Categories
Sofware Articles

Windows 11: Does my computer support it?

Hello again fellow readers and fixers! Chances are for the techies among us, you will have read or heard about news of the upcoming release of Microsoft’s new operating system, called Windows 11.

What are the minimum requirements for installing and running Windows 11?

The company has recently announced basic system requirements for the new operating system. These are a set of specifications that are determined to ensure that the operating system will function smoothly when run on a given computer. We will go through each of the minimum requirements in turn, and how they compare with Windows 10. These are as follows:

  • Processor: Microsoft states that a compatible 64-bit CPU or system-on-chip (SoC) with at least two physical cores that are clocked at a minimum of 1 GHz. This is a step up from the requirements for Windows 10, which only needed a single-core processor with at least the same clock speed. You can check these pages to see if your computer has an Intel CPU or AMD CPU, or a system-on-chip that is on the list of supported processors.
  • RAM: Windows 11 is slated to require at least 4GB of RAM in order to allow the operating system to run smoothly. By comparison, Windows 10 only required at least 1GB of RAM if it is a 32-bit version, or 2GB of RAM if it is a 64-bit version.
  • Storage: In terms of storage space, Microsoft states that the internal storage device, which can be a hard drive, an SSD, or embedded storage, must be at least 64GB in size. This is larger than is required for Windows 10, which needed a minimum of 32GB of storage space.
  • System firmware: For Windows 11, the BIOS for your laptop and motherboard will need to be configured so that UEFI boot and Secure Boot are both enabled. This differs from Windows 10, where it can be installed with Legacy boot enabled and Secure Boot disabled.
  • TPM: Unlike Windows 10, Windows 11 requires having Trusted Platform Module 2.0 installed and enabled in the BIOS for your computer. The Trusted Platform Module is a security coprocessor that is designed to utilise cryptographic keys for hardware security in computers. It can be in the form of a dedicated module that can be purchased and plugged into the TPM header, which can be found on many motherboards, of an embedded solution that is integrated to the CPU or motherboard, or of a software-based solution that uses emulators to provide TPM functionality.
  • Graphics card: An integrated graphics solution, which can be in the CPU or (in some cases) embedded on motherboards, or a dedicated graphics card will need to be compatible with DirectX 12 or later, with its drivers based around the Windows Display Driver Model (WDDM) graphics driver architecture at version 2.0 or later. By comparison for Windows 10, a dedicated graphics card or integrated graphics solution needed to support DirectX 9 or later with drivers based on WDDM 1.0 or later.
  • Display: The display needs to be at least nine inches measured diagonally from corner to corner, with a screen resolution of at least 720p (high definition) and support for at least eight bits per colour channel. The display can be in the form of a monitor, a laptop screen, or a tablet display, as long as it meets this requirement. Windows 10, on the other hand, merely stated that the display needed to have a screen resolution of 800×600 pixels.
  • Internet connection: If you would be purchasing a new or refurbished computer that will come with Windows 11 Home installed, then please be aware that you will need to have a Microsoft account as well as an internet connection in order to setup your machine for first use.

If you are already running Windows 10 on your computer, then the easiest way to determine if it meets the basic requirements for running Windows 11 is to download the PC health check app, which is a free software application provided by Microsoft.

If your computer has a GNU/Linux distro installed, then there are some software tools that you can use to find information about the current specifications of your machine. For example, lshw (shorthand for List Hardware) is a terminal-based tool that provides a list of hardware components in your computer. To use it, simply open up a terminal and type in lshw -short; this shows a concise list of all the components, and you can then use the information from that list to compare your hardware components with the minimum specifications for Windows 11.

What if my computer doesn’t meet the minimum requirements for Windows 11?

