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Why You Need This Book

Whether you use a PC for gaming, creativity, or extending your workday, you're going to have problems with hardware, Windows, applications, networking, the Internet, or peripherals. There's no getting around it—PCs don't always work right. And when they don't work, you want answers that work and you want them fast!

Computer problems can be divided into three categories:

  • Hardware problems

  • Software problems

  • Internet/networking problems

Sometimes, a computer problem involves two or more of these areas, making the solution even tougher. Fortunately, Leo Laporte's PC Help Desk is designed to solve the most common problems you'll encounter in all three areas, even if multiple problems are plaguing your system.

This book is designed to give you the answers you need to solve your computer problems—fast! Instead of forcing you to read about the history of computers or stuffing long lists of software and hardware features into your brain and making you figure out which ones hold the answers to your problem, our goal is to take you directly from symptoms to solutions.

You can count on the solutions in this book. They are based on Leo and Mark's over 40 years of combined experience with computers and related technologies and many years of applying their knowledge to solving problems via consulting (Leo and Mark), teaching troubleshooting classes and writing magazine articles (Mark), hosting radio and TV shows (Leo), and writing books (Leo and Mark). Mark's trusty FRANKENPC laboratory computer and its mates were subjected to dozens of configuration changes during the course of research on this book and its predecessor, Mark's PC Help Desk in a Book. For this edition, even more problems and solutions have been gathered from discussions with computer users, online research, and suggestions from Que Publishing's editorial and technical staff. This book is based on facts, not fantasy, so you can rely on it.

How to Use This Book

Unlike most computer books, which dump huge numbers of facts into your brain and expect you to sift through them to find the answers to your problem, Leo Laporte's PC Help Desk is designed to provide you with fast access to practical solutions you can apply right away. We hope you'll find it fascinating reading, but it's really intended to be a quick reference you'll turn to when your computer has a problem and put aside until you have another problem—or another question.

Some troubleshooting books tell you what do to without telling you why. Leo Laporte's PC Help Desk is different. We love to explain why things are the way they are inside your computer, commiserate with you when things don't make sense, and show you solutions that make sense. We've never believed that treating human beings as robots it a good idea, and we're not about to start. You deserve an explanation of computer problems and their solutions, and we make sure you get what you deserve.

Some books are designed to be read just once; again, Leo Laporte's PC Help Desk is different. Because of its broad and deep coverage of computer problems and solutions, you'll turn to it as a valuable reference again and again to solve computer problems at home, at the office, or at the corporate help desk.

Here's how to get the most from this book:

Take a look at the chapters; they're discussed in detail later in this introduction. Go to the chapter that most closely matches your general problem area. For example, if you're having a problem getting your digital camera to connect with your PC, go to Chapter 6, “Troubleshooting Multimedia and Imaging Devices.”

Each chapter starts with a feature we call Fast Track to Solutions, a table of symptoms and solutions. Use this table to point yourself toward underlying problems and their solutions.

Start here when you need help fast. Each table lists symptoms common to the parts of your computer or peripherals discussed in that chapter.

As soon as you have located the appropriate Fast Track to Solutions symptoms table, look up the symptom. Each symptom sends you directly to a troubleshooting flowchart or book section that covers your problem and its solution.

If you are directed to a flowchart, each flowchart provides step-by-step solutions with ample cross-references to the text that provides detailed information about the problem and how to find the solution.

If you are directed to a particular book section, use the text, screen shots, and equipment photos to learn more about how your hardware and software work and to learn the troubleshooting steps needed to solve your problem.

Use the special elements in each chapter to find valuable tips and shortcuts, discover useful websites, and avoid potential dangers.

Here's an example of how to use this book to solve a problem:

Assume that you can't hear any sound coming from your computer's speakers. Chapter 5, “Troubleshooting Graphics and Sound Problems,” covers audio problems, so turn to the start of Chapter 5 to get started. The Fast Track to Solutions symptoms table at the beginning of this chapter offers a flowchart called “Speaker and Volume Control Problems.” Go to the flowchart and follow the solutions given in order. For example, in this flowchart, the first question is, “Is your sound hardware working according to Device Manager?” If you are not sure or if you have already used Device Manager to determine the sound hardware is not working, follow the cross-reference to the “Sound Hardware Problems” flowchart for solutions. If Device Manager indicates the sound hardware is working correctly, the next question is, “Did you just attach the speakers to the sound hardware?” If you answer Yes, the flowchart directs you to check the speaker connections. If you answer No, the flowchart directs you to make sure the speakers are turned on. Cross-references to specific sections of the book provide you with illustrations and write-ups to help you answer the questions posed in each flowchart.

