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Beware of Trojan Horse!

Trouble: Your monitor flickers like crazy. When you try to increase the refresh rate, it offers only a setting of 60 Hz.

Fix: I feel your pain--a flickering screen gives me terrible headaches. Setting my monitor's refresh rate--that's the number of times per second a PC's graphics subsystem draws a complete image on the screen--to anything less than 75 Hz has me reaching for an ibuprofen.

Depending on the limitations of the monitor and graphics card or chip, you may be able to increase your monitor's refresh rate to a more comfortable setting. In Windows 9x, 2000, and Me, right-click the Windows desktop, select Properties, Settings, and then click the Advanced button. Under the Adapter tab (or, in Windows 2000, the Monitor tab) you'll find a list of available refresh-rate settings. Select the highest setting offered, ideally 75 Hz or above.

Sometimes Windows offers 60 Hz as the only option when it can't find the monitor's Plug and Play configuration. (Forcing too high a refresh rate can damage a monitor.)

To find the configuration, go to the Monitor tab, check 'Automatically detect Plug & Play monitors,' and reboot. Otherwise, click the Change button and reinstall the monitor. If it turns out that the monitor doesn't support anything higher than 60 Hz, lower the screen resolution and recheck the available refresh rates.

Unreliable USB Ports

Trouble: The USB port on your keyboard is convenient but inconsistent--some connected devices work and some don't.

Fix: What you have is a power shortage. A USB port doesn't just connect the PC to peripherals, it also delivers electricity to power them. Some USB ports, like those on a PC or on the base of a monitor, are self-powered and can easily run USB devices. But ports with no power source of their own, including those on a keyboard, provide less power.

Adding an item with limited power requirements, such as a mouse, usually doesn't pose a problem. But power-hungry USB devices, such as speakers and scanners, can cause an overload--or sometimes even shut down the entire USB port. You have two choices: Either connect the power-hungry peripheral to a self-powered port (like one on a computer), or invest in a multiple-port, self-powered hub like the $80 Belkin BusStation.

Don't Get Dumped

Trouble: All of a sudden, you lose your connection to the Internet.

Fix: I hate when that happens. That's when I'm tempted to go online, buy a new modem via next-day delivery, and take out my tool kit. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. I'll fix this the Bassian way--through Windows. The modem probably just got inundated with too much data.

In Windows 9x, go to Start, Settings, Control Panel, and open Modems. On the Modem Properties dialog box's General tab, your modem should be highlighted; click Properties, and in the 'Maximum speed' drop-down list, select the next lower setting. Although this may slow your modem down, it'll keep it from dropping your Web connection. Next, click the Connection tab and take the same approach with the Port Settings button. Drag the slider on each of the two bars back a notch and see if that fixes your problem.

In Windows 2000, go to Phone and Modem Options, and click the Modems tab. Highlight your modem and click Properties. The General tab lets you drop the maximum port speed. Clicking the Change Default Preferences button under the Advanced tab brings up a dialog box with a General tab that lets you set your preferred port speed.

In Windows Me, open Control Panel, select Tools, Folder Options, click the View tab, and check 'Display all Control Panel options and all folder contents.' There are two drop-down lists, each with the choices Low, Medium, High, and Maximum.

Possessed PC

Trouble: Your PC has a will of its own: The cursor grows and shrinks; letters appear and disappear; and graphics look psychedelic.

Fix: When I see strange screen behavior, I immediately suspect the driver (a small program that works with Windows to control hardware) for my graphics card.

To isolate or eliminate your graphics driver as the culprit, install the Windows VGA graphics driver. Right-click the desktop and choose Properties, Settings, Advanced, Adapter. In Windows 95, select Change to open the Select Device dialog box, and click Show all devices. In the 'Manufacturers' list, select the first option, Standard display types, and in the 'Models' list, select Standard Display Adapter (VGA).

In Windows 98, select Change to open the update wizard. Choose Display a list of and then select Show all hardware. Under 'Manufacturers,' select Standard display types, and install the Standard Display Adapter (VGA) driver.

