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Laptop PCs: Choosing, Using, Upgrading, Fixing Problems and Repairing Laptop/Notebook/Tablet PCs/Computers - Page 2


LAPTOP/NOTEBOOK PROBLEMS AND SOLUTIONS

Click here! to go to the laptop/notebook problems dealt with on this site.


Optimising/optimizing PC performance


The web has many sites that provide PC optimisation information, or that provide or run optimisation programs from their websites. However, you may want to read the information on the following webpages before indulging in any performance-tweaking yourself.

Windows tweaking and optimization: myths and reality -

http://www.edbott.com/weblog/2010/08/...

Tweaking Windows for performance [forum thread] -

http://lounge.windowssecrets.com/...

But if you want to try tweaking your computer for performance, you can make use of the Google search box (enable the Web Search option on the first search page) provided at the top of this page to locate system-tweaking websites. If you are running, say, Windows 7, you could use a search term such as: tweaking windows 7. Here are a few relevant websites that I found:

TweakWin7 [Windows 7] - http://www.tweakwin7.com/

Windows 7 tricks: 20 top tips and tweaks -

"Getting to know Windows 7? Here are 20 ways to get around the interface and make it act the way you want." - http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9140414/...

Here is an optimisation/optimization website with a good reputation:

PC Pitstop Optimize -

"Run our free Optimize scan and identify many common problems that plague most computers. Find out what it takes to get a better performing computer without the expense or difficulty of adding new hardware." -

http://www.pcpitstop.com/store/optimize.asp


The BIOS setup program

The BIOS Setup program of a PC configures its hardware and some of its software for use by the operating system, which is usually a version of Windows or Linux.

The BIOS is accessed and works in a laptop/notebook PC in exactly the same way as it is accessed and works in a desktop PC. However, most laptop PC manufacturers limit the number of possible configuration settings that the user can enable or disable. This is probably done in order to prevent users from enabling settings that conflict and could cause the system to fail to start up. Inexperienced users would then call the manufacturer's free support service for help while the machine is under warranty. The manufacturers are obviously keen on making their laptops as foolproof as possible in order to reduce support costs.

Most laptop manufacturers include a section on the BIOS setup program in the user manual that comes with their laptops. It usually gives a brief explanation of what each setting is for, and/or what happens to the system when a setting is enabled or disabled.

Most laptops start up by showing the manufacturer's logo instead of the RAM memory count and Windows setup screen. If you haven't seen the startup screen, have a look at the examples shown on the first page of the section devoted to the BIOS on this site. If you prefer to see the memory count, most of the BIOS setup programs used for desktop and laptop PCs have a setting that disables the appearance of the manufacture's logo. The user manual will usually tell you how to disable it.

Click here! to go to information on the BIOS and the new EFI BIOS on this website.


Of pre-loaded software, self-loading advertisements, and large hidden partitions

Good advice is not to buy them from a vendor that has them made in the Far East where they are cobbled together with little or no thought of providing spare parts or updates. How can you tell if a vendor provides spare parts and updates? - It should have a website, such as Dell's, that you can visit and from which updates can be downloaded and spare parts or upgrades can be purchased.

The problem with laptops made by the major manufacturers is that they come pre-loaded with plenty of software, much of which is useless, and are usually configured to offer special deals from the manufacturer's marketing partners, such as offers to sign up with an ISP or photo service, or with a particular antivirus program and service, etc. Moreover, a Windows CD is not usually provided. Various types of recovery systems are used instead that usually make use of one or more large hidden partitions on the hard drive that can only be used for recovering the system. Recovering that space requires knowledge of what has been installed on it and how it can affect the rest of the system if removed. Read this article if you want to know more on this topic: Laptop Setup Secrets.


Business-class or home-use class?

Laptop computers specifically designed for use by business professionals who are constantly on the move are more expensive than laptop computers designed for the home market. The main reason for this is because the components of a portable computer suffer most from the affects of shock and vibration. Therefore, you are advised to purchase a business-class, ultra-portable machine if it is intended to be used mostly while on the move from place to place, because that class of mobile computer is specifically designed to be protected from the affects of shock and vibrations.

For more information on this topic, read the Q&A on this site called Are vibrations harmful to the components of my computer, such as its hard disk drive? Use your browser's Back button to return to this point on this page.


Price

The prices of laptop computers can range from as low as £350 to as high as £2,500 or more. If your computing needs can be met by a basic £350 laptop/notebook, such as the popular Dell Inspiron 15, you'll be throwing away money if you buy a more expensive product. Likewise, if your computing needs require a £1,500 laptop, you'll probably be causing yourself unnecessary problems if you buy a much cheaper model.


Battery power, the mains adapter, and the carry case

"Smart" batteries

How dangerous can faulty laptop batteries be?

You have probably read the seemingly endless stories on this site and others about the recall of faulty, potentially dangerous laptop/notebook batteries. Ever since a Dell notebook battery was shown exploding on TV, there has been non-stop coverage of stories about battery recalls. But, note well, of the over four million batteries involved in Dell's recall, there have only been six reported cases of property being damaged. You should visit the website of your laptop manufacturer to check if its batteries are being recalled. If they are, then the site will provide you with the information you need in order to get a new battery or batteries. Otherwise, you shouldn't worry about your safety and the safety of your property when using your laptop, because in the vast majority of cases no damage has resulted, even when the Lithium Ion (Li-ion) batteries that have potential problems were being used. Just follow the safety rules regarding storage and don't use a battery if it has been damaged or has become ruptured.

Windows Vista: Data storage

Windows Vista has an improved file system, support for hybrid disk drives (H-HDDs), volume shrinking and volume extending, and drive encryption features.

"Microsoft also expects that H-HDDs will extend the lives of batteries and disk drive. Known as Windows ReadyDrive, H-HDDs cache disk reads and writes without needing to spin the disk drive. According to Hiroshi Sakakibara, product manager on the Windows client team, this saves battery power on the machine and can also prevent disk failures when using laptops while on the go. "Windows ReadyDrive makes your laptop more rugged since it is less likely the disk will be spinning and susceptible to damage as one is running from meeting to meeting", say Sakakibara." -

Five things you'll love about Vista's storage -

Portability and the life of a battery have to be matched properly against the performance and the features provided by the hardware.

