Not long ago I dropped my old trusty tablet hybrid on the floor and the monitor went blank. I had to quickly purchase a new laptop, which itself was fixed only days ago. I will discuss here how I got a new one and what others can do when their laptop is almost dead to retrieve their data.
Although laptop sales have been stagnant or going down for quite a while now (wef-laptabsph), I still need one for my work. There are certain things I can’t do on my smartphone, and a tablet is just a bad compromise. But things may change in the future. I’d love to be able to just do what I do on my laptop with the aid of a BT keyboard, it’s just that smartphones are not quite there yet.
A friend of mine had experienced herself problems with her old laptop (running Windows XP!) and, rather than buy a new one, she ended up paying close to $200 for the motherboard to be replaced, because she did not want to lose the photos.
Last time I looked at her computer it seemed as if it still had some issues and quite likely, the motherboard had not been replaced, only the OS had been upgraded to a pirated version of Windows 7.
When faced with such an issue, the best thing to do is to remove the hard drive and buy a new computer or tablet for even less than what you would pay to fix it. You can then remove the hard drive from your old laptop and connect it to the new device via USB. If my friend had asked me, I already had a StarTech adapter, though Sabrent should also work. When you connect your hard drive to your new tablet or laptop via USB, it will act as a USB key / stick. In some situations you might have to disable TPM for the drive to be “seen”. You can then copy the data to your new device. It’s a good idea to have regular online backups of your encrypted data so that you never end up in such a situation.
For more details on how to buy a new laptop, see below.
For what is worth, my old laptop was still working, it’s just that no image was shown on the screen. Hopefully, that’s due to a connector having come loose and one day, when I’ll have the time, I’ll open it up and try to fix it.
When I bought my current laptop, I thought I could fix the old one quickly and return the new one in 30 days, unless I was totally impressed by the new one and decided to keep it. Though I was not totally impressed, I liked it, and when events consumed my available time to the point the 30 days passed without me having had the time to fix the old one, I was not too concerned. Besides, the new laptop was a pretty good deal: an Acer with an i3 Intel processor (not the best, but quite respectable) and a 14” touch screen. My older tablet hybrid was a pen tablet, so a finger touchscreen was an interesting and welcome “upgrade”.
I had my mind set on an Intel i3 processor because it is quite fast, no longer too expensive and for what I do with a laptop, more than sufficient. I ended up getting the i3-4030U. Anything less would, in my view, push a new laptop into the murky world of “tablet” territory, even though my older tablet hybrid had a less powerful one. An i5 or i7 would be more expensive than I am willing to spend and, I suspect (without really checking), might consume more battery power as well. I got 4 GB of RAM with a an empty slot, which means that I can upgrade memory relatively easy – prices currently start around $25 on eBay with shipping included (ebay-ddr3). Before looking at that, however, I need to make sure that everything else works).
My experience with non-Intel CPUs hasn’t been good and I would not recommend any. Intel CPUs are more expensive, but still worth it.
If you are considering a laptop and comparing prices, use CPUboss.com for CPUs and GPUboss.com for the video card – the latter, only if you want to use a more expensive, discrete video card.
A 14” screen size is a relatively good compromise between portability and usability for me. That’s because I don’t carry it around all that much – otherwise, an even smaller screen and even a tablet might be a better idea. At my price point, I could find even larger screens but limited by the same resolution.
I then looked for deals with the aforementioned constraints. I didn’t care much about hard drive size, as I often replace with the fastest SSD I could afford. Memory should be expandable as it is generally a cheap upgrade. A discrete video card is desirable but seldom available in cheap laptops. Finally, a lighter laptop is always preferable, but unfortunately, that comes with trade-offs.
I could have also used a Lenovo among the laptops my search turned out. This one was 15”, but at the same resolution I could see the screen matrix and furthermore, the computer had a shoddy feel to it. Lenovo also refused to offer any warranty on its open box product. Even though the store promised to take it back and replace it in case of problems, I preferred to return that one and go for the Acer with 1 year manufacturer warranty.
The laptop I ended up with was quite simply built.
In the view above, obtained by removing the laptop’s back cover, you can see the empty CD/DVD slot to the left, the HDD below and the two memory slots, one empty, in the middle.
Here’s a detail of the Western Digital Blue HDD which ended up dead in no time.
On getting my new computer, which came with a Windows 8, I immediately upgraded to a clean Windows 10 and that was quite alright for a while. Soon however, the Wi-Fi card and/or driver started misbehaving, by dropping connections, especially to corporate access points, whereas my smartphone had no difficulty keeping the connection alive. The problems continued even after I prevented the Wi-Fi card from being subjected to power saving shut-offs.
After using this computer for a while, the power source died. I’m not keen on blaming it on the manufacturer, since there may have been a spill involved, but rather than ship the whole thing back as they requested in order to honor the warranty, I simply started using a universal power source I already had instead.
A couple of months later, the hard drive started exhibiting strange signs, slowing down and making clicking noises. With much difficulty, I backed up all my data to a USB drive, so when the hard drive stopped spinning and refused to work, I had no regrets shipping the whole thing back to Acer.
They received my computer within a day of me sending it, then took about 5 days to send it back to me.
Upon checking, it became apparent that the dead WD Blue 500 GB 6GB/s drive (WD500LPVX) had been replaced with a Seagate Laptop Thin 5400.9 3GB/s ST500LT012 drive (ST500LT012-1DG142).
This time, I’ve decided to stay with Windows 8, do all the upgrades and see how the (probably new) HDD and the Wi-Fi behave.
Acer Support had always installed Windows 8, created an account under my name (misspelling my first name) and had also installed the standard crapware.
The first to go was McAfee. Even its crazy founder uninstalls it from his computer these days.
As soon as I was done uninstalling, without even asking me, Windows had turned on its own antivirus.
Next on the chopping block was the WildTangent crap (I can’t believe it’s still around), Game Explorer, Amazon whatever, eBay whatever (why have an app when the website is sufficient?). I kept the CyberLink stuff. As far as video editors go, this one (PowerDirector 10) is known to be one of the fastest and it also has some impressive (for its age, at least) 3D capabilities. I got rid of Microsoft Office because I’m not using it, I switched to LibreOffice and Google Apps and am happy with them.
Acer also comes with abDocs, abFiles and “private WiFi”. The first utils allow you to access your computer files anywhere on the Internet – there are better solutions for that, while the latter sounds like a VPN. I’m curious to check the security of these and how well they work, so I left them on for a bit. I use VLC portable on my USB key for video playing, so the Acer Video Player is probably useless for me.
I then started to update the OS, prioritizing drivers, in the hope that the slow-down was caused by a driver problem.Nonetheless, the update process took days because the computer was essentially unusable while updating.
I then starting monitoring resource use to determine exactly what was causing the problem, even though I already had a hunch.
As you can see, the memory and CPU are doing fine, but the Disk is completely used up.
Even while the CPU usage goes down,
..the HDD is virtually used up.
A look at the processes disk utilization confirmed that it was only the Windows Installer doing the damage.
Later on, creating an encrypted volume made it similarly unusable.
The hard drive is so bad that I wonder if the problem isn’t maybe with the motherboard or another subsystem, such that even replacing it with an SSD might not solve the problem. On the other hand, it’s possible that I’m so accustomed to an SSD that I see a normal HDD operation as defective.
I will once again contact support and see what they suggest.