|This section is designed with the intention of helping to
keep your system running in tip top shape. As a computer consultant I am
often called to sites where the solution is very simple. There are also
some things people should be aware of while operating the Win 95/98
Operating System. There are some misconceptions and myths that need to
be addressed as well. Hopefully, you will find this page useful.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I. Some basic things you need to know about your
II. Techniques for keeping your system cleaned and
running in tip top condition
III. Problems to expect and what to do about them
IV. Myths and laying them to rest
I. Some basic things you need to know about your computer
I see a lot of confusion in people with their computers. Some of this
confusion and the ideas that are generated from the confusion are
harmless to your day to day usage of your computer. Others can lead you
to problems with the functionality of your machine. While fixable you
may find yourself in a state of FRUSTRATION.
A computer consists of TWO main categories of components. One of these
is HARDWARE and the other is SOFTWARE. The first confusion that can
hinder the understanding of why your computer may act quirky at times is
the tendency of computer owners to think that the HARDWARE is the
complex part of a computer and the root of all evil for computer
problems. In fact, the hardware follows some strict guidelines and for
the most part is fairly straight forward. Software exists in multitudes
of styles and infinite variety. Some software may function flawlessly
but, it is a certainty that if you work with your computer enough you
will run into a glitch here and there. Keep in mind that if your system
is up and running smoothly your hardware is probably fine. However, if
it starts having illegal operations, page faults, and other erratic
behavior it likely stems from some known flaws in OPERATING SYSTEMS
and/or some contention between two or more programs. Page Faults and
Illegal Operations typically occur when one program attempts to access
an area of memory that another program has marked as its territory.
Imagine this as trespassing. This is a SOFTWARE problem and does not
reflect a hardware problem. Sometimes these are EXTREMELY easy to fix.
COMPUTER = HARDWARE + SOFTWARE (Operating System (e.g. Windows 95) +
Where do most of the problems occur? Software.
II. Techniques for keeping your system cleaned and running in
tip top condition
Anytime your system acts strangely or has errors you have not seen
before when doing the same thing you were just doing you will want to
use this house cleaning technique. You probably will want to do this at
least once a month unless you are a heavy user of the machine in which
case you will want to do this more frequently than that.
While items inside your recycle bin are unlikely to cause illegal
operations and such they do sometimes slow your machine down
substantially when they increase in number and size. Therefor, it is
recommended you empty your recycle bin whenever you are certain there is
not a deleted item in there that you are thinking you will need to
Temporary files are much like sticky notes we use to remind us of
things. Ideally, these should be deleted by the program that creates
them when it is done using them. Unfortunately, this does not happen and
is a known problem with Windows 95. It has been known to cause enough
problems that Windows 98 incorporates a utility that is designed to
clean them up (but, this program does not always run). Typically, you
should only have a very low number of files ending in .TMP. As this
number increases your likelihood of quirky things such as a printer not
printing, and illegal operations increases. Therefor, the following
steps can be one of the most important cleaning steps you can do on your
(For purposes of instructions in this document CLICK always refers to
the LEFT mouse button unless otherwise specified)
1. Click on the START button
2. Click on FIND
3. Click on FILES OR FOLDERS
4. In the field titled NAMED type "*.TMP" do not include the
5. Make sure LOOK IN has (C:) or (ALL LOCAL HARD DRIVES) some where in
6. Click FIND NOW
7. A list of files should begin to appear if it finds any files. A
normal fairly clean system should probably be running with 25 or less
TMP files but, on a couple occasions I have seen even 2 files cause
problems. If you have more than 100 then you have likely been having
problems that these instructions will help you with.
8. Click on the EDIT menu
9. Click on SELECT ALL
10. Hold down the SHIFT key on your keyboard and press DELETE on the
11. When it askes you if you are sure that you want to delete N number
of files make sure you typed in "*.TMP" in the NAMED area and
if you did then click on YES. This is important because, if it has found
files other than those ending in .TMP then you DO NOT want to delete
12. At this point you have cleaned out the temporary files and can click
on the X or exit FIND FILES AND FOLDERS using your prefered method.
