Mickey Mouse Computer Diagnostics

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Vince Massi

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The good news is that any moron can understand these simple diagnostics. The bad news is that they may tell you what's wrong, but you'll still have to pay to get your rig fixed. But at least they're free.

Now, time for some Mickey Mouse Diagnostics. Mickey doesn't have the brains to fix your laptop, but he can at least figure out what's wrong.

The next time you turn on your laptop, look at the blinking lights. Learn what they do when your laptop is working. Later, if your laptop won't start up, look at the blinking lights. If they flash normally, your Power On Button, power cord, and internal power supply are working.
 

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    Mickey's back, with another diagnostic tool so simple that anyone can understand it. When you start up, the first thing you see on your monitor is the "splash screen." It often contains the company logo or a Windows advertisement. But it's actually a diagnostic tool.

    Once your power supply has turned on the flashing lights, it turns on your CPU. The CPU then turns on your BIOS chip. This is actually a ROM (Read Only Memory) chip and IT IS INDEPENDENT OF YOUR WINDOWS OPERATING SYSTEM. The BIOS chip tells your computer how to operate. While your computer can turn it on or off, your rig cannot control the BIOS chip. Anyway, the CPU turns on your BIOS chip, and the BIOS chip turns on your monitor. It then sends the splash screen to the monitor. If the splash screen appears, then your CPU, BIOS chip, monitor cable, and monitor are working.

 

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Mickey has some bad news this time. If your splash screen appears, then your Power On Button, power cord, internal power supply, CPU, BIOS chip, monitor cable, and monitor are working. But they usually do.

The most common cause of failure in a laptop is the hard drive, and if the splash screen comes on normally, and then disappears, your hard drive has probably failed. Depending on your model, the BIOS chip might be able to give you some suggestions about getting into Safe Mode. If you can, immediately run your anti-virus program. But the most likely cause is that your hard drive is failing but isn't dead yet. My advice? Back up everything you can.
 

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    Learning that eighteen people are frantically following this thread, Mickey returns with two very valuable free download suggestions.

    Folks, we get a lot of questions on the laptop forum I write on, and many of them involve temperature problems. The free CoreTemp program has worked on every computer I have installed it on. You can read your temperatures in Celsius or Fahrenheit, get a list of all your hardware, shrink it to half-size, and a few other functions. I leave it running all the time on my laptop, but you can turn it off or shrink it to the taskbar. I have been able to install other temperature monitors at times, and they always give the same readings as CoreTemp.

    The free Win Patrol tells you everything that starts up in your computer, including malware, adware, and bloatware. Don't Delete anything, just Disable it until you're sure it's not needed. Don't interfere with anything from Microsoft or your computer's manufacturer. Stubborn bloatware uses different names to avoid Win Patrol, but it has a tab for all currently-running programs, and you can stop those prgrams there.

    Both programs run well on desktops as well.

 

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Most laptop problems can have multiple causes. When I research the cures, I keep finding one method that pops up for a variety of problems. By my unscientific count, about 10% of the time, the "Universal Laptop Cure" will work. It's free, so here it is:

Turn off your laptop, unplug it, and remove the battery. Hold the Power On Button down for one minute. Put the battery back in, plug it in, and start it up.

Why does this work? It refreshes the BIOS, corrects problems in the battery's software program, and reboots the Start-up program.
 

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Time to discuss operating systems. Laptop drivers are so specific that if you upgrade your OS, they will likely not work well with your new OS. The manufacturer's warranty doesn't cover it, and Microsoft isn't to blame. Don't do it! This is why I advise you to buy a cheap laptop. For $120 more than the cost of the upgrade, you can buy a new cheap laptop that has the new system installed.

There actually is a version of Linux written specifically for laptops, and it works well. But some companies buy left-over Windows laptops without an OS, and then install a free version of Linux. This lowers their cost, but you get a laptop that doesn't run well. Before you buy ANY computer, go home and research it on the web.
 

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Before I buy a used laptop, the first thing I do is make sure all the Linux drivers are available for that model. I generally stick with Ubuntu or Mint.
 

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Izdaari said:
Before I buy a used laptop, the first thing I do is make sure all the Linux drivers are available for that model. I generally stick with Ubuntu or Mint.
Good thinking. I'll remember that one.

And now, Mickey's tip for today: Having trouble reading your monitor? Try taking off your glasses. No joke, even people who are heavily-nearsighted can easily read a monitor at close range.
 

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Mickey's back, with more common-sense solutions to complicated laptop problems.

A fellow wrote into the forums that he had bought an expensive laptop with an expensive video card and an expensive touchscreen monitor. He could easily swipe with one, two, three, or four fingers. Then he bought a large cheap external touchscreen monitor, and it not only doesn't show the pictures as clearly as his laptop monitor, but he can only swipe with one finger. We explained that no matter how good your video card is, it cannot make a cheap monitor do something it isn't built to do.

Another fellow bought a budget netbook and upgraded the built-in monitor to a better one. But it doesn't give him a good picture. The answer: his drivers aren't designed for the new monitor, his laptop isn't powerful enough to run the new monitor well, and for less than he paid for the new monitor he could have bought a full-size laptop.

One happy person upgraded his Windows 7 laptop to Windows 8, and lost his drivers in the process. He downloaded and installed the newest drivers, but it still didn't work well. The solution? Download and install the old Windows 7 drivers (which is what his laptop is designed for). It doesn't work all the time, but it did for this fellow.

Anybody else have a Mickey Mouse solution to a common problem? Feel free to post it here.
 

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I was surprised to learn this, but I have used it several times, and it works. If you can Start your computer but can't get Windows to open, you are probably having a hard drive problem. There is about 1/3 of a chance that it is a software problem, however. So you try to get into Safe Mode and can't. Now what?

