Oct 21

My hard drive died recently so I bought and installed a new 128 GB Crucial solid state drive (SSD) in my PC and I found it wasn’t too difficult to do. I had fitted the old SATA hard drive about 5 years ago and that wasn’t too hard, so don’t be put off by this job, have a go!

I decided on a 128 GB SSD so I could put the Windows 7 OS on it as well as the programs that I use most (MS Word, Google Chrome, Evernote, Adobe Reader). They’re the programs where I’ll see the biggest improvement in disk access. I’ll be fitting a new 1TB hard drive later to take the rest of my programs and all my data and where fast access isn’t so important. Doubtless, in time SSD’s will become cheap enough to handle all my programs and data.

When you buy a SSD, because of its small form factor, it’s important to get a bracket to mount it in your PC. They know this on Amazon so when you are looking at SSDs, you will see something like ‘When buying this, people also bought…’ and offer a 2.5″ to 3.5″ SSD Mounting Adapter Bracket.

IMG_0173

So this is what you get: the Crucial SSD, the mounting bracket, 4 small screws to fix the SSD to the bracket and four slightly larger screws to mount the bracket in your PC. You may also need a SATA data cable and possibly an IDE to SATA power adapter cable.

IMG_0175

and here’s the SSD fitted to the mounting bracket.

To mount your new SSD in the PC, you’re probably going to have to first take off both side panels of the PC to get access to the mounting screws on each side of the bracket holding the old hard drive. Take the cables off the old hard drive, and remove the screws holding the hard drive in place. Insert the bracket with the new SSD into a spare slot. Attach the SATA data and power cables to the new SSD and the other end of the SATA data cable to a SATA port on the motherboard. If your PC has old IDE power cables, you will need IDE to SATA power adapter cables as discussed in my earlier post on fitting a SATA HDD.

Mounting new SSD

Then just slide the SSD into place and secure it with the four mounting screws. Put the sides back on the PC and that’s it. Reconnect all your cables and keyboard and boot up the PC. As you’ve removed your old hard drive and the SSD is new, the first screen should ask you to insert your bootup media and press any key. So load your Windows installation disk into your CD or DVD and go ahead and reinstall Windows on the SSD.

I haven’t fitted the new 1TB hard drive yet. I’ll tell you how that goes in a later post. As I’ll have the Windows OS on the SSD and some programs on the HDD, I’ll have to tell Windows where to find those programs. More on that later.


Sep 23

I started listening to podcasts back in 2007. It’s actually a great way to learn and be entertained while doing something else such as taking exercise for example. Soon after starting this blog in 2008, I posted the podcasts I listened to back then.

My listening habits have changed over the 7 years till now and some very good podcasts have just faded away. I’ve cut out a number of tech podcasts and replaced them with some thought provoking material. I thought it might be worth updating my current picks again now so here we go.

Knightwise.com

I’ve stayed with this podcast pretty much right from the start. I’ve always wanted to move away from Windows at some point and this podcast has helped me on my journey. If you’re interested in cross-platform computing then this one is definitely worth a listen. Knightwise has posted some great podcasts recently including his essential Android apps (KW708), and cross-platform security (KW801).

WNYCs Radiolab

Again one of the earliest podcasts on my player. Science and philosophy. Always thought provoking.

FrequencyCast UK

Keep up-to-date with the latest UK tech news.

mintCast

A little rambling, but useful info on recent Linux Mint releases. But some of the stuff just goes over my head as with many things Linux.

NPR Intelligence Squared

Top thinkers debate today’s issues, but perhaps understandably, a little too US-centric. However, there are occasional interesting topics such as Does Science Refute God? and Is Death Final?

Point of Inquiry

A podcast from the Center for Inquiry, a think tank promoting science, reason, and secular values in public policy and at the grass roots. Point of Inquiry has apparently consistently been ranked among the best science podcasts available in iTunes.

Tech-Vets

Two tech vets, Mike Smith and Carey Holzman, discuss tech issues, the tech repair business and listeners’ questions.

The Ihnatko Almanac

Andy’s views on tech, movies, music, and photography among other things. Here’s a man who can produce an off the cuff, yet incisive and well formed verbal masterpiece on just about any topic. That’s about the closest I can come to describing this great podcast and uncanny talent.

