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article imageWhen your PC quits: Tips for surviving computer meltdowns

By Sascha Borree and Jay Dougherty     Jul 11, 2000 in Technology
Hamburg (dpa) - It's every PC user's worst nightmare: The monitor goes
dark,
and the system won't respond to anything you try. It's a system
crash.
It's easy to forget PCs consists of dozens of components and parts - each
of
which can cause a crash - until, that is, the familiar keystrokes and mouse
clicks no longer work.
But what can be done in the event of a system meltdown?
An overall rule of thumb is this: Don't trust that your PC will always work
flawlessly. Instead, prepare for a failure as though one is inevitable (which
it is).
--- Virus alert: You're at risk
Primary causes of much computer trouble, for example, are viruses,
possibly
introduced from a floppy disk or the Internet. Anti-virus software can help
protect a system from such attacks.
"Just remember that an older virus program doesn't really offer protection
from
a newer virus," says Hamburg-based virus expert Ulrich Boenkemeyer.
Anti-virus
programs need to be updated constantly, Boenkemeyer says, through
downloads
from the Internet, for example.
--- Back it up
"Data security should also be a consideration," Boenkemeyer advises.
Important
information should be backed up to external media, such as re-writeable
CD-
ROMs, floppy disks, or ZIP disks.
If you do experience a crash, stay calm. It may not be necessary to contact
a
dealer or a repair shop, says computer journalist Florian Schuster. "Many
problems can be solved without professional help. Usually friends or
colleagues
can offer a solution."
--- Hardware or software?
In the event of a system catastrophe, the first thing to determine is
whether
the hardware or the software is causing the crash. "If the screen remains
black, the problem is usually caused by the hardware," says
Schuster.
In such cases, the computer itself offers an initial diagnosis: "A series of
beeps after switching the computer on sometimes indicates which
component is
experiencing a problem," Schuster says. The meaning associated with
different
numbers of beeps can usually be found in the computer's
manual.
There are several Web sites that provide you with a good overview of
computer "beep codes" and what they represent. One is hosted by
U.S.-based PC
Magazine, at
www.zdnet.com/pcmag/pctech/content/solutions/hw1616a.htm.
>
A problem with software, on the other hand, often causes Windows to
boot up in
so-called "safe mode," an environment which leaves out many of the
device
drivers necessary to utilize your computer as you want to. Safe mode is
designed to allow users to fix possible problems. If Windows goes into
safe
mode after you've installed a new program, it's a sure sign that something
went
awry during the installation. Use the opportunity to remove the
newly-installed
program.
--- When all else fails
But what can you do when all else fails? The Internet, magazines, or
books can
help resolve many problems. It may be possible to resolve configuration
errors
with the help of hotlines, offered by many computer magazines and
manufacturers. But these calls can be expensive.
As a last resort, a repair service may be your only choice. "Computer
emergency
services are usually available around the clock, even on weekends," says
Boenkemeyer. "But use caution," Florian Schuster advises. "Anyone can
offer
this service. There is no guarantee of quality."
As with TV repair services, for example, there may be some shops that bill
for
a few work hours for simply plugging in a peripheral that became
loose.
"You can never be completely sure," Boenkemeyer admits. "Try to get
recommendations from your friends to find a shop that will do a good job,
and
be sure to find out in advance what a repairman charges."
More about Meltdowns, System crash, Freeze
 
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