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Speeding up an old computer

Story location: Home / computing /

I have a Compaq desktop computer which I don't use very often. It used to be my main machine but I now mainly use it to back up data or the scanner which is attached to it.

It has been running infuriatingly slowly recently so I decided to reinstall Windows, using the 'System Recovery' option which replaces the contents of the hard drive with the 'factory fresh' copy of XP.

The computer now runs quite quickly again. Boot-up time has been reduced from over 4 minutes to 38 seconds. The computer had so much software installed, and a lot of rubbish would load on start-up. The desktop actually used to appear after 2½ minutes but it was a further 2 minutes before you could open any windows or run any programs.

Clicking on files and opening windows is amazingly quick now. There used to be several seconds of disk-thrashing and a long wait when the "Start" button was clicked. Now the menu appears pretty much instantly. I had started to wonder whether my old computer had always been this slow, and I only thought I remembered it being fast when new, but no. It is back to being quick and responsive again.

Problems with Open Office

Story location: Home / computing /

I have been an occasional user of Open Office for a few months. Most of the time is seems to be fairly usable but there are a few niggles.

  • Embedding videos into Impress is a bit clunky. I don't know whether it is a problem with my version but they play as soon as the slide appears, irrespective of any pauses or 'on-click' actions I set up.

  • Every time I run Open Office, I get the "R6034" error, informing me that the application has tried to load the C libraries incorrectly. Again I don't know whether this is just my machine or whether it is a common problem. A brief ATFG (Ask The F_ing Google) doesn't help.

The Mysteries of Windows Printing

Story location: Home / computing /

Yesterday I tried to print some documents using the networked printer in the department. The first time I tried this, it was about half an hour before I went to retrieve the print-out. When I got to the printer there was no sign of it, but the document had gone from the printer queue so I thought it might have disappeared due so some sort of error.

Later in the day I tried to print something else. I can see the printer from my office door so I watched to see if the lights on top started to flash. Nothing happened so I deleted the document from the print queue and decided to use the other printer, which is down the end of a long corridor. This other printer worked ok. Nobody else had problems with the first printer so I suspected my computer and thought a re-boot might help.

This morning, after turning my computer off overnight, I tried to print something out using the first printer again. I sent the document to the printer and watched for the flashing lights. The printer leapt into action so I walked over to retrieve my print-out. I was surprised to find it had printed out the missing document from yesterday morning as well as the document I had just printed.

I don't know where this first document was hiding. It can't have been in the printer because other people had successfully used it after me. It wasn't visible in the printer queue of my computer. For some reason it only started to print when I decided to print something else, so it looks like it was hiding somewhere in my machine. Very puzzling.

Why is Windows Search so crap?

Story location: Home / computing /

I've opened an Explorer window to a directory with several thousand files in it. I need to find a particular group of files so I click on 'Search' and tell it to search for files with a particular set of numbers in the filename.

Now Windows already has all the file names because it has displayed them in the directory window. You would expect any decent program do be able to do this search in a millionth of a second and filter the directory listing to show the files. After all, it already knows the file names and I told it only to look in the one directory.

After a minute or so, the useless pile of crap is still searching. I ended up stopping it and looking for the files myself, which was much quicker. I would like to know what Windows XP was actually doing during that minute - it could have indexed the whole drive in that time.

This was a networked drive with a very deep directory structure so I couldn't have easily navigated to it in the command prompt. And I was using a company computer so I couldn't install anything like the useful 'Open Command Prompt Here' powertool from Microsoft themselves. How hard would it have been for them to put some kind of 'filter filenames' option in Explorer? Something like the 'select files' command in WinZip, which allows wildcards to let you specify which files you want.

What we really need is something that combines the bits of windows which work with the bits of linux which are better... and probably end up with something like Mac OSX.

Microsoft Outlook

Story location: Home / computing /

Why does Microsoft Outlook uses Control-F as a keyboard shortcut to 'Forward message' rather than 'Find'? I was trying to search for some text in an email and it kept opening up a message window instead of giving me the find box. There was nothing on the 'Edit' menu either. I eventually found it but I had to open up the message in a separate window and press F4. I almost always read emails in the 'preview' pane because it is so much quicker and easier. The extra step of opening a new window was just unnecessary and annoying.

