Category: Hardware (Page 1 of 5)

Traptops in 2023 v2.0

Traptops in 2023, v2.0

Just last month, I went on at length about traptops on this blog. I’m sorry to say that I have to return to this topic, as people are bringing to my attention some even sneakier traptops. Let’s pull open the drapes on these shenanigans, so fewer people get taken by this trickery. Here we go with Traptops in 2023 v2.0:

I Was Almost Fooled

This new type of traptop almost fooled me. I recommend you check out this listing over at Amazon. Here’s another comparable listing, also on Amazon. If I go digging, they’re on Wal*Mart, as well. I had to stare at these for a few minutes; I truly doubted my spidey-sense at first, because these products really look good. They feature:

  • a big name brand (HP)
  • shipped quickly through Amazon’s Prime program
  • sold as a New item, with Windows 11
  • tons of storage space and RAM
  • a reasonable price

But I think the tip-off to me was that these computers sport too much RAM. 8GB is enough, 16GB is a lot, but you don’t typically see 32GB of RAM in a $500 computer 32GB of RAM is only expected inside of professional-grade or top-tier gaming computers.

Next, I noticed the processors: Intel Pentium and Silver CPUs. The same bargain-basement, ultra-low-powered chips found in those sub-$200 traptops I’m always going on about. The combination of amazing RAM/storage with a low-rent processor caused my facial tic to act up. So I dug in further.

The Plot Sickens

Reading the finer print, other details stuck out to me:

  • These computers are sold by mystery companies (Oydisen, Snow Bell, etc.) and not HP or Dell.
  • They are “new” in the sense that no other consumers have used them before. But these computers have been opened, unboxed, dissected, and “upgraded” with components from other sources.

I had to sit with this and imagine the path of one of these computers, from its birth to arriving at my doorstep. Here’s my hot-take on how this happens:

HP manufactures too many computers, and they are left with some extra pallets of traptops from last year. They sell them off cheap through remainder programs or other ersatz methods, to companies like Oydisen. These fringe companies crack open the laptops, take out the 128GB SSDs and swap in 1TB SSDs, take out the 4GB of RAM and put in 32GB, slap it all back together and try to move them on Amazon, eBay and Wal*Mart, where the return policies will discourage anything from being sent back. The newish computers are then sold off at a big profit, and they also get to sell off the harvested parts in bulk, too.

If I had to guess, they likely bought these 2022 traptops for less than $200 a pop. If they buy the SSDs in bulk, they could be less than $40 apiece. And RAM also can be found cheaply, for under $50. All told, these outfits could be moving $250 computers for $500 or more.

Now, I don’t want you to get angry about them making money. This is America, and everyone marks up every piece of merchandise. What I want you to focus on are the problems and dangers with the computers they’re cranking out.

What Can Go Wrong

As I’ve detailed before, traptops are built to go wrong. They’re underpowered, deliberately hobbled, have insufficient cooling and are largely non-upgradeable. Adding an unbelievable amount of RAM and massive storage does not change this.

In fact, it increases the risk of problems. More RAM creates more heat. The laptop was designed with its original hardware in mind, and it may not be able to exhaust the heat created by the upgrades heaped upon it.

Please consider also: What happens if you have any hardware problems with this computer? Are you going to call HP Support? Let me stop you right there: HP will not help you with this “new” computer. The warranty was voided by the company that cracked the seal and removed the HP parts. If you have any warranty, it’s now with Oysiden or whoever sent you the computer.

And if you are upset or disappointed after buying such a computer, the deck is stacked against you for returning it. Even if you are well within the return-window, Amazon or Wal*mart may resist accepting the computer back. Because: Can you truly prove there’s anything wrong with it? They’ll help you with defective merch, but not with anything they think is buyer’s remorse.

And finally, good luck tracking down these seller, for support or complaints or anything. I went looking for Oydisen and never found a website or phone number. I can find their warehouse in Delaware, and their awful BBB profile, but no sensible way of calling them. Another seller, Snow Bell, tracks back to a lovely $1M residential home in Fairfax, VA, but I have a feeling they don’t welcome customers or calls there.

