Category Archives: PC Repair

Solved: XP sound drivers present, but no sound

The problem: Windows XP suddenly stops playing back sounds. Drivers are present, sound devices menus all appear correctly and the volume indicator might even be present.

I first tried just changing settings around to see if it had been an error caused by a human. No dice. I uninstalled the driver and software. In this case, SoundMAX. The driver available from Lenovo was from 2005, but has not been updated since. Installed, but still no dice.

Finally I started thinking about audio codecs and ran a search for “K-lite codecs” and found the cnet link. I chose a custom installation, that also included a registry check on the sound system. Sure enough, it worked!

Stop relying on your computer

I have talks all the time with people about the issue of data security. For some it is a matter of having their files safe from prying eyes. For others its a matter of protecting from loss. I have addressed part of this before, but I’ll be diving in deep on the subject of cloud storage.

What is the cloud? “The cloud” , as it’s known, is a place outside of your home or office where data can live. Normally this place that is out there somewhere actually exists in multiple places. Google and Amazon are the current leaders in cloud storage and have data centers dotted around the world that safely and redundantly store data. This insures that if one or many locations would go offline, your data remains available.

The average computer user stores all of their data on their computer and has no backups. The next most sophisticated method of data security is to have an external storage device: disk, flash memory, removable hard drive, or even another PC on the same network. In 2009, online storage boomed with lower cost high speed internet connections. These advents have allowed for backing up to the cloud. Services like Mozy, Carbonite, Amazon S3 and others allow for offsite backups. I get asked a lot about why this would be better than just using some kind of media and taking it home (still a very good practice in addition to using the cloud). The reality is that DVDs don’t get burned, files don’t get copied, or media sits in someone’s trunk and is ruined by exposure to extreme temperatures. Cloud based backups are usually automated. They happen at a set interval and you get a report e-mailed to you.

Is it secure? Nothing is 100% secure, but sending encrypted data to a server is pretty close. In this day of corporate espionage and crooked employees the action of sending this data of a secured line is probably safer than letting an employee even do their daily work.

What are the drawbacks? You need a relatively fast internet connection with a fast upload speed.  You also need to make sure that someone is checking the confirmation messages to insure that files are being uploaded. The biggest drawback though is that it can sometimes take a very long time to download all of your data. Typical users can do a full restore in a matter of hours, but larger datasets can take longer.

The best solution: go completely mobile. It is a big step for many, but stop using MS Office (on your computer). Google and Microsoft have both rolled out online services that eliminate the majority of your needs of an online productivity pack. Other vendors have come up with online solutions as well. Intuit even has an online version of Quickbooks! Imagine being able to log into an account from any computer in the world and have access to your data. No more worries about that stolen laptop, downloading viruses in outlook, malicious macros in excel, or just the neighbor kid accidentally deleting your files. Most services have a free version that works for most and a premium version for those with greater needs.

If you think you could benefit from this simplification in your life, call me!

Linksys WUSB54Gv4 Blue Screen Fix

I had a PC that had run fine with this wireless adapter (WUSB54G v4)for more than a year. One day though, Windows ran an update and it stopped working. I figured the issue was with the adapter and replaced it with something that I got from newegg on sale for $10. A few months later though, I decided to try the WUSB54G on another computer. This time, an HP D530. It worked fine for months and again one day blue screened. I finally decided to do some reading and found that the problem was in the RAlink drivers. The problem is this file: RT2500USB.INF. It is located in %windows root%system32drivers. The one installed with the linksys download is no good. You need to go over to RAlink’s site and find the RT2500USB driver file for your OS and version. You then need to download that file and extract it with something like winrar and find rt2500usb.sys. Copy that file into the directory mentioned before (overwriting the old file) and you should be in business.

Why linksys would have allowed this to happen without a patch since 2005 is beyond me, but I’m guessing its just to get you to go buy a new Wireless-N adapter.

Your Family Photos (the digital ones)

With digital cameras, people are taking more photos than ever. A single memory card can hold thousands of photos and a common home PC can hold millions of photos. This was never an issue with film as a person was limited in the amount of film they could carry, number of pictures they could take, and by the cost of developing the pictures. Photos that people liked were put in frames or albums and the negatives were crammed into a shoebox somewhere. Fire, flood and time were the only things that would ruin the photos.

With photos being digital people are much more careless with them. Rather than taking one picture of their cat eating ice cream, they take 5 and a video. Albums of kids and grandkids now have thousands of photos for each year of a child’s life. Some people inadvertently backup their photos by posting them online, having them printed, or e-mailing them to friends. Usually the quality is degraded a bit, but the photos remain printable.

The worst thing that can happen is for your storage device holding the photos to break or get lost. The storage cards used in cameras are very reliable, and usually only break with extreme abuse. The hard drive in your computer though is a lot more dangerous. Failure rates are lower than ever, but it still happens. A complete drive failure would mean that the photos on the computer are gone forever. Likewise, a computer virus or malware can damage images or make them susceptible  to being deleted.