In Windows Me, select Change to open the update wizard. Then select 'Specify the location of the driver (Advanced),' Next, 'Display a list of all the drivers in a specific location, so you can select the driver you want,' Next, Show all hardware. Under 'Manufacturers,' choose Standard Display types, and install the Standard Display Adapter (VGA) driver.

If that cures the on-screen ills, download the latest version of your graphics card's driver from the vendor's Web site. If you can't find it, call the company's technical support staff.

Folder Freak-Out

Trouble: Some files and folders look like they've been translated into Russian. Worse, one folder seems to have disappeared.

Fix: These trouble signs make my blood run cold, because they're indications of a dying hard drive. First, rescue critical data that hasn't been backed up by copying everything to another hard disk, a CD-RW disc, a Zip disk, or some other storage medium.

Then I recommend that you run the Windows ScanDisk utility. Go to Start, Programs, Accessories, System Tools, ScanDisk and run the Thorough option (which checks the PC for physical damage).

If ScanDisk finds a handful of lost or cross-linked clusters, delete them--they're bits and pieces of lost and broken files that can be discarded. The same goes for bad sectors; expect a few from basic hard disk wear and tear. If bad sectors continue to appear (say, in weekly runs of ScanDisk), the hard disk may be approaching the end of its life and may need to be replaced.

If you can't back up your files--and it looks like more files are disappearing--you'll need to turn off the computer, remove the hard drive, and take it to a data recovery service such as Ontrack EasyRecovery.

Running on Empty (Memory)

Trouble: All of a sudden your system is running unusually slowly, crashing, and issuing Low Memory errors.

Fix: My first thought: Invest in a new CPU and/or RAM upgrade. But my esteemed colleague Steve would scoff at the idea of opening up a PC when there may be a less drastic way to fix things. For this problem, I agree.

Windows 98 and Me users should have at least 64MB of memory. If you run multiple applications at once, anything less than 64MB will feel like computing in quicksand. If you already have plenty of RAM, then you have two other options: Beef up your PC's virtual memory, and look for a memory leak.

Virtual memory is a special file on the hard disk--often called a swap file--where the PC stores overflowing data that won't fit in RAM. Windows adjusts the size of the swap file as memory needs grow and shrink. But if the hard disk starts to run out of free space, the swap file may not be able to grow to the size it needs, and the machine will run sluggishly as a result.

Either delete or remove files to make room on the hard drive. Or move the swap file to a partition or an additional hard disk that has available space. On the Windows 9x or Me desktop, right-click My Computer, select Properties, go to the Performance tab, and choose Virtual Memory. To see a list of available partitions and disks, select 'Let me specify my own virtual memory settings.' For Windows 2000 users, select Advanced, Performance Options, Change.

The other option is to check for a memory leak. Sometimes software--because it's damaged or poorly designed--won't let go of its assigned memory when it's done using it. If you keep opening and closing the application, it gobbles up more memory until the system has no available RAM. Rebooting the machine can temporarily fix the problem by resetting your memory to its normal settings.

Finding the source of the leak is a lot more work. Select Start, Programs, Accessories, System Tools and use the System Monitor utility to monitor your PC's memory usage. If it's not there, install it from the Windows CD using Add/Remove Programs. Shrink the utility's window to a manageable size, and select View, Numeric Charts and View, Always on Top. Then select Edit, Add Item. In the 'Category' list of the dialog box that appears, select Memory Manager. Then hold down Ctrl and select the following memory statistics in the Item list: Unused physical memory (Free Memory in Windows 95), Swapfile in use, and Swapfile size.

Watching those stats as you open, use, and close different applications will give you an idea as to which programs are using up a lot of memory. Also keep an eye on the Kernel category's Threads statistic; it should decrease when you close an application.

Printer Goes Clueless

Trouble: Your printer is sending out an 'Error writing to LPT1' message in Windows.

Fix: This is a very common printer error, and there are a few ways to fix it. First, take care of the obvious: Make sure that the printer is online and that it has paper in the tray. Then clear the printer's memory by turning the unit off, waiting a few seconds, and turning it back on.

