TideLog Archive for the “Home Computing” Category

I’ve had this problem a few times on my laptop. It occurs mostly when the power suddenly goes off and it switches to battery. You lose all capacity monitoring, and can’t tell how much is left. The system tray icon changes to this:

no battery detected

Microsoft’s forums are hilarious. Their “Most Valuable Professionals” give the funniest canned cut ‘n’ paste responses, from, “Your power driver is corrupt” to your “Windows needs reinstalling!”. I know exactly what causes it, and it ain’t anything to do with “power drivers” or corrupt Windows. It’s the little monitoring chip in the battery. Like a lot of integrated electronics, it sometimes gets confused. Sudden switchovers from mains to battery tend to cause it, especially if there’s any surges from the battery as it kicks in.

The age old advice of “Reboot!” is the wise advice. If that doesn’t cure it, turn your machine off, remove the mains and battery, and hold your power button down to discharge the circuitry in your device (apart from the RTC circuit, but this doesn’t matter), that should cure it. Removing the battery opens the circuit to the sensing system in the battery, and resets it.

Simples. I hate MVP’s, they go on a 5 day course and think that gives them a Professional title? I’ve done MVP courses, but have the skills and years of software and electrical experience to further and back them up

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Bad sectors are little clusters of data on your hard disk that cannot be read. More than that, though, they have the potential to cause real damage to your hard drive (catastrophic failure) if they build up over time, stressing your hard drive’s arm, which contains the read/write head, there are two for each platter, one for each side. Bad sectors are fairly common with normal computer use and the imperfections of the world we live in. Like chip fabrication and LCD panel manufacturing, HDD manufacture is a very critical, precise process, and like a TFT with bad pixels from the factory, you do get bad sectors with a HDD due to imperfections when it’s made. The manufacturers make legal allowances for a certain limit to these imperfections before warranty claims can be made, like the legal limit of 5 dead pixels on a TFT. However, there are several simple steps you can take to prevent HDD bad sectors and to repair any that you do have. Having bad sectors will slow down computer performance as well, as your drive takes time attempting to read them. Here is a step-by-step guide. The most common questions I get as a computer engineer are “What is a sector?”, and “How are HDD bad sectors created?”

A sector is simply a unit of information stored on your hard disk. Rather than being a mass of fluid information, your hard disk stores things neatly into “sectors”, a bit like us humans putting things into boxes, and the box only holds so much, and all boxes are the same size. The standard sector size is 512 bytes.

There are various problems that can cause HDD bad sectors:

  • Improper shutdown of Windows, especially power loss while the HDD is writing data;
  • Defects of the hard disk, including general surface wear, pollution of the air inside the unit due to a dirty or clogged air filter, or the head touching the surface of the disk;
  • Other poor quality or aging hardware, including dodgy data cables, an overheated hard drive, and even a power supply problem, if your drive’s power is erratic;
  • Malware.

Hard and soft bad sectors

There are two types of bad sectors – hard and soft.

Hard bad sectors are the ones that are physically damaged (that can happen because of a head crash if your drive is dropped while running and writing data), or in a fixed magnetic state. If your computer is bumped while the hard disk is writing data, is exposed to extreme heat, or simply has a faulty mechanical part that is allowing the head to contact the disk surface, a “hard bad sector” might be created. Hard bad sectors cannot be repaired, but they can be prevented. The heads of a hard drive float on the air cushion generated by the platters spinning, they fly less than the width of a human hair away from the platters, even a small speck of dust is like a mountain, so knocks are definitely to be avoided.

Soft bad sectors occur when an error correction code (ECC) found in the sector does not match the content of the sector. Whenever a file is written to a sector, the drive calculates a “checksum”, which is used to verify the data, if it doesn’t match upon read, the drive knows the sector is weak. A soft bad sector is sometimes explained as the “hard drive formatting wearing out”, in other words the magnetic field is weakening, like an old video cassette – they are logical errors, not physical damage ones. These are repairable by overwriting everything on the disk with zeros. Like tapes and CD’s, the magnetic surface on a hard disk is not infinite, it is affected by other magnetic fields around it, so data recovery guys like me recommend regularly imaging a drive directly to another, frequently, to keep the data fresh and readable.

Preventing bad sectors

You can help prevent bad sectors (always better than trying to repair them, as they say prevention is better than cure!) by paying attention to both the hardware and the software on your computer.

Preventing bad sectors caused by hardware:

  • Make sure your computer is kept cool and dust free;
  • Make sure you buy good quality hardware from respected brands. Cheap RAM and power supplies are my biggest culprits from experience;
  • Always move your computer carefully, and make sure it is TURNED OFF, not in Sleep mode, it can wake up while being moved, especially a laptop;
  • Keep your data cables as short as possible;
  • Always shut down your computer correctly – use an uninterrupted power supply if your house is prone to blackouts.

