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Thread: Troubleshooting tools and guides.

  1. #1
    SchildConstruct's Avatar
    2,060 posts since Oct 2009

    Troubleshooting tools and guides.

    You need: Trouble, and a shotgun.

    You do: Take trouble outside, and shoot it. Done with Troubleshooting.

    Right. I be serious now.

    Table of contents
    1. What's this about? (scroll down)
    2. Basic System Information
    3. Networking
    4. When OSes crash (and burn)
    5. Viruses and other buggers

    What's this about?
    Since we are a community of gamers, and not IT pros, and not every one uses a PC to game, or a console, I thought about providing a little self-service tools.

    With any luck, this helps you to find out what your problem is, and solve it. If it doesn't, you at least can give us more information about what the fuck is going on in your computer / network / console.

    Mind, this'll be rather Windows PC centric, since a) PCs are very diverse, and thus more likely to produce problems, b) consoles are locked down, and you can only run what Nintendo / Sony / MSFT allow you to run, and c) if you use Linux, Google's your best friend anyway.

    I'll use a common format in my posts, and you should, too, if you have anything worthwhile to add:

    Bold is a new topic / section.

    Tool? picks a tool or three that does the job, and tells you a little about what it does.
    [tool name] howto? Gives a quick and dirty tutorial how to to use the tool.
    Where? tells you where to find the tool, either "on board" your system or on the internets.

    Text in Monospace are either tool names, or commands you can type in yourself (like rm -rf / [don't try that at home, kids!]).

    Menus navigation is shown with arrows: Start -> Windows Explorer -> File -> New -> Folder (Implicit: If a program launches, you continue in this program's menus)

    Bold text provides important information: That's what she said!


    02.04.2010: Added Ars Technica link to a short'n'sweet guide to use open source tools for system rescue

  2. #2
    SchildConstruct's Avatar
    2,060 posts since Oct 2009

    Basic System Information

    Basic System Information
    In this post, I'll hand you the tools you'll need to collect information. As much as possible, I'll make sure that system tools do the work, so that you don't have to download something (which can't always be avoided).
    So, how do you find out what's in your system, then? Tools?
    System Information: Collects an overview of your system's hardware and Windows OS.
    DXDiag.exe: Collects DirectX and system information.
    USBDeview: Collects information about USB devices.

    System Information Howto?

    Launch System Information, File -> Export -> Pick a location and name you can remember, and give it any name ending with .txt. The whole process will take a while, since it collects a lot of information (not everything is useful for our purposes).

    Attention: The tool collects identifiable information. If you don't want us to know that your Workgroup is "ISUCKCOCK", edit that sorta stuff out.

    Example file (note: Windows translates that stuff. If you have an Italian Windows, it'll be Italian, if your Windows is English, it'll be English, that's why it is German for me. Unfortunately):
    Systeminformationsbericht erstellt am: 01/26/10 09:26:43
    Systemname: GRANT

    Element Wert
    Betriebsystemname Microsoft Windows 7 Professional
    Version 6.1.7600 Build 7600
    Weitere Betriebsystembeschreibung Nicht verfügbar
    Betriebsystemhersteller Microsoft Corporation
    Systemname GRANT [How the computer is called - SC]
    Systemhersteller Advent [Who is responsible for this idciocy? - SC]
    Systemmodell W651UI
    Systemtyp X86-basierter PC
    Prozessor Intel(R) Core(TM)2 Duo CPU T5750 @ 2.00GHz, 2000 MHz, 2 Kern(e), 2 logische(r) Prozessor(en)
    BIOS-Version/-Datum Flex DT.92.12, 17.07.2008
    SMBIOS-Version 2.4
    Windows-Verzeichnis C:\Windows
    Systemverzeichnis C:\Windows\system32
    Startgerät \Device\HarddiskVolume2
    Gebietsschema Deutschland [The locale. - SC]
    Hardwareabstraktionsebene Version = "6.1.7600.16385"
    Benutzername GRANT\CynicalRyan [Who's the user? - SC]
    Zeitzone Mitteleuropäische Zeit
    Installierter physikalischer Speicher (RAM) 4,00 GB [Total RAM - SC]
    Gesamter realer Speicher 2,99 GB [What's usable of the total? - SC]
    Verfügbarer realer Speicher 1,07 GB [What's left after you launched all your programs. - SC]
    Gesamter virtueller Speicher 5,98 GB
    Verfügbarer virtueller Speicher 3,65 GB
    Größe der Auslagerungsdatei 2,99 GB
    Auslagerungsdatei C:\pagefile.sys

    The file will be about 1MB large, all in all, and includes info about all your hardware.

