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

From hard drive enclosures to mini PCs (Part 2: Preparing for conversion)

Hello again fellow readers and fixers! So last time, we talked about external hard drives, ultra small form factor (USFF) PCs and their respective use cases; and we gave some of the reasons why turning an old external hard drive enclosure into a fully-fledged compact PC makes sense as a way of reusing otherwise disused and unloved equipment and peripherals.

But before we can start the process of turning an external hard drive into a working computer, we first need a suitable candidate whose enclosure will form the chassis for our compact PC project. And I happen to have an external hard drive that would be a good fit for this build; it is a LaCie external hard drive from around 2008. It was a fairly bulky external hard drive that was released to the public with either 500 GB, 750 GB or 1 TB of storage for data backups, and relied on an external power adapter to keep itself powered on, and a USB 2.0 data cable for file transfers.

And so, the first step in readying the external hard drive for converting into a compact PC is to open it up. The good news is that there are no screws that need removing to take the enclosure apart; the bad news is that it was a bit of a pain to slide the front and back panels out of position with a small screwdriver, and I had ended up scuffing the base of the enclosure in the process…

Once the panels were free, it was just a matter of sliding off the metal cover to expose the 3.5 inch mechanical hard drive, which is a 750 GB model that is worth reusing as internal storage for another machine. The hard drive was taken out by first removing the four screws holding it in place on the sides of the enclosure, and simply pulling it out afterward.

Next to remove is the small PCB with a SATA connector facing inwards, and the power and USB type-B connectors facing out. It too was held in place with four screws, but this time on stand-offs that keep the PCB from physical contact with a metal panel covering most of the inside base of the enclosure.

With the stand-offs also removed, it was then time to remove the metal panel itself; because it was also held in place with plastic pins that were melted into the shape of pegs during manufacturing, it had to be physically torn free with enough force to break the pegs without damaging the entire base of the enclosure. This panel could be reused as part of a base for which a credit card sized computer can be mounted on top.

But why a credit card sized computer? Why not use a motherboard that allows for more powerful hardware? Well in this case, using a credit card sized single board computer together with the extra size afforded by the incorporation of the 3.5 inch hard drive gives us more options with regards to cooling, storage and other features. And our choice of single board computer, turns out to be a Pine H64 Model B. Why choose this single board computer, when a certain other board has much wider support? We’ll explain why we made that choice as we did next time. So until then, as always, stay safe, keep calm and just keep on fixing!

Categories
Hardware Articles

From hard drive enclosures to mini PCs (Part 1: Why it’s worth the conversion)

Hello again fellow readers and fixers! If ever you needed a large amount of storage for which to back up all of your precious photos, documents and other data, in case your computer (or more specifically the internal hard drive or solid state drive) gives up the ghost, then chances are you have (or should have!) what is known as an external hard drive.

External hard drives come in various shapes and sizes, with the larger drives using 3.5″ hard drives that are commonly found in desktop PCs and digital TV recorders, while the smaller models use 2.5″ hard drives that can be found in laptops. But what if the drive, or the other components inside the external enclosure, go kaput at some point, or if you decide to replace the external drive with a new model? Well, why not try turning the enclosure into your very own fully-fledged ultra small form factor (USFF) computer?

Ultra small form factor PCs are highly compact desktop PCs that are designed to save valuable space in home or work environments, while still being useful for many of the same activities that would be done on standard-sized desktop PCs. To achieve such a small form factor, they tend to use more specialised motherboards, heatsinks and other components, and make use of 2.5″ SATA drives or M.2/NVMe SSDs and laptop RAM modules in order to save space.

Of course, there are various reasons why converting an external hard drive into a compact desktop PC makes sense. Firstly, there is a lot of fun that can be had in challenging oneself to turn a typical hard drive enclosure into a fully functional computer that no-one else has, and that makes good use of the available internal space.

Secondly, they are quite versatile in that they can be repurposed to fulfil various functions. They can make for a nice home theatre PC that can play all the blockbuster movies and shows that you know and love. They can be an awesome retro gaming machine that lets you play all kinds of arcade and home console video games. They can even be a tiny portable PC that you can carry with you and just plug into a TV or monitor while you’re away from home.

Thirdly, repurposing an old hard drive enclosure is a great way to bring back into use, an otherwise tired, disused or unloved item that would have been destined for recycling, or (worse) the landfill site. If the hard drive is still in good working order, then it can still be reused as internal storage for other equipment such as laptops, desktop PCs, digital TV recorders, and security camera systems.

So at this point, you may well be thinking, “What kind of computer will BitFIXit build?” Well next time, we will begin the whole process of converting an old hard drive enclosure into a working computer. For now, let’s just say it involves a credit card sized computer, but probably not the one you’re thinking of! Exactly what it will be – we’ll reveal next time. So in the meantime, as always, stay safe, keep calm and just keep on fixing!

