Computer Service Information

Some Computer Problem Maxims

by Thomas R. Lacey, Ph.D. (:all rights preserved for posterity:)

1. "The solution to all problems is MORE MEMORY." This is actually true about half of the time. Many computer problems are caused by bottlenecks in memory and or hard disk space. Adding a lot of RAM to an old computer makes it go surprisingly fast.

2. "Never turn off your computer!" This is NOT really a good idea. Power supply fans, disk drive motors, and monitors (a big light bulb) will wear out faster, not to mention all the dust that gets sucked in while the computer is on. It also uses more electricity needlessly. Turn it off at the end of the day. If you don't want the computer to control your life, turn it off sooner.

3. "Always unplug your modem when not in use." This is good advice. Most lightning damage comes through the modem, which should only be plugged in while you are using it. Also use a surge protector with a modem protector on it.

4. "It couldn't be lightning, I have a surge protector." False. Surge protectors are no protection when lightning hits your house or even a tree in the yard. It can travel through a window and get picked up by your cables. Locate your computer away from windows that have tall trees next to them. Most often, lightning either comes through the modem line, which is usually not protected, or through a window. Major damage occurs mostly when your house gets a direct hit. Even if you have a modem surge protector, when you unplug your computer, the modem surge protector stops working, so always unplug the modem when not in use!

5. "Computers become obsolete too fast." Yes, but some parts do not become obsolete fast enough. The 1.44 floppy disk drive has hung around too long. CD ROM drives are still too slow for anything really useful except loading programs. Modems are way too slow, and the NET, forget it. Some things people tend to keep a while are monitors (so buy at least a 15" if you can afford it) and printers. Don't buy a skimpy or outdated printer to save a few dollars. Hard drives can often be re-used as a backup device with a removal tray. System boards can live longer if you pump enough RAM into them. Make a distinction between mature and emerging technologies. If you spend a lot of money on emerging technologies, you will see the most rapid depreciation. A lot of things are fairly mature and inexpensive now, such as scanners, video cards, and TV cards. Network adaptors are very inexpensive. And the Windows 98 operating system is a big improvement because it integrates the various hardware devices better.

6. "Windows 98 has problems." Everything and everybody has problems. But Windows 98 is a big improvement over Windows 95. It has fixed a lot of problems for people. Whenver a new operating system comes out there are problems in transition, but eventually every one (or at least almost everyone) moves to it. Often, it is out of necessity. In this case it is to fix the bugs and inadequacies in 95. Windows 95 was always a buggy operating system. RIP.

7. "How do I best prevent problems in upgrading to Windows 98?" If your system is fairly recent and runs Windows 95 without any problems, you can probably buy the upgrade and install it without much hassle. Make sure you have no hardware problems first. If your system is older, you probably lack sufficient hard disk space and/or enough RAM. If you purchase a new hard drive, you can have your dealer install an OEM version for you. The advantage of this is that you no longer need your Windows 95 CD, since the OEM 98 CD is not an upgrade. The disadvantage is that you will need to reinstall all of your windows programs over again, but this may be an advantage too. An upgraded 98 can inherit the problems of an imperfect 95. Your dealer should copy your old data/program files over for you also. The dealer can also check to make sure your system has no hardware problems and/or viruses that will prevent a successful installation. Also make sure you disable any anti-virus any other program running in the background before attempting installation.

8. "Computers need no service except when they break." Not quite. For one thing, there is a little battery in it that needs to be replaced when the clock starts to run slow. Wait too long and you lose your CMOS settings. Older computers use rechargeable batteries that wear down and leak, particularly if the computer is not used for a few months. Battery leakage is the major cause of death old system boards. CPU and power supply fans can get clogged with dust and stop working. Old hard drives can develop bad sectors. Check this while your drive is still in manufacturer warranty. You should also have them professionally checked for viruses periodically. Many people get viruses even with virus checkers installed.

Tips on Pleasant Computing

1. Turn off your computer when you are through for the day or going out.

2. Unplug your modem line when not using the modem.

3. If you live in a lightning area, unplug everything when not in use.

4. Locate your computer at least 50 feet from the nearest tree.

5. Turn you computer on last and off first. You can then turn everything else on and off with a power strip.

6. If you smoke, go outside to indulge your vice, maybe take a walk too.

7. Vacuum at least once a week to keep excessive dust out of your computer.

8. Keep cats, dogs, and rodents out of the computer room. Cat hairs really clog the fans. You can download screen pets instead.