If you find that your system does not meet the minimum requirements for installing and running Windows 11, then you have a few options to consider:

  • Stick with your current operating system: If the operating system that you are currently using works fine for your needs, whether it is Windows 10, a GNU-Linux distro such as Ubuntu, Linux Mint or Fedora, or even macOS, then keeping it going for longer make sense. Microsoft has reportedly stated that Windows 10 will continue to be supported until 2025, so Windows 10 users still have plenty of time to consider whether or not Windows 11 is right for them before committing to the upgrade.
  • Switch to a different operating system: On the other hand, if you have a relatively modest computer that doesn’t meet the requirements for Windows 11, or if you fancy trying something different, then it’s worth looking at an alternative operative system. After all, it can be easy to fall into the idea that because your computer cannot be upgraded to the latest and greatest release of your preferred operating system, it suddenly becomes worthless. In fact, installing an alternative operating system can give your current computer a new lease of life, whether as a media centre or a gaming machine that can play older games.
  • Upgrade or reconfigure your current computer: Upgrading your computer can be a good way to not only ensure that it meets the minimum requirements for Windows 11, but also to extend its useful operating life. Making targeted upgrades based on feedback from Microsoft’s PC health check app, or comparing your computer’s specifications with the basic specifications for Windows 11 can be a very cost-efficient way to ensure that it’s ready for upgrading to Windows 11. If, on the other hand, your computer’s core specs are fine, but your operating is installed and configured for legacy boot mode rather than UEFI boot, that Secure Boot is turned off, and/or that the TPM is not installed, is turned off or is the older 1.2 version, then turning on Secure Boot and the TPM (or installing or upgrading it to the 2.0 version), and reinstalling the operating system in UEFI mode (make sure to back up all of your important data first!) helps ensure that it will be ready for Windows 11.
  • Buy a compatible computer: If upgrading your current machine or operating system would not be cost-efficient or practical, then upgrading to a more recent computer would be a good way to ensure that you will be ready and prepared for when Windows 11 is officially released. It does not have to be a brand new computer; it can be an ex-display computer, a factory-refurbished model from the OEM, or a refurbished computer from a third-party seller. As long as the chosen computer meets the requirements for Windows 11, you’re good to go!

Categories
Hardware Articles

Can radios become viable computers? (Part 3: Taking a look inside & taking it apart)

Hello again fellow fixers and readers! Since the last weekend, the weather has started to warm up, so it was great to be able to enjoy some warm, sunny weather (while staying safe of course!)

Anyway, last time, Gareth found a couple of radios in our spares room, and of the two radios, we opted to work on the Morphy Richards 27024, since it is the more compact of the two, and that it should be easier to repurpose the radio’s buttons for controlling media playback and other functionality.

So now, it was time to get an inside look of the radio, which can be accessed by removing the six screws (one of which was missing when the radio was salvaged from the spares room) with a Philips screwdriver, and prising open the rear plastic casing with a spudger.

And here’s the internals of the radio! There are a few proprietary circuit boards and other parts that are held in place with screws, so thankfully we didn’t need to worry about any glued down parts that can be a pain to remove.

The antenna for receiving AM radio broadcasts was the first to go; it is a ferrite tube with copper wires wrapped around each side, one for medium wave and the other for long wave. The antenna is securely held in place by four white plastic pieces that are secured to the inside of the back cover with screws, and the wires are soldered to a small circuit board with wires that are joined together to form a cable that is plugged into the mainboard.

The circuit board for the audio jacks, the USB port and the power socket is still mounted on the inside rear casing; we left it in place for the time being, since we may be able to reuse the board for the functionality it provides our build. However, we may need the space it takes up to improvise I/O ports for desired components as needed.

The telescopic antenna was removed next; it was held in place by a plastic piece, a screw affixed to the front casing and a metal bracket with two screws holding it in position. The screws holding the metal brackets in place were removed first, then the once the single screw holding the telescopic antenna was removed, the antenna was free to be pulled out from the top of the radio. We opted to retain the metal brackets, because they provided some rigidity to the case and help the radio resist being moved around accidentally by unplugging peripherals.