Most new laptop computers use "smart" batteries which contain internal micro-processors. These special circuits communicate valuable charge/discharge information to the laptop computer, which makes it possible to provide useful features such as a battery fuel gauge while also providing extra safety. For instance, the battery can inform the charger when the charging cycle is completed and end it so that the battery can't be overcharged.

If you are using a charger to charge the batteries for a mobile phone, etc., you should use a quality charger that can switch off when the recharging is completed. Low-quality chargers just keep charging the battery or batteries until they're switched off, and this reduces the battery life.

Ni-Cd (Nicad or Nickel Cadmium) batteries, still used in older laptop/notebook computers, have been superseded.

The batteries used in all recent laptop computers are Li-ion ("Smart" Lithium Ion), Li-poly (Lithium-ion polymer battery), and Ni-MH ("Smart" Nickel Metal Hydride) batteries. Ni-MH batteries, which have a shorter battery life per charge, are inferior to Li-ion batteries. Therefore, if you're going to make plenty of use of the battery, make sure that the battery the laptop computer is supplied with, or which you buy, are Li-ion batteries. Most laptops now use Li-ion or Li-poly batteries, but you should check a particular machine's specifications just to make sure.

"Lithium-ion polymer battery - Lithium-ion polymer batteries, Polymer Lithium Ion, or more commonly lithium polymer batteries (abbreviated Li-poly, Li-Pol, LiPo, LIP, PLI or LiP) are rechargeable batteries which have technologically evolved from lithium-ion batteries." -

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lithium-polymer

Note that 6-cell Li-ion battery has a shorter batter life than a 9-cell Li-ion battery. Economy laptops usually have a 6-cell battery, but many manufacturers give the purchaser the choice of a 9-cell battery, which increases thye cost of the computer

Ni-MH (NiMH) batteries can be recharged up to 1,000 times if used properly. The lifespan of Li-ion batteries depends on how they are used. However, a user would be lucky to get more than five years use out of one, or somewhere between 300 and 400 recharge cycles.

Lithium Ion battery cells are packed in a higher density than Nickel-based batteries (Ni-Cd, Ni-MH), and since Lithium is the lightest metal, the battery life per charge is longer and the weight of the battery pack is lighter. You can also recharge a Li-ion battery whenever it's convenient, without the full charge/discharge cycle that's necessary to keep nickel-based batteries at peak performance. Over time, crystals build up in nickel-based batteries that prevent them from being charged completely, requiring an inconvenient full discharge and recharge.

External laptop/notebook batteries

If your laptop/notebook computer has a failing Ni-MH battery and you can't find a replacement, you can buy an external laptop battery that is usually about the size of a laptop itself, which plugs into the computer where its power cable connects. To find vendor's and information enter external laptop battery in a search engine. Such batteries usually provide longer battery life than internal laptop batteries.

Note that there are many companies in the US that recondition Ni-MH batteries by replacing the cells with new ones, but I was unable to locate any such company in the UK.

Laptop/notebook batteries: Use, storage, and energy-saving tips

The following free utility helps you to prolong the life of your laptop's battery and provides the current temperatures in degrees Centigrade of the processor (CPU) and hard disk drive (HDD). It is accessed via its icon in the Notification Area of the screen (bottom left corner). Just holding the mouse pointer over the icon provides the temperatures. BatteryCare - http://batterycare.net/en/index.html

1. - Always purchase a laptop battery from a reliable source that comes with a guarantee.

2. - Never allow a laptop computer's battery to be left discharged for more than a couple of months, because it probably won't charge or hold a charge properly thereafter. Always store an Ni-MH battery in a fully charged state. Check it from time to time and charge it fully. Discharge and recharge it every few months. If a laptop computer that has a Ni-MH or a Li-ion/Li-poly battery is only used infrequently, charging and discharging its battery at least once per month is recommended. If you don't plan on using your laptop computer for more than six months, you should remove and store the Li-ion battery with a 50% charge. Make sure that it is stored in a cool place.

Take great care not to overcharge a battery, because overcharging is very destructive of rechargeable batteries. In order not to overcharge a battery it's best to discharge it completely and then allow it to recharge over the correct length of time for a full recharge to take place. The charge times vary between battery chargers. To find out what the charging times are for the different types of battery, read the relevant documentation that came with the laptop computer.

Because of the nature of laptop batteries, you should always buy them from a reliable source, because unreliable sources might leave their batteries in a discharged state for longer than a few months. Rechargeable laptop computer batteries self-discharge when left unused, so recharge a stored battery from time to time so that it is never left in a discharged state. Laptop computer batteries are expensive and can deteriorate in storage or when being left unused in the computer. Remember that a battery is more likely to expire through a lack of use than it is to expire through being used properly.

Li-ion/Li-poly batteries need to be used frequently for maximum performance. If you don't use your laptop computer often, make sure that you complete a charge cycle at least once a month. A charge cycle with regard to a Li-ion battery is defined as using and recharging 100% of the battery's capacity. But that doesn't have to mean doing it as one full single charge. For instance, you could use your laptop computer for a few hours one day, using half of its battery power, and then recharge it fully. If you did the same thing the next day, it would count as one charge cycle, not two. Therefore, you can take several days to complete a charge cycle. Each time a charge cycle is completed, it diminishes the battery's capacity slightly, but you can put laptop batteries through many charge cycles before they will only hold 80% of the original battery capacity. As with other rechargeable batteries, you will eventually need to replace the battery.

Ni-MH batteries can be recharged when not fully discharged, but require to undergo a full discharge/charge cycle that's necessary to keep Nickel-based batteries at peak performance. Over time, crystals build up in Nickel-based batteries that prevent them from being charged completely, requiring an inconvenient full discharge and recharge.

A new Ni-MH battery must be fully charged before use or it will recall a semi-charged state as being the fully-charged state and thereafter never exceed that semi-charged state when recharged. An Ni-MH and a Li-ion laptop battery needs to be fully charged and discharged a few times before it conditions itself to its full capacity.