9. Elevate your monitor to eye level to avoid neck problems.

10. Never stare at the screen during downloads. Glance away periodically to increase your blink rate and keep your eyeballs from drying out. This also decreases eye strain.

11. Save your boxes to pack the computer in and store in the closet during hurricanes and long vacations.

Typical Symptoms And What They Mean

1. No dialtone. First check a phone. Then check to see if your modem cord is plugged in. If still no dialtone, and there was a storm recently, the modem was probably damaged by lightning. Time for a faster one.

2. Computer slows down when accessing a program or file or gives error reading hard disk message. Hard disk has developed one more bad sectors. Run scandisk to verify and watch the screen for slow downs. Maybe time to upgrade or get an RMA number.

3. Won't boot from floppy disk. Usually a dirty or bad floppy disk drive. Swap out another floppy and/or drive to test which is bad.

4. Video gives funny characters on boot. Usually bad video card RAM.

5. Windows 95 crashes repeatedly, giving the same error message. Bugs in Windows 95. Upgrade to Windows 98. If you run your computer continuously click here about the 49.7 day bug in Windows.

6. Windows locks up without any error message. This is a hardware problem. If your RAM worked well before, it is probably NOT RAM. Most of the time, it is the system board.

7. Windows 98 hangs on boot but 95 ran fine. An esoteric system board, CPU, or hard drive problem. Windows 98 does not install properly if you have a hardware problem, even a misconfigured floppy disk drive.

8. No power when turned on. A bad power suppy but sometimes a shorted system board or card.

9. Mouse motion erratic. Dirty mouse rollers.

10. Screen flickers or jumps. Monitor going bad. If over three years old, buy a new one, otherwise send to manufacturer for repair.

11. Clock losing time. Internal battery low. Replace as soon as possible to avoid losing CMOS settings. Buy the new one before replacing the old one. Be careful as it is easy to damage the battery holder or disconnect other cables inside your computer case.


Microsoft FAQ on Y2K
EDS Y2K about-face raises Win 95 doubts

Online Virus Checkers and Utilities

Norton Vital Check
McAfee Virus Clinic

Device Drivers

Windows Drivers

Places to get RMA Numbers

Western Digital RMA Form
Seagate RMA

If you have a Packard Bell

Check a Packard Bell CPU for Y2K Compliance
Packard Bell Tech-Support Form

Modems and Internet

IE5 Companion
Current Internet Status--Problems
Internet Trouble Shooter
56K Links (modem manufacturers)
Harmony Modems
Micrsoft Security Fixes

Windows "Issue" Fixes

More IE 5.0 Bugs and Fixes
IE5 Security Check
Microspeak: A Bug By Any Other Name
Windows 98 Driver Bugs
49.7 Day Bug Fix
E-mail bug fix for Outlook Express
DOS compatibility mode problems
Large Disks thrown into compatibility mode
Mh32bit.386 Device Driver Causes MS-DOS Compatibility Mode"
Problems with Hard Disk and CD-ROM Drive After Upgrading

For Technicians and Do-It-Your-Selfers

Fix for Windows 95 bug (OSR2,2.1,2.5) with AMD-2 350+
Windows DLL World
Wim's BIOS Page
Intel CPU Identification Utility
Processor News
Techy Site (grain of salt)
Hard Disk Data Recovery Software
Blue-Planet: Hard Drive Specs- All Models
Microsoft News Group Support: Resellers Only
Windows 95 Enhancements
Description of the Ios.log File
Partition Manager (not for the novice)
Road Runner Coast-to-Coast

Useful Software to Download

PC World Internet Tools
For DOS addicts


How do I fix the spelling mistake in my name in Windows 95/98?

This is risky if you do it yourself and are not familiar with the registry. Here is how to do it:

Open the Registry Editor--select Start, Run, type: regedit

Click OK--and navigate your way to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\ SOFTWARE\ Microsoft\ Windows\ CurrentVersion. In the right pane, right-click RegisteredOwner and select Modify. Type the correct information on the Value data line of the Edit String dialog box, and then click OK. Close the Registry Editor, and the new information will now appear in the System Properties dialog box.