Russ Harvey Consulting - Computer and Internet Services

Preparing for a Service Call

Quick Fixes | Gather Info | Describe the Problem

Before Calling

Before contacting me with a problem, follow these simple steps:

  1. First try these quick fixes (see the sidebar) to see if you can't resolve the issue yourself.
  2. If that doesn't work, you'll need to gather some information about your computer and your problem.
  3. Describe the problem including any error messages and what you were doing before the problem occurred.

Help Options

I provide help desk troubleshooting services via:

  1. phone support;
  2. email support; and
  3. on-site*.

*Onsite help with troubleshooting is available only in the Greater Victoria area.

Describe the Problem

Gather Relevant Information

When you request help with a problem with your computer (whether it is onsite or by phone or email) I need to know about your computer and any software related to the problem.

I'll need details of your computer and the nature of the problem in order to help me prepare and to ensure that any solutions I recommend will not harm your computer or its data.

Make Notes

Most folks are unfamiliar with computer terminology, so it is difficult to remember what sort of computer you have and any warnings are unlikely to make sense to you. Make notes to refer to when you call or email me.

I'll want to know the following:

  • Your computer's make and model as well as other hardware details.
  • Your computer's operating system, version and updates (e.g. Windows Home 7 SP1, Mac OS X El Capitan, Linux Mint 17.3, etc.).
  • What software is running, including the security software.
  • What you were doing when the problem occurred and any error messages that were displayed.
  • Any other information that may be relevant to the issue.

The following sections will tell you how to obtain this information.

Your Hardware Information

Hardware is the physical computer and its components (sometimes referred to as “the box”). This includes:

  • the size and free space on the hard drive(s) in your computer;
  • the amount of RAM (memory);
  • your video card (it may be built-in) and its capabilities;
  • your monitor (screen) and the resolution it is running;
  • the number and nature of removable media including floppy drives, CD drives and DVD drives; and
  • any external components that are regularly attached including printers, scanners, etc.

Make & Model

If you have a laptop or a brand-name computer (e.g. Macintosh, Dell, HP, Acer, etc.) that you bought off the shelf, the make and model of your computer is usually found on the back or bottom of the computer.

I can usually determine most of the necessary information if I'm onsite, but there are slight differences. The serial number, SNID or build number may be necessary to determine exactly what hardware is in your computer.

If your computer was built by the shop where you purchased it (e.g. from Boomer's) then the computer was built from name-brand components like the motherboard (sometimes called the mainboard or logic board), processor, video card, etc. These will determine the computer's specs and are often listed on your purchase invoice. You may also have information like manuals and drivers stored in a small box in which the motherboard was delivered to the shop.

Your Operating System

Microsoft Windows

Windows users can right-click on the Computer icon on the desktop (or Computer in the Start Menu) then select Properties with the left mouse button. The screen that appears will look similar to this:

Windows screen showing basic hardware information about your computer

  • The Windows edition tells you what version of Windows is installed as well as the service packs that are installed.
  • The system information tells about the hardware (processor, RAM and whether you have a 32- or 64-bit system).
  • The Windows Experience Index (the rating number show in the image above) can tell a lot about key hardware but is no longer provided on Windows 8 or 10 computers. The Winaero WEI Tool can provide that information.

Apple Mac

Mac users can click on the Apple icon at the top right of the menu then select About This Mac. The screen that appears will look similar to this:

About This Mac screen showing basic hardware information about your computer

Clicking on Displays, Storage and Memory will give you details about those items. Support gives you access to OS X and Mac resources.

Linux

Linux computers are generally originally built as Windows machines. Model numbers on the computer's case may help to determine what hardware was originally installed.

Linux users can click the desktop menu then (ensuring that all applications are visible) click on System Tools then select System Monitor. The screen that appears will look similar to this:

Linux screen showing basic hardware information about your computer

Your Software Information

I need to know what software you are running to help diagnose the problem.

  • Some software can conflict with other software or may be unsuitable for your hardware.
  • Running multiple security programs (including firewalls, anti-virus and anti-spyware software) is not advised. They can conflict with each other.
  • Drivers may be unavailable for your current operating system or need updating.
  • Obsolete software is not only dangerous (it is no longer patched for new security threats) but it may not work in current versions of your operating system.

