Getting Help with Hardware

The Hardware Guide

Getting Help with Hardware

Consider the components found in a PC, among them the power supply and fan, motherboard, memory, hard drives and floppy drives, video card, modem, sound card, CD-ROM, parallel and serial ports, and drive controller. Then there are the peripherals such as the keyboard, mouse, monitor, printer, scanner, and joystick, to name a few. With so many components, there are ample opportunities for problems to occur.


Simple Solutions First

At one time or another, most of us have been stumped by an apparently catastrophic computer glitch, only to have another user end the crisis with a few clicks of the keys or the throw of a switch. Even experienced users sometimes overlook the simple solutions and immediately begin taking more drastic measures. Any user--novice or expert--is better off starting with basic diagnostic procedures that take only a minute or two before going on to more exotic efforts. Remember two simple solutions before you begin dissecting your computer:

Many hardware problems are the result of incorrect setup or settings.

Sometimes a single-click or a reboot will solve a seemingly catastrophic problem.

The following sections discuss each of these approaches in more detail.

CAUTION: Do not open up your computer's power supply or monitor. Both can store enough energy to hurt or even kill you. Besides, there's little the average user can do to repair either of these components. Power supplies are inexpensive and normally are replaced when they fail. If you have a problem with your monitor, and reading the manual doesn't suggest a solution and the cables are firmly seated, take it to an authorized repair facility.

Getting the Settings Right

The best way to prevent annoying hardware problems from developing is to be sure the hardware is set up properly when you install it. While serious hardware problems--those where the hardware is damaged and in need of repair or replacement--can crop up occasionally, most hardware problems are related to improper settings that don't allow components to work together smoothly. These problems often occur when you make changes to the system's hardware. If you incorrectly install a new component or change a hardware setting, your well- behaved computer can become a monster.

A couple of quick tips for avoiding newly installed hardware problems:

Read up on the system or component before you buy it. In particular, read the product reviews in computer magazines. These are good places to find out about a system's quirks or nonstandard design that can lead to hardware conflicts down the road. You can also find these product reviews on the Internet at such sites as ZDNet (, C|Net (, and TechWeb (http://www.

If you are installing a new component, read the manual first. Reading manuals on motherboards, add-in boards, or CD-ROMs may be like reading a foreign language, but they're better than hours of guessing. The more you familiarize yourself with the terminology in these manuals, the easier it is to diagnose and solve problems as they arise.

TIP: Experienced users save the boxes and packing materials for their equipment, in case it has to be shipped back to the manufacturer.

Such components as motherboards, hard drives, and CD-ROMs use jumpers and DIP switches  that must be set correctly to work with the other equipment in your system. On a new computer the manufacturer will set the jumpers, although sometimes an incorrect setting may be overlooked, causing glitches. Or, in adding a new device to your system--for example, if you add a second hard drive to your computer--you may set some jumpers incorrectly, and the machine can't detect the drive.

How do you know which jumpers or DIP switch settings to use? Start with the manuals for your motherboard and the component. These will show the proper settings for most circumstances.


Avoiding Problems with Device Drivers

Device drivers are another frequent source of hardware foul-ups. A device driver is a software program that acts as an interface between software and hardware (or between two software programs). Video display drivers and printer drivers are among those that most commonly cause frustration for new users. New users often aren't aware that drivers are necessary for these and other components to work, so they think they have a catastrophe on their hands when the video goes haywire, or when the printer doesn't work correctly.

All the drivers you'll ever need aren't automatically installed when you set up Windows 95. You may have to manually install driver upgrades or reinstall drivers if the driver files have been corrupted. You can change device drivers by way of the Add New Hardware Wizard or the Device Manager.

Most devices requiring drivers come with a disk that has the necessary drivers on it. However, if you need a driver, you can quickly find it on the Internet. Go to the Windows Sources page at and choose DriverFinder to search for the driver for the component you're using. Or, go to the device manufacturer's Web site.


Dealing with Interrupt Conflicts (IRQ)

Interrupt (IRQ) conflicts are another hardware problem that has wasted millions of man hours of effort. When a component needs a chunk of time from the computer's processor, it sends out its request on an interrupt line. Each device has its own interrupt, but there are a limited number of IRQs available on a PC. If two devices are competing for the same interrupt, conflicts can develop. As you cram your system with more devices, juggling hard