You Are Not So Smart

A book, blog and podcast exploring self-delusion, irrational thinking and scientific skepticism.

Well that’s my current list. If any of these topics don’t cut it for you, have a look through a Lifehacker post from a few months back where the readers recommended a great list of podcasts. There should be something there for everyone.

What are you listening to now?


Sep 10

As they say, there are two certainties in life… death and taxes. Well I can add another – hard drive failure. The hard drive in my desktop PC died last week. It was a 1TB Seagate drive which I had bought in November 2009 so it was almost 5 years old. I blogged about installing it back then.

What were the signs it was about to die?

Well, very little really. The day before, I noticed that programs were taking an age to launch and it blue screened once. I hadn’t experienced either of those before with this setup. I shut down the PC thinking perhaps I had installed or changed some setting and that was the fault. Next day, it booted up fine. I loaded Windows Resource Monitor to see if it was running low on memory but that wasn’t the problem. Anyway I had installed 4 GB of RAM a couple of weeks ago, up from 2 GB so that shouldn’t have been the problem. I uninstalled a couple of recently installed programs. Everything was still fine, I went for lunch, came back and there was another blue screen. This time, when I rebooted, I could hear an ominous faint clicking sound from the PC and I knew the game was up.

What next?

There’s nothing like a hard drive failure to concentrate the mind. Luckily I had data backups from a couple of days earlier so thankfully, I hadn’t lost much. I tried booting up from a couple of rescue disks and Linux live disks. It booted up no problem but nothing would see the dying hard drive. I have a Lenovo laptop which I bought to dual boot Windows and Linux Mint so I moved over to that and gave my old PC to a repair tech friend who managed to get back pretty much all the data.

Any lessons learned?

You can never back up often enough. Make sure you back up you data every night. If you need your PC for work, make sure you have a backup plan like a laptop so you can move over to it seemlessly. I had but not everything I needed to keep on working was installed. It is now. If your hard drive is about 5 years old, it’s not a bad policy to have a replacement sitting in reserve (or an SSD) ready to fit. Or don’t wait for failure after 5 years are up – just replace it for peace of mind. I was planning to fit an SSD/hard drive combo anyway but this failure has brought that plan forward. I plan to get a 128GB SSD and install Windows 7 64 bit on it and some programs that I need to launch quickly. The 1 TB hard drive will be for other programs and data.

Have you suffered a hard drive failure? Any tips on getting up and running again?


Jul 29

phone and specs

Anyone who is farsighted will know all about the hassle involved in trying to read something up close and do other things at the same time. For example, you’re trying to cook from a recipe on your tablet. Or you’re on holiday in a city you don’t know well. You got your maps, itinerary, etc on your smartphone but you have to continually put on your glasses to see the smartphone display then take them off to see where you are. And on and off…  As someone who had perfect vision when I was younger, I find it all pretty frustrating.

I’d often thought there’s got to be some sort of lens I could put over the display so I could dispense with glasses. Well, there’s hope in sight (pardon the pun) for the longsighted and those with more serious vision problems. It seems that vision-correcting displays may become a reality in a few years time. This was one of the more interesting posts I read last week on Mashable. A collaboration between researchers at University of California, Berkeley , MIT and Microsoft has come up with an algorithm to alter an image based on a person’s glasses prescription together with a light filter in front of a display. The algorithm alters the light from each pixel in such a way that, when fed through the filter, it reaches the retina of the eye creating a sharp, high contrast image. Basically the image is adjusted to take into account the inability of the eye to focus on it. And I guess anyone with perfect vision will just see a blurred display on your phone so that may be a bonus.

So keep an eye out (sorry again) for vision-correcting displays coming to your smartphones and tablets.

Vision-Correcting Display Could Free Users From Their Glasses -  Mashable


Jul 23

 

Evernote append

Is it possible to append to existing notes in Evernote? That’s a question I read recently on a forum. Although I’ve been using Evernote for four or five years now, and despite having read hundreds of posts where people outline how to use Evernote, I wasn’t sure of the answer. So I did some research and I discovered that in the simplest sense, you can’t send stuff to append automatically to an existing note, not within Evernote itself. By that I mean there isn’t a dialog box or right-click menu giving you the option to append to an existing note, or similarly when you clip a webpage to Evernote using the Web Clipper, there is currently no option to append it to an existing note.