Obtaining Software Versions

I may need to know the version of some of the programs you're running. The following image shows that Mozilla Firefox is version 5.0.1.0.

The “About Mozilla Firefox” screen in Windows 7

You obtain this information in different ways for specific operating systems. For example:

  • Windows: left-click the Help menu then About [program name].
  • Mac: click program name then About [program name].
  • Linux: left-click the Help menu then About [program name].

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Describe the Problem

When you contact me, be sure to describe the problem you are having in sufficient detail so that I can either duplicate it or that I can understand what may be causing the problem.

Record Error Messages

Be sure to note any error messages displayed, Copy down what the message says including any error codes exactly as they appear before dismissing the message or restarting your computer.

What Were You Doing?

Be sure to describe what you were doing and what software was running when the problem occurred.

Other Information

Include any other information that you think may have a bearing on the problem such as new hardware or software, changes with your Internet service provider (i.e. switching between Shaw and Telus), etc.

Contact Russ

Now that you have the information you need, contact Russ to discuss your problem.

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www.russharvey.bc.ca/preparations.html
Updated: December 23, 2016

Collect information about your computer before calling.

Try These Quick Fixes

Before contacting me, try these simple quick fixes. You may be able to resolve your issue quickly on your own.

Restart Your Computer

Before calling me, be sure that you've tried restarting your computer.

You'd be surprised at how often this resolves a number of issues, including problems connecting to the Internet and software that won't run.

Check the Power & Cables

If the computer won't start, ensure that all cables are secure and that the power is on (there should be indicator lights glowing).

  • A laptop won't start if the battery is nearly dead unless it is plugged in. If there is a “brick” in the middle of the power line, ensure the connections on both sides of it are secure as well as at the computer and in the wall.
  • A desktop computer's power supply should be on (usually 1 for on; 0 for off) and the plug securely attached at both ends.

If that doesn't resolve power issues, verify that you haven't blown a circuit breaker.

Check for External Devices

If external devices are attached to the computer like USB drives or thumbdrives they can interfere with the startup process. Remove them and try starting the computer again.

Verify Internet Access

There are a number of issues that can cause your Internet access to fail and that may be causing the issue you're having.

If the problem is your Internet connection, you'll need to track down the problem before calling me.

Check the Network

Networking can be complicated on newer computers. Internet access is delivered using the same software and hardware as a network (the Internet is a huge network). Check your router to see if that is where the problem is.

Windows users follow these steps to attempt recovery:

  • Right-click on the Network icon in the tray by the clock.
  • Select “Troubleshoot problems” to begin the Windows troubleshooters.

Mac users follow these steps to attempt recovery:

  • In Finder click on Go then open Network.
  • Select the network you're having trouble with (usually Ethernet or Wi-Fi) then the “Assist me…” button at the bottom.
  • Choose from the Diagnostics or Assistant options to proceed checking the network.

Linux users follow these steps to attempt recovery:

  • Right-click on the Network icon in the tray by the clock.
  • Select “Troubleshoot problems” to begin the Windows troubleshooters.
  • You may be requested to reset your router.

Learn more about resolving Internet connection issues.

Check the Router

Basic D-Link Router

See Networking Components for the definitions of terminology used here.

Make sure that the modem and router (sometimes integrated into one box) are working correctly.

  • Are the lights showing on your modem and/or router?
  • Try turning all devices off (or unplugging them), waiting at least 2 minutes, then turning them back on.
  • Once all the lights are lit you can try restarting your computer.

Is it Only Your Computer?

If resetting the router and computer didn't restore Internet access, you'll need to verify whether it is confined to your computer by checking to see if another computer connected to the same router can access the Internet.

  • If you only have one computer, you can ask a friend or neighbour to bring over their laptop.
  • A wired connection allows you to verify the connection without worrying about choosing the correct Wi-Fi password and settings. If you're using a tablet or smart phone, Wi-Fi is your only option.
  • You may need to restart the new computer before the network connection is reset.

Is it Your ISP?

If other computers are having the same problem and you've reset the router, your ISP's service may be down in your area.

In Victoria, check the appropriate service:

If the problem persists, gather the necessary information needed to give me a reasonable chance at diagnosing the problem correctly.

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