Wireless Network Clash

Story location: Home / computing /

For the last week or so, my wireless broadband has been really slow. At first I suspected the broadband itself but the downstairs computer was fine, then I suspected the wireless router but the other upstairs computer was fine as well. It looked like it was just my PC which was having problems. The connection was very slow and would occasionally stall causing any downloads or web pages to time out.

I tried a few things to attempt to fix it:
Reset the router and set it to use a different broadcast channel and transmission rate.
Reinstalled the wireless card drivers on my computer.
Removed the wireless card from my PC and installed it in a different PCI slot.

None of these made any difference. It wasn't til I removed my bluetooth dongle that the network speed got back to it's normal rate. It's very strange if the bluetooth has only just started to interfere because it's been connected to my PC for several months with no apparent problems until recently.

USB Wireless broke my network

Story location: Home / computing /

After claiming that the USB wireless network dongle (a Belkin F5D5070) was working ok on Emma's computer, it started playing up again. It would still lose network connection a few times per day and require re-starting. At least it didn't crash the computer forcing a hard-reset (unlike on my machine). We tried all the different hints and tips off the Internet:

  • Let the manufacturers software handle the network
  • Let Windows handle the network
  • Enable encryption

etc. etc. Nothing helped.
We took it back to the shop today. The person on the service desk was less than helpful. We explained that it seemed to work ok but would lose network connection several times per day while other computers in the same room worked fine. They took it into the back room to test, then came back 2 minutes later claiming it worked ok, completely ignoring our insistance that it only worked intermittantly. They suggested we phoned the manufacturers, and also gave us a number for their support line. I asked how much the call would cost and whether it was premium rate. I was ignored and simply told again that I should phone the number.
Back home, we phoned Belkin. They blamed Compaq and suggested I updated my USB drivers, despite me having a brand new machine, almost certainly having newer drivers than anything Belkin had when they developed the thing. Next, we phoned the support number the shop gave us (we checked first that it wasn't premium rate). The guy at the other end was a lot more helpful. He said that although he can't really offer support because it didn't come pre-installed in the computer, he'd had personal experience of the device and said, off the record, that he thought it was a heap of crap. He gave us a code to quote which meant we were returning it as faulty. We also mentioned that the original salesman told us that opening the case to install a card would invalidate the warranty, and that was the only reason we bought the USB version. He told us that wasn't strictly true and the warranty would only be invalid if we'd damaged the computer in the process.
We drove back to the shop again and spoke to a different service person this time (after waiting in a queue - we must have chosen a busy period for complaints and returns). We explained what had happened over the phone, that we only bought the USB version because we'd been misled about the warranty, and quoted the code we were given. Finally, we had a result: after disappearing for a minute to consult someone else, he returned and said we could exchange it for a proper internal card.

Windows XP SP2 killed my network

Story location: Home / computing /

Or 'Compters often make people quite angry part 2'

Last week, after installing the USB wireless network on my computer, I thought everything was working ok. Unfortunately not so. During the week, my network connection kept dying. Using the 'repair connection' option would cause the computer to hang, requiring a reach for the power switch to reset it.

I tried the usual things: uninstall/reinstall, download new drivers from the manufacturers website. Nothing seemed to work. A quick check of various websites suggested that it's likely to be a problem with XP service pack 2 and USB wireless network devices. I tried some of the solutions mentioned: let windows manage the connection, let the software which came with the adaptor manage the connection, check the USB power saving settings. Nothing helped.

As I was getting ready to return it to the shop to exchange it for a 'proper' internal card (I only chose the USB option because it was the same price and should've been quicker to install), Emma suggested we swapped adaptors from her machine to mine. Her computer is running SP1, mine came with SP2 pre-installed. We swapped the cards, reinstalled the drivers, and (touch wood) everthing seems to be working ok.

