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Monday, July 18, 2005

A moment of hesitation

Posted: Mon, 18 Jul 2005 01:01:56 GMT

A moment of hesitation

arrrggghhh!! OK, so something went screwy. That happens. Remember, a computer isn't an old TV set; slapping it with something heavy won't fix the problem. With Windows, it's not a matter of "if it crashes," but "when it crashes." Be prepared.

  "Keyboard missing -- press F3 to continue"  
-- message seen on an Apricot PC

highlight box "The damn thing won't come on!" This is one of the most common complaints to tech support lines, and the most common response is "Plug it in." Assuming it's plugged in, check the outlet by plugging in a radio or something and seeing if that comes on. Assuming the outlet is live, the computer may have a faulty power switch. Some computers have small lever switches that control the power; this lever may be bent or broken. If that isn't the problem, you may have a problem with the computer's power supply. Unless you want to court electrocution, stop here and let a technician examine it.

highlight box You may hit a variety of "hangs" or "crashes," from fairly innocuous error messages such as "An error has occurred in your application..." through the infamous, but usually harmless "illegal operation" notice, to the more serious "blue screen of death" with its " exception" message, all the way to instant blackouts and lockups. Hang tight, don't panic, and don't turn off your computer. Often the computer will let you use a "Close Program" box that shuts the offending program down and returns you to your desktop, or at least lets you shut the computer down safely. Before you do anything, if the computer gives you a "Details" box, click it and write down everything that appears on the screen, even if it is gobbledygook. In the case of a serious problem, a tech may well need to know what happened. In the case of persistent problems, a written record will aid in finding the problem and fixing it.

highlight box Speaking of the term "fatal exception error," the beastly thing is defined by Microsoft as "a code that is returned by a program when the following occurs: access to an illegal instruction has been encountered; invalid data or code has been accessed; or the privilege level of an operation is invalid." When any of these occur, "the processor returns an exception to the operating system, which in turn is handled as a fatal exception error. In many cases the exception is non-recoverable and the system must either be restarted or shut down, depending upon the severity of the error." The source of this info is a Microsoft Knowledge Base article at

highlight box A lot of problems hinge around the Start procedure; when you crank up the machine, Windows gives you an error message saying that a particular file is missing. Often you can skip past the error message and run Windows perfectly fine; still, why should you put up with errors? When this happens to you, note the name of the missing file on paper. Then press a key to let Windows finish loading. Now, start hunting for the problem. (This procedure assumes Windows is hunting for a file that no longer exists, as with a program that you've uninstalled. That's a pretty safe assumption, but it won't be the case every time.) Go into Start, Find, and choose Files or Folders. In the dialog box, enter *.LNK . In the box labeled "Containing text," enter the missing file name. (Win 95 users, you'll find this box under the "Advanced" tab. Under "Look in:" enter C:\WINDOWS\START MENU\PROGRAMS\STARTUP . Press Enter. If your search finds a file, delete it. That may do the trick. If you don't find such a file, you have to hunt further. Select Start, Run, type SYSEDIT, and hit Enter. This brings up the System Configuration Editor (Win 98/ME users, type MSCONFIG). From the cascading windows, select the SYSTEM.INI window and go through it for a line mentioning the missing file. If you find it, you need to "comment out" the line containing the missing file by entering a colon ( : ) at the beginning of the line. (When you "comment out" a line of programming code, you enter special characters such as a colon to keep the line of code visible, but preventing it from being processed.) If you don't find the line in SYSTEM.INI, repeat the process with the WIN.INI file. If it isn't there, either, you might look in the CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT files, but unless the error message is plain-text DOS, you won't find the problem in these files. At this point, the only way to remove mention of the offending file is to tinker with the Registry. If you feel confident enough to tackle this task, back up the Registry files as detailed in the Rescuing the Drowning Computer section, and open Regedit. Press F3 to bring up the File dialog box. Enter the name of the file and press Enter. If you find the name, delete the reference by pressing "Delete" and then choosing "Yes." Once it's deleted, press F3 and search for it again. When all references to the file are removed, you shouldn't see the error message again.

