Thursday, January 24, 2019

Revive your old PC - Part I - Hardware Upgrades - Portable Computers

After years of usage, time comes for every computer to be revived. For the first stages, utility cleanups, reinstalling the OS may improve the performance, but with loads of security patches, upgrades, fixes etc. every Windows system becomes too heavy to bare at some point.

Though Microsoft hoped to revamp its operating system legacy by introducing Windows 10, the old systems actually became to feel really slow.

Eventually, you decide to buy a newer and faster machine. But, there are alternatives otherwise.

This post shows you the alternatives you have other than buying a new system for your need for speed.

You can achieve your goal both by upgrading some hardware for a reasonable cost as well as installing alternative operating systems. I will explain both.


Facts About Components
1. In the last 10 years, CPU's haven't actually developed much other than adding more cores to the architecture to manage the applications better. Yes, the fastest commercially available CPU in the market is the new Intel Core i9-9900K (5 GHz), which is priced around 800$ including the mainboard that supports it. Otherwise, the latter is the  Core i7-3970X which is stuck at 3.5 GHz, but still very pricey.

2. Memory modules' speeds haven't increased much either. Instead by adding more memory to the existing systems proved that it does improve Windows performance. Of course there those overpriced gaming memory modules, but that's not what we are talking about here.

3. The traditional hard disks (HDD) have a streamlined alternative these days: the solid-state drives (SSD), which are generally a box packed with an IC, where chips are embedded, that are counted to be more reliable, eco-friendly, robust, faster than the traditional hard disks.

Though the world isn't still sure enough about the SSD's reliability, it is speedy indeed. Even the most basic ones are at least 20x times faster than the fastest commercially available HDDs. Plus, their price range is nearly equal to hard disk prices!

4. Graphics Processors (GPU): Though the manufacturers boast about the performance of their GPUs, they haven't developed so much in the last 10 years also, other than the improvements that are made to it. The bit rates are increased, the memory levels are steady and the graphics are more stable by adding more cores to the processors, just like the CPUs. As a downside, for some reason I cannot fathom, the power requirements of the GPUs have increased beyond boundaries, as there are some commercially available GPUs available out there with nearly 500W power requirements. These GPU's feed on direct power with a cable connecting to the power outlet of the PSU in the PC casing (the traditional power was obtained via the bus on the mainboard).

The other fact is, desktop PC's are getting less popular day-by-day as the cost of ownership of mobile machines become less. I admit I see more portable machines these days than I did 10 years ago. But as you have already discovered, mobile machines are not so upgradable as desktops machines. I will try to shine a light to both of them in parallel.

1. Hardware Upgrade: 

1.1 Laptops / Portable Computers

Upgrading the hardware of your existing portable isn't so much possible, it is not impossible.

1.1.1 Hard Disk
If you wish to revamp your old machine, the first thing you should consider is replacing your old hard disk (HDD) with a new SSD. It is the main hardware on your system that makes it SLOW !!

Windows operating systems use a lot of memory and hard disk utilization due to its virtual memory management system. Due to the constant read/write of HDDs, the waiting periods and more the annoying hourglass will be on your screen.

First things first, check online for a reliable and budget SSD for your laptop/portable. Most preferred reliable brands are KingstonSamsung, WD, Sandisk. The price of a new SSD is as low as 30$ these days.
Please note:
1. The ideas here are for computers that have been manufactured 2005 onwards as the older machines may have IDE ports instead of the SATA ports which are compatible with today's mainstream and sorry, there are no SSD's with IDE ports. Check your hardware specs to be sure.

2. Though newer SSD's have SATA 3.0 ports which provide faster throughput, they are backwards compatible with SATA 2.0 and SATA 1.0 technology and are still faster than the regular HDDs.

3. Most of the premium laptops, the hard disk isn't very easy to access and may require a technician to replace it for you.  

1.1.2 Memory (RAM)
Most probably the original OS installed on your system was good enough in the good old days, but with so many patches, antivirus software and loads more stuff it has become very little and insufficient. When RAM becomes insufficient, it loads more burden on the HDD as the operating system tries to compensate the loss by using more virtual memory; disk utilization.

