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Upgrading your computer cheaply (part 3)

I started out by taking the sides and top off. It was at this point I decided to go excessive. Since the majority of computer peripherals come with black finishes, I decided to change to color of the case to black (this is where Home Depot comes into the picture). So I took off the face of the case and gently removed all of the buttons and lights.

A completely empty case.

I then proceeded to install the motherboard, processor / fan assembly and memory. Next came the expansion card (wi-fi) and on-board connections. Note: Since I have some spare parts, I did install back panel connections for one serial port, one printer port and four USB ports (for a total of eight on the back). These did not come with the motherboard. Then came the power supply and the drives.

The brand new system.

Here is a photo of the finished system, less the face and sides. I did add two more items into this $164.98 machine. Any body who knows me, knows I do not like to run on-board video cards. It uses a part of your system memory, which on a system with a small amount of RAM, can be detrimental to the performance. Say you have a system with 512 mb of RAM and you have to have 128 mb for your video card. You now have cut your available system memory by 25%. Also, the memory on internal (opposed to on-board) video cards is faster. So I added a Microstar NX-8400GS with 512 mb for $43 and an Antec 80mm Tri-Cool case fan for $5.

So here's what I ended up with:

Intel Celeron 430 1.8 GHz with 4 GB's of DDR2 memory running with an FSB speed of 800 MHz, Microstar video card with an NVidia GeForce 8000 Series GPU with 512 of GDDR2 with a Western Digital 320 GB SATA Hard Drive.

Total for the whole system, $213.97 excluding labor. I will post a picture of the finished case when it's done.

SideNote: My younger daughter decided she wanted to change her case too. This one is cool! Faux stone and chalkboard! Stop back by and see how this turns out.

Till then,
Scott

Upgrading your computer cheaply (part 2)

Before we can go shopping, we need to see what we can reuse.

An inside view of the 'old' system.

The motherboard and hard drive need to be replaced. The new motherboard will require a new processor and memory. So here's a list of what we can reuse:

  • Mid-tower case
  • CD-ROM
  • CD-RW
  • Floppy drive
  • Internal wi-fi card
  • Power supply

Normally you would also have to change out the power supply to accommodate the increased electrical requirements of the new motherboard. This power supply was replaced within the last two months, so it has the power needed to run the new configuration.

Time to go shopping. We can go with on-line and local retailers. I prefer to go with local retailers, as returning items purchased on-line can be kind of a hassle. But if you're sure that the possibility of returning the items is slim, it's a great way to get a bargain. The first item is a new motherboard and what type of CPU (Intel or AMD)?

I'm going with Intel this time. O.K., an Intel processor may not the be the most frugal way to go (AMD processors cost less), but for this system I think it's the way to go. I went looking locally and found a Biostar G31-M7 for $50. It has a LGA775 processor socket. The array of processors available for is large.

I found an Intel Celeron 430 1.8 GHz (Retail box) on-line for $35. This is some thing I am relatively sure I will not have to return. Geek tip: Intel warranties are different for retail (boxed w/ cooling fan - 3 years) and wholesale (no box or cooling fan - 1 year). The price difference is the cost of a cooling fan. So unless your going to over clock your processor (which requires more cooling than the standard fan provides and voids the warranty), go with the retail version.

I found a deal on memory locally. Got a Corsair twin pack of 2gb DDR2 PC-6400 memory for $50. It came with a $25 mail-in rebate, making the final cost $25 for 4GB of memory.

I also got the hard drive locally. It's a Western Digital 3200AAKS 320 GB SATA hard drive for $52. I could have gone with a smaller size to keep down the cost, but this is the time to think about storage requirements (now and future). The larger the drive, the less the cost per gigabyte.

The total cost at this point is $162 (if you get the feeling I'm not done yet, you'd be right). We have a Intel Celeron 430 running at 1.8 GHz on a Biostar G31-M7 motherboard with 4 GB's of memory. The system has been running on a preinstall environment for over 24 hours and passed several stress tests. So it's time to...

Outside view of the 'old' system.

'Pimp my Box' (sorry MTV, just had to use it).

The next time I write, we'll start building this system and take a trip to Home Depot. (Note: I am going excessive at this point).

