I got lots of random errors installing Office 2013 when I went to do it, including error code 112-4 and error code 0-4, and some other install errors mostly ending in 4 that aren’t documented on Microsoft’s web site. Although previously undocumented, these errors are fixable. Read more
I was at church on Sunday and the video projection wasn’t working. After a few minutes of watching everyone struggle, I volunteered to take a look, and working together, we were able to get the video working again using a simple, repeatable methodology: Using the OSI model to troubleshoot video.
I’m going to share that methodology now.
I’ve been troubleshooting a program that’s written in a combination of Java and .NET (yes, now I’ve seen everything), and the program misbehaved. It misbehaved a lot, and the vendor was confused too. About four hours in, one of us had the idea to uninstall the .NET Framework 4.0 and install the newest .NET Framework 4.5.1. The 4.5.1 framework is designed to be backwards compatible with multiple predecessors.
It turned out to be the miracle cure that had eluded us.
I’m not really a sysadmin anymore, and I’m several years removed now from my days as an everyday sysadmin, but now I remember that .NET is very cranky. If you don’t have the version installed that a program wants, the program will malfunction in a bad way. And the version you need isn’t always the version the vendor says you need.
Far be it from me to say you should install every version of the .NET Framework all the time just in case you need them, but if a vendor prescribes a specific version, stepping forward or back a version or two probably isn’t a bad troubleshooting step. And while the very early versions were mutually exclusive, recent versions of the framework can coexist, so you can install multiple versions if you’re afraid of breaking stuff.
Windows 7 and my HP Laserjet 4100 weren’t getting along. And I was pretty livid about it. I paid $125 for my Windows 7 upgrade, and for that money, I got to mess around for 4 days trying to get better-than-1997 functionality out of what’s supposed to be the latest and greatest. I was about ready to trade it even up for a copy of Windows ME and Microsoft Bob. Because at least then I’d be able to print.
I finally fixed the problem, but finding the solution wasn’t easy. So I’ll present the symptoms and the ultimate solution here.
PC Magazine’s editor in chief wrote a long column late last week talking about his weird computer problems and a Quixotic quest to fix them. Among other things, his antivirus wasn’t working, and Windows wanted to be activated and wouldn’t let him. He thought he had a virus, but all his scans came up clean.
It turned out his computer thought it was 2013. The date and time were right, but the computer was trying to live three years in the future. Read more
Steve DeLassus asked me the other day what I would do to fix a PC that was rebooting itself periodically. It’s not him who’s having the problem, he says, it’s someone he knows. He must be trying to show up someone at work or on the Web or something.
So I gave him a few things I’d check, in order of likelihood.
Static electricity. A big static shock can send a system down faster than anything else I’ve seen. Keep a humidifier in the computer room to reduce static electricity. If you’re really paranoid, put a metal strip on your desk and connect it to ground (on your electrical outlet, not on your PC) and touch it before touching your PC. Some people metalize and ground part of their mouse pad. That’s a bit extreme but it works.
Power supply. This is the big one. A failing power supply can take out other components. And even if you have an expensive, big-brand box like a PCP&C or Enermax, they can fail. So I always keep a spare ATX power supply around for testing. It doesn’t have to be an expensive one–you just want something that can run the machine for a day or two to see if the problem goes away.
Overheating. Check all your fans to make sure they’re working. An overheated system can produce all sorts of weird behavior, including reboots. The computer we produced our school newspaper on back in 1996 tended to overheat and reboot about 8 hours into our marathon QuarkXPress sessions.
Memory. It’s extremely rare, but even Crucial produces the occasional defective module. And while bad memory is more likely to produce blue screens than reboots, it’s a possibility worth checking into. Download Memtest86 to exercise your memory.
CPU. If you’re overclocking and experiencing spontaneous reboots, cut it out and see what happens. Unfortunately, by the time these reboots become common, it may be too late. That turned out to be the case with that QuarkXPress-running PC I mentioned earlier. Had we replaced the fans with more powerful units right away, we might have been fine, but we ended up having to replace the CPU. (We weren’t overclocking, but this was an early Cyrix 6×86 CPU, a chip that was notorious for running hot.) Less likely today, but still possible.
Hard drive. I’m really reaching here. If you’re using a lot of virtual memory and you have bad sectors on your hard drive and the swapfile is using one or more of those bad sectors, a lot of unpredictable things can happen. A spontaneous reboot is probably the least of those. But theoretically it could happen.
Operating system. This is truly the last resort. People frequently try to run an OS that’s either too new or too old to be ideal on a PC of a particular vintage. If the system is failing but all the hardware seems to be OK, try loading the OS that was contemporary when the system was new. That means if it’s a Pentium-133, try Win95 on it. If it’s a P4, try Windows 2000 or Windows XP on it. When you try to run a five-year-old OS on a new system, or vice-versa, you can run into problems with poorly tested device drivers or a system strapped for resources.
Another good OS-related troubleshooting trick for failing hardware is to try to load Linux. Linux will often cause suspect hardware to fail, even if the hardware can run Windows successfully, because Linux pushes the hardware more than Microsoft systems do. So if the system fails to load Linux, start swapping components and try again. Once the system is capable of loading Linux successfully, it’s likely to work right in Windows too.
Troubleshooting advice: When you suspect a bad component, particularly a power supply, always swap in a known-good component, rather than trying out the suspect component in another system to see if the problem follows it. The risks of damaging the system are too great, particularly when you try a bad power supply in another system.
And, as always, you minimize the risks of these problems by buying high-quality components, but you never completely eliminate the risk. Even the best occasionally make a defective part.