highlight box The above item notes that partially uninstalled programs like to futz with your Start routine. Here's what to do to fully and completely eradicated an unwanted program off of your computer that don't have uninstall routines included. (If a program with an uninstall program won't completely leave your system, there are a number of shareware programs that will make all traces disappear. Check my Disk, Maintenance, Hardware, and Diagnostic Utilities page for suggestions.) Note: this involves editing the Registry. First, find the program path and file name by right-clicking the program's shortcut on your Start Menu and selecting "Properties." Everything in the Target field to the last backslash is the program's path, and everything after that backslash is the file name. For example,

tells you that the path is C:\MY PROGRAMS\BUG MULTIPLIER\ and the program's file name is BUG.EXE. Keep this Properties box open. Now make sure nothing from the program runs automatically by selecting Start, Run, and typing MSCONFIG. Click the Startup tab. In the Name or Startup Items column, look for anything related to the program you're uninstalling. In the Command column, look for anything resembling the program path. Uncheck all the suspected items and click OK. Now, in Windows Explorer, eliminate file associations by selecting View, Folder Options (in Win 98/ME it's under Tools, not View). In the File Types tab, look for any file types that are associated with the program you're uninstalling. If you find one, you can either associate the file type with another program by choosing "Change" and selecting the new program, or just click "Delete" and eliminate the file association altogether. Confirm your choices by clicking Yes, then Close the menu. Clear the Registry out by going into Regedit (Start, Run, REGEDIT) and pressing Enter. In the HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT \ Applications key, click the plus sign, right-click the subkey(s) matching your program's file name, and select Delete. Now go to HKEY_CURRENT_USER \ Software and look for a subkey named for the vendor of the program, if you know it. Click the plus sign by the vendor's name to view the subkeys beneath it. If you see subkeys for the program you wish to delete, then by all means delete them, but don't just delete all the vendor keys, as that may trash the use of another program by the same vendor. Of course, if you end up getting rid of all the subkeys, then you can delete the vendor key entirely. Do the same in the HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE \ SOFTWARE key. Now press your Home key on your keyboard to go to the top of the Registry Editor's left pane, with My Computer selected. Press Ctrl+F to open the Find dialog box, and type in the program path (say, C:\MY PROGRAMS\BUG MULTIPLIER\) into the Find What field. Make sure all the options under "Look at" are checked, and clicked on either Next or Find Next. If a match turns up, delete the key containing it, then press F3 to search again. When you're done, close the Registry Editor. Now -- finally -- you can delete the program's folder and shortcuts.

highlight box If a program freezes and you can't get any response from the keyboard or the mouse, try Ctrl-Alt-Del (the famous "warm boot"). Hitting this once will bring up a Task List similar to Win3.1's Task Manager. Look to see if the program is listed as (Not responding). If so, click once on it (highlight it) and hit End Task. This should shut the program down (and will lose all unsaved work). Restart it and try again. Give the computer time to realize what's going on before snarling and hitting the power switch. Delays of 15-30 seconds or more before anything comes up from Ctrl-Alt-Del are not unusual. Hitting Ctrl-Alt-Del twice will restart your computer. If this doesn't work at all, turn the computer off, wait 10 seconds, and restart it. Most of the time this will work.

highlight box Windows hung and Ctrl+Alt+Del won't do anything? Try Ctrl+Esc. It may open your Start menu, from where you can shut down your computer.

