Hardware and software problems don’t necessarily look different. Blue-screening, for instance, can be caused both by faulty hardware and faulty software. If you have a serious computer problem, how do you track down the cause?
If your computer has slowed down
If a slow computer is your main problem, it’s usually nothing more serious than a software issue. Your problem could be a heavy load of unnecessary startup programs, a malware infection or even your hard disk switching to PIO mode (because of repeated improper shutdowns). These are easily fixed with a little tweaking or with antivirus software.
Only rarely can a slow computer be traced to faulty hardware. If you have a malfunctioning processor fan, for instance, your CPU could underclock itself to protect against overheating.
While hard drives are very reliable, they don’t usually last longer than 7 or 8 years. If your hard disk is over 5 years old, the surface of its platter can begin to deteriorate and lose its ability to reliably store data. As your computer repeatedly tries to write to or read from corrupted parts of the disk, you can begin to experience slowdowns.
If you experience frequent blue-screening even when all you have is new, quality hardware, you need to suspect either an issue with a recent hardware upgrade or a problem with a new driver. If you haven’t installed hardware or upgraded a driver recently, though, you can reasonably suspect that you have a problem with failing components.
What kind of hardware problems cause blue-screening?
The CPU : It isn’t just the CPU fan that can fail. CPUs can become unreliable over time, too. Usually, inadequate cooling because of a failing fan or bad power from a deteriorating power supply can slowly degrade individual transistors in a CPU over time. Undependable processing can cause a CPU to put out bad data and instructions that shut the system down.
The memory : When RAM fails occur, you don’t necessarily lose entire sticks of RAM all at once. You can lose RAM sticks in parts. When your system attempts to write data to or retrieve data from a defective RAM, it can get back incorrect values that destabilize the system. This can result in crashes and blue screens.
The graphics card : Since the GPU is an important processor by itself, heat and power-related problems can corrupt its transistors in just the way they can the transistors of a CPU. The graphics card has as much ability to blue-screen your computer as the CPU does.
The power supply : A failing power supply can damage a computer by putting out unreliable power incorrect voltage, poor amperage and so on. It can even prevent a computer from starting up. Many motherboards carry LEDs to indicate incoming power. If you press the power button and see no lights on the motherboard, it points to a faulty power supply (it can also point to a loose connection or a failed wire at some point on the line).
If your motherboard has a problem, a component that is burned out or has worked itself loose, for instance you’ll have to either take the motherboard in for a professional repair or simply replace the board. The best way to determine if it is hardware or software that causes poor reliability in a computer is to simply reinstall Windows all over again. If your computer malfunctions right through the process or immediately after installation, you know that you have a hardware problem.