The mainboard was the next to go; we decided that it wasn’t worth keeping for the build, since it incorporated a proprietary design that would likely hinder attempts at repurposing the board for our project. Removing the mainboard was a little tricker; it was a case of removing five screws holding it in place, then clipping the wires for the speakers and the circular boards for the control knobs, unplugging the connectors attached to the circuit board for the USB port, audio jacks and power socket, and prising it out with a blue plastic spudger.

Finally, the circuit board incorporating the switches for the front controls and the front headphone jack, was taken out by removing its screws, and then gently prising it out with the blue spudger. The original monochrome display was soldered to the board, and was held in place with a plastic frame that clips to the board itself. We are considering replacing it with a colour display, ideally one that can be installed as a drop-in replacement of sorts while retaining the plastic frame. However, we chose to eschew touchscreen functionality, as I noticed that the front casing had a thick, clear plastic window for the display, and that this plastic window would quite likely make using the touchscreen impractical.

After we gave the circuit board a quick test with the voltmeter, and found it to be a working board, we opted to keep it, as it had all the necessary components that we will need to repurpose the front controls for operating the build in practice. Otherwise, we would have had to source new switches and other components that would fit into the front casing, which can make the project more complicated. Also, retaining the circuit board along with the speakers helps to reduce e-waste by making use of usable parts that would otherwise be discarded along with the faulty or dead components.

So now, we had to decide upon how we will put our build together with the parts that we want to use. There are two possible approaches that we thought about:

  • Bundling together microcontrollers that have the desired features. This allows for very quick boot-up times, since this system would only need to start up the firmwares for the microcontrollers, meaning that it can be used almost immediately. Cable management should be fairly straight-forward, since we can make use of the vacant screw holes to tidy up the inside of the radio.
  • Using a single board computer with add-in boards for the desired features. This can offer more flexibility, as we can more easily adapt or upgrade our build by interchanging boards as use cases change and/or evolve. For example, if we decided that we want to listen to music from our media collections, then we could install an SSD, either onto a compatible board that attaches to a Raspberry Pi 4 (with a USB bridge connecting the two boards), or onto a custom mount with a USB to SATA cable connecting it to the SBC.

So what kind of radio are we going to build? Will we aim for a radio that receives DAB+/DAB/FM broadcasts? Will it be built for playing internet radio stations, podcasts and music from streaming services? Or perhaps make it into a digital jukebox that plays more songs from media collections than we know what to do with? We’ll reveal what our build is going to be, and how we’ll build up our radio in the next part of this project series! So until next time, stay safe, keep calm and just keep on fixing!

Categories
Hardware Articles

Can radios become viable computers? (Part 2: Here’s what we found from our spares!)

Hello again fellow fixers and readers! While the weather was colder than we would have expected for this time of the year lately, we had a fairly busy workshop session with supporting the local community in fixing technological troubles.

So last week, we gave an overview about radios and how they work, and why upcycling them by adding functionality beyond their originally designed purpose is worth doing as a project. And of course, the beauty of upcycling a radio is putting together a great build that makes effective use of the available space and gets around different design and structural quirks!

We initially set about looking for suitable candidates for our project on eBay, where there are numerous different makes and models of radios to choose from, ranging from some vintage devices to modern radios that just prematurely stopped functioning properly. And there were some rather stylish models that we could have picked up, such as a John Lewis Octave DAB+/FM/internet radio that could potentially be awesome as a home theatre PC.

But then Gareth decided to go rummaging through our spare parts and equipment pile for any radios that would make for good candidates as a radio-computer build – mind you, better for all that stuff to be put to good use then be left as magnets for dust! And here is what he found:

This is a Hitachi CX-76B portable radio and CD player. It is a fairly bulky unit that can receive FM/MW/AM radio broadcasts, and can play MP3 files written on CDs. We noticed that the bottom cover for the batteries (and it takes eight size C batteries in order to function as a portable radio!), and that the antenna was broken, so we would not have been able to receive FM radio broadcasts even after getting it working.

