Category: computer repair

E-Waste Recycling Spotlight: Laptop Batteries

E-Waste Recycling Spotlight: Laptop Batteries

Recycling Spotlight: Laptop Batteries

Ever wonder what goes on behind the scenes at PC Pro? We say we recycle your old electronics, but what really happens? Follow us over the coming weeks to see what happens to each and every component in the devices you donate. This week, our focus is on one of the most likely components to go bad in your laptop: the battery.

Most modern laptop batteries are the rechargeable lithium-ion (Li-ion) type. Inside the black plastic shell of your laptop battery is anywhere from four to twelve individual cells, shaped like your household AA battery but around twice the size. Over their lifespan, these batteries degrade for a number of reasons including overuse, underuse, improper storage or manufacturing flaws. Once one or more of these cells lose their ability to perform properly, your laptop battery as a whole may stop working. Once that happens, the battery is typically replaced and discarded even though most of it is likely still useable.

Bad lithium-ion laptop battery 18650 cell
One of the cells in this laptop battery has leaked electrolyte and failed, causing the whole battery to stop working

That's where we come in. With some simple tools and a bit of knowledge, these laptop batteries can be torn down, separated and tested for safety, capacity, and a number of other characteristics. We use the Zanflare C4 Smart Charger, capable of testing four cells at a time, to test all of our batteries. It's not fast by any means, but it gives us a way to keep hazardous e-waste out of the landfill and make a few bucks every once in a while. In fact, it took us over a month of nonstop testing to test all of the batteries shown in the photos on this page. Hobbyists are always interested in purchasing tested lithium-ion batteries for use in Tesla Powerwalls, vape pens and portable electronics, and we intend to get them into the right hands.

Laptop lithium-ion 18650 batteriy cells
300 individual cells were recovered from donated laptop batteries in March

Caution!

Of course, there are safety concerns. We have to keep fireproof containers on hand to store damaged or dangerous batteries. Additionally, a good portion of the batteries we test fail to meet quality standards. That means we have to store these little sticks of dynamite by the dozen until they can be recycled through a larger facility. Piercing a lithium-ion battery causes a short-lived inferno that is capable of burning a house down. If you plan on recycling these at home, store them insulated from one another to keep the contacts from touching and possibly causing a short. Tape works to cover the ends of bad batteries, but you can buy storage trays for batteries you plan on keeping.

Lithium Ion battery exploding outside
This is what one exploding battery looks like. Stay safe if you're storing hundreds. Photo credit: FliteTest; https://youtu.be/0nrsoMsEMNU

Donate Now

Do you have electronics to donate for reuse or recycling? Call us at (719)345-2345 or e-mail coloradopcpro@gmail.com. We provide free in-home and in-business pickups and will arrange transportation for larger donations. Rest assured, we erase your data securely and can even give it back to you on an external hard drive or thumb drive upon request.

13 Windows Shortcuts You Never Thought You Needed to Know

13 Windows Shortcuts You Never Thought You Needed to Know

13 Windows Shortcuts You Never Thought You Needed to Know

Ever find yourself wondering if there is a better way to navigate around Windows? Well, neither did I, and that's why you never thought you needed to know these Windows keyboard shortcuts. With a bit of practice, you could make everyday tasks take no time at all and whiz through online forms like a veritable finger ninja. To start, we'll explore a few shortcuts that everyone should know.

Colorado PC Pro Keyboard Shortcuts for WIndows

The Basics

[CTRL] + scroll your mouse, or [CTRL] + [+] or [-]: Zoom. In most applications and in Windows itself, you can hold the [CTRL] key on your keyboard and scroll your mouse wheel up or down to zoom in or out. If you can't read text on a certain web site, quickly zoom in with this shortcut and it won't affect any other open windows or tabs. If your mouse doesn't have a scroll wheel, you can press the plus or minus keys instead.

[PRT SC], [WIN] + [PRT SC]: Take a screenshot. If you press the [PRT SC] button, also called 'print screen', a screenshot of everything on your monitor will be saved to your clipboard. That means that you still have to 'paste' your screenshot into a photo editing application like Paint or GIMP to see it. If you hold the Windows Logo key (in the lower left of your keyboard) before pressing [PRT SC], the screenshot will automatically be saved to your 'Pictures' folder in a folder named 'Screenshots'.

