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

The Perfect CPU?

This 6 days-a-week series I write is, for the most part, exactly as I describe in the sub-title — Tech Tips and Tricks & Advice (as well as “Questions Answered”). My writings tend to be Microsoft Windows-oriented because that is what I, and approximately 95% of you, use. I write about the Internet a lot also… because I understand a few of you are using it too.

I also try to keep my readers informed of emerging technologies, developments, and trends (“tech news”, if you will). I do this because personal computers, and “tech”, is out of diapers now, has learned to walk, hopefully is out of the “terrible twos”.. but!, is anything but a “mature product”.. like, say, sailing vessels [ships] are “mature”.

And.. there’s a little thing called “Moore’s Law“, which tells us that tech is ‘growing’ at an exponential rate (evolving is a better word).

My point here is, simply, that I try to provide information here that is useful to you. Tech – for Everyone is not a place where I discuss my hopes and dreams, favorite music, next week’s schedule, or who I think should win American Idol (one exception.. my football predictions).
Like Dragnet’s Sergeant Joe Friday, I try to deal with “just the facts”.

Even in discussing tech, I try to leave myself out of it. I don’t think you care what brand graphics card I prefer, or that I find PowerPoint boring.

But sometimes, my own personal experiences with tech make for the more well-received articles. For instance, my writings on my experiences with the new Windows 7 (click here to see all articles tagged “Windows 7”) and switching to a 64-bit operating system have been very popular.

And I did get a bit personal when I wrote a series on hardware upgrading for my readers after I decided to swap out a dual-core CPU for a quad-core, and load up my motherboard with RAM modules (see part 1, Replacing or Upgrading Your CPU)

Where is he going? Well, I have ran a bit long, but it was my intention to tell you about my most recent hardware upgrade, and why I have a new recommendation for those who are interested in max. computer performance — I rebuilt a machine into an i7, X58, DDR 3, SLI rig.. and it is pretty sweet. I am very impressed with the i7/X58 combo.

But I will need more space — maybe another series — to do the topic justice, so I hope you will return here and read it. It should appear Monday. Have a super weekend folks, and please exercise “paranoid common sense” while online.

Part 2 | The Best CPU?

Part 3 | The Best CPU?

The Best CPU? Hardware Upgrade, cont.
(part 4)

Copyright 2007-2010 © Tech Paul. All Rights Reserved. jaanix post to jaanix.

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February 20, 2010 Posted by | advice, computers, hardware, PC, performance, tech, upgrading | , , , , , , , , , | 3 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

Some Guidelines For Purchasing a New PC

Recently, my duties included an unexpected shopping jaunt. I had been asked to purchase and set up a new PC and home network (a service I provide at Aplus Computer Aid). Inspired by that, and in light of the fact that Shopping Season is nigh upon us, I have reposted an article on guidelines for purchasing a new PC, which first appeared 8/17/07–

How much RAM do I need, and other guidelines for buying a new PC. To conclude this series, I am going to review the topics covered, assume that you’ve decided that, yes, it is time to buy a new PC, and then give some advice on what to look for in a machine. I’m not going to get into a Mac versus PC debate, or talk you into trying Linux. I am going to focus solely on hardware (the ‘capabilities’) options of a non-Mac desktop or laptop PC.

Tip(s) of the day: Laptop computers. Most of what I am going to recommend today applies equally to laptops and desktops with very few exceptions. Today’s portable machines (notebook and tablet PC’s) very nearly rival the hardware capabilities of a desktop (or “tower”), and some models market themselves as a “desktop replacement”. They have large hard drives for storage, can ‘burn’ dual-layer DVD’s, have nice large screens, can access the Internet wirelessly, and are fast. Some have high-end graphics adapters that can keep up with the latest games.

Where laptops are different is: they are comparatively more expensive, they (often) depend on a battery, and they’re limited in terms of “expansion”. Expansion, quite literally, is room to “add stuff”, commonly referred to as “upgrading”. For this reason, I advise (when purchasing a notebook/laptop/tablet) differently than when buying a tower, to wit – buy the most machine you can afford.
Also, I advise buying the battery “upgrade”.