No doubt that will all come to Evernote eventually, but I can tell you some ways that you can use to append to existing notes in Evernote.

Manually append to your current Evernote note

A note doesn’t have to be just one clipped webpage or one clipped recipe for example. Just in case you hadn’t realised this, it is possible to edit a note manually and add stuff before it or after it. For example, if you’ve used the Evernote Web Clipper to create a new note, there’s nothing stopping you appending stuff before or after it. For example, you could paste in text, images, etc.

Merge to append a set of Evernote notes to one of the notes

Evernote merge notes

You can also merge two or more notes into one note so I guess this constitutes appending to a note. Just select the notes you want to merge in the Note List. The F11 key will bring up the Note List if you don’t see it. Then select Merge as shown above. They may appear in a disordered heap as in the left panel above, but they will be merged in the order oldest note at the bottom of the merged note and newest note at the top. The merged note will take the title of the newest note as in the right panel above. You can then delete the titles of the individual notes if you want and rename the merged note. And all the tags in the individual notes will also be brought into the merged note.

Your Evernote email address can append an email to an Evernote note

This is one feature I didn’t know about. Using your Evernote email address, you can append the contents of an email to an existing note in Evernote. Didn’t know you had an Evernote email address? Well you can find it under Tools>Account Info. Add it to your contacts in your email client to save having to remember it. The proviso is that the subject line of the email and the title of the existing Evernote note must be the same. If you have two Evernote notes with the same title, the email will be appended to the more recent note. This also works for appending email attachments. All you have to do is put a ‘+’  at the end of the email subject line as in this example:

Test note 4  @Miscellaneous +

In my simple example above, an email with this subject line and sent to my Evernote email address will be added to the merged note I created above called Test note 4 in my Miscellaneous notebook. I don’t think you need to include the notebook name but it may help to append the email to the correct note if you already have the same note name in different notebooks. I can see the benefits of this if you wanted to say create a log of something. You’d just email your notes to Evernote and they’d all be appended in a continuous log with the oldest email at the top of the note and the newest at the bottom. As you can see below, my text emails are appended at the bottom of Test note 4.

Evernote emails appended to note

 

Append a log of PDF annotations to a PDF note

So what else can you append? Well, if you’re an Evernote Premium user you can annotate your PDFs.  Annotation is built into the Evernote for Mac version and a summary of your annotations are appended at the top of the PDF. Here’s a good guide to annotating PDFs on a Mac. Hopefully, it’ll come to Windows soon. In the meantime, again if you’re a Premium user, you can annotate PDFs in Evernote on Android and iOS devices and a summary of the annotations will be appended at the start of the PDF. If you want to know more about this, here’s a great post on reading and annotating journal articles in Evernote.

Use Drafts to append to an existing Evernote note (iPhone/iPad)

If you have an iPhone or iPad, you can use the Drafts app to append to an existing Evernote note. I use Android so I haven’t tried this but Jamie Rubin gives a detailed guide here.

Use IFTTT to append data to an existing Evernote note

You can also use IFTTT (If This Then That) to append data to an Evernote note. If you don’t know about IFTTT, it’s worth checking out. Here’s a link to a great guide to IFTTT from MakeUseOf. Basically, a ‘Trigger’ plus an ‘Action’ make a ‘Recipe’. Once you’ve signed up, among other things, you can start to use readymade IFTTT recipes to automatically send stuff and have it appended to an existing Evernote note.

If you search for ‘Evernote append’ on IFTTT, you’ll come up with over 1,600 readymade recipes ranked by the number of people using them. The recipes can include: adding tweets, favourited tweets, FourSquare checkins, Facebook status updates, new book wish-list for your Kindle, iOS reminders etc., all appending to an Evernote note. And if you can’t find the recipe you want, you can make your own with – Append to Note.  This Action can be used to create recipes which will append to an Evernote note as determined by its title and notebook. Once a note’s size reaches 2MB, a new note will be created.

Here are just a few examples of readymade IFTTT recipes which append different kinds of data to an Evernote note:

Collect ebook highlights in a single Evernote note

Create an Evernote list of bestsellers to read

Log when you enter and leave a place and append that to an Evernote note

Append a line to an Evernote note every time you tweet – creating an effective backup solution

Archive your Foursquare check-ins in one Evernote note

Save a diary of all your Facebook status updates to an Evernote note

Use Zapier to append data to an existing Evernote note

Zapier provides a service like IFTTT with Actions and Triggers except that combinations of these are called Zaps. For Evernote, they have an Append to Note action. You can read more about it here.

