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Should you repair or upgrade your computer or just get a new one

Doing computer repair for a living, I get allot of questions. One my favorites has to be "Should I repair or upgrade my computer or just get a new one". So, let's take a look at whether to repair or upgrade an existing computer or just buy a new one.

Should you repair or upgrade your computer or just get a new one

First off, let's start with the three (3) theories I follow when it comes to computers and their components.

  1. Infant Mortality is the belief that if it will run for a day (24 hours), it will run for its lifetime. It is also the start of what is called the Bathtub Curve.
  2. The Bathtub Curve refers to the expected failure rate of electronics over time, as it resembles an end-to-end section of a bathtub. The failure rate starts out high at the beginning of life (Infant Mortality) and then drops to almost nothing until rising again at the end of life.
  3. The definition of the Lifetime of computer components, from my experience, is three years from start of service. At three years or older, it's not if it will break down, but when will it break down. But there are exceptions to this rule, mainly how well the electronics have been taken care of.

To repair or just replace

With that said, let's start with the repair or replace scenario. Most of the time, if the computer (desktop or laptop) is within the expected lifetime, repairing is the best the way to go. Now the exception is with the price and availability of replacement parts.

Now with computers over three (3) years old, you have to take a look at the cost of replacement parts and labor versus the cost of a new system. If the parts and labor total more than $200, I will usually ask a client at least twice if they are sure they want to replace the part(s).

You also have to look at whether the replacement parts are new or refurbished (fancy way of saying used). For laptop bases, lids and bezels, refurbished will work quite well. For motherboards and IO / daughter boards, a refurbished unit may or may not work out.

Keep in mind that if a particular component has a flaw that caused it to fail, a refurbished (used) part may also have the same flaw and could fail just like the component you are replacing. I've had about 50 / 50 success rate with refurbished parts, with some parts lasting only months and some lasting years.

Hard drives, memory modules, desktop DVD drives, power supplies, laptop displays, laptop keyboards and laptop fans are some of the more common parts that usually need to be replaced. These parts are normally easy to find and purchase. Laptop parts like hinges, display bezels, display lids (tops) and bases can be tricky to find. A quick Google search for computer model + part name should yield some results.

The availability of replacement parts

In my experience finding replacement parts, I have found that the age of the computer has allot to do with being able to find parts.

  • If the computer in question is under 1 year old, the only way to get replacement parts is through the manufacturer. And you can be sure that you will pay full retail price for them.
  • If the computer is 1 - 3 years old, the cost of replacement parts should go down, as the supply of parts should get better. At this point in time, people are starting to 'part-out' failed systems and posting the parts on eBay.
  • If the computer is 3 - 5 years old, the cost of replacement parts will be at their lowest. The supply will be high and you will be able to find multiple vendors carrying the same parts. It's a buyer's paradise.
  • If the computer is 5 years or older, the supply of parts starts to dwindle and prices go up. I had a client one time that wanted to replace a motherboard with bad capacitors that was fifteen (15) years old. I found one (1) refurbished motherboard at almost $500. We had the board recapped for a whole lot less.

To upgrade or just replace

Now when it comes to upgrading a computer, there are quite few things that can be done to desktop and laptop computers. The one thing with the most bang-for-the-buck is memory. Allot of systems come with a nominal amount of memory and can easily be upgraded.

The problem with upgrading memory is that many manufacturers will purchase smaller memory modules and then fill up all of the memory slots with them. For example, let's say you bought a computer with eight (8) gigabytes of memory installed. The motherboard has four (4) memory slots and each one can handle a 4 gigabyte memory module (max.), for a total of sixteen (16) gigabytes (max.).

But when you open up the computer, you find that instead of using two (2) 4 gigabytes memory modules, the manufacturer used four (4) 2 gigabyte modules. So, to upgrade the memory to sixteen (16) gigabytes, you have to replace all of the 2 gigabyte memory modules with 4 gigabytes modules. Why do they do it? They can get the smaller memory modules cheaper.

How to upgrade or add more memory to your computer

Another way to breathe new life into a computer is to upgrade the hard drive. You can go with a Hard Disk Drive (HDD) that spins faster or a Solid State Drive (SSD) that has a faster transfer rate. Either of these should give you better performance. Combine it with a clean installation of Windows and you will feel like you got a brand new computer.

How to upgrade the hard drive in your computer

How to upgrade your computers hard disk drive to a solid state drive

Now if you have a desktop computer and like playing games, upgrading the graphics card may be an option. Just make sure you know what the motherboard specification is for the PCIe slot(s) (version 1, version 2, etc.) and use a graphics card that is compatible. Also, make sure you have enough power connector(s) (6-pin or 8-pin PCIe).

