Fun With TroubleshootingHow to muck up your PC--and get it back to normal.
Steve Bass writes PC World's monthly "Hassle-Free PC" column and is the author of PC Annoyances, 2nd Edition: How to Fix the Most Annoying Things About Your Personal Computer, available from O'Reilly. He also writes PC World's daily Tips & Tweaks blog. Sign up to have Steve's newsletter e-mailed to you each week. Comments or questions? Send Steve e-mail.
Not long ago, we had a ferocious windstorm here in Southern California. The power was on, then off, and finally on again. My PC is connected to an APC uninterruptible power supply, so I didn't worry. But I hadn't bothered to install the software that would have shut down Windows gracefully. So when the power went out, the PC was unceremoniously turned off. When I booted up again, XP was slooow: Task Manager took 4 minutes to load; other programs took 10 minutes; and some apps wouldn't load at all.
I blamed it on the power outage, but it turns out I was wrong. After a horrible few days, I discovered the problem: I'd installed a beta program, and it wasn't playing nicely with my anti-spyware software.
This week I'll show you the tools I used to figure out what happened and pass along some troubleshooting tips.
Ask the Experts
The first thing I did was check a few tech-support sites for guidance.
I've written about these sites; you should take a look at "Helpfulness Is Next to Geekliness" and "11 Easy Ways to Keep a PC Up-to-Date" for links. Also, be sure to read Laurianne McLaughlin's "PC Support On Call."
Booting to Safe Mode
My system slowed to a crawl when I booted normally, but worked okay when in Safe Mode with networking. Safe Mode boots with only the essential system drivers and files, so I guessed there was a software conflict somewhere.
Booting into Safe Mode isn't difficult; you just hold the F8 key while booting. You have to do it quickly; if the Windows logo appears, you weren't fast enough.
I was rebooting regularly and the F8 routine was getting silly, so I looked for help in Microsoft Windows XP Inside Out, 2nd Edition, by Ed Bott, Carl Siechert, and Craig Stinson (Microsoft Press, 2005, 800/677-7377). Sure enough, I found an easy way to boot to Safe Mode by putting the option on the Windows startup menu. Here's how:
Scanning for Solutions
Once I had my Safe Mode shortcut set up, I ran some hard-drive scans.
I started with Chkdsk, a throwback to the days of DOS:
For a brief Chkdsk tutorial, read Beginners Guides: Diagnosing Bad Hard Drives.
I also ran Steve Gibson's SpinRite 6.0. The program boots from a floppy and looks for defects in the hard drive. If it finds a problem, it moves the data to another location; if a sector on the drive is unreadable, it repairs and recovers the area. Go to Gibson's FAQ for more info.
Unfortunately, neither Chkdsk nor SpinRite found any problem with my drives.
Two Essential Tools
Autoruns shows you items loading in 12 areas, including WinLogon, Winsock Providers, Boot Execute, Drivers, and DLLs. Right-click on an item to see its properties, jump to its Registry setting, or open your browser and search on the item.
Warning: Autoruns isn't for beginners. It lets you disable practically anything, such as svchost, say (a necessary Microsoft Service host process).
Autoruns lets you pop open Process Explorer for a comprehensive analysis of specific files, including memory, threads, module usage, path, dependencies, and version numbers. I used the programs to compare my system when booting XP normally and when booting in Safe Mode. I found the cause of the problem--it was an early beta security program--and uninstalled it.
My computer is finally back to normal--and I promise never to fiddle with beta software on my production PC ever again.
Dig This: Having TiVo made watching the Super Bowl a pleasure. I was able to zip through the game and get right to the commercials.