Preventing bad sectors using software

  • Use a quality disk defragmenter program with automated scheduling to help prevent head crashes (head crashes can create hard bad sectors). Disk defragmentation reduces hard drive wear and tear, thus prolonging its lifetime and preventing bad sectors;
  • Run a quality anti-virus and anti-malware software and keep the programs updated.

Monitoring bad sectors

If you use a tool like HD Sentinel, or CrystalDiskInfo, and you notice bad sectors on your drive, keep an eye on it. A few sectors bad is not normally a problem, as I mentioned at the start of the article, up to 5 bad pixels on a new TFT is allowed before it becomes a warranty claim, hard drives are allowed a few bad sectors due to the imperfections of their manufacturing process. They are manufactured with what are known as “reserved sectors”, a spare area of the disk only accessible by the controller board. If a sector is weak, the controller will attempt to move the data to the reserved area, if this is successful it then attempts a quick read/write test on the old sector (takes less than a few milliseconds), if it fails it marks it as bad in the sector map, also stored in the drive reserved area, along with drive firmware, so that it doesn’t attempt to use it again.

If the number of bad sectors starts increasing, or you start to experience other symptoms, such as the drive dropping out completely as if you unplugged it, or any clicking, and data taking longer to read or copy, this could indicate a fault with the read/write heads, or the control circuitry. Stop using it immediately and back up any important data to another drive. If the failing drive is under warranty, print a log off from HD Sentinel and take it along with you to return the drive, as evidence.

S.M.A.R.T Values to look for

When looking at S.M.A.R.T (Smart Monitoring And Reporting Tool) analysis, the two main areas to look out for are:

Reallocated Sector Count

This shows how many of the drive’s Reserved sectors have been used. If too many of these are used it generally indicates a problem with the disk surface.

Current Pending Sector

This shows how many bad sectors are currently pending a rewrite. A hard drive will always try to rewrite the sector, if it fails, the sector is reallocated into the reserved, the drive adds the sector on to the Reallocated Sector Count, and the original sector is then marked as unusable. If the rewrite is successful, the Pending Sector count will drop.

 

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I’ve had a keen interest on the Elementary OS Project. Now, you might think from reading my blog, that I’m extremely anti-Apple, so you’re thinking, “Why does he like an OS that LOOKS like Mac OS? Well, firstly it’s Her Ladyship Kana’s fault for introducing me, and secondly, the looks are where the similarities stop dead. It’s an exciting and kinda novel concept: bringing a rigorous focus on user experience  (Apple’s main focus, style over substance) to the Linux desktop, as Elementary only comes with a very bare set of apps, such as Midori (Kana’s mum’s name, such a sweet name for a Japanese woman!) as a web browser, it doesn’t come with an office suite, like Mint, it’s quite lightweight. Recently, they released their second beta of the second version, v0.2, of their operating system, called Luna. It’s been a while since I’ve run Luna (last time my experience was too unstable for a production environment), so I decided to install VirtualBox and virtualize this second beta. My experience was riddled with problems and gotchas until I tweaked it, so I thought I would share my notes with everyone in case any are interested in trying it themselves.

Note one, this is a biggie, DO NOT settle for running this VM at default Virtualbox settings, it WILL run like a dog chasing a stick in treacle. I’ll walk you through optimizing it later.

Installing/Setting-up VirtualBox

Even installing VirtualBox is arduous under Linux, I always prefer Windows as host for virtualization, but seeing as I’m considering a switch to Linux from Windows, I thought I’d test my skills from Kana’s training me. For some reason, VirtualBox under recent versions of Ubuntu is a miserable experience. It seems like I always get this error when I try to set up a new virtual machine:

Kernel driver not installed (rc=-1908)

The VirtualBox Linux kernel driver (vboxdrv) is either not loaded or there is a permission problem with /dev/vboxdrv. Please reinstall the kernel module by executing

‘/etc/init.d/vboxdrv setup’

as root. If it is available in your distribution, you should install the DKMS package first. This package keeps track of Linux kernel changes and recompiles the vboxdrv kernel module if necessary.

And when I follow its advice (by running `/etc/init.d/vboxdrv setup`), the program fails. Apparently, Kana told me as she settled next to me after watching me pull my hair out, the key is installing the generic linux headers FIRST, like so: `sudo apt-get install linux-headers-generic`; however, Kana also tweaked it for per-user, try it in case your environment differs from mine:

sudo apt-get install linux-headers-`uname -r`

Download the Elementary Beta 2 ISO

The next step is downloading the ISO, links for torrents and traditional downloads which can be found on this page. I used wget to download the ISO; however, my connection was interrupted and trying to resume it seemed to have corrupted the file (or at least VirtualBox didn’t like it), so if you really want to use a traditional download (that is, over HTTP, like me), make sure you get it in one shot. Otherwise, I recommend using a torrent, but depending on the version, an age of torrent, the number of seeders, hence the speed, may vary. Once you have that, setup a new VM, point its CD drive at the ISO, and then make the following changes:

Under Display, make SURE you check, “2D & 3D Acceleration”, and make double sure you give it enough System and Video RAM, other wise the forementioned dog-chasing-stick-in-treacle symptom will appear, and it’s laggy as hell. Elementary relies heavily on GPU acceleration. IMPORTANT: If you install Elementary and change the settings afterwards, you WILL need TWO restarts to get everything working properly, as Linux configures itself, as far as it’s concerned you’ve swapped out the graphics card for an accelerated one so it’ll need to adjust itself, and the VirtualBox additions files configs.