If you have to penny-pinch, reduce the RAM and/or go with a smaller hard drive… because these are the two components on a laptop that it is relatively easy to “upgrade” at a later date, when your finances have recovered. The other things – CPU, graphics, motherboard, sound, etc. — are not so easy to swap out/upgrade. In a tower there is practically nothing you cannot replace: in a laptop you’re kind of stuck, so buy as high up the scale as you can. Not just what you think you’ll need today, but buy for tomorrow as well. Because that’s the way the machine will be for its lifetime.

When deciding which model laptop, do not forget to compare battery life (these stats are published). Also, and I can’t stress this enough, do not buy a laptop that you haven’t typed on. Yes, you can make your purchase online or out of a catalogue, but go into a store and touch it first (sorry, all you Best Buy salespersons out there). Each keyboard and touchpad is different. Make sure you like the layout and “feel” of typing on the keyboard. There’s nothing worse (in laptop computing) than trying to work on a keyboard that just isn’t “you”–IMHO.

Desktops: When considering which tower/desktop to buy, there’s basically three categories of machines; budget/student, workstation, and “performance”/gaming. Low, middle, and top-end. You can spend as little as $300, or as much as $8,500. (Yes. $8,500. But, those systems are cool!) I have mentioned before that to do it right, you can get everything you want/need for $700 – $1,100, and that even the budget machines have the “good stuff”.

My advice for what to look for in a desktop, is a little more flexible. First, decide roughly what you’d like to spend. If you really are in the $300 -500 range, do not rule out “refurbished” machines. Rebuilt/refurbished machines are an excellent value. Any negative stigma they may have is unjustified.

Get the most RAM you can. If your machine is coming with Vista (and most of them are), you should avoid Home Basic — and Vista really should be run on 2 Gigabytes of RAM.

Go with a mid-to-high end CPU. The Athlon X2 chips are better than the older “dual core” Pentiums, but not quite as good as the Pentium Core Two Duo. (I know that’s confusing: there are two types of dual-core Pentiums. The D-series is the older type. You want either the Athlon or “Core Two Duo”.)
The quad-core CPU’s from Intel are very good, and are the latest ‘generation’. If it is in your budget, go quad.

Optical drives. Unless you really need a ‘high def’ burner and you want it right now, hold off on going for a “Blu Ray” burner just yet. Two optical drives, while nice, is not a necessity. Do, however, make sure your “combo drive” can burn (“write”) to a dual-layer DVD.

Graphics. Most people do not need a $800 graphics card (only us hard-core gamers, and other boys-of-all-ages, do) nor do they need an “SLI” set up. However, whenever your budget allows, it is almost always better to have a “graphics card” than “onboard graphics”. Onboard graphics chipsets are built into the motherboard, and while they do a quite adequate job, they “share” your RAM … and by that I mean “steal” your RAM.
Please note, you can buy, and install a graphics card at any time..

Do not skimp on your monitor.

Power Supply. Do not forget to check the Wattage of the machine’s power supply. Here is another area where more is definitely better. It constantly surprises me how many seemingly unrelated computer ‘glitches’ and quirks turn out to be caused by an inadequate or failing power supply. Shoot for one that’s rated in the neighborhood of 350W, unless you’re going for a more “loaded”, high-end performance machine — in which case 500W, or higher, is not unreasonable.

Well, that should get you started. Buying a new PC should not be a stressful thing. It should be an enjoyable and rewarding experience. Just remember to test drive before you buy, and do a little comparison. It really doesn’t matter if you decide upon a no-name, a HP, a Sony, Dell, or whatever. You may want to take advantage of the many mix-and-match-components “custom build” option, and design your own PC.

Here are the links to the prior parts of this series: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Today’s free link: To help shop for a new PC, another excellent shopper’s resource can be found at the PC World magazine’s website. Click here.

Hotmail users: please help me with an upcoming article by answering this Yes/No survey question.
Hotmail Poll*

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

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November 1, 2008 Posted by | advice, computers, how to, PC, shopping for | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 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