Now That You Have The New PC, What Do You Do With The Old One?

No, I don’t need it.

Well I mean, if it’s something really cool like a Mac Book Air, or a Thinkpad Yoga or something like that I could easily find a home for it here, but that’s not what I’m getting at.

So you had a computer for a while.  I don’t mean a tablet.  Tablets are their own weird problem.

A Laptop or Desktop Windows PC.  For sake of discussion.

And this is not meant to be comprehensive.  There are too many different vendors of computers, there are Macs, there are different places to keep the “original discs”.. you get the picture.

If you really need someone to hold your hand while doing this, you may want to consider finding someone nearby.  I’ve done this a number of times, and it is safe to do, but I am in South Florida and I have my own rates that I charge for this kind of service.

Advertisements aside….

You used the old PC for years.  I have a friend who had an old machine he just upgraded that he used for 10 years.  He’s lucky he could keep it going that long.  But normally people use their main computer for 2 years or maybe 3.

You get used to its quirks, it’s current operating system, it’s way of storing files, its noisy fan, that sort of thing.

I keep hearing the story of people that take the hard drive out of the machine and throw it out, or they just roll it into the hall closet and try to forget about it.

Some homes have three or four computers that way.

No.  Just stop.  Someone else could use that machine anyway, especially if it is a Core 2 Duo or newer machine.

First of all, you need some of those files.  They’re typically under a few specific spots.

Open your File Manager: Start,  “This PC”  on Windows 8/8.1 or “My Computer” under Windows 7.

I wish they’d stop renaming things, it doesn’t help.

The things you normally need are in places that are listed:  Desktop, Documents, Downloads, Music, and Pictures.  If you are someone like me who goes and puts things in places that mean something to “ME”, you will know where they are.  I can’t tell you where that is from here, you’ll have to search for them yourself.

But Windows has for years kept things in specific folders where it wants you to save things.  If you followed Windows’ lead, then that does make life easier. 

You will need to copy those folders off.  Use an external hard drive, about $50, and copy the lot onto the drive.  If you know how to share the computer and the hard drive across the network, you probably know more than what you’ll get out of this article.  At that point you can copy the folders across the network.

Yes, you are already on a network since you are most likely on wifi and reading this here.  But hopefully you’re at home.

At any rate, copy those files back onto the new machine in the same fashion and in the same folders.  When you are done, delete them from the old computer.

Now, that doesn’t necessarily “clean” the computer.  What that did was to remove the pointer.  What everyone is afraid of is someone getting the computer and grabbing the data that was on it before.  The easiest way to fix that is to write over the data. 

There’s a middle step here that makes life easier.  If you created the original “Install” DVDs or have a way to “Set the Computer Back To Factory Settings”, do that now.  Your computer will go back to the way it was when you first plugged it in.  That doesn’t clear out your empty space, but it does delete everything and makes it all fresh and new.  It also is a one way trip and you can’t go back.  This is a bit of a shortcut since it makes space that needs to be cleared, and it also gets rid of your data.

Once you have done that, you need to clear all that extra space.

An automatic solution is one of those programs that writes “nulls” to the hard drive.  There are quite a few of them and many are free. 

This one, DP Shredder will simply delete files or folders, and there’s a handy little button that will let it clear out the free space on the hard drive, including the space you just made by deleting files.  He wrote the software correctly since it is a rare thing these days.  It is portable and does not require an install.  However it does come in a “.7z” extension which means that first you need a program to extract that.  You can install the 7-Zip program which is free, and extract the DP_Shredder.exe to run the program. 

Now that you ran DP Shredder, and that literally took hours I’m sure, your computer is cleared of your private data.

You can safely give the computer to the charity of your choice, the kid next door, or anyone you choose.  Your old data is gone.

How Do You Know it’s Time To Get A New Chip Reader

The Floppy is dead, the “Stiffy” is long gone, the CD is dying, the DVD is annoying to use.   Apple moved away from “optical media” for distributing their software years ago at this point. 

So just how do you move data around today?

For a while, it was Compact Flash cards that were almost indestructible.  They’re still around, but not terribly well supported any longer.  There were stories of these larger than a postage stamp sized square getting lost in the trash or dropped into the bottom of the pool and surviving.   I still have a few of these things from that era.

It went to USB “thumb drives” and the SD Chip or SD Card.  Most likely we all have a few of those thumb drives around.   They’re typically much smaller than your thumb, but when they came out, that is what they were shaped like. 

As for the SD Chips, I’ve got quite a few of those.  My camera uses them, my Android phone uses them, one lives in my laptop for professional data, and there is one that lives in my Nook tablet.  There are at least two sizes of them, but they’re all the same hardware so they can be used in many places fairly easily.