3. - When using a laptop computer in battery mode, always turn down the screen's brightness and contrast, and use the power management features offered by Windows under Power Management in the Control Panel. Set the profile to Max Battery to make Windows use the most aggressive power management available to it. Set a screensaver to make the screen go blank after between two and five minutes of not being used, or use a free utility such as Wizmo from grc.com. The backlight of the screen is one of the biggest users of power, so reduce the brightness or find out what the keyboard shortcut is that lowers the brightness when the computer isn't being used. The computer's user manual should provide such information. You should also open the BIOS setup program to make sure that all of the other power-saving features are enabled, such as Intel's SpeedStep and AMD's Cool & Quiet.

Consider installing additional RAM to make the total RAM 512MB if the computer has less than that and it has a free memory slot, because the additional memory reduces the usage of the hard disk drive, which consumes much of the battery power. A typical laptop's hard disk drive uses 10% to 15% of its battery power. But don't install too much RAM because it uses power even if the RAM isn't being used by the system. Note that if the "hibernation" feature is used, it involves writing the entire contents of RAM (even if it's unused) to the hard disk drive and reading it back into the RAM when the system comes out of hibernation. Having plenty of extra RAM installed will slow down hibernation stops and starts, but will increase the size of any back-ups you make if they include the hibernation file (usually called hiberfil.sys in the root directory).

Close any unused applications and monitoring utilities showing in the System Tray (Notification Area) in the bottom left-hand corner of the screen. Open the Windows Task Manager by pressing the Ctrl+Alt+Del key combination.

In Windows XP, other programs running in the background are listed under the Processes tab. You can find out which programs they belong to by using the Search facility to locate the folders that the named files are in, and, on that basis, decide if you can end the process. The Performance tab shows the CPU Usage, which provides the current level of use of the processor shown as a percentage and a graphic depiction of the use over a period of minutes. Click Options on the window's menu and use the mouse to place a check mark beside Hide When Minimized. When you click to minimise the window it displays an icon in the System Tray. If you hold the pointer of the mouse over it, the processor's use as a percentage is displayed.

Read Managing Processes and Tasks in Windows Vista to find out what the differences are between the Task Manager in Windows XP and Windows Vista. The Task Manager in the versions of Windows 7 works in much the same way as in the versions of Windows Vista.

Disconnect unused PC Cards or USB devices. Avoid playing DVD video files or graphics-intensive video games.

4. - Don't short circuit the battery's terminals by placing anything that conducts electricity across them. If the battery is short-circuited it will be ruined. Therefore never store a battery with metal parts. As with anything else electrical, a battery must not be exposed to damp conditions, or be allowed to get wet.

If you use laptop computer in temperatures higher than its specified operating range, which is usually 95F (or 35C), you may permanently damage the battery's capacity and it won't provide power for as long on any given charge. You may damage it even more if you charge the device in these temperatures. Moreover, even storing a battery in a hot environment can damage it irreversibly.

You may find that using a laptop in a very cold environment decreases the battery life, but, unlike the real and permanent damage that can take place in a hot environment, this is a temporary condition. After the molecules in the battery warm up, the battery will return to its previous capacity.

5. - Li-ion batteries can be adversely affected if the computer is constantly used from the mains supply and not run from the battery. Therefore, most of the brand-name manufacturer's of laptop computers have an automatic power-management mode that uses the battery instead of the mains supply in order to provide the discharge/charge cycle that keeps the battery in good condition. If your notebook provides this feature, make sure that it is enabled.

6. - Many laptop computers now provide a battery recalibration routine in the computer's BIOS setup program. The battery's smart electronics report how much charge the battery is carrying. This can become inaccurate over time, leading to a false report that says that the battery is fully charged when it isn't. The charging therefore stops prematurely, making it look as if the battery's performance is declining. To correct that, the recalibration routine runs the battery's cells flat and completely recharges them so that the smart electronics can function properly again. Click here! to go to information on the power management options of a Gateway laptop that includes recalibration.

Tips for Extending Battery Life -

http://www.tomshardware.co.uk/tips-for-extending-battery-life-uk,review-1932.html

How to prolong lithium-based batteries -

http://www.batteryuniversity.com/parttwo-34.htm

The care and feeding of Li-Ion batteries -

http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/helpdesk/?p=124

Visit the following page for more information on laptop computer and other batteries.

For information on battery technology, visit:

BatteryUniversity.com - http://www.batteryuniversity.com/

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SpeedswitchXP - Processor (CPU) frequency control for laptops running Windows XP

What the different power schemes do in Windows XP is not clear, and it's not possible to adjust the schemes because the important settings are not accessible through the Control Panel. SpeedswitchXP provides access to all of the power scheme settings. It comes in very handy for laptop/notebook users when they want to use the full power of their processor when connected to the mains. - http://www.diefer.de/speedswitchxp/


The battery meter is not showing the correct charge, the battery is not holding a charge, or the battery charge light blinks while making a clicking sound

If the battery is not showing the correct charge, if necessary, consult the laptop's user manual to find out how to complete at least one battery charge/discharge cycle. Don't worry if the battery doesn't begin charging immediately, or if a slight clicking noise is produced for a while as the battery charge light blinks on and off. This is caused by the battery having been fully drained, or when the battery has been left in storage for a long period. If left for an hour or so, the charging should begin and the light should stop blinking. If the battery is still not working as it should, then it is probably dead.

The most commonly used Lithium Ion (Li-ion) batteries produce no memory effect, nevertheless the battery will have a longer life if it is properly fully discharged every time. A Lithium Ion battery, or any other rechargeable battery, will only recharge for a certain number of times - between 500 and 1000 - before it dies. So, if the laptop is used on battery power and is plugged into the mains to top the battery up, the recharge times are being used up a lot faster than if complete charge and discharge cycles were being employed. Therefore, unless it is being charged, you should take the battery out out when the laptop is being powered from the mains. Only charge it when it has drained completely if you want to maximise its lifespan.


Surge-protection for computer equipment: Surge protectors

Most power lines are buried underground, so lightning-induced power surges are more likely to strike through TV antennas and telephone lines, etc. Large electrical motors, such as power tools can generate 'spikes' when they start up. The electrical cables that serve a building often run next to one another through the same conduit boxes. A surge through one circuit can induce surges in neighbouring circuits, so a surge through a power line to which power tools are connected can spread to a power line to which electrical equipment is connected. Therefore, it is the best policy to place surge protectors as close as possible to the equipment that they are protecting, with the shortest possible cable between the equipment and the surge protector. Good surge protectors come with free insurance policies that cover any failure to provide protection, and have an indicator light that shows if they are working properly. Surge protectors are available that protect network, telephone, and TV/cable line. The best brands are Belkin and APC, which also manufacture UPS units.