Categories
BitFIXit General

Expanding upon the reduce, reuse, recycle concept

Hello again, fellow readers and fixers! Today, we are covering a concept that is familiar, especially to those of us who are involved in fixing, refurbishing and recycling old, broken and worn out everyday items, including computers, mobile devices and IT equipment. And this concept is known as reduce, reuse, recycle – otherwise known as the three R’s of recycling. This is where we collectively find ways to reduce the amount of materials, the Earth’s resources, and energy we expend, as well as the amount of waste we generate as a society.

Reduce means trying to conserve resources and materials in order to keep the environmental impact to a minimum. We would try to repair items that are brought into our workshops and only suggest replacements for our clients when we are genuinely unable to repair them.

Reuse means finding way to continue use of existing items that are no longer wanted or being used. At BitFIXit, we encourage reuse by refurbishing donated computers that are still in serviceable condition and giving them away to members of the local community. We also recommend refurbished computers to people who are looking to upgrade from an old machine.

Recycle means salvaging materials used in the manufacturing of items that really are unable to be reused and repaired, and then used to make new items. Whenever we accumulate a large amount of broken and unusable computers, IT equipment, components and other assorted items, we enlist the help of Aspire Community Enterprise Sheffield, a local social enterprise that offers computer repairs, refurbished computers and recycling services.

But is it possible to expand upon the idea of reduce, reuse, recycle? Well, we were able to came up with an expanded variation that covers five distinct steps of recycling, in the context of what we do at BitFIXit; renew, repair, reuse, remix, recycle.

Renew means refurbishing, upgrading or restoring fully functional and usable computers, mobile devices, IT equipment and other everyday items. Examples of ways to renew items include: returning IT equipment, smartphones and tablets to factory settings; installing extra RAM and/or a solid state drive to a computer to improve performance; reinstalling operating system and drivers on desktop PCs and laptops.

Repair means restoring computers, mobile devices and IT equipment to a properly working state by replacing broken, faulty or inoperable parts with fully functional parts, removing malware and other unwanted software, or fixing corrupted parts of operating systems such as the registry and system files.

Reuse means salvaging usable, functional parts from computers, mobile devices and IT equipment that are unable to be refurbished or repaired, and then using the salvaged parts for the same or similar designed purpose. It also means finding ways to continue use of functional computers, mobile devices and IT equipment that would otherwise become unused and unwanted. Examples of reusing parts and devices in this manner include: taking the hard drive out of a faulty or inoperable digital TV recorder, and installing it into a desktop PC as extra storage for music, videos, photos and other user data; reusing an old smartphone or tablet as a GPS or satnav for a motor vehicle.

Remix means upcycling parts taken from computers, mobile devices and IT equipment that are unable to be refurbished, repaired, or reused for their original purpose, by turning them into entirely different items, or repurposing them in completely unorthodox ways. To give some examples: inoperable or faulty hard drives can be repurposed as analogue clocks for displaying the current time; heatsink and case fans can be used to improve ventilation in living spaces, or to keep cool during hot weather; working motors salvaged from printers may be combined into a single unit that is powerful enough to serve useful purposes such as propelling a small vehicle, cutting grass in the garden, or chopping, mixing or blending food items.

Recycle, of course, means gathering together any broken, inoperable and faulty parts from computes, mobile devices and IT equipment that could not be repaired, refurbished or repurposed, and sending them away to Aspire Sheffield for their volunteers to recycle.

And that’s our five R’s of recycling! We certainly hope to present new and creative ways to reuse, repurpose and upcycle all kinds of parts from computers, mobile devices, IT equipment, and whatever else gets donated to us! And so, as always, stay safe, keep calm and just keep on fixing!

Categories
Hardware Articles

No drive bay space or caddies in a desktop PC for a new hard drive or SSD? Some quick & dirty ideas!

Hello again fellow readers & fixers! Today, we have some ideas to share with you about improvising with installations of hard drives and SSDs.

Chances are, you find yourself in a situation, where you decided to upgrade your desktop PC with an extra SATA HDD or SSD for extra performance and/or storage space, only to find that you can’t install your new drive in the normal manner. Perhaps as it turns out, you don’t have any spare drive bays for your new hard drive or SSD, or maybe there are no suitable caddies or brackets for your desktop PC.

Well, before you start returning the hard drive or SSD, you could try improvising with how you install it into your machine. Here are a couple of ideas that we have come up with, that you can try.

You could use adhesive pads that you can attach to the drive, and then mount onto some free space at the inside base of your computer, or the inside of the side panels. 2.5 inch SATA SSDs are recommended for this, as they are typically lighter than hard drives and are therefore less likely to fall away from the adhesive pads.

You could use other parts of the inside of the chassis as mounting points for securing hard drives and SSDs with screws, as long as they don’t impede airflow inside the case too much; some good places to install drives in this way would be at the inner front edge of the case (if possible, with the screw holes at the edge of the drive aligned with the holes on the case), and the mounting rails for installing case fans. The latter space is applicable for many cases designed for enthusiasts who like to build their own computers; these cases tend to have rails instead of fixed holes for adjusting the position of case fans once they are installed into the unit.

If you have come up with ideas with regards to how you improved with installing a hard drive or SSD in your own desktop PCs, please feel free to share them with us in the comments. So until next time, stay safe, keep calm and just keep on fixing!

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!