Desktop Hard Drive

The latest costly computer problem I’ve encountered is the failing of the hard drive on the desktop. The Saturday before Thanksgiving, on boot up it stopped on the test screen indicating the hard drive was “capable and status BAD”. The next evening when I booted up again, the same thing happened. Both times hitting F1 resumed the boot and all seemed to be ok.

I did some online research and learned that the “bad” indication was in fact a warning that this hard drive was failing. There was no telling how long it would continue to function, so it was clear to me a replacement was needed ASAP.

The next day, I called the shop to ask if they had a 1 terabyte, solid-state drive in stock. They did not, so I ordered one and took the rest of the day to make sure I had everything backed up in case the failing drive did not allow cloning it to the new drive.

Tuesday, I took it in and left it there in hopes they would receive the new drive and get it installed, cloned, etc. before the end of the day Wednesday, so we’d have it back before Thanksgiving. They said they would call when it was ready.

It did not get done by then. I’m not terribly surprised. It is a small operation and one of the two guys was out for a Thanksgiving week vacation with family.

It was yesterday, (Wednesday after Thanksgiving – a full eight days later) that I finally was able to pick it up again. I spent most of the day and evening yesterday installing all the software we use. Other than the stuff that comes with Windows 10 Pro, there was nothing on it.

Today I spent all day continuing to install, tweak, troubleshoot, etc. I am finally at a point where it is almost back to normal. There is only one problem I have not resolved yet. That is the DVD drive is not recognized and does not work. I’ve done some research online and have tried a couple of the possible solutions, but so far, no success.

That will have to be the subject of another post someday.

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Networking Lessons

Establishing a home network using a router can be complicated, even intimidating.

Many years ago, when I first used a laptop for work, I decided we needed a router so I could use the laptop at home. Since then, I have used three different routers (D-Link, Cisco and Linksys).

It has been quite a while since I bought and installed the first one, but as I recall, the initial setup was a bit tricky. Once set up, what made using it very user friendly was a program called Network Magic (name changes over time – Pure Network Magic, then Cisco Network Magic) that came with the installation disk of D-Link. Cisco Connect was its successor and it took a little adjustment, but worked ok. The current system, Linksys Smart-Wifi, was least user-friendly to set up, and its many features have sometimes created some confusion in ongoing use.

For example, recently after buying the new laptop, I discovered the “Priorities” feature that allows you to set up priorities for bandwidth use for each connected device (including iPads, guest laptops, cellphones, etc., and we have a number of devices connected at any given time.) I decided to give my new laptop highest priority and desktop computer second highest priority and started using the feature. When I noticed we had very slow download and upload speeds, I thought something was wrong with the IP modem or their throttling. I eventually figured out when I set up the priority feature, I had inadvertently radically limited the bandwidth for each! Needless to say, as soon as I discovered that problem, I quickly disabled the feature and have never used it again.

We are paying for higher speed internet access allowing 100MB, so we have never really had any issues with bandwidth sharing even when we have several devices in use simultaneously. I don’t ever anticipate using the “Priority” feature again.

Other Devices

I’ve discussed the PCs and laptops as my primary computing devices already. In addition, my wife and I use other devices that technically are computers. We each have a smartphone (same brand and model for minimizing confusion). In addition, I use an old iPad (2nd generation that is maxed out at IOS 9 latest and therefore cannot use the most recent IOS 12), and my wife uses an iPad Mini that just updated to IOS 12.

For years we resisted getting smart phones, because we did not feel the need to have the features they provide when we had two computers for those things. We had basic cellphones. When the batteries were near dead on those old phones, we finally succumbed to the new age and bought Samsung Galaxy 6 phones (not the most current at the time even), but their size was more appealing than the Galaxy 7.

My challenge is to be well enough versed in all the operating systems to do trouble-shooting when necessary.

Alienware 17 Quirks and Tweaks

In the past ten years, I’ve used now five different laptops. The first one I did not own, but was provided by my employer so I could work from home as needed. When I retired, I was by then used to having two computers in the house (using the work laptop) and missed having it so, I bought my first laptop. Ever since having two computers in the house has been the norm.

One advantage of having and using several different laptops is realizing each one has unique features. Most prominent is the keyboard layout. I’ve not done any research to discover why each manufacturer seems to believe they have a better idea for keyboard layout, but I suspect it has to do with functions and efficiency.

The central portion of every keyboard I’ve owned has been largely the same with QWERTY layout and standard function keys. Some have included the 10-key number pad on the right side (if the screen size permits a wider keyboard) and others did not.

Where they have differed has been in placement of special keys such as ‘Home’, ‘End’, and ‘Delete’ and the size of certain keys, especially the ‘Backspace’ key. Also, the gaming computers have extra macro keys. For example, my Alienware 17 has a column of macro keys on the far left of the standard keyboard keys as well as a short row of four keys above the number pad. So far, I have not programmed any macro keys or used any of them, but some day might explore what value they may have in my uses of the computer.

I am finally getting use to the specific layout of this keyboard, but it will always be a work in progress because the desktop has just a standard keyboard and that means I often need to look at the keyboard for certain functions.

As with all new computers, special software comes standard with the hardware. I immediately uninstall all the apps I know I will never use to free up some space on the operating system hard drive. Some apps, however, are very useful.

One of the special software packages that comes with Alienware computers is the Alienware Command Center. It was exploring this app where I learned how to customize one of the cool features of gaming computers – the back lighting of the keyboard, as well as side and cover lighting. It took me a while to learn just how to make changes and create new lighting themes, but I now have my preferences set as the default. One aspect of the lighting I have not yet figured out is why sometimes when gaming the back lighting will randomly change color or go dark. Still some trouble-shooting to do on that issue.