Click here! to go to information on this site on Uninterruptible Power Supply units (UPS).

The life of the battery depends on the type of battery being used (a standard or a high-capacity battery), on the make and model of processor installed (mobile power-saving, or desktop processor), on the other internal components (video chip, etc.), on the external peripheral devices (USB portable printer, external DVD writer, etc.) being used, and on the software being run. If the processor has to work at peek load doing number- crunching calculations, the life of the battery will be reduced, because its power-management software won't be able to kick in to save power as it does when an office application is being used.

Typically, a standard Li-ion laptop battery running a power-saving mobile processor and office applications lasts between three and three and a half hours before it requires recharging. But this can be reduced to as little as an hour and a half if the laptop computer has powerful processor. High-capacity or extended batteries, which are larger and heavier than standard batteries, can last up to four hours.

Charged spare batteries can be used to extend the battery life, but remember that laptop batteries are very expensive. Much more expensive than the batteries for mobile phones. A standard or a high-capacity extended battery can easily cost from about £90 to £275, with the average cost being between £100 and £120 for a standard battery. Of course, high-capacity extended batteries are much more expensive than standard batteries. If, say, a standard laptop battery costs £100, an extended battery would cost about £145. An extended battery is larger and heavier than a standard battery, and will probably protrude from the body of the laptop computer.

It's also possible to buy external batteries. Here are some examples:

The Raymond Sarrio Company's External Laptop Battery -

http://www.sarrio.com/sarrio/12voltlaptop.html

The page's title is misleading because it deals with the PowerPlus 60, Powerbase, and Powerbase Jr. external batteries.

If you can no longer purchase a particular type of laptop battery, it may be possible to have your existing battery or batteries rebuilt. The battery cells are replaced with the same type of cells. For instance, you can't rebuild a Ni-Cd battery as a Ni-MH or Li-ion battery.

The Raymond Sarrio Company Rebuilding Laptop Batteries -

http://www.sarrio.com/sarrio/rebuild.html

What to do when a laptop computer's battery won't recharge at all

Problem

How can I resync or recalibrate a laptop computer's battery? For some unknown reason, my company has a couple of laptops whose batteries won't charge at all.

Answer

This usually happens for the following reasons: 1. There is a problem with the "smart" battery's own memory. 2. A manufacturer's fault has been addressed by issuing a product-recall notice. 3. The battery has been stored or left unused in a discharged state for a long time. 4. The battery has expired naturally or because it has been left in a hot or damp environment.

1. - If the battery isn't bad or dead, most of the time the problem is caused by an issue with its own memory. Although every laptop computer is a little different from others, most of them allow the battery to be reconditioned via a power setting in the BIOS Setup Program. Either search the BIOS for the battery conditioning setting yourself, or find out where it is by reading the BIOS section of laptop's user manual. If the notebook doesn't have such a setting in its BIOS and it isn't already fully discharged, try fully discharging the battery, and then try fully charging it. If taking those actions doesn't solve the problem, you've probably got a dead battery.

2. - There may well be a problem with the battery in that particular make and model of laptop computer that shouldn't exist, so you should check the manufacturer's website for a product-recall notice, or any other pertinent information.

3. - Never allow a laptop computer's battery to be left discharged for more than a couple of months, because it probably won't charge or hold a charge properly thereafter.

To find out the cost of a battery for a particular make and model of laptop computer just enter the details in a search engine. Here is an example of a search query you can test: "IBM ThinkPad X40 TSO79UK" + battery. It is an ultra-portable laptop that was priced at around £1,275 in April 2005. A standard battery was priced at £100, and an extended battery was priced at £145. Note that you can find reputable alternative suppliers for most brand-name laptops whose batteries are far cheaper than the laptop manufacture. I have myself purchased excellent alternative batteries for Dell laptops at half the price charged by Dell. However, you must do research to make sure that you are dealing with a reputable alternative supplier.

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A notebook computer should come with a mains adapter that enables it to be run from the mains power supply instead of from its battery. Laptops designed to play the latest games usually come with a mains adapter the size of a brick that limits their portability.

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Not all laptops come with a carry case, but this is a desirable accessory because it protects the computer, and you are less likely to drop the machine if it's in its carry case. If the laptop doesn't come with a carry case, you can usually buy one as an optional extra, or just buy one that it fits into.


Laptop/notebook product support

You also need to know how to avoid buying an unsupported or badly supported product, because, in most cases, if a laptop computer needs repairs it has to be sent back to the manufacturer. This is because technicians with the required expertise to do a proper job are thin on the ground - everywhere.

Alternatively, if a laptop needs to be repaired and it is no longer under warranty, a good idea would be to look for a student studying electronics or computer engineering at a local university or college who repairs computers. The cost is likely to be much less than taking it to the vendor or sending it to the manufacturer. More information on repairing a notebook computer is provided on Page 2 of this article.

The vendors of cheap laptops manufactured in the Far East don't usually provide driver and BIOS file updates for them, because the real manufacturers usually build them as one-off products. In short, you're stuck with the device drivers that came on a CD with the product, and the BIOS file that was pre-installed. That can be a seriously limiting factor if you want the laptop to play the latest games, because the games often require the device drivers of the video chip to be updated, and the graphics chip manufacturers such as AMD and Nvidia don't provide device drivers for laptops. A laptop computer is an integrated system, and, as such, the device drivers have to be customised for the specifications of the TFT screen, etc., so the graphics chip manufacturers leave the development of the drivers to the laptop manufacturers.

Read this relevant Q&A on the Video Card and Graphics-Related Problems page on this site: I can't update the device drivers for my Tiny notebook/laptop computer.

Taking the above into consideration, you should be able to see why buying a laptop computer made by a brand-name manufacturer such as IBM, Dell, Toshiba, Sony, Asus, Fujitsu, and Acer, is a good idea and why buying one from a volume seller that has the computers made in the Far East, isn't such a good idea. To find out if product support and updates are provided, just visit the vendor's or the manufacturer's website.

