Posts Tagged #Hardware

A generic tag for posts about computer hardware or other physical electronic devices.

Posted on by Arnon Erba in General

Ever been told to turn off your modem for 10 seconds or to leave your desktop off for 15 seconds before powering it back on? There’s a reason for doing this, and it can mean the difference between successfully troubleshooting a device or not.

Electronic devices have capacitors that retain a charge even after the device is turned off. Ten seconds is generally the minimum time it takes for the capacitors to drain after you turn the device off. Here’s why you’d want to clear the capacitors before turning the device back on: the device’s RAM, or Random Access Memory, does not clear until the device is fully powered down (e.g. the capacitors have discharged). If you want to clear everything in the RAM completely and start fresh next time you boot up the device, you should wait for at least 10 seconds for the capacitors to discharge and the RAM to clear. On a computer, you can also press the power button a few times or hold it down for a few seconds to help drain the capacitors.

This is also a reason why rebooting a computer is different than turning it off and then turning it back on. If you’re having a problem with your computer, modem, etc., try turning it off for at least 10 seconds and then turning it back on. This will give your system fresh RAM to work with on the next boot.

Posted on by Arnon Erba in How-To Guides

(Editor’s note: This post has been updated since publication.)

Whether it’s a Craigslist purchase, an Ebay find, or a bargain from a friend, there are a few basic steps you should take before calling a used computer your own.

Check Inside the Case

First, determine whether or not you need to clean the computer. You’re probably going to want to clean the computer eventually, but if it’s very dirty you should clean it before turning it on. If the computer is not too dirty to affect its performance, go ahead and boot it up before anything else. This will determine whether or not it’s in working order, and will remove all doubt from your mind that you could have damaged it while cleaning it in case it doesn’t work correctly. However, if the computer is dirty enough that it could be damaged by being powered on, clean it first. This includes scenarios like spiders, dust in fans, or anything that could damage the fans, prevent proper cooling, or cause an electrical short.

To clean the computer, you’re going to need some basic tools. A must-have is compressed air, and the cans sold at electronics stores are perfect for this. Alternatively, you can use an outdoor industrial compressor, but keep in mind that water can condense in the hose and that the high-pressure air from a compressor can damage internal components if you’re not careful. Never blow air directly into fans, as you can force dust into their bearings or cause them to exceed their maximum rotation speed. Also, don’t blow high-pressure air at right angles to cards or chips that could be blown out of their slots.

You should also have a damp, clean cloth. You won’t want to use it inside the computer case due to the potential for static discharge, but you can you it on the outside of the case and on the screen if it’s a laptop. Microfiber cloths are also excellent for screens since the material is soft enough not to scratch.

Finally, when you first power on the computer, pay careful attention to what the it does and what noises it makes. If you hear bad noises, don’t ignore them — it might be a sign that fans are failing or that a cable is stuck in a fan. Take note of what software is on the computer: If it has an operating system already installed, scrutinize it carefullyy to make sure it’s a fresh install, that it’s up to date, and there are no viruses.

Watch Out For Viruses and Spyware

I don’t recommend connecting the computer to the Internet unless you’re certain what condition the software is in. You’re probably not going to need to use the Internet while you’re checking how the computer is running, and if Windows is installed and hasn’t been updated for a while it could mean security holes. Also, if it’s Windows, you should make sure the computer has an antivirus program before going on the Internet.

I also don’t recommend using an old installation of an operating system that someone else has already used. The potential for junk software, viruses, and old files is notable, and if you’re planning to make the computer your main machine you will probably want to start fresh. If you’ve bought the computer from someone you don’t know, there is also the potential that they could have installed a virus before selling you the computer. Think automated webcam recording and keyloggers. A clean install of the operating system is always a good way to start.

Test the Hardware

Once you’ve got the computer clean and the operating system ready, you should be good to go. Running programs like Memtest86 or IntelBurnTest can be a good idea if you suspect hardware issues, and you should watch the temperatures to make sure the computer does not overheat. After that, it should just be routine maintenance.

Posted on by Arnon Erba in General

Fun fact: the terms “CPU” and “computer” are not interchangeable. Though many people use the term “CPU” as an abbreviation for “computer”, this is incorrect usage of the term. CPU is an acronym that stands for Central Processing Unit, or processor for short. A processor, though a very important component, is only one component of a computer. A CPU is a part of a computer, not a computer itself.

Posted on by Arnon Erba in How-To Guides

Have an old keyboard that doesn’t look very inviting to stick your fingers on at the moment? Don’t just consider it dead and throw it out — there’s a way of making it look new again (or hopefully close to it). You can either try carefully wiping each key in its position, but if your keyboard is really dirty you probably won’t find that method to be quite enough. Nasty stuff (cookie crumbs, chips, earwax, etc.) tends to get behind the keys and to build up. If simply shaking the keyboard upside down won’t get rid of these unwanted items, you may have to pull the keys off your keyboard.

