Saturday, September 24, 2011

52 Windows problems and solutions In Depth: Quick fixes for problems in XP, Vista and Windows 7

t's a sad fact of life that no Windows PC performs faultlessly over time. Many of these problems are outside your control, but others can be introduced through user error.
It doesn't matter how much simpler Microsoft makes Windows with each successive release: problems, glitches and bugs will always be a part of it.
Each month PC magazine from Future Publishing answer dozens of reader questions, so we've trawled our extensive archives and dug out 52 of the most relevant fixes to Windows problems.
Where possible we avoid referring to software that promises to fix these; these "miracle" cures often introduce problems of their own. Instead we try to concentrate on explaining how to fix various problems using only the tools in Windows itself.
01. Missing Taskbar icons
Version: XP, Vista, 7
If icons have disappeared from the Taskbar's notification area, there are two things to try: first, press the Windows key and [R], type "regedit" and press [Enter].
Tip 1
Browse to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\ Software\Classes\Local Settings\Software\Microsoft\Windows\ CurrentVersion\TrayNotify, and delete both IconStreams and PastIconsStream values.
Reboot, or log off and back on again. If the problem persists in XP, and you can live without it, open the Add or Remove Programs Control Panel, click Add/Remove Windows Components, expand Networking Services, and untick "UPnP User Interface". Then click OK > Next.
02. PC won't sleep
Version: XP, Vista, 7
If your PC won't stay asleep it's often because a device is configured to bring it out of standby when triggered. Identify the culprit by pressing the Windows key and [R], type "cmd" and press [Enter].
Tip 2
Type the following line and press [Enter]: powercfg –devicequery wake_armed
Now press the Windows key and [R] again, but this time type "devmgmt.msc" to open Device Manager. Find any devices listed earlier, then double-click them and look for an Advanced or Power Management tab.
Check if the device is allowed to bring the PC out of standby – if it is, untick all the boxes that wake it. Click OK, close Device Manager and test it worked; repeat the process if necessary.
03. Quick fixes
Version: XP, Vista, 7
Microsoft has developed the Fix It Center tool, which includes all of the automated fixes for various Windows problems it has released over the last few years. Download and install it from http://, then launch the tool from its desktop shortcut.
A list of available troubleshooters for your version of Windows will be listed; if one describes the problem you're having then click the Run button next to it and see if it can resolve your problem.
04. Remove printer drivers
Version: XP, Vista
To ensure all traces of an old printer are removed from your PC, open Printers or Printers and Faxes. Right-click blank space in the Printers Control Panel and choose Server Properties (in XP) or Run as Administrator > Server Properties > Continue (in Vista).
Switch to the Driver tab – if your driver is still present, select it and click Remove. If you're using Vista you should leave "Remove driver only" selected only if the drivers were provided by Windows. Click OK followed by Yes > Close.
05. Verify system files
Version: XP, Vista, 7
The System File Checker (SFC) tool enables you to scan for – and replace – corrupt and missing fi les. If you use XP you can use it to scan your entire drive, while in Vista and Windows 7 it can verify individual fi les and folders too. If you have an installation CD, keep it handy in case it's needed.
Step 1. In Windows XP
Tip 5 step 1
Click Start > Run, type "sfc /scannow" and press [Enter] to check your entire drive for errors. Have your installation CD handy in case you're asked for it.
Step 2. Vista and Windows 7
Tip 5 step 2
Click Start, type "cmd", then right-click cmd.exe and choose Run as Administrator > Continue. Type "sfc /scannow" and press [Enter] to check your entire drive.
Step 3. Scan and replace
Tip 5 step 3
Alternatively, type "sfc /SCANFILE=path \fi lename" and press [Enter], replacing path\fi lename with your chosen fi le – such as c:\windows\system32\riched32.dll.
06. Program compatibility problems
Version: XP, Vista, 7
If you have issues with a program check its website or Google the program's name, version number and your version of Windows to see if there are any issues with it.
Tip 6
Avoid installing system software not listed as compatible with your version of Windows, otherwise try installing it as normal; if it fails, Windows 7 may offer to apply compatibility settings to it – see if these work.