As an aside, on friday our wireless router kept losing connection, requiring regular resets. It would connect to the Internet but neither of us could connect to the router. On saturday, we upgraded the firmware and re-initialised it. So far it seems to be working ok again. I don't know whether it's just a coincidence or whether SP2 had somehow managed to affect other devices on the network.

Update: 23/09/2005

I thought the idea of one computer having such an effect on the network was a little fanciful, but I have since observed something similar. I was using FTP to transfer data between two machines (sitting at computer A, using a drag-and-drop interface to copy files from computer B to computer C). Part way through a transfer, all the computers connected to the router would simultaneously disconnect. The first time it happened, I thought it was just a random event. The second time, it was a bit annoying. The third time, it was obvious what was causing it (but not how it was doing it).

The Black Screen of Death

Story location: Home / Blog / birmingham /

They seem to be having a few problems with the departures boards at Birmingham New Street. I took this photo last night, but it was also showing this interesting variant of the Blue screen of death last week. They seem to have sorted it (or simply rebooted) because it was working ok today.

bios screen
Update: 22/09/05
The above looks more like a Bios screen which you see when a computer starts up. Here is a 'proper' blue screen of death, on the same screen.
blue screen of death

New Phones.

Story location: Home / Blog /

At the weekend, we ordered some new mobile phones. Yesterday, they arrived. We're now the proud owners of a pair of Nokia 6630s (one for me, one for Emma). Unfortunately I haven't had chance to try the phone properly yet - all I managed to do on tuesday was take a few photos to compare the camera with my old Nokia 3200 - the quality is so much better!

This evening, I installed the software which came with the phone (Nokia Communications Suite) and tried to transfer the contents from my old phone. I managed to copy the pictures to the computer, and used the 'Sync' function to copy the contact list to Outlook Express, but didn't manage to copy anything to the new phone.

The 3200 uses Infra red but the 6630 uses either the data cable or bluetooth. I don't have a bluetooth dongle for my computer and for some reason the data cable wouldn't work. The first time I installed the Nokia software it gave an error saying it couldn't install the cable driver so I tried again. This time it gave no error but the computer still couldn't talk to the new phone. I tried again. Still no luck. I downloaded the driver from the nokia website. When I ran it, it displayed an error message saying that I needed 'XP Service Pack 1' for it to work. If only the main software warned me about that - It would have saved me a lot of wasted time. Nokia really do need to make this more clear and to improve the install procedure.

By now, it was too late to do anything about it, so it'll be another day or so before I get chance to use the phone properly.

Eventually managed to get the cable to work, by reinstalling the software a few times. This seems to be a problem with my aged laptop where drivers seem to struggle to install or work properly.

The joy of reinstalling Windows

Story location: Home / Blog /


After a few weeks of getting fed up with my computer not working properly, I finally decided to re-install windows xp. After about a week of making sure I had all my data backed up (including stuff like email which sneakily hides in the Application Data folders, and things that are easy to forget like the iTunes library), I took the plunge and re-formatted my hard drive.

Getting windows back onto the computer was childs play. Getting everything else to work was the problem. It took a lot of fiddling to get my ADSL wireless Internet connection to start working again. I can now access the web, but AVG can't get to it's servers to run an update... I'll come back to that later. Now it's back to the fun job of re-installing all my applications and getting them configured the way I like them.

Update: 12:15pm
I decided to update AVG by downloading the installer again from their web site. Zone Alarm also demanded an update. Time for re-boot number 4 before I continue...

Update: 1:30pm and re-boot number 5!
Trying to install MS Word... I inserted the Works Suite CD which came with my PC and told it to install Word. It immediately decided to reboot my computer first, without any prompt and with no warning greater than a vague 'may reboot your computer after install'. I only wanted to install Word and Autoroute, but was forced to accept crap like Works and PhoneSync which I never use. About to take the brave step of clicking on 'Exit Setup' and hope I don't have to wait for another reboot...

Update: 2:25pm
Decide to take a break for the rest of the day. I've got Firefox and Thunderbird reinstalled and copied my settings and emails back over, so my computer is just about useable now. I'll install anything else as and when I need it...