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Hardware Troubleshooting in Windows 9X

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Warning: The procedures listed in this section deal with opening the computer case. You should contact your computer manufacturer to be sure you don't void any warranties before trying anything here.

Computer systems are very fragile as well. Intra-Designs takes no responsibility for any problems that may occur when trying these options. If you are hesitant in the least bit to do anything here, don't do it. Take your computer to a reputable computer repair shop and let a professional do it (paying $45-$60 per hour is less expesive than $1500 for a new compuer)!

Troubleshooting computer hardware is the easiest, but most frustrating, part of the troubleshooting process.

It's easy because either the hardware works or doesn't work. You can't get more simple than that J . Getting hardware to work, however, is the frustrating part.

There are 3 sets of resources that need to be known about hardware. They are: The IRQ (Interrupt Request), DMA (Direct Memory Access port), and Memory location. You can't effectively troubleshoot your system without knowing these things about every piece of hardware. "Well, how do I get that information?" you might ask. Well, remember that little, tiny piece of paper that you threw away when you bought the modem? That's the piece of paper you need. Yes, I've done it myself many times.

Device Manager can help you to figure out what resources your hardware is taking. It may be wrong, however, if your hardware is not working properly, and you may need to open up your computer and look at the board.

"Hey, Windows is supposed to be 'Plug-N-Play', why can't it figure out where the hardware is?" Good question. It takes 3 to Tango when using Plug-N-Play. First, the operating system needs to be Plug-N-Play compatible. Windows 9X is. Next, the main system board (also called Main Logic Board or Motherboard) on your computer needs to be Plug-N-Play compatible. A Pentium 75 or better probably is, but you will need to check the documentation for any older system boards. Third, the piece of hardware that you're adding needs to be Plug-N-Play. This is the main reason the term 'Plug-N-Pray' has become so popular. If any of these three things does not comply with today's Plug-N-Play standards, then the only thing to do is plug it in and pray that it works.

As an example, a person recently emailed me with a problem. He couldn't get Windows to work properly. He had made some changes, and one of the things he did was add in a non Plug-N-Play modem. The computer wouldn't boot after that, but, because of the other changes he'd made, he forgot about the modem. It's also easy to just assume the modem will work, but modems are one of the leading causes of resource conflicts.

DO ONLY ONE THING AT A TIME. Don't add a modem, RAM, and a new video card at one time. Add the RAM, reset the machine and make sure it's working. Add the video card, reset the machine. And so on… Yes, it's slow and a major pain, but it will keep your hair from going gray.

Now that that's done, here are some hints for troubleshooting hardware problems:

IRQ's:
There are 16 IRQ ports, numbered between 0 and 15. Back during the 8088 and 8086 (even before the 286's) days, there were only 8. Starting with 286's, more were needed though. There was no way to just add 7 more, so they had to attach one of the 7 extra ports onto one of the existing ports. Because of this, IRQ's 2 and 9 are linked together. Video cards are sometimes placed on IRQ 2, so anything put onto IRQ 9 may conflict with a video card. Below is a list of IRQ's, and what may be defaulted to them:

IRQ 0 System Timer
IRQ 1 Open
IRQ 2 Video Card
IRQ 3 Com 2&4 (mouse)
IRQ 4 Com 1&3 (modem)
IRQ 5 Sound Card
IRQ 6 Floppy drive
IRQ 7 LPT Port 1 (Printer)
IRQ 8 Empty
IRQ 9 Empty
IRQ 10 CD ROM Drive
IRQ 11 Open
IRQ 12 Open
IRQ 13 Open
IRQ 14 PCI/ISA Bridge (motherboard)
IRQ 15 IDE Controller (hard disk drive)

DMA and Memory areas are not so easily defined. Most items that need DMA channels will look at the system and choose one that's free. The most likely candidates for conflicts are IRQ's and Memory Addresses. There are far too many Memory Addresses to catalog, so the easiest thing to do is just try every memory address a card has to find an open one.

Go into Safe Mode. Click START, SETTINGS, CONTROL PANEL. Double-click the SYSTEM icon. Click on the PERFORMANCE tab at the top. Choose the FILE SYSTEM tab at the bottom, then TROUBLESHOOTING. Check every item in troubleshooting, then restart the system and see if it'll go into normal mode.

If that works, uncheck one item at a time and restart the system until it locks up again.

If that doesn't work, the tough one comes next. Go ahead and uncheck all items, then in the SYSTEM icon again, go to DEVICE MANAGER. Disable every device in DEVICE MANAGER except what's under SYSTEM DEVICES. Yes, I know it'll be a pain, but the best way is to disable every device. Once you do that, reset the machine and try to go into normal mode. If this works, you've got a driver that may need to be updated. Re-enable the devices by "area". For instance, re-enable all the ports then restart. Once you've narrowed down the device giving problems, contact the manufacturer and see if they have updated drivers. If they don't, see if they can work the problem out with you.

If your system won't go into Safe Mode, open up your computer and start removing devices, one at a time. You cannot remove the video card, hard drive and floppy drive controllers, or all of the RAM. Try removing things like the sound card, game controllers, modems, and some of the RAM. If you are not familiar with doing these things, don't. Take your computer to a reputable computer repair shop and let a professional do it. That way, if anything goes wrong, they can fix it!

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