Putting the final touches on your VM

Now that you have your Luna VM set up and the OS installed, you may find that the default resolutions provided by VirtualBox (I think I had 800×600 and ~1200×700) too small for your monitor (my laptop supports 1920×1200), so you’ll want to change your VirtualBox configuration.

The first step is installing what VirtualBox calls “Guest Additions”, which are essentially a package of utilities that smooth communications between your host OS (in my case, Ubuntu) and your guest (Luna). For example, Guest Additions allows you to configure your VM to support a shared clipboard so you can copy in the guest and paste in the host or vice-versa. It also supports drag-and-drop between host and guest. To do this, click on your VM’s “Devices” menu, and click “Install Guest Additions”. If you have problems with this, it is also well-documented online, so I won’t rehash it here either. I always find that Linux installs VirtualBox additions via its Online Update, Mint and Debian do, so you can do either, whichever works, but the Devices>Install Additions option can sometimes be the most up-to-date drivers.

The following instructions are host-specific. Now that you have your Guest Additions installed, switch back to your host OS (Ubuntu, in my case), open a terminal, and type the following, replacing the ’1920,1200′ with the max resolution of your monitor:

VBoxManage setextradata global GUI/MaxGuestResolution 1920,1200

I had to restart my guest (Luna) VM in order for the changes to take effect correctly, otherwise I got loads of graphics glitches. I forget what exactly I had to do to make it take effect, but I think it is something along the lines of choosing “Auto-Resize Guest Display” under your VM’s “View” menu (I run my VM in fullscreen mode, also available under the View menu). I believe that’s all that is necessary to enable a sane, full-resolution VM. If that still doesn’t do it, you can try resizing your VM’s window a couple times (to try to get VirtualBox to force a resize the guest resolution) or you can try playing with the resolution in the Settings app’s (on the dock) ‘Displays’ view.

Also, the default menu-bar position for a VirtualBox VM’s toolbar (when in full-screen mode) is at the bottom, directly in front of the dock. This is annoying, but configurable. Select the VM’s “Machine” menu’s ‘Settings’ item, and under ‘General’->’Advanced’->’Mini toolbar’, check ‘show at top’.

Also, for performance reasons, you will want to enable 3D hardware acceleration under Machine->Settings->Display, if you didn’t follow my earlier advice to stop it running like a dog in treacle.

Other Issues

From time to time, I’ve experienced weird focus issues in which my host machine (Ubuntu) will intercept some common keyboard events–namely those using the <super> (aka ‘Windows’ key), which is important for both Ubuntu and Luna–which is extremely annoying.

Also, even with hardware acceleration, I’m having problems with inconsistently laggy/slow Gala (the Window manager) transitions, specifically when it comes to switching workspaces using the <super>+<left/right> shortcuts.

Conclusion

Now you’re ready to explore. If you’re experiencing any difficulties related to the above tutorial, leave a comment and I’ll try to elaborate or clarify if necessary. I find Elementary OS, plus LAMPP, a very lightweight webserver combo, hint, hint 😉

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A big bug in the Linux version of Pinta has stopped me from using it as my Photoshop replacement. Here’s my situation: I have an image of one of our Superwoman models, for example, that is quite large, but Superwoman herself is quite tiny, in the middle of the background. I select the whole image, and copy it to the clipboard as-is. I don’t want to use the select or crop tool. I create a new canvas that is smaller than the source image in either height or width, and then paste in my image to the new canvas, so I can move it around and position it just right without having to guess using the select tool on the original.

Make sense? Hopefully! Anyhow, Pinta in its default state, SQUASHES the image to fit the canvas, if you tell it not to resize the canvas, and it looks completely wrong, it literally squashes the image from top down, you know what that looks like without a screenshot, right? I’ve fixed it in my own sourcecode copy and Pinta now behaves as I want it to. I’m not sure the devs would want my changes, but I’ll ask anyhow.

1. Grab a copy of the source, by whatever means by using Terminal (install Git first using “sudo apt-get install git”).

2. Then clone the repo with: “git clone git://github.com/PintaProject/Pinta.git”.

3. Now your source tree is ready, it will be in your Home folder under a folder called ‘pinta’. Install MonoDevelop, and open the Pinta.sln solution file using it.