Good news is, though your system is old, the memory modules are still globally available as brand new and 2nd hand. Depending on the specification of the RAM compatible with your system, you can upgrade your RAM for a fairly reasonable price up to 8Gb (on some systems it's 16Gb). Please refer to your system's manual for a compatible memory module specification. Good brands for memory modules are once again Kingston, Samsung and Adata. I strongly suggest avoiding buying used memory as no one sells memory modules unless there's something not right about them.

In most systems, it's a simple DIY task which I can guide your through (there are thousands of DIY videos on Youtube for changing memory modules specific to your hardware). Only on a small proportion of systems the memory modules are inaccessible by the user and may require a technician's intervention.

1.1.3 Battery
Yeah, it must be dead a long time ago, right ? Most probably the manufacturer either does not sell the spare battery still or it's available at a price of a new system! Good news is there are OEM batteries that can be trusted that are available globally; also that cannot be trusted. Depending on the model of your system a spare battery can be bought from sites such as Amazon or AliExpress.

I have refined the search links but you will still need to refine it more depending on the brand and the model of your system.

Revive your old PC - Part II - Hardware Upgrades, regarding desktop PCs' will be in my next post.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Tips on buying a used laptop - Part 2

Here are the tips you should observe whilst buying a used laptop/portable computer:

1. Check for chipmarks screws. This may give you an idea if it has been unboxed for repairs etc.

2. Hard disk surface scan may reveal hidden bad sectors. As I mentioned in Part 1, as devices get more compact, HDD's are more consealed inside devices and very difficult to replace. As it's a mobile device its always vulnerable to misuse, such as being dropped to the ground, which mainly damages the hard disks.

Usually sellers do not bother replacing the hard disk but try to hide the bad sectors with utilities. No, few bad sectors isn't OK ! Bad sectors is like a disease. Once the HDD starts showing bad sectors it will gradually increase until dataloss is eminent !

Also disk error information can be read from the bios of the hard disk from it's S.M.A.R.T (Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology) database which is embedded into the hdd with a simple free app from internet called Crystal Disk Info.

Also as devices get more compact it becomes harder to service. So if you are going to buy a used device, believe that you are going to be the last user. So it's a Titanic investment.

The best you can do when you buy a 2nd hand/used laptop is that, if it doesn't already consist of a SSD, I strongly advise you to get the existing risky HDD (hard disk) replaced by a new and at least 20x faster and more reliable SSD disk storage.

Unlike HDDs' SSDs' only consist of microchips; so, no moving parts inside, which means less vulnerability to damage. I prefer Kingston SSD drives as they are the most reliable in the market.

3. Keyboard. Though many tend to ignore the keyboard it's the main utility for input. Check the keyboard keys for wears. Every used laptop should have some sort of wear marks on the keyboard. IF it does not, it could mean the keyboard may have been replaced. There are several reasons why a keyboard is replaced including water damage, impact, broken keys.

4. Screen. Check the screen for straches, dead pixels and signs of impact damage.

  i. Dead Pixels generally mean, black spots on the screen, due to malfuctioning LCD and no, few dead pixels isn't OK. It affects the view and it can become annoying. Best way to spot dead pixels is to put a total white background image on the screen and look thoroughly for black spots. 

ii. General signs of impact on the screen shows itself on white backgrounds at high brightness. Where there has been an impact on the screen, it will show lighter color. The impact on LCD screens are usually happen when the lid is closed and though there may not be any sign of damage on the laptop's cover, the damage on the LCD is permanent. 

iii. There can be several other signs of damage on the screen. Anything out of the ordinary is NOT OK, though the seller may try to convince you otherwise. 

5. GPU. Although most premium portable computer's (laptops) GPU is embedded into the CPU instructions, GPU is quite important if you plan to play games on the system as 2D and 3D performance may be affected due to defects. Worse, it may cause the system to overhead or defunct in a most weird manner. If the seller allows you, best reliability results can be obtained with a benchmarking software such as 3DMark or BurnInTest.