Don’t let the thought of prying keys off your old keyboard make you just go buy a new one. It’s really not that difficult to remove the keys from a keyboard. Note: this guide explains how to remove keys from a desktop keyboard, such as the USB or PS2 kind. Laptop keyboards are usually put together in a different way that is harder to reassemble.

The keyboard that I dismantled was a circa-2003 Apple keyboard that I had picked up on Craigslist. The keyboard itself was in good shape, but it looked like it hadn’t been cleaned in forever, which was probably true. Though I had originally planned to simply wipe the keyboard down with rubbing alcohol, I made the decision that that would not be enough.

To remove the keys from your keyboard, you may want to use a flathead screwdriver. If you do, however, do not pry on only one side of the key. Instead, steady the key and pull up on it with your hand while using the screwdriver to pop it off. If you want to clean the keyboard, I would suggest using cotton balls with 70% or so rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) and a slightly wet paper towel. Having a vacuum cleaner handy probably isn’t a bad idea either. And, of course, find a keymap or take a photo of your keyboard before dismantling it.

Most keys are attached by tabs that snap into the base of the keyboard. Certain keys have a metal bar inside them that acts a spring/balancer so that pressing on any area of the key will make it register. A notable example is the Space key, but others include both Shift keys, the Enter key (including the number pad Enter key if your keyboard has one), the Backspace key, the 0 key on the number pad, and various other keys that are bigger than the letter keys. These metal bars are greased, so if you wipe them off they will probably require re-lubrication to run smoothly.

When you go to put the keys back on the keyboard, just push down on them with enough force that they snap in. Make sure you have the tabs lined up, or it is possible to bend or break them. If you used a lot of water while cleaning the keyboard, let it dry for a while before reconnecting it to your computer. Then, enjoy typing on your brand-new looking keyboard!

Posted on by Arnon Erba in How-To Guides

(Editor’s note: here’s a fairly long-winded article I wrote a while back.)

It’s that time: your household has finally acquired more than one Internet-connected device. However, you only have one Internet line in your house, and that comes straight out of your modem and goes into your desktop computer. So, how do you get the Internet on all your devices? The simple answer is, well, simple: buy a router.

First: Buying the Router

The complicated part is, which router? You could spend $100+ on a high-end router, or cheap out and buy one for $40. So, how much router does your household really need?

First, let’s talk about internet connections. Let’s say that you have a broadband connection to your house with a download speed of 2 Mbps (to find out what speed you actually have, you can go to for a free Internet speed test). That means that with one device connected, you should get a download speed of 2 Mbps on that device. If you add more devices with a router, the router can not “magically” provide all the devices with a 2 Mbps download speed simultaneously. The connection speed will be split by demand over all your devices. For example, if you’re watching a YouTube video on your desktop and your laptop is sitting idle, the desktop should be getting the full 2 Mbps and the laptop’s connection will be cut down. However, if you’re trying to download Skyrim on your laptop while your brother is watching Netflix online, each computer will get about half the connection depending on the demand. If you’re downloading Skyrim, your brother’s watching Netflix, your mom is trying to send pictures of the kids to her friends and your dad is checking his email, everyone’s connection speed is going to drop as the 2 Mbps connection is eaten up by the large demand. So, if you’re planning on having multiple devices using the Internet heavily at one time, you may want to consider upgrading your connection speed. The best way to find out what you need is by testing it: try what you’ve got already, and if that’s too slow contact your ISP and see what plans are available.

Now, we have to decide how many devices will be using your router at one time and what they will be doing. If you plan on hooking up your PS3, two laptops, a desktop, and a few smartphones and tablets, you’re going to need a router capable of handling it all. If all you need is to have a desktop online and sometimes have a laptop connected wirelessly, you can probably get away with a cheaper router if you know you’re not going to need a lot more out of the router in the future. At any rate, don’t underbuy. If you think you might be getting more devices in the future, it will be cheaper to buy a $120 router right now than a $60 router right now and a $120 router later when your first router is gasping and choking with the increased demand.

So, what features do you need in your router? At first, you will probably be confused by all the options and features that routers have – rightfully, because they are confusing. Dual band? Gigabit Ethernet? 300+Mbps? 5 GHz vs. 2.4 GHz? Wireless-N?

Let’s start with Wireless-N. Simply put, Wireless-N is just a high-speed wireless standard. It provides faster wireless speeds and better range than its predecessors, Wireless-A, Wireless-B, and Wireless-G. I would recommend buying a router that is Wireless-N capable (many are, nowadays) because Wireless-N is the new standard in wireless connectivity.