Note that manufacturers such as Dell and Toshiba sell their laptops directly from their websites, which cuts out the retailer, making for a better deal while making it possible to obtain device driver and BIOS updates directly.


Additional security: Laptop PCs with fingerprint readers/sensors

Some laptop computers have fingerprint readers that can be used to provide additional security to the password protection that Windows XP Home and Professional editions provide.

For example, on January 19, 2005, IBM made its T43 laptop available. It has a fingerprint reader security system as a standard feature, whereas it was offered on only some of the T42 models from about a year before that. However, your finger needs to be placed very precisely in the reader. You can't swipe it casually, you have to think about how best to do it; something you learn by experience. It's not unusual to have to swipe you finger three times, but about half the time you only have to swipe once. The consolation is that only you can access the system. Note that any problem you experience when using the fingerprint-identification system in connection with a password-protected screensaver can usually be solved by turning off Windows XP's Fast User Switching.

The IBM/Lenovo laptop PCs that provide them, link the fingerprint security sensor to an embedded security chip. The encrypted fingerprint image is sent directly to and compared with the stored image in the security chip, instead of being transmitted over the general PCI system bus. A fingerprint swipe can be used to unlock a hard disk drive as well as the general Windows logon. The sensor is not entirely perfect, so the device provides a back door method of entry - an administrator password that can bypass the fingerprint sensor and unlock the system. Naturally, IBM recommends the use of a strong password.

Just as entry-level desktop and laptop PCs contain technology that was previously only available on expensive models, fingerprint-sensors are now available on budget laptops. For example, the Dell Vostro budget range of business laptops have a fingerprint reader.

However, a knowledgeable or resourceful thief will always be able to overcome it, either by cutting off its source of power, or by removing the chip, erasing the fingerprint image and then replacing it. To be properly secure, the fingerprint image must be stored on a removable drive such as a USB flash drive. However, in that case, the user has to make sure not to lose the flash drive and to carry it with the laptop. In short, you may find that using this option is more problematic than useful.

The following article covers the securing of laptop/notebook computers.

Laptop Lockdown Checklist: Six Technologies To Watch -

"When it comes to these security technologies, well-known doesn't mean widely used. Here's what might make them more practical in the near term..." -

http://www.informationweek.com/hardware/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=198701469


Windows SteadyState for Windows XP/Vista (but not for Windows 7)

Many home users share an Internet connection wirelessly between two or more desktop and laptop PCs. The sharing is done over a wireless network (which could also be a mixture of a wired and a wireless network). If that is the case, you should investigate what Windows SteadyState has to offer.

"Windows SteadyState, successor to the Shared Computer Toolkit, is designed to make life easier for people who set up and maintain shared computers."

Using Windows SteadyState at home

"Parents can use Windows SteadyState to help control and enhance their children's computer experience. They can customize the computer to be safer and easier to use. Internet access can be carefully controlled. Different levels of restriction can be applied for different children. In cases where a single machine is used by children and parents, the parents' configurations, programs, and files can be completely isolated from access by the children."

Time limits can also be set.

SteadyState Version 2.5 supports Windows Vista. Watch the demonstration here:

http://www.microsoft.com/windows/products/winfamily/sharedaccess/default.mspx

Microsoft has decided not to provide a Windows 7 compatible version of SteayState. The following article explores the consequences of this decision.

Microsoft decision puts public libraries at risk -

"The company announced it would not upgrade the free application, SteadyState, to Windows 7 compatibility, angering many of the folks who manage public-access PCs. People who manage library PCs say they don't have money to pay for third-party products that protect public PCs from malware and malicious users." -

http://windowssecrets.com/2010/04/08/01-Microsoft-decision-puts-public-libraries-at-risk


System recovery

Each manufacturer/vendor will have its own method of recovering the system.

Most of the OEM manufacturers use a Recovery CD/DVD. A few manufacturers/vendors include a genuine Windows CD with their computers. Others that don't include a Windows CD might post one to you if you specifically request it. There will probably be a cost, because an OEM licence for Windows is cheaper for the manufacturer if no Windows CD is provided.

Dell has developed a unique method of allowing the owners of its computers to create a Windows CD by including a utility that can only be used once to create a customised Windows XP/Vista/7 setup CD that is specific to the system it is made from that includes allof the necessary device drivers. The utility also preserves the original Windows Product Activation. Therefore, when the contents of the CD are installed, Windows runs exactly as it did before whatever occurred to make the use of the CD necessary.

Click any of the relevant links below to visit the information it describes on this site:

1. - Recovering and repairing Windows XP when a computer crashes or fails to boot

2. - Recovering and repairing Windows Vista when a computer crashes or fails to boot

3. - Recover, restore and repair Windows 7 when a computer crashes or fails to boot


The warranty

Moreover, the parts and the repair costs are usually much more expensive than similar work done on desktop computers, therefore, in the case of a laptop, buying an extended warranty can be a sensible investment. You should know what the statutory warranty offers - the period covered and if it is an on-site or return-to-base warranty, or a mixture of these. Go to the Warranties page on this site for more information on them.


The bundled software

Most new laptops come with Windows XP Home or Windows XP Professional edition installed. The Professional edition is superior to the Home edition because it offers more features and better security options, but it is more expensive and its presence must make the computer more expensive. The bundled software can be well worth having, or just take up disk space, therefore the version of Windows and the bundled software should be taken into consideration when making a decision on a purchase.


Widescreen laptop/notebook computers for watching widescreen TV and DVD movies

Widescreens have replaced screens with the squarish standard 4:3 aspect ratio. Visit the Monitors section of this website for information on screen types and sizes (aspect ratios). The image below is of an Acer Travelmate 4202 WLMi laptop that has a dual-core Intel Core Duo T2300 mobile processor and a 15.4" widescreen, which has a native screen resolution of 1,280x800.

Acer Travelmate 4202 WLMi notebook computer with a 15.4" widescreen

All of the games designed for a screen that has a standard aspect ratio seem to be ruined when played on a widescreen. The characters appear short and fat, dials appear elliptical instead of round, and when online quite a few lines of the screen disappear so that scrolling is necessary.