highlight box Any time you run into any of these problems, if you're able to get the computer back to normal operating mode, close everything down and restart the computer. Just because everything looks OK doesn't mean that instabilities aren't lingering out of sight. Restarting the computer gives it a chance to clear itself of temporary glitches. Should the computer hang at the "Please wait while your computer shuts down" screen, wait at least a minute before doing anything. Then, if nothing happens, turn the computer off, count to ten, and turn it on again. When you do get it to restart, try booting Windows in Safe Mode by pressing F8 once you see the "Starting Windows..." message appear (try Ctrl instead of F8 in Win ME and some other setups). (Switching into Safe Mode from XP is a bit different: XP users need to enter MSCONFIG in the Start menu's Run dialog, then click on the BOOT.INI tab and check the /SAFEBOOT box. Reboot to enter Safe mode. Repeat the process and uncheck the box when you're through with Safe Mode. One caveat: Don't experiment with the other settings on this tab. You could wind up unable to get back into MSConfig to undo your changes.) Safe Mode bypasses all the start-up files and starts Windows in plain old VGA video mode. If it starts up okay, you need to cruise around in Device Manager to find what piece of hardware is gagging your system (more later about that). If you suspect a hardware problem, or you just want to zero in on the possible problem, restart the computer, hit F5, and select Option 5, "Launch with step-by-step confirmation" from the menu. This takes you step by step through the start-up routine, asking you whether or not you want to launch each piece of hardware as it comes up. An error message appears with anything that doesn't launch properly. It will ask you if you want to create a file called BOOTLOG.TXT. Do it - this is a text file that tracks the successful, or unsuccessful, launching of each step. You and I may not understand the contents of this text file, but technical support will appreciate it. A goodie on the freeware market: Boot Log Analyzer for Windows 95/98 version 1.22, available for download at Not that the info Boot Log provides you will be a hell of a lot more understandable....

highlight box When you're getting strange error messages or having trouble starting Windows, you're nearing crash territory, likely because Windows self-deleted one or more necessary files. (Don't ask why.) One neato fix-it is to run Windows's Setup and select the Verify option. This tells Windows to check all files it needs and to replace those that are missing or damaged. Assuming you catch the problem quickly enough, this may be all the crash recovery you need.

highlight box Having problems with XP crashes? Microsoft claimed that the day of computer crashes was over, but, well, they lied. Try bringing up Task Manager by right-clicking on the taskbar and clicking Task Manager. Select the Processes tab in the application window, and click the list box column head labeled "Image Name" to sort the list of running applications. Find the application you think may be causing the crash, right-click it, and choose "End Process." Click OK to confirm your choice. Keep doing this until all instances of the program are shut down. Close Task Manager and start the application again.

highlight box For those not in the know, Task Manager keeps tabs on your system and how it's running. You can use the Task Manager to get an overview of what programs and processes are running on your computer. You can also use it to switch programs and to end programs that have stopped responding or frozen up on you. Open the Windows Task Manager by right-clicking the taskbar at a place where there are no buttons and then clicking Task Manager on the shortcut menu. To switch to another program from the Windows Task Manager, click the program in the list box on the Applications tab and then click the Switch To button. Windows will then minimize the Task Manager and display the program window on the desktop. To end a program that has frozen up, click the program in the list box on the Applications tab and then click the End Task button. You'll probably get an alert dialog box indicating that the program has stopped responding. Click the End button in this dialog box (as many times as you have to) to get Windows to kill the program. When you click a program in the list on the Applications tab, the status bar of the Windows Task Manager shows you statistics on the number of processes running under the program, the percentage of the CPU (central processing unit, the big chip at the heart of the computer), and the memory usage of the program. If you like to look at schematics, click the Performance tab in this window to see a dynamic charting of the total CPU and memory usage on your computer (and to discover real useful stuff like the number of handles, threads, and processes that are being run).

highlight box It's worth noting here that XP's Task Manager has an extra feature called Processes. You can click this and find out gobs of info about your various processes. It's also worth noting that XP/2K/NT 4's Task Manager has a "tiny footprint" mode that can confuse some users into thinking they've lost most of their program window. If this has happened to you, return Task Manager to normal by double-clicking in the border.

highlight box The Task Manager, invoked by the Ctrl+Alt+Del command, often shows arcane and cryptically named programs running on your machine. You might be tempted to start shutting them down indiscriminately to see if they really are needed; if you do that, you'll certainly crash Windows at some point. You can do this a little less dramatically by using Win 98/ME/XP's System Configuration utility. Go through Start, Run, and type MSCONFIG in the field. Click on the StartUp tab and deselect the drivers and programs you think you can live without, click on OK, and reboot. If you find out that you need one or more of the deselected programs, go back and reselect it.