If the program installs but won't run, right-click its program shortcut and choose Properties > Compatibility Settings. Select your old version of Windows from the list and click OK.
If this fails, try ticking "Run this program as an administrator"; in Windows 7 you can also click "Help me choose the settings" to gain access to the Program Compatibility Troubleshooter.
07. PC keeps rebooting after Windows Update
Version: XP, Vista, 7
If your PC gets stuck in a cycle of rebooting during the update process, you need to undo the updates using System Restore. If your computer came without a Windows disc, look for an option to access recovery options, or tap [F8] before Windows starts loading, and then choose "Repair your computer".
If you have an installation disc, boot from it, select your language and then choose "Repair your computer". In both cases, when the menu appears, choose System Restore to undo the update.
08. System Restore not working
Version: XP, Vista, 7
If you're having problems restoring your computer to an earlier state, try booting into Safe Mode (tap [F8] as your PC restarts) and running System Restore from there.
In Vista and Windows 7 there's also another option: you can also run the tool directly from your Windows disc (see tip seven, above) if you can't access Windows.
09. Windows Media Player missing songs
Version: XP, Vista, 7
Tracks missing from Windows Media Player? Try clicking Start > All Programs > Accessories. If you're using XP you should select the Command Prompt, or in Vista or Windows 7 right-click it and choose Run as Administrator.
Tip 9
Switch to the folder containing your music using the cd command (for example, cd music cd my documents\my music), then type "attrib -s *.* /d /s" and press [Enter].
Once complete, open Media Player and press [F3], or choose Tools > Advanced > Restore Media Library (in Windows 7) to access all your music again.
10. Action Center
Version: 7
Tip 10
Click the flag icon in the Taskbar's notification area to access the Action Center. Here you can get an at-a-glance look at problems, plus launch a series of troubleshooters to help quickly fix the problems that plague you, without getting your hands dirty.
11. Show printer ink levels
Version: XP, Vista, 7
If you've just upgraded to a new version of Windows and can't access your printer's ink levels, the bad news is that Windows installed a basic driver without the function.
Check the manufacturer's site for a dedicated driver and – if it exists – install that.
12. Fix Windows driver problems
Version: XP, Vista, 7
Most hardware problems can be traced to the drivers, the software that enables them to work with Windows. When it comes to tracking down problems, the first port of call should be Windows' own Device Manager – here's how to troubleshoot problems using this useful tool.
Step 1. Open Device Manager
Tip 12 step 1
Press [Windows] + [R], type "devmgmt. msc" and press [Enter]. Look for yellow exclamation marks next to troublesome hardware devices and double-click one.
Step 2. Get error details
Tip 12 step 2
Look on the General tab for an error code and description of the problem – if a troubleshoot button is present, click it to see if you can fi x the problem easily.
Step 3. Search online
Tip 12 step 3
If no fix is forthcoming, use the error details as part of your web search – try a general search first, then add your hardware's make and model if necessary.
13. Resolve ReadyBoost conflict
Version: Vista, 7
Your PC can only use one ReadyBoost device at a time, and some computers come with built-in flash memory already configured for use with ReadyBoost.
To resolve this conflict click Start, rightclick Computer and select Manage, then under Storage choose "Disk Management" to verify the existence of such a drive. Look for a program called Intel Turbo Memory Console (type "Intel" into the Start menu's Search box) and open this to disable the built-in drive in favour of your own.
14. Folder settings not remembered
Version: XP, Vista, 7
If you find you can no longer customise folders to look and behave how you want, the solution involves some editing of with two Registry subkeys – BagMRU and Bags – which are found in two separate locations: Shell and ShellNoRoam under HKEY_ CURRENT_USER\Software\ Microsoft\Windows.
Think this sounds like too much hassle? No problem, just open the Microsoft Fix It Center tool (see tip three) and run the "Diagnose and repair Windows Files and Folder Problems" wizard. This will do the hard work for you.
15. PC keeps rebooting
Version: XP, Vista, 7
If your PC restarts unexpectedly after briefly displaying a blue screen, then it's encountered a STOP error. If this keeps occurring you need to identify it.
