July 3, 2011

How To Recover Data From a Dead Computer

“….Whether using one of the Internet based cloud services or a separate external hard drive – if you make it a habit of backing up regularly, chances are good that you’ll keep the loss of such a failure to a minimum if a computer fails.”

One of the most dreadful feelings that you can have is having a pc computer or laptop die that hadn’t been backed up recently; especially if you have valuable pictures, music, videos, documents or other files on it.

In this Tech Tip we’ll take a look at how to recover your valuable pictures from a dead computer.

Where to start

Recovering Data From A Dead Hard Drive – Geeks.com

Computers are complex machines and when they work right, they are fun to use – but when something goes drastically wrong, it can feel as if your world crashed down around you. If your hard drive is still in working order, there is a very good chance that you’ll be able to recover your pictures, music, videos and valuable documents (and other data) simply with another computer; a specialized cable, a screwdriver; and a little time.

Recovering Data From A Dead Hard Drive – Geeks.com

To start off, your best bet it to get a specialized USB cable that can plug directly into your hard drive that you’ll recover from the dead computer. There are several types, and I’d recommend getting one that can handle both PATA (IDE) and SATA hard drives (the two most common used in consumer computers) as well as 2.5” (laptop) and 3.5” (desktop) hard drives (Geeks.com sells several that run in the $13-16 range). You can also use a hard drive dock or external drive cases as well – but personally I find the specialized USB cable to be the easiest and most flexible option.

Recovering Data From A Dead Hard Drive – Geeks.com

Next, remove the hard drive from the dead computer. On desktops it is usually held in with four Philips screwdrivers and on laptops it is usually under an access panel on the bottom of the computer. Remove any cables and caddies that the drive may have – all you need is the bare drive. Then plug in the USB cable into the hard drive (and a power cable if it is a desktop drive – also provided with the USB cable kit) and then plug the other end of the USB cable into a working computer. The computer will then set up the drive ad an external storage device and voilà! you’ll now have access to the files on that drive (provided that the drive is not encrypted or using some type of security feature).

Where to look

Recovering Data From A Dead Hard Drive – Geeks.com

OK, so the drive is now plugged into your computer and seen as an external drive, now what? You have several options. One option is to simply look for the files on the drive from the dead computer that you plugged into the USB port and copy them onto the working computer. This is my preferred method personally. I like to “brute force” my way through the drive with Windows Explorer (or a similar file browsing tool) and manually copy/paste the data from one computer to the other. Another option is to follow a Windows dialog box (that usually pops up when you plug in an external drive) and have it help you copy your data from one computer to the other. If you are manually choosing to “brute force it” personal data is usually stored by default in the computers operating systems “home directory” for users.

Common Locations

for home directories (where <root> takes the place of the drive letter):

  1. Microsoft Windows 95-Me <root>\My Documents
  2. Microsoft Windows 2000/XP/2003 <root>\Documents and Settings\<username>
  3. Microsoft Windows Vista / Windows 7 <root>\Users\<username>

Other “What ifs”

Recovering Data From A Dead Hard Drive – Geeks.com

What if the files on the drives are erased? If they are, you can use a free recovery program such as Piriform’s Recuva to look for and (hopefully) restore the files. This simple, easy-to-use tool is terrific for recovering pictures from a camera’s memory card that have accidentally been erased as well!

What if the hard drive is the reason that the computer died (actual hardware failure)? If the hard drive is the part that caused the computer failure, then you may be out of luck. Yes, there are specialty recovery services that will pull apart the drives data platters and attempt to recover data (and they are usually successful – such services were used, for example, to recover data from the hard drives that were used on computers from the space shuttle Columbia after it broke apart in 2003) but such services are usually very expensive.

A word to the wise

Recovering Data From A Dead Hard Drive – Geeks.com

Backup, backup, backup! Whether using one of the Internet based cloud services or a separate external hard drive – if you make it a habit of backing up regularly, chances are good that you’ll keep the loss of such a failure to a minimum if a computer fails. Of course one of the benefits of using cloud-based backup services is that you can have access to your pictures anywhere you have Internet access.