highlight box The computer comes on, but instead of the normal display, you get a series of beeps and/or a string of numbers along with an error message: You have a sick computer. Call a tech.

highlight box One of the scariest phrases to see come up on screen is "Hard Drive Not Found." Did the gremlins come in to steal your hard drive? No, but you've definitely got something odd going on. You should have made an emergency boot disk already, so try that. If it still won't boot up, use your system manual to find out how to enter System Setup after restarting the machine; restart it and verify that all drive parameters are correct. If they are, and restarting still doesn't work, you've got a hardware problem. It may be as easy as a cable that's worked itself loose, a frayed wire, or an expansion card that's gumming up the works. If it will boot with the emergency disk, enter DIR /A and check to see if the programs COMMAND.COM, IO.SYS, and MSDOS.SYS are on the startup disk (they should be). If they are, restart your PC; if they aren't, copy them to your C: drive and restart. Still doesn't work? Scan your drive(s) with a DOS-based anti-virus program and restart now. If you still can't get it to work, your last-ditch effort before packing it up for the shop is to enter the command FDISK/MBR at the C: prompt and then restart (hope you've got your data backed up!). If this doesn't do it, you're off to the shop. You may have BIOS problems, see a professional. It may be as simple as replacing the computer's internal battery or resetting BIOS's values. BIOS problems are usually indicated when your computer tells you that your hard drive or your operating system are missing. They're not missing; BIOS just can't find them. Reinstalling your CMOS RAM(as above) might fix the problem, but if that doesn't do it, holler for help.

highlight box Or maybe there's the dreaded "Stack Overflow" message. This tip actually won't help with that one, but if you get the similar, even more arcane "This message is informing you that your computer has no spare stack pages. You may need to increase the setting of 'MinSPs' in System.ini to prevent possible stack faults. There are currently (nnn) SPs allocated" message, here's what's happening. Windows is trying to load a driver that's using extra memory and is trying to compensate for it. Unfortunately, your stack configuration isn't cooperating. Fix this problem by editing the SYSTEM.INI file in Notepad: find the [386enh] section and edit, or add, following line:
If this does not work, increase the amount by doubling each time. Don't worry about taking too much memory; each stack takes only 4Kb.

highlight box A common, and scary, error message is the phrase "CMOS Checksum Error." The CMOS is a battery-backed chip on your motherboard that holds critical hardware configuration info -- not something you want to be sick. Several system utility programs out there will back up CMOS information, but if you don't have one of these, you should print out and keep your CMOS information as detailed above. The "checksum" error comes about when your PC thinks that the CMOS information has changed without your having changed it. The most common cause for this is a dying CMOS battery, but several viruses also cause this, as well as one-time anomalies that come and go without explanation. You need to restore CMOS's original settings, either by using something like Nuts&Bolts or Norton Utilities, or by letting a techie do it using your printed configuration. Save the changes and reboot the PC, and if the error appears again, you've either got a dying battery or a virus. Have a techie replace the battery. If the error keeps appearing, run a virus scan with an up-to-date virus scanner. If it still appears, you have a freaked-out CMOS and you need to yell for help. Sometimes the error disappears without a trace -- in that case, cross your fingers and hope it doesn't reoccur.

highlight box Sometimes when booting up, Windows displays a "File Not Found" message. This isn't as bad as it looks (usually) -- often Windows is hunting for a file associated with a program you uninstalled, and being stupid, Windows can't figure out why the file is no longer there. (Usually it's a .DLL or .VXD file missing.) You may still have entries in the Registry or in SYSTEM.INI that reflect these missing files. Copy down the name of the missing file exactly as it reads in the error message. Then, from the taskbar, select Start/Find/Files and Folders. Search for the missing file; if you find it, copy it to your WINDOWS or WINDOWS\SYSTEM folder. If you think you might have moved or renamed a program file, make a new folder with the old name, and copy the offending program there. Reboot and see if the error message goes away. (Talk about spit and baling wire....) Now, what happens if you can't find the offending file? You'll need to go through the Registry, and through the SYSTEM.INI file, for any references to the file, and delete them. (Back up copies of both the Registry and the SYSTEM.INI file before tinkering.) Use RegEdit to go through the Registry, and Notepad to open SYSTEM.INI. When you find any lines devoted to the offending file, note exactly where they are (in case you need to reinstate them) and delete them. Carefully. Then check your WINDOWS\STARTUP folder for any shortcuts that call for the file, and delete them.

