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June 2016

Maintaining and Troubleshooting Your Laptop Battery

The actual life of a laptop battery will vary with computer usage habits. For most users, it is not uncommon to experience differences in battery life, of anywhere from just under one hour to over two hours in each sitting. If you are experiencing shorter battery life cycles, say 10 to 15 minutes, it may not yet be time to order that new battery.

There are several factors to take into consideration when determining if the time has come to replace your battery. This information may also apply to that new battery that you have recently purchased, that has been giving you fits. The two primary things to consider when troubleshooting battery problems is Usage Habits and Battery Memory. We will cover both in their complexities in just a moment, but first, let us take a look at what you should expect from your battery’s life cycle.

NiMH batteries usually last 1.5 to 2.5 hours. LiION batteries usually last 2.0 to 3.0 hours.

These are average results and the results will vary greatly depending on your system’s conservation settings, the temperature of the room and the climate that you are operating your computer in. As a general rule, your Lithium Ion battery will last much longer than your standard Nickel Metal Hydride battery.

Now let’s take a look at the various usage habits to consider when troubleshooting your laptop’s battery. These processes are very similar to the way that your portable stereo uses batteries.. just think how much faster your stereo eats batteries when you are playing the CD or the tape deck, as opposed to when you are just playing the radio.

The more you use physical devices — which require more electricity to operate — the more of the battery’s power you can expect to consume. The devices that create a larger power drain are the hard drive, the floppy drive and the CD-ROM.

When the computer is able to use its physical memory resources to store information, the computer will use less of the battery’s power, since the process is mostly electrical in nature. However, when the processes you are using exhaust the physical memory resources available to your system, the system will turn to virtual memory to continue the process at hand. Virtual Memory is designed to extend system memory resources by building a memory swap file on the hard drive, and then transfer needed information between the hard drive and the physical memory as required. Since the hard drive is a electricity hog, the use of virtual memory becomes an electricity hog by proxy.

Two other processes that engage virtual memory on your computer are computational programs and the calculation processes used by spreadsheet applications and database programs. Both of these items engage the processor to a greater degree as well, which in itself is a consumer of electricity. Because they both compute and calculate large quantities of information, they will also increase the amount of electricity that your laptop will consume.

Other physical devices that cannot be left out of this discussion are audio and display devices. As far as audio devices are concerned, speakers require electricity to run and the software that is responsible for producing the sound does so by processing information. The display panel consumes electricity as well. In fact, the brighter the screen appears, the more electricity that it is consuming. You may turn down the brightness on the screen, thereby conserving more electricity than you may have considered possible. And when considering the battery drain caused by video devices, don’t forget the effect that graphics programs will have on your system. Video applications can have an intense effect on your electrical needs, due to its usage of computation, calculations and virtual memory.

Battery Memory is an odd little creature. The concept of battery memory is reminiscent of Pavlovian Conditioning. Do you remember the story about Pavlov and his dogs? Pavlov would serve his dogs food and when they realized it was dinner time, he would ring a bell. After some time of conditioning his dogs, all he would have to do to get the dogs to salivate, was to ring the bell. Battery Memory is a lot like that.

Battery memory is where the battery becomes conditioned to run for less time than it is designed to run. Say for example, you run your computer on battery for an hour and then you plug it back in to let it recharge. The battery will become conditioned to run only an hour before it runs out of juice.

To correct Battery Memory problems, you must completely drain the battery and recharge it. To completely drain your battery, you must go into your Windows Control Panel and select Power. Then you must turn Power Management Off. Next, you must go into your BIOS and make sure that if there is a power management setting there, that you turn it off as well. In most cases, once you are inside the BIOS, you will highlight Power Management and press Enter. Then locate the item Hibernation at Critical Battery, and by using the Minus sign, change the setting to Off. Once these steps have been completed, then use your Escape key to return to the top level menu, and select Save Settings and Exit.

Once you have completed turning off the power management in both the BIOS and the Operating System, you must unplug the computer, turn the computer on and let it run until it completely runs out of electricity. Then you should charge the battery for 12 hours. At the end of the charging cycle, then run the computer again until the battery is dead, and then charge the battery for 12 more hours. You should repeat this process four times, before returning the computer to its original power management settings.

As far as battery usage goes, it is recommended that you should use the battery once every two weeks, and keep the battery in the system so that the AC adapter can keep the battery charged at all times. It is also recommended that if you don’t use the battery for more than two weeks, you should completely discharge the battery and store it at room temperature.

Do Computers Get Tired?

A Silver Bullet?

