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.

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Windows 10 Pro

One positive side-effect of having so many computer problems over the last six months is how much I have learned about Windows 10 in the process of trouble-shooting. I’m a little fuzzy on the differences between the Home and Pro versions now, because I have been using Pro exclusively for a couple of months, so I may have to do a little more research on that someday if that becomes important.

As I write this, my current version is:

  • Windows 10 Pro
  • Version: 1803
  • Build: 17134.285
  • x64-based processor

Following are some of the useful things I’ve learned recently:

  • When the most recent major update came out this past April, it made one noticeable, major change that has been a challenge at times to work around. That change was eliminating the Windows Home Group function. In the long run, this will be an improvement, mostly because it is much easier to share a file or folder with others on a network than it used to be and no longer requires a password, but my issue with it as of this date is I cannot consistently share a new whole drive or computer. Fortunately, I have been able to share at the folder and file level, but getting easy access required a work around. After setting up the folder and/or file to be shared with everyone on the network, I manually accessed the folder/file from the other computer then pinned that to Quick Start. So, now I can move files from one computer to another easily. The quirky part of this glitch is somehow Windows 10 treats computers that were part of a Home Group differently than one that was not. For some reason, the desktop (which was setup with a Home Group and password) can be accessed on the network by the laptop, although the C drive (operating system drive) cannot as a drive (folders and files within in are accessible if specifically shared). However, my new laptop which did not have any previous Home Group setup, cannot be accessed by the desktop on the network. That can make sharing a combination of folders and files rather tedious. Each time there is a comprehensive update (as there was today, September 13, 2018), I hope it is fixed, but so far it is not.
  • I have decided for our household uses, having two separate computers not in Windows sync is the best option. We therefore use the local account sign-in option on both computers rather than signing in to my Microsoft account. I am aware we are missing out on some functions as a result, but at this point we have no problem with this approach.
  • Another interesting option in Windows 10 I have now disabled is focus assist. It is supposed to minimize or stop the automatic notifications that come from various sources when you don’t want them interrupting. Having turned off almost all of the app notifications, I found the ones I do want on do not disrupt anything, including during gaming, so I do not have a use for focus assist.
  • By far the most useful feature for gaming is the Windows 10 Gaming Mode. At first, I had this disabled thinking it was only for Microsoft games, but since have learned it is a great way to give priority of computing power to the game and either shutting down or diminishing the focus for background operations. I believe that has helped make Civ VI especially operate more efficiently. I really like the relative ease of use of the Gaming Bar and the fact that once a particular game is turned on, it will automatically be so in the future when you start the game, removing the need to manually turn it on each time you play a game. While I do not use the functions of recording, taking snapshots, etc., the Gaming Bar makes doing so very easy.

 

Battery Charging Problems

About six months ago, I started noticing some problems with the battery on the Asus ROG G751JY. At first, it manifested in the battery discharging even while being plugged in. I thought that was quite odd because it only happened while playing Civ VI. After doing some research online, I learned that was a common occurrence with laptops and high-end graphics gaming. Simply put, the power going through the power cord and brick cannot produce enough power fast enough to run games like Civ VI, so the laptop had to use both the connected power cord and the battery to power the game. I never noticed that with Civ V or even the earliest versions of Civ VI, but with the Rise and Fall update, the power demand appeared to increase. After learning this was common for gamers, for a while I did not do any more trouble shooting, but learned to monitor the battery level so as not to be shut down suddenly in mid-game.

Then sometime a few months ago, the battery would not recharge upon closing the game and going back to regular power usage. When all else fails, reboot or shut down and restart is one of my mottos. So that became my go to solution, because after shutting down the computer and waiting a few minutes, it would begin to recharge. Sometimes I had to unplug the power cord from the computer, wait a few minutes, then plug it in again for the recharging to start. That led me to more trouble shooting research online and I found one particular site very useful. It identified eight possible causes for this problem. Some really obvious “operator error” possibilities like checking to see that the power cord is really plugged in to both computer and functioning A/C outlet and checking to see that all connections, such as power cord to power brick, were secure. Others were more ominous.

When the problem became noticeably worse, such as the issue occurring with Minecraft as well as Civ VI, I decided I was going to need to check out the more serious potential problems. From previous laptop experience, I knew sometimes taking out the battery to shut down any battery power connection and booting computer without battery would help determine if the battery was bad and needed to be replaced. So, I set out to do that. The only problem was with the Asus ROG, the battery was not easily accessible and the back of the computer had to be dismantled to get to it. That turned out to be too daunting a task for me, so I opted for taking it in to the shop.

I asked them to check the three options I suspected: 1) bad battery, 2) bad power connector on the computer (where cord connects to computer), 3) failing or bad power cord/power brick. They did not find any of the three to be the problem, so I took it home again, still hoping for it not to be the worst – a motherboard problem, although the most likely possibility was in fact the battery sensors on the motherboard.

I muddled along for maybe a couple of more weeks before eventually the battery would not recharge at all no matter what I did. Back to the shop. They rechecked everything and eventually settled on probability that the power connector was the likely culprit, so ordered a replacement. The first one they got was the wrong one, so another had to be ordered. After installation, the problem still persisted and so the test of a boot up without the battery in the computer was the final straw. Even then it would not boot up at all, confirming it was a problem with the motherboard. Needless to say, replacing a motherboard was too costly to consider.

So, RIP Asus ROG G751JY.

Unusual Number of Problems

The last six months or so have been more eventful with regard to computers than the previous couple of years – or any similar time span in the past I can remember, for that matter.

(Just as general background for context, in the past ten years or so I’ve generally had two computers active in the household – a desktop and a laptop.)

Earlier this year the problems started with a motherboard fan problem on the desktop. On boot up, it kept showing an error message reporting a malfunctioning motherboard fan. Not ever having encountered this problem before, I was not sure what to do about it, so I went online to see what that error might mean and possible solutions. There were several options for solutions, but because of the age of the computer I jumped to a conclusion (listed as one of the solutions) and suspected the fan had burned out and needed to be replaced, so called the local computer repair shop I have come to trust (and rely on) and they said to bring it in. Later that same day I checked in with them to see if the fan had been replaced and, to my embarrassment, they said the only problem was dust had accumulated on the fan. It was working fine after they simply cleaned out all the dust inside the computer box. Had I just opened up the box and cleaned out the dust I would easily have solved the problem myself, but I didn’t even think to do that first (even though it was one of the solutions suggested online!). The good news in this case – the shop has a policy of not charging anything for cleaning out computers, so it cost me nothing but my time and some inconvenience of not having the primary computer available for a day or two.

Lesson learned: failure to do the obvious can cost time and anxiety, if not money.

Unrelated lesson learned: While talking with shop guys about the fan issues, I also complained that I was not able to get my relatively new LCD monitor to work with a MIDI connection, it only worked with the standard connection. They said that it should work because there was nothing incompatible. Later when reconnecting the computer to get it up and running again at home, I discovered I had been plugging the MIDI monitor connector to the sound card instead of the video card! I had previously not noticed there were two MIDI slots on the back of the computer. Anyway, the monitor now works fine with the best resolution via MIDI connection. Once again lesson learned was haste means missing obvious things.

In the next few posts, I intend to talk about the other recent problems I alluded to above.