Stay Safe Out There

  • Buying from big box stores is generally safer than buying from Amazon, Wal*Mart and eBay. When you buy from a big name store, the computer is coming from them. But Amazon and Wal*Mart consider themselves “marketplaces”, where anyone can sell anything. And they don’t take much responsibility over what their marketplace sellers’ behavior.
  • If you do buy from Amazon, take special note of the Sold By info in the product details. “Ships from and sold by” is safer than “Sold by Hot Mess Express Tech Deals”.
  • I recommend you choose new computers over refurbished/renewed/open box systems. And read the fine-print to make sure they are truly new-in-box, unmolested, all quality seals intact.
  • Know where your computer warranty lay. If you buy from Costco, that’s where you go with warranty questions and tech help. Best Buy, Staples, MicroCenter will steer your warranty concerns to the original manufacturer’s number. If you find out that the warranty is through some unknown third-party, that should raise a red flag.
  • Please feel free to email or call me about any computer purchase you are unsure of. I will quickly offer an opinion about any PC you send me details about.

Hiding Photos on Your Phone

hiding photos on your phone

Smartphones offer you an important tool for hiding photos on your phone. Whether you have an Android or an iPhone, you should consider using this function!

For Android users: Google gives you the ability to securely stash photos in the Locked Folder, in the Google Photos app. Here’s a simple Google article on how you would use it.

For iOS users: Apple offers the same sort of tool, but they call it the Hidden Folder. Apple offers this article to explain on its use.

Once you’ve placed anything in this special folder, you should know:

  • These items are well-protected, and you’ll have to enter your passcode or thumbprint every time you enter the folder.
  • When you move a file into the Locked/Hidden Folder, that file is removed from its location in your photo library. That also means it disappears from the normal cloud backup and any other devices that it synced to.
  • The contents of this protected folder won’t turn up in any searches performed on your phone.
  • If you still want an important photo to be backed up or synced, make a copy of it and move the copy into this folder.

Possible Uses

With a little imagination, you’ll find a variety of uses for this tool. Perhaps you have some delicate photos that shouldn’t be seen by anyone who borrows your phone. Maybe you need a safe place for some critical evidence you’ve photographed. My favorite, though, is keeping a record of everything that’s in my wallet.

It’s true, I could lose my wallet and my phone at the same time. So I’ve also recorded my wallet contents elsewhere at home. But let’s say I’m travelling and my wallet decides to travel somewhere without me. I’ve socked away a photo of each card in my wallet. I can immediately go to my Locked Folder, refresh my memory of all the cards I carry, and start calling the associated banks and companies. It would make a tough situation a little easier to resolve.

Traptops in 2023

traptops in 2023

There is a class of laptop that I refer to as a “traptop”. Buying this class of computer is akin to stepping in a trap, and I have warned my readers about these in past years. And here I am again, writing about Traptops in 2023, because they are changing and still causing harm to my customers.

Traptops lure in people with great, low prices and amazingly positive descriptions. Consider this laptop on special sale right now at Amazon for the Prime Days. It looks like a pretty sweet deal at $287 for a 17″ Windows computer! But it isn’t. Please do not consider buying this dreadful device. As I say often: You will live to regret it.

Here are the criticisms I can levy on this computer:

Storage: These laptops start at 128GB of storage. And that’s not so bad, but please know that Windows 11 and its initial big updates will gobble 30-40GB of space. If you plan on storing much data, you’ll need more storage capacity. And this laptop only offers a slot for a MicroSD card. Those are extra-fragile, and I would not recommend using them for anything important.

Processor: A traptop often comes with a very underpowered processor, like an Intel Celeron. That CPU is not good at handling the weight of Windows 11. It will bog down quickly, if you leave Chrome open for too long, or during a virus scan, or even during a big Windows Update. And you cannot upgrade the processor down the road. If you plan on running Windows, avoid processors with names like Celeron, Silver, Gold and just Pentium. Those are fine for Chromebooks, but not for heavy-lifting.

