Quick Guide to Fixing Computer Hardware
by Howard Fosdick
Feel free to share with everyone under the
open source CC-BY-ND license.
Originally published in OSNews.
You can fix most computer hardware problems yourself, even if you lack formal training or mechanical aptitude. This
easy guide tells you how.
All the software tools we recommend are free.
Here's the outline --
Read This First
- Before you open up your computer, always unplug it first! Protect yourself from a terrible electrical shock.
- Ground yourself before touching the inside of any computer. Otherwise, you might give your computer a
tiny static shock you won't even notice -- but it can kill your circuitry. Either buy a $10
USD anti-static wrist strap, or be very careful to always ground yourself.
- Enter error messages to Google to see how others fixed your
problem. Why reinvent the wheel?
- Download your computer's documentation from the manufacturer's website if you don't already have it.
This provides essential machine-specific information.
Step 0: Identify the Problem
The first step in fixing any problem is to identify it. Don't jump to conclusions
free diagnostic software for problem identification:
- Boot-time diagnostics are available in many computers'
"configuration" or "setup" panels.
(These are the so-called "UEIF" or "BIOS" panels. Learn how to access those
- Some computers come with diagnostics installed on their drives or with diagnostic DVDs.
- Download free test suites like Hiren's Boot CD
- Free live Linuxes like the Ultimate Boot CD and
Rescue CD have hardware testing tools plus software aids.
Don't know if your problem is hardware or software? Run a different
operating system. If the problem disappears, it's software. If you're using Windows, boot a live Linux
from USB or DVD to determine whether your problem is Windows or a
Here are the most common hardware problems and their solutions:
Computer -- How to Access the Configuration Panels (UEFI/BIOS)
Fixing many computers problems requires you to access the "configuration" or "setup" panels. These hold various
settings essential to your computer's operation that are stored across sessions. (Your computer has a small
battery inside to provide the power needed to maintain these settings when the computer is turned off.)
These configuration panels are also sometimes called the "BIOS," the "UEFI", or the "UEFI/BIOS" panels. If your
computer displays the option to enter "Setup," it's referring to these configuration panels.
There are several ways to access the configuration panels. The most common is simply to press a PF key while your computer boots.
Unfortunately, each manufacturer has its own "magic key" to enter these panels. And sometimes they change them over time, or by model.
Here are the most common keys. Just tap the appropriate one during startup and you'll enter your computer's configuration
Acer: F2 or DEL
ASRock: F2 or DEL
ASUS: F2 or DEL
Dell: F2 or F12
Gigabyte/Aorus: F2 or DEL
HP: ESC or F10
Lenovo (Consumer Laptops): F2 or Fn + F2
Lenovo (Desktops): F1
Lenovo (ThinkPads): Enter then F1
MSI: DEL for motherboards and PCs
Microsoft Surface Tablets: Press and hold volume up button
Origin PC: F2
Sony: F1, F2, or F3
If you can't get into the UEFI/BIOS with these keys, it won't hurt if you try others. Hit a whole bunch of PF keys during
boot and it's likely you'll get in there with one of them.
If you're running Windows 10 or 11, you can also access the configuration panels from Windows by going into SETTINGS. Read one of
for details on how to do this.
Your computer's documentation also tells how to access the configuration panels.
Finally, it's possible you can't access the UEFI/BIOS because boot timing doesn't allow you a chance to press a PF key.
In this case, follow this procedure
to remove your computer's battery. This resets the UEFI/BIOS parameters to their original state, and will allow you sufficient time to hit a PF key to enter the configuration panels.
Computer -- Unexpectedly Shuts Down
There could be many causes for this one -- a short circuit,
damaged electronics, and more. Most random shutdowns are caused
Laptops are especially
prone to random shutdowns due to overheating because they cram so much circuitry into too small a
package for easy cooling.
Every computer has internal sensors that immediately shut down the
system to prevent electronics damage if the temperature gets too
high. Since you can not relate the timing of the shutdowns to your
actions, they appear random.
View your laptop's internal temperatures by running a free
or other free monitors for Windows or use lm-sensors
Linux. These tools will also help you verify that your fan(s) are spinning when they should be.
To fix overheating, ensure all fan(s) are spinning when they
should. Unclog the air vents. Make
sure you aren't blocking the vents by placing the laptop on your
lap or pushing your desktop up against a flush surface.