The bottom line

You are the only one who has to decide whether to repair or upgrade an existing computer or replace with a new one. If it has sentimental value or runs a program you cannot reinstall, then maybe you should repair or upgrade it. But if the cost of fixing it is more than the total value of your existing computer, then maybe you consider just replacing it with a new computer.

How to quickly free up space on your hard drive

Are you getting a low disk space warning in Windows? Or maybe you have been prompted to delete a previous version of Windows to gain some disk space? If so, here's how to quickly free up space on your drive.

How to quickly free up space on your hard drive

We have all been there. You are working along and all of a sudden, a little dialog box pops out and tells you that you are low on disk space. It used to happen a whole lot more years ago, when drives were smaller. But it is scary when it does pop up.

Disk Cleanup

Disk Cleanup user options in Windows 10

Now one way to free up some disk space quickly is to use the built-in Disk Cleanup utility. In fact, if you click on the Low Disk Space warning, it brings up Disk Cleanup with default settings.

The default settings for Disk Cleanup are pretty good and will do the job. But there are more advanced settings that can clean up even more files, you just have to know how to get to them. You can even run Disk Cleanup as a Scheduled Task. Check out the links below.

Clean up Windows 7 with Disk Cleanup
Clean up Windows 8.1 with Disk Cleanup
Clean up Windows 10 with Disk Cleanup

Manually delete temporary files

The Run dialog box inside of Windows 10

But if you are looking to quickly delete the temporary files / folders on your computer, here's a down-and-dirty quick way to do it. All you have to do is bring up a Run dialog box.

How to open a Run dialog box

All versions of Windows:
On the keyboard, press the Windows Logo key Windows logo key + R

Windows 8, Windows 8.1 and Windows 10:
Right-click on the Windows logo Windows logo key on the Start Menu or press the Windows Logo key Windows logo key + X and then select Run

In the Run dialog box that appears, cut and paste or type either

  • %temp%
    (user temporary folder)
  • %systemroot%\temp
    (system temporary folder)
and then select OK. If you get a prompt telling you that you do not currently have permission to access the folder, just click on the Continue button. File Explorer will open and display the contents of that folder.

Now just highlight one of the files and then press the CTRL + A keys at the same time to select all of the files / folders. Right-click on the files and select Delete. If you get a prompt about permanently deleting the files, just left-click on Yes. If you get a prompt telling that a file is still in use, make sure the Do this for all current items check box is selected and then left-click on Skip.

Turn off hibernation

Turn of hibernation

Now if you still need to free up some space, you can disable hibernation and delete the hilberfil.sys file. That should give you a few more gigabytes of free space. You will need an administrative command prompt to run these.

How to open a Command Prompt with Administrator privileges in Windows 7
How to open a Command Prompt with Administrator privileges in Windows 8
How to open a Command Prompt with Administrator privileges in Windows 10

Once you have an administrative command prompt open, just cut and paste or type the following into it:

  • powercfg.exe /hibernate off
    (turn off hibernation)
  • powercfg.exe /hibernate on
    (turn on hibernation)

Graphic Visualization Tools

Now when it comes to finding large files or folders, nothing can beat a good visual treemap. Instead of the usual file / folder data like you see in File Explorer, a graphic visualization tool shows folder / file information using blocks. The larger the block, the bigger the file / folder.

SpaceMonger version 1.4.0

I started using a graphic visualization tool years ago, when I had a client that all of the desktops started running out of disk space. Using a visualization tool, I found the network deployed anti-virus clients were downloading new virus definitions, but they were not deleting previous versions.

Now there are a couple of different graphic visualization tools out there. I first started using SpaceMonger but have since moved over to SpaceSniffer. It does not require any installation (just unzip and go) and is completely free (but donations are recommended).

SpaceSniffer Version 1.2.0.2

Now right out-of-the-box SpaceSniffer can be a bit overwhelming with all of the information it provides. But with a couple of changes to the configuration, SpaceSniffer can open up just the way you like.

Now be careful not to go crazy and start deleting folders / files in the Windows folder. I know that it is one of the largest folders on the C: drive, but resist the urge to delete anything inside of the Windows folder. I would focus on the size of the user(s) folders / files. For more information on SpaceSniffer and how to use it, just follow the link below.

