Whether you’re dealing with your dad’s decade-old computer or your own custom-built gaming rig, troubleshooting PC problems is a part of everyday life. Before you make that $50 support call, though, try your hand at homebrew tech support. We spoke to some of the best support reps in the business about the most common problems they fix—and how you can do it yourself.
Try this first
I know it sounds like a no-brainer, but before you do anything else, restart your computer. Technical support says that most of his customers solve their problems with this simple step. “This long-standing maxim can work wonders,”
While you’re at it, make sure that your operating system is fully updated by running Windows Update. Neglecting updates could deprive you of important bug and performance fixes.
If you’re having problems with a peripheral, try switching it on and off. If that doesn’t work, try disconnecting and reconnecting the device. As a last resort, download the latest drivers and perform a full reinstall.
My computer is too slow
The first step to fixing a slow computer is to verify that your machine is the actual source of the problem. Videos that seem to buffer forever, and websites that take ages to load, may not be your computer’s fault. claims that many people mistakenly identify a slow system as the problem when “it’s actually not the computer, [but] their broadband connection.” See “Downloads are taking forever” below for instructions on how to use Speedtest.net to diagnose a slow connection.
If the problem is your PC, check whether you have plenty of free space on the hard drive holding your operating system. Windows needs room to create files while your system is running. If your hard drive is maxed out, performance suffers. Now is the perfect time to clear some space.
Microsoft’s System Configuration tool is your next-best bet for tackling slow performance. Many applications launch automatically when your machine boots up, which can stretch out boot time—especially on older, slower PCs. Make a habit of trimming the startup items. Open the tool by pressing Windows-R, typing msconfig, and pressing the Enter key.
Checking the Startup Item and Manufacturer columns is the best way to figure out which potential performance-killers you can safely disable. Avoid messing with any of the services and programs that have Microsoft Corporation listed as the manufacturer. Items such as AdobeAAMUpdater, Google Update, Pando Media Booster, Spotify, and Steam Client Bootstrapper are all fair game. Regardless, err on the side of caution: If you’re not sure what the program or service does, don’t disable it.
Once you’ve made all your changes, click OK and restart the computer. It should boot up quicker and feel noticeably faster.
Downloads are taking forever
Speedtest.net is your best friend when you’re having connectivity problems. Run a speed test to see what your download and upload speeds are—ideally they should be at least 50 percent of your Internet service provider’s advertised speeds, with a ping under 100 milliseconds.
If the speeds seem solid, make sure that you aren’t inadvertently downloading or uploading anything. Many torrent downloading programs run in the background and minimize into the system tray instead of the taskbar.
Check your network hardware. Updates for network cards aren’t all that common, but if your card’s manufacturer offers a newer driver, download it. Resetting your router and modem can help with connection problems, too. Most routers and modems have reset buttons, but pulling the power cable for a second or two can do the same thing. Don’t cut the power for much longer, or the hardware may reset itself to factory defaults.
Still having problems? Call your ISP, which can tell you whether the problem is on your end. As a last-ditch measure, the ISP could reset the master connection to your home. Or call outsourced IT support.
My machine keeps restarting
Hardware problems are hard to diagnose and solve. First, confirm that you aren’t just getting the latest wave of Windows updates, which can automatically restart your computer during installation. Then work on updating all of your critical system drivers. Your graphics card, motherboard, and network card drivers are crucial.
“Sometimes it can be viruses, sometimes it can be adware, sometimes it can be overheating, and sometimes it can be something as simple as making sure your video card is updated,”
Is your computer making weird noises? If you’re lucky all you’ll need to do is give the machine a thorough cleaning. Modern computers have safeguards that shut down the system if a component is overheating, which can be the cause of frequent restarts when you’re running resource-intensive programs or video games.
Pop-up ads are appearing on my desktop
If you’re not running your Web browser and are still getting pop-up ads on your desktop, you’ve most likely installed adware—a program that displays unwanted ads. Although benevolent adware exists, most of the time adware is up to no good. Getting rid of it isn’t easy. “There’s a ton of little system-utility tools out there that promise to clean up everything, with names like PC Speed-up, PC Speed Pro, PC Speedifier,” Geek Squad’s Meister says. “A lot of times those programs are not going to do much. Some programs will work, others are snake oil.”
Running a full scan with credible antivirus software is your first step. If that program doesn’t find and remove the adware, turn to Malwarebytes Anti-Malware Free, a great utility for removing all types of malware. Just make sure to disable your standard antivirus software before running it.
- “Multiple antivirus programs working at the same time will often result in problems,” “You only want one active, real-time antivirus scanner installed, but it doesn’t hurt to run an additional ‘on demand’ virus or malware scanner.”
- Searching online for the name of the advertised product can sometimes yield solutions from fellow victims. If all else fails, there’s always the nuclear option: a complete system reinstall. It might take a long time, but it’s the only surefire way to remove adware or spyware. Remember to back up all your personal files.