WHAT NOT TO DO WHILE RUNNING DIAGNOSTICS – Marilyn Armstrong

Why is my computer freezing and sending me blue screens? I guess I should run some system diagnostics. I ran them recently and I was assured everything is hunky dory.

If it’s so hunky and dory, why does it keep freezing?

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FREEZE!

No, Marilyn! You cannot run diagnostics while surfing.  Bad Marilyn.

MORE FREEZING! 

No. You must not check email. Okay, check it, but don’t send anything. Shoot. Frozen again.

PUZZLEMENT

Why is it prompting me to update the drivers I just updated? Should I do it again? Nah. Waste of time.

BAFFLED CONFUSION

Why is Dell installing the software again? This is the fifth time. It’s installed. Geez. It’s just doing this to aggravate me.

HEADACHE, POUND, POUND, THUD

I need lunch. Afraid to leave the computer. Who knows what mischief it might get into?

STOMACH GURGLING

Bathroom, I don’t care what’s going on. I gotta go NOW. Computer? Sit! Stay! Don’t do anything while I’m gone.

FREEZE!

I guess no matter how boring it is, I should NOT play Bridge while running diagnostics.

ANOTHER FREEZE!

I suppose this means running diagnostics is not a perfect opportunity to thoroughly clean the keyboard.

HUH?

My system is fine. Absolutely nothing wrong. So what’s with all those Blue Screens of Death referencing my video card? Let’s stress test the video card.

ZZZ

This is more boring than watching paint dry. Are we there yet?

Diagnostics-91

RESULTS!

Everything is freaking fine. I’ll tell myself that the next time it locks up. Thanks for nothing. Another afternoon I can never get back.

EPILOGUE

It turns out that the fancy sound I use is part of the video card. This is the “fancy” sound most people only use when they are playing video games. I use it all the time because the sound is so much better than the standard sound. But, that means I really am using my video card for the sound I’m playing — while I’m photo-processing.

So if I’m listening to an audiobook while trying to process photographs using both Photoshop and Topaz filters, everything runs fine unless there’s a particularly big draw on the memory. Then, it just locks up the computer. Sometimes it brings up the blue screen, indicating a video card problem. It isn’t video or at least, it isn’t only the video.

It’s the combination of video and audio together.

The answer? I could choose to not use the fancy audio sound which runs on the big graphics card. Except, I don’t like the other sound.

Better yet, I can play the book on my Kindle and process photographs on the computer. The audio doesn’t use much memory, but Photoshop with Topaz uses a ton of it. And I’ve got 16 gigs of memory on this computer. It was a lot worse on the old computer which had a mere 12 gigs.

CONTRASTING HARDWARE?

FOWC with Fandango — Hardware

RDP # Tuesday: CONTRAST

Is contrasting hardware when your pots or cutlery doesn’t match? Or you are wearing orange plaid pants and a polka dot shirt? Where no matter what you buy, it is inevitably the wrong color, but it’s too expensive to throw it away and it works, so you might as well use it?

Our house is mismatched in every way and I have long since given up trying to make anything coördinate with anything else. If it’s at least something of the same style, more or less, that will have to do.

You know what hardware does match?

The tech stuff. Computers. Tablets.

Garry has an iPad and I have a mini iPad (for which I have yet to find any use). We both have Alienware computers. I have a Mac Air in the bedroom, as well as a Kindle. There are two more Kindles in the living room, not to mention a TV, speakers, and something sort of like a stereo system.

Macbook Air 13

On a more personal level, Garry and I contrast nicely. Two out of three dogs are quite perfectly matched and none of them uses any hardware.

I have no idea why I’m writing this. It’s just a heap of words. There’s so much going on in the world and this has nothing to do with any of it.

Meanwhile, Garry doesn’t feel well, though I’m the one with the doctor’s appointment. I think we are both suffering from the fierce embrace of the killer weeds of autumn. Garry thinks “he’s got something.” If he does, you can be sure I will have it too in a few days. That’s one of the really nifty things about living together all the time. We share. Everything. Always.

Logitech Mouse

So now I’ve been prompted and I have no idea why except I figured I should write something and I had nothing to say. Or, more to the point, everything on my mind requires actual research and thought and planning and I just don’t have the time to do that today.

Maybe tomorrow.

ALIENWARE 15 R3 — THE GOOD AND THE HUH?

I always have very mixed feelings when I realize I’m going to have to buy a new primary computer. I love technology and I love computers. I love gadgets and widgets and cameras and lenses and software. From the first day I put my fingers on a computer keyboard, I knew I’d found my place in the new order. Computers felt like “home” from the first day.