[CTRL] + [C] and [V]: Copy and paste. It's easy to remember that 'C means copy'. You can remember where the 'Paste' button is because it is right next to the 'Copy' button. Copying will copy any selected text or file and save it until you 'Paste' it somewhere else, without removing the text from the original source. If you want to 'Cut' your text out of the original source, you can use [CTRL] + [X], which is 'Cut'. Just remember that the [X] looks like a pair of scissors.

[CTRL] + [A]: Many people have problems precisely selecting text using their mouse. Instead of using your mouse at all, you can press [CTRL] + [A] to automatically select everything in a field, or all the files in a folder. You can also double-click your mouse to select a single word, or triple-click your mouse to select an entire sentence.

[TAB]: Advance the cursor. When navigating an online form, you can press the [TAB] key to move your mouse pointer from one field to the next. This is really convenient when you have to type in a lot of small bits of information because you no longer have to move your hands back and forth between the mouse and keyboard.

[SHIFT] + [TAB]: Retreat the cursor. This shortcut does exactly what pressing [TAB] does, only in reverse. If you notice you accidentally misspelled something in the last text field, you can [SHIFT] + [TAB] your way back without having to reach for the mouse.

[ALT] + [TAB]: Cycle through open windows. Holding [ALT] and pressing [TAB] will cycle through all open applications or windows, once for each press of the [TAB] key. This is useful if you have many applications open simultaneously and your task bar gets too cluttered.

Colorado PC Pro Keyboard Shortcuts for WIndows

The Function Keys

It's very likely a majority of readers have never had a use for the function keys that seem to be leftover from the MS-DOS days. I'm talking about that extraneous row of keys labeled [F1] through [F12] right above the number keys. While they may seem useless, many laptops have secondary functions such as brightness or volume control built into these keys.

[F2]: Rename. Have you ever had to rename a ton of files? Moving your hands back and forth between clicking and typing takes up a lot more time than you think. Simply press the [F2] button with a file selected (bonus points for selecting a file using the arrow keys) and start typing a new name.

[ALT] + [F4]: Close window. When you're done with one window or application, you can simply hold [ALT] and press [F4] to get it out of the way. This is especially useful if you just need to get back to the window under the one you're using.

[F5]: Refresh. This works for windows and web browser tabs as well. Pressing the [F5] key will refresh the web site you are currently viewing. Handy!

frequently asked questions

The Windows Button

Many advanced shortcuts are available by pressing the WIndows Logo button (we call it [WIN]) in combination with other keys. Feel free to skip this section if advanced shortcuts aren't something that sound exciting to you.

[WIN] + [X]: Power user menu. Our favorite shortcut here at PC Pro, this combines many useful tools into one convenient menu; for example, pressing [WIN] + [X] gives you one-click access to the Control Panel, Power Options, Event Viewer, Disk Management and more.

[WIN] + [P]: Projector modes. Holding down the [WIN] key and pressing [P] will cycle through projector modes for each press of the [P] key. Many display problems can be solved by simply trying this shortcut after accidentally switching a setting.

[WIN] + [D]: Desktop. Need to get back to your desktop quick? Pressing [WIN] and [D] at the same time will minimize everything you're working on and take you there. Press the keys again and all of your windows will return to their original position.

We hope you enjoyed this post and learned even one new shortcut. Feel free to comment below with your thoughts, or share your favorite shortcut with everyone else! Give us a call at (719) 345-2345 to schedule an in-home computer service or repair today, or e-mail us at ColoradoPCPro@Gmail.com. Thanks!

Nine Things You Should Disable in Windows 10

Nine Things You Should Disable in Windows 10

What to Disable (Windows 10)

Installing Windows 10 on an old or inexpensive computer can lead to speed issues, as many of our customers in Colorado Springs have recently discovered. While Windows 10 solves many of the gripes users had with older versions, like the 'Metro' layout of Windows 8, it introduces a host of new problems with tracking and prediction services that are always on by default.

Follow this guide to reclaim your computer's lost processing power and enjoy a more streamlined experience immediately.

Superfetch (Prefetch)

Superfetch, known as Prefetch in older versions of Windows, is a service that predicts what resources you will need while you are working on your PC. Superfetch then caches these resources, or loads them before you ask for it for quicker access once they are needed. Unfortunately, this can cause problems with certain types of programs or for users that leave many applications open at once. Superfetch is especially a problem for gamers.