Until recently, I would have dismissed the notion that electronic gunk can accumulate in a machine and cause it to act erratically. But a few months ago my high-speed Internet connection, which is normally rock solid, started getting flaky. I unplugged my cable modem, plugged it back in and voila… things were back to normal.

And since then I’ve repeated the procedure a few times with good results, whenever I noticed a slowdown in my Internet speed. So I started thinking… maybe electronic devices and appliances really do get tired, clogged with electrons, or whatever. It turns out that there is some good science to support this layman’s observation.

Jerrold Foutz is a Scientist with a capital S. There aren’t many people alive who know more about how electronic gadgets (especially power supplies) are supposed to work. So you might be surprised to hear that when your computer, microwave, VCR or high-tech coffee pot isn’t behaving, his best advice is “just unplug it.”

Totally Cosmic, Dude.In a fascinating article on electronics trouble shooting, Foutz talks about something called a Single Event Upset (SEU) that can cause electronic circuitry to malfunction. An SEU can be caused by a power glitch, or a cosmic ray passing through a integrated circuit, and can actually flip the logic state (from 1 to 0 or vice versa) of a circuit. A cascading effect may trigger a hardware lockup or an infinite loop in software.

For lots more technical details, and even some suggestions on how better design can help to prevent this problem, see the full article on Trouble Shooting Electronics.

Of course in the case of computers running complex operating system and application software, other factors may come into play. Sloppy coding practices can result in ‘memory leaks’ which over time will cause performance to degrade. But from the end user perspective, the problem looks no different than a hardware error caused by cosmic rays.

Fortunately, the solution is the same in both cases: shut it down, turn it back on, and things will be good again… for a while.

How To Find Tech Support For Your Computer Printers

Computers are becoming commonplace in homes and offices around the world. The problem is that most people know so very little about their computers, that when something goes wrong, they do not know how to begin the troubleshooting process.

The ugly truth is that we could opt to call the technical support phone number that came with the computer, but you never really know what you are going to get at the other end of the phone. You could literally spend several hours just waiting to get to a technician, and then once you have the human on the line, there is just as good of a chance that they will not have a clue, as there is that they will find your solution.

I know this because I used to work in a computer technical support call center. You would be amazed who can pass as a technician! For most new hires, the only pre-qualifying knowledge that is necessary is being able to navigate the current Windows Operating System.

Management feels that if you can navigate Windows, then you can navigate the database to dig up a solution. The problem with this kind of thinking is that the person at the call center is often lost to find a solution that is not yet in the database.

Of course, all front line technicians have a help desk to call, but in my own experience, help desk posts were assigned based on politics and not technical knowledge. We ended up with some real idiots at our help desk. Call those people once or twice, and you will eventually decide that you stand a stronger chance to succeed on your own, than you would be able to accomplish going upstream in the support systems.

The Business of Printing Support

Fortunately, computer printers do not break that often. But when they do, troubleshooting can be a painful process.

There are some basics that you can cover to streamline the troubleshooting process.

Be forewarned that if you ever crack the case of your printer, you should make darn sure to disconnect the power source before you do so. Printers that are connected to a power supply can actually charge you up with enough current to kill you. Don’t take chances with your life.

Long before you get to the point of trying to crack the case to reach the internals, there are several troubleshooting steps you can take.

* Always check your power supply to see that you have a good, solid connection. I know that it seems the most logical step to take, but you might be surprised how often a powerless machine is discovered to be an unplugged machine.

* If the printer has power going to it, then turn off the machine and then turn it back on. Each printer has an internal brain in it. Removing power temporarily from the machine will force the computer chip inside of the printer to reset. Often times, this will solve any issues.

* Make sure that your printer cartridge is properly seated. Make sure the cartridge is in the printer the way that the manufacturer intended.

* Use the printer’s “self-test” feature. The manufacturer has included this to help you to eliminate common printing problems.

These four steps will help you to overcome the problems most commonly associated with printers.

For a complete breakdown of generic troubleshooting steps, the following URL points to the most comprehensive and easy-to-follow checklist I have seen: http://www.5starsupport.com/info/printer.htm

Drivers Are the Software Applications That Power Printers

A driver is the software package that enables your printer to communicate with your computer’s operating system, and vise versa.

The manufacturer of your printer sent out a software disc with the printer. On this disk, you can find the default driver for that printer.

As computing evolves, printer manufacturers upgrade their drivers to either improve the printer’s performance or to keep up with changing Operating Systems.

How to Install a CPU and Heatsink

The most critical part of building your own computer is knowing how to install a CPU and how to install a heatsink. The CPU is the brain of your computer and is the most delicate part. It’s easy to damage, although most CPUs are designed so that they’re nearly impossible to install incorrectly.

