Your Ad Here

Oct 30, 2008

How To Diagnose Computer Problems Using Event IDs

Anytime your system crashes or an application freezes up, Event Viewer dutifully logs the error--but sorting through Event Viewer logs can be just as frustrating as dealing with the Blue Screen of Death. Here's a cheat sheet.

1. Start by familiarizing yourself with Event Viewer before you have a problem. It's under Start, Settings, Control Panel, Administrative Tools, Event Viewer. The utility's System node logs Windows issues (particularly networking ones), while the Application node logs issues with other software. You should not see much activity in the Security node since it is disabled by default and is used only if you have auditing turned on (which requires extra Microsoft software and ultimately doesn't help most folks anyway). Third-party apps might create more nodes, as well.

2. Events are fairly self-explanatory: The date and time of each event are logged along with its source, plus miscellaneous data about the issue. Most events will be noted as 'Information' and are generally safe to ignore. The 'Error' and 'Warning' entries are what you should concern yourself with. You can access the guts of the information by double-clicking the event to open its Event Properties page.

3. In the Event Properties window, you'll find detailed information about the error in question and a link to the Microsoft support Web site. Clicking the link will open a detail page within the Windows Help application (not your browser) for the error you're investigating. But often the information you get will tell you little about the problem, either saying no more data is available or declaring there's nothing you can do.

4. For more detail on the error types and what they mean, turn to the Web. Plug the event ID into, or search for key phrases in the error message, and try looking for clues to your problem by using the 'Source' field in the Event Viewer log as a search term.

Oct 26, 2008

How To Safeguard Your Wireless (Wi-Fi) Network

Out of the box, most Wi-Fi routers are totally insecure. Fixing that takes only a few minutes, but you can easily get lost in the confusing menus of your router's management tool. Here's what to do.

1. If possible, plug in via ethernet to set up your router at the start--it'll save considerable time down the line. Don't bother installing the special software that comes with your router. Most routers can be controlled via a Web browser, which lets you manage your router from any networked PC.

2. To manage the router, type its IP address into your Web browser's address bar. If you don't know the IP address, go to Start, Run and type ipconfig /all in the field. The address will be shown as 'Default Gateway'. You'll also need the user name and password available in the manual or via an online search of the model number.

3. Once you can manage your router, change the administrator password you just looked up. This is typically under System Settings or a similar option.

4. Next, turn on encryption. WPA (or WPA-PSK) is about as secure as Wi-Fi gets today. Set a WPA key, and configure your clients to use the new key. (If one of the devices on your network does not support the WPA version you want to use, though, you'll have to go with a less secure method.) Look for 'Encryption' or 'Security' in the wireless management portion of the page (where you'll also find the following steps' settings).

5. It's a good idea to change the SSID from the default, which is usually 'linksys', 'belkin', or the like. Choose an SSID that doesn't invite inquiry from passersby (like 'broken' instead of 'janes-wifi' or '123mainstreet'). For extreme security, turn off SSID broadcasting.

6. Optional: Enable MAC address control, which limits access to computers you specify by their unique MAC address. This can enhance security, but MAC addresses are easily spoofed, and using this feature means you'll have to access your router's admin page to add new PCs to your network. To find a PC's MAC address, use the ipconfig command in step 2; look for the 'Physical Address'. Add that address to the allowed list in the appropriate router settings page.

Oct 20, 2008

Tweaking With PowerToys

Microsoft offers a sizable collection of useful yet unofficial and unsupported utilities called PowerToys. Following are the essential PowerToys for any serious computer user; all are downloadable from Microsoft's PowerToys for Windows XP page.

* ClearType Tuner: Dramatically improves font legibility on some LCD screens.
* Image Resizer: Adds a new menu when you right-click a photo on your PC. Just click Resize Pictures to change an image's dimensions without opening an editor.
* Tweak UI: If you don't already have Tweak UI, get it. This essential OS tweaking tool offers more granular control over your privacy settings and operations, and even over the way you log in to your PC (plus much more). It should be one of the first things you install on any new computer.
* Alt-Tab Replacement: Adds previews of each page when you switch between open applications using -.
* SyncToy: Improves the task of synchronizing files among multiple machines, especially compared with Windows Briefcase.

Oct 16, 2008

How To Restore the Run Command in Vista

If you use the default Start menu in Windows Vista (as opposed to the Classic Start menu), the Run command doesn't appear in it. To change that, right-click the Start button and choose Properties. With the Start Menu tab active, click the Customize button in the upper right. Scroll through the list of options and check Run command. Click OK twice. The command will now appear in the lower-right corner of the Start menu.

Oct 11, 2008

How To Troubleshoot Standby or Hibernate Problem

What if Windows doesn't awaken from its standby or hibernate modes?

Many standby and hibernate problems can be traced to graphics boards and sound cards. A simple driver update might get hibernation working again.

Some applications can cause sleep/wake-up difficulties as well. As a test, put your PC into standby or hibernation when particular programs are running, and when they aren't. If everything works when you're not running a certain program, look for a free update, replace the app if no such update is available, or close the program before you take a break.

A BIOS update could also resolve the matter. Check your system vendor's Web site to see if one is available.

If something doesn't work immediately after your system wakes up, wait a bit and try again. Your computer could take a while to come back. If all else fails, enter the name of the hardware or software you installed most recently along with the words 'standby' or 'hibernate' in a search engine to find Web pages and Usenet discussions on potential problems.

Oct 7, 2008

How To Find Out What Your PC Is Really Up To

The Windows Task Manager provides a good start when you try to discover what programs are running on your system, but it's only a first step. For more-detailed data, you need another tool. Your best bet: Sysinternals Process Explorer.

Get Process Explorer for Windows v10.21 at Microsoft TechNet. It needs no formal installation; just unzip it and run the .exe file. It will then list your PC's active processes, much as Task Manager does, but with better descriptions and organization.

Interpreting Process Explorer's information is fairly straightforward (and killing processes works much as it does in Task Manager), but here are some tips to help you make the most of the utility.

  • Consider adding the useful 'Handles' column to the view. Handles (a term that refers to programming methodology) are a convenient way to measure a process's resource utilization. Processes with high handle usage should be the first ones you kill when resources run low. Add the column by right-clicking in the header area and clicking the Select Columns option. Click the Process Performance tab and check the box next to Handle Count.
  • Note that Handles can also be created for media-based devices like CD-R drives, which may cause errors on eject. If you can't safely eject a disk or memory card, use the Find menu to search for the drive letter followed by a colon (for example, E:), and kill that process directly.
  • Instead of outright killing a process, you can suspend it (right-click on a process to see this option). This can be useful in the case of a runaway program stuck in an endless loop.
  • Want to know what a program's process identification is to better tell whether it's friend or foe? Open the program, then switch to Process Explorer. In the top-right corner is a target icon (concentric circles). Click this icon and drag it onto the program you want to ID; Process Explorer will highlight the process.