It has taken some adjustment, but I am gradually settling in to enjoying this laptop as much as any other I’ve owned.

Alienware 17 R5

Once it was clear the Asus was not going to be salvageable, I started doing research on what I was going to buy to replace it.

I briefly considered a gaming desktop that would be high-end, probably a custom build on one of the build-your-own sites. Before long I realized that was not the best option at this time, because if I want to continue gaming with grand kids at their homes or otherwise while traveling, a laptop was the only option. It will be a few years yet before they are old enough to not be living at home – either at college or on their own – so laptop was the choice.

I did quite a bit of searching online for various options, first setting my sights on a less high-end machine in hopes of saving money while still having adequate power to run the games we play. That approach did not last long as it soon became obvious that the minimum specs I was willing to live with (such as 16 Gig RAM) meant a gaming computer was the only viable option.

After some more searching, I finally settled on the Alienware 17 R5. For the most part I am happy with it.

I ordered it online direct from Dell, and decided to pay the extra fee to expedite delivery (because by this time we had been operating with one computer in the household for a couple of weeks). My credit card service promptly decided it was an unusual expense and put a hold on it until I approved it, which I did within minutes of notification. Unfortunately, they would not try again to run the expenditure through until the next day, so I communicated with Dell and asked them to try it again immediately. It went through, but the delay ended up delaying the shipping a day. Following the shipping tracking was fascinating. The origin, apparently where the Dell factory or distribution center is located, was Kunshan, China. The next destination was Shanghai, China then Anchorage, Alaska. From there it went to Louisville, Kentucky where it went through customs. Although it only took a couple of minutes to clear customs (according to the UPS tracking report), it was a couple of days before it was reported as picked up and shipped from there, but it did arrive on the last day of the window of time promised when I paid the extra fee.

I was eager to get it set up when it arrived, but had decided when it was in transit that I was going to upgrade to Windows 10 Pro so I would have that on both computers. During the setup process I did the upgrade. Upon installation all went reasonably well, but I did find several updates of Windows and components, including drivers were required.

Only a couple of features have been a bit disappointing, though not enough to be a serious problem. First, the Alienware 17 R5 has only two USB ports! I was used to having four, so that was an adjustment, although most of the time I only use two – one for the mouse, the other for a portable backup drive that I connect and disconnect as needed. Second, I was somewhat surprised that the computer runs hot, especially while gaming. The Asus had such good internal cooling fans, small rubber legs keeping under the laptop open, and vents in the chassis, that it was not a problem. The Alienware runs much hotter and it sits flush with the board I use under it, so I quickly realized it would be wise to buy and use a cooling pad. I found one with four cooling fans, light weight, and otherwise quite functional. It was advertised as having two extra USB ports on it, but I discovered while setting it all up that one of those has to be used to power the cooling pad (plugged into one of the computer USB ports). So, I have no more ports than I had before. Minor inconvenience for the good cooling it provides, though.

I’ll share about the learning curve of using this new gaming computer in the next post.

Razer Failure

While enjoying the Asus computer and well before the worst of its problems began I made an investment in a new mouse.

After visiting and gaming with grandsons, I decided to buy a gaming mouse that one of them had. It is a Razer DeathAdder Elite. It is a really sophisticated mouse, but so far I have not really used any of its gaming features, because I am not sure I could get used to all the extra buttons, remembering which is for which action in a particular game. Also, the games I play for the most part do not require quick reactions or special functions, so a standard mouse works just fine.

Less than a year after purchase I started having problems with the left click button. Most of the time it would perform a double click after only a single click, and the click and drag function did not work. These problems made gaming very difficult.

After looking online for solutions, I engaged in an online chat three times with Razer tech support. Finally, after explaining I had tried everything they suggested (cleaning the mouse, reinstalling the device and software, updating driver, etc.) I eventually ended up having to request authorization for return of merchandise (an RMA as they called it – Return Merchandise Authorization). Because the one-year warranty was still in effect, a return was possible.

Once the RMA was approved, they sent me a prepaid shipping label, and I sent the mouse back using its original packaging. (I always keep the packaging just in case…)

The RMA process went smoothly. Once they received the old mouse, they sent me a new one. I have installed it and it works well, so far. I will take great care with this one, especially while traveling, so no pressure or bumping of the mouse buttons occurs, as I suspect that may have been a contributing factor in the failure of the first one.

I will very likely never buy another gaming mouse, unless I someday am playing games that require more functions than a standard mouse has.

End of Asus ROG Story

I was quite disappointed to lose the Asus to motherboard problems. It was the first time I had a motherboard fail and it was just less than three years old. I must have been very hard on it with the long hours of continuous gaming.

After reconciling myself to the fact it was not repairable, I decided to salvage the two hard drives (one 120 Gig, the other 1 terabyte) as well as the memory cards (two 8 Gig) for potential future use.

With nothing to lose by making a mistake that would harm a motherboard component, I took it apart (removing 7 or 8 small screws from the back) which allowed me to turn it over and take off the keyboard from the top (unsnapping all the way around the edges) and was able to quite easily take out those components. It was while doing this that I realized the battery was in its own separate compartment and it would not have taken this whole procedure to remove it on my own. That knowledge might come in handy sometime in the future.

Because I was not sure I had all the data backed up when the computer died, I bought a USB to SATA adapter and plugged each drive in to copy and save all the data. It was a relatively small investment to buy that adapter, but well worth it.

Having gutted it, I took the computer to the shop for them to recycle, something they do without charge for basically all kinds of hardware.

So ends the story of the Asus ROG laptop (referred to by Asus as a “notebook”).