Why you’d want Wireless-N: It’s faster than the old standard Wireless-G, and most routers have Wireless-N capability now anyway. If you don’t want your router to be outdated in a year, get Wireless-N. Base line: It’s better, faster wireless.

Next up is Gigabit capability. This means that the wired network (Ethernet) ports on the back of the router can transfer data at 1000 MB/s (that’s megabytes, not megabits. Internet speeds are measured in megabits, so a 4 Mbps (megabits per second) connection does not transfer 4 megabytes per second. This has a complicated explanation – Google it if you want to know more.) The 1000 MB/s – or 1 GB/s, which is why it’s called Gigabit – provides much faster file transfer speeds around your local network, but won’t improve your Internet speed. To use Gigabit Ethernet  all the devices on your connection must be Gigabit-ready – your computer’s network card, your Ethernet cables (must be CAT 5E or higher), and your router. Gigabit can also be referred to as 10/100/1000 MB/s Ethernet.

Why you’d want Gigabit Ethernet: Only get it if you know that all your devices support it. However, if you’re planning on buying new computers soon, anything you buy new will have Gigabit support. Base line: Legacy support, and awesome file transfer speeds.

Now for dual band. As of now, there are two radio frequencies that routers can broadcast on: the 2.4 GHz band and the 5 GHz band. The 2.4 GHz band is used by most household appliances and therefore has more interference. It’s also a narrower bandwidth, which means that less data can be transferred on it which makes the connection slower. Compared to the 2.4 GHz band, the 5 GHz band is like an open, multi-lane highway. As you can probably guess, the 5 GHz band is much faster. However, to use 5 GHz wireless, your hardware will need to meet the requirements. First of all, your router has to be Wireless-N (not to mention dual band capable) to even broadcast on the 5 GHz band. Also, your wireless devices must support 5 GHz connections. Much to my chagrin, I discovered too late that one of my laptops does not. Oh well, that’s what the 2.4 GHz band is for.

Why you’d want dual band capability: If your wireless devices support a 5 GHz connection, you’ll definitely reap the benefits of using this faster connection. Base line: If your devices support it, go ahead.

There are also ratings for how fast routers can transmit data on their wireless connection. This will usually be advertised as “300+” or something. Some routers also have USB ports for connecting USB storage devices or in some cases, printers.

Tip: For legacy support, I would recommend going with Gigabit, Wireless-N, and dual band. I would also recommend buying the most powerful router that you can afford. Unless you plan on using your 9 year old desktop with your 7 year old laptop and never upgrading, you probably won’t be disappointed if you overbuy on your router just a little. For $100, you should be able to get a pretty good router that will cover your entire house with at least two or three bars of WiFi in the farthest areas. Of course, this depends how big your house is. If you have a really big house (3000 sq ft+) you will probably either need a high-end router or a range extender.

Second: Setting it Up

Now that you’ve hopefully found the perfect router, you will have to set it up. You can pay a bunch of money and have someone set it up for you, or if you have some modicum of technological sense I would suggest learning how to set it up yourself. This way, you will know exactly how your network is configured and you can really save yourself some $$.

I would recommend drawing, or at least figuring out, a network map before you start setting up your router. You should already have one phone line going into your modem and one Ethernet cable (probably CAT 5E) coming out of your modem. Your router should come with another Ethernet cable and instructions on how to plug everything in to get one wired device on line. If you want to hook up more wired devices, you will need to pick up more Ethernet cables. Also, if you’re like me and you ran out of outlets on your surge protector – hopefully, you already have a surge protector – you’re going to need to buy more parts.

Once you’ve got all the hardware you need, you can proceed to the software setup stage. I will not cover this in great detail because all routers have different software instructions, but I will say that you need to read the instructions before you begin. This sounds obvious, but don’t just blow through the setup manual. The order you install stuff (Ethernet cables, power cables, software) matters.

After you’ve got through the setup, you should now have a functioning router. Some last things to check/do are:

1. Is your wireless network password protected? Most manufactures will password-protect the wireless by default, but this could be with a default password (think, “password”). Make sure you’ve got a good, secure password, and if you’ve changed it from the default one WRITE IT DOWN. But not on the fridge.

2. Are all devices getting Internet? Sounds obvious, but check before you declare your network finished make sure everything can connect without a problem. Also, make sure you’re getting the correct download/upload speeds – hopefully you checked before you installed the router to see what sort of bandwidth was getting sent to your house.

3. Make sure to turn off your wireless when it’s not being used. Wireless is a security hole at the best of times, and leaving it on 24/7 is pretty much an open invitation – especially if you neglected to password protect it.

Tip: Buy a router with a power on/off button and a wireless on/off button. It’s just easier.

If you want to read more, you can find an excellent PC Mag article here.