Next, check the printer cable to ensure that it's firmly connected to both the printer and the PC. If the current cable is old, poorly constructed, or too long, signals from your PC may not be reaching your printer. Consider buying a new, IEEE 1284-compliant cable. Priced at about $10, it enables bidirectional communication, so the printer--if capable--can send information to the PC, such as an out-of-paper message.

Before buying a new cable, however, reload the printer driver--in case it's corrupted or outdated. Download the latest driver from the manufacturer's Web site. After you do, select Start, Settings, Printers to open the Printers folder, right-click the icon for the printer, and select Delete. Then reinstall it by clicking the Add Printer icon, which is also in the Printers folder.

If you still can't print, check your PC's parallel port settings. Right-click My Computer and select Properties. Go to Device Manager, then double-click 'Ports (COM and LPT).' Double-click 'Printer Port (LPT1),' select the Resources tab, and check the 'Conflicting device list' box for an IRQ (Interrupt Request line) or DMA (direct memory access, a fast link to your computer's RAM) conflict. If another device is using the printer port's IRQ, disable that device or assign it a new IRQ. To disable the device, find it in Device Manager, open its Properties dialog box, select the General tab, and check 'Disable in this hardware profile.'

To look for a DMA conflict, first check whether your printer port is configured as an ECP port (the latest parallel port technology designed to speed up printing by using a DMA; older settings are Standard, Bi-directional, and EPP). If yours does support ECP, assign your parallel port to an unused DMA--usually done in your PC's CMOS setup program.

If your printer doesn't support ECP, configure the parallel port to a slower, compatible setting: The next-best option is EPP. If your printer doesn't support that either, go with Standard--the slowest, yet most compatible setting.

Step-by-Step: Perform PC Surgery

Some PC problems can be solved only by rolling up your sleeves, popping off the PC's cover, and getting your hands on the innards. Does replacing an expansion card or setting motherboard jumpers sound too complicated? It isn't. Simply follow these steps:

1. Find the right workspace. Good light and plenty of room are essential. Working in tight spaces or under your desk will benefit only your chiropractor and your local repair shop.

2. Avoid unexpected charges. Unplug the computer. Even when powered off, some PCs deliver current to the motherboard, which can send a damaging jolt to both you and your PC. Always ground yourself; static charges can destroy your machine. Use a grounding strap or touch an unpainted, metal portion of the chassis before unplugging the PC and handling components.

3. Remove the cover. Some PCs have covers that pop off easily without tools; others require a small Phillips screwdriver or a six-sided torque driver. Place screws (and any other hardware you remove) in a cup or box.

4. Clear the path. If a rat's nest of cables and power cords hinders your access to the interior of the case, remove them. Labeling each cord and connector will save you time during reassembly.

5a. Remove or replace an expansion card--carefully. Start by removing the bracket screw that holds the card in the chassis. Handle the card on its edges only; avoid direct contact with any chips or circuitry. Apply even pressure across the length of the card when inserting or removing it, and make sure you don't bend the motherboard. Try not to make any sharp or jerky movements.

5b. Change a DIP switch or jumper. If you don't have documentation that locates the switch or jumper on the motherboard and describes how to set it, don't guess. A mistake can fry your motherboard. And be gentle; jumper pins can bend easily.

5c. Add or remove a drive. Prepare the drive: Set any jumpers or switches on your hard drive to their proper EIDE or SCSI settings before sliding the drive into a hard-to-reach drive bay. (EIDE drives must be set to either Slave or Master, and SCSI drives must be set to the proper SCSI ID number. Read the drive manual for details.) Sometimes it's helpful to use a small piece of compressed foam or cardboard to line up the drive's screw holes with those in its bay.

6. Check your connections. Just before replacing the machine's cover, recheck all your cables and connections one last time. Power connectors sometimes require a stiff push to seat properly.