Tip 15
In Vista and Windows 7 you can stop Windows automatically restarting from the Windows boot menu that should appear; if you use XP click Start, right-click My Computer and select Properties > Advanced tab. Click Settings under "Startup and Recovery" and untick "Automatically restart" before clicking OK twice.
Now when the STOP error occurs you'll see a blue screen with details of the error message; note down the description, any files it refers to, and the STOP error code. Then search the web for these terms to hopefully find a solution.
16. Blocked startup programs
Version: XP, Vista, 7
Tip 16
If you get this message after starting Windows, it means one of the programs set to start with it is attempting to work with elevated privileges. This is symptomatic of older programs, so either source an update or an alternative program if you can.
Right-click the message, choose "Run blocked program" and select the errant tool in question. Then click Continue when prompted.
17. Fix file-sharing problems
Version: XP, Vista, 7
Verify your PCs are on the same network – wireless or wired – and all on the same workgroup (click Start, right-click Computer and select Properties; in XP you need the Computer Name tab). Is File and Printer Sharing enabled?
Tip 17
Check from the Network and Sharing Center in Vista/Windows 7 – ensure your network is Home or Work. In Windows 7 click Choose homegroup and sharing options > Change advanced sharing settings; in XP right-click a folder and choose Properties > Sharing tab.
Disable password protected filesharing in Vista or Windows 7 if sharing with PCs running XP, and check your firewall has placed your network in a trusted zone.
18. Access denied error on system files
Version: XP
Not long ago dealing with "access denied" errors relating to system files or the Registry involved downloading a tool and typing out a complex script.
Now you can resolve this issue – sometimes found when installing SP3 – by downloading a dedicated fix-it tool from
19. Low memory error
Version: XP, Vista, 7
Fix this problem by making sure Windows is set to handle your virtual memory settings; open the System Control Panel and either click "Advanced system settings" or switch to the Advanced tab.
Then under Performance click Settings, select Advanced and click Change. You need to verify that either "Automatically manage paging file for all drives" (in Vista or Windows 7) or "System managed size" (in Windows XP) is selected, then if necessary click Set > OK, rebooting when prompted.
20. No sound in Windows
Version: XP, Vista, 7
Tip 20
Before running the Microsoft Fix It Center tool (see tip three), open the "Sound" or "Sounds and Audio Devices" Control Panel.
Select the Playback or Audio tab, and verify the device is set to be the default; if not, select it from the list to fix the problem.
21. Create a repair disc
Version: 7
If your PC didn't come with a Windows installation disc, click Start, type "backup" and click Backup and Restore.
Select "Create a system repair disc" and put a blank CD or DVD in your writeable drive to create a bootable disc with the "Repair your computer" options on it.
22. Where's GPEDIT?
Version: XP, Vista
If you're running one of the Home editions of Windows, you'll find the gpedit.msc tool is missing. If you're instructed to fix a problem using this tool and you're running Windows XP, visit here to find the equivalent setting in the Registry.
Alternatively, for the Home edition of Vista you can download an Excel spreadsheet with the various settings from here.
23. System Restore problems
Version: XP, Vista, 7
Restore points are cumulative in reverse – each new one only saves what's changed – so old points rely on newer ones to work; if one corrupts then all older ones are lost. That means the older a Restore point, the less reliable it is, so avoid using anything but the most recent one.
Tip 23
Open Disk Cleanup (Start > All Programs > Accessories > System tools) and – if prompted – choose "all users". On the More Options tab delete all but the newest Restore point. If all else fails, disable System Restore and lose all Restore points, then re-enable it.
For XP use the tool here; in Vista and Windows 7 open System Protection, untick all the boxes and click Turn off System Restore > Apply. Tick your system drive again and click Apply to switch it back on.
If you're plagued with specific error messages, or System Restore doesn't work well, you'll find useful solutions here.
24. Text too small
Version: XP, Vista, 7
If you're struggling to read the text on your screen simply right-click the desktop and choose "Personalization" or "Properties". In Windows 7 click Display, or in Vista select "Adjust font size (DPI)"; in XP switch to the Settings tab and click Advanced.
Select a larger size to suit you and click OK twice followed by Yes > Close, rebooting if prompted. Certain programs will throw up warnings – in Vista and Windows 7 you can right-click the program shortcut and choose Properties > Compatibility tab, then tick "Disable display scaling on high DPI settings".