Don't pre-heat a laptop by leaving it in the direct sunlight or in a
car window. Use the computer in an air-conditioned room.
Open the computer and remove dust, especially that coating
circuitry. Since static
electricity kills electronics, don't rub circuitry with a dust
Blow out dust with an inexpensive canister of compressed
If this doesn't fix your problem, you may need to replace the
fan(s). Fans burn out as their ball bearings fail. Here's
how to replace a case fan.
If it's specifically the CPUs that are overheating, many processors have a CPU heat
. This is a metal flange of some sort that draws heat away from the CPU chip. Over time,
these sometimes become less effective as the glue that binds them to the chip degrades. You
may need to "re-seat" the heat sink. Here's
how to re-seat a CPU heat sink and the
Anyone who reads the documentation specific to their computer model can perform
these procedures so long as they exercise care. You can also find many helpful "how-to's" on Youtube.
Computer -- Turns On But Won't Boot
You flip the Power switch on and your computer appears to start up.
The power light goes On, the fans spin, maybe the disks kick -- but
nothing further happens. You can't get into the computer's
configuration (UEFI/BIOS) panels to perform problem determination.
That means you have a hardware problem.
Some computers will give you "beep codes" or flash panel lights to
tell you what's wrong. Look in your machine's doc to decode them. Or
visit this webpage
Without beep codes or other indicators, this one's tough to
diagnose. You need a methodology to identify the problem. Here is
one that is time-consuming but effective in isolating a defective
component. It identifies these problems:
- Improperly seated or burned out adapter cards
- Faulty devices
- Loose or bad connector cables to devices
- Wires that aren't properly connected to the motherboard
- Improperly seated or defective memory sticks
To start, turn off and disconnect the computer from power, open it
up, and write down where every wire, insertable adapter card, and
connector attaches to the motherboard and the devices. Record this
so you can reattach everything later. Then disconnect every wire or
plug from the motherboard, except for the power connectors from
the power supply. Detach all devices. Remove all adapter cards and
Now you're down to a naked motherboard with its CPU, attached to the
power supply. Insert one good memory stick into the first slot
nearest the CPU, attach a working display (with a video card you
know works, if necessary), and turn on the computer. If you can't
access the configuration or UEFI/BIOS panels now, the motherboard or
CPU circuitry may be bad. Visually inspect the motherboard for
leakage, especially near the capacitors and battery. You might
succeed in cleaning up leakage, but most of those boards are goners.
If the system does display the UEFI/BIOS panels, the motherboard and
its embedded circuitry is good. One at a time, reattach each
connector or cable or insertable adapter card. After reconnecting an
item, turn on the computer. If you can still get into the UEFI/BIOS
panels, you know that whatever you just attached is
not causing the freeze-up or failure. As soon as you attach an
item and the computer dies, you know that that component was the
Here's an example. My friend's year-old computer completely baffled
him. It would start up, display the "HP Welcome" panel, and freeze.
He couldn't get into the configuration panels. I stripped the system
down to this:
Motherboard + CPU + One Memory
Stick + Display + Power Supply
Then I powered on and got into the UEFI/BIOS panels, so I knew the
motherboard and CPU were good. Then I attached each item, one at a
time, and booted after each, and got into the UEFI/BIOS panels.
Until I attached the disk drive! Then the symptom re-appeared.
We replaced the defective disk and the system has worked fine since.
Computer -- Won't Turn On
What if your computer won't turn on at all? Check the power supply
and ensure it's getting electricity. Was it plugged into a live wall
socket with a good power cord? Test the socket with a lamp. Don't assume that one socket in a
power strip is working just because the other sockets in the
If you just upgraded memory verify the secure
seating of the ram sticks.
Check the wire that goes from the Power On button to the
motherboard. If this doesn't connect you're not turning on the
computer at all. Is the power supply (PS) working? Did its fan spin
when powered on? Is the PS properly connected to the
motherboard? If you have a spare try the motherboard with
another power supply to see if a burnt out PS is the problem. Find
how to diagnose PS problems here
. If you have a
volt-ohm meter (VOM) verify the current.
