Tools of the Trade: Common PC Hardware and Software Issues Explained

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Pia Lopez
  By Pia Lopez
Tools of the Trade: Common PC Hardware and Software Issues Explained

Setting up a photography studio

does not only require a significant amount of effort on our behalf to acquire the needed gear but also we need to train ourselves regarding the technology to be used.

Not so long ago, just with a good camera, a set of quality lenses and the lighting/background combo would suffice; however, as years went by, the demands of photographers increased in terms of the quality of the final product: now it wasn’t enough with taking a great shot, we needed to soften the skin (in case we talk about portraits), enhance details, balance the hues available at the scene, and even add special effects when required. In short words, we need to cover all the areas that cameras aren’t capable of reproducing to date.

This scenario naturally takes me back to the ages in which photographers used to hand paint photographs, especially portraits as if they were beautiful watercolors. How was that craft mastered by different is professionals all over the world? Undoubtedly, by having the best tools available at our disposal, but also with endless practice and a proper workflow.

Coming back to our days, as photographers, we ought to master tools as Photoshop and Lightroom to develop our work, but also software like Corel, Illustrator or any other vectorial design software alternative to craft beautiful pieces of the layout to showcase our work the best way possible. Software like these require a certain set of hardware specifications to run properly, which is a quick way to showcase them it would be:

• A powerful processor (i5 and above for Intel, AMD equivalents)
• 8 GB RAM minimum (the more, the merrier)
• Dedicated graphics card (NVIDIA cards work best in my experience; I’ll talk about this later on)
• Enough hard drive space

So, let’s put it like this: you have a PC or Laptop with all the hardware requirements and the software you decided to use, but suddenly, you start to notice erratic behavior in your OS. What should we do next if we are not “techies” regarding digital technology?

Examples of Erratic Software/Hardware Behaviour

By this, I’m talking about any odd symptom we can spot at our PC. Some of them are kind of predictable over time, as OS tend to “get dirty” due to software updates, installing and uninstalling software, but certain errors go much further and happen to be warnings of nearby hardware failure.

PC/Laptop is unexpectedly turning off: This kind of error is entirely hardware due. It can happen because of two single causes:

1) Power Supply issues – common scenario for Desktop PCs after 4+ years of heavy usage. PSU (Power Supply Unit from now on) gives us the warning by the notorious fan noise that happens during PC boot and lasts for several minutes after the PC is running; but in extreme cases, the PSU can actually blow up (huge noise and black smoke coming out of the PC, nothing else to worry about), thus damaging in the process other PC components as Graphics Card or the Motherboard itself.

2) Heating issues – common scenario for Laptops if they don’t count with proper heat dissipation methods. Both PCs and Laptops have, as security measures, a system setup in which they will turn off after reaching temps of 90ºC – this is mostly done to protect the Motherboard from overheating issues as well as the Graphics Card. What would happen when we neglect this? Well, let’s just say I had, a long while ago, a laptop whose Motherboard literally bent 2mm out of overheating issues. Of course, back then I wasn’t even aware of what was going on until I had issues for booting the Laptop or keeping it turned on; perhaps if addressed on time, the laptop could have been saved from such disgraceful end.

Data Loss/Corrupt Data:

This kind of error happens when our Hard Drive decides to say “enough”. Mechanical hard drives, unlike SSDs, experience a good load of work and its lifespan can be predicted by both usage in moving data back and forth, but also by the amount of time the PC is on each day. Since it’s a mechanical method that makes the disk to spin, it’s natural to experience damage over time. If you start to notice that certain files start to show errors as “corrupt file” or that you cannot access it, those may be the first symptoms of a fatal end for your data. Quickly backup your data and seek an immediate replacement for the faulty hard drive unit.

Your Computer Doesn’t Turn On: Multiple causes can be addressed for this error, from faulty hardware to viruses. Thus this entirely depends on the scenario you are getting. For Mac OSX users, as Mac computers usually experience 10% out of the whole range of malware around the internet, you would need to check if there are any PSU related issues, if your Mac’s cable is working properly (yes, Mac laptops give quite the headache with this, especially if you use compatible cables instead of its original), and mostly if any system update was completed successfully. Windows users, on the other hand, can suffer from a vast range of inconveniences that need to be analyzed in detail. I’d recommend you to check this following link from on the most common causes for a PC not turning on if running Windows.

BSOD – a.k.a Blue Screen Of Death: Yes, a common nightmare for Windows users that can happen from time to time, the BSOD are fatal system errors that don’t allow Windows to normally operate; which, in turn, lead to these screen warnings in a quite familiar blue background with white letters – scheme that has been up since 1993’s Windows 3.1 – telling you that there was a fatal error, giving the error code itself, and letting you know that the system will restart afterwards. How to fix them? Well, first of all, you need to identify the cause of the error that made Windows crash. Do take a look at this link in which explains the most common error codes in BSODs and how to fix them.

Many other issues as the computer being slow, software crashing randomly, pop-ups or the increasingly popular “shortcut virus” happen to be Software-related issues that can be dealt with a good number of methods. I’d like to talk about next about how do I keep my system safeguarded.

