Even the best of computers and other electronic gear hiccups occasionally. You want to save your electronics, but you don’t want to throw good money after bad with expensive new parts or paid support. Before you junk that old gear, here are some tips for spending ten or twenty minutes addressing the issue before asking yourself the “repair or replace” question.
While there’s a lot that we as end users can’t or shouldn’t do — or even attempt — to fix them, there’s still often a fair number of things we can try, and problem we can fix or otherwise make go away.
This isn’t new to computers. If you’re old enough and have lived in cold climates, you may remember hearing your car fail to start, instead making an odd clicking sound — which, if you were knowledgeable and lucky — could be fixed quickly with a few whacks of a hammer, wrench or other solid object. How? If the problem was that the solenoid (relay switch) on the starter motor had frozen stuck, whacking it often unstuck it. (For dramatic effect when helping a friend, you would tell them to turn the key before you strike.)
With electronics, physical force is rarely the solution. Instead, there’s other things to try — obvious things in theory, but easy to lose track of if you haven’t had to do it to a given device lately.
1.) Check the power, power cord, and power switches.
Is the power cord fully plugged in at both ends? For example, the router in my home office is placed such that it’s easy to unseat the power cord and not notice — which in turn whacks wireless connectivity.
Is the wall outlet on? Some are connected to light switches; it’s easy to forget this. Check by plugging in a radio or light or something.
Are all the power switches on the device on? Many computers, printers, and displays have a power rocker-switch in the back, where it isn’t visible. This includes many computers that have a front-side on switch.
Ditto for any intermediary UPSs, surge protectors or power strips — are they plugged in and powered on? Again, check using a light or radio or some other device.
2.) Check the fuses. (More common with stereo and home theater gear.)
This may involve opening up the chassis — don’t do this if you don’t know how to do it safely! And make sure you use the correct fuse to replace one that you think has blown.
3.) For battery-powered devices, check the battery.
If you have a spare that you know has a charge, try that. If you can recharge the battery, try that.
Also, if you can, take the battery out and look at the battery contacts. If they’ve become corroded (typically from a leaky battery), for example, have green or white powdery gunk on them, clean the contact off (carefully).
4.) Check all the non-power cables.
It’s easy for a cable to have come loose — or be damaged. Unplug and replug them. If everything was previously working, the odds are low that a cable has gone bad, but keep this possibility in mind if other fixes don’t work. And sometimes it’s one of the connectors.
5.) Power device(s) off, wait 30 seconds, and reboot.
This works astonishingly often. As my friend and colleague Michael Dortch said years ago, “If rebooting fixes it, it wasn’t a problem.”
6.) For Windows devices, try booting to SAFE MODE.
Sometimes you need to reboot several times, first two or three times to Safe Mode, and then one or two times to regular mode. From SAFE MODE, you may then want to try rolling back to a previous RESTORE POINT.
Here are some other quick tips that I have found helpful:
- For devices with a backup battery you can access, check, and if possible and necessary, replace.
- For devices with a BIOS, boot to the BIOS, and check the configuration.
- For computers, if it boots but you can’t use it, try a spare keyboard and mouse, if you have any (which you ought to).
- For WiFi problems, if there’s a physical switch on your device, check that. Either way, also check the settings in the BIOS.
- Leave the device alone for an hour or two.
And of course, invest the money or effort to have a professional look at it. Often, like with cars, it will work fine when you try to demonstrate the problem to somebody else.