Summing it up

A computer that dies can be a loss – but don’t lose hope that your valuable pictures (and other stuff) are gone forever. With a little work, you can retrieve your data off the hard drives from a dead computer!

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June 8, 2011

How to Install or Replace an Optical Drive.

Has your desktop pc stopped reading CDs and DVDs and you want to replace it? Do you want to add Blu-ray disc support to your PC? These types of drives, known collectively as optical drives, are extremely easy to upgrade or install. As far as PC components go and depending on functionality, they can be very inexpensive as well.

In this TechTip, I’ll show you how to install or replace an optical drive.

What you need:
● Optical drive (The CD/DVD drive or Blu-ray drive you want to install)
● A Philips-head screwdriver
● An available Serial ATA or IDE cable connection (depending on your drive’s interface type)
● An available 5.25-inch drive bay
● Antistatic wrist strap (optional)

How to Install an Optical Drive, How to Replace an Optical Drive

The first thing you want to do is unplug your pc computer tower completely. You especially do not want the power cord plugged in during this or any time you open the case. Remove both side panels, since you’ll need to access the left and right sides of the case. If your drive bay has a plastic insert or a metal punch-out panel, go ahead and remove both of those to make room for the new optical drive.

If you’re removing an existing drive, unplug the cables connected to the back of the drive. There should be one interface cable (IDE ribbon or SATA cable) and one power connector leading from the case power supply . Once disconnected, you can remove the screws on the side of the drive, or if you have a screwless case, go ahead and unfasten those, too. Slide the drive out of the front of the case and set it aside.

How to Install an Optical Drive, How to Replace an Optical Drive

With your drive bay empty and your new drive in hand, slide it into the bay with the front panel facing outward. Push it all the way in until it becomes flush with the front bezel of your case. It should also line up with the eyelets already punched in. If the holes don’t match up, just slide it in or out to line up the drive’s screw holes with the eyelets and insert one screw and screw it in only partially to hold the drive in place for the next step. Now you want to try connecting your interface and power connectors to make sure they will reach your drive.

More than once I’ve screwed a drive all the way in before realizing my cables will not reach, leaving me to start all over again.

How to Install an Optical Drive, How to Replace an Optical Drive

Both types of interface connectors and power connectors are keyed to prevent improper insertion, so if it’s not sliding in place easily, check the orientation of the connector to be sure it’s supposed to go there. Remember, Serial ATA or IDE, even if your drive has two power connectors, only connect one to the drive. Once you are sure your interface and power connectors reach, screw in the rest of the screws (or make sure whatever knobs, buttons, or levers in your screwless case are fastened). Reattach your side panels and plug everything back in.

A side note for IDE users: If you are using an IDE cable that already has a hard drive attached to it, make sure the jumpers for the hard drive are set to primary and it’s connected to the primary IDE connector. You always want the optical drive to be a slave in these situations since you use it much less than a hard drive and it generally operates with lower data transfer rates. If there are no other drives on the IDE cable, this step is not required.

Another tip: if there is a red stripe on your IDE cable, it should be on the right side of the cable when it’s plugged in.

Once your case is all sealed up and you have everything plugged back in, turn your PC on and, if applicable, insert any included CD/DVD disc(s) into the drive once you’ve booted all the way up so you can install any included software that came with the drive. Once your software is installed (or you didn’t install any), you’re all set. Your new drive should be ready to go.

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May 29, 2011

New details on AMD, Intel chips for back-to-school PCs

Summer isn’t even here yet, but chipmakers AMD and Intel are already gearing up for back-to-school.

After some manufacturing delays, AMD is set to release its Llano processor for mainstream laptops and desktops. I expect them to make it official at the Computex tradeshow in Taiwan next week, but some technology sites in Asia are already reporting details of these new processors. It is probably no coincidence that Intel has just updated its processor list to include Sandy Bridge chips at lower prices, which will compete directly with Llano.

