During World War II they were called “gremlins”–tiny demons responsible for seemingly inexplicable aircraft problems. Today, gremlins prefer personal computers, which often seem to crash if you so much as give them a funny look. Although a crash-proof computer has yet to be built (just ask NASA), you can rid yours of most gremlins with a little patient troubleshooting.
Check for a software conflict
1. If an older program suddenly stops working properly after you install a new program, try reinstalling the older program, which may have had some of its files overwritten by the new one.
2. If your computer crashes after you install a new program, when both it and an older program are running, check with the publishers of the programs to see if there are updates that address the conflict.
3. If you’ve installed a new program and start getting crashes that don’t seem to be related to running any other program, try uninstalling the new program. (See Remove a Windows Program.) If crashes continue, reinstall the operating system.
Check for a hardware conflict
4. If your computer starts crashing after you add a new piece of hardware, remove the hardware and uninstall whatever software you installed with it. (See Remove a Windows Program.)
5. If removing the hardware solves the problem, contact the manufacturer or visit its Web site to see if there’s a later driver version that fixes the problem.
6. If removing the hardware doesn’t solve the problem, it’s possible that some Windows files were changed when you installed the drivers, which are the files that enable a particular piece of hardware. You’ll need to reinstall Windows.
Check for overheating
7. Take note of seemingly random computer crashes. If they tend to occur after the computer has been running for a while, they could be the result of overheating. As computers get faster, they have a tendency to run hotter.
8. Check to make sure the vents in the computer case aren’t blocked and there’s good air circulation around the computer.
9. If your computer has a fan, remove the computer case with a screwdriver, then turn on the computer briefly to see if the fan is turning. If it isn’t, you’ll need to replace it or the power supply.
10. If the inside of the computer case looks like Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl, clean things up by turning off the computer and using a can of compressed air (available at electronics stores) to blow dust off of circuit boards, chips, the fan and anything else that looks dirty. Vacuums and dust rags are a bad idea, however, because they can build up static charges and zap your chips.
Check for a virus
11. If you have virus-protection software, make sure it has been updated recently. New viruses appear daily.
12. If you don’t have virus-protection software, invest in a program that can scan and clean your hard drive.