Posted on January 15, 2013 10:03 pm

Food For Thought when Fixing Basic Computer Problems

This is a very general skill set that covers most tasks I have performed in the residential market.

Know How To Google
Lets face it, its almost impossible for a technician to know how to fix everything they come across. There are all sorts of strange error messages that are fairly cryptic but lucky for us they often have an easy fix on Google since other people have already spent hours trying to figure out and succeeded. Don’t be afraid to Google in front of your client either as its better to say “I don’t know, but I’ll find out” rather than continue along blindly costing your client more money. Using Google sounds simple enough but a technician should know to use Googles advanced operators effectively.

If I was to search for:
computer repair Texas
It would include pages that have the word computer, repair and Texas in it but it doesn’t have to be “computer repair texas” in that order. The block of text that Google finds could be “I found a place using my computer that will repair my TV and its located in Texas”.

A better search would be:
"computer repair" +texas -geeksquad
This will produce results where the site must have computer repair together somewhere in it. The page must have the word Texas but doesn’t matter where and it’ll exclude pages that say “geeksquad” on them.

For more information on using Google well by using its advanced operators, check out this page.

Remove Tough Viruses
You need to be able to remove tough viruses like Antivirus2009 (without formatting) and understand how to use tools like Combofix, SmitFraudFix, Hijack This!, Regedit, Process Explorer, Malwarebytes, Hiren’s BootCD and UBCD4Win.

Know Whats In a Clean Windows System
You need to know what processes, files and services commonly appear in a clean Windows system as this greatly assists in the removal of viruses and other malware. For example, a 22kb file named exqzxcop.exe that was created two days ago, is currently running and is residing in the system32 directory probably shouldn’t be there. Basically, if you know what the good guys look like, it makes it easy to spot the bad guys.

General Hardware Understanding
This is a fairly large topic but the essentials to know is understand the power supply wattage’s and voltages.
Have an understanding of motherboard and CPU socket types.
Understand different RAM types and speeds. (SD, DDR, DDR2, SO-DIMM)
Understand motherboard slot types (AGP, PCI, ISA, PCI-E etc..)
Understand hard drive types such as IDE, SCSI and SATA, understand hard drive jumpers and configurations.
With these skills, you need to be able to assemble a computer. I am not just talking about putting one together, but building a good one by knowing their part speeds, compatibility and possible bottlenecks.

Troubleshoot Hardware Problems
Computer parts go bad and it isn’t always obvious what the issue is. Understand things like BIOS beep codes and what it means if the computers fans spin up but there is no video. Understand what it means when nothing powers up or the computer powers up for 2 seconds then shuts down. You can learn this by experimenting with a worthless test PC that you don’t care about if it gets damaged (and it probably will). I personally learnt all this by finding a bunch of old computers in hard garbage that didn’t work and turning the 5 damaged ones into 2 good working ones. If I damaged some hardware, I just put the computer back out in the garbage. Getting over the fear of creating issues when you can trace your steps often helps in troubleshooting.

Recover Data from a Non Booting Operating System
You need to be able to remove data from a non-booting operating system by either using a boot CD like UBCD4Win and an external hard drive; or by putting the bad drive into a good system of your own and recovering it that way.

How to Format a Computer and Understand Windows Licensing
Formatting a computer is a fairly common task for most computer technicians but its a little more than just sticking in the Windows CD during boot time and installing. Partitioning drives for formatting for various needs. You also need to know the differences between OEM, Retail, Branded, Home, Professional, Volume and Corporate Licenses.

Identify, Find and Install Appropriate Drivers for Hardware
You need to know how to install common peripherals like printers and scanners, how to identify hardware devices by either looking on the actual hardware for model numbers or using a tool like SIW and know how to spot driver problems in the Windows Device Manager.

Repair a Damaged Windows Install
You need to know how to get into safe mode.
Know how to do a repair install of Windows.
Know how to run the chkdsk command and registry restore in a boot CD like Hiren’s.

Setup a Basic Wired/Wireless Network
Know how to setup a network with a modem, router and a few client devices.
Understand how IP addresses work in a private network and public Internet situation.
A general understanding of masking/subnet.
Understand what a Gateway is.
Understand how DHCP works and also know how to setup a basic computer to computer network.
Understand how and when to use static IPs.
Know how to forward ports, port rrles, routing tables.
If wireless is involved, know how to apply encryption, understand signal strengths and how it can be optimized for various environments.

Basic Network Troubleshooting
Know how to find the systems IP, release and renew it.
Use some DOS commands such as Tracert and Ping and understand the results.
Knowing how to log-in to the modem/router and troubleshoot it. Are the internet details correct? is the modem getting an IP from the ISP?, does the router respond, etc..

Be Nice and Know How To Communicate To Your Clients
You can be the best technician in the world but if people don’t like you personally, you wont get far. You need to learn how to speak to a layperson in a way they understand because “geek speak” often sounds condescending and will frustrate and annoy your clients. Taking the jargon and finding ways to create common analogies often help improve positive communication. When people understand what you are saying, trust goes a long way.

Don’t Be Afraid to Say No
Don’t accept work that you don’t know how to do and don’t get in over your head. For example, when I was first starting out in computer repairs for business I was very confident in my abilities.  I had never encountered a situation that wasn’t beyond my comprehension. As a teen (16) I was already an asset for multiple businesses that I would jump to any opportunity to face a challenge.   My first experience at being wrong nearly cost me my whole future. In a joint partnership I took on a project that I didn’t fully understand the communications aspect between my partner and the business (job).  The company was in a transition between offices and technicians.  I was called in to handle the move of the servers and workstations without any background support in hooking things back up. After the move was completed, none of the servers came back up, and half of the workstations kept freezing for no apparent reasons. Even though the problems had no obvious causes. With all the factors to a worst case scenario, it took over 72 hours to bring the systems back up in working order again.  A 8 hour job, cost me time, and a lot of personal confidence due to the environment.  I wasn’t doubtful of my abilities the whole job.  What was the worst of the job was the people involved.  The complications involved with the technology wasn’t the problem, the people going into hyperventilation over their own lack of documentation and technical understandings caused the most in flying insults and legal threats. Losing a little bit of money and maybe taking a little ego hit is a lot better than getting sued.