    Start -> Accessories -> System Tools -> System Information

    DXDiag.exe howto?
    Similar to System Information above, DXDiag collects information about your computer (including basics like Windows OS version, manufacturer, etc.), but mostly hardware (if you have hardware issues, this is your go to tool).

    DXDiag takes a while to collect all your information (2 minutes, thereabouts), so wait a little before you hit the "Save all" button (2nd from the right), and save the file where you can remember it.

    (As you can see, this is not localized. It's always in English!)
    System Information
    Time of this report: 1/26/2010, 09:35:17
    Machine name: GRANT
    Operating System: Windows 7 Professional 32-bit (6.1, Build 7600) (7600.win7_rtm.090713-1255)
    Language: German (Regional Setting: German)
    System Manufacturer: Advent
    System Model: W651UI
    BIOS: BIOS Version DT.92.12
    Processor: Intel(R) Core(TM)2 Duo CPU T5750 @ 2.00GHz (2 CPUs), ~2.0GHz
    Memory: 4096MB RAM
    Available OS Memory: 3062MB RAM
    Page File: 2412MB used, 3710MB available
    Windows Dir: C:\Windows
    DirectX Version: DirectX 11
    DX Setup Parameters: Not found
    User DPI Setting: Using System DPI
    System DPI Setting: 96 DPI (100 percent)
    DWM DPI Scaling: Disabled
    DxDiag Version: 6.01.7600.16385 32bit Unicode

    DxDiag Notes [Each monitor / graphics card and sound output, like soundcards, etc. creates on tab. - SC]
    Display Tab 1: No problems found.
    Display Tab 2: No problems found.
    Sound Tab 1: No problems found.
    Sound Tab 2: No problems found.
    Sound Tab 3: No problems found.
    Input Tab: No problems found.
    Windows XP: Start -> Control Panel -> Direct X
    Vista / 7: Start -> type "dxdiag.exe" in the search box, and hit enter.

    USBDeview howto?
    Launch it, and after you have recovered from the shock, you can see a listing of what USB hardware is installed on and/or plugged in to your system.

    This tool is most useful to hunt down drivers for hardware you lost the drivers for, like Bluetooth dongles, or that no-name printer.

    Double click on the device in question, and this pops up:

    The red box shows what you should search for on the intertubes.

    To create a file to, say, attach to a forum post, select what you want saved (usual Windows method. Hit CTRL+A for everything), then File -> Save Selected Items, and save the file (need to give it a .txt ending).

    Download it from USBDeview.

  3. #3
    SchildConstruct's Avatar
    2,060 posts since Oct 2009



    Nowadays, networks are easy to set up, and require next to no skill to get going. And most of the time, this is a Good Thing.

    Unfortunately, troubleshooting a network isn't as easy. This short guide will, hopefully, take a little of the pain out of the process.

    Problem: My internet is broken!

    Check if you are connected to your router. Windows provides a system tray icon that shows the connection status.
    If that shows you are disconnected, check your cables. Are they connected properly, and securely? Is there any sign of corrosion?

    If you use WLAN: Are you connected to the router? If not, connect to it, and note the error messages. If your connection is encrypted, check your password.

    Attention: Windows Vista / 7 users: You can have Windows diagnose your connection. Right click on the Networking icon, and select "Diagnose". This will also prompt Vista / 7 to try and fix your issues, if possible.

    If you are connected to your router, see if the router or the modem is connected to the internet. Does the light at "WAN", "ADSL", or "CABLE" do what it is supposed to do (that depends on your router / modem. Check the manual, the only way to find out)?

    If it doesn't, check the settings of your modem to connect to your internet service provider. If those are correct, try unplugging your modem / router: Pull the power, and wait for 5 to 10 minutes. Plug it in again.