Tools of the Trade

Before diving in to fix any hardware problems inside your PC, get the proper tools. A basic repair tool kit will cost about $25 and have the following:

13/16- and 1/4-inch nut drivers for adding or removing a PC's cover, cards, and drives

Needle-nose pliers for setting jumpers

Small Phillips and standard screwdrivers for adding or removing a computer's cover, cards, and drives

Tweezers for retrieving dropped parts and manipulating small components

Other Handy Tools

Antistatic wristband and leash for avoiding unexpected charges; $8

Felt-tip marker and tape for marking cables and wires; $5

Cup or box to keep parts in one place; $1

Plastic ties for bundling cables; $2

Small flashlight for providing adequate illumination inside the PC; $10

Step-by-Step: Keep Your PC Neat and Tidy

A clean PC is a happy PC. Accumulations of dirt, dust, smoke, and grime can cause all kinds of problems--from a jumpy mouse to a full system crash. Performing the following tasks every six months--or more often if your computer is in an exceptionally dusty or smoky room--should keep your system running smoothly.

1. Get the right tools. Computers need special cleaning supplies. See "PC Cleaning Closet" below for a list of proper cleaning items. And remember the supreme rule of PC cleaning: Never apply cleaning solution directly to the machine. Always spray cleaning solution on a rag.

2. Clean the case. Clogged air vents lead to overheating, which can slowly kill your PC. Clear all case openings--especially the vent for the power supply fan--of accumulated dust or other obstructions with a lint-free rag or compressed air. When spraying air, try not to blow the dust back into the case.

3. Clean the motherboard. Open your system (follow the guidelines in " Step-by-Step: Perform PC Surgery"). Try to remove dust with a small vacuum cleaner. Otherwise, blow out any dust with compressed air. Make sure you remove dust from the case, not just relocate it. Wipe surfaces with a lint-free rag or swab.

4. Clean the mouse. Cure jumpy cursors with a quick mouse cleaning. Rotate the circular cover on the underside of the mouse and remove the ball. Take a swab or the end of a paper clip and scrape any accumulated grime from each of the guide wheels in the cavity. Rub the mouse ball with a cloth to remove any oil or grime.

5. Clean the keyboard. Blow out dust from between keys with a shot of compressed air. Wipe surfaces with a smooth rag moistened with a diluted computer cleaning solution (both are available at your local computer store).

6. Clean the monitor. Monitors are literally dust magnets. Wipe dust from the screen with a damp, soft rag. If you need to use a cleaning solution to remove stuck-on dirt, make sure your monitor has no special coatings that may be damaged by cleaning solvents. Also, remember to remove dust from any vents or openings.

PC Cleaning Closet

Here's a list of cleaning supplies you'll need:

Canned air: A PC janitor's best friend. Goes where wipes and brushes can't reach; $7.

Contact cleaning solution: A special solution for removing dust, grime, and corrosion from the metal contacts on expansion cards; $10.

Handheld vacuum cleaner: A real time-saver in a dusty environment; $35.

Lint-free wipes and swabs: Won't leave unwanted residue as most rags and paper towels do; $9.

PC cleaning solution: A circuit board-safe solution for cleaning the interior of a computer; $7.

Small and medium-size brushes: Wonderful for cleaning those hard-to-reach nooks and crannies; $8.

Vanquish Windows Worries

Everyone suffers through Windows errors, even yours truly. I get cranky, sure, but you don't see me switching to a Mac (yet). I'll show you the errors most people get, how to resolve them, and how to keep from getting them again. So sit down, take a breath, and read on.

Too-Fast Shutdowns

Trouble: When you shut down Windows, the system often hangs, leaving you with a blank screen and a flashing cursor.

Fix: Flashing cursors--sounds like another migraine attack. Thankfully, this isn't. The perpetrator is Microsoft's Fast Shutdown feature. Usually when you shut down your computer, Windows removes device drivers from memory. Windows 98 unceremoniously closes Fast Shutdown device drivers, and the more abrupt shutdown causes many applications to crash.

Disabling Fast Shutdown is easy: Select Start, Run, type Msconfig, and press Enter. Then select the Advanced button. Check Disable Fast Shutdown. Good news: If you use Windows 95 or 98 SE, you're exempt from this fast shutdown problem.

Virus Panic Attack
Trouble: Your PC might have a virus--and you're not running an antivirus utility.

Fix: Start panicking. (You'll do it even though there's no need yet; I always do the same.) Once you're calm and you have access to your browser and the Internet, head for HouseCall, Trend Micro's free virus scanner utility. After downloading a copy of this small program onto your PC, HouseCall scans your computer's hard drive, finding and removing pesky viruses.

