Ten Terrific Troubleshooting Tricks and Tools

The bad news: PCs have been around for 30 years, and they still find in new and unusual ways to break. The good news: I've discovered a kitbag full of tools that troubleshoot and fix perplexing tech problems.

The Hassle: The last time I manually updated Windows (by clicking Start, All Programs, Windows Update), I got the dreaded 'Initialization Error 0x80040FF2' pop-up.

If Windows Update stops working or if you can't get online, Dial-a-fix will do its best to make it right.
If Windows Update stops working or if you can't get online, Dial-a-fix will do its best to make it right.
The Fix: I could have read Microsoft's engrossing Windows Update Troubleshooter page (requires Internet Explorer). But instead of plowing through that blizzard of links, I whipped out DjLizard's Dial-a-fix, a multipurpose utility that repairs all sorts of PC problems. For instance, the program deals with Windows Update woes, corrects installer errors, restores missing Registry entries, and fixes Secure Sockets Layer glitches. If Windows' Defragger, System Restore, or even Internet Explorer stops running, Dial-a-fix can reinstall it. Behind the scenes, the utility massages the Registry to make it run more efficiently. Dial-a-fix is free, but the authors request a $5 donation if you find it useful--and you will.

The Hassle: USB devices usually play nicely. But every once in a while, when you try to install a new USB gadget, one of the others cries foul and stops working.

The Fix: To find out why, run USBInfo, a utility that identifies and tests every USB port on your system and each device plugged into it. The $20 program works with Windows 98 and XP; try their 15-day trial version.

Extreme nerd alert: If your USB devices aren't recognized, or if a USB driver insists on reinstalling when you reboot, have I got some software for you! DevCon, which you launch from a command line, is Microsoft's free device-management tool for XP and Vista. Using Rob van der Woude's RenewUSB.bat file, DevCon will erase all of your USB device drivers, making your PC just like new. Then it will scan to relocate the devices and reinstall their drivers. The program is tough to use, so if you're going to try, you'd better know that "hash code" isn't something you eat with your breakfast eggs. I also insist that you back up your PC first. This trick can bring a sick system back to health, but it can also flatline it. Browse to DevCon for instructions on using the script file (including a disclaimer on potential damage to your OS).

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