Many computer problems can be caused by hardware or software failures, and figuring out which is to blame can be quite difficult—unless you know the simple way to diagnose hardware problems. If you determine you have a hardware problem, all you need to do is fix or replace the hardware. If you determine you have a software problem, then you can start searching for solutions.
This is why people have such a hard time troubleshooting a black screen on a computer or even a blue screen of death as they can be caused by both hardware or software.
The Simple Way To Find Hardware Problems
If you think you might have a hardware problem, all you need to do is rule out software problems. That sounds difficult—after all, you have so much interrelated software on your computer, it’s almost impossible to try turning off each program separately to find which one might be causing your problem.
But you can turn off all of the programs on your computer at once. You can even temporarily replace every program on your computer with a substitute program. And you can do all of this testing practically for free. (It might cost you as much as one burnable DVD disc—about $0.25 around here.)
How do you do it? You boot your computer using a Linux live CD, DVD, or USB stick. This runs Linux on your computer for one time only. As soon as you remove the disc or stick and reboot your computer, it goes back to your regular version of Windows.
Since Linux is entirely different than Windows, it’s almost impossible to have the same software problem on both Windows and Linux. If your computer malfunctions on Linux the same way it does on Windows, you can be assured that you have a hardware problem.
But if your computer works correctly on Linux and not Windows, then you probably have a software problem.
If you have one of the following problems, you can determine whether or not it is caused by bad hardware by booting Linux:
• Computer monitor problems: if your display isn’t working correctly, try booting Linux. If the display also doesn’t work correctly on Linux, you have a hardware problem.
• Connection problems: dial-up, ethernet, wifi, and Internet problems can all be tested using Linux. Just see if Linux can connect when Windows can’t. If it can, then you have a software problem. If it can’t, start looking at hardware problems.
• Random crashes or reboots: many seemingly-random problems on your computer can be caused by overheating, bad memory, or a failing video card. But they can also be caused by malware and regular software bugs. Run Linux on your computer for a day—if you still have problems in Linux, you know it’s a problem with your hardware and not something caused by malware.
How To Use Linux
Running Linux on a modern computer has never been easier. If your computer has a DVD burner, you can burn a DVD and boot off of that. If you don’t have a DVD drive, you can use a USB stick.
To test whether your hardware is broken, you can use practically any Linux distribution, so choose whichever one you want. If you’re undecided, try Ubuntu Desktop, which is one of the most popular distributions.
To create a live CD or DVD, go to the website for the distribution you want to use and download its ISO images. Insert a blank CD or DVD into your drive and use a burning application to burn the ISO image to the disk.
To create a bootable USB stick, get a USB stick with at least a couple gigabytes capacity and backup any important files on it. (Creating a bootable USB stick will wipe out any existing data on the USB stick.) Then download the Universal USB Installer from http://www.pendrivelinux.com, run it, and use its easy wizard interface to create your bootable USB stick.
Changing Your BIOS Settings
Some computers are configured by default not to boot from CD, DVD, or USB stick. You need to enter bios to change their configuration if you want to use Linux.
1. Reboot your computer.
2. On the first screen, press the key which takes you to the “configuration” or “setup” menu.
3. Go to the screen in the setup menu which lets you change the boot order.
4. Then put USB drives and CD-ROM drives earlier in the boot order than your regular hard drive.
5. Save your changes; your computer should automatically reboot.
6. All you have to do is insert the disc or stick before rebooting to start up Linux.
Common Linux Problems
Linux live CDs, DVDs, and USB sticks are different from Windows—or even permanent Linux installations. If you have the following problems on Linux, it may not be a hardware problem:
• Linux runs slow. CDs, DVDs, and USB 2.0 are not designed to run as fast as modern hard drives, so Linux will boot more slowly than Windows and opening programs for the first time after booting will also go slower than you may expect. This doesn't mean there’s anything wrong with your basic computer hardware.
• Some hardware doesn't work at all. Linux doesn't support some hardware, especially printers and scanners.
• Not all hardware features are supported. This is especially the case with recent graphics cards. Linux will display a regular desktop on almost any graphics card, but it may not support 3-D graphical effects.