The most common sort of malfunction on a used laptop is overheating of the CPU and the laptop's power.

 on the screen, heating issues (it reveals CPU/GPU malfunctions)

6. CPU. Though the development of laptop CPU's have slowed down, to which generation/version the CPU belongs does matter and can affect the whole system's performance greatly. Though usually, CPUs are quite robust other variables can affect the CPU performance greatly. Looking at Intel's CPU matrix, even the i7 you are intending to buy can be at least 8 years old! So, aim for a machine not older than 3-4 years maximum to have reliable performance and don't waste your time or money for anything that is less than a i5 CPU. 

The most important tip regarding the CPU is temperature control. Though CPU's are one robust body, it works with 2 other components: mainboard and the CPU fan. 

i. CPU Fan: Most portable computers' CPU fans get clogged with hair, cat/dog hair, dust over time. In the past when the laptop bays were accessible via bay doors, it was a relatively easy task to clean the air ducts but, in today's compact devices, it's nearly impossible. (I know some people put a vacuum cleaner trying to suck out the dust etc, but I do not advise as it can damage the CPU fan). So it is a good idea to check the air ducts for clogging as well as heating on the laptop body (it should not heat so much, even in 3D applications).

ii. CPU Fan insulation/paste: Not just bound for CPUs' of portables but in all devices related to heat, between the CPU and the CPU fan is a substance called "thermal paste" which, generally is a grease with thermal conductiveness, consisting of silver particles. Thermal paste improves the conductivity of heat between the fan and the CPU that enables rapid heat transfer to cool the CPU. 

Over time, depending on the usage of the system, the thermal paste tends to get thin, or worse in some cases, melt out. When this happens, the CPU can induct more heat than usual, which may affect the performance of the CPU as the hotter the CPU gets, the slower the CPU becomes. The newer CPU's tend to waste less power and heat up less.

If the casing of the system is hot or above warm, this might be the case and most probably you cannot fix it yourself as the whole case needs to be dismantled. It's a real pain...

5. Battery. Normal laptop battery can go between 2-5 years. For example, I am using a 6-year-old laptop with a battery that still works for at least 1 hour. Badly used laptop's batteries usually malfunction between 1-2 year's time. If the seller is selling the laptop with a dead battery or an unoriginal believe that it may have been misused.

6. Power Adapter. Though many do not take into caution the power adapter, as I mentioned in PART I, power adapters must be preferred to be the original one as most OEM adapters are produced under most inefficient environments and they do lack a lot of the tech that may save your system's life, such as the "grounding" . Also, an unoriginal adapter may be a sign that the system may have been overloaded in its past. 

I have witnessed laptops with burnt out mainboards whilst using unbranded/non-original power adapters in even minor power fluctuations.

7. The outer case. Though the seller will do their best to cover the signs of defects on his sale item, you should look for chips, cracks and wear marks under the laptop as well as the corners of the top bezel part as well as under the system. This might sound like a joke to you, but smelling the system can give you a good idea on what may have happened to it in the past such as water damage, overheating (burnt plastic smell) etc. 

8. Operating System. It's no doubt that the mainstream operating systems (especially Windows !!!!) are the main reason why the computers are slowing down by the minute. Especially when you start installing software like the antivirus, the system automatically loses performance by at least 35%. Any antivirus/internet security software who says otherwise is just bull%*¤#*ing. 

As Microsoft confirms, it's operating systems are unsafe and always vulnerable. Though there are constant updates, it's risky. Though they are vulnerable, after every patch or upgrade it becomes slower. That is how our systems get slower and require more performance every day. That's why the world is full of hardware labelled as "legacy". 

Though Microsoft hates it, there are alternatives that bring life back to old/legacy systems called "Linux". 

Linux was created by a Finnish university student called Linus Torvalds in 1994. His invention, unlike marketed products, was built on perpetual licensing options, it was built on the GNU Public Licensing model, which allows the product to be used and distributed "freely". Since the first version, the idea took off so powerfully that nowadays it's the biggest competitor of Microsoft. 