4. Once open, find the Pinta.Core/Classes/Document.cs file, and after line 806, find:

            // If the pasted image would fall off bottom- or right-
// side of image, adjust paste position
x = Math.Max (0, Math.Min (x, canvas_size.Width – cbImage.Width));
y = Math.Max (0, Math.Min (y, canvas_size.Height – cbImage.Height));

Simply change it so it looks like this:

             // Modified by Tidosho. Image would be stretched/squashed if canvas was smaller and user chooses not to resize it.
//
// If the pasted image would fall off bottom- or right-
// side of image, adjust paste position
//x = Math.Max (0, Math.Min (x, canvas_size.Width – cbImage.Width));
//y = Math.Max (0, Math.Min (y, canvas_size.Height – cbImage.Height));

It’s a bit of a dirty hack, as it simply comments the procedure out, but it works. A possible fulltime modification could be a controllable scale type operation like in Photoshop where you control the scale using handles round the image, but I don’t think Pinta has a scale API.

UPDATE: It isn’t as serious as I first thought, but still annoying. The reason the image is squashed when pasted is because Pinta uses squashed thumbnails for use in the open documents list, and the History. As soon as you drag the layer pasted in, it corrects itself, but then you have to drag it back into position.

 

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Mika recently gave me her old eMachines E625 laptop after she bought a new one from me. I dual booted it with Linux Mint, as there was still some of Mika’s files under Vista that she wanted to keep. The only thing that didn’t work was the wireless. The card appeared to be installed under Device Driver Manager, but I received the message “Device not ready – firmware missing.”

I was scratching my head for ages. Using Ethernet for the time being, I tried downloading official Broadcom wireless Linux drivers and building them, but that hit a wall with Error 3 (I never did find out what that was). I swapped drivers under Device Driver Manager, still no luck. Admitting defeat, I phoned my linux chick, Kana, and her simple solution made us both laugh! She told me to open Software Manager, search for “b43”, and install the package “firmware-b43-installer”. It worked! The wireless on/off button light also worked!

She said you can also use Terminal by typing “sudo apt-get install firmware-b43-installer”, but to do that you’d need to have known the package name first. I love you, Kana, my gorgeous Japanese geek goddess xxx Seriously, everyone should have a Japanese geeky programmer for a ladyfriend!

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Unless you’ve freshly installed Ubuntu or Linux Mint Ubuntu & Debian Editions, you’ll probably notice that each time you boot up, the GRUB bootloader menu lists a bunch of previous Linux kernels which you can boot into. While this can come in handy for disasters – if you suddenly can’t boot into the new kernel after an upgrade – those previous kernels, images and modules are mostly just wasting disk space.

While you can manually go into Synaptic Package Manager, search for all the bits and pieces of previous kernels, and mark them for removal, here is a much easier method, thanks to Kana, she’s a Linux consultant and teaches me Linux using Mint, OpenSuSE and Debian. In a terminal, simply paste the following command, and it will remove all but the current kernel (if you’ve upgraded your system, or had an update with a new kernel, please reboot your machine before running this). It will also remove old graphics driver modules for old kernels, and modules related to VirtualBox if installed:

dpkg -l ‘linux-*’ | sed ‘/^ii/!d;/'”$(uname -r | sed “s/\(.*\)-\([^0-9]\+\)/\1/”)”‘/d;s/^[^ ]* [^ ]* \([^ ]*\).*/\1/;/[0-9]/!d’ | xargs sudo apt-get -y purge

Yeah, I know, looks like Geek hieroglyphics, doesn’t it? Kana said she studied the docs for Debian Packager and Apt to get all that! You will see some info about what is going on:

The following packages will be REMOVED:
linux-headers-2.6.35-22* linux-headers-2.6.35-22-generic*
linux-headers-2.6.35-23* linux-headers-2.6.35-23-generic*
linux-image-2.6.32-25-generic* linux-image-2.6.35-22-generic*
linux-image-2.6.35-23-generic*
0 upgraded, 0 newly installed, 7 to remove and 13 not upgraded.
After this operation, 586MB disk space will be freed.
(Reading database … 261863 files and directories currently installed.)
Removing linux-headers-2.6.35-22-generic …
Removing linux-headers-2.6.35-22 …
Removing linux-headers-2.6.35-23-generic …
Removing linux-headers-2.6.35-23 …
Removing linux-image-2.6.32-25-generic …

It will then generate a new GRUB menu, and when you reboot, you’ll see only the current kernel is listed. Kana uses this all the time, she says she’s never had any trouble with it 🙂 Aren’t geeky girlfriends cool?

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Western Digital make really good hard drives, but where their Elements, Passport and MyBook drives are concerned, they’ve taken a wrong turn. The 2.5″ versions all have proprietary PCB’s on the drives themselves, so there’s no standard micro SATA data and power connectors like you’d expect. The USB connector and LED, plus the interface controller, are on the single board as well! This means you can’t just take the drive out and connect it to another USB to SATA enclosure.

A lot of very modern WD Elements, MyBook and Passport enclosures are now also encrypted, meaning the data can only be accessed when the control board is functioning correctly. In this article I’ll show you how to recover data from a WD Passport (laptop sized drive) enclosure, if the USB connector gets damaged.