Can't go online? You should have an antivirus utility running at all times. And if you've got one, dig out your virus program's rescue disk or your backup recovery disk. (You are backed up, right?)

The best advice? Preventive maintenance (like Kirk's advice in "Keep Your PC Neat and Tidy"): Always scan e-mail attachments and new downloads, back up your data at least weekly, and update your virus program often.

Get Files Back From the Dead
Trouble: You deleted a file and just realized that you need it for something.

Fix: Now you've done it. You were so sure you didn't want that file that you bypassed the Recycle Bin and permanently erased it by holding down the Shift key when you deleted it. Solution? Download a trial version of Ontrack's EasyRecovery. It resuscitates the first five lost-beyond-the-grave files. You can also buy EasyRecovery for $89, or get Lost & Found from PowerQuest for $70. Both programs bring deleted files back from the dead--even if you've already formatted your drive.

Fix Invalid Page Faults
Trouble: Windows calmly tells you 'Msgsrv32 caused an invalid page fault in module Kernel32.dll'. "What the hell does that mean?" you ask, grabbing a hammer.

Fix: Though it may appear capricious, Windows doesn't flash error messages willy-nilly. Unfortunately, the messages aren't explicit. So you need to note everything--and I mean everything, including changes or anything new--on your PC to diagnose the problem. Then visit the Knowledge Base page on Microsoft's Web site and see what it has to say about the error. I learned that the 'Msgsrv32' error might be caused by one of two events, depending on what's happened to your system.

If Windows recently crashed or your PC locked up, it's likely that your password list is corrupt. From the Windows desktop, press F3 and then type *.pwl into the 'Named' field and c:\windows into the 'Look in' field. In the list of found files, delete each file ending in .pwl (there may be more than one). Windows will re-create the files the next time you boot up.

On the other hand, if you're using Windows 95 and just recently installed a Plug & Play device, you may need a more current device driver. My buddy Kirk might suggest removing the device and fiddling with the Device Manager; I'd visit the hardware vendor's Web site, go to its support page, and look for an updated driver.

Lost and Found Device Drivers
Trouble: When you boot up your system, you get a lengthy error message explaining that Windows can't find a particular device driver, usually ending in .vxd or .386. Windows whines, telling you it needs that file but the file no longer exists.

Fix: Keep your fingers crossed, because if there was an interruption when you recently uninstalled a program or the process wasn't completed, this will be a snap. Reinstall the program, then uninstall it again, and reboot. Still getting the error message? If the file name ends with .386, go to Start, Run, type Sysedit, and press Enter. Select System.ini, then type the file name. Type a semicolon (;) at the beginning of the line that starts with 'device=', close Sysedit, and answer Yes when Windows asks to save System.ini.

This is hardware, Kirk's territory, but we have to do it: Reboot your PC and you should be home free.

If that file name ends with .vxd, however, your life just got complicated. You'll need to tinker with the Registry. First back up your PC, which saves a copy of the Registry. Go to Start, Run, type regedit, and press Enter. Select Registry and then Export Registry File, type regsafe in the 'File Name' field, and press Enter.

Next, select Edit, Find, and type in the exact name of the file in the 'Find What' field. Click Find Next, and when the search stops, delete the highlighted key--the name of the .vxd file. Press Enter to confirm and F3 to continue searching until the 'Finished searching through the registry' message pops up.

Step-by-Step: Battle the Enigmatic Blue Screen of Death

It's big, it's blue, and it fills your screen--the infamous Windows General Protection Fault. If you get GPFs often, your PC may have two or more DLLs slugging it out. Have no fear. Grab your gloves and safety goggles, and we'll dig into Windows and see what's causing the trouble.

1. Uninstall that new program. If your PC crashes or locks up after you install a new program, uninstall it; your computer may return to normal.

2. Check the DLLs. Dynamic link libraries are small programs used--and often shared--by many Windows applications. First look for duplicate DLLs, compare the versions, then get rid of the old ones. Follow these steps.