I recently came across a customer of mine who experienced a hard drive failure. It was dead and no data was able to be recovered. I somehow managed to find a previous backup of some older files, but their most recent photos taken with their new camera of their grandson and new puppy were gone! Imagine losing hundreds of family photos! Upon delivering a new computer to them, I asked to see their digital camera. I noticed a small pouch that they kept with the camera and found a stack of memory cards. As it turns out, this couple had not lost their photos! They still had the originals since they had not been deleting images from the cards as they were being copied to their PC. In another case, my sister had lost a digital camera with a 2GB card in it. Fortunately, she had copied photos to her computer only a few days before losing it. Lesson learned: don’t erase photos from your memory card unless you really don’t want them and make sure that you copy them to your computer at the very least.

For the really paranoid and others that  realize the need for a good backup strategy, there are a number of free or cheap online backup programs. I personally like Mozy but others like Carbonite and Amazon S3. Google also offers Picasa online for free for a certain amount of storage, with the ability to add on for a very reasonable fee. Google’s service is for photos only, while the others will do documents, video, and much much more.

So this weekend spend a little time looking at the safety of your pictures. The odds are in favor of you needing to use a backup copy at some point in the next year.

Google gives tips to users with hijacked search results

Recently there has been some malware that changes the way that search results show up. If you’ve seen it, you know what I am talking about.

In their guide, google explains how to use a boot cd to scan your PC for infected files. Its a little on the advanced side, but worth a try if you feel like trying to fix it on your own. You will need a working computer to do this though!

Check out what they have to say here

Windows 7 on a netbook

I have an acer aspire one. It is the 9″ model in white. The OS it was shipped with, a variant of XP home, is rather slow. It was actually slow enough that I didn’t like using the netbook. I tried the Ubuntu Netbook Remix and while I liked the speed, there are still too many issues with having a Linux computer. I thought about trying Mint or OSX but could never find a good guide for either.

Finally I was sick of a slow machine that didn’t do much. I wiped the 160GB hard drive and partitioned it to be useful: 40GB for XP Pro, 45GB for Windows 7, and the remainder to be used for something to be later determined. Installation was a breeze. The hardest part was reading the license key that I had written down a month ago. It found all of my drivers and even asked me if I wanted to connect to my home wireless network.

Immediately it updated some drivers and I assume installed updates. My first move was to disable the “pretty” graphics. I want performance, not beauty. So then I started installing the programs I use and trying the Google Apps that I use on a daily basis. I hate to admit it, but it seems faster than my XP machines: with an ATOM single core processor and 1GB of RAM.

Will it run Photoshop, MS Office 2007, and all of the stuff I use at work? Sure, but on the small screen its not very useful. I may try it with the intention of plugging into a big monitor. We’ll see.

Battery life seems to be slightly improved as well. I guess they really did intend on ‘7’ running on netbooks!

Backdate to XP with your brand new coputer

This seems to be an increasing problem with many businesses and individuals: new computers are needed, but so is Windows XP. For home, people don’t like change. It is why Linux in the home is still a long way off (with people being aware of it). In business, XP is needed by many software packages. XP has been around for a long time. I think I have personally been running it since 2003.

Along came Vista: I was an early adopter myself to learn the ins and outs, but have switched back to XP due to my own software needs.

Before anyone makes the smart remark that one could build their own XP machine or order from __________ with XP installed: I know. I believe that the problem stems from the price of DDR2 memory. A computer running XP with service pack 3 runs pretty nice with 1GB of memory and runs really nicely with 2GB. XP doesn’t do a whole lot with more than 3GB of memory. On top of this is the fact that people have somehow been sold on the idea that they need more memory. I have no idea why your e-mail reading, solitaire playing grandmother needs 4GB of RAM in her new $599 Gateway laptop with HDMI out. OK, there it is: 99% of people don’t need the power in the new PCs but the other less than 1% do. That 1% is also the group that wants the latest and greatest technology because “one day they might want to edit a home movie on their PC”.

So now that we have established that lots of people need XP for their existing software and that most people have no need for anything more we need to figure out what to do.

First off, you need an XP license. You can buy a new one from someplace like newegg or tigerdirect or you can probably find a way to use the XP license from that 5 year old computer you are replacing.  I always suggest XP Professional. Its better.

Now, if you bought more of a business line machine from a reputable name this shouldn’t be very difficult. Their biggest customers’ IT support teams have voiced to them the need for XP support. The problem seems to be in most off the shelf consumer level PCs. Brands like HP, Compaq, eMachines, Gateway and Sony to name a few. These are the computers with all of the “fancy new parts” that the sales guys tell you about.

If you’re still shopping, check with the manufacturer to see if they have XP drivers before you buy.

If you have already purchased the thing and are now stuck with an XP installation that has no sound, ugly video, no network connection, and has a really loud fan: google it from a working computer. Find your model number and search for “XP drivers”. Chances are that someone else has done it before and posted about it. My particular case (Compaq CQ60) required me to make a custom XP install disk with SATA drivers slipstreamed into it (future blog post about that).