25. Video display problems
Version: XP, Vista, 7
When playing back video on your PC, does the screen appear too light or dark, or is the colour balance all wrong? That's because the video uses special "overlay" settings in place of Windows' own.
Tip 25
To resolve this, right-click the desktop and look for an Nvidia or ATI option; if it's not there, choose "Personalization" or "Properties" instead. Choose Settings or Display Settings and look on the tabs for a video or advanced option.
Once located, make sure the video settings are set to that of the player, and not your graphics adaptor. When this is done, save your settings to resolve the problem.
26. Use Event Viewer
Version: Vista, 7
Windows records all major events, including errors and warnings, which can be accessed for troubleshooting. Press the Windows key and [R], type "eventvwr.msc" and press [Enter]. Now expand Windows Logs and click on a log.
Tip 26
Click Filter Current Log, tick Critical, Error and Warning and click OK. Click an event that occurred around the time of your problem: each event will provide more information about your problem – if there's a link to more help online, select it.
Some events won't produce any extra information, but many will; you may even get possible solutions to try, but if not, make a note of any extra detail to use in a Google search.

27. Fix Reliability Monitor not working
Version: Vista
If Reliability Monitor stops updating, open Event Viewer (see tip 26), expand Windows Logs, right-click System and choose Clear Log > Clear.
Launch Task Scheduler from the Start menu's Search box, select View > Show Hidden Tasks, then expand Task Scheduler Library > Microsoft > Windows > RAC.
With RAC selected, right-click RACAgent in the middle pane and select Run. Its status should then change to Running, indicating that the Reliability Monitor is working correctly once again.
28. Event Viewer and XP
Version: XP
Open Event Viewer as outlined in tip 26, then select a log from the left-hand list (System or Application are the best to try) and choose View > Filter.
Untick Information, then click OK to leave all warnings and errors listed. Now review the logs and see what's happening behind the scenes.
29. Change Safe Mode resolution
Version: XP, Vista, 7
A lot of troubleshooting tasks are performed in Safe Mode, and you'll probably find that the default resolution (800 x 600) can be a little cramped to work in.
Thankfully you can force Windows to always display Safe Mode in a higher resolution with a simple tweak.
Step 1. Boot into Safe Mode
Tip 29 step 1
Restart your PC and tap [F8]. When prompted, choose Safe Mode, then log into your user account when prompted. Don't select System Restore if prompted.
Step 2. Access Display Settings
Tip 29 step 2
Right-click the desktop and choose Properties (XP) or Personalize (Vista and Windows 7). Select Display Settings, then Advanced > Adapter tab > List All Modes.
3. Try new resolution
Tip 29 step 3
Select a higher resolution from the list and click OK > Apply. If the screen is readable click OK; click "List All Modes" again to select another option.
30. Delete wireless network
Version: XP, Vista, 7
If you need to delete existing settings for your Wi-Fi network, what do you do?
In Vista and Windows 7 you should open the Network and Sharing Center and click "Manage wireless networks", then select an entry and click Remove.
If you're running XP and using Windows to manage your wireless networks click "Change the order of preferred networks" to remove unwanted networks.
31. Preparing your desktop
Version: Vista, 7
Sometimes Windows messes up when it logs on to your user account – the "Preparing your desktop" message is a giveaway it's setting up a temporary user profile.
Try pressing [Ctrl] + [Alt] + [Del] at this point – if you're lucky, you can log off and try to log on again. This error can occur if you try to log on too quickly after the Windows Welcome screen; wait ten seconds before entering your password and hitting [Enter].
32. Windows won't start
Version: Vista, 7
If you find Windows won't load, pop your Windows installation disc into the drive and restart your computer. Then select to boot from CD when prompted. Pick your language, click Next, and then choose "Repair your computer".
Windows will attempt to detect your installation – if it's successful, click "Startup Repair" to enable Windows to try and fix the problem. The repair isn't always successful the first time, so if Windows still won't load try the process again to see if it can now resolve your issue.
33. Sort Start menu
Version: XP
Noticed how Windows XP "forgets" to keep the Start menu in order?