How to Keep Your Computer Safe

Keeping your computer safe means keeping your data safe, or in few words, your work protected. As I explained above, OS tends to get “dirty” due faulty software upgrades, install/uninstall procedures and also because of viruses. But how to keep us on the safe side?

Most people would immediately assume that the answer to that question is to count with a good Anti-Virus software. I’ll answer this question by letting you know that I haven’t used an Anti-Virus software since 2011, and yes, I do data transfers, watch series online and all the normal stuff people tend to do in a common session of internetworking. How is this possible?

My personal experience tells me that if a virus is set to do damage, it will do it regardless of the antivirus tool used. Back at 2002, I had a PC running Windows XP whose OS install was entirely eaten-up, sort to say it, due to malware. As it was a shared PC, someone at my home downloaded an attachment from an email from a non-trustworthy source. Thus the PC was infected. I had a Norton Antivirus license which did quite a neglectful job in protecting my data. Therefore tons of documents and photos were gone by the time we had to format and reinstall Windows all over. Naturally, I learned my lesson that day.

These are my go-to steps to keep a computer safe:

1) Make different system partitions (better if working with different drives) for your OS install and your data. Why? Because in case your PC gets infected, you can easily format and reinstall OS without worrying about your personal files.
2) Turn off Auto-Run for media devices (Especially flash drives!!).
3) Do not download attachments from any undisclosed source.
4) Do not click any link sent to you via Social Media if you didn’t request it to the sender.
5) Avoid software-download pages that require you to use their own downloaders: They are usually masked-out viruses that can show endless amounts of pop-ups to a much worse outcome.
6) Do not save your email, credit cards, social media credentials on your PC.
7) Always use hard-to-guess, long passwords, each one different for each site. If you have trouble remembering all of them, then opt for some password manager software like KeePass or many others that happen to be available in the market.
8) Keep up to date with OS updates – They patch up any potential vulnerability you can come across.
9) Use advertisement block plugins to protect you from unwanted ads (AdBlock happens to work perfectly).
10) Work with a good browser: Chrome for Windows, Safari for MacOSX are my go-to options.

You may ask then: What to do if my PC starts to behave oddly? Well, there are two options.

1) Identify the cause of the odd behavior. Viruses are quite easy to spot, and in case you are wondering which routine to use, my personal recommendation would be to go directly with either AdwCleaner or DrWeb malware removal tools. Both happen to work for free and do an amazing job in cleaning up viruses. A Registry Cleanup is also a must-do after these situations; hence work with either CCleaner or Eusing Free Registry Cleaner.

2) Forget about everything and reinstall! Yes, as you read. This proves to be extremely useful if your current OS install happens to be 2+ years old. Not only you will end up with a fresh OS install, but also you will get rid of all the malware around. Just to let you know, I happen to clean up the OS of my PCs twice per year to ensure proper system performance.

How about software that shows errors? Well, this is commonly caused due to DLL files to be corrupt or missing. You should check the warning error the software gives during the crash and looks for it at Google – yes, good old Google can do wonders in desperate times. Go to authority sites like the manufacturer’s forums, Tom’s Hardware, PCMag, CNET, etc.

System Restore can help us from time to time, though it requires a good amount of hard drive space reserved for us to make enough safe points to be on the safer side – Weigh this option depending on your OS install drive free disc space.

Graphics Card Drivers should be checked at least once per month. Why? Because the most common issues with odd viewport behavior are caused due to outdated drivers, and certain software as Photoshop cannot work properly if there isn’t a dedicated graphics card with updated drivers installed at your system build. Remember that I told you that I’d explain my choice of NVIDIA over AMD? Well, in my experience, AMD cards tend to overheat quite more in comparison than NVIDIA ones. They happen to be cheaper, to which we can be glad, though they also have a higher power consumption. In the long run, you will find NVIDIA cards to work best for the graphic design industry, photography and any other job related to highly-detailed 2d graphics or 3D modeling/rendering. Also, NVIDIA CUDA technology behaves way much better with certain graphics software due to optimized drivers. And just in case you are wondering, I worked with both brands prior finally choosing NVIDIA over AMD; I’ll leave it up to you which one works best for your job.

Data backup should never be neglected: Invest some bucks in getting external hard drives to arrange not just your photo sessions but also your working resources as Actions, Presets, Overlays, Contracts, Documents, etc. In case you work with more than one PC, consider the services of Cloud Storage providers as Mega, Dropbox (best one in my opinion) or Google Drive.

I hope this guide can give you some insights on how to protect your work from today’s dangers for digital data, and please leave a message in case you have any question; glad to help you all!

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Pia Lopez

Pia Lopez

Pia Lopez is a self-taught photographer, architecture student and ArchViz artist. As Editor in Chief of, technology and art are two of her passions, which take active part in her professional training. Being an authentic Montevidean, travelling is daily routine; enjoying both the green meadows and urban surroundings as well as the beautiful beaches that are so characteristic in Uruguay's landscape.

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