Today I had a few pictures to get off of the camera, and I couldn’t tell you where the cable for the thing was so I had to pop the chip out and put it in the reader.  I’m still waiting for it to read.   I’ve got a blue spinning donut on the Windows Explorer window telling me that it just doesn’t know what to do with all this electronic chaff.   I imagine the little person who lives inside of the LCD screen sitting there, scratching his virtual head, twiddling his virtual thumbs waiting to do something with this but it isn’t quite right.  He’s about the size of an ant and looks like one too because I see him walking around on the outside of the computer once in a while.

You see, the chip reader is “flaky” and it’s time for a new one. 

I guess that means that the pictures of the Penta, Bougainvillea, and Hibiscus from the back yard will have to wait for another day. 

SD Cards are fairly “robust” and put up with a lot of mistreatment.  There is one of them sitting bare on the “mulch” that is on top of my table between the two big green chairs in the living room.  It really should be in a device like a computer but there isn’t any real pressure for me to do so since I trust it to survive being placed between a copy of Information Week and last month’s check register from the Bank. 

On the other hand, the $.59 reader that I had shipped from a web site a while back isn’t doing too well.  I’m afraid the patient isn’t going to survive Mr. Moose.

I’m sitting staring at a translucent box plugged into the USB port in the side of my laptop in what mom would have called “Bilious Green”.  It’s got my 8GB chip sticking toward me like a computerized electronic tongue saying “Neener Neener Neener, I’m not going to give you those pictures! Bwahahah, go find something else to do!”.

I guess the Gods of the Devices aren’t in my favor and I’ll just have to wait a week for that new $.59 reader to get here from my friendly UPS Driver or my friendly USPS Postman.  Both nice folks.  We’re lucky that way.

Never Trust a Backup

I got caught again. 

Yesterday I was stuck going to Jury Duty.  Never mind that I’m probably not the best person for a Jury, I’m way too analytical and can’t turn off my training.  I had to make sure that I had everything I needed to get the bare minimum done for the day.

I took all my documents that I needed to work on during the day and pared them down to a memory chip.  An old 256 MB SD Memory Chip.  I’m a fan of these things.  They’re small, light, easy to hide, easy to use.  Windows, Linux, and Mac OSX compatible.  You can get them cheap at around $1 USD per GB.  Less if you catch a sale.  

Don’t laugh at those prices if you read this in 2012 or later.  That’s the going rate in February 2011 for bargain basement chips.

This wasn’t a bargain basement chip, it was a big deal when I got it for an old camera.  Since it is a SanDisk chip, I should try out the lifetime warranty and whether I can get a new one with a minimum of fuss.

I had my documents on the chip and put it on the laptop that I needed to take with me, and old machine that is slow.  I figured if it got stolen in the den of crime that is a courthouse, I would be annoyed but I would still have my work. 

I made a backup of my Firefox bookmarks and then installed them onto the little Thinkpad Z60t and went through a day of work with it.  It’s a comfortable machine for me, 13 inches and ample keyboard, I am sure it went for a big chunk of change when new.  Now it’s faster than a Netbook, so that would price it around $200 in the after market.

Any tool that works is the best tool for the job.

I went through the day surfing pages I had pre-loaded at 530AM that morning.  I even applied for two jobs (Yes, I am a Project Manager and Yes, I want a permanent position) as well as writing a blog posting or three.  When I went home, the little Z Machine stayed on my lap until I was through doing work stuff.

I guess what I’m saying is I got a full day out of it.   The computer is functional, no hardware glitches, it runs XP adequately well if slow by today’s standards.

This morning I pulled the memory chip out of the Z, walked it out to the living room and went through the motions… only it didn’t read right.

Memory chips are much more resilient than optical medias like CD or DVDs.  You can drop them on the floor from a “reasonable” height and they won’t shatter, scratch or generally become easily unreadable.  What they are sensitive to are Static Shocks and questionable readers.

It could have been either.

Knowing which specific files I needed off the chip, I was able to recover the directory tree.  Folders to the newbies, the data was safe. 

On the other hand, I now have a laptop, my Acer Aspire, that is acting flaky and showed it by eating the chip.

It won’t format, It won’t read in the Aspire, and I’ve decided the safest place for me to put an SDHC chip in that machine is in an external USB Caddy and forgo the internal reader. 

Yes, my five year old Acer is beginning to go senile.  Unfortunately it is also my fastest laptop so it’s going to be a hinderance.

What is the moral to the story?

If you trust your backups, you had better test them.  I was in a place where I had to live with a subset of my data and only one copy of the changed files exist.   Luckily the changed files were intact, but my backup did not work.

In corporate world, if there is time, you always do multiple backups.   When I managed the financial software systems that I had control over, I made it a point to have more than one copy of my data.  This was a “special case”, but it also serves as a warning. 