    If that doesn't fix the issue, it's time to call customer support. I can feel your pain.

    Note: This'll be expanded as I have time.

  4. #4
    Stuck like a bat out of hell. Huge thanks for making this, Construct.

  5. #5
    SchildConstruct's Avatar
    2,060 posts since Oct 2009

    Quote Originally Posted by Technophile View Post
    Stuck like a bat out of hell. Huge thanks for making this, Construct.
    Quite welcome, Techno.

  6. #6
    SchildConstruct's Avatar
    2,060 posts since Oct 2009

    When OSes crash and burn

    Or: Quick file recovery

    Attention: This is an emergency rescue op. We will recover as much of your files off of a not booting computer as we can.
    This will not work, and is utterly not recommended, if your hard drive makes strange noises (all hope abandon, in this case, unless you can afford the services of professional data recovery services!

    Assumptions: Your computer can boot, but the OS you normally use cannot start.

    You will need:
    1 blank CD-R

    If you have two optical drives: Another blank CD-R or DVD-R (whichever is larger)
    If you have only one optical drive: An external HD, USB stick (thumb drive), an SD card, or a working network connection.

    Go and download Ubuntu Linux from and burn the ISO as described in

    Connect your USB drive and/or make sure you have access to a network share on another computer (see another tutorial for details, or follow the instructions given by the OS on your other computer).
    Once the CD-R has been created, grab it, and start your broken computer. Enter the BIOS (DEL or F1 key, usually), and make sure your computer boots from the optical drives first.

    Alternative: Use the BIOS menu to get into its boot menu for a one-time boot. Check the mainboard’s or computer’s documentation to find out how to do that.

    Put your freshly minted Ubuntu CD in a non-burning drive. We’ll need the burner.
    Wait for Ubuntu to launch (will take a while, depending on the speed of your drive and computer).

    Once you see the Ubuntu screen, go to Applications -> Multimedia -> Burn a CD or similar. This will launch the CD burning tool included with Ubuntu.

    On Ubuntu’s desktop, you should see all the drives Ubuntu could recognize. Double clicking them will make the accessible to the system, and allow you to navigate them.
    From the file manager navigate to your documents you want to save.

    Location of the (My) Documents folder in Windows XP:
    C:\Documents and Settings\your_username\My Documents

    Location of the (My) Documents folder in Windows XP and 7:


    Create a new project with the burning tool, and select the CD or DVD options if necessary. Call it “BACKUP” or something.

    In the file manager, select and drag and drop your files into the new project in the burning application.

    Make sure the size fits (otherwise, you’ll have to trim files. Sorry, folks).

    Click the burn icon, and burn the CDs.

    Wait until your files are written to CD. You can now switch off the computer, and have your files recovered (at least the essentials).

    Using a USB drive:
    Open it just like your Windows drive. Drag and drop files, and wait for the copy to finish. Done.

    Ars Technica wrote a quick guide to using open (and free!) tools to salvage your system if the fecal matter hits the oscillating unit: A fast guide to system rescue using open tools

  7. #7
    Wookiee's Avatar
    2,008 posts since Jun 2007

    Maybe I'm old fashioned, but for file rescue, I use xcopy c:/users/'home folder' e:

    Anyway, a quick tip:

    If you have a virus panic, run malwarebytes from safe mode. It is a very respected anti malware program and it has the added bonus of being able to be run from safe mode for catching nasties that would otherwise be hiding behind higher shell processes.

  8. #8
    SchildConstruct's Avatar
    2,060 posts since Oct 2009

    Quote Originally Posted by Wookiee View Post
    Maybe I'm old fashioned, but for file rescue, I use xcopy c:/users/'home folder' e:
    Works great if the OS isn't bootable, doesn't it?

    If you have a virus panic, run malwarebytes from safe mode. It is a very respected anti malware program and it has the added bonus of being able to be run from safe mode for catching nasties that would otherwise be hiding behind higher shell processes.
    Actually, it's much better to grab a Linux-based LiveCD (I'll dig up a useful one), and use that to scan for viruses.

  9. #9
    Wookiee's Avatar
    2,008 posts since Jun 2007

    Quote Originally Posted by SchildConstruct View Post
    Works great if the OS isn't bootable, doesn't it?