From the Windows desktop, press F3, which brings up the Find: All Files box (or the Search Results box in Windows Me). Make sure Include subfolders is checked (Advanced Options and Search Subfolders in Windows Me) and the 'Look in' field shows My Computer, then type *.dll in the 'Named' field. The results window will be jammed with files. Sort them by selecting View, Details and clicking the Name column heading.

Search tip: To ease your search, first look for DLLs that cause the most trouble, which are usually files that begin with the following letters: BWCC, CO, CTL, MFC, MSV, and OLE. Use the "wild card" trick and add *.dll after each set of those letters. For instance, typing MFC*.dll will find all DLLs that start with MFC.

3. Compare and zap the duplicates. To do this, right-click each duplicate file, select Properties, and click the Version tab. Then compare the versions (and I'll bet files with higher version numbers will be in the Windows System folder). Remember: The date isn't important--it's the version number that is critical.

4. Rename the DLLs. If you discover a DLL with a lower version number in an application's folder and in the Windows System folder, don't delete it. Instead, highlight the file and press F2 to rename the file extension to .d_l. Doing so keeps the old DLL version from loading and forces the program to look in the System folder for the right DLL. After each DLL renaming ceremony, reboot your PC. If all's well, rename more old DLLs.

Shortcut: Download a copy of DLL Checker, a shareware program that finds and highlights duplicate DLLs; it makes renaming DLLs quick and easy.

Stomp Out Web Woes
Have you noticed how many problems you encounter while foraging on the Web? If you're like me, you run into slow connections and browsers that freeze. Dig in. I have plenty of solutions.

Download Dilemmas

Trouble: You find a cool file you want to download. You click the link, but it just plays dumb, displaying itself in your browser instead of downloading.

Fix: Don't get riled up, this one's easy: Within Internet Explorer, place your cursor on the download link and right-click. Select Save Link As or Save Target As. If you're using Netscape, hold down the Shift key while clicking on the link.

IE Stops Working

Trouble: You're Web-surfing along smoothly, and life's good. Then one day, your system locks up. No sweat, you think. You reboot, but IE won't load.

Fix: First thing to do is call Bill Gates and complain. While you're waiting on hold, run ScanDisk: Select Start, Programs, Accessories, System Tools, ScanDisk. If you're lucky, this step alone will fix the problem. Even if the program still won't run, it's the first thing you need to do in preparation for the next step.

If you're using IE 5.5 (and I urge you to upgrade, if only for the following feature), you can easily repair the program. Go to Start, Settings, Control Panel, and open Add/Remove Programs. Scroll to IE and click Add/Remove. Choose Repair Internet Explorer and pack up your cares and woes. (Microsoft Office 2000 has the same feature for Word and its other applications.)

Web Site Not Found

Trouble: You can send and receive e-mail but can't browse the Web.

Fix: Check your fingers if you're seeing typical Web error messages--'400 - Bad request', '404 - Not Found', or 'File Not found'. Any of those errors means you may have typed the Web address incorrectly. Check the syntax and try again. If that doesn't fix the problem, you'll need to check if another program (or someone else using your PC) fiddled with your browser's proxy settings, which determine the way your computer looks for data on the Internet.

If you use IE, you'll need to go to Tools, Internet Options and click Connections. Click LAN settings and check Use a proxy server. Then click Advanced and see if there's a familiar-sounding program listed in the 'HTTP' field. My guess is you may have once experimented with--and subsequently uninstalled--a program that changed your browser's proxy settings.

If you use Netscape Navigator, you must first click Edit, Preferences, double-click the category Advanced, and select Proxies. In the panel on the right, choose 'Direct connection to the Internet.' As with IE, check Netscape's Manual Proxy configuration for a leftover program.

Poky Internet Connections

Trouble: Your Internet connection is slow--small files download as if they're coming from Afghanistan by way of Norway.

Fix: Move to Norway. Just kidding. You'll need to experiment with a couple of things. If you're using a phone line to dial into the Internet, try another access number. While online, check your connection speed by clicking the modem icon in the system tray. No difference? Try another line or call your ISP and complain (switch ISPs if they won't help you).