And this is a Morphy Richards 27024 radio, which is a bit more compact. This was more-or-less a jack of all trades radio for its time, that was able to receive radio broadcasts across AM, FM, DAB and DRM. There are fewer physical buttons and control knobs on this radio, which could make it easier to repurpose for adding some computer-related functionality.

For the next part, we will focus on the Morphy Richards 27024 radio, where we open it up, have a look inside to see what components we will be dealing with, and see which parts we want to keep (and of course which parts we’ll try to put to good use elsewhere!). Then we’ll decide what kind of radio-computer build that we will make this radio into.

So until next time, stay safe, keep calm and just keep on fixing!

Categories
Hardware Articles

Can radios become viable computers? (Part 1: Let’s think this through!)

Hello again fellow fixers and readers! We hope you are all continuing to stay safe & well as lockdown restrictions have gradually been eased and things are starting to return to some degree of normalcy. We are especially glad to be back at Abbeyfield Park House helping fix computers again for the local community, after nearly six months in hiatus.

Anyway, we are interested in doing something different with something so ubiquitous, something through which many of us enjoy listening to music, catching up with the latest news, and even hearing fiery debates about important issues on phone-in talk shows; and that something, is called radios.

Radios are most familiar to people as “broadcast receivers”, which are designed to receive audio signals transmitted from local radio stations, and then convert that signal into sounds that a user can hear from a speaker or a set of headphones or earphones connected to a jack on the radio. They come in various form factors, ranging from small portable units that are designed to allow users to listen to radio stations while out and about, to large boombox-style items that can also play music from physical media such as cassette tapes and compact discs.

But can these radios be repurposed into computers that can be used for various activities besides listening to radio broadcasts? Why spend time, money and effort on trying to make a radio into a general-purpose computer, when you can just buy (or build) a proper computer that would be much better suited for everything you can throw at it? Well, repurposing a radio for something else helps cut down on e-waste, since if one of its internal components becomes faulty and can’t be repaired somehow, then the other functional parts can still be usable in some way. The process of making a unique item that no-one else will have gives great satisfaction to many people. And also, by taking a radio apart, you can get a good understanding of all the internal parts used in the device, so you can figure out how to repair a radio for next time.

Before we dive straight in to the radio-computer conversion project, though, there are a number of things that we need to consider first. Giving oneself time to think everything through can mean the difference between a project that is well planned out and executed, and one that turns out to be a complete disaster. Here are some of the most obvious considerations:

  • What do we actually want to use a radio-computer for? There are many different uses for computers, ranging from gaming, web browsing and media creation, to robotics, artificial intelligence and weather forecasting. Without having a clear idea on what a radio will be repurposed to do, you can more likely or not end up turning it into a “jack of all trades and master of none” device; by cramming all kinds of functionality into a radio, it could do pretty much everything you would want to do with it, but it wouldn’t carry out those tasks as well as a more purpose-focused device. For the purposes of our project, we will focus more on the entertainment-related activities, chiefly streaming music and videos, playing media stored on internal storage, and playing games.
  • Will we use it whilst out and about? Many radios are portable devices that are powered by batteries, which allow users to listen to radio broadcasts while away from a power source. When adapting a radio so that it can be used as essentially a pocket-able computer that can also receive radio, it’s worth taking the amount of space inside the radio into consideration for installing batteries, especially if it was not originally designed to be portable. Using lithium batteries may be a way to increase the power available, as these are more ‘power dense’ than older types.
  • Will we add additional functionality to the device? For example, a touchscreen for selecting media, applications and options; a compatible TV tuner for enabling the radio to receive broadcast television; or a hard drive/SSD for storing music, videos and photos. As with batteries, internal space will need to be taken into account when installing additional components, and modifications to the casing may be required if a touchscreen, HDD/SSD or other parts are desired.