To disable Superfetch in Windows 10, navigate to your start menu (or press the 'Windows' button on your keyboard) and type 'services.msc' in the search box.Press enter to launch the services Window, then:

  • Locate 'Superfetch' in the resulting list.
  • Right-click 'Superfetch' and select 'Properties'.
  • Select the 'Stop' button to stop the service.
  • Optionally, select 'Disabled' in the 'Startup type' dropdown box to prevent it from opening again in the future.
  • Press 'Apply' then 'OK' to save your changes.
9 things to disable windows 10 superfetch
Find 'Superfetch' in the list of services

Cortana

Cortana is the voice-enabled digital assistant bundled with all versions of Windows 10. If you don't plan on using Cortana as a productivity tool, disabling it may improve your PC's performance by freeing up valuable resources. To disable Cortana, click the Cortana icon in the taskbar, select the 'Settings' icon in the resulting window (it looks like a cog wheel on the left side of the window), and set all of the settings to 'Off'.

9 things to disable windows 10 cortana
Your Cortana settings may vary slightly from this image

Into the Settings

The next several tips will all be found in the Windows 10 'Settings' menu, which can be accessed by selecting 'Settings' from the Start Menu, or by typing 'Settings' into the start menu search bar.

Notifications

First, we'll get those pesky desktop notifications under control so that you can stay focused on your work and leave your computer ready to process more important things. From the 'Settings' menu, select 'System, then 'Notifications & actions' from the navigation bar on the left side of the window. We suggest disabling everything except for 'Show app notifications', and then selectively allowing only your preferred applications to deliver those notifications. You can select which applications you want to hear from on the same window, under the main settings.

9 things to disable windows 10 notifications

Windows Store Apps

Starting with Windows 10, Microsoft includes applications in your start menu that you didn't put there. These are 'Apps' that are available on the Windows Store, and since you didn't ask for them to be there, they are essentially advertisements. To prevent these apps from cluttering up your start menu, navigate back to the 'Home' tab of your 'Settings' window and select 'Personalization'. From there, select 'Start' on the left side of the screen and disable the slider labeled 'Occasionally show suggestions in Start'.

9 things to disable windows 10 windows store apps

Privacy

The release of Windows 10 marked a dark day for digital privacy. While there are many things you can do to reclaim a bit of your digital identity, it is essentially surrendered to Microsoft as they move to a more open, advertiser-friendly and subscription-based operating system model. To do what you can for your privacy while slightly speeding up your computer, select 'Privacy' and then 'General' from the navigation bar. Unless you specifically need these services, you should turn the following off:

  • 'Let apps use my advertising ID for experiences across apps'
  • 'Send Microsoft info about how I write to help us improve typing and writing in the future.'
  • 'Let apps on my other devices open apps and continue experiences on this device.'
  • 'Let apps on my other devices use Bluetooth to open apps and continue experiences on this device.'

Once you've completed the previous step, navigate to 'Speech, inking & typing', still located under the 'Privacy' tab, and select 'Stop getting to know me' to end some additional data collection.

9 things to disable windows 10 privacy

Background Applications

Many apps run in the background of Windows 10 by default, even if you have never and will never use them. As expected, these apps are mostly Windows Store apps and are unrelated to your actual browsing habits. Having these apps run in the background is a massive resource drain for your computer. To selectively disable apps you don't plan on using, navigate to 'Background apps' in the 'Privacy' menu and review the list. Don't worry about disabling something important, since you can still voluntarily open programs that aren't on this list.

9 things to disable windows 10 backgruond applications
Choose your background applications according to your needs

Settings Sync

Unless you specifically enjoy having your settings sync between all of your Windows devices, you should protect your privacy and speed up your device by disabling the feature altogether. To change this setting, navigate to the 'Home' tab of the 'Settings' window, then select 'Accounts' and 'Sync your settings' from the navigation menu on the left side of the window. Move the slider to 'Off' to seal the deal.

9 things to disable windows 10 settings sync

Power Options

If you are using a laptop, you may benefit from tweaking your computer to use more resources when you are receiving power from a wall outlet. These settings exist mainly as a way to conserve battery power on-the-go, but can also be used in the exact opposite manner. To view your power plan, right-click the battery indicator icon in the icon tray at the bottom-right corner of your screen. From there, select 'Power options' to access the necessary menu. On this window, you can select the 'High performance' power plan for an instant speed boost. If the 'High performance' plan is not available, expand the space under 'Show additional plans' by clicking the arrow located next to it. Feel free to explore the wide variety of options available to you to meet your individual needs.

