Category: Hardware (Page 1 of 5)

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.

Totaled

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’s 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

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!

Miscellany

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.

Miscellany

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.

Fake Hard Drives for Sale

A couple of years ago, I blogged about Fake Flash Drives, and now I have to write a refresh article: You also need to watch out for Fake Hard Drives and Fake Solid State Drives. Please make sure you don’t buy these things!

Good & Bad Examples

First, some examples of legitimate, reliable storage drives:

These items are all fine choices for your data storage. Please note that they are recognizable, big-brand names within the $50-100 price range.

Now for some fakes for your consideration (PLEASE DO NOT BUY THE FOLLOWING PRODUCTS!):

If you regard those items, you should notice some clues that something’s not right. First, there’s no noticeable brand name, or if there is, it’s a name you’ve never seen before and won’t see anywhere else on the web. There’s a big price disparity, too; charging a few dollars per Terabyte of storage is too good to be true.

16TB storage drives do exist, for the rare few of you that need one. If you buy a legitimate 16TB hard drive, expect to pay around $300 at the time of this writing.

Details & Dangers of Fake Drives

The dangers of this scam go beyond losing some money. Your files are at risk if you fall into this trap. These fraudulent devices are mis-manufactured to offer 16TB of storage to your computer. And your computer will believe it when you attach the drive! But there isn’t really that much storage in there. It’s more like a couple of 64GB microSD cards glued to a reader board in these sham drives.

So what happens is that you can try to put data on the device. And it will work, up to a point, but then catastrophe will strike. As your computer pipes data into an area that it thinks is huge but is really much smaller, your data will fall into oblivion. Like lemmings walking off a cliff. And this won’t be apparent until later, when you try to open or retrieve those files. Then you will meet with errors and irrevocable data loss.

Dos & Don’ts

The Too-Long;-Didn’t-Read advice I can finish up with is:

  • Do pay attention to brand names, and buy something from a recognizable manufacturer.
  • Don’t jump on amazing prices/deals. If the price is too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Don’t believe the posted reviews! Amazon and other websites are commonly gamed by the scammers, and a sham product can have thousands of 5-star reviews below it.
  • Do be judgmental about where you buy (online). Costco, Staples & Best Buy vet their vendors more than Wal*Mart, Amazon and eBay. Avoid those free-for-all marketplaces where anyone can hawk their wares.
  • Do feel free to report scam products to the website’s support team, but don’t spend a lot of your time or emotion on it. I did that 2 years ago with the flash drive debacle, and it became obvious that these big companies don’t care about or can’t fix the problem from their side.

Reuse Your SSID and Wi-Fi Password

When you get a new router, I recommend you use the exact same SSID (network name) and Wi-Fi password as you did in your old equipment. Now, this may sound like a no-brainer to many of you, but please hear me out and let me qualify this simple advice.

Not everyone is savvy with setting up their Wi-Fi equipment, and plenty of people have their ISP do it for them. But if your internet equipment has to change, the ISP’s installer may do a fast job of it. S/he’ll slap that thing into place, write down a generic/default network name and password and get out the door quick like a bunny. I understand why they do this. Many of these techs are contractors, paid by the job, not by the hour.

But when they do this, it causes disruption with all of your household Wi-Fi devices. Everything in your house was set to connect to ILoveMyWiFi using the password funkybeans135, but the new router is emitting Arris-L33T_5G with a password of JohnDoe540. You’ll soon be faced with an onerous task. You’ll have to touch on every device in the house and enter in those new credentials. That can be a lot of work, if you have a printer, a thermostat, a tablet, a smartTV, a video game console, and on and on….

It’s much easier if you stick with the same old network name and Wi-Fi password. You can ask your installer or technician for this! If the new equipment is programmed with the same old ILoveMyWiFi (or whatever your old network name was) and JohnDoe540, all of your devices will likely reconnect to your Wi-Fi automagically. The installer will quit the building and everything will be working just as it was before they came.

Important Details

  • Tell your installer that you want to reuse your SSID and Wi-Fi password at the beginning of the appointment, while the old equipment is still in place. Once they decommission the old router, it may become harder for them to determine your network name and password (unless you have this written down ahead of time for them).
  • Network names and passwords must be kept exactly the same. These things are case-sensitive and even one different character will cause problems. MuellerWireless is different than Mueller Wireless is different from muellerwireless. Devices that connected to one of those will not connect automagically to the others.
  • It is possible to reuse your SSID and password when one piece of equipment replaces two. For example, let’s say you have a Comtrend DSL modem connected to a Netgear wireless router. Your ISP arrives and sets up a combo wireless modem that supplants both of your old boxes. You can ask the tech to program the new all-in-one box with NETGEAR35 and its password zestynoodle123. It doesn’t matter that the modem is a different brand; it can still broadcast a Netgear-style name.
  • It is possible that this tactic won’t work for you, if your existing router is extremely old. A 10-year-old Linksys router may be using an older type of Wi-Fi security (WEP) that doesn’t translate well to the new equipment’s security (WPA2). But most routers made in the last five years should work well with SSID and password reuse.

