Category Archives: Hardware

Unboxing the Unitek IDE / SATA to USB 3.0 Drive Adapter

I hoped it would be a simple fix when the customer asked me to look at her Windows 7 machine this week. I don’t really do PC repair anymore but I have one or two old customers I’ll help out when needed. I figured it was just some Windows settings that needed adjustment but after struggling with the machine for about an hour, I realized that it really needed a wipe and reload of the system. The repair shop I referred the customer to discovered hard drive issues I’d suspected but couldn’t confirm with CHKDSK. They gave her a fantastic rate on a hard drive upgrade and Windows reinstall and returned her old hard drive to her for recovery of whatever data she needed.

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Unboxing the ASUS Chromebook

This past weekend, I finally decided to spring for a Chromebook. I’ve been thinking more and more about a Windows replacement machine, at least for basic tasks. I also wanted an inexpensive solution that would extend the life of my current laptop. I often don’t need the full machine out on the road and the smaller profile of the Chromebook makes an attractive alternative.

The Specs

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Screen Rapidly Flashes On and Off After Windows 7 Update

Problem

After installing updates in Windows 7, I found that my primary display flashed on and off rapidly and I was unable to activate any menus on the screen. My extended display, powered by a StarTech USB to VGA Adapter, remained off even though the drivers were properly installed and everything had been working prior to the updates. Unplugging the StarTech adapter restored the primary display to normal but left me without a second monitor.

Cause

The recent update had included dozens of individual security updates so I researched the issue online and found the symptoms linked to the following Windows update:

KB2670838 – Platform update for Windows 7 SP1 and Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1

This is a graphics performance update that has had a number of reports of compatibility problems and other issues.

Solution

My solution was to simply uninstall the update. This required a restart of the system, after which both monitors worked fine.  The KB2670838 update is a prerequisite for Internet Explorer 10 / 11 and removing it will cause these versions of IE to malfunction or be removed from the system. Re-installing IE 10/11 will also reinstall KB2670838. Removing it did not affect my installation of Google Chrome, however.

My First 24 Hours With Alexa

Chatting with Amazon's Alexa and the Echo DotI couldn’t resist any longer and decided to welcome Amazon’s Alexa into my home. I was a little hesitant at first about letting Amazon put a microphone in my house but my curiosity won out. I live alone anyway and the device can always be unplugged if necessary. At worst, it might get me to stop talking to myself so much.

I wasn’t sure how useful the service would ultimately be but at $49.99, I decided the Echo Dot was affordable enough to take a chance on.  Miniaturizing the Echo and setting the price low was a smart move on Amazon’s part.  In addition to decreasing the cost of purchase, it also turns it into a potential repeat purchase as customers decide they want access to Alexa throughout their homes. Amazon is even offering the Dot in discounted 6- and 12-packs.

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A Quick Guide To Keeping Your Flash Drive Data Safe

Flash_Drive_v._Floppy

Personal data storage has come a long way …

When I started using computers about 30 years ago, the floppy disk was the standard of personal data storage. I actually started out using the 5.25″ disk so the 3.5″ disk with it’s hard case and a little bit more space was a welcome improvement at the time.

We’ve come a long way in the last three decades and now we have flash drives that can store tens of thousands of times as much data as the old 1.44 MB disk. Although smaller sizes are still available, the smallest flash drive you’re likely to see now can carry 8 GB of data which would have been enough to backup my first hard drive a few hundred times over.

While file sizes have gotten much bigger, that’s still a lot of data to carry around, especially if some of it is of a personal nature. That has its own risks as I found out first hand a couple weeks ago.

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A Couple of Notes on Cloud Computing

2000px-Cloud_computing_icon.svgYears ago, when I was making do with the limited computer equipment that I could afford, I never dreamed that I would one day be able to login to a website, plug in a few specs about the machine I wanted and then, a few minutes later, log into that machine remotely and run whatever programs I needed to. Yet, that’s exactly what today’s cloud computing resources enable me to do.

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On the Importance of Backups and Storage Decisions

Windows 7 installation routine

Re-installing Windows 7 ….

I admit it’s a little bit of a geek thing but I’m in the habit of wiping and reloading my computer systems at least once a year to keep everything working right. I find that, even as careful as I am about what I install, I still work with some major software and Windows systems start to slow down and get a little flaky after awhile with random hiccups that take time to track down. Sometimes, it’s easier just to take a day, back everything up and re-install Windows from scratch.

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Replacing Your Wireless Mouse / Keyboard Receiver

Wireless mice and keyboards are a great way to reduce the tangle of wires on your desktop but what do you do when that tiny USB receiver, the one about the size of your fingernail, goes missing? That’s what I asked myself the other day when I lost the receiver (also called a ‘dongle’) for my Logitech wireless mouse. The mice aren’t that expensive but I hated the idea of tossing one just because the receiver went missing so I did a little checking.

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HDMI to VGA: Using your VGA monitor on your HDMI laptop

Looks like the trusty old VGA interface is on its way out and while you’ll still see legacy systems and devices using this 25 year old standard for monitor connections, the newer laptops and computers are starting to pass on VGA connectors in favor of HDMI which, among its other benefits, allows for thinner devices. When I bought my new laptop computer, I never even thought to check if it had a VGA monitor port on it and, sure enough, it doesn’t. Instead, it has an Active HDMI port on the side. This wasn’t a problem until I tried connecting it to a projector during a meeting a few months ago and found out that projector’s HDMI interface didn’t work.

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