Tech – for Everyone

Tech Tips and Tricks & Advice – written in plain English.

Advanced Troubleshooting – Checking For Bad RAM

Some computer problems (aka “issues”) are fairly obvious.

For example, if you knock your laptop off the table, it hits the floor hard, and now the screen is black, and there are several large cracks zig-zagging in the glass.. and maybe some small shards of glass have fallen out..
Well, I don’t think you would need to hire me to tell you you need to replace either the laptop’s LCD screen, or the whole laptop.

Other computer problems require a bit more brainwork.

Such as the ones where something suddenly stops working, and a very unhelpul “error message” appears. You know the ones. Maybe SuperNerd from planet Zorkboo understands Stop error “0x0000000A” IRQ NOT LESS THAN OR EQUAL TO, but… you’re thinking, “in English, please?”
For those, you can start by using your favorite search engine, and search for the exact error message you saw (if it stayed in view long enough to copy down verbatim). Or you may need to hire a SuperNerd from planet Zorkboo (shameless plug: such as myself. See Aplus Computer Aid).

Yet other computer problems are so vague, or.. seemingly random, that even SuperNerd isn’t quite sure where to start troubleshooting (I call these issues “gremlins”.. as in “maybe your computer is haunted by invisible imps”).

An example of this might be a PC that simply randomly reboots itself for no apparent rhyme or reason, on no particular schedule. This could be due to a failing power supply, malware, corrupted system files, overheating, hardware failure, software failure, or gremlins. Where do you start?

Years of experience, special tools, system logs, and a formula of trial-and-error-process-of-elimination helps us computer techs zero in on the problem in a fairly time-efficient way. (Hopefully.) And today I am going to tell you about a free tool, built into Vista and Windows 7, that tests for one of those “hardware failures” that leads to gremlin type symptoms — a RAM memory module going faulty — named the Memory Diagnostic Tool.

“The Windows Memory Diagnostic tests the Random Access Memory (RAM) on your computer for errors. The diagnostic includes a comprehensive set of memory tests. If you are experiencing problems while running Windows, you can use the diagnostic to determine whether the problems are caused by failing hardware, such as RAM or the memory system of your motherboard.”

To test the integrity of your comupter’s RAM:

1) Click on the Start button

2) Type memory into the search pane. Now, above in the results window, the top result will be Memory Diagnostic Tool. Click on that.


3) A new window will open, offering you two choices. Since the diagnostic tool needs to run before Windows starts up – you have to reboot (restart) your machine. The question is – do you want to do it now, or later? Odds are you want the first option — NOW. Save and exit any work you have open.


4) Click Restart now and check for problems. Your machine will reboot, and a basic startup screen will show the tool’s progress and results. This should take several minutes, as many different low-level test are being run.


When the scanning tests finish, you should know if your RAM memory modules fail miserably (and need to be replaced) or if you can eliminate RAM as your “gremlin”, and move to the next item on your troubleshooting checklist.. such as the power supply. Hopefully your RAM will pass, but if it doesn’t, the good news is, RAM is not too expensive, nor difficult, to replace. (For a tutorial on laptop RAM, click here.)

Good luck and happy computing.

Oh, yes. Did I mention? Sometimes it’s simply best to hand the headache off to a Pro.

Copyright 2007-2011 © “Tech Paul” (Paul Eckstrom). All Rights Reserved.

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May 10, 2011 Posted by | advice, computers, how to, Microsoft, PC, performance, tech, troubleshooting, Vista, Windows, Windows 7 | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Reader Question Answered: Disposing of Floppies

Proper Way To Erase Floppies If You Don’t Have A Working Drive

Q: Paul I am hoping you can tell me what I should do. I have boxes of old floppy disks and I want to get rid of them. I want to delete the files on them, but I no longer have a computer that has a floppy drive. How can I erase these disks without a drive?

A: Dear Reader,
Let my start my reply by commending you for being aware that it is very important to remove (aka “erase”/”delete”/”shred”) the data from any “memory device” before you dispose of it.

The proper method for destroying files is to run a “shredding” program, (sometimes called “secure delete” — which repeatedly writes a random series of 1’s and 0’s onto the memory) as simply formatting, deleting (or Trash-ing) the files is not enough.
(See, What You Need To Know About “Delete”*.)

Since you do not have a working 3.5″ Floppy drive (the floppy having gone the way of the dodo) you will need to use an “alternative” method to destroy your files and/or the diskettes themselves — and there are many of these. Probably the simplest is to touch the floppy to a reasonably large magnet (such as you will find on the back of old stereo speakers).