SpaceSniffer, find lost disk space the easy way

How to clean up an old joystick or game controller

Do you have an old PC joystick or game controller you haven't used in a long time? Did the buttons or the gamepad start to stick? Here's how to clean up old PC joysticks and game controllers.

If you're like me, you hate to get rid of anything that still works. So when I wrote the DosBox and Internet Archive articles, I started to think about the old game controllers I have. There is really nothing wrong with them, just a little dirt and grime.

And how much fun would it be to actually play the original DOS version of Doom with an original Gravis Gamepad Pro from the mid '90's. Gravis made couple variations of the gamepad with a couple of different connectors (USB and joystick port). I had both types, but only have the USB version now.

After a little research I found I could actually use a Gravis Gamepad Pro, as long as it had a USB connection. In fact, Microsoft still includes support for the Gravis Gamepad Pro inside of Windows 10.

The Gravis Gamepad Pro icon inside of Windows 10 Devices and Printers
The Gravis Gamepad Pro icon inside of Windows 10 Devices and Printers

And to top it off, DosBox does support USB game controllers, so I am almost ready to start playing games with my gamepad. But first I need clean it up, as some of the buttons have gotten kind of sticky.

Now when you start talking about disassembling and reassembling any piece of electronics, always remember to never work on anything that is plugged in (energized). Always disconnect the device from any connection and de-energize it before working on it. Never work on a device that is live (energized)!

The follow procedures are the same for almost any computer device, except for Hard Disk Drives (HDD). HDD's have to be disassembled / reassembled in an environment that is free of contaminates, like a clean room.

Now before I start tearing down my gamepad, I will need some basic tools. First and foremost is a digital camera or smartphone w/ camera and a notepad. Remember the old saying 'A picture is worth a thousand words'? Same holds true here. With no service manual or online instructions, I'll be tearing down the gamepad blind. The photos and notes will be my guide for reassembly.

This is a simple tear down and I'll only need a Philips head screw driver (Ph.1), couple of brushes, some cleaning solution, paper towels and some compressed air. Tweezers or needle-nose pliers may also come in handy but are not required.

First thing I'll do is take photos of the top, bottom and sides of the gamepad. That way I have a record of how the completely assembled gamepad should look. Next I'll start removing the screws on the bottom and checking to see if all of them are the same size. If any are different, I'll make note of it and place them separate from the rest.

Screw hole locations on bottom of Gravis Gamepad Pro
Screw hole locations on bottom of Gravis Gamepad Pro

Once I have all of the screws out of the bottom, I can carefully separate the top and bottom of the gamepad chassis. I can see there are two (2) screws that hold the main circuit board in place. After I remove the two (2) screws I carefully remove the main circuit board from the chassis. Remember to take photos of everything you do!

Main circuit board screw locations inside of the Gravis Gamepad Pro
Main circuit board screw locations inside of the Gravis Gamepad Pro

Now I can access all of the buttons and the rubber castle switch tops. I first inspect the tops of castle switches for any damage. They have no physical damage and appear to be pretty clean. Since they are almost twenty (20) years, I've decided they really don't need to be cleaned.

The Gravis Gamepad Pro completely disassembled
The Gravis Gamepad Pro completely disassembled

Now on to the buttons. As I remove them I can see some gunk that has built-up around the sides of the buttons and the adjacent holes in the chassis. A quick cleaning of the button and chassis will take care of this and should fix the sticky button problem.

A gunked up button from a Gravis Gamepad Pro
A gunked up button from a Gravis Gamepad Pro

When it comes to drying all of the parts off, I usually use paper towels to get the majority of moisture off and then use some compressed air to get any moisture out from the cracks and crevices.

Once all of the parts are clean and dry, refer to your photos and notes to reassemble. Remember not to over tighten any screw and/or nut, you can always make a second pass around and snug up any screws and/or nuts that need it.

The Windows 10 feature you hope you never have to use

Nobody likes to have to reinstall Windows. Nobody. In the past it has been a major headache, with finding or creating the recovery / installation media and if you can find and / or read the product key from the Certificate of Authenticity (COA). But with the Windows 10 online upgrade, things just got a whole lot easier.

 Windows 10 feature you hope you never have to use

There may come a day when you may need to repair or reinstall Windows 10. In previous versions of Windows, you had to create the manufacturers branded recovery disks or use the hidden recovery partition to reinstall Windows. Or maybe you were one of the luckily ones that got an OEM disk. Either way, you had to have the same media that originally installed the operating system to do a reinstallation.