Continue through the flowchart until you find the solution that matches your hardware and situation.

If you are directed to a particular portion of a chapter by Fast Track to Solutions or a flowchart, read the text and follow the suggestions and cross-references given there until you solve the problem. The pictures and screen shots provided will help you locate and use similar features on your system. For many problems, you will use a combination of one or more flowcharts and particular book sections to find the right solution.

How This Book Is Organized

Leo Laporte's PC Help Desk includes the following sections:

  • Ten chapters cover all the important hardware and software components of your computer and peripherals.

  • An appendix includes a guide to troubleshooting methods and tools and over 50 flowcharts to help you solve the most common PC and peripheral problems.

The following sections explain the book sections in greater details.

Chapter 1: PC Anatomy 101

The first chapter of this book provides a detailed look at what makes your computer work inside and out, along with coverage of the BIOS setup program, hardware resources, Power-On Self-Test error codes, and coverage of the major I/O port types in typical computers. Because you need to be careful when you work inside your computer, this chapter also provides you with instructions on how to avoid damage from electrostatic discharge (ESD).

Wherever you are on the computer knowledge scale, from novice to expert, be sure to read Chapter 1 for valuable background. If you're in a hurry for particular information about your PC's internal layout or external ports, use the Fast Track to Solutions symptoms table at the beginning of the chapter to go straight to the appropriate section of the book.

Chapter 2: Troubleshooting Windows XP and Windows Applications

Chapter 2 starts with a Fast Track to Solutions symptoms table. Dig into it for fast help with the most common problems with Windows and software (shovel not included).

In this chapter, you learn how to troubleshoot and solve problems with the Windows boot, startup, and shutdown processes. Next, you discover how to use Control Panel to solve problems with your system, how to use Device Manager to fix balky components, and how to use other Windows XP tools such as System Information, Net Diagnostics, CHKDSK, Defrag, and others to solve common problems. This chapter also shows you how to keep Windows up to date with service packs and Windows Update, and how to repair a “broken” Windows installation. If Windows works but programs don't, this chapter also shows you how to fix and update problem programs, how to fix STOP (blue screen) errors, and how to select the best tools to stop viruses and slam spyware. This chapter assumes that you have installed Windows XP Service Pack 2 (because Microsoft says it's good for you, and this is one time they're right!).

Chapter 3: Troubleshooting Storage Devices

If your PC's running out of storage space or can't read some of its drives, forget about passing Go. Instead, proceed directly to the Fast Track to Solutions symptoms table at the start of the chapter.

In this chapter, you learn how to solve problems with floppy drives, ATA/IDE and Serial ATA (SATA) internal hard disks, as well as external drives that connect through USB, IEEE-1394, or CardBus connectors. This chapter also covers drive upgrades for both desktop and portable computers, and wraps up with solutions for rewritable CD and DVD drives, including the latest dual-layer models.

Chapter 4: Troubleshooting Your Printer

No printing? Garbage printing? Wasting paper? Read Fast Track to Solutions at the start of this chapter. (It's preprinted for your troubleshooting convenience!)

Inside this chapter, learn how to diagnose printers that won't print or print gibberish output and solve problems with standard and photo inkjet printers, dye-sublimation photo printers, or laser and LED printers. Learn how to use printer properties sheets to achieve top-quality output.

Chapter 5: Troubleshooting Graphics and Sound Problems

Fuzzy monitor? Shaky sound? If you've already cleaned your glasses and removed your earplugs but things haven't improved, mosey on over to the Fast Track to Solutions symptom tables at the start of this chapter for help.

In this chapter, you learn how to troubleshoot monitor and graphics card problems, tweak your display for best visual quality, set up multiple displays, improve 3D game performance with graphics and audio settings, reinstall or update a driver, and fix audio problems with applications and music CDs.

