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Troubleshooting Hardware, Driver, and Disk Issues : How to Diagnose Hardware Problems

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12/9/2013 3:03:54 AM

Always remember to check basic issues first before attempting to remove and replace parts. Before installing new peripherals, refer to your motherboard and device manuals for helpful information, including safety precautions, firmware configuration, and expansion slot or memory slot locations. Some peripheral manufacturers recommend that you use a bus-mastering PCI slot and advise that installing their adapter in a secondary slot might cause it to function improperly.


Though all hardware might not be on the list, you can reduce the likelihood of incompatibilities by choosing hardware found on the Windows Tested Products List website at http://testedproducts.windowsmarketplace.com.

How to Use Device Manager to Identify Failed Devices

Windows Vista can detect hardware that is not working properly. To view failed hardware, follow these steps to use Device Manager:

Click Start, right-click Computer, and then click Manage.

Under System Tools, click Device Manager.

Device Manager displays all devices. Problem devices (including any devices Windows Vista was unable to successfully communicate with) are displayed with a warning sign. If no categories are expanded and no devices are visible, Windows Vista did not detect a problem with any device.

How to Check the Physical Setup of Your Computer

If you have recently opened the computer case, or the computer has been moved or shipped, connectors may have loosened. You should perform the following tasks to verify that connections are solid:

  • Confirm that the power cords for all devices are firmly plugged in and that the computer power supply meets hardware specifications Computer power supplies are available in different sizes and are typically rated between 200 and 400 watts. Installing too many devices into a computer with an inadequate amount of power can cause reliability problems or even damage the power supply. See the manufacturer’s power specifications when installing new devices and verify that your computer can handle the increased electrical load.

  • Disconnect external accessories External accessories—such as those that connect using USB or IEEE 1394, PC cards, and ExpressCards—can malfunction and interfere with the startup process. You can either disconnect devices one by one and attempt to start the computer after disconnecting each device to identify the cause of the problem, or you can disconnect all devices, start the computer, and then reconnect devices one by one.

  • Verify that you correctly installed and firmly seated all internal adapters Peripherals such as keyboards and video cards often must be installed and functioning to complete the initial startup phase without generating error messages. Adapters might become loose if the computer is moved or bumped, or if the computer vibrates from moving parts such as hard disks.

  • Verify that you correctly attached cables Check that you have firmly seated all cable connectors by disconnecting and reconnecting cables. Search for damaged or worn cables and replace them as required. To ensure that contacts are solid, use a pencil eraser to clean dirty connectors.

  • Check the system temperature High temperatures inside a computer can cause unpredictable failures. Many computers will display internal temperatures for the processor, hard disk, graphics card, or other components if you start the firmware menu. Graphical, third-party tools also run within Windows for displaying temperature diagnostic information. If temperature is high, verify that all fans are working properly and the vents are not blocked. Verify that the computer’s case is completely assembled: Leaving panels open might seem like it would improve airflow, but it can actually misdirect air that should be cooling hot components. Verify that air can flow freely around the outside of the computer. Particularly with mobile PCs, verify that the computer is not resting on a soft surface that can prevent heat dissipation, such as a couch or carpet. Finally, reset processor and memory speeds to their default settings to verify that the computer has not been overclocked.

How to Check the Configuration of Your Hardware

If you have recently changed the hardware configuration of your computer, or you are configuring a new computer, you should check the configuration to identify the cause of a startup problem.

  • Verify that you correctly configured any jumpers or dual in-line package (DIP) switches Jumpers and DIP switches close or open electric contacts on circuit boards. For hard disks, jumper settings are especially important because they can adversely affect the startup process if not correctly set. For example, configuring two master ATA disks that are installed on the same channel or assigning duplicate SCSI ID numbers to devices in the same SCSI chain might cause a Stop error or error messages about hard disk failure.

  • Configure BCD references correctly when a hard disk is added Installing an additional hard disk or changing the disk configuration in a computer can prevent Windows Vista from starting. In this case, use the Startup Repair tool within System Recovery Tools to automatically resolve the problem.

  • Verify SCSI configuration If your computer uses or starts from SCSI devices and you suspect that these devices are causing startup problems, you need to check the items listed in Table 1.