1. Disassemble the enclosure, remove the drive, then remove the PCB from the bottom of the drive using a Torx screwdriver.

2. Flip the drive board over, you’ll see the following capacitors. Remove them using a soldering iron or a heatgun, being careful not to overheat or damage anything:

usb-only-western-digital-drive-capacitors

3. Next you need to take a standard SATA connector from another drive, or from a parts supplier (eBay has them in droves, search for COMAX SATA connector). Once you have it, take a look at it, you’ll see long pins and short pins. All the long ones are GROUND pins:

sata-connector-ground-pins

4. From the back side of the PCB (the componentless side which faces away from the drive when fitted), you will see pins E71, E72, E73 and E74, these belong to the SATA data pins. The other four pins marked with a red square belong to ground pins:

usb-only-western-digital-drive-E-pins

5. Now solder everything together, using this pinout:

E71 – Tx+
E72 – Tx-
E73 – Rx-
E74 – Rx+

The SATA standard uses two lines, a positive and negative, for Data TX (Transmit), and two for Data RX (Recieve), each having a separate ground on the ground lines. Use my picture below as a wiring reference:

usb-only-western-digital-drive-finished-wiring

Now all you need to do is use a standard USB cable to power the drive (if your connector is broken you can try soldering the power lines of a USB cable to the port power pins), connect via SATA to your PC, and it should work. NOTE: This WILL NOT work if your drive uses encryption, as that runs through the USB data lines, because we’re bypassing it, it won’t work.

You may get some “USB device not recognized” errors. Try connecting the SATA drive to a SATA hotplug port, connecting the data cable first, then the power, once Windows has started. Hotplug ports are usually purple or orange, it depends on the board manufacturer, Gigabytes are purple.

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I saw this topic being discussed on Sony’s own forums the other day, and I had such a massive laugh! If the people who claimed to be PS3 repairers ACTUALLY knew anything about electronics, the world would be in serious danger! One guy posted about his cooling fan ramping up to full speed when he turned the console on, you should have seen the responses. They ranged from, “Ooh, your PSU is dying”, “You’re about to get the YLOD!” and most laughably, “Your CPU/GPU needs reballing!”

These people obviously don’t know as much as they claim, all those supposed causes are NOWHERE near the real cause. I’ll go into some real electronics knowledge to help people here. The fan ramping up on a PS3 or an Xbox is caused by the temperature diode being faulty.

In computers, the chip temperature is measured by a temperature sensor. Usually it’s a diode, mounted under the chip. On some standard PC motherboards, if you look in the middle of the CPU socket, you’ll see a blue lump on legs, this is the sensor diode.

    Types of diode

There are two types of temperature diode. A Negative Temperature Coefficient (NTC) diode is a diode whose resistance DECREASES as the temperature rises. So, when the chip is at full temperature, the resistance of the diode is at 0. The other type of diode is a Positive Temperature Coefficient (PTC), where the resistance STARTS at 0 when the chip is COLD, and goes full when HOT.
The control chip uses this resistance value by converting it from a resistance value to a temperature value, to set the fan speed, and to shut down the system if it’s too hot by sending a signal to the chipset. The converted value is also used by temperature monitoring apps and software.

It is all the same in automotive scenarios, with the engine temperature and radiator cooling fan, the same ramp up symptom occurs due to temperature sensor failure.

    Failure

When the diodes fail, each type of diode fails in a certain way. An NTC diode normally fails stuck at 0 (zero) resistance, meaning the system thinks the chip is really hot (because the cold reading should be full resistance), when in fact it is still cold, so the fan will ramp up as soon as the system is started cold. It may also result in shutdowns, even though the chip isn’t hot because the fan is running full tilt.

A PTC diode starts cold at 0 anyway, so the system won’t panic at first. However, the controller will soon realise something is up when the CPU starts reporting high loads, but the temperature is still reading 0 instead of a higher value. The fan will not increase speed in this case, so the temperature will rise sharply, resulting in an eventual shutdown. This will cause solder damage if the problem isn’t fixed, but it doesn’t happen BECAUSE of solder damage!

See, nothing to do with YLOD, try going to electronics school, kiddies 😉 When you switch a PS3 on and the fan kicks up to full speed then down again, that’s the system running a sensor and fan control test 🙂 If the fan stays on full on cold start instead of slowing down, you have a sensor issue 😉

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They’re using the term Cloud to make it all sound so fresh and new – but it isn’t really. People have been storing files over the internet since the internet itself started, by using FTP. It’s the very technology that is the reason websites work. I’m shocked at how many cloud storage companies are popping up, then charging extortionate rates for web space! Google for example, want $99.99 a MONTH for three Terabytes (3TB) of space! This works out to over $1,118 a YEAR!

You can do it yourself, so much cheaper by having your own server with a 3TB hard drive and the total cost will only be about $300! The best dedicated software out there is OwnCloud. It consists of a web system, and a client that you install on a PC or Mac, running Windows, Mac OS, or Linux. Both the web system for the server, and the desktop client are open source and completely free, plus you can give your friends and family their own free space by setting them up accounts and quota space!

