Geeks in Phoenix

Geek Blog


My digital toolbox

Every computer repair technician has a digital toolbox, more than likely several. They are either on a CD / DVD or USB drive and contain programs that we use on a regular basis. Here are a few of the programs that I have in my digital toolbox.

My Digital Toolbox

All of the following programs have one thing in common, they don't require installation. Just right-click on them in File Explorer and select Run as administrator, that's it. Some of the programs may require access to the Internet for complete functionality.

AdwCleaner

One of the best stand-alone adware removal tools I have found yet. Right out of the box and it will scan your system with a generic set of definitions. But if you are connected to the Internet before you start up AdwCleaner, it will download a current set of definitions. And if you select uninstall, it will remove any quarantined files and then delete itself.

AdwCleaner

.NET Framework Cleanup Tool

When it comes to resolving .NET problems, sometimes you're better off just removing and reinstalling the framework. The .NET Framework Cleanup Tool is a stand-alone program that does just what its name implies. Just pick the version you wish to remove (or all) and click Cleanup Now. Once it is complete, just reboot and use Windows Update to reinstall whatever version of .net framework you need.

.NET Framework Cleanup Tool

Sysinternals Suite

Hands down the best collection of Windows trouble shooting tools. All of them are stand-alone programs, over 70 altogether. From seeing everything that automatically starts up with Autoruns, exploring running processes with Process Explorer or monitoring network usage with TCPView. When it comes to Windows diagnostics, the Sysinternals Suite cannot be beat.

Sysinternals Suite

How to upgrade or add more memory to your computer

Doing computer repair for a living, I get a lot of questions about how to speed computers up. When it comes to improving the performance of your computer, adding more memory has always been the best 'bang for the buck'. And it's not that hard to do. Here's how to upgrade or add more memory to your laptop or desktop computer.

How to upgrade or add more memory to your computer

When you start to look at upgrading your computer's memory, there are three (3) things you need to know: type of memory it uses, how much memory you currently have and the maximum amount of memory your system can handle. Computer memory is installed into slots on the motherboard. Laptops use SO-DIMM (Small Outline Dual In-line Memory Module) slots and desktops use DIMM (Dual In-line Memory Module) slots. The amount of memory slots varies from laptop (1-2) to desktop (2-8). High performance motherboards, like the ones used in servers, can have 16 or more memory slots.

There are a couple of ways to find out the memory specs of your computer. The first is the tried and true method, the manufacturers manual (either system or motherboard) and physically checking the slots in the computer (some laptops have the memory slots in two different locations). Or you can use an online tool like the Crucial System Scanner to find out what type of memory is in your computer. In some cases, instead of just adding more memory, you may have to replace the existing memory modules with larger ones.

Once you have found out what type of memory you need, it's time to go and purchase it. You can buy it on-line or locally. But remember, if you need to return it, it's easier to do it locally. Also, if you need two or four modules of memory, many vendors offer twin and quad packs of memory for less than the individual price. Once you have your new memory, it's time to install it.

Note: Remember to disconnect the power going to the system before working on it.

  • Desktops - Disconnect the power cord going to the computer
  • Laptops - Disconnect the ac charger and remove the battery (if possible)

How to remove a laptop memory module from memory slot

How to remove a laptop memory module from memory slot

  1. Spread apart the securing clips on each end of the memory module slot until the module pops up.
  2. Remove the memory module from the memory module slot.

How to install a laptop memory module into memory slot

How to install a laptop memory module into memory slot

  1. Align the notch in the memory module with the tab in the memory module slot.
  2. Slide the memory module firmly into the slot at a 45 degree angle, and press the memory module down until it clicks into place. If you do not hear the click, remove the memory module and reinstall it.

How to remove a desktop memory module from memory slot

How to remove a desktop memory module from memory slot

  1. Push the release tabs near both ends of the memory module slot until the module pops up.
  2. Remove the memory module from the memory module slot.

How to install a desktop memory module into memory slot

How to install a desktop memory module into memory slot

  1. Align the notch in the memory module with the tab in the memory module slot.
  2. Insert memory module vertically and press down until it snaps into place.

How to upgrade the hard drive in your computer

Are you running out of free space on your computer's hard drive? You've uninstalled unused programs and cleaned it up, but still cannot free up any more space? Doing computer repair, I've seen this many times and have personally run out of space more times than I care to remember. Here's how to upgrade the hard drive in your computer.

Changing out a hard drive may sound scary, but it's not. If your existing drive is healthy and you have a good backup of the data on it, you should be good to go. The procedure is the same for desktop computers and laptops, with slight differences due to form factor (physical size).