On some versions of Windows, including Windows 8, you can put ANY legal copy of Windows into your DVD drive and restart your computer. Depending on your operating system, the DVD will allow you to go into Safe Mode, and various repair modes, before it asks for your Windows Key. No, it is not illegal, because you are only using it to access your own legal copy of Windows.
 

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On another forum, we had a four page series helping a fellow who bought a cheap laptop and couldn't get good Wi-Fi. Finally, he posted a solution that worked: he bought a good-quality external Wi-Fi card. Folks, the competition is fierce, so profit margins are slim. If you find a laptop with incredible power and a low price, it is built with cheap parts.

And today's painful lesson. If your laptop has the installation operating system installed on your hard drive, you cannot transfer your operating system to another computer. Let me translate that into English: You can't buy a cheap laptop, remove the operating system, and put it on another computer.
 

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Mickey's back, with another low IQ intelligent tip. Do you want an optical drive (DVD drive) on your laptop? Make sure it has one, because many of them don't.
 

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Is your laptop suddenly turning itself off?

Courage! The most common reason that your laptop is powering off is overheating. Hold your finger over the exit vent to make sure the fan is actually blowing out air. If not, a careful shot of compressed air into the exit vent WITH YOUR COMPUTER TURNED OFF might fix it. And merely elevating the top corners a little will lower your temperature about 10F. Then, download the free Core Temp program. It will tell you the internal temperature of your rig.
 

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    So what'll a few hundred bucks get me nowadays?

Stick with name brands. Generally, the best cheap laptops are Acer. If you find one you like, write down the complete model number, go home, and look it up on the internet. Find out EXACTLY what the operating system is. Is it Starter Edition, Single Language Edition, etc.

Forget the warranty, since the manufacturer won't pay much attention to it. Find out how long the store will allow you to return it. When you get it home, if it doesn't work right, TAKE IT BACK! Don't try to fix it, TAKE IT BACK!

Be very careful about buying a Linux laptop. There is one version of Linux written especially for laptops. But if the machine is designed for Windows but has the Linux operating system installed, walk away.
 

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Mickey's back, with another brilliant tip so simple that everyone can understand it.

Have you noticed that your desktop computer does not have an Fn key, but your laptop does? The function key lets you use all those funny little symbols you've been ignoring. Look at the little pictures on your F keys. The one with a radio antenna shuts off your wireless. The one with the Z puts your laptop to sleep. The one with a hand turns your mouse on or off. And the one with a loudspeaker turns your sound on or off. You have to press the Fn key, plus the proper F key, to do what the picture refers to.
 

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Got a laptop so cheap that you can't find out much about your CPU?

Type CPUID into a search engine and you can download a free tool that will give you detailed info on your CPU. You can't change anything, but it won't hurt your system.
 

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Vince Massi said:
    So what'll a few hundred bucks get me nowadays?

Stick with name brands. Generally, the best cheap laptops are Acer. If you find one you like, write down the complete model number, go home, and look it up on the internet. Find out EXACTLY what the operating system is. Is it Starter Edition, Single Language Edition, etc.

Forget the warranty, since the manufacturer won't pay much attention to it. Find out how long the store will allow you to return it. When you get it home, if it doesn't work right, TAKE IT BACK! Don't try to fix it, TAKE IT BACK!

Be very careful about buying a Linux laptop. There is one version of Linux written especially for laptops. But if the machine is designed for Windows but has the Linux operating system installed, walk away.
Agreed that Acer is a good cost-effective brand, and that a good return policy is more important than a warranty. IMHO, extended warranties are usually a rip-off.

So far as Linux, I've never actually seen a new laptop offered for sale with it. On a used one, it all depends on whether the proper Linux drivers exist for that model, which is why the Linux community maintains such extensive hardware compatibility lists. If you can't get all the right drivers, some of the parts may not work. In my experience, corporate-surplus Dells (again -- corporate road warrior models, not consumer grade) are a piece of cake: easy to get all the right drivers for them. Durable too, if heavy.
 

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Someone wrote in that he had set a hard drive password and couldn't remember it. I thought that he was confused about a Windows Start-up password, but I researched it, and there really is such a thing. You have to go into BIOS to set it, and if you forget it, you CANNOT get in, and no one can get you in. Sometimes, certain companies can erase your hard drive and let you start over.

My own desktop was custom-built here in Mexico. The vendor set a hard drive password and keeps it secret. That way, his customers can't foul up the BIOS and blame him.
 

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Vince Massi said:
Someone wrote in that he had set a hard drive password and couldn't remember it. I thought that he was confused about a Windows Start-up password, but I researched it, and there really is such a thing. You have to go into BIOS to set it, and if you forget it, you CANNOT get in, and no one can get you in. Sometimes, certain companies can erase your hard drive and let you start over.

My own desktop was custom-built here in Mexico. The vendor set a hard drive password and keeps it secret. That way, his customers can't foul up the BIOS and blame him.
A quick fix for that is replacing the hard drive. It'd cost a few bucks, but they're pretty cheap these days. And I'd never, ever use that vendor again.
 

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Izdaari said:
Vince Massi said:
My own desktop was custom-built here in Mexico. The vendor set a hard drive password and keeps it secret. That way, his customers can't foul up the BIOS and blame him.
A quick fix for that is replacing the hard drive. It'd cost a few bucks, but they're pretty cheap these days. And I'd never, ever use that vendor again.
A thousand pardons, Señora. I didn't explain myself adequately. We are very happy with this vendor, who has built us four computers over the years. I was carefully experimenting with the BIOS, when I found that none of my changes would remain.  no harm done.

On a technical forum I used to write for, there were several occasions in which a person voided his warranty and fouled up his computer by going into BIOS, and then he wouldn't admit it when he brought his computer in for repair.
 
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