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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

How to fix a computer that cannot wake up from sleep or standby mode

Doing computer repair, I fix a wide range of problems. One problem that I am seeing more and more often are systems that go into sleep / standby mode and cannot come out of it. The cause varies from computer to computer, but the fix is usually a change in the software and/or hardware settings. Here's a couple of ways to fix a computer that goes to sleep / standby and won't wake up.

Your computer uses a standard for power management called Advanced Configuration and Power Interface (ACPI). There are six (6) different 'sleep' states that your computer can use. The following is a portion of the Wikipedia article on ACPI.

The ACPI specification defines the following four Global "Gx" states and six Sleep "Sx" states for an ACPI-compliant computer-system:

  • G0 (S0): Working. "Awaymode" is a subset of S0, where monitor is off but background tasks are running.
  • G1, Sleeping subdivides into the four states S1 through S4:
    • S1: All processor caches are flushed, and the CPU(s) stops executing instructions. Power to the CPU(s) and RAM is maintained; devices that do not indicate they must remain on may be powered down.
    • S2: CPU powered off. Dirty cache is flushed to RAM.
    • S3: Commonly referred to as Standby, Sleep, or Suspend to RAM (STR). RAM remains powered
    • S4: Hibernation or Suspend to Disk. All content of main memory is saved to non-volatile memory such as a hard drive, and is powered down.
  • G2 (S5), Soft Off: G2/S5 is almost the same as G3 Mechanical Off, except that the PSU still supplies power, at a minimum, to the power button to allow return to S0. A full reboot is required. No previous content is retained. Other components may remain powered so the computer can "wake" on input from the keyboard, clock, modem, LAN, or USB device.
  • G3, Mechanical Off: The computer's power has been totally removed via a mechanical switch (as on the rear of a PSU). The power cord can be removed and the system is safe for disassembly (typically, only the real-time clock continues to run - using its own small battery).

Changing the power management options in the operating system

General power options in Windows 8
General power options in Windows 8

Sometimes just changing the software settings in the operating system power options will fix the issue. Access to the power options in Windows can be done thru the Control Panel. Depending on your version and view by settings, you may or may not see a power option link. In that case, look for power options under the hardware category.

Editing advanced power settings in Windows 8
Editing advanced power settings in Windows 8

Once there, create a new plan or modify an existing plan, changing the advanced settings as needed.

Advanced power option settings in Windows 8
Advanced power option settings in Windows 8

You can also disable S4 hibernation and make it unavailable really quick and easy using an administrator command prompt.

How to open a Command Prompt with Administrator privileges in Windows Vista and Windows 7
How to open a Command Prompt with Administrator privileges in Windows 8
How to disable Windows hibernation

Changing power management options in the BIOS

Power management settings in a typical computer BIOS
Power management settings in a typical computer BIOS

If changing the operating systems power options does not fix the problem, you can try changing the APCI setting to the computers Basic Input/Output System (BIOS). To access the BIOS, you will need to do so at the time the computer boots up. When the computer starts up, it usually displays a 'splash' screen with the manufacture's name and logo. It is on this screen you usually see something like 'Press F2 or Del or F10 for setup' (it varies from manufacturer to manufacturer). The 'splash' screen may only appear for a second or two and may take a few reboots to get into the BIOS. Once there, you need to look for Power Management Options. There you will find the different ACPI standby states.

Troubleshoot your computer and more for free with Sysinternals Suite from Microsoft

Have you ever wanted to see what programs start up when your computer boots? Or maybe defrag your pagefile? Or how about finding out what files, registry keys, etc. are currently open? You can do all this and more for free with Sysinternals Suite by Mark Russinovicha and from Microsoft.

The Autoruns program from the Sysinternals Suite
The Autoruns program from the Sysinternals Suite

Sysinternals Suite is a collection of extremely useful utilities for Windows. I have been using them since Windows 95. From everyday user to computer repair technician, there is something here for you. There is currently over sixty utilities included in the Sysinternals Suite.

The Process Explorer program from the Sysinternals Suite
The Process Explorer program from the Sysinternals Suite

For the everyday user there is Autoruns, Desktops and PageDefrag. With Autoruns, you can see what programs are configured to automatically start when your system boots. Desktops allow you to create up to four virtual desktops and switch in between them. And with PageDefrag, you can defragment your pagefile and registry.

The TCPView program from the Sysinternals Suite
The TCPView program from the Sysinternals Suite

For the computer repair technician there is Process Explorer, Process Monitor and TCPView. With Process Explorer, you can see what files and folders a program has open. Process Monitor is a real-time monitoring tool that provides detail information (PID's, path, etc.) for files, registry and processes. And TCPView gives you a detail listing of all network endpoints, local and remote, with addresses and port numbers.

For more information on Sysinternals Suite and all of the free utilities included, just follow the links below.

Sysinternals Suite
Sysinternals Utilities Index

Customer service is #1

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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.

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