    Actually, it's much better to grab a Linux-based LiveCD (I'll dig up a useful one), and use that to scan for viruses.
    How many of them have malware scanners?

  10. #10
    SchildConstruct's Avatar
    2,060 posts since Oct 2009

    Quote Originally Posted by Wookiee View Post
    How many of them have malware scanners?
    Lots. And there's specialized LiveCDs (remember: IveCD merely means that it's a bootable LiveCD!) published by anti-vir vendors. I'll just have to find one that is trivial to use (burn, boot, wait).

  11. #11
    SchildConstruct's Avatar
    2,060 posts since Oct 2009

    Viruses and other Buggers

    This guide has two parts: 1) How to (reasonably) prevent getting malware on your system, and 2) What to do after the shit hit the fan. Let's hope I get it all in one post.

    How to (reasonably) prevent getting malware on your system

    There are several things you can do to keep your system clean. The most important is to watch what you are doing. Don't click on just any link you get sent via IM, stay away from the seedier parts of the internet (warez sites, "hacker" forums, sites offering crackz and serialz are prime examples of places to stay away from).

    You can also run security software. Your best choice is to use an all-in-one package, that detects viruses, adware, and other nastiness.

    If you are cheap, grab Microsoft Security Essentials. It does a good enough job (especially considering its price of "free"), and is easy to use. What I especially like is that it takes up very little resources on almost any system, and supports the operating systems MS is still supporting (clock's ticking on Windows XP, however). It's also very easy to use, and integrates with Windows Update to fetch its signature updates.

    If you want to spend some money, Avira, F-Secure, and ESET all offer great tools to protect your software. runs regular tests for anti-virus software, and is reasonably independent.

    Next, you can use a particular favorite of mine: Firefox with the NoScript extension. Since almost all ways to get malware on your system involve JavaScript of some sort, NoScript can stop attacks dead in their tracks. It's dead easy to use, however quite a few websites will break, since web developers are a stupid bunch, and have no idea how to do graceful downgrading. Idiots.

    Last, but not least, it is important to keep your software up to date! At the very least, keep your operating system current. The easiest way to achieve that is by keeping Windows Update on the recommended settings (download and install automatically). Or set Windows to notify you of new updates at the very least. I cannot stress this enough. An unpatched Windows XP system (in 2008, without Service Pack 2) has a survival time of 4 minutes before somebody else owns your PC (see Survival Time on the Internet, if you don't believe me).

    What to do after the shit hit the fan

    You have two choices: Either clean the system up, or nuke and pave (reinstalling Windows after completely formatting your HD).

    Cleaning the System Up
    The easiest and safest way to do that, is using a rescue CD. F-Secure's Rescue CD is an easy way to go about cleaning a Windows system, since it does most everything automatically (check the User's Guide on how to use it). If you bought an anti-virus solution, check your documentation on how to create such a CD yourself. All of them offer to create a rescue CD for you to use.

    The Nuclear Option
    This is a last resort (though, a lot of techies say it's the only option once your system got infected. This is true with Windows XP, due to XP's age and lack of security / self-healing features).

    It assumes that you have backed up your data (keep in mind, if you use the recovery guide else where in this thread, that your data isn't trustworthy anymore! Make sure you have your AV software re-installed and updated before you access your backed up data!), and that you have your installation / restore CDs handy.

    The issue is simple: Install Windows from scratch. If your restore media have the option, let them completely reformat your system.

    This way, you get a clean Windows install, but you have to install your usual tools (and remove the shovelware Dell graciously provided you with) and reconfigure your XP to suit you again.

    In an upcoming guide, I'll show you how to create an update DVD for Windows, and create a Windows install CD including MS's updates for your Windows (Note: It's legal for you to remaster the Windows XP install CD!).

  12. #12
    SchildConstruct's Avatar
    2,060 posts since Oct 2009

    A third AV option is ClamWin. I didn't include it in my AV guide, since it lacks an On Demand scanner (i.e. it doesn't scan whenever you access a file on your computer, or download one from the internets).

    If you aren't shy to do your own (manual) scans, it's a good choice of tools.

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