DEFRAGMENT HARD DRIVES:
Hard drives are much like a chess board or checker board. Certain
programs take up 3 squares, others take up 1, and some may take 10. So,
these programs will seek to be stored so all of the squares are next to
each other. After awhile you may have enough programs in there that when
you add a 3 square program it cannot find 3 CONTIGUOUS (next to each
other) squares. So, it fragments the program and puts 2 squares in one
location and the last square in a different location. This HAPPENS on
your hard drive. As a hard drive begins to get more and more fragmented
files it begins to slow down. This is most noticable as a speed decrease
or as your hard drive working harder than it used to. The drive needs to
be defragmented which is the process of organizing all your files so, as
many contiguous files as possible are arranged and that the free area is
consolidated into a larger contiguous section. It is a good idea to
defragment your hard drives occasionally.
1. Click on START
2. Click on PROGRAMS
3. Click on ACCESSORIES
4. Click on SYSTEM TOOLS
5. Click on DISK DEFRAGMENTER
6. Select the drive you want to DEFRAGMENT
7. Click START
SHUTTING DOWN AND RESTARTING:
This is undoubtedly one of the most misunderstood aspects of a computer.
It is also one of the most likely ways to resolve a problem in Windows
95/98. When you shutdown your system or restart it Windows does a lot of
cleanup. When you restart it is running cleaner. One of the biggest
things it does is reclaim lost memory due to MEMORY LEAKAGE. When a
program is executed it requests a chunk of RAM to work in. Ideally, when
that program is done it should give all this memory back. This does not
happen. It gives back most of it but, typically a small amount of memory
is not reclaimed. This is known as memory leakage. Memory leakage is a
known problem in ALL operating systems, and some programs are designed
poorly and leak memory even worse. Basically, it adds up to the fact as
you continually open and close programs throughout the day the amount of
memory leakage adds up to a larger and larger amount until eventually
your system will become unstable, lock up, and possibly crash. This is
more common in the machines that are left on continuously and never shut
down over night. To fix memory leakage problems restart your machine
occasionally. Many people prefer to leave their machines on as they have
heard that turning them off and on is actually harder on them. This is
true... You don't need to turn it off to fix the memory leakage
though... just RESTART it. Do this at least once a day and you will
probably see the memory leakage problems go away.
1. Click on START
2. Click on SHUTDOWN
3. Click on RESTART
4. Click on YES (or OK)
WITH THE TECHNIQUES ABOVE YOU WILL BE ABLE TO HEAD OFF MANY PROBLEMS
AND YOUR SYSTEM WILL RUN SMOOTHER THAN IT WOULD OTHERWISE.
Steps to fixing your computer: Try these before paying a technician
1. Restart your machine
2. Still does not work - Clean TEMPORARY FILES, EMPTY RECYCLE BIN, and
3. Actually go through the shutdown process and turn off your machine.
Wait 10 seconds and reboot
4. Still does not work - Defragment Hard Drives and Restart
More advanced steps will be covered in the following sections. You
can try any of these that seems like it may work. The following
techniques can be tricky for some people and should only be attempted
with an understanding that your system may crash and you might even lose
some data. This is okay though as long as you are prepared for it and
take steps to backup critical data such as your word, excel, database,
pictures, and quickbooks files...
