^, Athlon, Athlon 64
3. Macintosh - Motorola 68000, 68020, 68030, 68040, PowerPC, PowerPC G3, PowerPC G4,
PowerPC G5, Intel Core, Intel Core2
Processor Speed
From Mhz to Ghz.
The Intel chips are running at over 3.46 Ghz now. With the increased speed you need increased
cooling capacity to keep the processor from overheating.
Intel Dual Core chip
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