There's a slight chance that the Windows Registry properties, which control the way your PC connects to the Web, are messed up. The settings--MTU (Maximum Transmission Unit), RWIN (Receive Window size), and others--are obscure (though nerds like me and my cohort Kirk love 'em). Rather than fiddling with the Registry, though, grab a copy of EasyMTU. Once EasyMTU is up and running, click its Suggested button, reboot, and see if your connection speed improves or worsens. If it's still slow, load EasyMTU again and click Default to restore your old settings.

If you enjoy tweaking, try the $11 High Mountain Software ISpeed; it has many fine-tuning features for speeding up your Internet connection. Even if you have high-speed Web access such as a cable modem or DSL, you may still run into connection hassles, in which case, give EasyMTU and ISpeed a shot. But you should visit the Registry Tweaks page at SpeedGuide.net for advice on the best settings for cable and DSL. Fair warning, however: Fluency in geekspeak is a necessity at that site.

Step-by-Step: Eradicate Browser Crashes

You're going to laugh, but sometimes even my browser crashes. It's an Internet fact of life. Poorly written Java applications are often the culprits, as are imperfectly designed Web pages (and maybe errant sunspots). You can either stop browsing altogether or step through these tips:

1. Cache in the History. Corrupt files in both Internet Explorer and Netscape can lead to errors and subsequent crashes. Deleting the Cache and History files may help. In IE 5, select Tools, Internet Options, and in the Temporary Internet Files area, click Delete Files. (In older versions of IE, go to the View menu to find Internet Options.) Next, click Clear History. Myself, I keep the History trimmed down to ten days, helping to reduce the chance for corrupt files. It's just as easy in Netscape: Simply go to Edit, Preferences, click Navigator (History in Navigator 6) in the tree on the left, and then select Clear History when it appears on the right. Double-click Advanced, select Cache, and click Clear Disk Cache.

2. Inactivate ActiveX. I still get anxious when I see the 'invalid Page Fault in Kernel32.DLL' error. For a while, whenever I exited IE, the message would gleefully pop up. A corrupt ActiveX control was causing the error. In IE, select Tools, Internet Options and click the Settings and View Objects buttons. Once there, choose View, Details. If you see ActiveX items that are listed as 'damaged', right-click each one and remove it. No damaged items? Update each by right-clicking it and selecting Update (you'll be prompted to go online).

Netscape users should first close the browser and use Windows Explorer to head for the C:\Program Files\ Netscape\Navigator\Program folder. Rename the Plugins folder 'Plug-safe' (highlight the file and press F2), and then reload Netscape. If you experience no more crashes, copy one file at a time from Plug-safe into the new Plugins folder Netscape created when you reloaded it. After you add each new file, restart Netscape and watch for crashes, so you can spot--and remove--the culprit.

3. Update Vitriolic Video Drivers. If you're still getting Page Fault Errors and General Protection Faults, there's a chance your video drivers are corrupt or out-of-date. Get fresh drivers from Frank Condron's Web site; it has driver details with links to vendors.

4. Check the Desktop for DLLs. It's a long shot, but stranger things have happened: Make sure you haven't inadvertently dragged and dropped any DLLs on your desktop. Check by right-clicking each icon, selecting Properties, and examining the 'Target' field for the .dll extension.

Windows Utilities


The Microsoft Hardware Diagnostic Tool, or HWINFO.EXE, is an unsupported Windows 98/ME utility that provides largely the same information contained in the more popular and supported Microsoft System Information tool, but it presents the information in a single window instead of multiple windows, making it somewhat more user-friendly.

HWINFO.EXE is located in the \Windows folder in Windows 98/ME. To start the utility, select Start > Run and enter hwinfo /ui. The /ui, or user interface, switch must be present when you start the utility. Once it starts, you’ll be inundated by a list of hardware configurations and registry settings. Click on View and check Devices with Problems.

With the View menu, you can filter the output down to more specific and useful information, such as problem devices or a resource summary. Another handy feature is the color-coding of information, which makes it easy to scan the data: green for registry keys, pink for file attribute information, dark red for Configuration Manager information, bold red for errors, and bold blue for warnings.