highlight box Sometimes a PC likes to restart itself without warning. If this occurs, you need to check it out. Heat is the most likely problem; something is overheating, and it's most likely your CPU. Check your cooling fan; if it isn't working or you've got a cheapie, have a new one ($20 or so) installed. If it isn't heat, it might be a loose connection. Have a techie disconnect and reseat the power cables from the power supply that attach to the motherboard. Your techie friend should also use a voltmeter to check for loose wires in the connectors while they're disconnected. If this doesn't fix it, start looking for cracked traces on the motherboard or poor solder connections. If you've gone this far, you may want to consider heaving the old motherboard and replacing it in its entirety. Before you do that, though, consider problems with your electrical supply. Your local power company might be slamming you with power surges (though you'd probably notice your lights flickering, your VCR resetting to 12:00, etc.). Buy and use a high-quality surge protector or even a standby power supply.

highlight box One of my favorite Windows zappers is the mysteriously deleted .VXD file. (I reinstalled from scratch twice because of this.) You start your computer and instead of the usual desktop, your computer jumps straight to the Shut Down screen or you get a message telling you that the VMM32.VXD file is missing or corrupted. Buried deep in the vaults of Microsoft's Knowledge Base is a solution that even the Microsoft phone minion I talked to didn't know about: Restart, press F8 when the "Starting Windows" message appears, and choose "Command Prompt Only," and from the C: prompt, type:

Now you have to reinstall Windows, as described above. If everything works as before, delete the VMM32.OLD file. Confused? Try reading the article at Microsoft's Web site at Another good source of information about this file is at

highlight box A related problem to the above .VXD snafu occurs when the WININIT.EXE file is damaged or lost. In this case, your computer will, again, jump straight from startup to shutdown. You need to reinstall WININIT.EXE from your Windows CD or floppies. Get to the C: prompt as described above, insert your Windows CD or Disk 1 of your floppies, and type the following command:

COPY D:\EXTRACT.EXE C:\ (use A: instead of D: if you're using floppies and not the CD).
Now you can extract (decompress) the WININIT.EXE file from storage. (If you're using floppies, insert Disk 11 now.) Type:
EXTRACT D:\WIN95_11.CAB WININIT.EXE /L C:\WINDOWS\SYSTEM (Again, use A: instead of D: if applicable.)
This replaces the bad file with a fresh copy. Restart your computer. (At least you don't have to reinstall Windows!)

highlight box More .VXD woes? Here are some general tips, courtesy of Steve Bass. First, try to find the offending .VXD file in your hard drive; it's possible it's there, but not being recognized by the Registry. Find the VXD and rename it in a way that you'll be able to find it later; for instance, rename IMPORTANT.VXD to X-IMPORTANT.VXD. If that doesn't help, examine the error message and see what it recommends. If it says the VXD is missing from a specific program that you're still, reinstall the program. You also may have tried to uninstall the program but it only partially removed itself. Try uninstalling it again and hope for a full un-installation. If that doesn't work, the best way to fully uninstall it is to install it first, and then uninstall it again. You may also want to examine your system's bootlog file, located at C:\BOOTLOG.TXT, and see what other .VXDs or drivers aren't loading. It may give you a hint of the problem. You can create a Boot Log file by choosing option 2 from the Windows 95/98 Startup Menu (press F8 while booting in order to display the Startup Menu). Remember, some failures are normal. If you're seeing load failures in your bootlog.txt file that aren't the ones you're getting on boot, read this article from Microsoft:
Load Failures Listed in the Bootlog.txt File, located at If you're still flummoxed, then maybe you need an exorcist. Failing that, you'll need to scour the registry for the entry that still holds the reference for the VXD. Go to Start, Run, and type REGEDIT. Select Registry, Export Registry File, and type in the File Name field, and hit Enter. Then select Edit, Find, and first type in the exact name of the file in the Find What field. Click Find Next and when the search stops, delete the highlighted key—the name of the VXD. Press Enter to confirm and to continue searching until a message pops up indicating "Finished searching through the registry." If the Registry's Find doesn't find the .VXD, it gets ticklish. Make sure you typed the .VXD correctly. Try looking for portions of the .VXD's name. Or look for the program the .VXD was part of and see if the .VXD is listed that way. Ugh.