Bottom line here is, you can bring life into your old system with installing Linux operating system on it, instead of the slow and demanding Windows. There are certain common Linux operating systems (yes, distributions) that has the Windows GUI feel, for a smooth transition, such as Linux Mint Cinnamon. AND unlike Ms stuff, most Linux distributions consist of Office software embedded into them or can be installed free of charge later and is compatible with Ms Office distributions.

OK, I won't boast about Linux further here but also remember that you do not need to use antivirus software in Linux as it's nearly impossible to infect a Linux system.

You can read more about my Linux story HERE.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Tips on buying a used laptop - Part I

This question came up in one of the forums I frequently follow (from a programmer; programmers don't understand shit about hardware. They just code, they are not even IT, although HR departments usually confuse the two !)

Buying a 2nd hand laptop is always a big challenge. The reason is, noone really sells a laptop unless there's something wrong with it. Its not very common to see laptops on sale because of old age. If you are lucky, you may find one of the leased machines that has been returned to the financial institution. But, even that is risky as those are sold in bulk in auctions (and seller do not allow you to even touch the machine and are sold "as is" or "WYSIWYG". 

Advantages and Disadvantages

OK, you may not have the funds to buy a brilliant and high performance machine, but having a low performance but brand new laptop has it's advantages against the high performance but old machines. 

Things you need to know (that noone will ever tell you)

Unlike many bloggers, I will start with the disadvantages which may sound intimidating but will prove worthy:

  1. Noone sells an old portable computer just because it got "slow"; some do, but the chances of catching one of those is pretty slim. So, there much be a "catch". It might be a defective component or worn out component such as the battery, hard disk, memory or worse the mainboard. Good news is, though sellers do their best to camouflage the defects deep, it is possible to spot them. Bottomline, there's no virgin laptop.
  2. Unlike desktop computers, portable machines are more vulnerable to mishaps and accidents. A laptop get's dropped on hard surface at least 3 times in it's life cycle. Hard drops usually invisibly damage the hard disks, as the hard disks are the weakest component in portable machines (does not apply to SSDs, I will mention them soon). Hard disks are made of few magnetic platters spun by a tiny electric motor whilst a very sensitive head moves back and forward to read and write the data on it). Also as their function is mobility, they are used many environments, which some of them can be quite risky.

    Though many believe the life of a HDD is calculated by the amount of warranty length, by looking at it's MTBF specification by the manufacturer may actually give to a good insight on the predictability of the reliableness of the component. (MTBF: Mean Time Between Failure is an engineered rating that shows the reliability of the hard disk).

    Though MTBF values aren't advertised in the open, it is usually available from the vendor websites' technical specification leaflets.
  3. As the technology trend enforces devices to be more miniature, robost and more mobile, devices reduce insize; not by miniaturization but by sacrifice. Yes, sacrifice of precautional elements inside the devices. For example, before the 2000's most laptops were heavy and chunky. The reason for that was that under the cover there were certain precautionary measures to ensure the durability of the system, such as aluminium skeleton to improve durability against falls to protect mainboard and LCD screens from getting wrecked or component bay doors to allow parts to be upgraded or changed. But, just like in our great looking but worthless cars, everything these days are engineered not for the durability, but the cost.

    Engineers has been convinced by the sales people that it is cheaper to replace the whole thing instead repairing components; even if you tried to repair a new laptop that has been damaged, you probably will not be able to reach the required parts for reasonable prices. So, the lesson is newer it is, less durable it is. Even the hard disks have less protective insulation in them these days. That's why they are so thin, so fragile and short lifed.

