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My digital toolbox 3

When it comes to repairing computers, every technician has what I call a digital toolbox. It is software that they use for specific tasks, like finding information on hardware or cloning drives. So here is another installment of my digital toolbox.

My digital toolbox 3

CPU-Z

Screenshot of CPU-Z

When it comes to finding the specifications of your motherboard, processor, etc., you could open your computers case and disassemble the components to get that information. Or you could just download and run CPU-Z.

CPU-Z will display the all of the information on your CPU (Central Processing Unit), motherboard, memory and GPU (Graphics Processing Unit). It can even benchmark your existing processor against preloaded reference CPU's.

I recently needed to find out what specific memory a laptop was running. Instead of tearing it down to look at the memory modules, I just ran CPU-Z. If you need to know the specifications of your computer's hardware, CPU-Z is a great way to do it.

Click here for more information on CPU-Z

Samsung Data Migration

Screenshot of Samsung Data Migration

Now upgrading your HDD (Hard Disk Drive) to an SSD (Solid State Drive) can be tricky. But if you purchase certain Samsung SSD's, you can utilize their free cloning software, Samsung SSD Data Migration.

I have used this software before and it does work pretty flawlessly. All you have to do is download and install the Samsung Data Migration software on your computer. The only thing you will need is a drive adapter or docking station to attach the Samsung SSD to your computer.

Once you have the Samsung Data Migration software installed, you attach your new Samsung SSD via an adapter or docking station and then start up the Samsung Data Migration software.

Now you have to keep in mind that you want to have a Samsung SSD that is relatively the same size (in gigabytes) or larger than you existing HDD. That way you don't have any issues with shrinking any of the partitions. Expanding them is easy, shrinking them can cause problems.

Another thing to keep in mind is if your cloning a 3.5" desktop HDD to a 2.5" Samsung SSD and your computer case does not have a 2.5" mounting bracket you will need to have a 2.5" to 3.5" adapter bracket.

As I mentioned before, Samsung Data Migration software works with specific Samsung SSD's, so check the user manual first for the list of supported Samsung drives.

Click here for more information on Samsung Data Migration

Acronis True Image WD Edition Software

Screenshot of Acronis True Image WD Edition Software

Now when it comes to free drive cloning software, nobody can beat Western Digital. They offer a stripped-down version of Acronis True Image for use with any Western Digital HDD or Sandisk SSD.

The nice thing about this software is that besides drive cloning it will also backup the entire system, individual partitions or just folder / files. You just have to have a qualifying drive (Western Digital or Sandisk).

Now this software will clone to either a physically installed drive or one that is attached via a drive adapter or docking station. It actually has its own boot loader in which it boots to when cloning a drive.

Just remember that when using any drive cloning software, you will need to turn the computer off after the cloning process is done and change the new cloned drive out for the old existing drive.

Click here for more information on Acronis True Image WD Edition

How to tell if your desktop computer power supply has failed

There may be a time when your desktop computer does not start up. There could be a few reasons why it does not start. The first thing that comes to mind is a failed power supply. Here's how to test your desktop power supply.

How to tell if your desktop computer power supply has failed

Living in Phoenix, we have one thing that really takes a toll on a desktop computer. No, it is not the heat, it is the dust. Since our environment here is so dry, we get a lot of dust.

How to clean the dust out of your computer

And since dust does conduct electricity, power supplies have a tendency to fail. Even if you routinely clean your desktop computer, they still only have a life span of around 3 to 5 years.

So, if when you press the power button your desktop computer does not start and there are no lights that light up, then you may have a failed power supply.

Now if you do not feel comfortable working around electricity or inside of your desktop computer, please contact a local computer technician.

How to test your desktop computer power supply

  1. Disconnect the power cord that comes from the outlet to the power supply.
  2. After you have disconnected the power cord, open up the case and touch any metal part of the power supply or case to discharge any remaining energy.
  3. Make a note or take pictures of all of the connections that lead from the power supply to the different devices. Once you have documented all of the power leads, then remove all of connections (SATA, Molex, PCI-e, ATX, MB, etc.) to all of the different devices and motherboard.
  4. Create a jumper from a piece of thin gauge wire or paper clip.
  5. Plug the power cord back in to the jack on the back of the power supply.
  6. Using the jumper you created, connect Pin 16 to either Pin 17 or Pin 18.
    Motherboard power supply connectior
    If the power supply fan starts to run, the power supply has output voltage and is good. If the power supply fan does not spin, it is time to replace it.

If your power supply has failed, make note of what type and how many connectors your existing power supply has.
Common desktop power supply connections
Also check the stated output of your existing power supply from the label on the side.

I also recommend that you use tape measure or ruler is measure the dimensions of the power supply, (Width x Height x Depth) as you will want to get as close as possible to these for the replacement power supply.

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.

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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.

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