If you aren’t backing up your data you are saying it isn’t worth keeping it in the first place.

That reminds me, I have a private server with 250GB of data that needs a backup… Ooops!

Slow Centon Memory Stick and a Fast Alternative

Memory has a speed.  I won’t get into the technology behind it here because, frankly, people would glaze over and tune out.  For the home user or the casual computer person, it doesn’t really matter, but when you start moving really big files around, you need to be careful.

A while back, I bought a 16 GB Centon Memory Stick.  I wrote about it, and people keep coming back to the post.  Basically I was disappointed in the thing and was confused as to why.  The stick was a “Standard Speed” memory stick that even now is one of the cheapest ones on the block.

Stay Away From Standard Speed.

This isn’t all that apparent, so if you’re going to spend money on a memory stick in a blister package either do some research on the speed, accept the Russian Roulette aspect of things, or consider the alternatives.

Typically a known brand name like Kingston Memory will be better than a no name dollar store memory stick.  They have a great reputation and they seem to keep after the standards.   With USB 3.0 coming on the market, you’re going to have a better time with the speed of a USB 3.0 stick than a USB 2.0 stick.  Whether that new shiny USB 3.0 memory stick will work in your creaky old five year old laptop is another story that I have yet to find out the answer for.  You may end up out of luck until your next computer when USB 3.0 will be the standard.

If I ever get a new computer, or am given one to review, I’ll certainly write about the experience here.  But until then, I’m with you folks stuck on the slow PC bus.  This machine does work and is a steady performer but the machine you got Grandma for xmas is faster.

The alternative that I basically stumbled across was a happy accident.  I have a couple micro SDHC chips here.  8GB.  One I found, another I found in a broken phone in front of the bars near my house.  Since the phone looked like it was driven over by a fat girl in a semi truck, I didn’t bother to try to return the thing to the owner.  No way to know who that was since it didn’t turn on any more, I snooped around and found a tiny little chip that actually worked.

Simply put you can tell the speed of a chip by looking for the Class of the chip.  A Class 2 SD or SDHC memory chip is slower than a Class 6 SD or SDHC chip.  I have seen some Class 10 chips out on the market and those are the best.  Typically the faster ones are a little more expensive than the slower ones – so why buy a slower chip?  I can’t see a reason.

You need at least a Class 6 SDHC chip in your camera to do HD Video, and you really should have a Class 10 – I won’t recommend anything less for video than a Class 10.

How do you tell? A SD or SDHC chip will be roughly postage stamp sized with a notch cut out of the upper right corner on the label side of the chip.  The pin side of the chip is normally blank. 

Look for a capital “C” with a number in it.  That will tell you the speed.  I have everything here from unmarked standard speed though one with a C encircling a 6 – Class 6.  That was the 8GB that I harvested from the broken phone.

How do you use an SDHC chip on your computer?  Either there will be a built in reader that looks like a little slot built to take the chip, or you will have a USB SDHC adapter.  I have both.  I had found that my internal reader on the laptop is slower than the chip and chip reader combination. 

The Chip Reader I bought looks like a translucent thumb drive.  Blue, and it is nothing special.  I went to Meritline and got the cheapest USB Chip Reader I could find.  Less than 50 cents.  It is faster because it isn’t limited to the speed on the internal chip reader on my five-year-old-laptop.  There may be something in this, and if you can find a cheap chip reader like that, you may want to buy one.  You’re out less than a buck if it isn’t working and a proper USB stick works in more places than your camera.  You can always remove the little postage stamp sized SDHC chip from the stick in order to use it in your camera or car if it is supported there.

Bottom line, check for the speed, you will be much happier… That Class 10 chip is worth the couple of bucks more than the Class 2 bargain basement that I got way back when. 

The Dumpster Server

I have been building PCs for about 22 years now.  I haven’t bought a new in the box computer since the 1980s.  I know the hardware intimately, and if anything assembling a desktop computer is getting easier.

You would expect me to say that but the truth is that as they put more parts on the motherboard, there are simply fewer pieces you need to put on that motherboard to get a workable low end or mid level desktop computer running.  

Laptops are different.  I’ve repaired them and the smaller hardware is always more difficult to work with.  You don’t pull a motherboard in a laptop, they’re not designed for that.  Other than swapping out disc drives, memory and a few other parts most people need to keep the screwdriver away from their laptops.  Leave that to some guy with the tools and most likely a magnifying glass.

I’ve pulled dead laptops apart and replaced the LCD a couple times before, and while it is always annoying, it can be done.  Replacing a CD ROM with a DVD burner is an annoying upgrade but for the most part if you’re patient and have the repair documentation you can do it yourself.