9 things to disable windows 10 power options
'High Performance' was hidden under the other two power plans

Visual Effects

To reduce the load on your graphics card and reduce input lag, it may also be useful to limit the amount of visual effects Windows can use. These effects change how the mouse pointer, menus and other Windows frames appear and animate themselves, so you won't lose much functionality by disabling some of the settings. Changing visual effects would most benefit graphic designers, video editors or multimedia enthusiasts.

To access the visual effects settings, type 'sysdm.cpl' into the Windows search box and press enter. In the System Properties window, select the 'Advanced' tab and then the 'Settings' button under 'Performance'. In the Performance Options window, you can adjust your visual settings for best appearance, best performance, or a balance of the two by selecting the appropriate radio button.

9 things to disable windows 10 visual effects
Experiment with different settings to find your combination.
Gallery: Failed Hard Drive and Data Recovery

Gallery: Failed Hard Drive and Data Recovery

FAILED HARD DRIVE

We finished a service call yesterday that was initially scheduled as a virus removal and speedup. Before we could get there, the hard drive stopped working altogether. We arrived to find that the hard drive had failed, and that we were in for more than we expected. Our client was advised to order a replacement hard drive, or even an upgrade, and have the files either cloned or recovered onto the new drive.

Unfortunately, with a failing hard drive, you can never know what data recovery methods will work until you try.

DATA RECOVERY

Replacement hard drive in hand, we set about attempting to recover the data. This can be very stressful for both client and technician as years of family photos and important documents are often on the line. In this clients case, the hard drive was still physically functional and only beginning to fail, leading to corrupted sectors preventing the computer from properly booting.

Cloning the hard drive with two different utilities failed to work, so we had to resort to installing a fresh version of Windows 10 on the new drive and moving important files over manually. In case anyone was wondering, 50,000 photographs take several hours to transfer from a failing hard drive.

In the end, the client received a shiny new version of Windows 10 with all of their personal files intact. Unfortunately, they will have to spend some time downloading all of their favorite programs, but they still have what's most important after nearly losing it all.

Tech Support Scams and PUPs

Tech Support Scams and PUPs

TECH SUPPORT SCAMS AND POTENTIALLY UNWANTED PROGRAMS

"Some scammers call and claim to be computer techs associates with well-known companies like Microsoft or Apple. Other scammers send pop-up messages that warn about computer problems. They say they've detected viruses or other malware on your computer. They claim to be 'tech support' and will ask you to give them remote access to your computer. Eventually, they'll diagnose a non-existent problem and ask you to pay for unnecessary -- or even harmful -- services."

This is what the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) describes as a 'tech support scam'. In this blog post, we'll explore a number of similar scams that fall under the same umbrella; that is, scammers and hackers pretending to be tech support in order to access your computer or data, whether it occurs over the phone, online chat, in-person or through a malicious, unwanted program installed on your computer. Follow along with us as we explore the various methods of these con artists and how to thwart them before you become a victim.

Fake Tech Support Scam Colorado Springs PC Pro
Beware PC repair websites that advertise remote support. This one is a scam!

To counter the tech support scam threat, it is important to understand exactly what these criminals are after. It may not seem like much to you, but your data is actually extremely valuable to hackers. Even if you place a low value on your photos, documents and videos, hackers can often piece together small bits of data found across many files to create the 'big picture', your identity. Think about what you have saved on your computer: tax documents, scans of your drivers license, birth certificate or social security card, receipts for large purchases, your address, account names and passwords stored in your web browser and bank information. Even if hackers don't plan on using this data themselves, it is remarkably easy to offer identities up for sale on the dark web, often in large lots from multiple compromised computers.

SO WHAT CAN YOU DO?

Now that you understand the value of your data and why it needs protecting, let's discuss what you can do to spot scammers and stop them in their tracks. First of all, you must be suspicious of everyone and everything asking for access to your computer. If you didn't initiate contact with a tech support agent, it is almost guaranteed that being contacted unsolicited is a scam. These con-artists take advantage of the complicated nature of computers to convince less tech-saavy users to simply give up control, but you know better than that! If you receive a call claiming to be tech support that you didn't schedule or arrange, it is a scam, even if the caller ID data appears legitimate. It is common for criminals to 'spoof', or fake caller ID names to appear legitimate (enough) to complete the scam. Similarly, unexpected popups often use the logos and branding of major corporations to convince you that they are legitimate. When in doubt, it is a good idea to close the popup by clicking the 'x' in the corner of the window. If you are overly suspicious or the popup seems legitimate, look up the phone number for the company using your favorite search engine and call that number from your phone to confirm. Do not call the number provided by the popup!

