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Troubleshooting Hardware and Performance

This tutorial discusses the components of your computer and addresses some common problems and their solutions. Additionally, you'll find information for troubleshooting Bluetooth connectivity. Finally, we provide information for troubleshooting general performance issues.

First Aid for Troubleshooting Hardware

Whenever you have a hardware problem that's causing a device to misbehave or not work at all, finding an updated driver is usually your best bet. But before you do that, you may want to try Windows' built-in troubleshooting tools to see if they can resolve the problem.

To get help on programs, hardware, and drivers, open the Troubleshooting applet from the Control Panel. After you have the applet open, you can click on a number of categories. Each of the items in this Control Panel applet provides a troubleshooting wizard that can automatically search for, detect, and potentially fix problems. The applet offers the following groups:

  • Programs:
    Launch the Program Compatibility Troubleshooter, which enables you to apply settings to programs to make them run as if they were running in an earlier version of Windows. For example, you can potentially run a Windows XP program under Windows 10 by configuring its compatibility settings for Windows XP. This troubleshooting group also provides help for Microsoft Edge issues, printer issues, and Media Player problems.
  • Hardware and Sound:
    Use the Hardware and Sound item to scan for hardware changes and troubleshoot problems with general devices, printers, network adapters, and audio devices.
  • Network and Internet:
    Troubleshoot problems connecting to the Internet or accessing shared files and folders on a local area network. Also troubleshoot HomeGroup, incoming network connections, and DirectAccess.
  • System and Security:
    Troubleshoot problems with Windows Update, modify power settings, check for computer performance issues, and run maintenance tasks, including cleaning up unused files and shortcuts. Also, check search and indexing problems, and adjust performance settings.

The Troubleshooting applet lists only some of the items for each category. Click the group name (such as Hardware and Sound or Network and Internet) to see all the troubleshooting tools for that category.

An alternative is to troubleshoot from the hardware device's Properties dialog box in Device Manager. To open Device Manager, press Windows+X and click Device Manager. You also can use Cortana to open it by typing dev and then clicking Device Manager. In Device Manager, follow these steps:

  1. Right-click the name of the device that's causing problems and choose Properties.
  2. If the device shows an error in the Device Manager, use that information to begin troubleshooting. For example, if Device Manager indicates that no driver is installed, try installing or reinstalling the device's driver.
  3. If necessary, use the options on the Driver tab to reinstall the drivers for the device. You can also disable the device from this tab and eliminate potential conflicts with other devices.
  4. On the Resources tab, check for a conflict message under Conflicting Device List and resolve problems by reassigning resources to the conflicting devices, or by disabling one of them. Note that not all hardware devices have a Resources tab.
If you've made a hardware change but Windows hasn't noticed the change, open Device Manager and choose Action Scan for Hardware Changes to have Windows rescan the system.

Dealing with Error Messages

Error messages come in all forms, from simple warnings to the stop errors and the blue screen of death, which causes the computer to stop dead in its tracks. If you were a user of Windows 8.1, you more than likely saw a decrease in the number of blue screen events. In Windows 10, that same pattern will more than likely follow - Windows 10 seems to be a stable operating system.

The more serious errors are often accompanied by one or more of the following pieces of information:

  • An error number:
    An error number is often a hexadecimal number in the format 0x00000xxx, where the xxx can be any numbers in the message.
  • Symbolic error name:
    Symbolic error names are usually shown in all uppercase with underlines between words, such as PAGE_FAULT_IN_NONPAGED_AREA.
  • Driver details:
    If a device driver caused the problem, you may see a filename with a .sys extension in the error message.
  • Troubleshooting info:
    Some errors have their own built-in troubleshooting advice or a Help button. Use that information to learn more about what went wrong.

Whenever you get an error message about a problem that you can't solve by reading the advice presented on the screen, go to http://support.microsoft.com. Search there for the error number, the symbolic error name, the driver name, or some combination of words in the text of the error message.

If searching Microsoft's support site doesn't do the trick, consider searching the Internet using Google or Bing. You never know - someone else may have had the same problem and posted the solution. When using a search engine, provide as much detail as possible to get the best results.

A Google search often turns up pages on Microsoft's support site that can be difficult to find when searching at the Microsoft site. You can include "site:support.microsoft.com" in the search criteria in Google to help narrow your search results to the Microsoft Support site.

Performing a Clean Boot

The biggest problem with hardware errors is that even a tiny error can have seemingly catastrophic results, such as suddenly shutting down the system and making a restart difficult. Clean booting can help with software problems that prevent the computer from starting normally or cause frequent errors.

Not for the technologically challenged, this procedure is best left to more experienced users who can use it to diagnose the source of a problem that prevents the computer from starting normally. The procedure for performing a clean boot is as follows:

A clean boot is not the same as a clean install. During a clean boot, you may temporarily lose some normal functionality. But after you perform a normal startup, you should regain access to all your programs and documents, and full functionality.
  1. Close all open programs and save any work in progress.
  2. At the Windows desktop, press Windows+X, click Run, and enter msconfig.
  3. The System Configuration tool opens.
  4. On the General tab, choose Selective Startup and make sure the Load Startup Items check box is cleared.
  5. Click the Services tab.
  6. Select Hide All Microsoft Services and click the Disable All button.
  7. Click OK.
  8. Click the Restart button.