If these procedures don't work, try the disassembly/reassembly procedure in the section
"Computer -- Turns On But Won't Boot"
Sometimes you'll find a short caused by improper
connection this way.
Computer -- Boots into Windows But
Fails Somewhere Along the Way
computer boots and gets into the Windows start-up process, then
freezes or fails, nearly always you have a Windows software issue
rather than a hardware problem. To find out for sure, boot a live Linux
from USB or DVD. If Linux boots and works you have a Windows
problem. This is a hardware article so I unfortunately don't have space to address how to fix
Windows software... you'll have to do some googling.
Computer -- Loses the Date or Time
If your computer loses the date or time across sessions, you
probably have a dead battery. This is the little round watch-type
battery that keeps configuration information across sessions, the CMOS
Before you replace the battery, write it down any unique
configuration information you've entered into your UEFI/BIOS panels.
Because this procedure will erase it, and you'll need to know it to re-enter it later.
After you've totally shut down your computer and disconnected it from the electrical socket,
open it up, then pry out the battery and replace it. They cost only a few bucks.
After you install the new battery, update the date and time and
re-enter any unique configuration info into the UEFI/BIOS. Here's
how the battery might look on a desktop's motherboard:
Courtesy: www.PCTechNotes.com and www.TechNibble.com
Computer -- Is Noisy
As computers age, they often make more noise. Sometimes this gets to the point
where it's annoying. Here's how to fix this.
In most cases, the cause of the noise is the one or two fans inside the computer. Maybe they're having to work
more than they used to because your computer is cluttered with dust. Or, maybe their spinning itself is causing
First, make sure you're not blocking the computer's fan(s) or air holes by where you've positioned it.
Then clean any dust out of the fans or aeration holes from the outside.
Next, ground yourself,
and open your computer. Clean dust out around the fans, near the central processor, and from all internal surfaces.
Remember that you can't rub circuitry without risk of damaging it, so you may want to use a can of compressed air for this. Be sure
to blow out the power supply and its fan with the compressed air.
Close up the computer and see if that solved your problem. If not, listen closely to the fan(s) themselves. If their spinning
is the issue, sometimes you can apply a very tiny drop of lightweight mechanical lubricant oil to the fan shaft. You want to be careful
not to apply too much oil, or you could pollute the inside of your computer! So be sure to apply the tiniest droplet you can.
You may just find it easier to buy and install a new fan. They cost less than $20 and
only require a screwdriver to install. Measure your current fan first to ensure you buy the right size.
Laptop users sometimes buy a cooling pad to reduce how often their fans spin. And be sure not to leave your laptop in direct sunlight
or inside your car and heat it up before you use it! If you do, you ensure your fans will spin to the max to keep the machine cool enough
Finally, there is the special case where a desktop computer's power supply is the source of unwanted noise. First off,
blow accumulated dust out of its enclosure with compressed air.
Second, you might find that some other internal component is rubbing against or interacting with the power supply to cause noise.
Inspect inside the case for this. And check to see if the power supply is still securely mounted. Screw it in tighter if it isn't.
If the power supply is making a buzzing noise, it might be that its fan has worn out its ball bearings. In this case just buy a new power supply. Be sure to measure yours first to ensure you purchase an appropriately sized replacement.
You should NEVER open up your power supply to try to fix anything inside it.
Unless you are a professional electrician
this could be dangerous.
Computer -- Got Wet
Oh, no! You spilled your drink on your desktop keyboard. Or worse, all over your laptop! Is this recoverable? Usually it is.
First: turn off everything off immediately
Pull the power cord or push the OFF button.
Do not take the time to perform a
The longer electricity goes through the
electronics the greater the chance for permanent damage.
Do not touch or move the device.
Wait a full day or even two to ensure everything has completely dried out. Then, turn on
the system. If you're lucky it will work.
Sometimes people are impatient and want to speed up the evaporation process. If you can point a fan at the affected device it may help.
I don't recommend toweling it down or blowing at it with a hot hairdryer as these can cause further problems
if you're not very careful and knowledgable about what you're doing.
Simple evaporation doesn't always do the trick, but I've picked up computers left out in the rain or snow for days,
let them dry out, and used them without any ill effects.
Just dry them out completely
before powering on.
If you spilled a drink on your keyboard, it may be sticky. Get it back in working order with the instructions in the section
If you spilled water, don't bother. Just let it all evaporate.