Well I hope that’s given you some ideas to take Evernote a little further. What sort of stuff do you append to Evernote notes? Have I missed any other ways to append stuff?


Jul 9

Windows 7 and Linux Mint

Those of you who are following this series of posts where I set up a Lenovo laptop to run Linux will remember that two weeks ago I created an image of my base Windows 7 installation. I’m now at the stage of dual booting the Windows 7 installation with a Linux distro.

Which Linux distro?

One of the first challenges with switching to Linux is the vast choice of Linux distributions (or distros) available. However, for those new to Linux, Ubuntu or Linux Mint are generally highly recommended. But the choice doesn’t end there. Having settled on a distro, you now have to choose a desktop environment, or desktop for short. A desktop is just a set of programs running on a particular operating system and which share a common graphical user interface. Choosing a particular desktop isn’t critical as you can change that later without having to reinstall Linux.

So I settled on the Linux Mint 17 distro with the KDE desktop environment. Why Mint? Well I have a netbook still happily running Ubuntu and I wanted to give Linux Mint a spin. I had read a number of good reviews of Mint 17 KDE and I had already installed KDE’s Dolphin browser in Ubuntu and liked it. Having said that, I’ve just listened to a review of Mint 17 KDE on the latest Mintcast podcast and they weren’t exactly blown away by it. I think I could sum up their review up as: if you like KDE then Mint 17 KDE  is worth checking out.

If you’re undecided about which distro or which desktop environment, or even whether your choice will run on your hardware and what it will look like, you can evaluate them all by downloading the isos, burning them to DVDs or your USB stick and running them from there as what’s called a live CD.

Downloading Mint

This is really straightforward. You just head over to the Mint website and download the iso file you want, then burn it to a DVD or to a USB drive. Here are the current choices for Mint:

Linux Mint versions

I chose Linux Mint KDE 64-bit, downloaded the iso which took about 40 minutes and  burned it to a DVD using my favourite free burner ImgBurn. I then ran the DVD as a live version first. This just means booting up Linux Mint from the DVD or USB drive without installing it first. Everything went fine – it even found my Netgear router straightaway, unlike my earlier Windows 7 reinstall which needed Lenovo utilities to be reinstalled before it would find the router and connect.

Tip: Running a live version is a great way to check out the look of a desktop environment, and whether the distro will run on your hardware and recognise your peripherals like your router, all without installing anything on your hard drive.

Partitioning the hard drive and dual booting

As this was my first time to try dual booting, I did a bit of research online to see what sort of problems people run into. A few places mentioned going into the BIOS first when Windows is booting and making sure that UEFI Secure Boot is turned off and that the UEFI/Legacy Boot Priority is set to Legacy First. I also installed the free version of the utility EasyBCD in Windows as this is required later to add an entry for Linux Mint 17 in Windows 7′s boot menu. It’s all explained in the walk-through mentioned in the next paragraph.

I won’t go into the whole partitioning and dual boot procedure because it will just duplicate what you can already find online. I found a great walk-through for dual booting Windows 7 and Linux Mint 11 at Linuxbs. Although I’m installing Mint 17, the procedure is virtually the same. The only place I found it differed was in Allocate Drive Space. The option to choose here is Manual as the other options are to use the entire disk, which I didn’t want to do as I wanted to retain Windows 7 on a partition.

Tip: I found that dual booting article so helpful that I’ve clipped it to Evernote so if I ever have to refer back to it again for any reason, and the page has been taken down or the website has gone, I have a copy!

You’ll note in that walk-through there are two ways to dual boot. 1. Install GRUB 2, the Linux Mint boot loader, in the Master Boot Record (MBR) of the disk, or 2. Install Windows 7′s boot loader in the MBR. I chose the second option and that’s the option chosen in that walk-through. When choosing partition size for my 500 GB laptop hard drive, I pretty much gave half to Windows 7 and half to Mint 17.

I found the whole partitioning and dual booting procedure went flawlessly and I can now dual boot into either Windows 7 or Linux Mint 17 KDE. The next post in this series will look at getting up and running with Mint.