This gathering of drivers took me a few hours to find them all and get them working, but now the computer is running XP quite nicely!

Fix XBox 360 Red Ring

The Red Ring (3 light) normally indicates a cooling issue. My console was one of the release units manufactured October 2005 and was one of what I believe to be last survivors of those until I got the red ring.

If your console is still under warranty, you can send it back to MS and they will repair/replace it. The problem though is that they don’t fix the issue causing the overheating: the X-Clamps. Microsoft used a sort of spring in the shape of an X to put tension on the heatsinks for the CPU and GPU. Its a great concept except that the material they used in the X Clamp seems to weaken over time, especially under the heat of the console. When this happens, the pressure on the processor heat cores becomes uneven, the thermal paste may be forced to one spot (and make a mess), and the heat transfer it was designed for doesn’t happen.

Origninally, I was going to do a custom case for my 360 where it would have a better fan and better airflow but after lots of reading Idecided to just try to fix it with screws and get rid of the dreaded X-Clamp. I had to borrow a special tool from a friend to open the case, and then used some torx bits to get to the bottom of the motherboard. Its a pain to get to, but with the tool and a quick search on youtube its not that bad.

The fix took about 45 min to do. I used arctic silver heat sink compound and a screw kit that I bought on ebay for $6. I tried my local hardware store, but the nylon washers they had were too thick and I didn’t get the right spacing. I would guess it is about 2mm, but that may be too much. The kit worked for me though. If you’re nervous about doing it yourself, I’ll do it for you for $40, but can’t gaurantee that it was the heat causing your RROD in the first place.

UPDATE: fixed system ran fine watchign DVDs and netflix for a few weeks. Playing Forza 2 brought back the RROD though. I then tried several other methods, but in the end will be replacing it with a new console (jasper chipset).

Spyware in 2009

I really can’t believe it: It has been four years since I first found spyware to be a major pain. That was when I started doing these on-site PC repairs to get rid of pop ups. Things have changed a lot since then though. The big hitters used to be Norton Antivirus 2005 and Webroot Spysweeper. With those, it was nearly impossible to catch something.

I’m not so sure today though. The ploys are the same, but the threats are worse. One bad click can have you wishing you had backed up all of that data on a regular basis. Many new variants I am finding can only be remedied with a fresh install of Windows, wiping your hard drive clean. The added benefit is that you are starting with a PC that runs better than it did when new, but what about all of your important files? I always try to back things up, but it is not always an option with some of the more dangerous infections.

By far the most popular form of malware is the fake antivirus or antispyware. Anyspyware 2009 is not real. Don’t download it.

I saw a funny one at my day job the other day too: the software didn’t do anything except change the screen resolution constantly and lock out the desired resolution for that monitor.

I’ve also seen malware search engines. Nothing like having your searches only show malware infected websites….

I am finding that users are getting dumber as time goes on. When all of this started, people were cautious about what sites they visited or what they downloaded. Today though, it seems that they want to go everywhere and download it all without t common sense that would tell them that they don’t need a search bar other than Yahoo, google, or Ask. I continue to see people using MS Internet Explorer: software known to be the target of many malware attacks. I just don’t get it.

The best defense is a good offense. Keep your security software healthy, updated, and within its renewal time. Use common sense when surfing the web. Find a way to get e-mail on the web rather than through Outlook. Don’t try to get things for free. It is pretty rare that free is good on the internet. Services like Limewire are bad.  They are breeding grounds for malware and pirated software, music, and movies. Many malware installations are out there hiding as a movie or music file. Hint: use torrents or paid services instead.

If you are still having issues after all of that, buy a mac. Haha. Not really. Their day will come too, although it will be further down the road. You can however find a Linux distrobution and use it. Most can even be run from the CD/DVD. Since the userbase is still very small, the number of personal attackes is very low. Check back for future posts on that idea.

McAffee Security and Upgrading your Subscription

My last post was similar to this, but I promise this will be less of a rant. I recently was commissioned to upgrade a client’s installation of McAffee. This is the kind of phone call all tech’s hope to get day in and day out because really, what can be so hard about this?

Well on to the hard part. You see, if you go from one version of software to the next things go smoothly. The problem arises when you change product families within the line. This would be like going from antivirus to internet securiy. This issue exists will all security vendors, and it is ultimately for the greater good. When the automated upgrading tool fails miserably, it is usually for only a few reasons:
1. you have a virus keeping it from working
2. your  installer is corrupt
3. the old product still exists on the computer in some way, even after the uninstall process
1 and 2 are for another day, but 3 is what I had to address today and actually a few other times this month. With my recommended ESET Nod32, you just uninstall the old version, or perform a repair. With Norton, Trend Micro, McAffee and a slew of others though: they install themselves with the idea that it needs to be hard for a user to screw up. So the idea was to make it nearly impossible to fully remove the software. It also helps most of the time with product loyalty. In any case, the removal process is most easily completed by finding the vendor’s removal tool. McAffee’s Removal tool; Norton’s Removal Tool

Once you have fully removed the old version, the new one will install effortlessly.