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No matter how well you look after your computer, something is going to eventually go wrong. And the issue won’t always be the machine itself, but maybe something you’ve plugged into it.
Peripherals (mice, keyboards, gamepads, webcams, and printers) can sometimes be a pain—they might either stop working or cause problems with the hardware and the software on your computer.
But before you make a (potentially expensive) call to a tech support professional, try troubleshooting your gadget problem yourself. There are certain steps that can be helpful in all scenarios, and that may well get your hardware working properly again.
Do some testing
Before you troubleshoot any tech problem, you need to know exactly where the problem is. The best way to do this is to test your peripheral in another computer. Don’t skip this step—even if that means you have to go round to a friend or relative’s house to use their machine. If your peripheral works, then you know the issue lies with your device rather than the gadget.
[Related: Best wireless mechanical keyboards of 2022]
Take a similar approach with anything that connects to Wi-Fi, like a printer. Before you start pulling the peripheral apart, make sure that your wireless network is still up and running. A good way to do this is to connect any other device to your home Wi-Fi, like a tablet or smartphone, and check if you can still get online.
Knowing more about the problem won’t necessarily change your approach to trying to fix it—but it might. If a keyboard works on your laptop but not on your desktop computer, for example, then you should start by checking the settings and software on your desktop before addressing anything to do with the keyboard itself.
Check system settings
If your peripherals are working on other computers, or if they were working fine and have suddenly developed faults, continue by checking the relevant settings in Windows or macOS. This will help you determine whether or not your computer is identifying the peripheral properly and will ensure it’s set up the way you want it.
In Windows, head to Bluetooth & devices from Settings, where you’ll find options for configuring the Mouse, the Touchpad, and other devices. We can’t cover all the options in detail here, but we’ll use the ever-problematic printer as an example. Click Printers & scanners and select a device: You can then either click Print test page to check the connection or Run the troubleshooter to go through a series of key checks on the device.
Over on macOS you can find a similar set of options by opening the Apple menu, selecting System Preferences, and navigating to the screen that’s relevant for your peripheral. Let’s say you’re having problems with an attached Bluetooth keyboard—Click Keyboard to make sure your computer knows it’s connected and to check the key configuration (including key repeat speeds). You might not always be able to find a fix here, but it’s worth checking.
Download new drivers
Drivers are small bits of software that can make a big difference to how your peripherals interact with your machine. They’re basically the bridge between the external device and your computer system, making sure they’re both communicating properly and getting the exchange of information that they need.
Most of the time, driver installation and updating happens behind the scenes, so you don’t need to worry about it—you just plug in a new webcam, for example, and it works. But sometimes something goes awry, and installing or reinstalling drivers can get everything working properly again.
To start, head over to the official website of your peripheral’s manufacturer to find the latest drivers for your device—you’ll most likely find what you’re searching for on a software or support page. To go back to the previous example, if you’ve got a Logitech webcam attached to your computer then you can find the relevant software on the support page. Just download the file, open it, and follow the instructions.
Unplug everything else
In an ideal world, peripherals would all get along together without any issues, but conflicts do arise. Sometimes, for whatever reason, installing a new device causes trouble for an existing one, and they can both end up not functioning properly. If you’ve recently made a hardware change to your computer and something has stopped working, whatever gadget you got last may be the culprit.
To identify what exactly is causing the problem, you’ll need to do some detective work. Try shutting down your computer, and unplugging everything that’s attached to it. Power the computer back on and plug the problematic peripheral back in. If it appears to be fixed, it may be having trouble with another peripheral somewhere along the line.
Plug your other devices back in one by one to see if you can spot where the conflict happens. If the issue persists, try downloading the latest drivers for each device and checking with the manufacturers for support.
Unfortunately, if the problem persists and the hardware makers have not provided a fix yet, you might be unable to use these two peripherals together.
Reinstall the device
Turning a gadget off and on again is something of a tech troubleshooting cliche, but only because it’s quite effective. Likewise, uninstalling a device from your system and then reinstalling it from scratch can often solve problems, resetting whatever was wrong and clearing out any data that may have become corrupted or misplaced.
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For some peripherals, like a wired mouse, it’s just a question of unplugging it and plugging it in again. For others, such as webcams and printers, you’ll need to properly uninstall them from your system. On Windows, head to Bluetooth & devices then Devices from Settings; on macOS, open System Preferences from the Apple menu, then click on the type of peripheral you want to remove.
You might also need to uninstall a related piece of software (or two) as well as the device before you connect it again. From Windows Settings, choose Apps and Apps & features, then click the three dots next to a program and Uninstall to remove it. If you’re on macOS head to Applications in Finder, and drag a program down to the Trash icon on the dock to get rid of it. With that done, restart your computer before reinstalling the peripheral.