New computer

However, getting a new primary computer that will be your everything computer is a big deal.

I’m not talking about a tablet. Or a Kindle. Or an old computer you want to keep because it contains software you can’t buy anymore and which you like better than “new improved” versions.

No, in this case, I’m talking about the one item of equipment that you use all the time for years on end. It’s the constant use computer. The machine on which you blog. Take care of your daily business. Banking, shopping, email, photography. It’s where you process pictures. Where you have software and filters. It’s where you write. Design books. It is important.

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Getting a new computer up to speed, configured the way you want it has always been a process that takes anywhere from a few hours to several months of tweaking. In this case, it also involved getting used to a new operating system — Windows 10 Pro up from Windows 7 Pro.

PERFECTLY FROM THE DAY I TOOK IT OUT OF THE BOX

This computer worked absolutely perfectly from the day I got it. There was no start-up time, except the time it took me to figure out where the new stuff was on this computer that was somewhere else on my earlier computers. If I didn’t feel I need to know what’s going on inside, I need not have bothered to find out anything. I’m still finding out things, though more now than before since that BIOS download the other day, but that’s a different issue.

THINGS THEY COULD DO BETTER — AND PROBABLY WILL

The C-port “Thunderbolt” replacements for the USB drives are not very sturdy. They work, but they are fragile. I’m sure they will be improved with time, but as of today’s writing, they should have included more USB ports. I have added hubs, but the lack of a CD drive for a camera card is a real pain in my butt. They should put it back.

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It won’t help me much. However, for future computers … put the CD drive back. Add at least two or three more USB ports. There are a lot of items that only work properly in a USB port. Eventually, maybe everything will love these new ports, but they don’t love them today. My external hard drives and my DVD/CD drive won’t work in the C port … and of course, I also need something for the CD flash card too. In theory, you can use a hub, then put stuff them through the C port, but that’s really stupid. Too many hubs, too much stuff. I’m sure I am not the only one complaining about this.

A FEW QUESTIONS ANSWERED BEFORE YOU ASK THEM

Why did I stay with Windows rather than getting a Mac? Because I actually prefer Windows. It’s a structured, work-oriented system. Its design and the way I think work well together. I have owned Macs and used them, but in the end, I’m much more comfortable on Windows. I’m task oriented. The Mac with its “do your own thing” unstructured style doesn’t mesh well with my style. Of course, there’s also the software I own that runs on Windows, but won’t run on a Mac.

I am not a hardware kind of gal. You won’t find me rewiring anything or prying open the case to get at the innards. Software? No problem.

Hardware? Call the guy with the toolkit. The second-hand market it good for people who aren’t afraid of getting down and dirty with the guts of the hardware, but I’m not one of them … so new was the way to go for me. Windows PC. High end. New.

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My previous Alienware laptop was very satisfactory, but technology has been whipping along at light speed for the past few years. The computer was more than two operating systems behind. I was not interested in overlaying a new operating system on the old one. I tried that and failed. Badly. It was also getting difficult to run new software on the older system. It ran, but not run well. Frustrating and annoying, but the development world is not interested in my opinion.

OTHER QUESTIONS ANSWERED

Why Windows 10 Pro you ask? Over the decades, I’ve found the “professional” versions of Microsoft operating systems are more stable and much less buggy than the “home” version of the same OS.

Every version of Windows has essentially the same stuff in it, but the menus change. The most alarming difference for more was the complete removal of the “Restore” and “system configuration” menus which has been part of Windows since the beginning. The pieces are now parceled out to other menus (Systems and Task Manager).

HOW DOES IT DO?

It boots up in fewer than 10 seconds. I don’t know how many different windows I could open, but whatever it is, I haven’t found it yet.

THE GOOD AND THE WHAT-THE-HELL?

I would have gone all the way and said this is the best computer I’ve ever had. Basically, it still is, but that download the other day from Microsoft was evil. I’m still recovering from it. To be fair, things seem to be working more or less normally — again.

It’s a great computer.

The problem is, you never know what kind of rat poison you’re going to get in downloads from home base. Apple has done it, Windows has done it more. They really need to step back and ponder users and what we need.