A screen with a standard aspect ratio and a resolution of 1024x768 is the equivalent of a widescreen with a resolution of 1200x768, where 1024 and 1200 represent the width of the screen in pixels. The width of the screen is the longest dimension in a widescreen display.

A widescreen display is just what someone wants in order to display a spreadsheet, because it can display more columns. It is also what is necessary to display widescreen television and DVD movies.

The latest PC games support widescreen resolutions, which means that they'll display without any distortions. However, if a widescreen causes distortions, you should look at the options for the display driver in the Device Manager. If there is an option to disable video stretching, it adds black borders to each side of a widescreen that effectively reduces it to a screen with a standard aspect ratio.

High Definition Media Interface (HDMI) connection

If you want to attach an external monitor or TV to a laptop computer, before you make a purchase, find out which video outputs it supports.

If you want to connect a laptop computer to a high-definition TV, the laptop must have an HDMI port, which carries the audio and video data over a single cable.

To connect a standard-definition TV, the laptop requires an S-video port or a seven-pin TV-out port that can connect to either an S-video, composite or component socket on the TV through an adapter cable.

Laptop computers have either an analog D-sub or a digital DVI port that can be used to connect to an external monitor. A monitor with a D-sub port can connect to a DVI port on the computer by making use of a £10/$20 adapter cable. You can also connect a monitor with a DVI connector into an HDMI port on the computer by making use of an adapter cable.


Gloss LCD screens and using multiple monitors with a laptop/notebook PC

Gloss LCD screens

Note that if a laptop has a gloss LCD screen, that makes it unsuitable for use in a brightly lit room, because of the reflections from the gloss coating. However. the gloss coating, adds richness to the colours under normal lighting conditions. An example of a laptop with a gloss widescreen is the Acer Aspire 5002WLMi.

Using multiple monitors with a laptop

Read the general information on using multiple monitors with Windows XP and Windows Vista and Windows 7 on the Monitors section of this site.


Laptop LCD screen protectors

LCD screens are far easier to damage than CRT screens that are protected by covering of a glass. Even when you clean an LCD screen you should not apply pressure to its surface. The pixels that make up the screen can easily be crushed by poking or the surface of the screen can be cut by sharp objects, such as pens, or scratched by using paper towels to remove dirt.

It is unlikely that a laptop will come provided with a screen protector. If you want to protect the LCD screen of a laptop computer or a LCD PC monitor, you can purchase a screen protector.

To find examples and vendors, you can enter a search term, such as: laptop lcd screen protector, as is, in a search engine.

Here is a page I found: Laptop Screen Protectors -

http://www.ergoindemand.com/laptop-protection-computer-filters.htm

You can also make your own screen protector. 1/8" thick clear Lucite Acrylic Plastic, which is easy to attach to the monitor with a few little pieces of duct tape, provides all the protection you need. You should be able to buy some from a DIY or hardware store. If you want a neater solution than duct tape provides, you can use something like Velcoin Brand Fasteners. You can find local vendors by entering velcoin brand fasteners in a search engine.


How to avoid monitor image persistence (screen burn, burn-in)

Note that laptop/notebook computers only use LCD screens, so the information provided here about CRT monitors is not applicable to them.

Note also that a laptop computer's warranty does not allow its owner to claim for screen burn, because it is a natural property of the monitor.

Computer users who use programs that don't have set and fixed text menus and that use a white screen to display constantly changing text most of the time, probably won't have any problem with screen burn (burn-in) in a flat-panel LCD or an old-style CRT monitor.

However, both LCD and CRT monitors can suffer from burn-in (screen burn) when the computer to which they are attached run the same application that displays the same screen most of the time.

It is possible with an old-style CRT monitor to be able to see a text menu remaining on the screen even when the monitor itself is switched off. That can't happen with an LCD screen, but a previous image can become stuck and be viewed when the monitor is switched on.

With CRT monitors, if an image or menu is displayed in the same place on the screen for a long time, the same kind of bombardment by the cathode rays in that area can burn the screen phosphor so that it remains showing that display forever.

With LCD flat-panel screens , the same problem can be as bad or worse. This is because, with a liquid-crystal display, the crystals change their state when a voltage is applied to them, and, if left in the same state for too long, they can become stuck in that state. LCD-monitor manufacturers call that property "image persistence". Fortunately, unlike screen burn in CRT monitors, image persistence in LCD screens can almost always be reversed by displaying a white screen or by reversing the colours in the image that caused the problem (by displaying a colour negative of the image, etc.).

The following article on the subject suggests preventative methods, such as using a screensaver or using appropriate power-saving settings under the Windows Power Options in the Control Panel (in Windows XP and Windows Vista using its Classic View option). In Windows 7, enter power options in the Start => Search programs and files box to be provided with a link.

LCD Image Persistence -

http://compreviews.about.com/od/monitors/a/LCDBurnIn.htm

In Windows XP, you set a screensaver to work by right-clicking with the mouse pointer and empty space on the Windows Desktop. Next, click on Properties on the menu that comes up, and then open the Screen Saver tab in the Display Properties window.

In Windows Vista and Windows 7 right-click empty space on the Windows Desktop, click Personalize and then click on Display down at the bottom of the left of the window that comes up. In Windows 7 you can just enter the word display in the Start=> Search programs and files box to be provided with a link called Display. You can also open Display from the Control Panel in all of those versions of Windows.

If you have set a logon password in Windows XP Home Edition, you can use a key combination to bring up the logon screen so that it works in the same way as a screensaver. No one can use the computer until the password is entered, and when it is entered, you resume immediately from where you left off. To bring up the logon screen, just press one of the two Windows keys (they have a Windows flag on them) and the L key. This also works in Windows XP Professional Edition, but there is no need to set a password, because it requires the user to set a password during its installation.

You can also do that in all of the different versions of Windows Vista and Windows 7.


Docking stations

A docking station is a device that allows you to connect a laptop/notebook computer to it so that it is immediately connected to other devices, such as a desktop computer and/or peripheral devices, such as a printer, scanner, or external monitor. You can't buy any model of docking station in the hope that it will work with your laptop computer, because they are specifically made for specific models of laptops. Usually, docking stations are only made available by the large manufacturers (Lenovo/IBM, HP, Dell) for laptops that have been designed for use in businesses.