Rather than CPU, AMD uses the term APU, or Accelerated Processor Unit, to describe chips like Llano that include both CPU cores and a graphics processor. It took longer than expected for AMD’s manufacturing partner, GlobalFoundries, to work out the kinks with its 32nm process using new materials (a high-k dielectric and metal gates), so in the interim AMD released low-power C-Series (Ontario) and E-Series (Zacate) APUs manufactured by a different foundry, TSMC, using a more conventional 40nm technology. But the Llano APUs, most of which will be branded as the A-Series, are critical because they are designed for mainstream laptops and desktops, an area where AMD has been relatively strong.

Llano will be available in dual- and quad-core versions, according to a report from DigiTimes. The dual-core desktop processors, the E2-3250 ($70) and A4-3350P ($80), will compete with Pentium-branded processors. The quad-core A6 ($110-130) will compete with the Core i3 dual-core desktop processors and the eight-core A8 ($150-170) will compete with Intel’s mid-range Core i5-2300, which has four cores and four threads. For desktops, AMD will have a different processor, code-named Zambezi, which is a traditional CPU with separate graphics to compete with the higher Core i5-2500 (four cores, four threads)and Core i7-2600 (four cores, eight threads). The first Zambezi chips will reportedly include the quad-core FX-4110 ($220), six-core FX-6110 ($250) and eight-core FX-8130 and 8130P ($290-$320). These will also be manufactured on GlobalFoundries’ 32nm process and will be available later this year.

This is consistent with everything we’ve heard about Llano: core-for-core, the CPU likely won’t match the performance of Intel’s Sandy Bridge. To compensate for this, AMD will offer more physical cores for about the same price. Llano’s on-die Radeon graphics should also offer better 3D graphics performance than Intel’s HD 2000/HD 3000 integrated graphics. At the high-end, AMD doesn’t have graphics advantage since both AMD’s FX Zambezi processor and Intel’s Core i7 will generally be used in high-performance desktops with discrete graphics from AMD or Nvidia. Though these are all desktop processors, the match-ups should be similar on the mobile side except that Intel only offers the HD 3000 graphics n laptops and AMD will not mobile version of Zambezi.

Over the weekend, Intel updated its processor price list to include seven new Sandy Bridge desktop chips most of which compete directly with Llano. In the mid-range, this includes the 3.10GHz dual-core Core i3-2105 ($134) and the 2.90GHz quad-core Core i5-2310 ($177), plus a low-power Core i5. Intel also introduced four Pentium dual-cores ranging from 2.20GHz to 2.90GHz at prices from $64 to $86. These are Intel’s first Pentium-branded chips using the new microarchitecture, but they do not include several features of Sandy Bridge including hyper-threading, Turbo Boost 2.0, and hardware-accelerated HD video encoding and decoding.

[Here's a link to Intel's processor price list PDF, which lists the new chips.]

All of this is setting the stage for a big battle this summer over back-to-school systems. Expect to see a wave of mainstream desktops and laptops using these new processors starting in June.

More coverage of AMD’s Fusion APUs:

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May 22, 2011

Desktop Computers – Best New Features to Look Out For

“…Desktop computers will continue to evolve by becoming smaller, faster and more efficient.”

There’s no doubt about it, notebook computers surpassed their desktop computer counterparts in overall sales because of their mobility, small footprint and evolution into being virtually just as powerful. However, there are still several reasons to buy a desktop computer as they offer some fundamental aspects that are difficult for a notebook/ netbook / tablet to emulate. Desktop Computers – Best New Features to Look Out ForFor example, desktop computers can have bigger screens, bigger storage capacity and can function as a centralized location, or a home base/dumping ground for your computing needs. Your desktop computer can also manage your home/office network, have more peripherals connected to it and can be upgraded with new parts in order to future-proof it.