Next time, we will go on the hunt for a radio that will most closely suit what we will set out for our project. Our main priority will be looking for radios that we can salvage from our pile of spare parts and equipment, or that are sold on online stores as for parts only if we don’t have any suitable ones at hand. We believe that these would serve as a good starting point for re-purposing them into a media-focused computer. They are also often cheaper than fully working units! We’ll also be looking for a radio that looks interesting, and that we want to invest time in upcycling.

So until next time, stay safe and keep on fixing!

Categories
Community Workshops News

We’re getting ready to BitFIXit again!

Hello again, our fellow fixers and readers! We are excited to share some good news to everyone here, following news of lockdown restrictions easing throughout England; our regular computer repairs workshops at Abbeyfield Park House will be back in service and ready to begin fixing computers again! Workshop sessions will resume from Saturday 17th April 2021 at the usual time of 12pm to 3pm.

The safety measures and precautions we adopted for our workshops at previous sessions that we were able to operate when restrictions were last eased, will remain broadly the same. But this time, we will operate a kiosk service using the community room entrance leading from the park. The way this will work, is that people can book in repairs for their broken computers from outside the building, and collect their items after repairs have been completed.

Because it has been quite a few months since we held our last workshop sessions, it will take some time for us to get back into the swing of things, and we will review how the new sessions progress, so that we can serve local communities to the best of our abilities. We very much look forward to seeing you all again at our regular workshops!

Categories
Hardware Articles

Glaring foul-ups, tech pet hates & other things that irritate techies

Hello fellow fixers & readers! With the country in lockdown at the time of writing, we hope you’re all keeping yourselves safe and well! We talked about, among other topics, different ways of fixing and repurposing computers and other devices and whether or not upgrading certain parts in a computer is a good idea.

But today, we want to discuss about something else; mistakes that can happen to us when we try to build or fix computers, things that can confuse or irritate us when we’re shopping for new or refurbished gadgets, and other general technology-related things that can literally drive enthusiasts up the wall. So here are just some of the things that can really annoy us one way or another, and ways to deal with them.

When a new computer you just purchased comes with a lot of pre-installed bloatware

We have all been there when we decide to splash our hard-earned cash on a shiny brand-new computer; we pick which make and model we want, we buy it (obviously), we take it home or have it delivered, we unpack and set up the unit, and we power it on for the first time and set up a user account.

Then onto the Windows desktop, we find that there is a lot of bundled software that came installed with the operating system; OEM software, trial versions of different software, productivity software, services for playing video games…you name it. While some of the apps can be quite useful to be fair, many others just serve no useful purpose than to needlessly clog up free storage space that be used for better and more useful apps, utilities…and updates! Lots and lots of updates!

The whole bloatware malarkey can be avoided by buying new computers assembled by system builder boutiques, replacing the pre-installed copy of Windows with a fresh copy of Windows or a GNU/Linux distro on the new computer you just bought, or if you feel confident and have some computer assembly experience, try building a new computer yourself. (After all, by building your own computer, you’ll never have to deal with third-party bundled crapware again!)

When you finish building a new computer from scratch, only to find you made mistakes when you try to power it on (or during the assembly process)

Here’s one case where even experienced computer assemblers can sometimes find themselves making beginner mistakes when building computers from scratch. Obviously, this can happen when you bought all the components you need for a desired build (whether it’s a gaming PC or just a basic machine for working on documents or browsing the internet), put all the parts together in the case, and when you try to turn on your shiny new computer, something’s wrong.

Now, this can be the result of simple mistakes like forgetting to connect the power switch to the motherboard during assembly or trying to use the bundled SATA cables that are too short for connecting the hard drive or SATA SSD to the motherboard, or more glaring mistakes like fitting a PSU with a rated wattage that is too low to power the whole build.