Chapter 6: Troubleshooting Multimedia and Imaging Devices

Hit the Fast Track to Solutions symptom tables at the front of the chapter instead of hitting a balky DV camcorder, bothersome digital camera, or other multimedia hardware and software.

In this chapter, you learn how to fix DV camcorder or digital camera connections to your PC, recover data from formatted or erased media, fix DVD playback problems, solve compatibility issues with digital music players, make Windows Media Player work your way, and improve the quality and performance of photo scanners.

Chapter 7: Troubleshooting I/O Ports and Input Devices

If your mousing is miserable or your ports are leaning to starboard, steer for the Fast Track to Solutions symptom tables at the start of this chapter.

In this chapter, discover the best methods for troubleshooting problems with IEEE-1394, USB, PS/2, serial, and parallel ports. Learn how to get the most out of USB 2.0 ports and solve problems with standard and wireless keyboards and mice.

Chapter 8: Troubleshooting Your Network and Internet Connections

Got an Internet connection that connects to nothing? Got a “notwork” instead of a network? Get thee to the Fast Track to Solutions symptoms table at the start of this chapter, pronto!

In this chapter, you learn how to fix problems caused by bad web-viewing components, discover the meaning of website error messages and numbers, solve problems with analog and broadband Internet connections, repair broken Ethernet and Wi-Fi networks, and discover TCP/IP configuration and troubleshooting tools and methods.

Chapter 9: Troubleshooting Memory, Processor, and System Performance Problems

If your computer acts as if it's sloth-powered, go to the Fast Track to Solutions symptoms table at the start of the chapter for help.

In this chapter, you learn how to track down the causes of slow system performance and solve them through virtual memory fine-tuning as well as processor or memory upgrades. Discover the best solutions for cooling problems and how to right-size a memory upgrade. Find out how to avoid motherboard and processor failures.

Chapter 10: Troubleshooting Power Problems

If your computer won't boot or reboots whenever it feels like it, power up with the Fast Track to Solutions symptoms table at the start of this chapter.

In this chapter, you discover the signs of power supply overloading and failure, learn how to perform a power supply upgrade, and how to protect your system from poor-quality power or electrical blackouts.

Appendix: Flowcharts and Troubleshooting Methodology

A human appendix is mostly useless. On the other hand, this appendix is one of the most useful sections in the entire book (the rest of the book's pretty good too!).

Whether you've arrived at the flowcharts from a symptoms table or headed straight to the back, you'll find dozens of flowcharts to help you with major PC and peripheral problems. A sample flowchart helps you understand the concept if you're new to flowchart-driven troubleshooting.

If you're an experienced troubleshooter, the flowcharts might be all you need. However, if you're new to solving your own computer problems, be sure to read the section called “Troubleshooting Methodology.” We've placed it at the front of this appendix so you won't miss it. This section puts our recommendations for tools, techniques, and general troubleshooting philosophy at your fingertips.

Special Elements in This Book

In addition to extensive cross-referencing, screen shots, and equipment photos, you will also find several special elements in this book to help you with particular troubleshooting issues:

  • On the Web— Websites that have more information about the current topic

  • Cautions and Warnings— Information you should read and digest before attempting operations that can be hazardous to you, your data, or your computer

  • Leo Says— Advice from Leo

  • Shortcut to Success— Tips for accomplishing a task more easily

A Word from Mark for Fans of PC Help Desk in a Book

This book is the long-awaited (at least by some readers) second edition of my PC Help Desk in a Book. If you already own that book, you're probably wondering, “Do I need this new edition?” Of course you do!

But seriously, here's what's new and better about this edition:

  • Every chapter has been upgraded with updated material, new illustrations, enhanced coverage, and brand-new topics and sidebars.

  • Better organization reduces duplication and page flipping and makes finding the right answers faster than ever before.

  • Updated and brand-new flowcharts cover additional topics.

To make room for the many improvements in this new edition, a few cuts have been made. Now that Windows XP has been the dominant version of Windows for four years, we felt it was time to do away with legacy Windows coverage. Similarly, coverage of legacy devices no longer in widespread use such as SCSI host adapters and scanners and parallel port scanners has also been eliminated.

We believe that Leo Laporte's PC Help Desk is a “must-buy” for every reader of the original edition and is destined to make many thousands of friends in this new and improved edition.

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