Regardless of whether you are contemplating either a desktop or a notebook purchase, desktop computers continue to evolve and this Tech Tip will identify several trends that can give you additional information on what to look for so you can make an informed decision.

A Shrinking Footprint

Desktop Computers – Best New Features to Look Out ForOne neat feature that computer makers are pushing more of is the need for a computer to occupy less space. Manufacturers realize that technology has advanced so much that many customers opt for more space-saving designs without sacrificing too much horsepower. For example, the Lenovo Ideacentre Q150 measures about 7” x 6” x 1” and weighs about 1 pound. Yet it boasts a 250 GB hard drive, Intel Atom 1.6ghz, built-in Wi-Fi and nVidia Ion graphics. The way PC makers pull this off is by including notebook computer parts that can fit in such a small chassis. A slightly larger variation (and growing in popularity) of this is the All-in-One PC concept where the guts of the computer are built inside the LCD monitor chassis such as the Dell Inspiron One 2305 or the Apple iMac.

More Beefy Hardware

Desktop Computers – Best New Features to Look Out ForMost desktop computers that are built now feature more generous hardware as standard such as 3-6GB RAM and 320GB-1 Terabyte (1 TB) hard drives. These were premium costs years ago. Also, more standard multimedia capabilities are included such as nVidia ION graphics and Intel’s Sandy Bridge platform (Core i7, i5, etc.), having built-in video graphics right inside the CPU for enhanced HD video playback and other multimedia tasks. In addition, triple and quad-core CPUs have become such a staple that you can pick up a reasonably-equipped quad-core such as the HP Pavilion P6650Z for a great price. Furthermore, amenities such as a multi-format memory card reader, DVD burner, 5.1-channel audio and built-in Wi-Fi have become desktop PC staple features.

Other more common features appearing on desktop computers are DVI ports if you want the option to connect a high-definition (HD) monitor, 4-6 USB ports, USB 3.0 ports and the phasing out of the older PS/2 connectors. (green-colored mouse connector & purple-colored keyboard connector) In addition, some manufacturers engineer their desktop computers to be able to function as a home media PC (HTPC). So it’s possible to connect your computer to your television and record/playback TV shows, connect and copy/save home movies from your camcorder and play it back on your TV.

More Beefy Hardware – Part Deux

Desktop Computers – Best New Features to Look Out ForAs stated earlier that modern desktop computers are now configured with generous hardware, it is still possible to further upgrade a current desktop PC if you’re worried about obsolescence. For example, many new desktop computers have 4 GB CPU RAM standard and while this is plenty for most people, it can most likely be maxed out at 8-16 GB RAM. Granted, the only practical benefit for this type of upgrade investment would be if you plan to do CPU-intensive tasks like running multimedia applications like Adobe Photoshop and Premiere Pro or computer simulations/calculations. That being said, you should perform due diligence on the prospective desktop computer(s) you’re considering and determine how well it can be upgraded (i. e. extra hard drive bays) if you anticipate your current and future computing needs will require it.

The Future

Desktop computers will continue to evolve by becoming smaller, faster and more efficient. Regardless of your reason for buying one, it is safe to say that the horsepower included with an average-priced desktop PC ($350-$700) is enough for most applications such as small business, school and simple everyday tasks.

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How-To: Install a New Hard Drive

Installing a New Hard Drive – Geeks.com

The more you use your desktop computer, the more stuff you’re going to be saving to the computers hard drive. Your photos, music, software, and all of your other critical data are stuck on that thing and unless you’re being extra careful, chances are you’re going to fill it to capacity. When this happens, instead of going on a deletion spree, why not just install another drive? If you’re installing a brand new one, this guide will be for you, but if you’re replacing a drive, you should find this helpful as well. In either case, installing a hard drive is very easy and an important skill to have in your arsenal. I’ll explain how to install a new hard drive to a desktop system and prepare it for a fresh operating system installation. If you’re a notebook computer or cheaper netbook user, the same principles will apply, but the connections and the sizes will differ. For the purpose of this guide, I’ll be referencing disk-based hard drives instead of solid-state drives, but the same principles apply for those as well.