However, if you want to connect a laptop computer to USB peripheral devices, such as a keyboard, mouse, and printer, all you have to do is buy a USB hub. USB hubs are inexpensive, starting from a little as £10. There are also special USB hubs made for laptop computers. You fit the laptop to the device itself, and you can change the device's viewing angle so that you don't have to plug the laptop into an external monitor.

The Ergo Station made by Port is such a USB hub. If you want more information on it, enter the name in a search engine.

Here is an illustrated manual for an HP docking station:

HP Docking Station [PDF file] -

http://h20000.www2.hp.com/bc/docs/support/SupportManual/...pdf


Specifications: The processor and the other components

If you want a laptop computer that comes as close as possible to the power delivered by the latest desktop computers, it's going to have to be a bulky product. Laptop PC technology involves the miniaturisation of the components used in desktop computers, therefore laptop technology is always playing catch up, because desktop technology is developed first.

Laptop computers can run the processors used in desktop computers, or run specially designed, low-power mobile processors that are designed to save power, but at the expense of performance. The laptop has to run a desktop processor in order to deliver performance that comes close to that of a desktop computer. It won't be able to deliver performance equivalent to a desktop computer because the other components, such as the integrated video chip on the motherboard, obviously can't compete with a full-scale, high-end AGP or PCI Express video card, but the difference in power between the most powerful laptop and desktop computers is narrowing all the time.

If a laptop computer has a desktop processor installed, it can be prone to overheating, especially if its cooling system isn't working at full efficiency, due, say, to an accumulation of dust in its fan(s). There is information further down this page on how to clean a laptop computer.

Most laptop PCs now have a dual-core processor. However, there are still some that have single-core processors.

The model of the processor that a laptop computer uses can tell you if it's a low-priced economy model designed for mobile, power-saving use, or if it's high powered and can also save battery power.

Both AMD and Intel distinguish their processors for the desktop PC from those for the laptop PC by having the letter M in the laptop model's name, which stands for mobile. For example, with the second generation Intel Core i5 (Sandy Bridge) processors the desktop models are i5-2300, i5-2400, i5-2500 and i5-2500K while the laptop models are i5-2410M and i5-2540M. Note that the first generation of Intel Core i3, i5 and i7 processors have three numbers in the model's name instead of the four numbers used in the second generation processors. Also note that many online retailers use the first generation model names for the second generation chips.

The M in AMD Athlon XP-M, the Intel Celeron M processors means that it's a mobile processor. Athlon XP-M and Celeron M processors are used in budget laptops. The name AMD Mobile Sempron speaks for itself, and it is also used in budget laptops, because AMD Sempron processors are cut-down Athlon 64 processors. The higher the number that follows the name, the more powerful it is. A Celeron M 330 is less powerful than a Celeron M 360, etc. But if the processor used is called an Intel Celeron D processor, it is a desktop processor that won't have mobile energy-saving features. High-end power laptops have processors with names such as Intel's Core Duo and Core 2 Duo (the latest type), which are dual-core processors that have two processing units housed in one unit, and AMD's Turion 64 Mobile Technology, and Intel Pentium M laptop processors, which are designed for power and mobility. If the name of the processor is just AMD Athlon XP or Athlon 64 or Intel Pentium 4, then a non-power-saving desktop processor is installed in the laptop, which should mostly be used with its mains power adapter, because its battery life isn't going to be very long.

Although laptops/notebooks are still being sold with a single-core processors, the models with much faster dual-core processors don't cost much more, so, in order to future-proof your investment as much as possible, a laptop with a Intel Core 2 Duo or AMD Turion TM 64 X2 Dual-Core Mobile Technology processor is the best choice, with the former being the superior option.

With the arrival of its Core 2 processor technology, Intel has named both its desktop PC and laptop PC processors Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Quad (four cores). The laptop processor start with a T, such as T7100. Desktop processors start with an E, such as E8500, and X for the extreme (extremely fast and expensive) version, a Q for quad-core, such as Q6700, and QX for the extreme version, such as QX9770.

AMD has it Turion 64 and Turion 64 X2 (dual-core) laptop/mobile processors. Otherwise it just prefixes the model name with Mobile if it is a laptop processor - e.g., Mobile Athlon 64, Mobile Athlon 64 X2 (dual-core), Mobile Sempron.

Comparison of Mobile Processors -

http://www.notebookcheck.net/Mobile-Processors-Benchmarklist.2436.0.html

Dual Core Notebook CPUs Explored: AMD Turion 64 X2 Meets Intel's Mobile Core 2 Duo -

"The balance of power in the processor market is very clear: Intel's Core 2 Duo leads, while AMD's Athlon 64 X2 family lags somewhat behind without necessarily being inferior for the average user. But is the situation the same in the notebook space? Both companies offer powerful dual-core processors for portable computers, and we've begun feeding benchmark results into a new Interactive CPU Charts category for mobile processors. You've asked for it, and now you've got it - you can easily compare performance..." -

http://www.tomshardware.co.uk/...review-2097.html

Mobile [laptop/notebook] CPU Charts -

"Tom's Interactive Mobile CPU Charts focus on popular mobile processors, which are used in laptops and notebooks because of their increased energy efficiency." -

http://www.tomshardware.co.uk/charts/processors/3d-studio-max-9,463.html

You should also buy one with a hard disk drive with as much data-storage capacity as possible. Have a look at the Dell site where the specifications for the various models in a range of laptops are easy to view all at once. You can find out what the data-capacity specifications measured in gigabytes (GBs) are for the hard drives used in expensive and budget models. Currently (February 2007), a laptop with a 120GB hard disk drive is a good buy if the rest of the hardware is just as up-to-date.

2.5" Hard Drive Charts -

"Tom's Interactive 2.5" Hard Drive Charts compare notebook hard drives. Here you will find 2.5" UltraATA and Serial ATA hard drives manufactured by Fujitsu, Hitachi, Samsung, Seagate, Toshiba and Western Digital." -

http://www.tomshardware.co.uk/charts/hard-disks/

Laptop PCs are available with solid-state drives (SSDs), which are purely electronic devices. (Conventional hard disk drives are mechanical machines.) However, because the flash memory used in an SSD drive is more expensive than the disk space provided by conventional laptop hard disk drives, the capacities of SSD drives is lower and the computers containing them are more expensive.