The really big problem was allot of people didn't know they needed to make the recovery disks. They only found out after their hard drives crashed. At that point, they have only two choices; contact the manufacturer to find out if they sell the recovery disks. Some do, some don't. But the cost for replacement recovery disks is going to be less than the second option, which is to purchase a new installation disk.

Now if you're one of the millions that have upgraded from Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 to Windows 10 online, you now have a digital license. You can use the Windows 10 Media Creation Tool from Microsoft to create either a bootable USB drive or an ISO file that can be burned to a blank DVD. And the cool thing is that you can make the installation media on another computer, just in case your Windows 10 computer needs to be repaired.

All you need for hardware is a USB drive (8GB or larger) or DVD burner and a blank single-side or double-side DVD. What you need to know about your version of Windows 10 is what language, what edition (Home, Pro, etc.) and what architecture (32-bit or 64-bit). Most consumers use the Home edition as the Pro edition does cost more. Unless you specifically order your computer with the Pro edition or your computer is part of a domain, it's probably the Home edition. And most computers nowadays run 64-bit versions of Windows.

The next thing is the product key. In previous versions of Windows, once the operating system was installed the product key was stored on the hard drive. With Windows 10, once the operating system is installed, the product key is stored on the cloud. So if you're doing a clean / repair installation of Windows 10 on a system that has already been activated, you will not need to enter a product key when prompted for one. You can just click on the Skip button and Windows 10 will automatically activate when it gets online. It's one of the coolest features of Windows 10 you hope you never have to use.

For more information on the Windows 10 Media Creation Tool from Microsoft, just follow the link below.

Windows 10 Media Creation Tool

My digital toolbox 2

My Digital Toolbox

When it comes to computer repair, every technician has a collection of software that they use on a regular basis. Whether it is on a CD, DVD or USB drive, these programs are essential to diagnosing different computer related issues. Here are just a few of my favorite programs that I keep in my digital toolbox.

Junkware Removal Tool (JRT)

The main screen for the Junkware Removal Tool

JRT stand-alone (requires no installation) program is essential for finding and removing all sorts of known malware, spyware and adware. It is very simple to use, as it has no user interface. It just opens up in a command prompt window. But don't think for a minute that this program just a collection of scripts, it is quite powerful. And now that it is part of the Malwarebytes collection of tools, it has some major support behind it. If you're looking to clean up some adware or junkware, look no further than JRT.

Click here for more information on JRT

Ultimate Boot CD (UBCD)

The Ultimate Boot CD main menu

Another of my favorite diagnostic tools is UBCD. It contains a bunch of useful programs that run from a Linux based CD. All of the programs contained on the UBCD are free of charge. The programs included in it range from memory diagnostics to hard drive erasers. And it has the best selection of hard drive manufacturer's diagnostic programs you will ever find. UBCD does come as an .ISO file that you can burn to a CD or you can load it on to a USB drive. Their website has all of the instruction on how to do it. UBCD is a privately fund project, so if you find it useful, please make a donation.

Click here for more information on UBCD

Diagnostic and Recovery Toolset (DaRT)

The main screen for the Diagnostic and Recovery Toolset

My all-time favorite set of diagnostic tools is DaRT. It is not just one program but a complete set of diagnostic tools that boots up on a version of Windows (depending on what version of Windows you build it on). It is similar to the system recovery disk you can make inside of every version of Windows, but it also includes various programs that you can use for diagnostics.

DaRT has quite a few programs straight out of Windows like File Explorer, Registry Editor and Computer Management. It also includes Crash Analyzer, SFC (System File Checker) and Locksmith (resets passwords for local accounts). When you create the DaRT media you have the option of configuring what programs are going into your DaRT build.

Now here is the downside. DaRT is part of the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP) and is only available to Microsoft's Volume Licensing Service, MSDN or Action Pack subscribers. But if you or your company has one of these subscriptions, DaRT is one tool you'll be glad you have in your digital toolbox.

Click here for more information on the Diagnostic and Recovery Toolset (DaRT)

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Bring your computer to us and save

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Geeks in Phoenix
4722 East Monte Vista Road
Phoenix, Arizona 85008
(602) 795-1111

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Geeks in Phoenix is an IT consulting company specializing in all aspects of Computer Repair / PC Repair / Laptop Repair. Since 2008, our expert computer repair technicians have been providing outstanding Computer Repair, Virus Removal, Data Recovery, Photo Manipulation and Website Support.

Geeks in Phoenix have the best computer repair technicians providing computer repair and service in Phoenix, Scottsdale and Tempe Arizona. We offer In-Shop, On-Site and Remote (with stable Internet connection) computer repair service.

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