A few other methods
Some of the more “heavy duty” document shredders have a slot for shredding CD’s, and some of those can shred floppies. Consult the booklet that came with the shredder.

One fella I know clamps several into a vice, and then drills several good-sized holes; while another cuts them in half with a chop saw (please be careful.. and wear eye protection..).

You can bend them until they snap open, remove the soft brown disk, and cut it in half with scissors.

You can take them to a trusty tech, or Data Destruction service, and pay a modest fee. This last is my reco for most folks.

Today’s free download: Many “utility suites” (and also many “security suites”) have a “secure delete” function, so you may already have a file shredder. But if you don’t, and are planning on disposing of/donating old tech gear, you can download File Shredder

“If you’re looking for a reliable utility for utterly erasing files from your hard drive, you’ll be pleased with File Shredder’s performance. This free tool’s attractive interface is designed for ease of use, and even novices will comprehend its functions right off the bat.”

Copyright 2007-2011 © “Tech Paul” (Paul Eckstrom). All Rights Reserved.

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March 30, 2011 Posted by | advice, computers, hardware, how to, security | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Windows 7 64-bit Adventures

In keeping with the times, I decided to Go 64 (bit) with my new Windows 7 install (aka “upgrade”). 64-bit computing is officially here for us Average Folk, and it has many advantages. One of the nicest is the ability to “access” more RAM memory.
(I wrote previously about 64-bit and Windows 7. See, A Tech’s First Impression of Windows 7 64-bit)

64-bit operating systems can have lots of RAM, and since the machine I installed Windows 7 on only had a mere 3 Gigabytes of RAM.. and since my motherb180px-Memory_module_DDRAM_20-03-2006oard could accept up to 8… and.. Windows 7 64-bit can “see” 8.. well.. I decided to go and buy 8 GB’s of RAM modules and stick them in. (I am a capital “G” geek, after all..)

First, I visited the SystemScanner memory upgrade advisor tool at (a memory chip manufacturer) and downloaded it, and ran it. It told me exactly what type of RAM to buy.

In my case, the “best” my machine can accept turned out to be PC2 6400 (800 MHz DDR2), non-ECC, non-buffered. It isn’t important that you know what those things are, but it is important that the chips (aka “modules”) match the specifications. Also, good to know is, DDR2 is “dual channel”, so you want to install your modules in pairs. (The newer DDR3 is “tri-channel”, and should be installed in multiples of three.)

So that is what I asked for at the store.

It turned out that the best deal at that particular store, on that particular day, of 2 GB DIMMs of PC2 6400, was Crucial “Ballistix” memory.. a more “high end” type of performance memory favored by gamers. Installation went smoothly, and Windows 7 handled the hardware change with alacrity and ease.

(And.. I picked up an Intel® Core™2 Quad processor, which I will tell you about tomorrow.)

So for a relatively minor investment, I brought my older HP Pavilion a1763c into the new era of 64-bit high performance computing with Windows 7. I like the improvement. Yes I do!
But I have to confess, so far, I have not been able to come even close to having enough going on that that much RAM is being utilized… maybe I need to encode some videos, or something, to see all 8 being used. But I think I would have been fine with 6 GB’s…

A note if you are considering this yourself: DDR2 memory prices are actually on the way up now, and DDR3 prices are dropping, so if your machine uses DDR2, you may not want to put off an upgrade too much longer.

Copyright 2007-9 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.jaanix post to jaanix

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October 29, 2009 Posted by | advice, computers, hardware, how to, Windows 7 | , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Get a boost from your thumb drive

Thumb drives are amazing. They’re fast, they’re small, they make great keychain fobs, and they’re affordable. I have seen 8GB thumb drives for as little as $30, and 16GB’s for $50*.
That’s right– sixteen billion bytes. (The hard drive on my P-II [still running] is 4.3GB’s.)

Yes, thumb drives are all those things, and they’re practical too. By purchasing a U3 drive, or downloading the Portable Apps suite, you can easily convert your thumb drive to a “computer on a stick” and run your applications from it (as opposed to the host computer). This can be particularly useful when traveling, as you can carry your bookmarks, contacts, and documents with you.. and you won’t leave histories and ‘tracks’ that someone can read later.

In this article,, I tell you the steps for installing (pretty much) any program onto your thumb drive. By doing so, you can load your favorite, and most useful programs onto your computer-on-a-stick.. allowing you to carry a computer on your keychain (sort of).
I recommend loading a antivirus, and a couple of anti-spyware onto your thumb drives, and — since thumb drives are small and “losable”– using encryption to render the drive unreadable without knowing the password.