Simply build a yourself an energy efficient small form factor PC. It doesn’t have to be the most powerful, as you want to be able to leave it running and not use too much power. An entry level Core i3 or i5 with Intel HD graphics is perfect. Even an older Core2Duo will do. The hard drive is the part that matters, as this determines the maximum capacity of your Cloud, so you want it to be high capacity but energy efficient. I recommend Western Digital Caviar drives.

Once your system is built, you can either install Windows or Linux, but as Windows is the easiest, we’ll go with this. Install Windows, and then install WAMPServer, it’s an all in one Apache, PHP and MySQL server package. Install OwnCloud, and a copy of the client on another workstation, and away you go!

Your own cloud server for 70% less than a cloud storage company! The only thing you need to look out for is running it on your home connection, some ISP’s don’t really allow web servers to be run on a home connection, check your terms of use. I haven’t gone into massive detail here as I was mainly making a point, it’s up to you to follow instructions, or drop me comments and I’ll help 🙂

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In the form of a Clevo M571TU. This thing is awesome! Greg bought it me as a Christmas present after I rebuilt a Toshiba Satellite A200 for him to replace his old Pentium 3 Inspiron. It’s a Core 2 Quad Q9000 mobile chip running at 2GHz, giving a total clock of 8GHz, 4GB of DDR3 RAM, a 4B Intel Turbo Memory card, 500GB Seagate (GRRRR!) hard drive that has power save clicking and lag issues. The PCI-E graphics card is a nVidia GTX280M 1GB, to finish off there’s a Blu-Ray ROM & DVD-RW drive.

All that for the knockdown pure burglary price of £390 excluding shipping, used on eBay! This monster will run rings round High Street laptops in the £0 to £900 bracket for the next 6 years. PC World can keep their £300 dual core i3 and i5 laptops.

I just hope the graphics card holds out. It is a 55nm chip and also a standard MXM 2.1 PCI-E card, so is easier to replace than the old Uniwill I used to have. It runs really cool at idle, here’s a HWMonitor screenshot of all the voltages and temps with the system warmed up to idle temperatures:

Midori (Clevo M571TU) Idle Temps & Voltages

The graphics card only seems to get as hot as 64 degrees so it’s quite cool. The cooling system is massive, the CPU and GPU have their own fans and heatsinks, unlike the Uniwill P55IM that had a shared heatsink and single fan. The M571 GPU block is huge, it covers the whole of the top of the card and has twin heatpipes so I’m hoping it’ll be fine. nVidia eventually owned up, and this G92b chip is one of the late 2009 revised ones, so I’m not too worried.

Heat stress happens with BGA technology anyway, the heating and cooling is just the way science works, doesn’t matter whether it’s AMD/ATi or nVidia, it will eventually fail due to BGA technology’s flaws, the solder balls will break. If the industry actually socketed their GPU’s we wouldn’t see issues. I have never in my 17 years of computers seen a pass-through soldered CPU socket actually fail and come off a board, even though the board warps.

I don’t like the Seagate drive on this. It’s a ST9500420AS and is a piece of crap. It’s a 7200RPM one but it constantly tries to park its heads every few seconds even under load, causing clicking and lag as it unparks and starts waiting for requested sectors to come round. Forums are full of complaints about it, and now I hate Seagate even more. The drive refuses any permanent power management turn off commands using HDDScan, and if you temporarily disable it it comes back on when the drive is powered off and on again!

Other than that this system is solid. 17″ screen that does native 1920×1200, solid built body, solid keyboard (same as the one in my old Clevo M670SU that I loved) and equally solid performance. Clevo know how to build a high end notebook, and I still can’t believe I got a 2 year old gaming laptop for £390 which was £1,400 brand new!

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We all know that PC World are clueless when it really comes down to computer repairs. Charging £40 just to reinstall a driver, or as in the Sky News investigation, £229 just to reseat a memory stick, which should be a 10 second no charge job. When it comes down to their KnowHow scam, it gets worse. They used to be called TechGuys until they got so much bad publicity they had to rebrand and rename.

Here’s the truth about them. They get their staff from an agency called ADECCO. The people they take on have little or no electronics background, and only have about 6 months training with Adecco themselves before being taken on by PC World into their KnowHow scam, and are allowed to roam free on people’s televisions, washing machines and whatnot, with a multimeter that they don’t even really know how to use.

Their staff will come out, for example to fix a washing machine, and NOT know how to fix it (So they should now be called NOT KNOWHOW!!). I once set a TechGuys engineer up by putting faulty bearings in the tub drum of my washing machine, and calling them out. He went through a ton of basic checks, like checking hoses, the motor, and did a basic PAT continuity check, which failed (I know his test was wrong, because I professionally fix washing machines, and fix my own). After an hour he still couldn’t figure it out, after several calls to head office he decided to poke around a bit, then tell me the control PCB had gone, just to get a problem out in the air so he could have the £60 callout and diagnostic fee.