Two different sizes of hard drives side-by-side
Two different sizes of hard drives side-by-side

There are two types of drives, SSD (Solid State Drive) and HDD (Hard Disk Drive), two different types of hard drive interfaces, SATA (7 pin connection cable) and PATA (40 pin ribbon connection cable) and two different form factors (physical size) of drives; 2.5" and 3.5" (the dimension relates to the width of the drive). HHD's come in 3.5" and 2.5" sizes, SSD's come in only the 2.5" form factor. Laptops use the 2.5" form factor and desktop computers can use either size. If you're planning on using an SSD or 2.5" HDD in a desktop computer you'll have to use 2.5" to 3.5" adapter brackets. Also, if you're installing an SSD into a laptop, check the physical dimensions first. Some SSD's are higher (thicker) than standard 2.5" HDD's and may not fit into a laptop.

View of hard drive properties inside of Disk Management
View of hard drive properties inside of Disk Management

The next thing to do is find out what you have for an existing drive. Open Computer Management, expand the Storage section and select Disk Management. Find the disk you want to upgrade, right-click on the disk name (Disk 0, Disk 1, etc.) and select Properties. On the General tab you will find the model number of that drive. Do a Google search for it and find out the specifications (form factor, data capacity and interface). Now it's just a matter of getting a new drive that matches the form factor and interface. Remember that the data capacity of your new drive has to be equal to or larger than your existing drive.

If your existing drive is an HDD, the first thing to do is check the existing drive for errors. Running a Checkdisk will find any errors that might prevent the successful cloning of the drive.

Running Checkdisk in Windows XP
Running Checkdisk in Windows Vista
Running Checkdisk in Windows 7
Running Checkdisk in Windows 8

If errors are found on the existing drive, you will not be able to use the software provided by the new drive's manufacturer. In this case, you will have to use third-party software like R-Drive that can ignore read errors.

Two ways to clone a hard drive

Drive-to-drive cloning

Drive-to-drive is the easiest to do and a few drive manufacturers (Western Digital, Seagate, etc.) have free utilities to do this. There are also a few free disk cloning utilities out there. Check out the UBCD, it has a few. All you have to do is turn off your computer and install the new drive into your computer. If your system is a desktop computer, consult the manufacturer's documentation on how to do this. If it's a laptop, you will have to attach it using either a USB adapter or inside of an external case.

A laptop hard drive connected to a USB adapter
A laptop hard drive connected to a USB adapter

If you plan on reusing your existing laptop drive, an external case might be the way to go. That way when you're done, you can put your existing drive into it, reformat it and use it as an external drive for storage.

Once you have the new drive in place, just start your computer up, install the manufacturer's software and start the disk clone. If you're installing a larger drive, always remember to check and make sure that the new free space is going to partition you want to expand. Once done, just power off the computer and change the drives out. If your system is a laptop, consult the manufacturer's documentation on how to change out the hard drive. If you installed a HDD, first thing you want to do is a Checkdisk. When you clone a drive, you copy everything including the MFT's (Master File Table). SSD's will automatically adjust them, HDD's don't. Run a Checkdisk to fix them.

Drive-to-image / image-to-drive cloning

Drive-to-image / image-to-drive are a bit harder to do but it has an advantage, a full disk backup. This process does require third-party software like R-Drive and an external drive or network drive. Most disk cloning tools allow you to create a boot disk, that way you can boot your system up on it to clone the drive. Once you have created a boot disk, you're ready to go.

Basically the process is the same as drive-to-drive, but instead of cloning to the new drive, you create a file containing an image of the existing hard drive on a removable hard drive or network folder. I prefer the portable (2.5") external hard drive, as they don't require any additional source of power (AC adapter). Boot your computer up on the disk you created. Once it is booted up, attach an external hard drive or configure the network settings and select the location for your drive image.

After you create the drive image, you can shut down your computer and change out the drives. Consult the manufacturer's documentation on how to change out the hard drive. Then you boot your computer back up on the disk you created, reconnect your external drive or network drive and restore the drive from the image file. If you're installing a larger drive, always remember to check and make sure that the new free space is going to partition you want to expand. Once done, just shut the system down, remove the boot disk and start it back up. If you installed a HDD, first thing you want to do is a Checkdisk. When you clone a drive, you copy everything including the Master File Tables. SSD's will automatically adjust them, HDD's don't. Run a checkdisk to fix them.

How to check your desktop computer for failed capacitors

Is your desktop computer running slower than normal? Does it randomly or constantly freeze up or restart? Or maybe it doesn't boot to the operating system or even boot at all. If so, your computer could have a failed capacitor.

Every computer repair shop has their own set of standard procedures and we are no different. The very first thing we do when someone brings in a desktop computer is check for blown capacitors. With a quick visual inspection, we can spot a costly computer repair. And you can too. Here's how to inspect your desktop computer for failed capacitors.

Symptoms of bad capacitors

Now before you go and take your system apart, let's take a look at the symptoms of a failed capacitor. Does your computer have any of the following problems?

  • Runs slows
  • Randomly freezes up
  • Randomly / constantly restarts
  • Won't boot to an operating system
  • Won't start at all

If so, it might be worth the time to take a look inside your computer.

