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I get a steady stream of questions about keyboard keys acting up, looking for a software-based solution. More commonly, it's a hardware issue.

Using XP Professional Service Pack 3, I must have inadvertently changed something. My Del key now has a period after each delete and I can't find how to stop this. Can you help?

Probably not; not directly, anyway.

Your question is actually very common. I get a number of questions that boil down to a keyboard misbehaving in some way.

What surprises me is the fact that most people don't think of something else first.

It's probably the hardware

My gut reaction whenever you start getting two keystrokes per key is to try a different keyboard.

Double or sporadic keys entered in response to a single key being pressed are most commonly a hardware problem of some sort in the keyboard itself.

You can test this pretty easily by getting a USB keyboard, plugging it in, and seeing if you end up with the same symptoms. I'd give you a 95% chance that the USB keyboard will work just fine.

If it does, then you know that you need to have your old keyboard cleaned, replaced, or repaired. While this can be a bit of an ordeal on a laptop, you'll have that USB keyboard to use in the interim.

If it's the software

If your test keyboard does replicate the problem, then you know that you have some sort of software problem.

Software problems that result in this behavior are rare, but not unheard of.

Unfortunately, they're also very difficult to diagnose.

I'd start by looking at installed applications that may be doing advanced things with the keyboard; maybe you have keyboard macro software of some sort installed.

It's always a good idea to perform an up-to-date malware scan.

You can look at drivers for your keyboard and make sure that you have the latest, but this type of thing is rarely a driver issue.

Wireless keyboard deserve special attention

If this is a wireless keyboard, then:

  • Make sure its batteries are fresh.

  • Keep the keyboard's transmitter and receiver as close to each other as practical.

  • Keep potentially interfering electronics as far away as practical. Most wireless keyboards use the 2.4 gigahertz frequency range, which is where cordless (not cellular) phones, Wifi, and even microwave ovens have been known to interfere.

Video

Download the video: 5-keyboard-problems.mp4 (7M).

View in HD (1280x720)

Transcript

Probably not. Not directly anyway. It actually surprises me the number of times questions like this come up. My gut reaction, my very first reaction whenever you start getting two keystrokes per key, is to try a different keyboard. Chances are you have a hardware problem of some sort in the keyboard itself. Hopefully, we're not talking about a laptop here, but even then, you can still test it by getting an external USB keyboard and plugging it in and seeing if you end up with the same symptom. I'm betting 90-95% chance that you won't; the external keyboard will work just fine. If it does replicate the problem, then you know that you have some sort of software problem at that point. I'd probably start looking at installed applications that are trying to do things with the keyboard; maybe you have a keyboard macro software installed of some sort that you weren't aware of. I'd start looking at what was there. It's worth, I suppose, playing with the drivers, but keyboard drivers these days are so very simple; it's something to do but it's not a very high probability that it's going to solve the problem. The other option that I would recommend is that if this is a wireless keyboard, then make sure that the transmitter, the keyboard itself, is as close as possible to the receiver; that there's not a lot of electrical interference physically in the line of sight and finally that the battery in the keyboard itself is fully charged because sometimes that can cause spurious keystrokes although more often than not it ends up causing a complete lack of keystrokes.

Article C5051 - January 25, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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12 Comments
Ken B
January 25, 2012 11:22 AM

I don't suppose the "period after every DEL" can be as simple as having pressed the NumLock key?

Carl R. Goodwin
January 27, 2012 8:13 AM

Pressing and holding the "ctrl" then the "shift" key brings it back to "normal"

Barry Zander
January 27, 2012 8:21 AM

It couldn't be the 3-month-old batteries!! Yep, I changed 'em, and it's working fine. I switched to MAC last year but still learn from your PC--based blog. Thanks.

Bernard Winchester
January 27, 2012 8:43 AM

My brother's keyboard was producing gobbledy-gook: I found that uninstalling the keyboard in the device manager and then letting the system detect and re-install it on the next boot restored it to normal - presumably the driver had become corrupted.
I have also found the free Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator useful for re-assigning keys.