As soon as I came clean about what I’d done, and showed him my NIC-EIC electrical certificate, he soon got the finger when he still asked for £30 callout. He couldn’t get out the door fast enough he was so embarrassed, so fast in fact he left his multimeter behind. Lo and behold the battery LED was flashing, so his multimeter was giving false readings due to lack of power.

They always say a bad workman blames his tools, but in his case both he and his multimeter were wrong, poorly configured and short of power. Avoid the whole of DSG (Dixons Stores Group, including Currys, PC World and Dixons, plus PixMania) like the plague. Their latest KnowHow ads saying they’ll show you how all these new HD 3D TV’s work is just a cover, they don’t even know what 3D or HD even are!! They charge £100 to fit a flatscreen TV bracket, the cost DOESN’T even INCLUDE the bracket! In Kitamura Computers we fit and supply a HIGH QUALITY bracket for as little as £50!!

In my research of Adecco and KnowHow staff, I found out that everything KnowHow do revolves around output quantity, and nothing else, which really I already guessed. Things that are said to the general public might appear this is not so but don’t be fooled. Just go on the web and see their past history. Adecco staff I contacted on the web (remaining anonymous) constantly feared for their jobs if they didn’t meet these quantity targets, and they felt like Big Brother was watching their every move.

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Destruction Derby 2 was one of the games I got with my Playstation 1 in 1998, it was also one of the games that got me hooked on smash-em-up car games, and racing games in general. Burnin’ Rubber on my Amstrad CPC464+ in 1992 was the first racing game I ever played.

Seeing as DD1 & 2 are classed as vintage, I don’t think Psygnosis will mind it being shared for free, as you can’t even buy it new anymore, so here are both games for PC. I’ve set both games up as standalone with an install of DOSBox, and zipped it up.

Download links

It’s hosted on my company server over at www.kitamuracomputers.net, CLICK HERE to download the RAR archive.

Usage

All you need to do is use WinRAR or a free alternative to extract the RAR. Then run either “Start Destruction Derby 1.bat”, or “Start Destruction Derby 2.bat”, and away you go! All save functionality works fine, you can save replays, save games and game configs just fine!

Enjoy these classic smash-em-ups!

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I’ve never seen this before, and neither has Google! One of my company courtesy laptops has just had a new screen fitted due to blown backlight tube, but now Windows won’t start. The last time we used it was on an external screen to back up the customer docs to the root of C:\ and do updates. Now all I get is:

RQGEY is compressed

Press CTRL, ALT & DEL to restart

I’ve a feeling something is corrupted somewhere as that error (RQGEY) message is NOT a valid boot failure message, even Microsoft’s site returns no results. I was wiping it anyway, but was surprised at the strange variable. Even if the volume is compressed after installation, the critical components such as BOOTMGR, page file, and hibernate file are bypassed. I don’t think I’ll ever find out what RQGEY is supposed to be….

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I needed to repair a VirtualBox Linux Mint install because I updated VirtualBox and suddenly LM decided it didn’t want to start, it just kernel panicked its butt off! Kassie walked me through how to do a repair install type of installation. This works like the Windows XP, Vista & Win 7 “Repair/Upgrade install”. I’ve made notes here as she did it with me, so it’s here for my and my readers’ use in the future!

Before you start, make a backup of the virtual machine itself by making a copy of the machine in VirtualBox by clicking “File”-“Export Appliance”

To repair an installation use the Live CD of the version you have installed, and if you want to upgrade an installation use the LiveCD of the newest version.

Step 1. Load the “live CD” by attaching the ISO of it to the VM on the Storage settings page, or using a real disc version.
Step 2. Open the installer, pick your localization, then go forward.
Step 3. Pick the same timezone you had on first install.  Go Forward. Pick the same keyboard layout that you had previously, and click Forward.
Step 4. To do a “Repair Install” pick the “specify partitions manually (advanced)” option. Go forward.
Step 5. This next step MUST be the SAME as you had previously.

I have 4 Partitions:
Partition one is my home partition.
Partition two is my Linux Mint boot partition.
Partition 3 is my windows partition, I know this because it is NTFS.
Partition 4 is my swap.

For me to do “Repair/Uprade Install” I have to click on partition one and then click Change. I change partition one to the SAME file system it had before crashing (Ext4) and the SAME Mount point it had (/home), then I click OK. DO NOT  FORMAT!
Then I change partition two to the SAME file system it had previously (Ext4) and the SAME Mount point it had (/) then click OK. DO NOT FORMAT!

I don’t change and DO NOT FORMAT partitions 3 and 4. NOTE: You need to setup the partitioner the SAME way you did in the first install.  DO NOT FORMAT!  DO NOT FORMAT!  DO NOT FORMAT!  DO NOT FORMAT!