Dude, Where’s My Bud?

I’ve fielded many calls, where someone is frustrated with their new wireless mouse and/or keyboard. It’s not always a simple affair to get such a device working.

For these calls, I have to go over the basics: Are the batteries installed and are they installed in the correct direction? Is there an insulator (paper tab) to remove, so that the battery can activate and power the device? Have you found the device’s On/Off switch and checked that?

After ruling those out, the sticking point is often finding the USB bud. Well, I call it a bud, and others call it a dongle but officially it’s the USB receiver or RF receiver. It looks like this, and you can’t operate the wireless mouse or keyboard without it:

If you’re having trouble finding this bud, here are some pointers:

  • Double-check your packing materials and cardboard inserts. The USB receiver is sometimes attached to its own piece of cardboard, alongside the keyboard. It may even be embedded in the opening tabs of the box itself!
  • Flip over the mouse and look at the underside. Is the bud there, waiting to be pulled out of its slot?
  • Open the battery compartment of the mouse and/or keyboard. Sometimes, the bud is shipped inside the device, in a hidden slot.

Once you find this bud and connect it to any USB port on your computer, I hope you’ll find your mouse or keyboard has come to life!

5G Is Not the Same as 5G

Tech jargon is confusing enough as it is. But then some geniuses had to go and name two completely different technologies the same thing. Not helpful….

I’m referring to the label “5G”, which can be used regarding your home Wi-Fi or with cellphones. I continue to find that people conflate the two technologies when they have absolutely nothing to do with each other! So I’m going to try and clear this up:

5G Stands for Fifth Generation

When talking about telecommunications, 5G refers to the latest technology that makes your cellphones work. Right now, the fifth generation (5G) of technology is being rolled out in our country. The fourth generation (4G) is the existing cellular communications technology used in much of the country, and 3G & 2G technology is on its way out. The old 3rd gen and 2nd gen antennae and other hardware is being decommissioned and dismantled to make way for the new hotness that is 5G.

5G Stands for 5 Gigahertz (GHz)

By now, most households have Wi-Fi to spread your internet connection around to laptops, tablets and smartphones. And many of you may notice that your Wi-Fi router offers two network names, one that may end in “-5G”. This is merely to distinguish the two bands of frequency emanating from your device. Those two bands are 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz, the latter can be referred to as the “5G band.” If you want to read more on Wi-Fi frequency bands, this site has you covered.

Back Tap on Smartphones

iPhones

Most iPhones have a largely unknown feature called Back Tap. If you turn on this special ability, Back Tap will let you trigger an app or function when you tap the back of your iPhone. Back Tap can open Settings, or the Facebook app, or your Camera, whatever you yoke it to.

It’s like you have an invisible button back there that can do anything! Back Tap can be setup on any iPhone 8 and up that is running iOS 14 or newer. For detailed steps, check out these articles for how to set yours up.

First-time users of Back Tap are recommended to keep an eye on it for the first week or so, in case of accidental triggers. If you notice any misfires with Back Tap, you can modify the settings (Double or Triple Tap) or turn it off.

Android Phones

This feature is called Quick Tap on Android phones, but is not widely available yet. So far, it’s showing up only on select Google Pixel phones. Other manufacturers are slow to incorporate this into their phones, but you can always check your phone for this feature under: Settings -> System -> Gestures. If your phone supports Quick Tap, it will be at the top of the Gestures options list.

A warning: internet searches for “Android Quick Tap” will quickly reveal a workaround app called Tap Tap. BlueScreen Computer does not recommend this app. It does not come from the Google Play Store. It has not been vetted by Google. Installing Tap Tap requires you to hamstring & bypass your phone’s security. Please don’t risk it! If your Android phone doesn’t offer Quick Tap, you’re better off waiting to get it on a future phone.

Creating QR Codes

Once you see how easy it is to use QR codes, you may want to make your own. Good news! There are plenty of sites where you can make your own QR code for free, and download/save/print it immediately:

QR Code Generator

QR Code Monkey

My WiFi Sign

Explore these sites and learn all the possibilities for QR codes. You can make a WiFi poster for your coffeeshop. A graphic for your business card that links to your FB Page. A sign that connects your clients to your online menu.

And if you just need a quick QR code for a website, just load it in Chrome. Click the Share icon at the end of the address bar, and then choose QR Code. Google will give you a QR code on the spot!

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