Q. Why is my computer communicating with me via a series of beeps?

Q. Why is my computer communicating with me via a series of beeps?

Q. What did I do to my machine? During startup, as the system goes from the sign-in screen to the desktop, I get a series of beep sounds.

It appears that programs, processes, or services are attempting to load; but something is causing an error and sounding a beep. There are no dialog boxes or even a quick command-prompt flash, just a haphazard series of 14 or 15 beeps.

How can I determine what’s causing this issue?

​A. Beeps starting after the Windows sign-in screen suggests that the PC’s hardware has successfully booted — the core system is awake and running — and that Windows’ lowest-level processes are functioning well enough to allow higher levels of the OS to begin loading.

However, you say you hear “beeps” — and not the normal Windows error sounds.

This might suggest a relatively simple problem with your audio driver; Windows could be trying to generate sounds during startup, but it can’t, so it falls back on primitive beeping.

On the other hand, a series of beeps in seemingly random patterns suggests that a lot more is malfunctioning than just an audio driver.

It’s possible that the beeps are being generated earlier in the boot process, and they’re spilling over into the post sign-in stage.

Many PCs can generate audible tones (actually called beep codes) early in the boot process and prior to loading the OS to indicate problems with low-level hardware — the CPU, RAM, video systems, and so on.

For example: A PC with an Award BIOS can generate one long beep followed by three short beeps to indicate a video-system problem; a Dell PC will generate 5 identical beeps to indicate the mainboard battery is failing; a PC with an AMI BIOS can sound six very short beeps if there’s a keyboard problem; and so on.

If multiple hardware systems are all having trouble at boot-time, you might hear a cacophony of beeps — some long, some short — as different beep codes play out, one after the other. If a string of beep codes are queued to play, the process might take a while to complete, perhaps even lingering past the appearance of the Windows sign-in screen.

So, I suggest you start your investigations by looking up your PC’s beep codes. Enter a Web search using "beep code" plus your PC’s brand and model name — or visit your PC, mainboard, or BIOS maker’s support site.

With the list of beep codes in hand, start your PC and try to match the beep patterns you hear to the code listing. You might find that fundamental hardware problems — a bad mainboard battery, a dying fan, loose RAM chips, and so forth — are what’s behind all the noise.

If the beep codes don’t match, then the problem could be within Windows itself. Your next step is to perform some corrective system maintenance that might remedy the problem.

And if that fails, run diagnostic software to try to track down the problem’s root cause. Here’s how:

Corrective maintenance: You can use Windows’ built-in maintenance utilities and similar free or low-cost, third-party tools to cure a huge range of common PC problems. 

If the beeps persist, move on to formal Windows diagnostics.

Built-in diagnostic tools: One of Windows’ more hidden tools is Windows Reliability Monitor; a truly great diagnostic tool. It’s a subset of the Performance Monitor tool that’s built into all Windows versions.

You can access Reliability Monitor by a variety of means; the simplest is to type perfmon /rel into start/Search/Run box and then click Enter.

There are some Reliability Monitor differences among Windows versions, but all open a window that looks like what’s shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Windows' Reliability Monitor lets you pinpoint the cause of software failures or other issues.

In Reliability Monitor, serious errors are called Critical events. They’re highlighted with an icon consisting of an X in a red circle. Less important errors — Warnings — are flagged with a black exclamation point in a yellow triangle.

Significant system events that aren’t actual errors are indicated by a lowercase i in a blue circle icon and are called Informational events.

To get more information about a specific event, you simply click its date column; that’ll display all events for that day in the Reliability details for: {date} section.

For example, the Reliability Monitor window in Figure 1 is from my work PC. It shows a chart with four Critical events, the most recent selected. In the Reliability details for: 2/17/2016 section, the Critical events category shows that an error related to “Microsoft.Messaging.”

Right-clicking any event listed in the details section pops up still more information. For example, when I right-clicked the “Microsoft.Messaging” details and selected View technical details, the window shown in Figure 2 popped up.

Figure 2: The details of a critical error on my work PC

As highlighted in Figure 1, the software causing the problem — the faulting application — is shown to be Skype.

Reliability Monitor is showing that, from time to time, something tries to access SkypeHost.exe. But Skype is disabled on my work PC, so the access attempt results in an error.

Windows regards this as a “Critical error” — but I sure don’t. I know that I caused the problem by disabling Skype; I also know that I can safely ignore the error.

Exploring errors shown in Reliability Monitor can let you see exactly what’s malfunctioning; you can also make an informed judgment as to whether the error requires a remedy — perhaps removing/reinstalling/updating the offending software — or can be ignored.

For more information about this tool, see “How to use Reliability Monitor,” “Windows Reliability and Performance Monitor,” and “Using Reliability Monitor.” (Some of these links go to older information, but the essence of Reliability Monitor hasn’t changed much over the years.)

A separate diagnostic tool, Windows Memory Diagnostic, is also built into every version of Windows. This utility can thoroughly exercise your system’s RAM to determine whether it’s working properly (see Figure 3).

Figure 3. The Windows Memory Diagnostic can detect failed or unreliable RAM chips or memory locations.

To access the Windows Memory Diagnostic tool, close all other software and enter mdsched.exe in start/Search/Run box.

Microsoft also offers the software-based Support Diagnostics Platform (SDP) and Microsoft Automated Troubleshooting Service (MATS). You can access the SDP/MATS tools for free on the Support Diagnostics sign-in page; your Microsoft Live ID and password will let you in.

Third-party diagnostic tools: If the preceding Microsoft tools don’t help, you can turn to a myriad of third-party utilities.

It’s likely your PC’s vendor offers free, brand-specific versions; see, for example:

A Web search will turn up many generic diagnostic tools; a tiny sampling includes:

  • Hiren’s BootCD 15.2 – free. This option contains hundreds of utilities; the Testing Tools sections contain apps for diagnosing issues with the CPU, RAM, video memory, hard drives, and more.
     
  • PassMark DiskCheckup – free for personal use. DiskCheckup gives easy access a hard drive’s Self-Monitoring Analysis and Reporting Technology (SMART) system to detect drive problems — and possibly even to predict a coming failure.
     
  • System Information for Windows – free/paid. Strictly speaking, this isn’t a diagnostic tool. But it can give you a wealth of information about your PC’s hardware and software.

You’ll find many, many additional diagnostic tools by searching the Web. Enter search phrases such as {your windows version} diagnostic (e.g., “Windows 10 diagnostic”) or {your brand/model PC} diagnostic (e.g., “Toshiba Satellite diagnostic”).

By using Windows’ numerous built-in diagnostics, online tools from Microsoft, software offered by your PC vendor, and/or third-party tools, there’s hardly any Windows or general PC failure that can’t be tracked down and isolated in relatively short order!

(Originally published on Windows Secrets on Tuesday, March 1, 2016.)

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Editor's note: We feature an abridged Q&A from Fred Langa's LANGALIST, a column available exclusively to paid subscribers of the Windows Secrets newsletter,. What you see here is just a small sampling of what Langa's writing for the newsletter — go here for more information on how to subscribe.

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