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3 common computer problems & how to fix them yourself

“Have you tried turning it off and on again?”
The IT Crowd

It’s become a catchphrase because it’s effective and really works. And while that solution can solve a lot of issues, there are other things you can try to when your computer is acting up.

Here are 3 common computer problems and some simple steps you can take to troubleshoot them yourself without having to call in the IT support cavalry.

Your computer is running slow

Computers need rest, just like us. If you leave your computer on for long stretches at a time, your computer can begin to feel sluggish.

Here are some things you can try when a slow computer has got you down:

  • Close unneeded programs and tabs: Whatever your workflow, it’s easy for extra windows, open files, and internet browser tabs to pile up. Each of these is eating up system resources whether you’re actively using them or not. Close what you don’t need and see if that improves performance.
  • Open Task Manager or Activity Monitor: Sometimes background process hang around or become bloated. In order to really see what’s going on, use the Windows Task Manager or Mac OS X Activity Monitor. They provide easy to read diagnostics that show how much of your system’s resources each process is using. From there you can see what program needs your attention and force quite programs that are frozen or not being used.

If you’re running into this problem a lot, it could be time for a more thorough, professional evaluation.

Difficulty connecting to the internet

As more of our work moves to the cloud, slow or intermittent internet connections can be maddening when you’re trying to work. It could be the issue is with the connection itself, in which case you’ll need to address that with your internet provider (or try a different coffee shop down the street). But sometimes your computer or location is causing the problem.

Here are some things you can do to try and improve your internet connection.

  • Check your computer: The first step is understanding exactly what is acting slow. Is it your whole connection, or just your browser? Try closing different applications to see if that makes a difference. If you like to listen to an online radio service, it could be hogging all your bandwidth.
  • Check your surroundings: Our lives are increasingly networked, so odds are you have your smartphone nearby and maybe your smartwatch or other accessories too. Wireless frequency bands are surprisingly narrow bands of frequencies and it’s easy for signals to get crossed and performance degrade. Try to adjust your devices so they have sufficient breathing room to send and receive without conflict.
  • Check your network: Is the person next to you having the same problems? Check your hardware and make sure that everything is plugged in and receiving a signal.

Deeper issues such as how your business utilizes its WiFi and data transit may require expert management.

Your document won’t print

We may be more digital than ever, but sometimes we still need paper. All it takes is one temperamental printer to back everything up.

If you’re trying to print and nothing is coming out, here are some things you can try.

  • Check the printer status from your computer: Open the Printers & Scanners menu of System Preferences in OS X or in Windows, open Device Manager, so you can see if there’s a paper jam, an offline printer or something else.
  • Check the physical printer: Maybe it has a paper jam, or is out of paper.
  • Check the size of the document you’re printing: Just like when you download something from the internet, when you send a document to the printer, it has to download the entire file before it can print. If you’re sending a large document that’s full of graphics, it can take your printer longer than you might expect to download the entire document before it starts printing. Really large files can also cause the printer to get overloaded and freeze.
  • Reset the printer connection: In Mac OS X, when you have the Printers & Scanners menu up, Right-Click on the list of devices and select “Reset Printing System”. On Windows 10, you can use the Printing Troubleshooter by typing “Printing Problem” into the system search bar to get started.
  • Turn the printer off and on again: Yes, this technique works on printers too.
  • Update your drivers: Printers don’t often get the same love our computers do in staying up to date, so it’s easy for them or our connection to fall behind. Check your computer’s printer drivers.  In Windows 10, use the Device Manager and find your device. Then right-click and select “Update drivers”. Check for a System update with OS X and if it’s built-in, your system will update automatically.

Increasingly, printers are shared across whole departments and keeping them running well may require reaching out for more help.