What You’ll Need:

“…Before you start touching stuff, make sure you’ve grounded yourself to prevent any electrostatic discharge.”

A hard drive (IDE or Serial ATA) A screwdriver (usually a Phillips head) Four screws (usually included with the drive if purchased new) An available data connection (the cable, plugged into an available port on the motherboard) An available power connector (4-pin large “Molex” for IDE or 15-pin flat “wafer” for Serial ATA) An available drive bay (usually labeled in your case) Operating System Low-static environment or a place to ground yourself


  1. Screw in the drive
  2. Connect the data cable
  3. Connect the power cable
  4. Partition and format

Note for IDE hard drives

Installing a New Hard Drive – Geeks.com

Since the cables they use can accommodate two drives per channel, the drive is equipped with jumpers that set its priority on the cable. The settings are Master, Slave, and Cable Select. When using two drives, Cable Select will allow the motherboard to select which drive gets priority on the cable. Otherwise, the Master drive gets the priority and the Slave must wait for the Master’s operations to complete before its own are allowed to go. Since Serial ATA drives are only one drive per channel, they do not require jumper settings. When using a dual head IDE cable and two drives, connect the Master to the middle connection and the Slave to the end. When using optical drives on the same channel as your hard drive, which I do not recommend for performance reasons, set the optical drive to the Slave and your hard drive to the Master setting. Most devices are labeled with the settings for each mode, but in any case, you can check your devices manufacturer’s website for the correct jumper settings.

Screw in the drive

Before you start touching stuff, make sure you’ve grounded yourself to prevent any electrostatic discharge. When you’ve chosen the drive bay you’re installing to, hold the drive in place with the label facing up and partially screw in two of the screws to the side facing you, but only enough to hold the drive steady. From here, check the power and data cables to make sure you have the length. Too many times I’ve screwed the whole thing in to find my one of my cables doesn't reach, enough times that I would be remiss to not pass it along to you. Once you’re confident your power and data cables will reach, you can begin screwing in the drive. Tighten each screw until it’s about three quarters of the way in, then tighten the opposite corners completely. This will help mount the drive securely in the bay and help prevent vibration during use.

Connect the data cable

For Serial ATA hard drives, the connection is very straight-forward. The L-shape design prevents you from inserting it incorrectly. For IDE connections, the red line on the cable goes to the right. Usually the cables are keyed to prevent improper insertion, but I’ve noticed through the years that this is not always the case, so just remember this rule of thumb: red to the right.

Connect the power cable

Installing a New Hard Drive – Geeks.com

Your drive isn’t going to be sending or receiving any data without getting any power. Serial ATA power cables are also L-shaped to prevent improper insertion, but much wider than their data-carrying counterparts. IDE drives use the large 4-pin Molex connectors; you probably have at least three or four of these hanging about in your case. The top corners of these connectors are slanted and the bottom corners form right angles to prevent improper insertion as well.

Partition and format

Installing a New Hard Drive – Geeks.com

Before you can use the drive, you need to create partitions and format them so they can be read and written to. There are a variety of ways to accomplish this, the easiest being just inserting your operating system into your optical drive, booting up your system, and starting the setup process. From here, the software should take you through the rest of the setup and prepare the drive for use. If for some reason it doesn’t, have your “pocket tech support” ready. From there, you’ll be able to prepare the drive for nearly any operating system.

Final Notes

Creating or deleting partitions as well as formatting a drive will delete all files stored on the drive. If you’re not using a brand new drive and you’re concerned about any data on the drive, you’ll need to copy that data to another place first. I personally recommend replacing hard drives every three years or so. A drive’s lifespan should be longer than that on average, but losing important data is a truly heartbreaking experience and erring on the side of caution is my suggestion.

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