IT Learning Discussion

This section will have a LOT of info. I’ll be splitting the areas to make it easier to link to specific sections. Unless I figure out how to create TOC for posts…

INTRODUCTION

The purpose of this thread is to talk about IT in general. There will be broad topics and discussions on each aspect. I will share as much as I know - doing my best to avoid plagiarism. So let’s get into this.

WHAT IS IT?

IT is short for “information technology” as you may already know. The thing is, the landscape of IT has changed in a very short time. We’ve moved from things like hard drives being the size of a car engine to fitting in the palm of your hand. That’s not exaggerated by the way. We’ve also moved from having IT be the black sheep or stepchild of a company to being an integral part of operations. We’ve also seen a merger of disciplines into IT, as has happened with telephony.

Telephony was a separate branch of IT entirely, with some equipment literally taking up part of a floor or an office space - with technology this has moved to processes being miniaturized to the size of a desktop PC. With advancements in routing and switching - or developments if you prefer - telephony has fully become a part of IT. IP telephony is now the way forward while legacy copper telephony is phased out. There are still some places where legacy lines are used, and some places have both while others prefer the older technology over the newer - but we’ll get into that later on as we touch on each topic.

In summary, IT has become a BROAD category that requires specialization in a certain discipline. To break it down - here are a few that I can recall that would come under IT.

  • Camera systems.
  • Vehicle diagnostics.
  • “Smart Home” systems.
  • Wireless networking.
  • Wired networking - Copper.
  • Wired networking - Fiber.
  • Telephony - mobile.
  • Telephony - fixed lines.
  • Telephony - IP PBX (internal fixed lines).
  • Electronics (component level replacement or repair).
  • PC repairs - hardware.
  • PC repairs - software.
  • Software programming and development.
  • Web development.
  • Mobile software development.
  • Mobile hardware development.
  • Routing/Switching/Gateways.

And really. That’s not everything. That’s just what I can recall. And some persons may say that some categories could be pooled together, or is a sub-discipline of another, but if you actually specialize in one area, you may find that someone is better in one area with specific equipment versus another.

CASE STUDY

So let me elaborate on what I just said. I had a wireless network to set up for a client at their home. Now let me say - while I do have industry certification, I did not specialize in the “conventional” areas - just what was required for my current day job. I walked in and found that the client has some Ubiquiti access points, and I kept hearing that the person who set it up originally is extremely good - Cisco certified - and they knew what they were doing. Now for those who don’t know, Cisco is probably the world leader in networking equipment and their certification is in one of the highest paying brackets for IT. So this was my benchmark. Fast forward to 3+ years since I did the setup, reconfiguration and deployment. No problems from the client and they wondered why they didn’t find me before the other guy.

Does this mean that I’m “better” than the other tech? No. My approach is just different. I know people - have friends that are Cisco certified that I KNOW would have done a better job than the other guy, but it depends on the technical know-how, and the drive to get things done. While certification helps, the overall knowledge and drive makes a world of difference.

THAT BEING SAID

With that - I’d like to get into things. However - I’d like to address one other situation. This forum and the assistance provided here will be given freely. I don’t care about your situation or what your motives are, but I’m hoping that the knowledge dispensed will help with your daily IT issues and hopefully lead to job recruitment or advancement. I will also suggest certain certifications for you to complete if asked, but…I can’t tell you what to do.

I’ve come across some types of persons in my life, and I’ve just had to accept them as they are. One is actually a good friend of mine - no longer in the island - but he may have been the first I’ve experienced like this. Let’s just say - I don’t know how to define persons within his category.

Complacent? Comfortable? Mediocre? I’m not sure. I’ll just say that he lacked the drive to get things done. He was more than capable - could have passed the certification exams if he tried (in my opinion) - but he never did. Always stopped studying and never finished. He really just had no idea about what he wanted to do. Didn’t find something to push him or a field where he had a passion. This confuses me because as a child I had ideas of various things I would have wanted to do. Having a child of my own let me see that from 4 years old some interest in something can be found. Whether it’s possible based on where you live, the dreams and aspirations can be met if you have the right surroundings.

