I am looking for hints, tips and answers on how to get started on troubleshooting when:
- The problem is intermittent
- The problem could lie literally anywhere - operating system; free source software; my own software developments; purchased software; crumbs on the keyboard; the specific combination of software I am currently running; Maxwell's demon; the little blue men actually running the machine have gone on strike; etc.
- I have expertise only in a few of the areas that are potential candidates for the cause of the problem.
The specific problem I am having is detailed below as an example, but I am not seeking answers to my current problem, but rather where and how to start on tackling such problems.
I am currently encountering a problem with my new machine. On a few occasions the machine has just frozen; not accepting keystrokes, mouseclicks, or anything except the power on/off switch. Invariably I have been merely browsing the web; I have had a few (<= 6 other applications) running. None of these applications are major; and represent a mix of commercial programs and open source programs, typically migrated from Unix of some variety.
My machine is a Windows 7 I7 quad core laptop.
Although I stated that the actual problem description was only an example, some of the comments are concentrating on solving this problem. Unfortunately, as it was only an example, the information given is correct but not complete. To avoid having people wasting their time on trying, remotely, to aid with the actual problem, I am giving some other information about my setup. As I originally said, I am not seeking answers to this specific problem.
My machine is a high powered laptop; is my main machine; is used for development and technical writing, communications - email, web, FTP, etc, and for photo editing and indexing. A rigorous and extensive suite of hardware test programs,including CPU tests, multiple memory tests, and tests on all other components are run on it at least monthly. Also run at least monthly are a full virus scan; a full spyware scan; a disk cleanup; and a disk defragmentation.
The disk contains approximately 3*10^6 files; disk usage is 300 Gb leaving 150 Gb free. Memory is 8 Gb. While the machine can get slightly warm when I am running a full complement of major development tools, I have encountered the problem only when using the machine very lightly - web browsing plus Textpad plus Graphviz plus a Firebird database plus a lightweight database browser (Flame Robin). In these circumstances even the fan is not slightly warm. I have made no changes to software, operating system or hardware over the period I have encountered the problem. There have been a number of automatic updates occur - Microsoft, Adobe, and Lenovo mostly but not exclusively.
This background puts into context (I hope) my reasons for asking this question the way I did. I am now going to start investigating the various logs mentioned in the answers as a first step in trying to narrow the field of investigation. And I am going to try an exercise one of the characteristics suggested in the answers I have received so far - patience - in my investigation.