Upgrading your computer cheaply (part 3)

Upgrading your computer cheaply (part 1)

Just the other day I got a call from my daughter about her computer. It was acting strange, so I told her to bring it over. Sure enough, her system is starting to fail. The hard drive has bad sectors and the motherboard has only one working USB port. Pretty good life for a system I built nine years ago.

So now I am looking at the options available for upgrading her system. In the next few blog entries, I will give you more insight to the process of undergoing a system upgrade. The options that I am looking at are:

  • Completely brand-new
  • Used / Refurbished
  • Partial rebuilt with new parts

At this time, I would like to explain my two theories on computers:

1." Infant Mortality" is the belief that if it will run for a day (24 hours), it will run for it's lifetime.

2. A computer "Lifetime", 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. Just like a car, the older it gets, the more repairs it will need.

With these in mind, you can see where a used system over three years old would not be recommend, but can come in handy in an emergency. Refurbished systems can be good deals, but remember, they have been returned to the manufacturer and had something repaired. They still have their full warranty, software and documentation, so a refurbished system may be right for your particular needs.

New systems can be found starting at $299 and up. These systems can come with and without software, so always read the specifications before buying. But if you already have a computer, you already have software too. And in most cases, you can install it on your new system.

Since this article is about upgrading your computer cheaply, I will do it the most frugal way possible. I will disassemble the system and rebuilt it from the case up.

The next time I write, we'll go shopping for parts.

Upgrading your computer cheaply (part 2)

Virus removal guidelines for Windows

(*** Disclaimer: If you don’t feel comfortable working on your own computer, please ask someone who is familiar with computers to assist you. Sometimes it is best to seek professional assistance with this type of procedure. You will need a second computer connected to the internet for the following. Proceed at your own risk! ***)

Signs you may be infected:

  • You get ‘Pop Ups’ alerting you that your computer may be infected from software you do not remember installing.
  • You may have new software icons you did not have before on your desktop.
  • You may find your anti-virus software alerts you of a threat, but is no longer working.
  • You may not be able to get to a particular web site or not even be able to get on the internet at all.

The following is a general guideline to detecting and removing a virus from your computer. As always, have a good working backup before attempting any of these procedures.

  1. Isolate the suspected computer by disconnecting the network cable or turning off the wifi adapter. This will stop anything from getting on your network to infect other systems and getting to the internet to make connection with its author and/or server.
  2. Turn off ‘System Restore’ on all hard drives. Find a ‘My Computer’ icon and right click on it. Choose ‘Properties. Then select the tab named ’System Restore’. Select the check box ‘Turn off System Restore on all drives’ and click ‘Apply’

You now have stopped the ability to get outside of the computer and the ability to be restored from a ‘restore point’. It’s now time to get to work.

Depending on the severity of the infection, I will use either USB drives or finalized cd-r’s to install software. With the newer infections that can write across networks and to any writable media (floppy, memory card, USB drives, etc.), it's best just to grab a bunch of cd-r’’s and write all of the different software you’ll need to cd.

First thing, go over to Malwarebytes’ http://www.malwarebytes.org/ and download a copy of their Anti-Malware program. Put it on your choice of media and install on the suspected computer. Then select ‘Perform quick scan’ and click ‘Scan’.

Allow the program to take what ever actions required (which may include a reboot). Once the program has finished, let’s proceed to scan for viruses.

(***Disclaimer: Never install more than one anti-virus program on a system.***)

If you have anti-virus software, check it to find out if it is still working. A lot of infections will disable your anti-virus. If this is the case, reinstalling it may get it to work again. If this doesn’t work, you will need to uninstall it completely, so you can reinstall a new copy of the antivirus software. Once this is done do a complete scan of the system.

If you do not have any anti-virus, go over to AVG Free http://www.avgantivirus.com and download a copy. Also download the latest definition files. Put all of the files on media and install the anti-virus. Once installed, you can upgrade the definitions by selecting ‘Update from file’ when you have the program open. Then do a complete scan of the system.

(***Disclaimer: Before installing a firewall in Windows XP / Vista, disable the Windows Firewall in the Control Panel first. Also, never install more than one software firewall on a system.***)

Once you have run both Malware and an anti-virus scan on the system, you should have a good hand on the situation.