Have you tried dual booting Windows and Linux? Any problems? Which distro and desktop did you choose? And what are you running now?


Jul 1

Highland forest

I’m at the stage in life where I have more years behind me than in front so I’m starting to get the feeling that time is running out. Running out for doing things I should have done by now… and doing new things before it’s too late. So much to do, so little time. I’ve blogged about making the most of our spare time before if you’re interested.

Stuff I should have done

This probably hits most of us. There’s always tomorrow to do this or that job, or visit this or that place. We’ve just had distant relatives over here from Australia, and they’ve visited parts of Scotland I haven’t even been to yet! Having said that, they are retired and have time on their hands. So I need to put that one right and see a bit more of my beautiful country and try out some of the ever increasing number of pathways through the Highlands of my native Scotland.

What else should I have done – well, I’m an average cook, but I really should try to cook more from scratch. It’s really easy to get a ready meal, shove it in the oven and go back to work while it heats. No excuse really – I certainly have plenty of cookbooks amassed from charity/thrift shops, so I must get into that.

Stuff I should learn

What can I still accomplish? Well I’d love to learn programming. But that’s one area I’ve never really got round to. It’s just so hard to know where to start. There’s no quick way to achieve this without putting in a significant number of hours. I should say that I vaguely remember learning some basic Fortran in school way back in the late 1960s in the days of mainframes and punched cards, but I never saw the possibilities. Who did? Well, I’m kicking myself I didn’t spot it. Who would have imagined that within 40 years, programmers would be coding apps for computers that you carry round in your pocket – or even wear! And I’ve still missed the boat. I must have some deep seated hankering to code though. After all, I’ve bought books on PHP and WordPress, bookmarked loads of webpages on coding and coding courses, learned basic HTML, and just today, I signed up for a bunch of courses on Stack Overflow before I really knew what I’d done, just because I thought it was a bargain. It’s much easier to learn new skills these days with all the online resources we have available now. But can I learn to code at this late stage? Can I spare the time? That’s the big question. Is it too late for me now? What would I do with the skill? Am I better off spending my spare time just wandering through the Highlands of Scotland enjoying the sites, and travelling abroad? How do I best use the time left to me?

It’s never too late

When I look back on my life so far, I can see areas where I’ve devoted time that could have been better spent on other things. Yes, we’ve all been there and it’s only when we look back, we realise what a waste of time that weekly commitment was. Too much time in front of the telly, too much time spent chasing other fruitless pursuits.

But it’s best not to look back too much. Look forward and try to achieve a few more things, that’s my aim now. Who knows when ill-health may strike. So for me, among other things,  it’s cooking, photography, travel more, here and abroad, and learn more about Linux. I’ve just dual booted my Lenovo laptop with Windows 7 and Linux Mint 17 KDE and I’m pleased with the result. More on that in the next post. And finally, I must try to at least open a programming book!


Jun 24

Windows backup system image

This post is part of a series tracking my progress in buying a used laptop and setting it up to dual boot Windows 7 and Linux Mint. I hope eventually to switch to Linux. At this stage, I’ve reinstalled Windows 7 and my essential Windows software. Now that everything is set up the way I want it, before I dual boot, I have to make a backup Windows system image. This will be handy to have should I run into difficulties later and want to get back to a base Windows setup with my essential Windows programs. In this post, I just want to pass on some tips on creating the image.

Before you make a system image, run a program like CCleaner to delete temporary files, etc. The image is going to contain all the Windows files and programs so it’s best to remove all the temporary files first. Also, if in the past you’ve performed a repair install, upgrade install, or a custom install rather than a clean install, then you may have a C:\Windows.old folder left over in your new Windows installation. You can delete this too if you’re happy with your new Windows 7 setup. See this post on how to delete the Windows.old folder.  I plugged my new 1TB WD Elements USB3.0 external hard drive into my Lenovo ThinkPad laptop and then followed this guide to prepare a system image on my external hard drive using Windows System Backup and Restore. There’s not much point in repeating these instructions which can be found on a number of sites with a simple search.  I’ll just add some comments on what I noticed creating the image.