Installing a CPU is one of the most important steps in building a PC

The heatsink cools the CPU and keeps it from frying. Heatsinks are fastened to the top of the CPU and sometimes come with an additional substance called “thermal paste.” This is a thin gel that adds an additional layer of cooling. Let’s look at the basic steps for installing the CPU and heatsink.

1. Locate the Processor Socket

Before you can install a CPU you should find the processor socket on the motherboard. This is the square socket with numerous pinholes in it. Lift the lever to the side of this socket so that you can install a CPU into it.

Look closely at the pin pattern on your CPU socket. Notice that there is a diagonal corner where it appears some pinholes are missing. It might appear as a triangular pattern. This is there to help you properly align the CPU to the CPU socket. Carefully grab the CPU by the sides and turn it over to examine the pins at the bottom.

Compare the alignment of your pins with the pattern on your socket and you’ll see that there is only one correct pattern for alignment. Again, it’s virtually impossible to install the CPU incorrectly unless you force it. Make sure that you have the CPU and socket aligned correctly before proceeding onto the next step.

2. Mount the CPU

Once you are sure that the CPU pins and socket pins holes are matched up correctly, you can insert the CPU into the socket. Again, be sure to use that diagonal pin pattern as your guide.

You might meet some resistance as you are pressing down. This is a delicate procedure – and if you’ve never before learned how to install a CPU, you might think you are doing it incorrectly. However, learning how to install computer components takes practice. The resistance is normal. Again, the socket design and CPU pin patterns are designed to match perfectly.

Press down past the resistance point and then the CPU will slide smoothly into the socket. The CPU may make a snapping sound as it slips into the socket. When you’re sure it’s complete, lower the lever at the side of the socket to lock the CPU into the socket.

Check to see if your particular brand of CPU or cooling solution came with a protection plate. If it did, place it above the CPU as explained in your documentation.

3. Apply the Thermal Compound

Next comes the thermal compound. Some people choose to avoid this step altogether, while others who teach on how to install a heatsink swear by it.

Generally a properly designed heatsink will ensure that you may not need a thermal compound. However it doesn’t hurt to be too safe, especially with CPU processor speeds increasing and generating more and more heat. Thermal paste can usually shave off a few extra degrees of hot temperature off of your CPU.

Apply the thermal paste to the areas of the CPU that will make contact with the CPU. Begin by applying a little bit of the gel to the center of the CPU and then gently spreading outward. Don’t apply too much of thermal compound. A little dab will do you. Be sure to spread an even, thin layer of the gel to ensure that there is complete coverage over your CPU.

4. Install the Heatsink

Now we learn how to install a heatsink. This is a very crucial step. If the heatsink is not installed properly it might come loose. Your CPU will overheat and be toast in no time.

Before we explain how to install a heatsink, check to see if your heatsink has a fan separate from the unit. If it does, you’ll need to attach the fan to the heatsink first before attaching the heatsink to the CPU.

When you’re ready, mount the heatsink over your CPU according to the specifications for your manufacturer. The directions will vary. Some heatsinks are installed by requiring you to clamp down on them with levers and attaching them to metal hooks on the motherboard. With other heatsinks you may have to screw the whole unit into the motherboard.

Whatever the procedure, follow it closely and be very careful. If you need to use a screwdriver to install the heatsink you could very easily slip and damage your system components.

5. Install the Heatsink Fan Header and Configure BIOS

The final step in learning how to install a heatsink involves connecting the power leads from the heatsink to their proper headers on the motherboard.

Locate the header for the CPU fan on the motherboard. Then plug the power cable from the heatsink into the fan header on the motherboard. There will be more than one header on the motherboard, so be sure that you pick the right one. Choose the wrong one and your computer might get a power surge that will fry the processor.

Check the documentation that came with your motherboard to properly locate the correct header. Once installed, be sure that it is securely in place.

Afterwards, assuming that the rest of your computer has been installed properly, you can configure the BIOS. The BIOS will need to detect the type and speed of the computer processor that has been installed. Again, the exact procedure will vary depending on the manufacturer; check the documentation that came with your motherboard.

Conclusion

Learning how to install computer components like a CPU and heatsink might seem like a daunting task to someone who’s never done it. However, it’s not as hard as you think. CPUs and heatsinks being made today were designed to fitly snug together with a minimum of fuss.

You don’t need much in the way of mechanical skill and about the only tool you will need is a screwdriver. Yet this is by far the most delicate operation you will perform on your computer. Once you pass this hurdle, everything else will be a breeze.