PC Upgrade

Upgrade Laptop Hard Drive to SSD

I’ve been offline a while because I was out of town at classes for a couple of weeks. I had my Dell XPS laptop with me and gave it a proper work out. One thing became apparent quickly: it took way too long to go from the login screen to a usable state. Once I hit the desktop it would take at least a minute before I could do anything.

On my way back home, I received an email from buy.com about a Crucial M4 256GB SSD on sale for $100 off. It was less than $1 a GB so I took the plunge and purchased it in the hope of resolving my slow boot issue. After I received the drive I thought about the best way to install it. I had never installed an SSD much less upgrade a HDD to a SSD. I took a chance since they were both SATA and ghosted my HDD to the SSD. Ghost completed successfully and I removed the HDD from the laptop and installed the SSD.

The laptop booted to the login screen in less than 10 seconds. I put in my username and password and waited. A few seconds later the desktop showed up and within 10 more seconds I was up and running. I was simply amazed at the speed. Now I understood why all these magazine writers sung the SSD song. Windows only asked to reboot to finish installing hardware (presumably the SSD). A reboot later I was ready to go. Pretty painless overall and highly recommended for laptops particularly. If prices come down on 512 GB SSDs significantly, I might think of replacing my Velociraptor drive in my desktop PC!

Upgrading a Dell Inspiron 518

My son recently has been complaining about the performance of his computer (a Dell Inspiron 518) in games. I did not purchase the computer for him originally so I did not concern myself with the Radeon 3450 video card which came with the system. Unfortunately, this video card has finally proven to be inadequate for playing modern games. My son tried to play Call of Duty Black Ops on the PC, but the video card just could not handle it even with the settings turned down.

With this in mind, and with a Radeon 4850 lying around from a PC I am turning into a media center computer, I decided to upgrade the Dell. Unfortunately, the power supply in the Dell is only 300 watts and lacks any power connector for a video card (6 pin connector in this case). So now I had to upgrade the power supply as well. I checked the measurements for the installed power supply and fortunately is was a standard size. I made a pre-Thanksgiving trip to best Buy and picked up a Thermatake 600 watt supply for $89 with more than enough power connectors.

The install of the power supply went well, although the old PS was a little difficult to remove thanks to some metal clips on the case chassis for routing cables which made removing the PS harder than it should have been. The new PS fit fine and then I went through the motions of finding what connectors I needed (there were many unused ones left). I plugged everything in, routing the cables as best as I could. Before removing the old video card, I powered on the PC to make sure the PS was working. When I saw the boot screen, I knew I was in business. Next I removed the old video card and installed the Radeon 4850 with its required power connector. I power on again, and everything was good. I only needed to reinstall the video drivers (which was not really a problem because I was planning on upgrading them anyway).

After a reboot I ran the Windows Experience test again and the video went from 3.7 to 5.9 (the max for Vista). Now all his components were 5.9 and I knew the PC was good to go. My son has been playing COD a lot lately since the upgrade (he was happy to be able to set the video settings to max).

So do not forget to check the power supply before upgrading internal components – you may not have the power connector you need.

Windows XP Upgrade to Windows 7

Just went through my first XP to 7 upgrade for a customer and it was pretty painless. The Windows 7 upgrade package comes with a list of instructions for upgrading from XP since you cannot do an in place upgrade but basically do a complete reinstall. The recommended options include running the Windows 7 upgrade advisor to check hardware and software for compatibility and using the Windows Easy Transfer program to transfer files and settings to Windows 7. I skipped these steps since the laptop was new and rated for Vista and I had already checked the hardware specs; I decided to backup user files myself because I did not know what the transfer program might backup and what it might miss.

The next step was to insert the Windows 7 DVD while in Windows and run the install choosing custom install (not upgrade). I was told when I selected what partition to install Windows to that if there was an existing version of Windows, it would be backed up to Windows.old. The installer ran on its own until the end where you have to give some basic information about location, time, and enter the product key.

It appears all of the user files were left on there either in there own original folders under the C drive or moved under Windows.old if they were in the user folder.

So the nice thing I learned about this process was that you do not have to reformat and then put back all of the data files, even though it is still a good idea to backup beforehand just in case. Also, XP to 7 may be a lengthier process because of application reinstalls, but at least the process is laid out very well for the average user.

Windows XP Hard Drive Transplant

After being pestered for months by my son to get his Call of Duty 4 game working, I was finally able to do that by moving him to another PC, but it was not a simple procedure. I started trying to get the game working by getting the latest game patches, then the latest video and sound drivers, ghosting his hard drive to a new, larger one, even removing his SB Live card and putting him on built-in sound, but to no avail. The only other option left was to move his hard drive to another, better computer. I didn’t want to have to reload everything because he has quite a few games and such on there. I figured I’d try to transplant his hard drive, video card, and sound card to a new PC.

Not a brand new PC, but as I said, one better than he had and one that I thought could run COD4. The PC is an HP with 512MB RAM and an AMD Athlon 64 3200+ processor. I downloaded the drivers I needed for the HP system and copied them to his current hard drive. I then uninstalled as much major hardware as I could from device manager like video, sound, network, etc. I then moved his video card, 1 GB of RAM (PC2700, the same as the RAM in the HP), hard drive, and sound card to the HP system. I powered on and everything looked good, but instead of booting, the system rebooted, and rebooted, and rebooted. Thus, the troubleshooting began.

I did basic things like remove a memory stick, remove extra cards, but it didn’t help. The weird thing was that, before rebooting, a message came up saying Windows had not previously started successfully, even on the first boot in the HP. I kept trying to start in normal mode, but obviously it wasn’t working. So I tried starting in Safe Mode and kept noticing the boot would stop with the file mup.sys. A little Internet research indicated I wasn’t alone with this problem. I tried some suggested fixes, all involving Recovery Mode. There was a chkdsk command, which seemed to do nothing, and a command to disable muy.sys from starting. That worked, but then the boot stuck on the AGP driver. I disabled that; finally the boot stuck on the NTFS driver. I decided this tactic wasn’t working, so I tried something I never tried before and didn’t like – Windows repair install. Basically, Windows will install over the existing Windows load, keeping all programs (and reg settings I assume) intact. I have always been a firm believer in wiping the slate clean when reinstalling, but I figured this was my son’s computer, it was used primarily for gaming and my only other alternative was a clean reload, so what could it hurt.

Luckily, things went smoothly. The reload went through without any hiccups. I logged on to the PC and then loaded the missing drivers. Everything looked good. Then came the last test, the whole reason for this little adventure – a successful start of COD4. I fired the game up, and everything ran perfectly. I started the first mission, and it went fine. I then breathed a sigh of relief.

It’s been about a month, and everything is still working just fine. My son has not complained at all about games not working. Now if I could get the stinking XBox 360 to quit overheating so he could play Guitar Hero III and I could get all his Oblivion mods working, all would be right with the world…