Tip 33
To fix this, click Start > All Programs, then right-click and choose "Sort by Name" one last time. Then open Registry Editor and browse to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\ CurrentVersion\Explorer\MenuOrder.
With MenuOrder selected, choose Edit > Permissions. Click the Advanced button and remove the tick next to "Inherit from parent the permission entries…". When prompted click Copy > OK, to close the Advanced Security Settings window.
Now select your username from the list and untick the "Allow" box next to Full Control (leave "Read" ticked) and click Apply. Select the Administrators group and repeat the steps. Finally, click OK and close the Registry Editor.
34. File opens with wrong program
Version: XP, Vista, 7
If a particular type of file no longer opens in the correct program, right-click the file in question and then simply select Open with > Choose Program.
Select your chosen program from the list (click Browse if it's missing), and make sure "Always use the selected program..." is ticked. Then click OK; this will save your preference whenever you open files of that type.
35. Can't see mouse cursor in Media Center
Version: Vista, 7
If the mouse cursor doesn't appear in Windows Media Center in full-screen mode, you simply need to disable mouse trails to get it back again.
Open the Mouse Control Panel, switch to the Pointer Options tab, then untick the option of "Display pointer trails" and click OK to save it.
36. User account corrupted
Version: XP
If your user account corrupts – if you're unable to log on to it, or Windows always creates a temporary user profile – then you'll need to follow a different technique to that described in the next tip to resolve the problem. Visit for a guide to doing so.
37. Transfer user account
Version: XP, Vista, 7
To transfer files and settings to a new user account , restart your PC and tap [F8] for the boot menu, pick Safe Mode and press [Enter] twice.
Tip 37
Log on as the master Administrator account (click Yes if prompted) then open the User Accounts Control Panel and create a new user account with administrator privileges. Click Start, log off, and log on to your new account to set it up; once complete, log off again and log back on as the Administrator.
Click Start, right-click Computer, and either click Properties > Advanced system settings (Vista/Windows 7) or select Properties > Advanced tab. Click Settings under User Profiles, pick your existing user profile and click Copy To.
Click Browse to select your new user folder under C:\Users or C:\Documents and Settings. Click OK twice, read the warning and click Yes. Your old user profile's settings and files will be copied to your new one, then reboot in normal mode and log on as your new profile.
38. Safely Remove Hardware glitch
Version: XP, Vista, 7
If your internal drive is incorrectly listed as one of the options under the Safely Remove Hardware icon, it's a glitch that only affects certain motherboards, including many with Nvidia chipsets.
Thankfully, you can remove your internal drive's entry with a simple Registry tweak. Open the Registry Editor, browse to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\nvata, and then select Edit > New > DWORD value.
Type "DisableRemovable" into the New Value #1 box, then press [Enter] and double-click "DisableRemovable". Change its value to 1, restart your computer and the glitch will be gone.
39. Problem Reports and Solutions Tool
Version: Vista
There's no Action Center in Vista, but there is this tool: type "problem" into the Start menu's Search box to use it. Click "View Problem History" to see a list of all current and past problems. Click OK and click "Check for new solutions" under Tasks.
Tip 39
Vista will upload all of the problems listed – if prompted, send more information, which may help provide a solution. If you're lucky, you'll be told solutions have been found; click one to review its findings – you may be told to download an update, take a specific course of action, or go to another site for more help.
40. Clear print queue
Version: XP, Vista, 7
To clear the print queue try double-clicking your printer under Printers and Faxes (Devices and Printers in Windows 7) and choosing Printer > Cancel all Documents (or Purge all Documents); if that doesn't work, and neither does switching the printer off for a few minutes, try the following.
Tip 40
Press the Windows key and [R], type "services.msc" and press [Enter]. Right-click Print Spooler, and select Stop. Open C:\Windows\ System32\spool\PRINTERS and delete its contents.
Right-click Print Spooler again, and choose Start.
41. Help and Support won't open
Version: XP
First try clicking Start > Run, type "helpctr –regserver" and press [Enter]. If this fails, download and run a VBS script from here to reset the Help and Support's Registry files.