Fake Tech Support Scam Colorado Springs PC Pro
This Norton Antivirus lookalike is also a scam - beware!

You may even be subjected to high-pressure sales tactics if you become a target of these scammers. Fake tech support agents may use lots of technical terms, or jargon, to frame themselves as an expert and prevent you from properly participating in the conversation. In their minds, they want you to be as scared and confused as possible so that you agree to their proposed 'solution', which is usually asking for remote access into your computer. They may even try to get you to buy into their scheme by guiding you through some simple processes on your computer, like checking files or typing commands into the command prompt, to convince you that you have a problem by being polite and helpful -- just like a real technician. Don't fall for it! The last step they ask for will always involve gaining remote access to your computer or getting you to pay for something. With remote access, the scammers will have permanent access to your computer, day and night, and can do anything they choose with it, like viewing video through your webcam or using your computer as part of a Botnet to hack bigger targets.

POTENTIALLY UNWANTED PROGRAMS

To change gears a little, most scams we have seen, particularly in Southern Colorado and Colorado Springs, do not actually involve a phone call. They are conducted entirely online via program downloads and are often welcomed by the victims who believe they need the scam program for one reason or another. It is also common to bundle unwanted programs with legitimate free software without properly disclosing this to the user. This method involves preying on victims searching for computer help. For example, if you search for 'remote computer repair', you are bombarded with similar-looking websites offering to help. What can you do to figure out if 'LogOnfixIt' or 'OnlineComputerRepair' are legitimate? Simply put, don't trust anything you haven't already heard of. If you really need something an unknown site is offering, run an additional search specifically about the company with the word 'scam' in the query; for example, 'LogOnFixIt scam'. This will show you if any consumers have been scammed by the company and if you can expect the level of service you deserve from them. Searching for a company on the Better Business Bureau (BBB) is also usually helpful.

Fake Tech Support Scam Colorado Springs PC Pro
Both the blue screen and the popup are scams disguised as Windows warnings.

Many of these sites will install a program on your computer that is not necessarily malicious, but rather unwanted. We've all seen them: the programs that start up as soon as your computer loads, bug you over and over to upgrade to the paid version and frequently cause you to stop what you're doing to pay attention to them. These programs are best uninstalled using a powerful uninstall tool, like IOBit Uninstaller, which removes all remnants of uninstalled programs to make sure they don't come back to haunt you, as they often do. A short list of programs that fall under this criteria, also known as Potentially Unwanted Programs (PUPs):

  • BrowserDefender
  • BrowserManager
  • Web Assistant
  • MyPcBackup
  • PCSpeedUp
  • Safe Search
  • 1ClickDownload
  • CouponDropDown
  • Superfish
  • Yahoo/Ask/Google Toolbar(s)

As you can see, not all of these programs have names that sound malicious. A program called 'PCSpeedUp' sounds useful if your computer is slow, and it will appear that way when you run it. Your inability to close, delete or uninstall the program is what makes the program dangerous. Combine this with the fact that the program is most likely also collecting your personal information for the private gain of others and you have a recipe for disaster. Remember, you only want well-established, high-quality programs on your computer. If you don't know where a program came from, call us at (719) 345-2345 to determine if it is harmful or not. We care about your security and privacy at PC Pro.

Fake Tech Support Scam Colorado Springs PC Pro
Another blue screen scam, masquerading as a standard Windows error screen.

Not sure if you've been infected? Most modern anti-malware and anti-virus programs are capable of notifying you. Here at PC Pro, we recommend using MalwareBytes Antimalware, BitDefender antivirus, or Avira antivirus to stay safe both on- and offline. Of course, Windows Defender and Firewall should always be enabled and running simultaneously with your antivirus program. Since some PUPs may actually be beneficial or wanted, like programs by IOBit or McAfee, these malware scanning programs will only alert you to their presence and let you decide if they should be removed or not.