If you are looking to upgrade from an old computer, and you fancy having a go at building one yourself, it’s worth thinking over what you intend to do with a new machine, and doing research on what parts you will need to put together a well-balanced build for your needs. It’s also a good idea to read useful articles online about the common pitfalls and mistakes that a computer assembler can make during the whole process; with this knowledge, it helps make the whole assembly process less stressful and less costly.

Before committing to building a new computer though, it’s worth looking at the specs of your current computer, particularly if it is a fairly recent model or build; if it still performs well for your needs, then you are probably better off just upgrading your current machine instead.

When you buy a refurbished computer from a physical or online retailer, but notice that it came with one or more parts missing

So far, we mentioned mistakes and annoying issues that can happen with brand new off-the-shelf and custom-built computers. However, mistakes can occur with refurbished and second-hand computers as well.

One example of this is where you buy a refurbished or second-hand computer online or in-store, but when you take it home (or have it delivered to you), you find that there is something odd happening that turns out to be the result of a missing part. A case in point, was that in the past, we came across a refurbished laptop that our client brought into our workshops after purchasing it from a retailer; the problems the laptop was experiencing turned out to be caused by a missing caddy for the hard drive, which can become loose and inadvertently disconnect itself from the internal SATA connector.

If you find this happening to you, you can choose to return the machine to the retailer or seller you purchased it from, where you can exchange it for something else or get your money back. You could try finding a replacement for the part that was missing from the machine, whether it’s looking at places like eBay, or just scavenging from whatever spare parts you have at hand. Or if that fails, you can always get creative with fixing the problem just by using whatever everyday items you have lying around.

When you order a replacement part to fix a problem with a computer or mobile device, only to discover that the part you received was for another device

Many of us who fix computers and mobile devices as a hobby or for a living can experience problems with repairs in one way or another, just as computers and mobile devices can develop faults in the first place. Faults that can occur on devices range from minor problems like faulty optical drives or dead built-in webcams, to more serious issues such as faulty sticks on RAM or faulty/dead motherboards.

When a device needs a replacement part for a component that died (or at least became faulty), you typically find the make and model of the device in question, and then search for (and buy) the correct working replacement part for the device in question. So when you receive the replacement part and get round to repairing it, you start the repairs, only to find that the part in question was actually for a (slightly) different model! So you end up having to return the part to the seller and start again, while the device continues to languish in a broken state.

So although mistakes like this can still happen even with plenty of research and diligence, it’s still worth making a note of the make and model of your computer, laptop or mobile device if you want to try repairing it yourself (jotting down the model number of the device helps as well). That way, you can more easily find out if the replacement part for the faulty component in question will be compatible for your device. It’s also a good idea to look for guides on how to replace a faulty component for a given device, particularly if it is a smartphone or a tablet; sites like iFixit are good resources for repair guides.

So those are just some of the ways that can annoy us when we goof up on repairs and assemblies, and when we find something that can really drive us up the wall. Feel free to share your stories in the comments for this article, on your tech-related pet hates, as well as mistakes that have happened to you regarding computer and mobile device repairs, computer builds and upgrades. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Categories
Hardware Articles

Have a stash of old USB drives lying around? Let’s make them great again!

Hello once again fellow readers and fixers! We hope you’re all keeping safe and well during quite a difficult time. We have shared quite a number of ideas about reusing and repurposing computers and different hardware components, but this time we want to share some reuse ideas about something that has of late become increasingly unloved in an era of a myriad of streaming services; USB drives.

Chances are, we have a stash of USB drives that are left in drawers, in drawers, or otherwise just left on the side, relegated to becoming mere magnets for dust and other kinds of debris. So, why not dust them off and start making use of them again? Here are a few ideas to eke the maximum possible useful life out of old USB drives.

Fancy some entertainment on the go?

Try loading up your USB drive with some games! There are a range of portable versions of games that you can try out on your computer, ranging from racing games to puzzle games – and keep hard drive/SSD space free for essential applications and updates. Just plug in the drive, fire up whichever game you want to play, and then unplug it again when finished.