THE PARTS AND PIECES:

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  • 16GB DDR4 at 2133MHz (2x8GB)
  • English Backlit Keyboard, powered by AlienFX
  • NVIDIA(R) GeForce(R) GTX 1060 with 6GB GDDR5
  • N1435 & N1535 Wireless Driver
  • 256GB PCIe SSD (Boot) + 1TB 7200RPM SATA 6Gb/s (Storage)
  • Windows 10 Pro (64bit) English
  • Killer 1435 802.11ac 2×2 WiFi and Bluetooth 4.1
  • Intel(R)Core(TM) i5-6300HQ (Quad-Core, 6MB Cache, up to 3.2GHz w/Turbo Boost, Base frequency 2.3GHz)
  • 15.6 inch FHD (1920 x 1080) IPS Anti-Glare 300-nits Display
  • Lithium Ion (68 Wh) Battery

IF YOU DO A LOT OF STUFF ON THE COMPUTER, A GOOD ONE IS WORTH THE MONEY

The computer I had before this one is now Garry’s computer. Aside from not handling newer applications well, it’s a fine computer and will last a very long time, especially with Garry using it. Even if it needs a hard drive or something else, it’s more than worth repairing. You can’t say that about a lot of the cheap, cheesy computers.

They are cheap, but they aren’t good. And they won’t stand up to repair.

VALUE VERSUS PRICE

I am still computer shopping. Online. Been doing it for weeks. Maybe months. Online is the only way these days, now that real computer stores have disappeared.

But that’s okay. I like comparing stuff online. I can see the prices and features, try out all the different configurations. Read user reviews which range wildly from “this computer is a total piece of garbage” to “this is the best computer ever made anywhere” —  and they are reviewing the same computer. In the end, you have to take all the reviews with more than a few grains of salt. “Garbage” and “great” are relative to the expectations of the reviewer.

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There are people who will decide a computer is worthless because they don’t like the keyboard layout and others who will think it’s great despite having had to do substantial reconfiguration and upgrades on it.

I just want it to work well, all the time, and not give me any back talk. Also, I understand that the specifications are not the whole story. They ought to be, but there’s more to a great computer than its components.

WHAT I NEED

A big, fast hard drive. Preferably two of them: a solid state drive (SSD) for booting plus a big ass 7200 RPM mechanical drive for storage. The drive on this machine is getting full. I never thought it could happen, but photographs take up a lot of space. Even with backups and off-loading some stuff to external drives, 120,000 photographs takes up a lot of space.  And there will always be more.

MEMORY 

I have 12 gigabytes in this computer. I want 16 in a new one. I want at least 4GB of dedicated Video RAM (VRAM) in my next computer. I’ve got 2 in this model, but more is better. “Shared graphics” when you use Photoshop and filters results in Blue Screens of Death, locked up systems, and sudden, unplanned system reboots.

side view alienware closeup computer

Then there’s the size problem. All of this would be easy (and a lot cheaper) if I wanted a desktop. You get a lot more for your money when you buy a desktop rather than a laptop. But I don’t want to go back to being alone in my office all day because that’s where my desk is. I also know, because Tom told me, that I could get a desktop and use it as my server. Then, I could use a laptop — any laptop — as a work station.

I’m not hardware savvy enough to do the setup. I know people who can … but they don’t live nearby. I need something which will work out of the box.

LAPTOP – SMALL AND LIGHT

The lighter, the better. I’m not getting any younger. I can’t go “tablet” because I can’t edit pictures on a tablet. Tablets don’t have SD card slots or sufficient graphic support to run the software I use. Besides: I’m a mouse and keyboard kind of gal. The whole finger-poking thing doesn’t do it for me. I have tablets and a phone, so I do understand how they work. For me, typing on a virtual keyboard is torture. Even playing a simple game on a tablet is painful.

The smaller and lighter machines do not have all the features I want, so it won’t be an ultra-light laptop. Compromise will be required.

my office and desktop computer

Next, there’s monitor quality and size. Most manufacturers are offering super high-definition monitors today. I run this computer at 1920 X 1080. It can run at a higher resolution and I tried it, but it made everything is so tiny, I couldn’t see it. You could give me the highest resolution monitor in the world, but my eyes are not going to be any better than they are now. This is as resolved as I can actually use.

The things I want, make it difficult to avoid getting the other stuff I don’t want. Or need.

It’s won’t be a Mac, either. Rumors to the contrary notwithstanding, there is no known way to transfer formatted text from PC to Mac without losing the formatting. You can convert all your documents into PDFs, but I don’t want to do that.

I’m a writer. My work is not optional.

NUMBERS. GIVE ME NUMBERS.

So finally, back to “value.” Money. Cost. Price.

I want a super high-end laptop — at about half what it actually costs. I can get what I want for the bargain price of around $1500 on sale. That would be a top quality machine from a dependable company with a solid reputation and a service department in North America. When all is said and done, I want this computer with more memory, bigger graphics card, and a faster hard drive.

