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Sometimes the only solution is to have someone look at your machine.


My machine froze up with some kind of ‘insufficient resources
available’ message. All I could do was turn the machine off. When I
turned it back on it said it couldn’t find my primary drive. Tried
again, and it said “keyboard failure”. 3rd time was a charm, and
everything seems fine.

Should I be panicking and perhaps shopping for a new computer?

I got a question from a friend this morning that boiled down to
something like that.

I told my friend that it was questions like this that are the
hardest for me, and the most frustrating. I really, honestly want to
help – but…

Well, here’s my (slightly edited) response, and you’ll see what I

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It’s hard to say how much you should worry.

To begin with:

  • it could be a software problem.

  • it could be hardware on its way out.

  • it could be nothing. Stuff happens.

In other words, it’s either something or it’s nothing.

If it’s something, then:

  • it could be easily repairable

  • it could be not-so-easily repairable

  • it could be hopeless

“All I’ve
really said is that it could be something serious, or not …”

As you can see, my answer so far has been pretty useless. All I’ve
really said is that it could be something serious, or not, and if there
is a problem it could be trivial, difficult or impossible to fix.

I continued:

My Recommendation:

  • Backup backup backup. Regularly, of course, but if you’ve not been
    doing so, start. Think “what would I lose if it died without warning
    and without recovery?” – if that’s a problem you should be backing up
    whatever you’d be sorry you lost.

  • If it happens again – don’t assume it’s dead or dying. But at that
    point it probably is time for someone to lay hands on it and diagnose
    the problem in more detail. Do you have resources locally for that

Really, the only solid piece of advice here was to backup in case
the worst happens, and regular readers will know I’ve been preaching
that for a long time, no matter how well things seem to be working.

The last point, though, is one that’s been in the back of my head
for a long time. The fact is that there are classes of problems –
typically suspected hardware problems – where the only way to diagnose
is to see the machine, in person. To “lay hands on it”, as it were.

And, given the nature of Ask Leo! – that’s pretty frustrating.

I can’t see the machine.

Sure, in a situation like this sometimes with a clear enough
description of the problem I can make some educated guesses, but that’s
all they are – guesses. This class of problem is frequently impossible
to diagnose properly from a distance.

So here’s my advice to the average user: have a hardware backup
plan. That might mean a backup machine, but more likely it means to
seek out a good, local, and easily accessible technician or computer
guru. Someone who, if you have a problem, can physically look at your
machine and help diagnose it. It can be a family member, a friend, an
acquaintance, or even a local business specializing in computer

Unfortunately, in my friend’s case, while it’s not out of the
question, the distances involved are long enough that it’s not that
trivial for me to be that resource.

For the record, this is a situation where many Apple users have a
leg up on things. Since Apple’s hardware is proprietary (by and large
available only from Apple), Mac owners have been able to take their
machines to Apple stores and visit the Genius Bar for – literally –
hands-on help with their systems. Apple users within range of an Apple
store have a pretty good thing.

I do wish that something similar were more broadly available for
other systems as well.

Do this

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4 comments on “Sometimes the only solution is to have someone look at your machine.”

  1. After running around with no good result I called Microsoft direct. 1-800-936-5700 or 1-800-936-4900. It did cost me $50.00 +/- but he took control of the computer on line and fixed the problem once and for all. Hope this helps.

  2. A fewmonths ago i bought an external, USB powered hard drive – 100GB of memory for $50 from ebay. Now I have NO EXCUSE not to back up …….except laziness!


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