You can also load your USB drive with your favourite music, videos and movies, and play them while you’re out and about, whether on your phone, your laptop, or even in your car.

For extra security for your computer…

…why not use your old USB drive as a security key? The way this works is that when you unplug your USB drive from your computer, the system automatically locks itself, so other people cannot gain access to your files and other data without your USB drive. This can be useful as a way to protect sensitive personal information from unauthorised access, or otherwise to stop other people from looking at embarrassing videos and photos that you don’t want them to see!

The same principle can also be applied as a form of parental control, where you can set limits on how much time your kids can spend on your computer, and block access to site that contain inappropriate material.

Damaged casing? Why not improvise?

If the casing for your USB drive is looking worse for wear, but the drive itself is still working fine, then it is worth protecting the circuit board by creating new casing for it. The easiest way to do so is to use mouldable adhesives like Sugru’s mouldable glue or Loctite’s Kintsuglue; these can be found relatively cheaply online or at arts and crafts brick-and-mortar retailers. Simply open up a packet of mouldable adhesive of your desired colour, gently mould it around the circuit board, smooth out any rough areas, and leave it to cure for a day.

If you’re looking for extra inspiration, there are numerous ideas for DIY USB drive casings that other people have shared to the world; you can browse their creations and choose one that you like. Or if you are really creative, you can try turning whatever suitable small everyday objects you have lying around into a casing for your bare USB drive. The possibilities are endless!

Dead or defective USB drive? No problem!

If your USB drive doesn’t work anymore, then there are still other ways that you can use it for something else. The casings from dead or defective USB drives can be used for various things, such as labels for plant and herb pots and storage containers, and decorations like wind chimes and ornaments. The flash chips can be turned into different kinds of jewellery, such as pendants, earrings, necklaces and bracelets.

If you prefer to part with the old USB drive instead, then rather than simply throw it into the bin, you can send it in to a local computer IT and recycling facility or programme, which processes old or broken various computers and IT equipment in ways that help reduce the amount of electronic waste to ends up in landfill sites. It’s worth making sure that any data stored on the USB drive is completely erased if possible before doing so, to prevent potentially sensitive data from being retrieved.

Those are just some of the ways you can repurpose and reuse old USB drives. It’s worth maximising the useful life of USB drives, just like with computers and other IT equipment and accessories, since doing so is better for the environment, and better for communities as a whole.

Categories
Hardware Articles

Breathing new auditory & visual life into a tired old computer (Part 1)

Hello once again fellow readers and fixers! Here is another way of getting more use out of an old computer; if you find yourself getting fed up of spending ages waiting for an important application to load in order to get something important done, or constantly fighting against a seemingly never-ending tidal wave of junk data and huge software updates clogging up you spare storage space, then why not turn your old computer into a media hub?

The great thing about a media hub is that you can be flexible in the way they play different kinds of multimedia. If you have more music, video clips, movies and video games than you know what to do with, you can install a large hard drive just for your media collection. If streaming is more your cup of tea, then you can get by with an SSD with a more modest storage capacity, and simply connect an external hard drive for your media collection if needed.

Now then, if you want to use your old computer just for playing music, video clips and movies, there is a dedicated operating system called LibreELEC, which is essentially a minimal GNU/Linux distro that is specifically built to run Kodi for media centre use. It has a collection of add-ons that are crafted to provide a television-like experience to users, and provide access to various different features and services, from internet radio to video streaming. In addition, it can be run as a live session from a bootable USB stick, be run directly from the USB stick with settings saved to the pen drive, or be installed directly onto the hard drive or SSD (any existing data stored on the hard drive/SSD, including partitions, will be deleted if going the installation route, so back up any essential files beforehand!)