Tip 41
If this also fails, click Start > Run again, type "regsvr32/uhhctrl.ocx" and press [Enter].
The next step is to reinstall Help and Support: click Start > Run, type "%windir%\inf" and press [Enter], then right-click pchealth.inf and choose Install; you may need your Windows CD.
If after all of this you still can't get the Help and Support Service to work, visit It has even more techniques to try, depending on the kind of error you're getting.
42. Double-click opens Search
Version: XP, Vista, 7
Can't open a drive by doubleclicking it? Right-click the C: drive and check that the Search option is in bold, which indicates it's the default choice.
The fix is mercifully simple: click Start > Run, type "regsvr32/i shell32.dll" and press [Enter].
43. CD/DVD drive problems
Version: XP, Vista, 7
Many disc problems can be traced to third-party disc-burning software. If you've recently installed a new program, try removing it and see if the issue is resolved. Conversely, if you've recently removed a program, check the program's website to see if a clean-up tool might be able to help.
For example, the Nero General Clean Tool might solve things. If all else fails, just run the Microsoft Fix It Center tool, select "Playing and burning CDs, DVDs, and Blu-ray Discs" and click Run. This should resolve most outstanding burning issues.
44. Second monitor is blank
Version: XP, Vista, 7
Tip 44
If you attach a second display to your PC but it appears to be blank, try moving your mouse on to it. If it then appears, open your display properties (see tip 25) and look for the multiple displays section; make sure your displays are set to duplicate each other, not extend.
45. Sticky keys
Version: XP, Vista, 7
If certain keys such as [Shift] start behaving strangely, you may have inadvertently switched on one of Windows' accessibility options such as Sticky Keys. Type "accessibility" into the Search box or open Accessibility Options to switch it off and regain control.
46. Unmountable boot volume
Version: XP
Tip 46
This error can spell the death of your current Windows installation, but you might be able to fix it if you have a Windows XP installation disc. If you do have this disc, boot from it and choose the Recovery Console option when prompted.
If asked, press [1] to log on to the current Windows installation and press [Enter], then press [Enter] again when prompted for a password.
Once the command prompt appears, type "chkdsk /r" and press [Enter] to let Windows check for errors and see if it can fix them. If it finds and fixes errors, you should be able to boot into Windows once again.
47. Remove restrictions
Version: XP, Vista, 7
Sometimes you may find yourself locked out of vital parts of your system, such as Task Manager and Registry Editor. The simplest way to resolve these restrictions is to use Virus Effect Remover.
Although designed to undo the damage left behind by viruses, it can also restore access to system tools you've been denied access to for other reasons. Install it in Safe Mode if necessary, then run the tool and click the fix you need.
48. Can't copy to memory card
Version: XP, Vista, 7
If you get an "0x80070052: the directory or file cannot be created" error message when you're trying to copy files to a memory card, you need to back up the data on it and format it. Then create new a folder into which all your files should then be copied.
49. Program help not working
Version: Vista, 7
Some older programs use an outdated version of the Windows Help program, which isn't in Vista or Windows 7 by default.
If you can't open a program's Help file, you should be pointed to download the files you need; if not visit
50. Windows Update won't install
Version: XP, Vista, 7
If a single update won't install or keeps appearing as an update, make a note of its KB number. Go to and type the KB number into the Search box to locate the standalone installer.
Save this to your hard drive, reboot into Safe Mode and attempt to install the update from there. In most cases the update will now install successfully and you'll not be prompted for it again.
51. Problem Steps Recorder
Version: 7
Need to demonstrate your problem to an expert or friend? Click Start, type "problem steps" into the Search box and click "Record steps to reproduce a problem".
This tool enables you to record what you're doing on your PC, which can then be sent on to someone else to get their help.
52. PC won't shut down
Most shutdown problems are fixed in Windows updates or Service Packs, so check you're up-to-date before troubleshooting. Then try to identify what exactly causes Windows to hang; if you can find a process or program, close it manually (using Task Manager if necessary) to verify it's the culprit, then search the web for a possible fix or update.
If it starts with Windows, disable it. If you can't identify the culprit, visit for an advanced guide; the instructions are written for XP, but many can be applied to Vista and Windows 7 too.

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