(*** If you are still having issues that you’re anti-virus and/or spyware software cannot remove, please seek professional assistance. ***)

Before attempting to reconnect the suspect system to the internet, make sure that you have a software and/or hardware firewall in place. I use both a hardware firewall behind my internet connection and software firewalls on the servers / workstations.

For more information on Free Internet Security Software, check out this blog entry:

Free Internet Security Software

And for a detail description of one of the worst cases of infection I have seen yet, check out this blog entry:

Virus Removal

Till later,
Scott

Virus Removal

I am hearing more and more of new computer users getting severely infected with Malware, Spyware, Trojans, etc.. I am currently working on a system that is, by far, the worst one I have ever seen. I have the system back running and am going to document the procedures I followed in the next couple of days. I’m also going to include links to the free (yes free!) software you can download and use to prevent this from happening to you.

Till then,
Scott

*** Update 02/08/2009 ***

Link to Free Internet Security Software

'Note: I took on this client as I felt he really needed the assistance. He’s an older veteran who just graduated from school. He bought a used computer and then connected it to a high speed connection.  Without any knowledge of what he needed for security software, he quickly got infected. The story does end happily (should I tell you now or make you go to the bottom of the page).  Alright, I built a new system for him from my spare parts and loaded all of his old software on to it. System cost: $0. Good feeling: Priceless (sorry MasterCard, I had to use it).'

Let me first outline the situation. I got a call from a gentleman whom had purchased a used computer and it got infected. It was so bad that it would not even boot into Safe Mode. When I got it, I immediality went to back it up. It was then I discovered the system would not boot to a cd-rom (red flag). This was my first issue.

The system had a floppy drive, so I installed a network card I knew worked and had DOS drivers for. I then created network boot disks and was able to backup across the network. The data being transmitted from the client was different in size to what the server was receiving (red flag).

I now had a good, working image of the hard drive. It was apparent that a system driver was failing to load and causing the crash. I wanted the check the hard drive for errors first. Since this drive was FAT 32, I used a Windows 98 SE boot disk with support tools and ran scandisk on the hard drive. The surface scan indicated a bad cluster on the drive (drive failure!). A quick download of the diagnostic software from the hard drive manufacturer confirmed the hard drive failure.

Luckily I had a hard drive of equal size and cloned the drive image back to a new drive. A quick Scandisk to check for errors and away I went, but I still was getting errors when booting. I changed boot options and was able to get the error screen to stay up. I took a photo to do more research. Turns out the error is coming from the on-board IDE controller (controller failure for sure, possible mother board failure). This would explain the issue with the cd-rom.

I happen to have a spare PCI IDE controller card from when I had to have eight drives in one of my systems (opposed to the standard four at the time). I’ll tell the story of the system that I built that I had to disabled all on board devices to kept running at a later time. What I did to keep that 486 running was amazing.

I installed the controller card and almost immediately discovered the BIOS were coming up scrambled. I couldn’t boot strap the bios. That was it, motherboard failure. The project now was now to rebuild the computer. The motherboard failure made me leery of using any of the old hardware. You just don’t know what else may be damaged (we know the hard drive was).

So I went around the home to see what I could find. A Pentium-D 805, ECS P4M800, a 256 mb stick of PC-3200 memory, cd-rom, floppy drive, hard drive, power supply and case. A little modification to the case to allow clearance for the power connector to the motherboard and I was off and running.

I assembled the system and got the original image loaded on it. I was still getting boot errors, but it did boot. Of course Windows found all sorts of new hardware. But the ‘Pop Ups’ were coming on hard and fast. And so were the system errors.

So I went and opened the hard drive image file and it was there I found a couple hundred of infections. I made a copy of the image and then proceeded to manually edit the contents of it.

I was able to remove about three hundred (300) or so infected files. I then pushed the revised image to the new system. I was then able to get the ‘Pop Ups’ and errors to come down quite a bit. I turned off ‘System Restore’, installed Malware and started a scan. It found several infections and removed all on reboot.

I then installed AVG, updated definitions by file and ran a complete scan. It was then that I found out that this system was beyond repair. It had an infection that attaches itself to every executable file on the hard drive. AVG found over seven thousand (7,000) of these infections. At this point it is time to completely wipe the hard drive and do a clean install of Windows.

That’s where the story ends. I reloaded all of the applications, user files, etc. The computer is in place and running beautifully. It’s again hooked up to high speed internet, but this time with protection.

 

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