If you still have doubts after reading this article, or if your computer is simply not running like it used to or you are experiencing unwanted popups and advertisements, you should call PC Pro today to schedule a free consultation and PUP removal.

Gallery: DC-In Jack Replacement for Dell Inspiron 15 7568

Gallery: DC-In Jack Replacement for Dell Inspiron 15 7568

POWER JACK REPLACEMENT

We responded to a service call today to replace the power adapter port on a Dell Inspiron 15 (model 7568). Upon initial inspection, it was clear that the power port had broken off inside the laptop case and was dangling loose. Any attempt to plug in the adapter just pushed the adapter around inside the laptop shell.

One cheap replacement part and 15 minutes was all it took to get this laptop back up to speed. We had to use a bit of glue to secure the mounting hardware that snapped off inside the laptop case, but it was a relatively straightforward job, overall.

GALLERY

Toshiba Qosmio Cleanup

Toshiba Qosmio Cleanup

DANGEROUS DUST

When your electronic devices are allowed to collect dust and grime, performance suffers. Reduced airflow leads to increased temperatures, slower performance, an increased risk of component failure and general frustration. Keeping them clean is important - we recommend you get your computer cleaned and checked out once a year to maximize its value.

If you're confident, many computers can be cleaned safely by just about anyone. Be mindful of static electricity buildup by avoiding vacuums and dry cloth and working on a hardwood or cement floor.

GALLERY

Computer Detailing – The Spaghetti Monster

Computer Detailing – The Spaghetti Monster

COMPUTER DETAILING

I dubbed this pile of cables and dust bunnies the 'Spaghetti Monster' for obvious reasons. Not only did it look terrible, it also posed a fire hazard and ran the risk of component failure at any time. Performance was notably slower than usual and the temperature was notably higher. I had the pleasure of untangling this mess earlier this week, planning a new layout for the tower and detailing the rig inside and out. Ultimately, it ended up looking like something out of a stock photo while improving overall performance.

colorado pc pro computer detailing and laptop repair
Several of these cables don't connect to anything

I noticed none of the cables had been run behind the firewall (the 'back wall' of the computer), likely due to a rush assembly job, so I routed the cables back through one of several access channels located throughout the case. Moving these cables out of the way helped me gain a better understanding of the layout of the PC, and I noticed that some devices were improperly attached or weren't receiving power. One tip for anyone considering working on their own PC is to take photos at every step of the process. I personally take photos of all cable connections and empty ports, as both can be easily overlooked during reassembly.

colorado pc pro computer detailing and laptop repair
Looking much better after a few hours of TLC

My most valuable tool for cleaning static-sensitive electronics, like laptops and computers, is the anti-static vacuum, made entirely of materials designed to resist electrostatic discharge (ESD). Although expensive, the speed of cleaning with a vacuum and the money savings on canned air make it well worth the price. Normal vacuums pose great risk to electronics, since their plastic construction interacts with fast-moving dust particles to create static electricity right where you don't want it. One touch to a hard drive, RAM stick, computer fan or PCIe card is all it takes to discharge a deadly dose of static electricity, so always wear an anti-static band even when you think it isn't necessary. All it takes is one fried motherboard to learn that lesson the hard way.

Colorado PC Pro gaming computer detailing
Closeup of the motherboard and RAM

This gaming computer was particularly bulky; in fact, it was almost double the weight of the 'spilled milk' project I took on earlier this week. The hard drives were bolted onto the frame in a metal cage that itself was part of a larger metal cage, which seemed to be rather much but allowed for up to 8 hard drives to be hot-swapped into the tower. Several extraneous parts were removed at my suggestion, including an archaic hard drive reader, a USB 3.0 expansion card and an MMC card reader that hadn't ever found use. Removing these cards reduced overall power usage, allowed me to remove some cables from the rig altogether, and contributed to improved airflow - all good things for the customer.

Colorado PC Pro gaming computer detailing
Cable conduits provide easy access to cables wherever you need them

Detailing the case inside and out can sometimes be challenging. In the case of the Spaghetti Monster, there were actual creatures living out their entire lives in this silicon landscape. Luckily, spiders aren't the worst thing I could have imagined living inside a computer the size of a pantry. Like many other things in this world, I always seem to do the first 90% of the cleaning in 10% of the time, while the last 10% of cleaning takes the other 90% of my time. Getting into corners, around fragile electronic parts and everywhere else imaginable is more of an art than a science. The combination of Q-tips, cotton balls, a microfiber cloth, rubbing alcohol and ten fingers are typically all you need to get the job done - it's how you combine them that makes you an expert.