Laptops with a new type of solid-state drive are now available

April 15, 2008. - Laptop/notebook PCs that have a new type of solid-state drive (SSD) are now available in select models from Dell and Alienware. SSD drives are purely electronic devices that use flash memory instead of magnetic platters that are accessed by moving heads. Because they are purely electronic, they are unlikely to be as easily destroyed by dropping the laptop than are mechanical hard drives, the platters of which are made of glass in laptop models.

Samsung claims that its SSD drives are faster and more energy-efficient than the current SSD drives used in laptops from manufacturers such as Lenovo, Apple, and Toshiba and are between two and five times faster than conventional mechanical hard drives. According to Samsung the new SSD drives use almost 75% less power than conventional hard drives. However, because flash memory is still more expensive than conventional disk space, laptops containing the new drives are more expensive than laptops with similar specifications containing conventional hard drives.

If you want to play the latest games, look for a machine with the most powerful Intel or AMD processor that has as much hard-drive space and RAM as you can afford. If you want a laptop computer that runs Windows Vista, don't buy one with less than 1GB of RAM memory. A general-purpose laptop with 1GB of memory works very well running Windows 7 - far better than Windows Vista does.

The newest PCI Express video chips from AMDand Nvidia are preferable to AGP chips made by the same manufacturers. There are now PCI Express video cards that share system RAM instead of having their own inbuilt video RAM, because there is little or no loss in performance. The video chip in many laptop computers uses system RAM, so it is best from a performance point of view if a PCI Express chip is used. It is also possible to have a video chip in a laptop that has its own dedicated graphics memory, which, because of the high cost of miniaturised laptop components, is currently (February, 2007) usually a maximum of 256MB instead of the 512MB used in many high-end desktop PC graphics cards.

Note that it is unlikely that a laptop computer that shares system RAM memory will be able to play the latest PC games running their full graphics display settings at a high frame-rate (measured in frames per second, or fps). The higher the frame-rate that a game plays at, the better the rendition of the graphics is.

For example, on a laptop that uses system memory for the graphics display, you would probably have to turn down the game-detail settings (such as the colour depth from 32-bit to 16-bit colour), or switch off the card's post processing image enhancement capability. However, if the laptop has a graphics card installed that has dedicated memory of 256MB or more, you will probably be able to play the latest games using their full game-detail settings.

The frame rate at which a particular PC game can be played at is important, because, if it is being played on a relatively slow computer, the frame rate determines if the game can be played or not.

Frame rate - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frame_rate

Visit the PC Gaming section of this site for more information on that subject.

There is a table containing the specifications of several different types of laptop PC - budget, mid-range, ultra-portable, and gaming machines - on Page 2 of this article.

Note that if the video chip uses system RAM, you should have additional system RAM installed to make up for it. Windows XP requires a minimum of 256MB of RAM to run, with 512MB being the optimal amount on a machine that doesn't run memory hungry applications, such as those used to edit video. If you have 512MB installed, and the video system uses 128MB, you should install another 512MB of RAM. You could install a 128MB module if your laptop's motherboard allows it, but the more RAM the system has the better.

Note that Windows Vista and Windows 7 require a minimum of 1GB of RAM memory to run comfortably. If a laptop computer's graphics chip uses 256MB or more of system memory, you should install another 512MB or 1GB. The memory should be installed so that it runs in dual-channel mode, which is faster than single-channel mode.

Click here! to go to the Using Windows Vista section of this website.

Click here! to go to the Windows 7 section of this website.

Click here! to go to information on DDR/DDR2/DDR3 RAM memory on this site.

Be prepared to spend quite a bit more than you would pay for a desktop PC that has equivalent specifications.

Not all laptops come with an optical CD/DVD drive. For example an ultra-portable model might dispense with an optical drive. If you have to add one as an optional extra, depending on your needs, you can use a DVD/CD-RW combo drive that can read all of the DVD formats and write to CD-R and CD-RW disks with a capacity of 650MB, or use a more expensive DVD writer that can write to high-capacity dual-layer disks. The new standard is called DVD+R DL, which is the double-layer DVD+R format. The disks can hold 8.5GB of data, which is almost twice the amount of data that can be stored on a standard single-layer DVD+R disk. If you don't need to write huge amounts of data to disks, you only need a DVD/CD-RW combo drive.

Note that some laptops now have Blu-ray optical writer instead of a DVD writer. In November 2006, Dell announced the first laptop with a Blu-ray drive - the top-end Dell XPS M1710. These are its specifications: 17" UXGA (1600x1200) screen, Intel Core 2 Duo T7600 (2.33GHz) processor, Nvidia GeForce Go 7950 GTX graphics adapter with 512MB of GDDR3 memory, up to 4GB of dual-channel DDR2 PC2-5300 (667MHz) DDR2 SDRAM, up to 160GB hard disk drive, CD/DVD/Blu-ray burner (Blu-ray drives can burn CDs, DVDs and Blu-ray discs), wireless 802.11g networking, built-in TV-tuner.

Note that laptops with a DVD writer have a model that has a tray that comes out when you press a button on the drive, or a model with a slot. It is easy to break a drive with a tray. If a laptop has a model that is slot loading, you usually just have to push a disc into the drive. It is sucked in automatically. The ejection is usually accomplished by pressing the Fn function key (usually on the bottom row of keys) and one of the F function keys on the top row - at the same time. The required F key usually has a diagram of an DVD disc on it. The laptop's user manual will provide the required information if you can't work the mechanism out. As with Dell laptops, you might have to download the manual from Dell's site, because the manual that comes with the PC does not provide detailed information of that kind.

If you use the computer's battery power a great deal, you should make sure that it has a low-power mobile processor installed and that it uses a Li-ion battery that provides the longest battery life.

It's possible to buy an external portable hard disk drive for backup or other purposes, and some expensive models can be attached to an optional docking station that is fitted with disk drives and is powered from the mains electricity supply. You can use special software or the Windows Briefcase feature to synchronise the files stored in the laptop with the files stored in a desktop computer or the docking station's hard disk drive(s).

LAPTOP/NOTEBOOK PROBLEMS AND SOLUTIONS

Click here! to go to the laptop/notebook problems dealt with on this site.


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