Windows System Backup and Restore mightn’t be the fastest imaging utility or the one with the highest compression, but I found it simple to use. It will create an image of all files on any partition, or drive, on the hard drive and will include the system partition. The destination drive cannot be the same as the original drive. Both the original and destination drive must be formatted to use the NTFS file system. When you use Windows System Backup and Restore  to create a system image, you’ll find there’s no option to save the image file to a custom folder on the external hard drive. It automatically goes to a subfolder (with your computer name) of a newly created folder in the root directory called WindowsImageBackup. I haven’t tried it yet, but I’m guessing that if I made a system image from another computer to the same external hard drive, it would be sent to a new subfolder (with that computer name) again in the WindowsImageBackup directory, so you could end up with a number of different images for different computers in the WindowsImageBackup folder.

In my case, my Windows 7 Professional OS and essential programs created a system image of 24GB on the external drive. I wanted to be sure I had a duplicate copy so I plugged in my original 1TB external drive and copied the WindowsImageBackup folder to it.  Now that I have a Windows system image of my laptop backed up on both my external hard drives, I plan to keep one external drive offsite at all times and rotate them onsite every week or so. That way I always have a safe backup of everything in case of theft or fire.

So the next step is to shrink the Windows partition and dual boot Windows 7 and Linux Mint. I’ve never done this before and I know dual booting can lead to problems especially for the inexperienced, so that’s another good reason for creating a backup Windows system image before I go any further.

If you’ve any comments or tips on creating a system image or on creating a new partition or dual booting I’d love to hear them before I go ahead.


Jun 17

If you’ve been following my recent posts, you’ll know I’ve bought a used laptop partly as a backup system for my Windows desktop PC (I work from home and a backup machine is essential) but mainly to check out Linux Mint and other possible Linux distros which I’d like to switch to from Windows in the future.

I’m at the stage where I’ve re-installed Windows 7 on the Lenovo ThinkPad, I’ve run all the Windows 7 updates and I’ve installed all my essential programs should I have to switch to the laptop if my desktop PC fails to boot one day. The next stage is to partition the hard disk and install Linux Mint.

But first, this is a great time to create a backup Windows system image should I ever need to reinstall Windows 7 in the future. It’s set up just as I want it now with my essential Windows programs. I thought it would be useful to make a list of the Windows programs that are essential to me for work and personal use. You’ll probably be familiar with most but if not, you might find the list useful. I’m not going to provide links to all the programs as they can be easily found online, but I’ll try to link back to any posts I’ve made on particular programs in the past. I compiled the list by browsing through all the programs installed on my desktop PC and paring them down to the ones I couldn’t do without.

My essential Windows programs

Microsoft Office (I need this because unfortunately MS Word is still the standard for document creation and editing in the publishing industry)

Microsoft OneDrive (not really essential, but I use it to backup encrypted work files online)

Microsoft NET Framework (needed to run other programs, e.g. doPDF)

Microsoft Security Essentials (many would argue there are better free anti-virus options but I’ve had no problems with it)

Google Chrome

Mozilla Thunderbird

Malwarebytes AntiMalware

xplorer2 Lite (my Windows Explorer replacement)

Irfanview and plugins (image editing)

7-Zip (file compression and file archive creation)

CCleaner

Speccy (hardware info)

Recuva (file recovery)

NotePad++ (text file creation and editing)

Adobe Reader (again unfortunately the standard for annotating PDF proofs in the publishing industry)

doPDF (create a PDF from your Print menu)

PicPick (screen capture utility)

Skype

Cloudfogger (automated cloud file encryption utility)

Evernote

When I dual boot Windows with Linux Mint, I’ll need to find Linux alternatives for some of these programs. Some I won’t need (MSE, Malwarebytes) and others I’ll try to get working under WINE (Word, Evernote), but more about that later. In my next post, I’ll create my backup Windows system image.


Jun 10

Lenovo ThinkPad keyboard

I bought a used Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E530c laptop on eBay recently. The idea was to have a backup machine should my desktop Windows PC pack in and also to install Linux Mint on a partition to see if I could move away Windows altogether eventually. I discussed my reasons for buying a used Windows laptop in the previous post.

The eBay seller had a 100% reputation, and his seller’s comment on the laptop was:

This item is as new but has no box. The laptop is unused. I’ve booted it up but never completed the registration. This laptop is in perfect condition.