Colorado PC Pro gaming computer detailing
Still working out the kinks in the cabling

Once everything was clean, I replaced all of the components we decided would be part of the system going forward. This time, applying a bit of planning allowed me to assemble the PC with almost no cables running inside the case. As stated before, this improves airflow and reduces processor temperatures, speeding up the computer and extending the lifetime of your components. Perhaps even more importantly, careful cable planning gives you control over the aesthetics of your machine. Anyone willing to spend used car prices for a computer should take pride in appearances - regular maintenance and detailing should not be neglected and will save you money over the lifetime of your computer.

Total Time Spent: 4 hours
Cost: $216

GALLERY

Spill Damage Recovery – Desktop Gaming Computer

Spill Damage Recovery – Desktop Gaming Computer

SPILL DAMAGE MITIGATION

I recently completed a work order to repair and detail a gaming rig that had a glass of milk spilled into it through the top fan grates. You can imagine the extent of the damage: flaky white stains covering every single component inside the oversized tower, a faint smell of dairy and more than a few 'burned' spots on the circuity indicating an electrical short. The client was able to cut power to the computer before it shorted out on its own, which was a huge indicator that recovery would be successful.

pc pro computer build motherboard
Sparkling new and fully functional

INSPECTION

Upon initial investigation, extensive contamination was discovered across all major components. Some of the RAM sticks had solidified milk on the contacts while the corresponding ports had blocked pins. All three hard drives had splash stains, the worst of which was alarmingly found on the fragile mechanical drive. The Wi-Fi wireless network card had evaporated milk coating both surfaces, the processor was spared by the liquid cooling system, which unfortunately meant that milk had cooked into the tiny, tiny blades of a miniature radiator. The graphics card was assumed dead on arrival due to the several burnt spots on its exterior - it had taken the brunt of the spill. Last but not least, the motherboard was exposed in many places; for example, not all of the eSATA ports were functional upon inspection.

spill damage on ram memory computer
Note the hardened milk around the corners and on the contact edge of the RAM stick

TROUBLESHOOTING

I attempted to boot the computer after removing the GPU and plugging an HDMI cable into the onboard graphics card. The desktop powered on and I was blinded by bright green LEDs, but I saw nothing on my monitor. A red diagnostic LED was lit on the corner of the motherboard: "DRAM". I started removing the RAM sticks one by one until I could get past this specific problem. After removing two sticks, a new diagnostic LED was lit: "Boot Device". Time to test the hard drives, I thought. I removed all three drives from the tower and tested them in a hard drive dock connected to another computer. Luckily, all three hard drives worked like a charm. This meant either the cables or the ports were bad, so I replaced the SATA cables with temporary replacements, tried plugging hard drives into each port and saw limited success. Cleaning the rest of the ports with rubbing alcohol made all of the hard drives as well as the disc drive work once again.

spill damage hard drive sata port cables
Hard drive SATA ports were shorted out by spilled liquid

Out of curiosity, I tried cleaning the graphics card. Half an hour later, once all the crusty, powdery stains were finally gone, I installed it back into the computer and successfully got the display running, which was a relief that probably saved the client hundreds of dollars. Knowing now that there was a great chance of recovering everything, I went about my craft and painstakingly swabbed dried milk from all exposed electrical contacts, brushed it out of tiny spaces with an antistatic brush, wiped out every square inch of the massive computer case, completely disassembled the machine, posed for pictures (enjoy the gallery), reassembled the machine and began testing.

liquid damage diagnostics
Running some diagnostics after reassembling the computer

QUALITY CONTROL

Miraculously, the machine booted on the first try. Navigating through the BIOS indicated that all of the major devices were fully functional. The amount of RAM was reported correctly, all hard drives were detected and identified and the mouse and keyboard worked properly. Letting it run for a while, I noted that the temperature of the CPU remained stable. Finally, I booted into the operating system to go online and run some benchmark and stress tests for good measure. Once everything was in order, I scheduled time to return the computer to the customer.

pc pro computer build black
Call me to solve your computer problems today - Don't wait until something fails!

Time Spent: 3 hours
Money Saved: At least $400 for a GPU replacement, potentially more.

 

GALLERY