How to troubleshoot a buggy system like a pro

There's an art to problem solving, and this article will reveal that art and show you how to troubleshoot a PC like a true geek

By Nishith Rastogi Published Date
16 - Dec - 2013
| Last Updated
16 - Dec - 2013
How to troubleshoot a buggy system like a pro

Here we present a top down organized checklist to guide you in troubleshooting. We'll be using the Worst to Best Case Scenario Methodology for diagnosing of the issues in this workshop.  This means we'll start with the Worst Case of your computer not starting at all to the Best Case where it requires a minor tweak, and all the steps in between. Identify how broken your computer is, and start fixing. A word of advice: even if you're not facing the Worst Case Scenario [the problem], it's strongly recommended to run through the checklist as the problem might be a result of something mentioned in the previous steps. The guide will apply for both laptops and desktops and either of Windows or Linux operating systems.  

A comical yet almost true approach to system troubleshooting


Advanced system settings 

The first thing to do when faced with a malfunctioning system is to calm down; panic won’t help. To reassure you a bit, there is over a 90 per-cent chance that your data is still safe; it's just not accessible to you, right now. Often it might simply be a simple issue of loose connections or an inexpensive piece of broken hardware or a wrong setting.
Let's begin with the worst case scenario.

Your computer doesn’t turn on at all
1.Check the basics: Sounds silly but is you power on? Is the display up? Look for any LED activity lights (power, hard disk, network) and listen for any spinning noises of fan and hard disk. If there are no signs of life then perform the following checks on else skip to the next step.
2. In case of desktop check if the main powers cord is attached to the wall, the switch is on, and also if there is power supply in the socket, try putting some other appliance in there. 
3. For laptops ensure your battery is charged, and the laptop is connected to a charger. Try putting in another battery if you have access to the same or one from a similar model.
4. Check if the reset switch on the front panel from your case is stuck. You can check that by pressing it. If you can’t move it, that means it's stuck, and you need to release it using a small screwdriver. In the worst case you'll need to replace it.
5. If you're on a desktop, try reconnecting all the cables and do a bit of dusting. You won’t believe the number of systems that turn on simply be reassembling and cleaning off all the dust.
If at this point it's still not turning on, it's likely that your SMPS has conked off. You'll need to replace it with new one. 

System turns on, but absolutely no display or switches off immediately
1.    Ensure that your monitor is plugged in and switched on and is working properly. Try connecting your monitor to another device if possible. 
2.  With laptops you're a little out of luck. The error might not be only with the display panel but also the cable that powers it or the graphics card (if nothing at all is displayed)a graphics card error is rare. 
3. Don’t worry, all is not lost yet; you would have noticed your computer beeps once when you boot it, at this point most probably your beeping pattern has changed.
a. Power on the computer or restart it if it's already on.
b. Listen very carefully to the beeps that are being emitted by a small speaker on your motherboard [You don’t need external speakers]
c. You can restart your computer a few times if you couldn’t hear it properly the first time, it's unlikely that by merely restarting a few times you'll make your issue far worse. Of course refrain from doing this if any burning smell or smoke is at play.
d. Note down the exact beep pattern, the points to note are if it was a short beep or long beep, and how often was it repeated. 
e.Now Google for the beep codes of your respective motherboard/BIOS manufacturer. For example for AWARD BIOS (one of the most common one), you can find the beep code listing at
You'll notice that you can find a great deal of information and specific information on your issue.
4.  Often in these scenarios, one typical issue can be solved by resetting the RAM. It's simple to do even on laptops and nearly all manufactures, except Apple. You'll have a simple panel at the back which can be removed to access the RAM. You don’t need any specialized tools, but be sure to keep one barefoot on the ground while handling the RAM to prevent damage by static discharge.
Turns on but doesn’t start booting into OS
This issue is typically encountered where either your Master Boot Record (which tells what to load in BootLoader, refer to BOX 2) is broken or your Boot Loader is broken. This arises in two typical scenarios. One when you're trying to install Windows after installing Linux, and then you find yourself with no way to enter Linux or when you install Linux after installing Windows, and then deleted the Linux partition.  Or if you're simply seeing the dreaded "BootMgr is missing" error, read on. 
1. You want only Windows:
a. For Windows XP, insert your disk. Press ‘R’ to enter the recovery console.  When you reach the command prompt simply enter “fixmbr” let the process finish, reboot the system, remove the disk and voilà it'll start working. 
b.For Windows 7/ Vista, insert your setup/recovery disk. After that, click next through the usual options, select “Repair your computer”. It will then list out your installed Operating System, select the correct one. Click next and from the following menu for choosing a recovery tool, select “Startup Repair”. Let the process finish, reboot your system and remove your disk.  You can also accomplish the same by choosing the command prompt option and simply typing “bootrec /fixboot”
c. In case you don’t have a setup or recovery disk, or your system doesn't have CD drive, then take out your Linux Live Pen Drive [Refer TOOL BOX]. Boot into Linux. Open a Terminal session by Applications > Accessories > Terminal and type in the following
“sudo apt-get install ms-sys”  
Followed by:
“sudo fdisk –l”
Look for something like /dev/sda1  XYZXYZ NTFS at the end of the output and then type:
“sudo ms-sys -m /dev/sda”
Note there is no '1' in the above command, it would be between “sda” or “hda” or “sdb” depending on your system
Reboot the machine, remove your pen drive and you're done.
2. You want both Linux and Windows: 
a.Follow step c from the previous set, but instead type this: 
“sudo fdisk –l”
Figure out the device where linux is installed from “sda”/”hda”/”sdb”
And then type 
“sudo grub-install /dev/XXX”
Where XXX is the above mentioned device name. Reboot your system. 
b.If you're looking for a graphical way, refer to this guide:
System restore 
Starts booting but shuts down 
1. Keep pressing F8 key while the system boots,  to access the startup menu and see if Windows will boot into Safe Mode. If you're able to get into Windows, the problem is most likely with your graphics card drivers, junk applications, or perhaps some spyware applications. Try remembering your recent changes and revert them from here. 
2. Most Linux distributions will also give you a recovery option right at the bootloader (Grub) stage. Try that and then do the same as above.
3. For Windows, if Safe Mode doesn’t work, try using the “Last Known Good Configuration” option. 
4. Since Windows 7, the System Restore tool has become a decently mature tool.  You can access System Restore via the recovery disk as explained above, where instead of “Startup Repair” you can choose “System Restore”. If you don’t have the disc and can access the command prompt from the F8 menu, then log in as administrator and type 
%systemroot%system32restorerstrui.exe  to start system restore.
If at this point your system still doesn’t start, you might need to reinstall the OS in the case of Windows (Don’t worry, your data will still be safe).