    Table 1. Checklist for Troubleshooting SCSI Devices
    All devices are correctly terminated.Verify that SCSI devices are correctly terminated. You must follow specific rules for termination to avoid problems with the computer not recognizing a SCSI device. Although these rules can vary slightly from one type of adapter to another, the basic principle is that you must terminate a SCSI chain at both ends.
    All devices use unique SCSI ID numbers.Verify that each device located on a particular SCSI chain has a unique identification number. Duplicate identification numbers can cause intermittent failures or even data corruption. For newer devices, you can use the SCSI Configures Auto Magically (SCAM) standard. The host adapter and all devices must support the SCAM standard. Otherwise you must set ID numbers manually.
    The BIOS on the startup SCSI controller is enabled.Verify that the SCSI BIOS is enabled for the primary SCSI controller and that the BIOS on secondary controllers is disabled. SCSI firmware contains programming instructions that allow the computer to communicate with SCSI disks before Windows Vista starts. Disabling this feature for all host adapters causes a startup failure. For information about disabling or enabling the BIOS, refer to the documentation provided with your SCSI controller.
    You are using the correct cables.Verify that the connecting cables are the correct type and length and are compliant with SCSI requirements. Different SCSI standards exist, each with specific cabling requirements. Consult the product documentation for more information.
    The firmware settings for the host SCSI adapter match device capabilities.Verify that host adapter BIOS settings for each SCSI device are set correctly. (The BIOS for the SCSI adapter is separate from the computer motherboard firmware.) For each SCSI device, you can specify settings—such as Sync Negotiation, Maximum Transfer Rate, and Send Start Command—that can affect performance and compatibility. Certain SCSI devices might not function correctly if settings are set beyond the capabilities of the hardware. Consult the documentation for your SCSI adapter and device before changing default settings.
    SCSI adapters are installed in a master PCI slot.Verify that you installed the host adapter in the correct motherboard slot. The documentation for some PCI SCSI adapters recommends using busmaster PCI slots to avoid problems on 32-bit computers. Refer to the manufacturer’s documentation for your motherboard or computer to locate these busmaster PCI slots. If your SCSI adapter is installed in a non-busmaster PCI slot, move it to a master slot to see if the change improves operation and stability.


As a precaution, always shut down the computer and remove the power connector before troubleshooting hardware. Never attempt to install or remove internal devices if you are unfamiliar with hardware.

How to Verify That System Firmware and Peripheral Firmware Are Up to Date

You can sometimes trace instability and compatibility problems to outdated firmware. Whenever possible, use the latest firmware version. If Setup does not respond when you are installing the operating system, the cause might be the firmware for your CD or DVD drives. Try upgrading the CD or DVD firmware to the latest version.

How to Test Your Hardware by Running Diagnostic Tools

If the problem occurs after the POST routine finishes but before Windows Vista fully loads, run any diagnostic software that the manufacturer of the hardware adapter provides. This software typically includes self-test programs that allow you to quickly verify proper operation of a device and might help you to obtain additional information about the device, such as model number, hardware, and device firmware version.

How to Simplify Your Hardware Configuration

Hardware problems can occur when you have both newer and older devices installed on your computer. If you cannot resolve problems by using safe mode and other options such as rolling back drivers, temporarily disable or remove ISA devices that do not support Plug and Play. If you can start Windows Vista with these older devices removed, these devices are causing resource conflicts and you need to manually reconfigure the resources assigned to them.

While you are diagnosing startup problems related to hardware, it is recommended that you simplify your configuration. By simplifying your computer configuration, you might be able to start Windows Vista. You can then gradually increase the computer’s hardware configuration complexity until you reproduce the problem, which allows you to diagnose and resolve the problem.

Avoid troubleshooting when you have several adapters and external peripherals installed. Starting with external and ISA devices, disable or remove hardware devices one at time until you are able to start your computer. Reinstall devices by following the manufacturer’s instructions, verifying that each is functioning properly before checking the next device. For example, installing a PCI network adapter and a SCSI adapter at the same time can complicate troubleshooting because either adapter might cause a problem.

ISA devices cause a large share of startup problems related to hardware because the PCI bus does not have a reliable method for determining ISA resource settings. Device conflicts might occur because of miscommunication between the two bus types. To avoid ISA and PCI conflicts, try temporarily removing ISA devices. After you install a new PCI device, you can use Device Manager to determine which system resources are available to ISA devices. Then reconfigure the ISA devices that do not support Plug and Play to eliminate any conflicts. If the problems continue after you reinstall ISA devices and you cannot resolve them with assistance from technical support, consider upgrading to newer hardware.

How to Diagnose Disk-Related Problems

Disk-related problems typically occur before Windows Vista starts or shortly afterward. Table 2 provides a list of symptoms, possible causes, and sources of information that you can refer to.

Table 2. Diagnosing Disk-Related Startup Problems
Symptom, message, or problemPossible causeFor more information
The POST routine displays messages similar to the following:
Hard disk error.
Hard disk absent/failed.

The system self-test routines halt because of improperly installed devices.Verify that hardware is connected properly, as described earlier in this section.
The system displays MBR-related or boot sector-related messages similar to the following:
Missing operating system.
Insert a system diskette and
restart the system.

The MBR or partition boot sector is corrupt because of problems with hardware or viruses.Run Startup Repair
The system displays messages about the partition table similar to the following:
Invalid partition table.
A disk-read error occurred.

The partition table is invalid because of incorrect configuration of newly added disks.Run Startup Repair. If Windows Vista still fails to start, use the System Recovery Command Prompt to configure your disks.
You cannot access Windows Vista after installing another operating system.The Windows Vista boot sector is overwritten by another operating system’s setup program.Run Startup Repair.
System files are missing.Required startup files are missing or damaged, or entries in the BCD registry file are pointing to the wrong partition.Run Startup Repair.
The EFI boot manager or Windows Boot Manager displays messages similar to the following:
Couldn't find loader.
Please insert another disk.

System files are missing.Run Startup Repair.
CMOS or NVRAM disk configuration settings are not retained.The CMOS memory or NVRAM is faulty, data is corrupted, or the battery that retains these settings needs replacing.Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for replacing or recharging the system battery.

Infrequently, disk-related issues such as corrupted files, file system problems, or insufficient free space might cause Stop messages to appear.

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