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I don’t have $1500. I could finance it, but they make you pay the money back. If they would give me the money, I could work with that.

So, my solution is — I’m not getting a new computer. Not until I have no choice. What I can afford does not offer me the value I need. If I can’t afford what I need, there’s no point in getting anything.

Value versus cost.

Maybe prices will drop or I’ll win the lottery. Of course, I’d first have to buy a ticket.

VALUE | THE DAILY POST

GLORIA MUNDI! NEW ROUTER, NOT SICK!

Our intermittent connection problem went critical. We had been having connection issues since before Christmas, but I thought it was an outside problem. Charter being Charter, as it were.

netgear ac750 router

It took a bit of tracking down, but eventually, we realized that the old Linksys was in its sixth year, which for computer gear so critical to everything we use, is ancient. And it was failing.

Charter has been ramping up their broadband speed for the past year, so I knew it was likely the old router couldn’t handle the higher speed. But it was more than that. It was not broadcasting a strong enough signal. Diagnosis: Tired old router needs replacement and honorable retirement.

Amazon isn’t cheaper for everything, but for electronics, they usually have the best prices and selection. If you have Amazon Prime, they are offer the fastest delivery at no charge.

I’m a real fan of Amazon. They honor their promises. If you don’t get your package, they send another. If the product doesn’t work, they refund your money or send a replacement — your choice. They are nice when you call with a problem. Rather than go over to our local Best Buy or Walmart, we went online.

We were right. Amazon had great prices on a huge selection of routers. There were so many to choose from … and the technology has changed so much since the last time we installed a router … most of our time was spent trying to figure out what the descriptions meant, and which router was the right one for our house.

Owen said NetGear was easiest to install. Even though we’d been using Linksys for so many years. Since he was doing the installation, I saw no reason to argue the point.

We settled on NETGEAR AC750 Dual Band Wi-Fi Gigabit Router (R6050). At $81.99 plus tax, with free 2-day shipping, it seemed likely to do the job. We ordered it Saturday and surprise! It arrived this morning, Monday. No, I didn’t pay extra for speedy shipping. Amazon is very fast.

It’s installed. It took about an hour, including some hassling with the wireless printer and some more hassling with the Roku. There’s one more Roku in the bedroom I will have to reset plus three Kindles. Owen’s has hooked up his laptop and tablet. My three computers and Garry’s two are also up and running.

Do you think we have enough wireless stuff around here?

The router works really well. No dead spots in the house anymore! Not one, not anywhere. Finally, we have full coverage through both floors and in every room.

What could NetGear do to improve the experience? Provide better instructions!

Every problem we encountered was not a problem. It was just something for which no instructions or explanation is provided. I know everyone thinks tech writers are obsolete. I AM a tech writer. But seriously, folks. How much could it cost to hire a tech writer for a couple of days to write proper, English-language instructions? We work cheap!

Reading through reviews on Amazon, I’m betting 90% of the complaints were failures to understand what to do. Better instructions would solve the problem.

Can you say “Happy Ending?” Sometimes, things work out better than you expect. This is one of those times!

IN WITH THE NEW

The handwriting has been on my wall for a while.

Since April, my primary computer has been my Dell XPS 15 laptop. It has a fast motherboard, 8 GB RAM, 750 GB at 7500 HD, a backlit keyboard, high def monitor, a DVD that plays Blu-Ray, and a 9-cell battery. It weighs like a cannonball.

I use a lap desk with two fans to cool it. I treat it well, keep it clean. It’s never been dropped.

WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?

Glad you asked. The graphics card is inadequate. It’s a card with both sound and graphics on it, so I can’t listen to anything while I work in Photoshop. And even so, it locks. It used to recover and knowing the source of the problem, (insufficient video RAM), I rebooted frequently. Mostly, it was okay. Lately, it has stopped recovering. It goes down, stays down. Hard crashes and blue screens of death.

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Last week, it gave me a black screen — fatal error — which told me it did not recognize its power source. It was plugged into an AC outlet, so I suspect the battery is starting to go.

For months now, it has refused to install Microsoft updates, except antivirus. I figured I didn’t really need the updates, but I’d have to be stupid to not see the warnings. My faithful laptop is getting tired. Some day soon, it’s going to quit.

I bought this computer in March 2012. It was refurbished, a year old when I got it. Buying refurbished let me buy more computer. I had gotten serious about blogging. Also, recently out of the hospital. I had (have) a desktop, but I needed a laptop. This was top of the line then, and if you look at the specs, it is still better than 90% of the new computers on the market … except it has grown old. For two and a half years, this laptop has taken whatever I threw at it without (much) complaint. What it did in the year before I got it, I have no way of knowing except that it had some mileage on it.