Steuart B
January 27, 2012 8:56 AM

It's a longshot, but I've had some luck resolving flakey keyboard symptoms by twisting it a bit like someone trying to pop ice cubes out of an ice cube tray and simply tightening the screws holding it together. Don't twist too hard! The idea is to break up dust accumulating between the contact points inside the keyboard. If twisting and tightening helps, you're probably going to need to take the thing apart and clean it up properly for a longer lasting fix, and NO, I don't recommend this for a laptop keyboard--especially if it's still in the laptop. Try blowing those out with compressed air if possible.

When it comes to characters out of sync with the keys typed, follow Carl's advice--Ctrl and Shift together fixes that issue often enough to give it a try. The problem is caused by accidentally activating a feature called sticky keys.

A similar problem can aslo occur with keyboards supporting programmable keys. If you accidentally have the program mode on you can inadvertently reprogram a key to type an unexpected character or even a group of characters. It usually gets worse the more you type because you're still reprogramming keys the whole time it's on without realizing it. Ctrl Shift might also help this problem, but it's better to consult your keyboard's documentation to see how to return to normal mode.

Jim de Graff
January 27, 2012 11:10 AM

The easiest way to try to rule out a software problem is to book into safe mode and see if the problem persists. If you really want to rule out software, boot into some other media (linux live CED, etc).

Agelbert
January 27, 2012 3:00 PM

I have a Compaq Presario desktop with Vista Basic 32 bit.
I began totally losing my keyboard a few months ago. Sometimes I got a beep when I lost keyboard input and sometimes I didn't. I wasa able to use the onscreen keyboard (an ease of access program from Vista you can find in the control panel) to restart the system since the mouse continued to work fine. A restart would temporarily cure the problem only to have it return.
Then things got worse. The computer didn't want to shut down. Then, after a forced shutdown (after waiting over 5 minutes or more), I could only start with the recovery disk.

I backed up all my data, took screenshots of my desktop, list of programs, various settings, startup programs and start menu appearance and selections (Paint program jpgs) and saved all that on dvd as well and did a complete reinstall from the factory recovery dvds I made right after buying and setting up the computer in 2007.
It took about 4 hours to get to Vista Basic, another 4 hours to get to SP1 and SP2, and another hour or so to download my security software and favorite programs (all this over a period of three days with many restarts ordered by Microsoft to install umpteen updates).

As you say, Leo, over the years a system can get corrupted and the best thing is a reinstall.

My keyboard works perfectly since the reinstall. I wish to note that I did all the obvious stuff like checking if the keyboard was good and trying another keyboard, etc., BEFORE I went the reinstall route. I suspect some keys in the registry were getting overwritten by some other process which would cause the keyboard to fail but I'll never know.

Bottom line: If the problem happens on ANY keyboard you use, it's not the keyboard; it's the OS software. A reinstall WILL fix it.

Then pay attention to the programs you install that can change keyboard permissions or functions (like Super Mario Brothers imitation free program downloads). I'm not saying they did it, but ANY software (gaming or otherwise) that adjusts your keyboard functions temporarily can malfunction.

I hope this helps someone not have to go through all the grief I went through.

Barb
January 27, 2012 3:23 PM

On my laptop, the delete key (under the numbers pad) will type a period if the numbers lock key has been depressed (set to lock). You may have inadvertently hit the numbers lock key. Hit the key again to unlock and no more period.

susan james
January 27, 2012 4:12 PM

Thanks for the transcript of the video for the deaf. I appreciate it.

Lynda Scott
January 27, 2012 6:04 PM

I beleve there is a setting that determines how long you press a key before it duplicates its character (for the handicapped who often use modified pressure). Though, if it's just one key, it's probably not the issue.

Linda Hauser
January 27, 2012 6:20 PM

I had a keyboard problem after installing W7 with all the updates, especially with word. There was a very annoying delay in the keystrokes. After a long search I found SP3 for Office, that solved all my problems. I wonder why nobody alerts Office users to that Service Pack?

Simcha Wachtel
January 28, 2012 10:52 PM

When trying a different keyboard, it's a good idea to shut the computer off and disconnect the original keyboard. I had a case recently where the odd behavior carried over to the new keyboard until we restarted.

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