All that might explain why I have contempt for services like Geek Squad’s $199 in home set up of a PC.  If you do that and you’re near me you’re going to get a lecture, especially since I could use the cash.  In Home PC Set Up is a dead simple exercise if you can Read The Friendly Manual and that manual has been reduced to a single sheet of paper these days when you buy a brand new PC.

I have a rather large pile of cast off PCs here too.  Since we have a network, I use an old desktop machine as a server because it is safer than putting the “750GB Craig Drive” in an external box and plugging it into the USB port that gets stepped on by the dog or worse, me.

For the most part, people will have their machines for about 2 years, then buy a new one because the old one is too slow.  Without realizing that it is installed things like “toolbars” and other “crapware” that hitchhiked onto their machine when they installed something that they really needed by taking the “Express install” instead of the “Custom install”, the machine slows down with each piece of software until that 2 year old machine joins the other one that was in the closet from 4 years ago.

I live near a shopping center.  In the back of the center there is a dumpster that has a habit of having an interesting amount of electronic hardware of all sorts.  Since I can solder a new switch onto an old board, I’ve salvaged some interesting things out of that dumpster.  The latest was a practically new office PC.  By which I mean lightly used, almost no dust inside, treated like it was a religious object then sent to the thrift store who put it in there.  I got it home, plugged it in and it turned on happily and went to an almost empty desktop.

After reformatting the hard drive from the recovery partition, the machine was fully functional and happy as a clam.   I added extra memory and realized that while it is a Pentium 4 3GHz machine, slow by today’s standards, it had a few benefits for me.   The motherboard itself was a small one – about the size of a sheet of letter paper with some of the bottom trimmed off.  The machine now had 1GB of memory and running Windows XP and was quick by even my standards.   Sure, it was built in 2003, but it had a lot of life left.

All that took me about an hour of actual “work”.

It gave me the opportunity to move the hardware inside that big black IBM case into a little cube of a case I’ve had here.  After moving everything along, I dropped the Craig Drive in there and now I have a server.

Why is that important?  You can’t stuff a desktop disc drive in a laptop no matter how hard you try.  If you are using a Cable Modem and High Speed Internet, having a network is nothing more than adding a little hardware and configuring the machines to work together.

The price was right, and it fit very nicely under my hutch on my pine desk out in the Florida room.   If it were a little newer, I’d tell you how to enable Wake On Lan so you can get your machines to start remotely… but since it isn’t I’m happy with walking out there to press the On button when I want access to that big drive.

Dumpster Servers can be real nice, if you know how to make them work for you.  Speaking of which, it’s time for me to “do a backup” of this laptop.   When is the last time you did a backup of your PC?  Hmm?

Centon Datastick Pro Review – Bargain Basement Storage

In this case, low price means slow.   I bought this Centon Datastick Pro 16GB USB Flash Drive Memory stick at the CompUSA Store in Ft Lauderdale so it could take a VirtualPC image I have.   Its a development environment that is custom crafted to allow me to do all sorts of things that you would need to do in a software development office.  I would have put a direct link to the model stick but the page wouldn’t load in Firefox – always a good test for me personally whether to interact with a company or not.

First problem was that the stick was formatted FAT32 like the old Windows 98 Hard Drives.  The problem is that the environment image was 10.2GB of space.   Ok, not really a big deal, just logistics, right?   Newer versions of Windows use NTFS, and 10GB files are no problem there.   Had to reformat that little stick and now I have to remember to eject the stick under pain of death of data.   FAT32 you can just pull out of the USB slot but you really *should* eject it.

The second problem then hit me in the face.  Or rather rubbed itself slowly in my face.  I started the copy dinner time and thought that it would take maybe an hour, two tops…. BZZZT!  WRONG!   I’m writing this at 930AM the next morning and it has just finished copying.   So now I have this big ol’ copy of a Virtual PC image sitting on a stick that I can run like another computer and I’m wondering whether it was worth the effort.

The eventual start up time was 10 minutes, with 1 minute alone to play the default Windows XP start up sound.    It took over 20 minutes to get quiet enough to interact with it and shut it down.  I will copy it onto the host PC’s Drive in the future.  Running from my laptop with adequate memory it starts in 2 minutes and runs “well” enough for me.

The moral of the story is that if you need extra storage for important papers and pictures, recipes and music, a low end low cost USB Flash drive will be fine.   Store your papers on one, then drop it somewhere safe.

If you need one with high speed, don’t go low end.   Either spend some extra after doing your homework and finding a high speed drive, or get yourself an external Hard Disc with a real internal Disc that hooks up to USB and you’ll be fine.

Even CDs are faster than this little guy for big files.   I think I’ll put my E-Books on there.