Yes, I know, it seems pretty unlikely that anyone would buy a laptop and then sell it unused. The machine arrived as the seller said with Windows 7 Professional 64 bit installed. When I booted it up, it was at the point where you enter a user name and computer name so I carried on with that. It didn’t come with disks or a Windows 7 Product Key but I used Magical Jelly Bean KeyFinder on my USB drive with utility programs to track that down. I also installed the system information tool Speccy, which provided all the hardware details, the serial number and the Product Key. I wanted to find out just what I could about its previous life. I already knew that Event Viewer would have a log of previous events but I suspected that the hard drive would have been wiped and Windows 7 Professional installed so Event Viewer wouldn’t necessarily tell me much. So as usual I enlisted the help of Reddit and I asked the Techsupport subreddit about checking out a so-called unused laptop. The thread makes interesting reading and offered a number of great suggestions. I’ll go through how I applied those suggestions to check out this used laptop.

Laptop Condition

Sure enough, the laptop was immaculate so that was a good sign. As suggested out by one redditor, I checked the trackpad and the red nub for wear and there was none as you can see from the header image. So that’s a good start.

Event Viewer

When I ran Event Viewer, I found there were no events before 31-5-14. That was when I booted and completed registration (computer name, network name, windows password, updates, etc). But Recently Viewed Nodes were created on 1-10-12. Recently Viewed Nodes provides information about where events have recently taken place on the system. No idea what that means, possibly the clock hadn’t been set correctly when those events were logged.

Hard Drive Wear

I installed CrystalDiskInfo to check the hard drive. A few redditors said check the Power on Hours.

CrystalDiskInfo

As you can see, Power-On Hours is really pretty low. Hard drive health status was indicated as good. So far so good.

Deleted files

One redditor suggested running Recuva to check for deleted files. This was great advice as I noted a bunch of deleted Windows OS files. Here’s just part of the list of deleted files

Recuva

So it looks like the previous Windows OS was deleted, probably Windows 8.

Date of manufacture

With a Lenovo laptop, it’s possible to determine the date of manufacture from the external sticker or the serial number. I had no external sticker but I had found the serial number with Speccy earlier. I used the serial number to get the date of manufacture. So that gave me these details: Base Warranty Status: Start Date: 20 September 2013; End date: 18 November 2014. So the date of manufacture was 20 September 2013 and the laptop was still under warranty when I bought it.

Hardware scan

Lenovo have software to let you run a hardware scan. Check if your laptop manufacturer has included software to run hardware diagnostics.

Lenovo Hardware scan

The Lenovo Solution Center allows to check a whole bunch of hardware: Memory, Motherboard, PCI Express card, storage devices, WiFi card.

Lenovo Hardware scan results

All the hardware checked out fine.

Putting it all together

It looks like my Lenovo laptop was sold in September 2013 with Windows 8 installed. From its condition, power-on hours and hardware diagnostics, the first owner obviously didn’t use it much, then wiped the hard drive with Windows 8 and downgraded to Windows 7 Professional, and sold it leaving me to complete the registration. I’m still unclear if it was originally registered with Windows 8, but I don’t want to take that any further. I have found the Product Key and from a hardware point of view, the machine is fine.

After a few days of use, a few things started to niggle me. The boot-up time was way too long and there seemed to be quite a few Lenovo Utilities running that seemed unnecessary. I had no programs or data on it to speak of so I decided just to reinstall Windows 7 Professional 64 bit. I downloaded the iso file, burned it to a DVD and reinstalled Windows 7. Everything went fine until it went to search for an internet connection. After a bit of searching online (on my desktop PC!), I discovered that I would have to download a network driver and several ancillary Lenovo utilities from the Lenovo support site. This turned out to be quite a mission, as anyone who has come across the Lenovo support site will know – it’s a real challenge to identify just what you need to download. Anyway, I got there in the end with a great feeling of satisfaction at a job well done.

The laptop now boots quickly into Windows 7 Professional 64 bit and I have a pretty much ‘as-new’ machine. Once I have installed the software I need, and Windows is set up just as I want it, I’ll make an image backup in case I ever need to reinstall Windows. However, this is unlikely because, at the end of the day, the main purpose of this machine is so I can get familiar with Linux Mint, so eventually, I’ll wipe Windows 7. My next step is to partition the hard drive and dual boot Windows 7 with Linux Mint. I’ll let you know how I get on.

How do you check out a used laptop? Anything else I could have tried?


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