Deliberately Hobbled: These computers are designed to spare all expense. They cut corners and then they cut corners off of those corners, to drive the cost down as far as is possible. And to the regular consumer, these tactics are invisible. But I and others can describe what’s going on, under the hood.

A traptop’s build cost can be cut if you eliminate the cooling fans. But to eliminate cooling fans, you must also eliminate heat. A processor has to create some heat, though. So to reduce the heat, the motherboard is programmed to throttle the already-pitiful Celeron processor.

Lack of Support: You can get into trouble with any new computer, and your first call might be to the manufacturer. No one wants to call the maker of the computer for help. But at least you can do that with an HP laptop or a Dell desktop. I have a feeling it’s not the same with a SGIN computer.

I’ve looked over the Amazon listing for their cheapest SGIN computer. I’ve done a bit of Googling and other searches. I cannot for the life of me find a website or contact number for SGIN. How would I contact the manufacturer, if I have trouble with this device? Send a message through the Amazon website?

PS: While I do not put much faith in Amazon reviews, they do reveal how bad the support level is with SGIN. Pick a SGIN computer, go to the Reviews and click on the 1-Star ratings. You’ll quickly see the suffering others have gone through.

There are many other traptops out there to beware of, so take this info and apply it wherever you see a computer that has a too-good-to-be-true pricepoint. Amazon is the worst offender that I see right now for traptops. But I should like to heap shame also on Wal*Mart and eBay for permitting these to be sold on their platforms, as well.

In general, I want to see a Windows computer with at least 8GB of RAM, a true Solid State Drive and at least an Intel i3 processor. Less than that is asking for trouble. And stick to the big brand names: HP, Dell, Acer, Asus, Lenovo. Pass over that Liánjià Lèsè Laptop or anything with a similarly curious name.

And please feel free to reach out to me before you buy your next computer. I am happy to give you my opinion on your future PC purchase!

The Print Friendly Browser Extension

print friendly browser extension

I love the Print Friendly browser extension. This freebie allows me to manipulate websites before I print them, helping me save on ink and paper. Check this out:

The Print Friendly browser extension is available to download and use in almost any browser. Once installed, all you have to do is click its icon to activate it for the website you are about to print. Print Friendly will open a new copy of the website for you to manipulate:

An example that I might print from

At the top of this overlay, you can adjust the size of the text and graphics, to prepare your print job to fit fewer pages. But even better, you can scroll down through the page and click on any element to delete it. Nix those ads, remove any unwanted graphics, you should have complete control over what is going to print. Use the Print button to the upper-left and appreciate the barebones page you just created!

If you don’t want to install the extension, that’s OK, you can still use this tool. Simply copy the URL of what you wish to print, and paste it in at the Print Friendly website. The Preview button will give you the same thing as the extension would.

Recycling Ink & Toner Cartridges

recycle ink and toner cartridges

If you own a printer, then you are certain to generate empty cartridges. Recycle them! You may also someday find yourself with some full unused cartridges, when you move to a new printer. Don’t just huck them in a dumpster. Recycling ink & toner cartridges will be easy and free through these avenues:

Recycling Offered by Printer Manufacturers

Most printer manufacturers offer free & easy recycling options. You can usually locate information about those by Googling for the manufacturer name + “cartridge recycle”. But maybe these links will save you some searching:

Recycling Search Websites

Earth911 offers a nationwide search tool to give you ideas of who recycles ink and toner cartridges near you.

Much of the time, this search tool is going to direct you to your closest Staples, OfficeMax, Target or Goodwill store. Those storefronts commonly have dropboxes where you can freely deposit your empties.

If you patronize one of the big office supplies stores, ask if they offer any recycling incentives or credits. You might earn some $$$ off your next purchase there!

Mail-In Services

There are so many companies who would love to take those cartridges off of your hands. Some may have a noble goal of raising money for a charitable cause. Others may pay you for your cartridges (although it may only become worthwhile for you to do so if you have a large quantity to recycle). Consider these outfits:

Cartridges for Kids




If you know of a great mail-in service for recycling printer cartridges, please let everyone know in the comments. Thank you!

