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Strategies for troubleshooting Windows XP errors

The process of troubleshooting Windows XP errors can be a little tricky to say the least. Using these techniques should make the process easier.

Back in 2005 I wrote an article about fixing bugs in Windows XP. Even though it has been more than three years since I wrote the article, Windows XP is still the dominant operating system. However, a quick look at the Windows XP section of Information Technology Knowledge Exchange (ITKE) proves that there are still plenty of bugs in this OS. That being the case, I want to talk about some methods of solving problems related to Windows XP.

Check the event logs

When problems occur, one of your best sources for answers is

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 the Windows event logs. Windows will usually create a system log entry whenever a problem with the operating system is detected.

Although the system log won't usually tell you how to solve a problem, it often gives you more information about the problem that has occurred. If the additional information in the log file entry doesn't help you, then you may be able to find more clues in earlier event log entries. For example, you can check to see what was going on just before the error occurred, and that may give you some clues as to what triggered the error and how to fix it.

Every event logged in the system log is assigned an Event ID number. You can search for information on the Event ID number that corresponds to the error and often find information on how to fix the problem.

I recommend that you initially search the Microsoft Knowledge Base. If there are no applicable knowledge base articles, then a Google search will often prove to be helpful.

Many Event IDs tend to be fairly generic. If you search on an Event ID and receive results that have nothing to do with the problem you are having, then try adding some more keywords to your search. For example, suppose you received Event ID 4226 and knew that it had something to do with TCP connectivity, but didn't really know anything else about it. A Google search on 4226, however, proved to be less than productive. When you start adding to the search terms -- for example, Windows XP, Event ID and TCP -- it becomes easy to find references to the problem.

Go to the source

If it appears as though a problem may be hardware related, then I recommend downloading the latest available drivers rather than allowing Windows to identify and provide drivers for a particular hardware device. Windows XP sometimes misidentifies hardware devices, so you can save yourself a lot of trouble if you manually download and install the latest drivers yourself.

For example, once when I was working on a machine that was having trouble connecting to a network, I verified that Windows was configured correctly and that the network cable was good. After spending quite a bit of time working on the problem, I concluded that the machine's network card must be bad. I opened the case to replace the network card and discovered that it was a completely different make and model than Windows was reporting. I booted Windows, deleted the driver and let Windows rediscover the card, but Windows misidentified the card again. The only way I was able to fix the problem was to go to the NIC manufacturer's website and download the correct driver.

Other troubleshooting strategies

One of the problems with being a consultant is that you often don't have the advantage of being familiar with the way an organization does things. When that's the case, I have gotten into the habit of asking certain questions before I even start to troubleshoot a Windows XP problem. The questions below should give you a good idea of what to think about when trying to discover a problem:

  • Has it ever worked correctly? (You would be amazed how often the answer is no.)
  • When did the problem start happening?
  • Have there been any recent configuration changes or have any applications been installed, uninstalled or updated recently?
  • Are all of the workstations configured identically?
  • Is there a workstation that is running the same configuration that is working correctly?

By asking these types of questions, I hope to either establish a potential cause for the problem or find a system that is working that I can use as a base of comparison when troubleshooting the issue.

Ask the experts

When you get really stuck trying to solve a particular problem, why not ask the experts? Visit ITKE, where IT professionals post questions on Windows XP as well other versions of Windows and more. Several IT experts, including myself, routinely answer the questions posted on this site.

About the author: Brien M. Posey, MCSE, has received Microsoft's Most Valuable Professional Award five times for his work with Windows Server, IIS and Exchange Server. He has served as CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and healthcare facilities, and was once a network administrator for Fort Knox.

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