Sooner or later, we've all got to deal with a buggy desktops and unstable systems. It could be because of failing hardware, poor network security discipline, a bad patch or driver. If you don't know what you're doing (and sometimes, even when you do), diagnosing and repairing a glitchy machine for a friend or a family member can be a frustrating experience. Don't let the BSODs and the beep codes scare you away. Beat back the bugs with these tips and tools.
First off, all of the tips, suggestions, and software recommendations below are primarily intended for readers who have no qualms with messing around with their system and hardware in order to get at a problem, diagnose, and fix it. Great for scratch-builders and older units. Still, if you have a pre-built computer that's still under warranty or protected by some kind of service plan, then take advantage of it! Unless you've got something time sensitive in there that needs to be done right away, you can save yourself some hassle by bringing it over to your local service center for troubleshooting.
The first real step to any attempt to fix a buggy machine is figuring out what's wrong. Are you regularly getting the dreaded Blue Screen of Death? Is your RAM glitching out, or perhaps your OS refuses to boot? We're going to take a quick look at some potential lines of action for chronic BSOD, boot-up beep codes associated with hardware failures, disk drive and file system failures, and virus or malware infections.
First off, we take up the dreaded Blue Screen of Death, aka the BSOD. A BSOD can stem from any number of causes, from faulty drivers and software conflicts, to memory failures, or even overheating electronics. The first thing you need to do is figure out what's causing it. Where possible, try to copy down the exact error code that the BSOD returns, as this can tell you a lot about what's causing the problem. This old TechNet article is a bit dated, but the error code descriptions are still, good, as are the ones here in compuchenna.com's BSOD guide. Failing that, a little Google searching should net you something to work with. From there, you should be able to get an idea as to probable causes, and courses of action.
Due to the myriad of possible errors that can cause a BSOD, there's no one real solution, and you'll have to go with what the codes likely indicate. If, according to the error code guides, you likely have a driver or software-related problem, you may need to roll your drivers back to the last working version and/or uninstall any recently installed software. You can also use a System Restore point before the BSODs began to occur. If the error code is associated with memory errors, try swapping out your RAM with spares, and if the problem goes away, then you know it's time to get new memory chips. You can also run the built in memory check in Windows 7 or 8 (type "Memory" in the Start Menu).
In the case that your computer is showing a BSOD due to INACCESSIBLE_BOOT_DEVICE or NTFS_FILE_SYSTEM error codes, you may very likely have a problem caused either by storage drive failure, or malicious programs messing with your boot sector. Either way, both of these are trouble. If your system is still bootable, you'll want to run CHKDSK or other hard drive diagnostics ASAP to check your drive's integrity and see if it can be repaired. You'll also want to run a series of antivirus and anti-malware scans. If it's not bootable, well, you'll need to get yourself a bootable rescue disk, such as Hiren's Boot CD (featured later) with anti-malware tools as well as partition management and data recovery software. Boot via the Live Disk and then run your preferred drive maintenance/diagnostic tool to see what can be repaired or salvaged.
Sometimes you won't even get as far as encountering an error in the OS boot, or a BSOD. Some buggy machines can seize up from the moment you turn them on, displaying errors at startup accompanied by squawks and beeps. Pay attention to these beep codes, as it's not just garbled nonsense but a programmed set of error warnings that you can use to diagnose problems with hardware. Listen to the beeps, note them down, and then look up the code (ideally) in your motherboard's manual, or online (such as in About.com's handy beep code troubleshooting guide, which lists codes for AMI, Award, and Phoenix BIOS).
Other times, BSODs and random crashes can be caused by less...technical aspects of your system. Sometimes, physical things can cause your machine to glitch out unexpectedly. Check your CPU and GPU temp, just to make sure you're not overheating. You'll also want to make sure that your cooling fans and heat sinks aren't encrusted with dirt, and that exhaust ports are clean and clear of obstructions. Beyond that, you may want to power down and unplug your machine in order to check and reseat your memory cards and other hardware, as well as ensure all your cables are connected properly.