Q: About a week ago my monitor screen would suddenly black out for just a second or two and then come back on. It happens once or twice...

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Q: About a week ago my monitor screen would suddenly black out for just a second or two and then come back on. It happens once or twice a day if I am using the computer all day. No other electric appliances or lights went out so it must be the … what? I have a 10-year-old Tatung monitor and in 2006 installed Windows XP on my generic PC. Any suggestions you can provide will be appreciated.

Jackie Barr

A: Where to begin? There are so many possible causes.

In general, they can potentially be broken down into two types: software and hardware.

On the software side, your problem could be caused by a virus, a corrupt or out-of-date driver for your graphics adapter or even a malfunctioning screen saver. Assuming you’ve got good antivirus software running and that you’ve disabled any screen savers, I’d focus on making sure you have all patches and updates installed for Windows and that you have the most up-to-date driver available for your graphics adapter.

It’s more likely, however, that your problem is a hardware issue. And, because your monitor is 10 years old, that’s a good place to start. Plug in another monitor — borrowing one from a friend, if need be — and see if your problem goes away. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if a capacitor or some other element has gone bad in the monitor.

Of course, the same could be true of any other part of your computer system, including the graphics adapter, the motherboard, the power supply. The monitor is the most likely problem only because it seems like it’s the oldest. It could even be a problem with the cable that connects your monitor to your computer, or with the port where the cable goes in.

Trial-and-error substitution of parts is the only reasonable method here, unless you want to take the system into a shop where service people can use more sophisticated diagnostic tools to determine the problem.

Q: My PC has been behaving peculiarly lately. I can be working on the PC both on and offline after startup with a normal quiet hum emanating from my Dell 4700 hard drive using Windows XP Pro. Then, after a while, the hard drive (or is it the fan, or both?) speeds up, causing an annoyingly loud whirring sound when the keyboard is idle. When I use the keyboard again, the sound decreases. It seems like when I step on the gas (use the keyboard), the engine (the hard drive or fan rpm’s) gets quieter, which is just the opposite of what I would expect. Can you suggest a cause for this anomaly? There it goes again!

Ralph Hendrickson

A: Another problem with many, many possible causes.

You’re right that the hard drive and the fan (or fans) are the biggest noisemakers in the computer. What’s more, most systems these days have variable-speed fans. If the computer gets hot, either from use or hot weather, the fan will kick into a higher gear. It’s also possible, of course, that your fan is malfunctioning.

Or, if your system has multiple fans, it’s possible one of the fans has died, leaving what remains to work overtime. If the sound is coming from your hard drive, there are a couple of things that could be making it work extra hard. First, your antivirus program may be performing a scan.

Another possibility is that you’ve set your system to perform disk defragmentation or a system backup. A third possibility is that your computer has been hacked or is down with a virus.

If using the keyboard really does cause the sound to go down, I’d guess that the sound is the result of defragmentation or backup, since some utilities will suspend operations while the computer is in use.

You should be able to determine whether the sound is coming from a fan or the hard drive by taking the cover off the computer. It should be fairly easy to make a determination.

Questions for Patrick Marshall may be sent by e-mail to pmarshall@seattletimes.com or pgmarshall@pgmarshall.net, or by mail at Q&A/Technology, The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.