Monthly Archives: January 2011

Dell Hell, again!

Many times in the course of trying to fix someone else’s Dell computer, I have found myself in what can only be described as “Dell Hell”.   DH is the situation you find yourself in when you cannot find the support files or instructions that you need to fix the problem(s) correctly.  On the Internet you can find many references to DH, most having to do with dealing with Dell’s telephone sales or India based customer support.  In my case, this is how the most recent episode unfolded:

I was experiencing some “issues” with my Dell Inspiron 1501 laptop, circa 2007.  It came with 2GB of RAM, an AMD Dual Core CPU,  an 80GB Hard Drive and Windows XP Home.  In mid 2010, I installed a 250GB Hard Drive, and Windows 7 Home Premium, (the 64bit version).  Even though Dell does not have any support, (driver), files for this model running Windows 7, everything worked, (except for the scroll function on the trackpad).  Carolyn had been using this laptop without any problems for over 6 months.  Without warning, Internet Explorer 8 started crashing on a regular basis, along with trouble getting the computer to “wake up” from sleep mode.  Thinking that perhaps Microsoft had downloaded a patch that was causing the problem, I restored the computer back 1 week, but the problems still persisted.  I then went back another week, but to no avail.

I rummaged through my linux CD’s, and found one that has a memory tester as a boot program.  After running the memtest, it found that one stick of the RAM had errors.  I removed that stick, and Carolyn continued to use the laptop.  All the problems went away, but it was noticeably slower.  Dell’s website says that 2GB of RAM is max for this model, but there are lots of folks on the Internet that say they have 4GB installed, with no problems.  So me being adventurous, I ordered 4GB of RAM from, and within a week, (with their FREE shipping), I had the RAM in my hands.  Putting both 2GB sticks it got me a blank screen with no beep codes, but no booting the OS either.  Removing the 2GB stick from slot B, and then the laptop would boot correctly.  No matter what combination I tried, I could only get the notebook to work with 2GB of RAM.

Switching gears, I then went to Dell’s website to look for BIOS updates.  The BIOS is the Basic Input Output System for any computer.  All computer devices have a BIOS.  Since “updating” the BIOS can solve certain problems, (like seeing more memory), it was worth a shot.  Sure enough, Dell had two updates to the BIOS on this particular model, one update marked as “critical”.   I downloaded both updates, planning to do them incrementally, and tried to install them.  Most BIOS updates have to be installed from boot/DOS level, but these particular Phoenix BIOS updates came only with a Windows installer.  Well, after messing with the Windows updater for several passes, and dealing with the various “error” messages that it generated, I was not having any luck.

Being the brilliant technician that I am, I decided to give the “DOS” version a try.  Following the instructions on Dell’s website, I prepared a 3.5″ floppy boot disk.  (Yes, I have a USB external floppy disk drive for just these occasions.)  Dell’s instructions say to copy the complete BIOS file to the floppy disk.  Now friends, if you can figure out how to copy a 3.4MB file onto a 1.44MB floppy disk, please enlighten me!  Frustrated, I decided to search the Internet for a solution.  After running into numerous postings of folks with the same BIOS problem that I was having, I decided that this laptop will have to live with only 2GB of RAM installed.

Better late than never

About 5 years ago, in the middle of a brutal Colorado winter, I decided to rip all the music CD’s that we had into MP3 format, get them on a hard drive, and organize it all.  I never got into music “file sharing” like the original Napster or any of the other incarnations of torrent downloads, not only because they were and are illegal, but as a computer repair business, I had seen too many viruses getting transmitted to unsuspecting clients.

All in all, our music collection totaled a little over 22GB of MP3’s.  Other than playing them on our computers, we never had a portable MP3 player, until now.  As a Christmas present to myself, I purchased a used 6th generation iPod Classic with an 80GB hard drive from a reliable seller on Ebay.  The 2000 Ford Windstar van that we drive has a non-functional CD player in it, but a functioning cassette player.  I bought a cassette adaptor for the iPod so that we can use it in the van.  I also bought an adaptor to plug the iPod into our home stereo system.

Before I loaded our music collection onto my Macbook, I made two backup copies of the “clean” MP3’s.  After importing the MP3’s into iTunes, I connected the iPod and downloaded our music collection to it.  Carolyn and I are having a ball creating “playlists” of our favorite tunes.   One of the things I really like about the iPod is the ability to download audio and video from our favorite TV programs.

So there it is, Carolyn and I are finally listening to our iPod, only about 10 years behind the times.

Upgrading my Macbook

In mid 2009, I bought a new all metal 13″ Macbook model, (just like the 2010 Macbook Pro 13″ model).  It came with 2GB of RAM, an Intel Core 2 Duo 2.4ghz CPU, and a 250GB sata hard drive. I use my Macbook about 99% of the time, for everything from email, downloading pictures from our Nikon D5000 DSLR camera, to writing posts for this website and others.

Since RAM is the heart of any computer system, I’ve been wanting to upgrade to 4GB for a while.  Mac laptops have the smallest phillips head screws that I have ever seen.  None of the screwdrivers that I had would work, but I found a small set at Lowe’s the day after Thanksgiving for less than $5.  Before I ordered the RAM, I did a trial run of taking the screws out of the back of the laptop to get to the memory slots.   While I was there, I cleaned the fan with some compressed air.  I got everything back together and fired up the laptop to make sure that everything still worked.

After searching the Internet for the best deal on the RAM, I ordered it from, (see the link on the right side of this blog), as they not only had the lowest price, but also FREE shipping.  The RAM arrived in a week, and I disassembled the notebook as I had done in the trial run.  In less than 10 minutes, I had the RAM installed and was back up and running.  The Macbook now runs faster and smoother than ever before.  As I’ve said before, extra RAM is the cheapest upgrade that you can do to any computer.  For less than $50, I was able to double the amount of RAM in this Macbook, and make it work as a viable computer longer.