MS system info

Get a peek at the inside of your system. Select Start, Run, then type msinfo32 and press Enter. Can't find msinfo32? Dig out your Windows 98 CD-ROM, select Start, Settings, Control Panel, Add/Remove Programs, click Windows Setup, scroll down to and select System Tools, click the Details button, and click System Monitor. Click OK and OK.

Using Windows 95? Unfortunately, Microsoft didn't include the msconfig utility in Windows 95. Instead, use sysedit. Select Start, Run, type sysedit, and press Enter. You can also download copies of Startup Control Panel and Sandra Standard from our Downloads library; both utilities tweak your system's configuration files.

DLL relief par excellence: To find duplicate DLLs and rename them, download DLL Checker from VB2Java.com or our Downloads library.

Get the latest DLL: If an error message names a specific DLL, search for the current version at Microsoft's DLL Help database.

Microsoft's online support: The company's automated wizards and English-language query engine provide practical troubleshooting advice.

Have a Netscape problem? Go to the Netscape Unofficial FAQ. The company also has an index of all consumer articles that lists technical, yet helpful, articles on troubleshooting error messages.

Windows Registry Checker tool

Also known as the Windows Registry Checker tool, this Windows 98/ME utility automatically creates backups of the system registry each time the system boots up. By default, SCANREG creates up to five different backups that you can use to restore the operating system—either automatically or manually—to the state in which it was last working properly.

You can also use the SCANREG utility to scan and repair any problems found in the registry. To do this, boot to a command prompt and then run SCANREG manually from the \Windows\Command folder. You can also run the Protected Mode version, SCANREGW, from Windows; but while this version of the utility does support scanning and backup of the registry, it doesn’t enable you to fix or restore the registry.

The following are common switches used with SCANREG.

Switch Description
/fix Attempts to repair any damaged portions of the registry
/backup Creates a backup of the current registry and related files
/restore Displays a list of available registry backups, so that you can select one to restore the registry
/autoscan Scans the registry in the background and automatically creates a backup if there is no existing backup for the current system date

Automatic Skip Driver

Automatic Skip Driver, or ASD.EXE, is a Windows 98/ME utility that identifies devices that are causing a PC to hang during startup. Armed with this information, ASD bypasses the problem devices by disabling them the next time you restart the computer.

ASD.EXE is located in the \Windows folder. To start Automatic Skip Driver through the Microsoft System Information tool, select Start > Programs > Accessories > System Tools > System Information, then select Automatic Skip Driver Agent from the Tools menu.

If you prefer, you can start ASD by selecting Start > Run and entering asd.exe. If the utility does not detect any device problems when you start it, it will display a message to that effect.

Automatic Skip Driver Agent keeps a record of all the devices it disables in a file called asd.log. You can also instruct ASD to enable a device it previously disabled.

For more information, check out this Microsoft Knowledge Base article: Description of the Automatic Skip Driver Agent (Asd.exe) Tool.

Drive Converter

Drive Converter, also known as CVT1.EXE, is a Windows 98/ME utility used to convert a partition from FAT16 to FAT32. To start the utility, select Start > Programs > Accessories > System Tools > Drive Converter.

Note that once you convert a partition to FAT32, it cannot be converted back to FAT16 unless you repartition and reformat the FAT32 drive. It’s also worth noting that older disk compression software is not compatible with FAT32.

Windows Script Host

Windows Script Host, or WSCRIPT.EXE, is used to run scripts and set script properties within Windows. This utility, located in the \Windows folder, supports scripts written in Visual Basic Scripting Edition (VBScript) or Jscript.

Windows also provides a command line version of the script host, called CSCRIPT.EXE, which includes line switches for configuring script properties.

Some of the common switches used with WSCRIPT and CSCRIPT are listed below.

Switch Description

//B Enables batch mode, which suppresses command-line display of user prompts and script errors. The default setting is interactive mode (see //I below).
//D Turns on the debugger.
//E:engine Executes the script with the specified script engine.
//H:Wscript Registers CScript.exe or WScript.exe as the default application for running scripts. WScript.exe is assumed as the default if you don’t specify an application.
//I Enables interactive mode, which displays user prompts and script errors. This is the default setting, and the opposite of batch mode.

Last Update: 17 October 2002