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General Troubleshooting Theory

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This chapter is from the book

Reference Files

Chapter Test 3 (Chapter_Test_03.pdf)

General Troubleshooting Flowchart

Component-isolation charts and exercises


This lesson takes approximately 45 minutes to complete.


State the goals and benefits of systematic troubleshooting

Describe three things you should do throughout the troubleshooting process and the key steps you should take or consider before performing a repair

Identify the steps, strategies, and potential resources for systematically troubleshooting issues and products

Identify the most appropriate questions to ask a customer to help identify the cause of the issue

Understand the qualities that make a repair action a quick fix

Define the split-half search process and specify the recommended order for checking various issues in that process

State three reasons why you should test a range of functionality when verifying a repair

Identify useful information and resources you could give users after a repair has been completed

Explain the proper escalation path for unsolved issues

If you are experienced in troubleshooting and servicing computers, you may be wondering how this lesson can help you. You have your own approaches and procedures, and may not feel that the Apple troubleshooting process has anything new to offer.

Experienced technicians are very adept at recognizing symptoms that match what they have seen before and checking to confirm that the issue is the same—this goes without saying. They use their experience and intuition to determine the steps to take to resolve the issue. Such technicians are often able to address a particular situation and solve it very quickly. But when a situation is outside of their experience, they get stuck. That is when the need for a systematic approach becomes evident.

This lesson shows you how the Apple systematic approach to troubleshooting theory and component isolation can benefit you and your customers.

Goals and Processes

We'll get into the practice of being systematic by making sure we all agree on the basic goals of the process and by reminding you of some important ideas and tasks to keep in mind as you work—things that may not be obvious, but that we've found very useful.

Success and Speed: Two Troubleshooting Goals

We believe that how you go about a process is as important as its outcome—in this case, that an efficient and logical approach to troubleshooting will help you find and resolve an issue. To that end, bear in mind these two equally important goals: Fix a product properly, and fix a product quickly.

Fix a Product Properly

Fixing a product properly is the first of two major troubleshooting goals. It results from many elements working together. These elements include:

  • Following systematic troubleshooting procedures
  • Following proper procedures for taking apart and reassembling a product
  • Using up-to-date references and tools
  • Not creating new issues

This process helps you reach your goal: your customer having a product that works completely and correctly.

Fix a Product Quickly

The second major goal of the efficient troubleshooter is to fix the product quickly. This does not mean taking shortcuts or doing sloppy work. It does mean making sure that you are not wasting time. Customers want their products back as quickly as possible. The more quickly you can troubleshoot a situation, the more satisfied your customers will be.

Systematic Troubleshooting Versus Experience and Intuition

Let's assume that you are attempting to determine why an iMac is not showing any video. The last time you saw such a situation, the computer had a bad main logic board. Your experience suggests that the current iMac has a similar issue.

If you have had experience with a number of iMac computers that had no video, you may also be aware that resetting the Power Management Unit (PMU) chip can address this issue. And you may know that resetting parameter random-access memory (PRAM) is a recommended step.

Let's assume that you try resetting PRAM and that does not work. You then open up the system and reset the PMU. This has no effect either. You decide to swap out the main logic board and find that the system is now working. You have solved the issue…

Or have you? Later you find that the main logic board was perfectly okay. You have conducted an expensive repair that may have been unnecessary.

What happened here? You got the system working, but the main logic board you replaced is a good part. Your approach fixed the computer, but now you have a new mystery.

The explanation is that the video issue was due to the logic board not being seated correctly. Replacing the logic board automatically resulted in seating it properly.

This example points out the pitfalls of relying solely on experience and inspiration in resolving an issue. It is not easy or practical to automatically know all the possible resolutions to a specific troubleshooting issue. That is why Apple recommends a systematic approach.

When you can't quickly and efficiently resolve a troubleshooting issue based on intuition or experience, it is time to address the issue in a careful, systematic way. The troubleshooting steps in this lesson give you a proven method to use when more random approaches fail. When you finish this lesson, you will have a proven process to back up your ever-increasing experience.

Troubleshooting To-Do List

Be sure to use the following suggestions throughout the troubleshooting process. One or another of these might provide inspiration for an otherwise difficult issue.

Keep Notes

What starts out as a simple troubleshooting session can sometimes develop into a major task. Start taking notes from the very beginning of the troubleshooting process, even if it seems like a simple issue to fix. Write down each piece of information you gather, the results of each test you perform, and your proposed solution.

Consult Resources

In addition to experience and good troubleshooting techniques, a good troubleshooter possesses product knowledge. Consulting available resources is a vital part of obtaining knowledge about the product and about the specific issue you are troubleshooting.

Browsing through references such as AppleCare Service Source or the Knowledge Base can be particularly helpful when you find yourself stuck without an idea of what to try next in your troubleshooting research. It can stimulate new thoughts and ideas about the source of the issue.

Consider the Human Factor

When you have been working long and hard on a situation that has you stumped, it is a good idea to take a coffee break—or just a break (the coffee is optional).

Frustration can impair your ability to think logically and rationally. You may be surprised how after a short break you can think of solutions that you were too close to the situation to see.

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