With optical mice, the only cleaning you need to do is to ensure
that no lint is clogging the optical opening beneath the mouse. Sometimes
optical mice don't track well on glossy or transparent surfaces,
including some mouse pads.
If your plug-in mouse doesn't work at all, ensure the
connection is secure. Verify the operating system is using a valid
mouse driver. Test your questionable mouse on another computer or
plug in a different mouse to your computer. Reboot and test. This
shows whether you have a dead mouse rather than a software issue.
If your mouse is wireless, the most common problem is simply a dead battery.
Replace it and you're done.
If that doesn't fix it, other problems are:
(1) a wireless connection problem (2) device drivers that
are not correctly installed, or (3) a dead mouse.
Ensure the wireless adapter or USB linking device
is securely plugged in. Verify the drivers. Use the wireless control
program to diagnose and resync the mouse. Try resyncing the
mouse by powering everything down, then rebooting.
If you prevent food, hair and other debris from falling inside your
keyboard, you've avoided 90% of all problems. To clean a keyboard,
detach it, turn it upside down and vigorously shake it.
doesn't do the trick, then carefully pry off sticky keys and eliminate the gunk
underneath. You can easily get the keys off with a penknife. After you clean underneath them,
just push them back into place. Keys will often make a little snapping sound so that you know you
got them back into place properly.
Cleaning the keyboard with rubbing alcohol or electronics
can help, too. Especially if you spilled a drink over the keyboard, and it's become sticky.
Desktop keyboards are so cheap you might as well buy a new one for
all but the simplest repairs. Laptops are another matter, with their
embedded keyboards. You don't want to trash your entire laptop due to a keyboard problem.
a good article
on repairing laptop keyboards. And here
instructional Youtube videos. Hiren's Boot CD
includes free keyboard testing programs. Though it might sound challenging, anyone
can replace a laptop keyboard if they exercise due care. Just find the instructions for your particular
laptop model on the web. They're all a bit different so it helps to have model-specific instructions.
If your issue is that you spilled on your keyboard, follow the instructions in the section "Computer -- Got Wet"
Memory errors are easy to fix. Simply remove and replace the bad
The problem is identifying that you have a memory error, since many
sporadically). If you suspect a memory problem, run an
intensive memory checker utility like Linux's Memtest86
. Take the time to run the long or extended test (not
the short or quick test). Run it overnight if necessary.
You can also set the UEFI/BIOS to test the memory upon startup at
the expense of a longer boot. This test will not
thorough as Memtest86 or Hiren's.
If you need to add memory to your computer, you can take a look at the labels on your existing memory
to see what kind of memory will work. But sometimes those labels are confusing.
An easier way is to use the online "memory finder" tools provided by various memory vendors. You just enter the
manufacturer and model of your computer and the online tool burps back which memory sticks will work in your PC.
Here's Kingston's memory finder
here's the equivalent tool from Crucial
When you add memory into your computer, ensure it's seated
correctly before booting
. If the memory is not inserted
properly most computers will beep and refuse to boot, telling you to
re-seat. Hopefully no damage resulted.
After adding memory, always enter
your UEFI/BIOS configuration panels on your next boot to ensure it's properly
all the way into your operating system.
USB Memory Stick Problems
USB memory sticks go by several names. Some call them "flash drives" or "thumb drives." These are all the same thing.
==> If you store important data on your USB memory stick, you should be sure to run backups for it, just the same as you would
for your regular internal disk drive.
If the computer seems not to recognize the flash drive at all, try plugging it into a different USB port. If that works, it means the first
port you tried is either dirty or non-functional. With the computer off, you can try cleaning that port with a can of compressed air.
Carefully clean the contacts on the USB memory stick as well.
If that doesn't fix the problem, you can go farther in the cleaning by using a dental tip and isopropyl alcohol.
You should also verify you have an up-to-date driver for your USB ports.
You could get any of several different error messages from your operating system indicating that the USB stick has
suffered software corruption.
In this case,
run the operating system's check disk or repair utility on the USB stick.
You might, alternatively, reformat the USB flash drive. (Note that this will lose
any data on the USB stick.)