highlight box If you're getting an "Error Starting Program" message that indicates various files are "linked to missing export MFC42.DLL:(various #s)," there's obviously a problem with your MFC42.DLL file: it's missing, damaged, or just isn't registered in the Windows Registry. Start by trying to re-register the MFC42.DLL file in the registry because it is a pretty fast and easy fix. Click Start, Run. At the Run window, type C:\WINDOWS\SYSTEM32\REGSVR32.EXE C:\WINDOWS\SYSTEM\MFC42.DLL and click OK. You should get a message that MFC42.DLL was successfully registered, after which you need to restart your computer. If you don't have any more trouble then you know it was just a matter of an unregistered file. If you are still having trouble, then you probably have a damaged or missing MFC42.DLL file. Microsoft Knowledge Base Article 184799 addresses this exact problem. Basically, you just need to extract a new copy of the MFC42.DLL file from your Windows CD. Put your Windows installation CD in the CD-ROM drive, click Start, Run. At the Run window type SFC and then click OK. Next, click "Extract one file from installation disk" and in the "Specify the system file you would like to restore" field you need to type C:\WINDOWS\SYSTEM\MFC42.DLL, and then click Start. Now, click the Browse button next to the "Restore from" field and browse to either your Windows CD or your Windows CAB files on your hard drive. All that is left after this is to click OK, follow the on-screen instructions, and restart your computer.

highlight box Win 95 holdouts: if you upgraded from Win 3.x and you're experiencing lots of GPF's (general protection faults), hangs, blue-screen parity error messages, etc. in more than one program, you may have bad RAM chips on your motherboard. This needs a tech to fix.

highlight box If you're experiencing frequent system hangs with no error messages being displayed, suspect a hardware resource conflict. Most likely you have an IRQ conflict. You may be able to track down the culprit by going through the System applet in Control Panel, or through Device Manager. You may have an older piece of hardware on your computer that was designed for older versions of Windows (the hardware may well have been bundled onto your system before you bought it, especially if you bought a budget or secondhand system) or your device drivers may be outdated. If you're able to access the "Details" box from an error message, and you keep seeing faults generated by a file ending in .SYS, you probably have an outdated DOS real-mode device driver which refuses to work with Windows. Try to find out which piece of hardware this driver is running, and get a more up-to-date driver, probably from DriversHQ ( or from the hardware manufacturer's Web site. You may also have driver problems with files ending in .VXD, .386, and .DRV. Frequent faults from one of these means you need an update also. You shouldn't be running any .386 drivers; all of these should have been updated to .VXD drivers. A quick way to locate problem drivers is to generate a system report (see the Print and Keep System Info page). If you do need to get new drivers, make sure you find out how to install them before doing so. A faulty installation of a correct driver will cause more problems than you already have. You may need to get help for this. (One good source is Microsoft's Knowledge Base article Q130179, "Troubleshooting MS-DOS Compatibility Mode on Hard Disks." Find this article on their Website.)