I could wait until it dies. Probably in the middle of writing a post. Not a smart move, especially considering the issues swirling around Microsoft. Namely, Windows 8. I hate Windows 8.

BUT WHY DON’T YOU BUY A MAC?

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With all of its quirks, Microsoft never screwed me over the way Apple did. Every expensive Apple computer I bought was obsolete mere weeks after buying it. Apple always assured me the new machine would be upgradeable. They lied. In 1999, they did it again. I had barely had time to set up the new system before Apple made it obsolete.

“This is,” I said aloud, “the last time Apple is going to screw me.”

I donated the Apple to my alma mater. I bought the most powerful Windows 98 PC I could afford, which — with upgrades — ran flawlessly for 6 years. I never bought another Macintosh product until an iPhone snuck into my world a year ago.

I want nothing to do with Macs. I don’t like the inaccessibility of the operating system or the hardware. I don’t find it intuitive. I find it confusing and annoying. I want a PC, thank you. But not Windows 8. From what I’m hearing, I don’t want the upcoming Windows 10, either.

BUY NOW OR DIE LATER

Which put me into a bind. Windows 7 machines are disappearing. Even a few weeks ago, there were more choices. Despite the other issues we have, I need a new laptop. This is what credit is for … and that’s why I buy from Dell. Because when no one else would give me credit, they did.

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SO WHAT DID YOU ORDER? TELL ALL, PLEASE!

Possibly for the first time, I got enough computer to do what I need to do. It’s a gaming laptop, Alienware 14. It has 16 gigs of RAM, a dedicated 2 gig video card. DVD reader/writer. High definition graphics. Heavier than I’d like at 6 pounds, but nothing lighter had all the features I want.

Here are the specs for my fellow geeks:

  • 4th Gen Intel Core i7-4710MQ processor (6MB Cache, up to 3.5GHz w/ Turbo Boost)
  • 14.0 inch WLED FHD (1920 x 1080) IPS Anti-Glare Display
  • 16GB Dual Channel DDR3L 1600MHz (2x8GB)
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 765M with 2GB GDDR5
  • Intel 802.11n/ac Wireless and Bluetooth 4.0 driver
  • 1TB 5400RPM SATA 6Gb/s
  • Windows 7 Professional 64 bit Service Pack 1, English, w/Media
  • Optical Drive : Slot-Loading 8x SuperMulti Drive (DVD/R/RW)
  • Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 7260 @ 5GHz + Bluetooth 4.0
  • Backlit English Keyboard
  • US 110V Power Cord
  • Battery : Primary 6-cell 69W/HR
  • Power Supply : Alienware 150W AC Adapter
  • Alienware 14 Silver Anodized Aluminum

It won’t be here till the beginning of November, but I think I’m good until then. I sure hope so!

Oh, they threw in a free 7″ Android tablet. I don’t know what I’ll do with it, but I guess I’ll figure it out. And a $150 gift card. For accessories.

JUST ANOTHER DAY

I needed a white plastic cover for a two-plug electric outlet. A simple thing. Costs less than a dollar anywhere they are sold. But the hardware store in Northbridge closed while I was out of commission and it isn’t the sort of thing they sell at the grocery store. I wasn’t eager to tackle Walmart.

I decided not to think about it and instead go to the fish store in Rhode Island. We used to go there all the time, but life got complicated, difficult. We stopped going most places. A few weeks ago, Garry decided to see if they were still in business. It had been that long.

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Turns out it is indeed still open — since 1964. On the way, I saw the feed & grain cum nursery cum hardware place. I had forgotten it was there — made a mental note to stop on the way back to buy the outlet cover.

We bought a lot of stuff at the fish store. A little more expensive than the grocery, but a better selection. And the owner actually knows something about fish.

Then we hit the feed & grain hardware and nursery. Got the plastic cover for the outlet. It cost 41 cents. Garry had a dollar in his pocket and got change. Deal done. This must be the only thing you can still buy for less than half a dollar.

I had a camera and the nursery beckoned. Garry loved the cactus. They look just like the ones in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance because it is the same cactus. I thought it would be a great addition to our little in-house plant collection. A handsome cactus indeed.

While I was checking to see how much they wanted for it, I got a handful of tiny, soft, painful thorns. I’m still pulling them out of my hand and I barely grazed it.

“You can have the cactus,” I said to Garry. “But you’ll have to care for it. It obviously doesn’t like me.” We took a temporary pass on it, but maybe we’ll go back. It’s a beauty.