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Peer-to-peer problems

Plus, removing printer obstructions.

Q: I print to a colleague’s printer across our SOHO peer-to-peer network. Today, I suddenly can’t send documents to that printer, and my colleague cannot get access to the Internet (though the rest of us can). Is there an easy way to fix this problem?

A: I’ve seen this kind of problem many times, and the source is almost always hardware-related. Look at the network cable on the back of your colleague’s PC (that 8-pin RJ-45 connection often marked “NIC”). Virtually every network adapter provides a Link/Activity LED that lights when there’s a good connection between the PC and the hub/switch (it also blinks when data is being exchanged). If this Link LED doesn’t light, there’s a connection problem. Without a good connection, your colleague is disconnected from Internet access, and other network users.

Check the network cable at your colleague’s PC and its corresponding port at the local hub/switch. The cable may be disconnected, damaged, or inserted improperly. Reinsert the connection at both ends, or try another cable (if possible). If the Link LED returns, try printing and accessing the Internet again. If the Link LED still doesn’t light, there may be a more significant problem with the network interface card (NIC) in the PC, or with the corresponding port on the hub/switch. You can try another port on the hub/switch (if a spare port is available). If the problem persists, you may need to replace the NIC on that troublesome PC.

Q: Our Sharp multifunction laser fax/printer is having problems. Paper jams frequently, and one corner tip of the sheets that do print are often bent just slightly. There’s also a slight scraping noise as the paper feeds. Any ideas?

A: I’d bet that your printer has something obstructing the paper path. An obstruction doesn’t have to be much–just a crumpled fragment of torn paper, a piece of adhesive label, or other foreign material (I’ve seen rubber bands, staples, and other junk). When paper tries to overcome the obstruction, you get that scraping noise, and the paper tries to change direction. That’s why the unit jams so often.

The trick is to find and clear the obstruction. Open the unit and remove the toner cartridge, print drum, and paper tray(s). Now take a careful look through the various rollers and fences for any paper/label fragments or other debris that might be gumming up the works. In some cases, you may need the documentation that accompanied the unit (or download a manual from the manufacturer’s Web site) to follow the entire paper path for your particular unit.

Use tweezers or fine needle-nose pliers to gently grasp and remove the obstruction. Be careful not to tear the material or damage any of the unit’s rollers. See that all of the obstruction is removed. Otherwise the problem may continue. When you’ve cleared the entire obstruction, reinstall the drum, toner, and paper, and then try printing again.

Q: I installed a Creative WebCam to the USB port on my Windows XP system. The camera worked fine, but it wasn’t recognized when I powered up the PC in the morning. Its power LED doesn’t come on until I disconnect and reconnect the camera.

A: If you disconnect the USB camera and reconnect it again once Windows XP fully boots, you’ll probably find that it’s working fine. However, you don’t want to disconnect and reconnect the camera each time you power up the PC, so there are several tweaks that you can try. Always start by checking the camera maker’s Web site for updated drivers and application software. Be sure to upgrade the camera drivers and software to the latest versions.

Next, check to see that USB support is enabled from power-up. For example, reboot the PC, access the CMOS Setup (according to the PC maker’s documentation) and verify that options such as Assign IRQ to USB, USB Legacy Support, or USB Keyboard Support are all enabled (your PC’s BIOS may not offer all of these options). These types of options enable the USB port before Windows boots. In some cases, you may need to upgrade the BIOS on your PC. Contact the PC manufacturer’s Web site to see if a BIOS upgrade is available to correct USB device recognition issues.

Multiple USB devices may also present recognition issues. If you have more than one USB device connected to the PC, try disconnecting other devices except for the camera.

If the problem persists, try connecting the camera to other USB ports in turn. See if one of the USB ports will allow camera recognition at start time. Finally, a few cases may require updated chipset/USB drivers for your particular motherboard. Contact your PC manufacturer for any updated motherboard drivers.

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