III. Problems to expect and what to do about them
Every system no matter who the manufacturer is has the problems that are
described and fixed in section II above. This is due to the fact that
they are ALL software related. How long it will take for them to raise
their ugly heads depends on how much you use your computer, and how many
differing programs you use. The more programs you have and move between
frequently, the more memory leakage, and temporary file related problems
you are sure to have. Therefor, a user owning a DELL computer who uses
it primarily for WORD PROCESSING will work much longer without seeing a
problem than another user with the same computer who uses it for ART,
WORD PROCESSING, INTERNET, GAME PLAYING, DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY, SCANNING,
and more. They are working with a lot more programs which means a lot
more likelihood of programmer error, potential memory leakage jumping
between programs, a larger REGISTRY (explained later), and an increased
likelihood for more TMP files being generated. Thus, comparing computers
is very difficult to do unless they are two different machines used in
identical ways with the identical software. DELL, and GATEWAY who are
the makers of some of the better computer systems do not manufacture the
parts that go into their systems. Anyone, can buy the same parts and
build their own systems. If your system boots and all your devices are
functioning then the remainder of your problems are likely software
related... Some of these problems are easily resolved as in section II
above. Others are more difficult.
YOU ENCOUNTER A SITUATION WHERE ONLY ONE OR A FEW PROGRAMS ARE HAVING
WHAT MIGHT CAUSE THIS: You installed a program that made alterations
that effected a previously installed and functional programs. The
REGISTRY has become corrupt (software). A bad sector has occurred on the
hard drive and corrupted the program. A program bug may have set off
THINGS TO TRY TO FIX THIS: try in order until fixed
1. Reinstall the software and restart machine
2. Uninstall the software (backup data related to it first), restart
machine, install software, restart
3. Go online to the support site for the software and look for patches.
4. More advanced steps later in this section.
SYSTEM HAS BECOME EXTREMELY UNSTABLE AND TECHNIQUES IN SECTION II DID
NOT RESOLVE THE PROBLEM:
WHAT MIGHT CAUSE THIS: Usually this is caused by REGISTRY corruption.
The REGISTRY consists of two files USER.DAT and SYSTEM.DAT and its
backups USER.DA0 and SYSTEM.DA0. These files are CRITICAL to the
operation of Windows 95 and Windows 98. They contain a lot of
information about the devices (hardware), and the software of your
system. They are basically the organization and governmental agency for
your system. Over time it is common for the REGISTRY to become
corrupted. If this happens your system can become unstable and might not
boot at all... This is a fairly serious problem.
THINGS TO TRY TO FIX THIS: try in order until fixed
Backup and personal non-reinstallable files you may have created if
possible (provided you can still boot and system is stable enough to do
this). Files to keep in mind are Quickbooks, Quicken, Word (Documents),
Downloads you do not want to have to redownload, favorites/bookmarks,
email stored, pictures, excel files, web pages you are working on or
other works in progress, or anything else YOU created and did not come
pregenerated off of a CD. If you have TWO hard drives but, do not have a
backup device such as a ZIP drive, CD-RW, or TAPE drive then backup all
critical files from your C: drive onto one of the other drives such as
D:. This technique is good for partitioned drives as well.
1. If you have a recent backup of your REGISTRY files reboot into DOS
mode and copy them into your windows directory and reboot.
2. Reinstall Windows 95/98 by running the SETUP.EXE program for Windows
95/98. Make sure you run the same program you ran when installing your
system or off of the CD that came with your system. (this may be
successful in rebuilding the registry). Sometimes, this program to run
can be found in a WIN95 or WIN98 directory at the root of your hard
3. REIMAGE the machine. You will need a bootable floppy disk with CD-ROM
drivers. The Floppy Drive should also have a copy of your AUTOEXEC.BAT,
and CONFIG.SYS files with all the programs and drivers referenced in
those two files. You will also want the FDISK, FORMAT, and EDIT programs
if they are not already on the floppy drive. Follow these steps to
reimage a machine.
A. Reboot the machine off of your floppy. If it will not boot off of the
floppy make sure you have the A drive as the first boot device in your
B. Make sure the CD-ROM is working with your driver by looking at the
contents of your Windows 95/98 CD. If it is not working DO NOT PROCEED
until you have gotten it working.
C. Format your C: drive with this command "FORMAT C: /S"
D. Once it is formated type the following commands in sequence pressing
ENTER/RETURN after each. "C:", "MD WIN9x" substitute
the X for 5 or 8 depending on which OS you are installing.
