Sure-fire fixes

Is your PC troubled? Maybe it has the blues (it wants to be a Mac). More likely, it's suffering from any of a dozen things, such as a corrupt file, a bad app, or even a moribund CMOS battery. Read on for PC therapy.

The Hassle: My PC freezes periodically. How do I unfreeze it without losing my work or having to reboot?

The Fix: Hit <Ctrl>-<Alt>-<Del> to bring up Task Manager, select the Processes tab, choose Explorer.exe , and click End Process. (Just ignore the scary message.) Select File, New Task (Run...), type explorer, and click OK.

The Hassle: Your advice helped me unfreeze my system - but it keeps happening, and I can't go on like this. What now?

The Fix: Start with the usual suspects: Scrub your Temp and Internet cache folders. using CleanCache 3.0 (see Tool of the Month). Then run Windows' Check Disk utility with the "Automatically fix file system errors" and "Scan for and attempt recovery of bad sectors" options checked. (Open My Computer, right-click the drive, select Properties, choose the Tools tab, and click the Check Now button under "Error-checking". See the VW008 video walkthrough on the Cover Disc of the October 2006 issue of PC World Magazine for a faster way). Also, send your antispyware and antivirus tools into action.

No luck? Try getting rid of damaged ActiveX programs. From Control Panel, choose Internet Options, the General tab, Settings, and View Objects. Right-click to delete any items marked "Damaged" in the Status column.

You might have a corrupted file, so run System File Checker to verify (and, if necessary, reinstall) those files on your system: click Start-Run, and then type cmd and hit <Enter>. In the command window, type sfc /scannow and wait awhile; the scan seems to take forever to complete.

If your PC is still having problems, they may be more deep-rooted. You'll have to try a few techniques to figure out which program or process is causing it to freeze. Sysinternals has three superb free diagnostic tools (www.sysinternals.com or on the Cover Disc of the October 2006 issue of PC World Magazine). FileMon gives you a real-time view of every running program and lets you know what it's doing, recording and time-stamping each action an app takes; watch for a specific program's behaviour just before a freeze. RegMon does the same for the Registry, while Process Explorer does the dirty work on Windows processes.

The Hassle: Periodically, my PC boots to a black screen with a message saying that my hard drive doesn't exist. When I reboot, Windows loads and everything's fine. Well, almost - the clock is always wrong. Help!

The Fix: You have a dying CMOS battery on your motherboard. You'll first need to record the system's existing CMOS settings, which you can find in the BIOS - hit <F2> or <Delete> during startup to access the BIOS, there should be an indication during boot which key to use. Use a digital camera to snap an image of each page, or record the details with pencil and paper. Then buy a fresh battery and follow the steps at www.liverepair.com/encyclopedia/articles/cmosreplace.asp.

Tool of the month

If you want to free your computer of useless system files, try CleanCache 3.4 (on the Cover Disc of the October 2006 issue of PC World Magazine or www.buttuglysoftware.com). This free program removes Windows' temporary files, Office's Most Recently Used history, and browser cache files. I prefer judicious cleaning, so I use the "Clean Checked Items" option rather than "Run Complete Cleanup", click here to see what it looks like. One gripe: CleanCache has a setting to preserve useful cookies; but even with it turned on, you will have to click "Remember my Address and Password" again on many of the sites you visit. Note that CleanCache requires Microsoft's .Net Framework.

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Steve Bass

PC World (US online)
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