Amazon Halo Trackers Have Been Discontinued

If you use an Amazon Halo fitness tracker, it will soon stop working. Amazon has decided to end the sale and support of these devices. Since these trackers are part of the Internet of Things, they will cease to function when their apps and services are shut down.

Other fitness trackers are alive & well and will be unaffected by Amazon’s discontinuation. If you are impacted, please know that Amazon will refund you on any Halo you’ve purchased in the last 12 months. They will also stop any recurring subscription fees you’ve signed up for. You’ll have until 8/1/2023 to move to another fitness tracker, at which time your Halo devices will be bricked.

If you need a replacement fitness tracker, please know that Google, Apple, Samsung and Garmin all sell such devices.

How Long Should My Computer Last?

Many people ask me, “How long should my computer last?” And I could answer rhetorically with “How long is a piece of string?” but that won’t satisfy. I can do better. Let’s go over some concepts and ballpark ideas that will help you plan and manage your expectations for your computer’s lifespan.

Things Fall Apart

“That belongs in a museum!”

Your computer is just a machine, with moving parts. Some components heat up and cool down. Other parts rub or flex. And even others compress and expand with daily use. When we consider a computer’s lifespan simply based on wear-and-tear, we can hope for 4 to 5 years under average conditions.

But that sort of estimate will vary from one person to another, and should also be considered as the middle of a bell curve. If most computers age out in the 4-5 year range, there will be some computers that exceed that and live to see their 10th birthday, and there will be others that fail to thrive and die an early death. (Thank goodness for Costco’s 2-year warranty on technology items!)

Things fall apart at different rates, due to other factors, as well. Experts guess that desktop computers endure wear-and-tear better than laptops, due to better airflow and the ability to keep cool. You may retire your laptop sooner than expected, because the various ports have worn out. You’ll certainly un/plug many more times to a laptop’s power and USB ports than you would a desktop’s.


And as components and ports wear out, the computer owner can certainly prolong the life of the computer with a repair. If it is worth it. On a young computer (<3 years), it may make financial sense to replace a broken screen panel, or have the power supply replaced. But once the computer gets into its golden years? It may not be worth the cost of repair. An expensive hardware issue may total the computer.

This can be a difficult judgment call to make. You can start by comparing the estimated costs of repair against the price of a new system. But that’s just a starting point.

Depending on the parts needed to repair a computer, they could be hard to acquire and/or expensive, due to age. Manufacturers often discontinue laptop parts after the 3-year mark, partly because they’d rather you buy another machine than repair the one you’ve got. Your repair technician can probably still find the pieces s/he needs, but it will increase your cost to do so.

Also, older computers have a tendency to turn into money pits. You haul your PC to the shop and the tech replaces the failing hard drive with an SSD. After that expenditure, the system still isn’t quite right. So you invest in a RAM upgrade. Better, but not quite perfect. Then, unrelated, the power supply dies and you have a new one put in. You review your expenses and wonder, Would all of these costs have equaled the price of a new tower? Should I have cut bait at the beginning? Just because a computer can be repaired doesn’t mean it should be. The money pit factor usually leads me to recommend people avoid sinking a lot of money into their computers.

Other Points of View

So far, I’m describing all of this from the points of view of the computer owners, and possibly the people who will repair your machines. Let’s branch out from those perspectives.

If your computer is a business asset, you may want to consider the tax liability of it. It looks like you get to depreciate and claim your computer for 5 years. I’m not a CPA, but if you have one, they may have relevant advice on this that will encourage you to move on from that 5-year-old computer.

Apple would have you think that their products will last longer than PCs. Debating that concept falls outside the scope of this post, but I have addressed that in years past on Facebook. But despite what Apple claims, they say otherwise in their Environmental statements. When assessing their greenhouse impacts and other metrics, they presume that you’re going to get about 4 years of use out of your iMac or MacBook.

CEOs and other big business leaders may refresh computers on a set timeframe, whether or not they need it. Many go by the 5-yr mark, but some do it sooner, on a 4 or 3-yr schedule. I’m sure this is done as a proactive measure, to avoid work stoppages and keep things efficient. If you have room in your budget and a need to stay productive, you might want to Be a Boss and decide when your computer’s lifespan is up. For the good of your business!