"x:" substituting the drive letter of your CD-ROM drive for X.
"CD WIN9x" you know what to do with X by now. "C:",
"CD WIN9x", "COPY x:*.*" substituting the drive
letter for your CD-ROM drive for X again.
E. Copy files needed by autoexec.bat and config.sys onto your C: drive.
Copy the autoexec.bat, and config.sys files you want for C: onto the C
drive. Make sure they do not contain A: drive references but, in fact
reference files on the C: drive.
F. Reboot off of the C: drive this time instead of the floppy.
G. Gather together your device driver disks and CDs that came with your
H. Type "CD Win9x:" substituting 5 or 8 for the X depending on
which OS you are installing. "Type SETUP" Follow the
instructions. You will need your driver disks to correct any problems
you may find in DEVICE MANAGER. (if this step does not work and gives
you an error that you already have an OS installed it will not work with
then it is likely due to another hard drive in your system or a
partition. If it is a partition you will need to copy important files
from it to your C drive and then delete the partition... and retry
setup. If it is another drive just temporarily disconnect the IDE cables
from the second drive and try SETUP again. Reconnect IDE cables after
setup has completed).
I. Resolve any device conflicts, install devices not present.
J. Install software as desired. Go easy though and only install ones you
actually think you need as the problem you are fixing could have been
created by installing a large amount of programs and increasing the
potential for REGISTRY corruption, and such.
Reimaging a system usually resolves most problems. If you understood
all of the instructions then you should easily be able to get your
system running and should never need a technician.
If you run into driver problems with a device you can't find a driver
for try http://www.windrivers.com/.
See the description directly above but, in addition it should be noted
that the more programs you install on your system the larger the
registry will become and the increased likelihood of corruption. This is
especially true if you frequently uninstall and install various programs
to make room for other programs.
TECHNICAL SAVY HEAVY USER SUGGESTION:
If you are a heavy user you should prepare to reimage your machine at
least once and possibly more times per year depending on the type of
activities you are doing. If you go in with the attitude you are going
to have to do this then here is a suggestion.
Have either a 2 drive or a partitioned drive so, that your personal
files are stored on a drive other than C: this will negate the need to
backup data before reformatting C: and needing to reimage. It is
recommended you have at least an extra 200MB of space on your C drive to
accommodate virtual memory.
IV. Myths and laying them to rest
Hardware is difficult to troubleshoot - not so, it follows strict
guidelines and is easy to isolate and replace defective parts. In fact,
software problems are far more difficult to fix.
Dell, Gateway, Compaq and others have something special about their
hardware - not so, they buy their parts from companies such as Western
Digital, 3COM, Lucent, IBM, Creative Labs, and others and put them into
their machine. The only thing unique about any of these companies will
be their customer service, and warranties. The parts they use can be
obtained by anyone. It is true that in some cases a company such as
Packard Bell, or HP may have a card or keyboard unique to their system
but, it is my experience that these devices usually are not as nice to
use as a standard off the market device and may in fact have some quirks
that are better done without. The HP keyboards for example have tended
to use a chunk of system resources that could be better utilized
One machine is better than another: comparing machines is very
difficult to do unless both machines were used in identical situations
with identical software.
One machine should be bought over another because it is cheaper -
This is not always the case. You must keep expandability in mind. It is
possible to buy a machine for cheaper that is using a less expandable
motherboard or is using the minimum part needed to support the machine.
What this means is YES the machine is cheaper but, when it comes time to
expand that machine... FORGET IT. This occurs in Gateways, and Dells
Build your own machine - NO, not unless you know a lot about what you
are doing and can support any problems on your own. If you have a
support person nearby that you trust then have them build you one and
offer you support otherwise buy a name brand with a warranty, and
support. When you buy DELL, GATEWAY, and others that is what you are
buying... their support and warranty. If you are in a remote location
this may not be the ideal situation.
- Written by Deva Winblood, Future Wave Computer Solutions 4/29/1999