Step 6. Now it’s safe to click Forward. The following message will appear with different sda numbers etc depending on your setup:

“Do you want to return to the partitioner? The file system on “/dev/sda2” assigned to / has NOT been marked for formatting. Directories containing system files (/etc, /lib, /usr, /var, …) that already exist under any defined mountpoint will be deleted during the install. Please ensure that you have backed up any critical data before installing”

IF YOU DO NOT SEE THIS GO BACK TO THE PARTITIONER! You clicked format  on something. Again DO NOT FORMAT!

If you see the message just Continue to do “Repair/Uprade install”.

Step 7: When you see the parts asking “What is your name?  What name do you want to use to log in? Choose a password to keep your account safe. What is the name of this computer?”

All MUST BE THE SAME as when Mint was first installed! Especially if like me you originallychecked the option to encrypt your Home dir. If you don’t get your credentials the same your Home folder will be inaccessible, you will LOSE ALL DATA in there!   Then click Forward.

Step 8: Ready to install (“Repair/Upgrade install”)? Are you? You are only ready if swap is the only partition to be formatted.  If you see other partitions to be formatted, go back to the  partitioner (step 5). If swap is the only partition to be formatted, you can click “Install” to do “Repair/Upgrade install”

Step 9. Restart PC, then install updates and proprietary drivers. Reinstall software as needed. NOTE: Most software configurations should NOT have been deleted as they are saved in your home folder. Once you reinstall software using the Software Manager or Package Manager things will work as they did

Step 10. Finished!! These steps will work for both Virtualized installs, and native installs on a PC HDD. Thankyou to Kass for helping me, I thought my encrypted Home folder was lost forever!

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I needed to do this recently because I had to clone a friend’s hard disk, both drives were SATA and my power supply only has one native SATA power connector. My optical drives are both SATA too, running off a Molex to 2xSATA adapter, but connecting 2 hard drives to one 12v plug causes power problems for the drives as they are high current, whereas optical drives aren’t.

So I’ve disconnected my optical drives to use just one of the 2 piggybacked SATA power leads. This left me with no drive to run Hiren’s disc from, so I decided to make a USB boot drive instead. here’s how I did it! This is also very useful if you’re on a laptop or desktop with a failed drive, simply use an ISO image instead of physical disc.

You will neeed:

  • A copy of Hiren’s Boot CD 10.3 or newer in either disc or ISO format, you can extract the ISO or mount it using a virtual CD program such as MagicDisc (freeware, yay!)
  • A USB pen drive of AT LEAST 1GB (gigabyte)
  • A copy of USB Disk Storage Format, which I’ve hosted on TideLog, HERE.
  • A copy of  GRUB 4 DOS installer 1.1, also hosted on TideLog, HERE.
  • A computer with CD drive (for copying the disc files if you have a Hiren CD)
  • Your computer MUST be able to boot from USB if it is the one you are working with in recovery. Most computers about 3 or 4 years old will be fine.

How to perform:

1. Download, extract and run USB Disk Storage Format tool. Follow my steps in my screengrab below, in numbered order:

The reason we’re using this is it needs to be FAT. A lot of people have tried using exFAT in Vista and Win 7 but it won’t work and sometimes Win XP gets it wrong. I prefer third party apps to format external drives.

2. Run GRUB4DOS Installer, and follow the numbered steps as below. MAKE SURE you select the correct drive:

3. Insert your BootCD (10.3 or newer) in your CD Drive and copy everything from the CD to your USB Drive. If you have an ISO image, you can either extract all files from it, or mount it using a virtual CD program like MagicDisc mentioned in the requirements, then copying and pasting from the virtual CD as you would a physical disc.

4. Copy grldr and menu.lst from grub4dos.zip (or from HBCD folder) to the USB drive:

5. Finished! Restart the computer it is to be used on, and make sure the BIOS is set to boot from USB. Most BIOSes allow you to bring up a boot menu, by pressing F12 or similar, it will then autodetect bootable devices, select your USB drive and off it goes!

Configuring different BIOSes

To enter the BIOS press the “Del” key on your keyboard. Alternatives are “F1”, “F2”, “Insert”, and “F10”. Some PC BIOSes might even require a different key to be pressed. Commonly a PC will show a message like “Press [Del] to enter Setup” to indicate that you need to press the “Del” key. Some AMI BIOS require you to enable the option “USB Keyboard Legacy support”.

For AMI BIOS:

  • Go to “Feature Setup”. “Enable” these options: “USB Function Support”, “USB Function For DOS” and “ThumbDrive for DOS”. Go to “Advanced Setup”. Set the “1st Boot Device” to “USB RMD-FDD”.
    Reboot the PC and it now should boot from your USB drive.
  • Go to “USB Mass Storage Device Configuration”. Select “Emulation Type”, and set it to “Harddisk”. Go to the “Boot Menu” and set the “1st boot device” to “USB-Stick“. Exit the BIOS, saving the changes. You can try setting “Emulation Type” to “Floppy” or “Forced FDD”.

For PHOENIX/AWARD BIOS:

  • Go to “Advanced BIOS Features”. Go to the “1st Boot device” and set it to “USB-ZIP”.

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