To the average computer user, errors and malfunctions are often a mystery. For many electronics consumers, their troubleshooting strategy book stops at turning the computer off and back on again. If this sounds like you, don’t worry—anyone can learn the basics of diagnosing a computer problem. At the least, you know how to identify hardware versus software issues. That way, you’ll know when it’s time to keep troubleshooting and when it’s better to call in a professional.

Hardware vs. Software

Before you can determine the source of your computer’s malady, you should understand the distinction between hardware and software. Hardware refers to your computer’s physical components, such as the processor, motherboard, or memory card. Software, on the other hand, refers to all the “virtual” elements of your computer, such as the programs and applications that you can choose to install, update, and delete. There’s also firmware, but the average user will never have to update or fix firmware concerns.

Hardware glitches are usually easier to identify because they leave physical evidence. In most cases, the component responsible for the malfunction is either broken or overheated. You will have to repair or replace it to solve the problem. Most personal computer hardware components reside within a protective casing that shields them from dust and other harmful elements. However, some problems do still occur despite such protection. To diagnose hardware issues, it may help to familiarize yourself with the most common hardware-related computer malfunctions.

Common Hardware Concerns

  • Damaged Hard Drive– If your hard drive sustains physical damage or runs out of space, it can slow down your computer. But before taking action and buying a replacement, make sure the slowness isn’t due to a virus or running too many applications at once, which are software concerns.
  • Random Restarts– When computers turn off and on at random, it often indicates damage to the graphics card.
  • A Noisy Fan– Does your laptop or desktop sound like it’s working too hard? Most likely, the sound you’re hearing is the fan kicking into overdrive. Luckily, fixing a loud computer fan is pretty straightforward.
  • A Blank Screen– Before assuming that a blank screen indicates a software issue, check to ensure that all connective cables are in place.

Unidentifiable Issues

If you can identify the problem with your device, whether hardware or software related, you may be able to solve the problem yourself with a little time and research. However, some issues require more expertise or spare parts you don’t have readily available. In these situations, tampering with your laptop or desktop will do more harm than good, so you may want to consult a professional.

Nowadays, you can talk to the device manufacturer, find a local repair shop, or hire a computer service company that offers remote or on-site assistance. Just make sure you do your research to find a reputable provider you trust with your device and data. Here are a few things you can do to find the right servicer:

  • Get details on their expertise and make sure they have relevant experience in dealing with such issues.
  • Ask for referrals from people known to you and make sure you go through reviews before hiring the service.
  • Check for the service guarantee. Many companies will not charge you anything if they can’t fix your issue.
  • Verify their credentials and make sure the service provider carries a valid license to offer computer repair services.
  • Make sure they offer hardware as well as software repair services.

Problem Prevention

While there are affordable solutions for many hardware (and software) issues, the best medicine is always prevention. Your laptop or desktop is an investment that requires your regular attention. To preserve your device and keep it in prime condition for as long as possible, be sure to keep up with basic computer maintenance and treat your device with care.

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