Boots into the OS, some hardware not working
In case you have a piece of hardware which was previously working but has now stopped working, try the following:
1. Check that piece of hardware on another machine to see if it's a hardware issue or a software issue. If you lack access to another machine, booting into an Ubuntu Live CD and seeing if the hardware works there can provide a good workaround.
2.     If it works, then it's most probably a driver update issue. Go to Control Panel>Device Manager, then select the malfunctioning device and click on Update Driver. If this doesn’t fix the issue, go to the respective manufacturer's web site, download the latest device driver from there and install it.
Boots into OS, non-optimum performance
1.If you can't find a partition, type Disk Management in the Start menu and explore what the issue is. If you're unable to get to this stage, then you can pop in the Ubuntu Live drive and Open the "Gparted Tool" to investigate.
2.Blue Screen of Death: If you consistently find yourself running into the Blue Screen of Death here's what to do.
a.On Windows 7 or later a consistent BSOD typically indicates a hardware or driver issue. As mentioned above, try updating your drivers. 
b. Run the MemTest86 tool and see if your RAM is performing upto the mark. RAM is often the cause of consistent BSODs.
c. One annoying thing is that often the system restarts without giving you time to note down the error, which you can later Google to get towards a reasonable solution.  For this Right Click on your “My Computer” Icon and select “Properties”, Click on “Advanced System Settings” from the right hand side panel. Click           on “Settings” at bottom in the “Startup and Recovery” area and simply uncheck the “Automatically Restart” box under System Failure. This will give you all the time you need to note down the error.
3. Anti-Virus and spyware:
a.A free antivirus software is a good first line of defence. Install one of them and keep the definitions regularly updated.  
b. Use SuperAntiSpyware & MalwareBytes on a regular basis with updated definitions to keep your system running smooth and trojan-free.
4. Slow startup
a. In the Windows 7 menu, type “msconfig” by clicking on the Start Button, or in an older version, in the run command box. From there select “Startup” in the tab and uncheck all the software you don’t want to start automatically. 
5. Install Soluto for automated application updates and general maintenance.
How does a PC boot?
It is important to understand how your computer starts and what the words BIOS and POST mean. A typical BIOS screen is where you can change some system critical settings. The BIOS, which stands for Basic Input/Output System is already present in the computer and is the first code run by it when switched on. This outputs the first thing you see on your monitor. BIOS now calls the POST, which stands for  Power-On Self-Test. POST is responsible for the identification and initialization of system devices such as the CPU, RAM, video display card, IO devices etc. The BIOS then locates the “Boot Loader” software stored on an attached storage medium or over the network (designated as a 'boot device', and the priority of lookup from HDD, PenDrive, CD-ROM, Network can be changed by the User). The Boot Loader then typically loads the designated (or selected in case of multiple OS) Operating System.
Tools you'll need
Here's a small list of tools that we've mentioned and used in this workshop. Most software will be found on the Digit DVDs, past and present.
Screwdriver Set: If you want to open your desktop cabinet or reseat your laptop RAM you'd need this
Ubuntu Live Drive: Even if you're a Windows user it will be an invaluable tool. It comes pre-bundled with a great partition manager known as "Gparted".  Simply get one from It's recommended to use a USB stick
SuperAntiSpyware and MalWareBytes: Get these from & 
Memtest86 Get it here: 
Windows 7/Vista/XP setup or recovery disk: If you're still using an OS released 12 years ago, consider an upgrade.
BlueScreenView: Available at Will help you a great deal in debugging Blue Screen of Death errors.
Hopefully this guide would help you recover your system in the event of a crash with a little bit of smart Googling, a bit of patience and some common sense. We would like to wind up this guide by iterating the old adage which says, "prevention is better than cure".
Here are a few simple tips for keeping your system well-oiled and preempting crashes. 
Prevention and basic maintenance 
Defragment your system often. 
Keep your Registry clean by using tools like “CCleaner”
Use the built-in “Reliability Monitor” tool in Windows 7 & 8.
Keep backup images of your OS partition from a point where everything was working and updated.  


Nishith RastogiNishith Rastogi