In another article,, I describe how to make a thumb drive “bootable”, and how you can load it up with diagnostic and repair programs; thus turning it into a recovery tool, and portable repair kit-on-a-stick. (This is for the more geek-inclined, but there is some good information there even if you aren’t skilled in computer repair.)

But even if you aren’t interested in using a “computer on a stick”, Vista users can still get some extra mileage out of your drive that you might not be aware of…
Tip of the day: Improve Vista’s performance with ReadyBoost. Loyal readers of this series will already know that 1) Vista is a resource hog, and 2) the best way to improve Vista’s performance is to give it lots of RAM. Well, the flash memory in your thumb drive may be fast enough for Vista to use as additional RAM (this is determined by the make/model of your thumb drive. Typically, the discount, or generic drives are not fast enough).

When you plug in a thumb drive, a small window opens which provides a list of options of what you want to do with this device– one of the options is “speed up my system”. Select this, and another window opens; click “Use this device”. If your thumb drive is capable of ReadyBoost, you’ll see a slider which allows you to allocate how much of your drive’s room you want to give over to the Vista OS– accepting the default is fine.
That’s it. You’re done. Pretty painless way to add RAM, eh? (cheap, too.)

Today’s free link: today’s free link is a repeat, but it is simply the best way to encrypt your volumes (drives), files and/or folders — such as your thumb drive. Download the free TrueCrypt, and make sure a lost thumb drive won’t be a minor disaster.

* As a testiment to Moore’s Law, just two weeks after posting this, I have seen the prices go down $20!

Copyright 2007-8 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.jaanix post to jaanix

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April 11, 2008 Posted by | advice, computers, hardware, how to, PC, performance, tech, thumb drives, tweaks, USB storage devices, Vista, Windows | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Put your thumb drive to work (updated)

I often use a specially configured USB “thumb drive” as my portable PC repair kit, and use it as an alternative to a “boot CD”. I have made it “bootable” and loaded it with useful tools and repair applications (like an antivirus scanner). It has come in handy, from time to time. With the price of these drives being as affordable as they are, there’s really no reason you cannot have a portable PC repair kit (on a stick) too.

Tip of the day: Making yourself a toolkit-on-a-stick requires a couple of steps; first you must format it to make it bootable, and then you must load it with the tools and applications you think you will need — if the thumb drive you’re planning to use is small (say, 512MB), you will want to get the “portable”, or “Lite”, versions of these programs if they’re available.

1) Make the drive bootable. The geekier (remember, I use “geek” as a compliment!) of you out there may be already familiar with the DOS utilty FDISK, and if you are and you still have a Windows 98 Install CD (or a Win 95 boot floppy) laying around, you can format the drive using the format /s command as outlined here.
If that doesn’t fit your description, or you are going to use a larger thumb drive, I suggest you download and run (it is a Wizard, so you just follow the prompts) a tool offered by HP (the HP USB Disk Storage Format Tool), which should do the work for you: get it here.

2) Now that your thumb drive can be used to boot a machine, it’s time to load it up with some useful programs and utilities. I started with the DOS tools FDISK, scandisk, and format. There is some debate amongst my fellow Tech Support-types as to which utilities are “must have’s” (but we all agree on some version of antivirus and anti-spyware) and I’m not going to trouble you with that. Instead, I’m going to point you towards today’s free link (below) and a wonderful pre-made suite of very handy portable applications, and suggest the addition of (my previously mentioned) HiJack This!

If you used the copy-the-system-files method (the “format /s”) you will already have chkdsk and fdisk and a few others.. or if not, these can be added. If you are not going to install Portable Apps, I suggest you do install Portable Firefox (or similar Web browser) so that you can access the Internet, for downloading device drivers.

To make it more of a “repair kit” you can add: a Registry cleaner/fixer, such as CCleaner and or AMUST Registry Cleaner, Process Explorer, and another anti-spyware like Spybot Search&Destroy.

Click here to read my article on the steps for installing programs on thumb drives.

Today’s free link: Portable This collection of portable application runs completely from the USB thumb drive. It has a Webbrowser, word processor, antivirus and more. Get started on the road to thumb drive power here.
[Update: Bill Mullins has brought to my attention a program for running apps on your thumbdrive that seems superior to others I have mentioned. To read his review, click here.]

Copyright © 2007 Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

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June 28, 2007 Posted by | advice, anti-spyware, antivirus, BIOS, computers, hardware, how to, PC, tech, thumb drives, Uncategorized, Vista, Windows, XP | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments