Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Solving computer woes

External hard disk enclosure from behind. On t...Image via WikipediaBeing a long time computer user, one thing that never ceased to amaze me is how people with virtually no technical expertise gets by. 

Owning a computer is a hands-on operation that requires maintenance, and some expertise, unless of course you don't mind paying someone else to keep your computer running efficiently. Personally, I'd rather do it myself.

There is no question that it has been a challenge to keep up with the constantly changing technology.

That is exactly what my husband John and I have done.

We have used a computer for decades. I've lost count of how many computers have been in our household, starting with the old Commodore Vic 20 in the 1980's.

Even greater is the number of keyboards I've purchased, replaced due to excessive use. At the end of their working lives, the letters had long been worn off the keys.

We've likely had every version of Windows; including its precursor, Commodore's Geos Operating System. The exception is the latest--Windows 7. We figure it is just too costly to upgrade, especially when our Windows XP--second edition--works just fine. There has to be a point where the old adage, "if it ain't broke don't fix it," makes the most sense.

Over the years, through a combination of diligent study, and learning from a multitude of mistakes, we are pretty proficient at maintaining our computers. We now have four working computers in the house, although only two that are working well. We refuse to trade up if we don't have to. Rather, we are eeking out the most from what is fast becoming our vintage machines.

I had begun to have trouble with my hard drive. The problems were subtle at first, but performance was increasingly diminished. At times, it would refuse to boot Windows without a couple of attempts. Software ran slowly. I got messages that there wasn't enough space to download email. I did whatever maintenance I could. John installed a second hard drive. I moved as many files onto the backup drive as I could. Still, my initial hard drive was dangerously full and growing every day. I could no longer defragment my drive, because there wasn't enough space to move files. A large number of files on the disk added to the system's instability.

My hard drive was old, and way too small. That is hard to fathom, especially when my computer life began even before hard drives had been invented. Our first computer stored data on a tape drive. It was like a tape recorder.

So to me, the 25 gigabyte (GB) capacity I had was huge. But that was using standards from 30 years ago. By today's standards, it was tiny. My drive had only 16 percent capacity left. That translates into big problems with performance.

We tried to think of an easy fix, using a variety of resources. 

I've taken the back off my computer only once to install additional memory. I don't like messing with all those components, so John is the official hardware guy.

We used a process of elimination to come up with a plan. An external drive was out because most of them use a more advanced Universal Serial Bus (USB) 2.0. We were still running USB 1.0. We considered upgrading the USB, but to do that, we would have to at least revamp the processor as well as  additional components. Buying a new computer would likely be cheaper.

It appeared that our only option was to clone the hard drive onto a larger one. I was unaware that such a thing could be done easily. Yet that would be much more effective than reformatting the hard drive and attempting to reinstall software. 

John found an 80 GB drive for sale online. It was pretty cheap because it is basically obsolete. I downloaded Easus, a free disk copy program that would do the job.

I was a nervous wreck. Nothing could be that easy. I started reading testimonials online by people who have cloned their drives. I realized, cloning a hard drive is a fairly common practice, especially in a situation like mine.

It took more than eight hours, during two attempts. Finally the process was finished, We turned on the power switch and to our amazement, Windows booted; my desktop picture loaded; all the icons appeared. It looked the same. We were finally able to exhale. It worked. I'm still stunned.

One of the first things I did was to defrag my hard drive for the first time in months. I was so excited by the process that I took a screen shot of what my new hard drive looked like before and after the defragging process. It is no wonder my system was unstable. My system is running great now; Crisis averted and there isn't even any tweaking necessary. 

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