Of course, for those who don’t yet feel confident in making the switch completely for their old computer, or who needs to use other software applications for various activities, Kodi itself can be installed as a separate application on Windows, Mac, GNU/Linux, and on Android devices. However, for the purpose of this article, we will assume that the users in question are already using a more powerful and/or recent computer for any other activities besides playing media files.

Next time, we will try out LibreELEC on a range of old laptops that we have spare in our workshops, and see how well they run, along with how well they can play various kinds of media.

Categories
Miscellaneous Articles

Upgrades on a Shoestring: Power Supply Units

Hello again fellow readers and fixers! Last year, we covered solid state drives with regards to upgrading parts in a desktop computer or a laptop on a shoestring budget, since those parts have reached a point where achieving a performance uplift through faster internal storage for little outlay became viable. But which other computer parts do upgrading on a shoestring budget makes sense?

Today, we look at power supply units, which are one of the core parts a desktop computer needs in order to function. Power supply units are designed to turn alternating current drawn from the mains socket, into low-voltage direct current, and then feed that low-voltage direct current to the other internal components (including the processor, storage drives and any peripheral devices) to enable them to function.

Modern power supply units are designed to be energy efficient, based on different levels of power load; this means that they consume less power drawn from the mains and in turn, produce less heat. This also means that they can also operate quieter, since the fans inside the power supply units do not need to spin up as much; in fact, some high-end power supplies are designed to operate silently at low loads, or generate sufficiently little heat that enables them to be cooled passively. They also commonly have built-in safety features that help protect against excessive temperatures, loads or currents, short circuits and over or under-voltage problems that can cause damage to the power supply unit itself, or potentially to other hardware components.

Of course, even now, there are generic power supplies that are manufactured at such low cost that they are marketed at people who are looking to build or upgrade their desktop PCs, but cannot afford to buy a good quality unit from a reputable brand, such as Corsair, Seasonic, be quiet! and Thermaltake. They usually tend to be lighter in weight than with reputable units, due to fewer internal components and thinner metal casings.

Unfortunately, because these generic, no-name power supply units are often poorly-designed and assembled, they lack the extra safety features built into units manufactured by reputable brands. With metal cases as thin as cornflakes cardboard boxes, they are perhaps the one kind of computer part where you absolutely do not want to scrimp and save on. After all, the last thing anyone wants to see happen to their computers for the power supply unit’s internal components to snap, make the whole unit itself crackle, and potentially cause the other hardware components to go pop, with the end result being a possible electrical fire and the replacement of any other hardware parts damaged by such a power supply failure.

In summary, the power supply unit is one computer part where it is better to spend that bit more and get a decent quality unit than a generic one. We would recommend buying a power supply which has a wattage capacity that is appropriate for your computer or build, with around 25-30% headroom to take into account ageing and efficient operation.

Categories
Community Workshops News

BitFIXit is now BitFIXing again!

Hello fellow readers and fixers! As the upheaval resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak is starting to settle up and down the United Kingdom, we noticed that various places throughout the country have recently started to open up again as the lockdown relaxes. We have also recently heard from another local community group based in Abbeyfield Park House that members of the local community have been asking about when our usual repairs workshops will begin running again.

Well, we have some good news to share with everyone here; we are looking to restart our repairs workshops for the community, starting from next Saturday, which will be the 27th June 2020. There will, however, be some measures that we will put into place to help protect our volunteers and the community against contracting coronavirus; here is a list of some of the measures that we propose to implement;

  • Providing hand sanitisers, wipes and gloves at the repairs workshops
  • We will be trialing having a small reception area just inside the door to the park where customers can drop off their computers. We’ll take contact details and then ask you to leave and we will contact you when the repair is finished.
  • Where possible, we will carry out repairs in separate rooms to help volunteers maintain social distancing during workshop sessions
  • As this is a trial we will review how it goes and may change our procedures as we get better at this

We very much look forward to resuming our regular service which has been operating continuously since 2004.