Thursday, March 20, 2008

Bad Troubleshooting Methods

The High CPU Usage page is quite popular on the Web and is linked to from several hundred Websites and forums. A scan of the forums linking to the page reveals statements like "I tried that link to no avail", "Nothing at that link helped", and "I have looked at those links" in response to being given the link.

Ok, so the poster who wrote "I have looked at those links" looked at those links, but did he bother to try anything at all? It's highly unlikely. More probable is that the poster unreasonably expected a quick-fix answer that he hoped would immediately get to the heart of the problem without him having to think too hard or "waste" time in applying a methodical troubleshooting approach. As it was, the poster wasted more time by visiting a forum and waiting several days for only those answers that would please him, which he didn't get anyway.

It turns out that the answer was there on the page all the time, in an article entitled "
100 percent CPU usage may occur under some battery conditions". His machine was a desktop unit with an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) attached. He hadn't figured out that the UPS is actually a battery, and had assumed that "batteries don't apply because only laptops have batteries." If he'd been just a little methodical by using a process of elimination he would have disconnected the UPS and ran the machine directly from the main power. In fact, had he actually "looked at those links", as he claimed he had, he would have seen the instructions about stripping the machine to a bare-bones state, which would have revealed the cause far quicker than he had by haunting Web forums seeking a quick-fix.

In another example, also a high cpu usage problem, one Web forum poster was given the link to High CPU Usage page and claimed to have read it but found no solution. The poster was later advised by someone to get a BIOS update but he asserted that the machine was brand-new, right out of the box therefore a BIOS update was not necessary. He failed to realise that just because the machine is new out of the box, it does not follow that the BIOS should not be updated. Equipment can sit for months in warehouses and storerooms before it gets sold.

Had the poster in the latter example actually read the articles, like the poster in the former example, he would have found his solution on the page: "If your high CPU problem started after installing something, uninstall it. If the problem began after uninstalling something, reinstall it." His OS was an OEM install that had a lot of OEM rubbish installed so he uninstalled a lot of software and deleted some files that he thought were not necessary.

Your approach to troubleshooting must be methodical, with likely causes eliminated first. Random poking at things will get you nowhere, create frustration for you, and like the two Web forum posters in the examples above, probably cause you to wait on a Web forum for days while you hope someone will give you an answer, any answer, even if it's the wrong answer.

Tip: Some of the pages on are very long. If you have a printer then print the page out and check things off as you go.

Tip: Use the site search facility at the top of each page. If the keywords you use don't turn up what you're looking for, consider changing your keywords.

Tip: If the problem can't be associated with anything specific, try to eliminate hardware first. Both the High CPU Usage page and the Interrupt Request (IRQ) Conflicts page have details on how to do this.

Tip: If you can't sort the problem out yourself, don't be ashamed of not having the technical background to solve it. Not everyone is kitted out with a logical, methodical mind full of instant solutions to technical problems. Post into the Support Forums and ask for help.


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