To return to normal startup after diagnosis, open the System Configuration tool. On the Services tab, click Enable All. On the General tab, choose Normal Startup and click OK.

Using the System Recovery Options

For more severe problems that require repairing an existing Windows 10 installation, troubleshooting startup issues, performing system and complete PC restoration, using the Windows Memory Diagnostic Tool, or getting to a command prompt, you need to use the System Recovery Options. This method should be used only by experienced users who can perform such tasks from a command prompt.

To boot from the Windows disk, first make sure that the drive is enabled as a boot device in the BIOS with a higher priority than any hard drives. Insert the Windows disk into the drive. Restart the computer and follow these steps:

  1. During the POST, watch for the Press Any Key to Boot From CD or DVD prompt, and press a key.
  2. After all files load from the disk, click the Next button on the page that is prompting for language, currency, and keyboard type.
  3. On the next page, click the Repair Your Computer link near the bottom of the page.
  4. On the resulting page, choose Troubleshoot, reset your PC, or see advanced options.
  5. Windows opens the System Recovery Options dialog box, which looks for an existing installation of Windows 10. If your system requires special hard drive controller drivers, you can click the Load Drivers button so your installation of Windows 10 can be located. If you see your version of Windows 10 in the list box, select it and click the Next button.
  6. The next window shows all your options for recovery.

The Troubleshooting/Advanced window provides troubleshooting tools based on your set of circumstances:

  • Startup Repair:
    Use this option if your system won't start. This may happen for any number of reasons, including a bad or misconfigured driver, an application that attempts to start at startup but causes the system to hang, or a faulty piece of hardware.
  • System Restore:
    System Restore restores to a designated restore point. By default, Windows makes restore points of your computer that store the state of your system. You can choose a restore point for your system from a previous day when you know your system was performing correctly. The System Restore option doesn't alter any of your personal data or documents.
  • System Image Recovery:
    For this feature to work, you need to have done a backup in the past. Windows searches hard drives and DVDs for valid backups from which to restore.
  • Windows Memory Diagnostic:
    Some of the issues you are experiencing may be the result of memory problems. Windows Memory Diagnostic Tool performs tests against the RAM in your system to check for problems. To run this tool, click the link, which prompts you to restart your computer now and check for problems or to check for problems the next time you restart.
  • Command Prompt:
    The Command Prompt option is for experienced users who need to access the file system and run commands specific to Windows 10. Choose this option only if you're sure you need it.

When you're finished using the System Recovery Options, you can click either Restart or Exit to exit. For additional information on System Recovery Options, use Help and Support and search on "System Recovery Options."

Troubleshooting Performance Problems

This section covers basic troubleshooting in terms of using Task Manager and Control Panel tools to monitor and troubleshoot performance. Keep in mind that hardware and software go hand in hand, so performance problems can be caused by either one. For example, a device that is malfunctioning or improperly configured can lead to performance problems. Likewise, having too many programs running at one time can eat up valuable memory and processor time, also foiling performance. So, don't assume that performance problems are always caused by hardware or software - the problem may well be one, the other, or both.

If your CPU Usage chart consistently runs at a high percentage in Task Manager, it may point to the running of two or more firewalls. Most likely, you need to disable and remove any third-party firewalls, or disable the built-in Windows Firewall.

Also, scan your system for viruses, adware, and other malware, and remove all that you can find to eliminate their resource consumption.

If neither of the previous suggestions fixes your problem, you may need to see if an individual process is keeping your system overly busy. To do this, use one of these methods to start Task Manager:

  • With Windows running and while logged on to the computer, press Ctrl+Alt+Del and click Start Task Manager.
  • Press Windows+X, click Run, and type taskmgr to locate and start Task Manager.
  • Right-click the taskbar and click Start Task Manager.

Once you're in Task Manager, click More Details, and select the Processes tab. Next, sort the CPU column. Just click the CPU column to sort by CPU utilization.

If a task is spiking CPU utilization but not staying at a consistently high rate, first identify the processes by sorting by CPU. Then, when you've determined which processes are using the most CPU time, sort by process name to watch how those processes are using the CPU.

You should be able to identify the process that is using the majority of your CPU. You have a couple of options at this point:

  • Use the name of the process under the Name column to search the Internet to see if the process is a valid file or a potential virus. If it is a virus of some form, you need to update your virus definitions and rerun your virus scan. If it does not appear to be a virus, contact the software vendor for help troubleshooting the problem.
  • In the short term, you can right-click the process and choose End Task. Sometimes applications run into situations the developer never imagined and the process gets stuck in a loop, which taxes the CPU. Restarting the application resets the process, and with any luck, you'll avoid the circumstances that put the application in a loop.