As far as hardware failure goes, USB flash drives are designed to handle partially failing portions. This is transparent to you as a user --
you'll never even know it's happening. However, thumb drives do some day reach a point where they catastrophically fail.
This often appears sudden
to the user. This is why you always
back up any data on your USB memory stick that you don't already have a copy of elsewhere.
How about opening up the USB stick to fix it? Just as with an internal disk drive, unless you're a hardware professional, this is usually a bad
(meaning "counterproductive") move.
Instead, if you don't have a backup and you're really desperate to recover your data, an expensive professional data recovery service is
probably a better option. Don't get yourself into this position -- always back up your data!
Display Screen -- Pixels Get Stuck or Die
It's not uncommon to find that some display pixels fail over time.
Two situations can occur. A pixel either:
- Gets "stuck" displaying something and won't change
- Falls dark or "dead" and doesn't display anything at all
You usually can't fix a dead pixel, but you can fix a stuck one. Here's how.
First, identify which pixels are stuck by viewing your display with different color palettes.
Next, run a pixel-fixing program. You can find free ones by googling. JScreenFix
a useful one.
These programs will flash various palettes and lights to your screen. Usually they do the job, although you may have to run it more than once
to get your fix.
If the pixel is still stuck, you can gently apply pressure to it to fix it. Be but very careful with the pressure, and be warned --
do this wrong by applying too much pressure, and you can actually make the problem worse.
To perform this procedure, first open a dark background in your display or within your browser. You need backlit pixels to work with.
Then, with a stylus or touchpen or microfibre cloth, gently apply a little pressure to the affected area.
Press the stuck pixel and massage it for a few seconds,
then release pressure. You may have to try this a few times for it to work. Don't press too hard or you could damage the display.
Display Screen -- Dies Entirely
Desktop displays are black boxes. The usual remedy is replacement.
But verify you don't have a device driver or software issue before
you junk your display.
Most desktop monitors die due to a failed capacitor. This is a one dollar part and replacing it is very cost-effective for
those with the necessary skills.
You'll want to read about this and
watch some Youtube videos
before attempting it. You'll be opening up your monitor -- an electrical device
that could still store a charge -- and also using a soldering iron. Anybody can accomplish this but you want to understand the process
and what's involved before attempting it. Proceed intelligently and safely.
Laptops are a very different story than desktops. With laptops you have to either fix the display or else trash your
entire computer. It's easy to buy a replacement
screen for your specific laptop model and install it. There's no soldering involved and it's not challenging like fixing a
burnt-out desktop monitor.
Here are some
showing how to replace laptop screens. Anyone
can successfully replace laptop screens and keyboards. Just be sure to download model-specific
documentation and follow it carefully.
Disk Problems -- All Disks
Your computer's disk is either a solid state
(SSD) or a hard disk
(HDD). They both have their own unique ways of failing,
but let's start with some common issues.
First, when a disk fails, the easiest solution is to buy a new disk.
Disks are inexpensive these days.
Then transfer your data from your backup to your new disk.
Messing with faulty disk hardware is not worth your time. The sole
exception is if you've failed to back up your data. Then -- assuming
your data is important to you -- you've put yourself into a pickle.
So the lessons here are:
==> The best insurance against disk failure -- by far
-- is good backups!
==> Be sure to back up both (1) your data and (2) the
operating system and your applications
A few generic rules of thumb for fixing drives:
- Never open the drive enclosure. It is sealed to remain dust
free and you can't fix anything in there anyway.
- Download the disk drive manufacturer's free drive-specific
diagnostic program. Some can mark off bad disk sectors and even
fix disk errors.
- Most UEFI/BIOS's have drive diagnostic and test procedures.
These may not be as thorough as those you download from the
drive manufacturer, but they're still worth trying.
- If you're really desperate to get your data back, and you didn't make
a backup, you might be able to retrieve your data by sending the drive to
a data recovery service. They're usually expensive. Just google for "disk drive
data recovery services."
- Heat messes up disks just the same as it harms the
rest of your computer's components.
Make sure your computer is not running too hot, and that the disk gets
proper ventilation. See the section Computer -- Unexpectedly Shuts Down for tips
on how to cool your computer.