highlight box To use Device Manager to resolve an IRQ conflict, click the Device Manager tab and the plus sign (+) next to the line for the type of adapter you are installing. (For example, if it’s a display adapter, click the plus sign next to Display Adapters.) Check to see if there is a symbol next to the new adapter. An exclamation point inside a yellow circle is a warning that this device is experiencing a conflict with another device because they are trying to use the same IRQ (resource setting). Windows will only let one device use an IRQ, so you will need to resolve this by checking the documentation for this device. When you know the conflicting IRQ number, scroll to the top of the Device Manager and double-click the Computer icon. The Computer Properties dialog box opens with a list of devices on your computer and the IRQ assigned to each one. Scroll through this list, locate the device that is conflicting with your new device, and make a note of its IRQ. While you’re at it, find an open IRQ and make a note of it. You’ll need to assign the legacy device to the open IRQ. Close the Computer Properties dialog box to return to the Device Manager, then scroll through the list of hardware to locate the conflicting legacy device. Click the line for that device, then click Properties. Click the Resources tab, then uncheck Use Automatic Settings. Click the Interrupt Request Line, click the Change Setting button, and assign the device to the open IRQ you noted earlier. This frees up the old IRQ for your new device. Click OK. Return to the Device Manager, and click the line for your new adapter card. Click Properties and the Resources tab, and uncheck Use Automatic Settings. Next, click the Interrupt Request line, click Change Setting, and assign this device to the appropriate IRQ. Click OK. Exit the Device Manager, restart Win95, and your new adapter and old adapter should now work. If not, you may need to contact the device manufacturer for technical support or contact a pro for assistance.

highlight box Need to add another peripheral, and Windows is out of IRQs? You might try using the secondary IDE channel. Boot into your BIOS setup program and disable the secondary IDE controller. On most systems, this frees up IRQ 15. Don't know what I'm talking about with this tip? Then, er, don't try it.

highlight box Often Windows can correct a misbehaving piece of hardware by having it reinstalled through Device Manager. That's right, "uninstall" it and let Windows reinstall it, hopefully eliminating the glitchy behavior in the process. Go through Control Panel, open the System applet, and choose the Device Manager tab. In the list, highlight the piece of hardware causing you the trouble and click "Remove." Shut down Windows and unplug the piece of hardware. Restart Windows, and when your system is up and running, plug the hardware device back in. If Plug&Play doesn't get the installation process started, use the Add New Hardware applet in Control Panel to reinstall it.

highlight box To expand on the above: if your computer refuses to recognize a particular piece of hardware -- a CD-ROM drive or a printer or whatever -- and restarting it has no effect, go into Add New Hardware in the Control Panel and have Windows try to find and install the hardware itself. Windows provides a Hardware Compatibility List (out of date but possibly useful) either in the Drivers folder of the CD-ROM or under C\WINDOWS\HELP. Double-click the HCL95 help file. Click whichever icon is appropriate and look for your piece of hardware. New hardware is always coming out, and your hardware may not be listed on the HCL file. Check to see if the manufacturer lists it as Windows-compatible. Microsoft updates this list somewhere on its Web site; start hunting at Another way of dealing with device problems is to access Device Manager through Start/Settings/Control Panel/System, and looking down the list for devices marked with a red X or a yellow exclamation mark. Highlight those one at a time and click on Properties to find out more. Pay close attention to the information in Resources. If that dialog box lists a resource conflict, use the Conflict troubleshooter to find a cure. If that doesn't do the trick, try removing the check mark from the box that says Use Automatic Settings and restart the computer. If you're not sure what to do, click on the Remove button to remove the device altogether, restart Windows, and repeat the installation. Hopefully the restart will clear your problem up, with Windows reinstalling the errant hardware. Search manufacturers' Web sites for updated drivers; your driver software may be out of date. (There is no need to install newer drivers over older ones if the old ones are working properly -- if it ain't broke, don't fix it!) There is one more thing that you can do if you're facing the option of reinstalling Windows to clear up this problem, but it's a last-ditch option: you can force Windows to redetect all the hardware in your system, and the redetection process could solve your problem. Open Device Manager, expand the System Devices tree structure, remove every listed device, then restart your computer. It may take several reboots for Windows to detect every piece of hardware, but sometimes this takes care of the system conflict. Remember, this is a last-ditch option; if it fails, you will have to reinstall Windows.


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