Final Thoughts

Most opinions revolve around the 3-5 year estimate for your computer. Here are a few last items to consider:

  • Your wear-and-tear factor increases if the computer is in a very dusty or humid environment. Rough treatment and frequent transportation of a computer also shortens the lifespan.
  • A computer’s usability can also be affected if the operating system reaches its end of support. For example, the Windows 10 lifecycle ends on 10/14/2025. There are plenty of computers that will be retired on that day, because they cannot be upgraded to Windows 11.
  • I see a lot of chintzy and low-quality Windows computers coming out of Wal*Mart and Target. It doesn’t matter what brand name is on them. I know those companies are driving all of their suppliers for cheaper prices every quarter, and it leads to a loss of quality across many of the tech items they sell. So if your computer came from one of those stores, you may want to lower your expectations accordingly.

Computer Upgrades So Easy, Anyone Can Do Them

When you find that your computer isn’t cutting the mustard, you either replace it or upgrade it. And to the lay-person, the word “upgrade” can be intimidating or expensive-sounding. But not all computer upgrades are equal. Sure, if you need a RAM upgrade or a new SSD installed, you’ll want to take your computer to a trusted storefront and have a seasoned tech surgerize your system. But for many other upgrades, the solutions are easy and usually low-cost. Anyone can do these:

My computer didn’t come with a CD drive!

This is the case with most computers these days. But don’t give up on your old CDs and DVDs. You need an external optical drive, like this one on Amazon, or this one on Wal*Mart. Plug this into any USB port on your system and it should work instantly.

Pro Tip: Buy an optical drive from a brand name you recognize, like Asus, LG, Samsung, Dell. The unknown brand names are more cheaply made, and may break down quickly.

Pro Reminder: if you can’t play your old DVD movies on the optical drive you buy, remember to try VLC Media Player.

My laptop’s Wi-Fi has died!

This happens with older computers, and cracking open the chassis to replace the dead Wi-Fi card is something we can avoid. What you can do instead is just buy a USB Wi-Fi adapter. Here’s an example on Amazon, and another from Wal*Mart. These typically work as soon as you plug them, too.

I don’t have enough USB ports!

This happens often, especially because laptops are built with very few ports. But if you connect a USB hub to your computer, it will offer 4, 8 or more USB ports.

  • Older USB 2.0 hubs are slow. Avoid those and make sure to buy a USB 3.0 hub. It’ll really make a difference if you use flash drives or other storage devices.
  • If you plan on connecting single-cord external hard drives to the hub, make sure to get a powered USB hub. A powered hub has a second cord that plugs into an outlet. It’ll need extra juice to turn over those heavy platter drives.
  • You may want a USB hub that connects to a Type A port. Or you may want one that connects to USB-C. Compare your computer’s ports to the graphic below, and shop accordingly.

My ethernet port isn’t fast enough to accommodate my internet!

Older ethernet ports may only afford 100 megabits per second. If you’ve just upped your internet to a juicy 1G connection speed, you’ll never feel it. Your ISP will tell you to get a newer Gigabit ethernet port for your system.

You don’t have to crack open the computer, USB comes to save the day again. Connect a USB Gigabit Ethernet Adapter to your computer. Connect your ethernet cable to it. Boom, you’re done! But be careful: You may next want to upgrade your office chair with a seatbelt 😉 .

My laptop screen is cracked and looks shattered!

OK, so this is less of an upgrade and more of a workaround. You will probably want a professional to replace your laptop’s broken screen panel. I’m happy to suggest or refer a company for that.

But in the meantime, you are not dead in the water. If the computer still boots, you can use it, despite the disfigured image on screen. Just get any computer monitor and plug it into the HDMI port on the side of the computer. The image should duplicate clearly on that screen.

I Found Someone’s Phone

I Found Someone's Phone

Everyday, I see this posted to social media: “I found someone’s phone, anyone know whose it is?” And it rarely works. It can’t hurt to crowdsource the request, but please know that you should first check the found phone for Emergency Info.

