When problems occur with your computer, or PC, they fall into two categories – issues with the hardware, the physical components of the machine, or with the software, the program data that is installed onto the motherboard or hard drive.
Broadly speaking, hardware and software problems can be differentiated by the following symptoms or effects;
Total lack of response from the PC; no discernible activity from lights, fans, sounds or onscreen information
Unusual mechanical noise
Visible mechanical damage
Excessive temperature, or PC randomly stopping and/or restarting by itself
Individual programs fail, but others continue to work
Since a software problem with the PC’s operating system can affect all programs, one strategy for differentiating this from a hardware problem is to restart, or boot, the PC from a CD or floppy boot disk. If it works properly from this, it suggests the hardware is in order, and that some repair or replacement of the installed operating system is called for.
If you suspect a hardware problem, then repair is usually a matter of removal of the faulty part, and replacement. PCs are modular devices, and unless the core component – the motherboard – has failed, ancillary components are easy to remove and replace. Replacing a power supply is merely a matter of unplugging various power leads within the PC (noting which is which), unscrewing the power supply, and replacing it. Other elements which plug into or connect directly to the motherboard – optical devices, RAM memory, graphics cards – are merely unplugged and replaced, in the main.
For software, any problem will usually be resolved by reinstallation, either from an install disc, or from an executable that you’ve downloaded. If you’ve purchased the software, it will be found on the install disc that came with the package. If you downloaded, you should use the executable install package, or download it again.
As a regular routine, you should be taking backups of any data that you store on your PC, as insurance against any software or hardware failure. Most crucially, you need to copy any data – documents, spreadsheets, music files, photos – from your primary hard disk to another location. This could be a secondary drive within the PC, an external device, or both. Many commentators suggest that backups of critical data should be kept in more than one remote location.