    So, best lifetime of a laptop of today's tech is around 2-5 years. That's if it doesn't get damaged by a short circuit or a fall. Oh yes, I have to mention this ! The old laptop power adapters were big and chunky. The main reason for it is the wattage. Today's laptop adapters are usually much smaller in size but the wattage is much lower too. Also less reliable as they are more vulnerable against power surges (a power surge generally fries the laptop's mainboard. It happened to me twice).
  4. The screen: Though tech hasn't changed much on the screens in the last decade; other than the new 4k monitors, it is still the most fragile component. It's life is not longer than 1-5 years at most; really depends on the usage and production quality. As the bezels are so thin, they are more vulnerable against damage. Also as the new LCD panels are so thin, they get damaged VERY easily and no, it's non-repairable. But good news is, there are lots of OEM's that screens can be purchased online from resources such as AliExpress and replaced by people like myself. Most frequent sign of defect in LCD panels are dimm lights, stratches of screens, inequal light patches on screen (CAUTION: This means the screen has been smacked or damaged!) or missing pixels; dead pixels in the screen, which can be usually seen on white backgrounds.
  5. The Battery: An optimal battery life of a laptop is around 1-5 years, depending on the usage. Machines that have been used offline tend to have longer lasting batteries, whilst the machines that have been hooked up to a constant power resource, tend to eradicate faster. Battery units are made up of parallel connected cells. Higher the number of cells, higher the long livety and the performance of the battery is. Generally 6 cell batteries are the best.

    There are hundreds of OEM brands which claim their replacement battery is the best with low prices, but it's generally a fake information. OEM batteries do not last as long as the originals ; even might be out of specification that may damage the system. 
continued on part 2 soon.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

How to Exclude Domains in Google Search Results

If you’re more interested in excluding specific sources, there are two ways you can do this.
The first method is identical to excluding keywords. If you’re searching for links about Raspberry Pi but don’t want any Wikipedia links, you could just use:

“raspberry pi -wikipedia”

The problem with this method is that if an article on another site mentions Wikipedia in their article, that link will also be excluded from your search results, and that’s not what we want.

"macro lenses -nikon”

Instead, the second method is to use a search operator that specifically excludes URLs. The query would then look like this:

“raspberry pi”

Using this method, you can also exclude subdomains or specific webpages and still get results from other subdomains and other webpages on the same domain.

So if I wanted to search for royalty free vector stock images of Finnish flags and leave out most of the mainstream paid stock sites, my query would look something like this:

finnish flag royalty free -vectorstock - stock -pixabay -shutterstock -rfclipart -istockphoto -dreamstime -123rf -depositphotos -featurepics -fotolia -photoscase -storyblocks -canstock -gettyimages -canstockphoto -photocase -masterfile -alamy -adobe -clipdealer -stock

Custom Google Search results

I don't know about you, but I use Google Search every day for many reasons including forums, information, sites, shops, apps and everytime I get search results I have to filter through the spam results to get to the actualy results. 

Yeah ! Spam results and I am not talking about Google Ads but results based on "keywords" that are written into the code by sellers. 

For example, I really needed a royalty free flag image, which I know it is widely available across the internet. But the problem is stockphoto and other stockimage sites have infested the Google search results in such a way, that even Ad Block Plus cannot handle them. 

Luckily, Google actually does provide several options to narrow down your search to reach the required information and you do NOT need to be an internet search guru to overcome this problem. 

Going directly to the point here are the top tips.

  • Google Search usually ignores punctuation that isn’t part of a search operator. Don’t put spaces between the symbol or word and your search term.

    A search for will work, but site: won’t.

Common search techniques

Search social media

Put @ in front of a word to search social media. For example: @twitter.

Search for a price

Put in front of a number. For example: camera $400.

Search hashtags

Put in front of a word. For example: #throwbackthursday

Exclude words from your search

Put - in front of a word you want to leave out. For example, jaguar speed -car

Search for an exact match

Put a word or phrase inside quotes. For example, "tallest building".

Search for wildcards or unknown words

Put a * in your word or phrase where you want to leave a placeholder. For example, "largest * in the world".

Search within a range of numbers

Put .. between two numbers. For example, camera $50..$100.

Combine searches

Put "OR" between each search query. For example,  marathon OR race.

Search for a specific site

Put "site:" in front of a site or domain. For example, or

Search for related sites

Put "related:" in front of a web address you already know. For example,

Get details about a site

Put "info:" in front of the site address.

See Google’s cached version of a site

Put "cache:" in front of the site address.

How to Exclude keywords in Google results

When it comes to excluding specific keywords or items from your search results, all you need to do is place a hyphen in front of the word without a space.

So if you wanted to search for articles about macro lenses for photography but didn’t want anything about Nikon, you would use the following search query:

“macro lenses -nikon”