  • On an iPhone, trigger the Lock Screen and tap Emergency, then tap *Medical ID.
  • On an Android phone, trigger the Lock Screen and tap Emergency, then tap View emergency info.

The following screen may reveal one or more Emergency Contacts. Tap on an Emergency Contact to call them on the spot. You may be able to work with them to reunite the phone with its owner!

Add Emergency Info to Your Phone

Now that you know this tidbit, your next question is probably “How do I add Emergency Contacts to my phone?”

  • On an iPhone, find and open the Health app. Tap your picture to the upper-right and then tap Medical ID. Tap Get Started, and fill out your basic info. Scroll down to find the Emergency Contacts section.
  • On an Android phone, find and open the Safety app. Sign in if prompted and then fill out your basic info. Scroll down to find the Emergency Contacts section.
  • Add at least one person as an Emergency Contact, and now they can be dialed from your phone, even when it is lost and locked. Note: you can only add them if they are in your normal Contacts list.

As you venture into this part of your phone, you may find a wealth of other safety features. Some phones may offer Car Crash Detection, Emergency SOS and the ability to record and store a video. Explore and learn about them, and activate any others you think are a good idea. Semper Paratus!


If you’ve lost your phone, I’ve already blogged about how to track it down. Make sure to use those methods before you report the phone as lost and disable the SIM.

If you have found someone’s phone, but cannot determine the owner, then you’ll have to figure out what to do with it. Use your best judgment and factor in these items:

  • Apple does not typically assist with lost iPhones.
  • Keep the phone on and charged, if possible. The owner may call at any moment!
  • Turning the phone into the local police is a solid option.
  • Turning the phone over to a storefront might be helpful, depending on the circumstances. A phone found in a dressing room should go to the front sales desk. A phone found in a strip mall parking lot? Surrendering it to the police may be a better idea.
  • If you can tell what cellular provider services the phone, then you might be able to take it to the appropriate cellular storefront. T-Mobile definitely welcomes you to bring in a found phone. Others may help as well, give them a call before you make the trip.

Fixing a Stuck Pixel

Computer monitors, laptop screens and mobile devices all use lots of pixels together to display their images. And sometimes, one of those picture elements gets stuck. This is a one-in-a-million event that can drive you crazy.

More annoying than muscae volitantes

Note: there are stuck pixels (white or a single color) and dead pixels (black). It is highly unlikely that you can fix a dead pixel, but it can’t hurt to try.

Easy Fixes

The easiest & best tool for you to try is the JScreenFix website. Open that site on the screen with the problem pixel. Click the Launch button. And move/park the hyperactive square over top of your trouble spot. Leave it there for 10 minutes, or more (it won’t hurt to run this for an extra-long time).

Another program I’ve found that does the same thing is UDPixel. But it is an app that you download and install before using. Despite the extra steps, UnDeadPixel is safe to use on Windows computers.

Android users also have the option to use a free app, if for any reason the JScreenFix site doesn’t work out. Consider Dead Pixels Test and Fix.

And in a pinch, you may open YouTube and search for “stuck pixel repair” or screen repair pixel”. There are various stroboscopic videos that you can leave playing on your device that may unstuck a pixel. But you may want to leave the room while the lightshow flashes on, to avoid getting a headache.


These tools don’t always work. A stuck pixel is caused by some hang-up at the sub-pixel level, which can be stimulated into working again. But a dead pixel is caused by a failed transistor, and no software tool can resurrect that component.

Stuck or dead, a bad pixel may turn out to be something you have to live with. But please know also that every monitor/device comes with a warranty. And most of them have a specific dead-pixel promise. If you can locate that verbiage, it will help you figure out if you qualify for free repair or replacement of your screen/device.

There are other methods described online, where some people massage their screens to physically stimulate a problem pixel back to life. I don’t recommend this tactic, as this could cause more problems with your display. But if you have nothing to lose, you may Google for “stuck pixel apply pressure” and probably find the risky details on this.

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