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How to Fix All the Most Annoying Computer Problems, From Shaky Wi-Fi to a Weird Virus

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When confronted with a whizzing computer fan or a sputtering Wi-Fi connection at home, many people prefer to just call in an expert. Jim Boos, Gawker Media’s IT Manager, admits that while the issues aren’t often that critical, dealing with them at home is often frustrating since you don’t have a team of experts to shoot off an email to whenever anything goes wrong. But don’t forget that there’s nothing more badass and life-affirming than fixing your connectivity issues through basic problem-solving and smarts. There are a few universal issues that any connected house will confront — and each has some tried-and-tested solutions. Here are some tips to turn you into the resident IT pro of your home.

Sputtering Wi-Fi

There are few things more frustrating then settling into bed and switching on your streaming service of choice, only to be faced with a blank loading screen. There are several ways to boost your Wi-Fi before it becomes a problem, through good routers and strong passwords, but there are also methods you can employ when a binge-watching session is on the line.

  • Move your router to the best possible spot. I live in an old building with thick walls, which slows down the Wi-Fi quite a bit. I obviously can’t do anything about the walls, so I moved the router into an open and central spot (read: not in a cabinet) in order to maximize its effectiveness. Try lifting it to a higher position and placing it in the middle of your house, so as to optimize the connection in every room.
  • Move the router away from appliances that could obstruct the signal, like cordless phones or microwaves.
  • Increase your router’s range through quick DIY methods like wrapping it in tinfoil.
  • If you live in a big building (or even if you don’t), your neighbors might be slowing down your signal. Change the channel to one with more space.
  • Reboot it. Or set up the router so that it reboots automatically once a day.

A Nasty Bout of Viruses

No matter how much you practice safe surfing, your computer can still contract a nasty bug or some other type of malware. While you should have an antivirus program installed, even these won’t totally protect you.

  • First, determine if you even have a virus, and that your virus software isn’t just picking up a false positive. Sites like VirusTotal can check a file for you across multiple virus scanners.
  • Put together a rescue disc to clean up your computer. (You might need to borrow a computer from a friend if yours isn’t starting up at all.)
  • After your computer is fixed, create an automated backup system, so that you never have to worry about losing important files.
  • Avoid getting viruses in the future with a free antivirus program. And in general, don’t click on suspicious links or download untrusted programs.

Too Slow/Keeps Crashing

No matter how diligent you are about updating your software and treating your computer like the queen that it is, it will crash at some point. Don’t fret. There are a few things you can do to get things moving again before you give up and send your computer off to the experts.

  • Your best bet is to restart. It’s cliche because it works. Do this every so often, no matter what. You’re basically just clearing out any trash or weird stuff left in your computer’s memory.
  • If you have a PC and it won’t boot into the operating system, you can try Safe Mode. If it boots into Safe Mode but not Windows, the issue is probably coming from something that only starts when you’re booting up normally, like graphics-card drivers.
  • If you’re getting a specific error message, try searching for the exact phrase online.
  • A Mac’s spinning beach ball of death is a tiny but frustrating problem that often refuses to go away. Sometimes, the more you ignore it, the more persistent it becomes. Your computer’s overloaded. Figure out the exact cause by checking the Activity Monitor to determine your daily usage and which program is causing the problem. You can also free up hard drive space by clearing your trash and deleting old downloads.
  • Once everything’s up and running, diagnose the problem with a site like WhoCrashed. That way, you can prevent it in the future.

It’s Dead — or Seems to Be

There are so many issues that could be at play here. Maybe it’s your monitor. Or what if it’s your battery? Maybe your computer has given up on life completely — just like you’re about to do. Who knows! Relax. If you identify the issue methodically you can narrow down what the problem might be.

  • You can tell if your monitor’s at fault if the screen is black, but your keyboard still lights up and you can hear the hard drive making noises. If you’re using a Mac, hold down Command+Option+P+R until the computer restarts. This will reset the NVRAM, which could fix your problem. You can also try booting into Safe Mode to see if the issue continues. If it does, then it’s a hardware issue — but if not, there’s something wrong with your software.
  • Now check your power adapter by swapping it with another one.
  • Did you just upgrade your hardware? Revert to the old hardware to see if that’s the issue.

Smart Devices Just Won’t Act Smart

Smart devices have become a commonplace feature in most homes. But just because they’re smart, doesn’t mean they don’t act stupid every so often. And since much of the technology is new and varied, few people know how to troubleshoot quickly and effectively beyond making sure the Wi-Fi is working.

  • The first thing to do when your smart device is acting up is check for firmware and security updates. Do this right when you take it out of the box. You wouldn’t think of connecting your computer to the Internet without some sort of security system, and the same should hold true for your smart television or thermostat.
  • Frequently unable to remotely connect to your home system because of a slow work connection? Use a VPN to connect to your home network when you’re away.
  • Want to streamline all of the apps from your connected devices into one convenient spot? Try a program like Stringify to control and automate all your smart devices at once.

While some of the more complicated problems may require a real pro who can open up your machine and tinker around inside, you can still deal with most of the above issues quickly and easily without feeling frustrated. Just remember to take things one step at a time, identifying the issue first and then working to fix it through logic and problem solving.

Nailed The Above And Looking For More?

If your family or roommates already turn to you for their technology needs, you may be suited for a career in IT. Find out more and prepare for a future in the field with the free, online Cisco Networking Academy Introduction to the Internet of Everything course. The class will give you a solid understanding of how you can get even more deeply involved in our newly digitized and connected world. It’ll also help you add to the technical skills you already have as a way to stand out in any field. Best of all, it’s only 20 hours, which means it will conveniently fit into your schedule.

Nandita Raghuram is a Senior Writer at Studio@Gawker. She tweets here.

This post is a sponsored collaboration between Cisco and Studio@Gawker.