Types of capacitors

Visual differences between water based and polymer based electrolyte capacitors
Visual differences between water based and polymer based electrolyte capacitors

There are primarily two type of capacitors used on computer circuit boards (motherboards, graphics cards, etc.), water-based electrolyte and polymer-based electrolyte. The majority of failures I have seen are with water-based capacitors, but polymer-based do fail too, just not as often. During the years of 1999 thru 2007, millions of faulty water-based capacitors were produced by some Taiwanese manufacturers. The electrolyte will evaporate and turn into a gas, thus bulging the case, and in some cases, leaking.

Checking for bad capacitors

Top view of a row of failed capacitors
Top view of a row of failed capacitors
Side view of a failed capacitor
Side view of a failed capacitor

The following can be performed with the computer in-place, provided you have enough room. If not, you will have to move your computer to a location that does. Take a photo of where everything goes first, then completely disconnect all cables that attach to it.

  1. Power down your computer and
    • Remove the power cord from the back of the power supply (in-place inspection)
      or
    • Disconnect all cables (relocated inspection)
  2. Open the case.
  3. Remove any obstructions, like fan shrouds, so you can view the entire motherboard and other add-in cards.
  4. Using a flash light, visually inspect all capacitors on the circuit boards (motherboard, graphics card, etc.). You may need to physically remove some of the add-in cards to inspect them. Visual symptoms include:
    • Bulging or cracking of the vent on top
    • Casing sitting crooked on board as the base may be pushed out
    • Electrolyte that may have leaked out on to motherboard (rust colored)
    • Case is detached or missing

What to do if you find a bad capacitor

If you do find a bad capacitor, there are three (3) options. First thing, if your computer is still operable, backup your data ASAP (see links below). There are a lot of factors involved in deciding which option to choose, age of the system and cost being the two major ones.

  1. Repair the motherboard
    You can replace the bad capacitor yourself (see link below) or have a trained professional do it for you.
  2. Replace the motherboard
    EBay is a great place to find a refurbished motherboard.
  3. Replace the computer
    If you've been looking for an excuse to get a new computer, you just found one. Or maybe two or three.

For more information on failed capacitors:
Capacitor plague - Wikipedia

For more information on how to replace failed capacitors:
Recapping your own motherboard - Badcaps.net

For more information on how to backup your computer:
Windows XP Backup
Windows Vista Backup
Windows 7 Backup
Windows 8 Backup

Diagnose computer hardware issues with the Ultimate Boot CD

Every computer repair technician has a hand full of software they use on a regular basis to diagnose computer hardware issues. They are usually bootable disks and they have their own operating system included (FreeDOS or Linux). But carrying around all of these disks can be kind of a nightmare. But luckily there is a solution to this problem called the Ultimate Boot CD (UBCD).

The Ultimate Boot CD main menu
The Ultimate Boot CD main menu

UBCD is a bootable CD that contains the most complete set of computer hardware diagnostic tools I have ever seen. There are diagnostic tools for testing BIOS to memory and everything in between. It includes programs like Memteset86 and Windows Memory Diagnostics for testing memory and Data Lifeguard (Western Digital) and SeaTools (Seagate) for testing hard drives. In fact, it has an extensive collection of hard drive utilities.

All of the software contained inside of the UBCD is non-commercial (freeware) and is free to download. It comes as an ISO image that you can burn to a CD or you can create a bootable memory stick from it. You can even add more programs to it if you like. The UBCD is like the Swiss Army knife for computer hardware diagnostics.

I have to warn you that some of the programs inside of the UBCD can render your hard drive unreadable or completely erase the data from it. The following is a list of the program categories inside of the UBCD. For a complete list of utilities included in the UBCD, please visit their website (see link below).

  • BIOS (Basic Input Output System)
  • CPU (Central Processing Unit)
  • HDD (Hard Disk Drive)
    • Boot Management
    • Data Recovery
    • Device Info and Management
    • Diagnosis
    • Disk Cloning
    • Disk Editing
    • Disk Wiping
    • Installation
    • Partition Management
  • Memory
  • Others
  • Peripherals
  • System

Now for all of the Geeks out there, here's the technical information on the UBCD. The UBCD is formatted using the FAT (File Allocation Table) file system and uses one of two Linux boot loaders, SYSLINUX (default) or GRUB4DOS. From there you can start either a Linux based or DOS based utility. UBCD is also customizable, so you can add any floppy or ISO image or FreeDOS based application to it (see link below).

The UBCD is a privately funded project and donations are encouraged. So, if you find the UBCD as useful as I do, please make a donation (see link below).

For more information on the UBCD, just follow the links below.

Ultimate Boot CD (UBCD)
How to customize the Ultimate Boot CD
Make a donation to support the UBCD project

Customer service is #1

Here at Geeks in Phoenix, we take pride in providing excellent customer service. From computer repair, virus removal and data recovery, we aim to give the highest quality of service.

Bring your computer to us and save

Our in-shop computer repair service  is based on the time we work on your computer, not the time it takes your computer to work!

Contact us

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

Like Geeks in Phoenix on Facebook

Follow Geeks in Phoenix on Twitter

Watch Geeks in Phoenix on YouTube

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.

Copyright © 2017 Geeks in Phoenix LLC