Here are common disk symptoms and how to fix them:
"Operating System Not Found"
When booting your computer, you might get an error message like one
- "Operating System Not Found"
- "No Operating System on Disk"
- "Missing Operating System"
- "Invalid Partition Table"
These are all software
computer is telling you that the boot and/or partitioning data
stored on the disk are either missing or corrupted. You can often
fix this issue using tools like free TestDisk
utility. Just google and you'll find good tutorials on this.
OS Detects the Drive But You Can't
Access Your Data
Sometimes your operating system knows a drive is present but won't let you use it.
Or it tells you the drive needs to be formatted. Or maybe it just
shows a blank drive that doesn't contain any data. Or it won't show
you the drive properties or let you format it. Usually this means a
You can usually fix a filesystem to recover all or nearly all of your
data. Or, you may have a situation where you can't fix the broken filesystem, but you can recovery
your data into another disk.
Here is a quick list of fix/recovery tools (with more here
|Lots of free and shareware tools here,
|ext2, ext3, ext4
|Use built-in Linux utilities like fsck, e2fsck, ddrescue, TestDisk, or PhotoRec
For instructions on how to use any of these tools, just follow the links provided.
It's possible to have a hardware problem that shows the same
symptoms. For HDD's, dirty contacts on the underside of the drive
enclosure are one cause. This
has photos that lead you through how to clean the
drive contacts simply by rubbing them with a pencil eraser.
Drive is Not Detected At All
First make sure that drives have fully connected power and data
cables. You could get a variety of errors from this but "drive not
detected" is common. Check the data cable connection to the
motherboard as well as the side that connects to the back of the
For HDD's, another cause of "drive not detected" problems is a
failed logic card on the drive. This is the circuit board attached
to the underside of the drive. The board circuitry may fail over
time due to the heat coming off the drive and the temperature
differential from the powered-off state.
Take off the drive's circuit board and replace it with another. You
can buy one on the web or take one from another drive. The key to
success is that the logic board must be for the exact same drive
If not, it will not work. Obviously, you'll only go to this trouble
if you really need the data on the drive and have no backup.
Disk Problems -- Hard Disk Drive (HDD)
Some problems are specific to traditional hard disk drives (HDDs) because
these involve the mechanics of a spinning storage media accessed by a disk arm.
HDD Makes Clicking Noises
This problem is unique to hard disks. It is the so-called Click
. Drives make clicking noises when they have
to move the disk arm multiple times to retrieve data. The
drive is not functioning properly and this is its error correction
procedure. Your drive may fail
Copy any data you need off there immediately
. You may have
limited time so copy files in priority order.
If you can not get in to copy data off by normal means, here
is a procedure that extracts data from even the most recalcitrant
drives. It's more detailed than I can describe here but the key
- Hook up a second target drive to the controller (or you can
use a USB thumb drive as the target)
- Use the ddrescue command to
copy the raw drive image from the failing drive (instructions here)
- Make the target partition active so you can access your
tries every trick
in the book to read the data off the target drive, bit-by-bit,
regardless of what filesystems or partitions the drive contains. It
will even try to read the data backwards. It's very effective. But
it might take many hours or even days to get your data back. Like
all the software in this article it is free.
HDD Not Spinning
Another problem for hard drives only. If the drive is not spinning,
most people assume it is dead. Usually, but not always. I've read
about supposed home remedies like freezing or hitting the drive. But
if you really must retrieve your data from that drive, don't mess
Instead, pay a professional data recovery service,
They often succeed because they ignore the drive hardware and
instead directly analyze its storage media.
Disk Problems -- How to Completely Erase a Disk
There are two situations where you might want to completely and thoroughly erase all data on a disk drive.
One is where you're giving the disk away -- usually when you dispose of your computer
at its end of life. You absolutely do
not want to leave any trace of your personal information on that disk. You could be a victim of identity theft if you
don't thoroughly wipe it.
The other situation is where you acquire a used computer.
In this case you have no idea what data might be on that computer. It could include pirated or
stolen software, films, music,
or pornography. You can't afford to have illegal stuff on that computer that you could
be held responsible for -- even though
you didn't put it there and may not have even known of its presence.
So how do you completely erase a disk?
It depends on whether it's hard disk drive (HDD) or solid state disk (SSD).
What if you aren't sure whether you have a hard disk or solid state drive? Inspect the disk carefully.
It will usually tell you which
it is somewhere in the labels or the small print. If not, write down the manufacturer, model number,
and part number, and google these
on the web. It should be easy to find out which kind of drive you have. Then you'll know whether
you need to run a traditional
HDD data wipe program, or an SSD secure erase utility.
To completely erase a hard disk, just download and run a free tool like
or a competitor
For a solid state drive, you need a different kind of tool. You need to do what they call a secure erase
Some computers come with an secure erase utility in their UEFI/BIOS. All you have to do is access the boot
configuration panels to run it. It will usually be labelled something like "ATA Secure Erase."
The other option is the website of the disk manufacturer. Many offer free downloads of
secure erase utilities for their SSDs.
Unfortunately, some vendors don't provide a secure erase utility for some of their consumer drives.
In this case, your only option
may be to purchase a tool like Parted Magic
(a delivery charge).
Or, if your goal is just to
get rid of your data before giving away the drive, you can instead physically destroy or
"shred" the drive.
Optical Disc -- Disc Stuck in Drive
You're using your favorite DVD, when yikes! It gets stuck in the disc drive. No matter if you
tell software to eject it or unmount it,
the drive won't open and give you back your disc.
Fortunately, this is easy to fix. Look closely at the drive
face and you'll see tiny hole. Stick a straight pin in there
and push a lever that will mechanically push out the tray. Do
this with the computer powered off since it is solely a mechanical
Optical Disc -- Disc Read Errors
What do you do when you pop a DVD or CD into your optical drive and it fails to read? You'll often hear shuffling noises and as the drive
tries to error-correct by reading the disc multiple times.
You could have either a faulty disc on your hands, or a bad optical disk drive.
You can tell which simply by inserting another disc into the drive.
If it reads, you know your first disc is bad. If the drive can't read any discs at all, you know the drive is bad
(see the next section
If you have a bad disc, you can often fix it simply by carefully wiping fingerprints or
other pollution off the disc. Wipe the disc with
a proper cloth like you would use for cleaning your computer display screen. Don't use paper
towels or toilet paper as these may scratch the disc.
Inspect the disc carefully to see if scratches prevent it from being read. You can eliminate these
scratches, or at least reduce them to within
tolerance of the reading capability of your optical disc reader. With a stream of warm water,
rub toothpaste very lightly on the scratches. Rub
from the center of the disc towards the outside.
Yes, I said toothpaste. It is a mild abrasive, meaning that rubbing it on the optical disk can reduce
the depth of scratches.
Just rub a little -- not too much. Your goal is to reduce the depth of the scratches in the outer plastic layer
while not rubbing through to the substrate media
. You may want to rub just a bit, dry the disc and try reading it again,
rub again, try reading again, etc. Proceed carefully,
and after several tries, you'll
find that even a lot of scratches or a very deep scratch will yield to your efforts. Viola!
You have a readable disc again.
Optical Disc -- Drive Fails
First ask yourself: do you really need your optical drive anymore? In many cases, you can just use a USB memory stick (or "thumb drive") instead.
They cost less, read and write data faster, and store more data.
If you do still need your disc drive -- say you have a DVD/CD collection --
keep in mind that new
are cheap. But first check all connectors, ensure the OS
recognizes the device, and that you have a working driver installed.
What if the problem is sporadic? First ensure that it's not the individual disc you're trying to read that is the problem (see the
If you're certain the problem is your optical drive, try cleaning the drive with these
simple cleaning techniques.
Another possible cause is differing calibration between drives. It's
possible to write a disc on one system and find another unable to
read it. Determine if you have a calibration difference by testing
multiple discs on several different drives.
You might find that your drive works well with certain brands of
disc media but not with others. Media
differences can cause sporadic problems even with healthy optical
Remember that there are many optical media
standards and that you have to match them properly to the drives
that use them. While current drives support multiple media
standards, you can't always mix all media in all drives (DVD+R,
DVD-R, DVD+-R, DVD-RAM, Blu-ray, CD-RW, CD-ROM, etc).
There's more to fixing computer hardware than any one article
can cover. Yet you'll find that 90% of hardware
problems are easily fixable. This brief article targets that 90%. I hope you've found it helpful.
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Howard Fosdick is an independent consultant who supports databases
and operating systems. He's fixed up old computers for fun and for charity for many years.
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