Another category within IT I’d like to touch on is someone I’ve never met in person. I was told by a younger friend that he reminds them of me in terms of the enthusiasm for IT. I’ve offered to mentor this person and they’ve showed little to no interest. Based on what I’ve seen - it’s like they just want the bragging rights to say they built their custom PC.

MEDIOCRITY

This will be the last sub-topic before I get into the discussion. There is merit in mediocrity when it comes to certain aspects of life. Two persons finishing university - both graduate with their BSc but one graduates “magna cum laude” and the other just graduates. Having higher grades does not denote better ability. It could be that one person is able to swat while the other can’t. But you don’t know until they’re both in a real-world work situation. And that is where mediocrity will show. You are either comfortable where you’re at - or you push for advancement as much as your post allows. If you have a reason for not advancing - fine. If your company allows you the options for advancements - paid or free tuition/courses - career path or such - and you don’t take it…that’s on you.

I don’t care about your mediocrity. I’m here to provide information. Take it or leave it. If it helps you - great - if not - I tried.

GENERAL IT - PC REPAIRS

So the IT world has evolved. Let’s get into some of the things that have remained mostly constant. The parts of a PC. For each thing mentioned you can do a search online for further reading, or you can post so we can discuss.

  • Motherboard.
  • Processor.
  • Cooling Unit.
  • Memory.
  • Storage.
  • Power Supply.

Let’s get into each one.

MOTHERBOARD

This is the mainboard in your PC or laptop. In the past the only thing this had was a keyboard connector. If you wanted USB, video, sound or anything else - you’d have to buy the addon cards for that. More modern boards are integrated, and performance or gaming boards are semi-integrated. Gaming boards may primarily lack onboard graphics. Motherboards come in low, medium and high end.

PROCESSOR

The CPU (central processing unit) is the second major component in your PC. Bear in mind that some low end PCs and laptops have the CPU “built on” - soldered on the board in what’s called BGA (ball grid array). CPUs are basically low, medium or high end. The CPU must be compatible with the motherboard - some motherboards may have the slot and the CPU will fit, but it won’t work when powered on due to compatibility.

COOLING UNIT

This varies based on your setup. There are passive cooling units - no fans. There are air cooled units with fans - the most common. There are liquid cooled units. Depending on the system, some form of cooling will be used. This is usually a copper unit placed on top of the CPU to help with heat dissipation - and it’s connected to a vent, fan or pipes - and sometimes a combination of things - to take heat away from the components (CPU and/or chipset - sometimes RAM as well) and outside of the case. While not a “core component” it is needed for the system to function. A PC/laptop may sometimes work for a few seconds/minutes without a cooling unit, but this may result in damage to the CPU. Modern systems have fail safe mechanisms built in to either shut down or not turn on if cooling is not detected.

MEMORY

RAM (random access memory) is like a blackboard/chalkboard in a classroom. It’s where information used by the computer is stored temporarily and erased as needed, or fully erased when the computer is powered off. Memory - like the motherboard and CPU - come in low, medium and high end. There are factors affecting the total amount of memory you can have in your PC - and we’ll get into that later on.

STORAGE

The last of the components discussed here - this is where your operating system (Windows/Linux) resides, and where all of your documents, music, photos, etc. are stored. This can be a hard drive, solid state drive or removable media. This as well has low, medium and high end versions.

POWER SUPPLY

All this talk about the components is nice - but they can’t work without power. The PSU (power supply unit) supplies power to the various components in the PC. In a laptop the charger and battery supply power, but it’s’ distributed differently based on a “power board” inside the laptop. The “power board” may be integrated or may be a separate board inside the laptop case/housing.

PC CORE COMPONENTS

Now that we’ve glossed over - the core ones are the MOTHERBOARD / MEMORY / CPU / PSU. These are all you need to have the system turned on. I did not include the case/housing, but that also comes in low, medium and high end. The core components will cause the system to turn on, but you won’t be able to do anything without storage and an operating system. This is where the hardware and software come together. The average user just flips a switch or presses a button and things turn on, but these are the components that do the work.

HIGH / MEDIUM / LOW

You’ll realize by now that parts can be low, medium or high end. This affects the price and sometimes the quality of the product. The ones that don’t really fall in this category would be the “peripherals” - addon devices. For example, if your desktop did not support USB 3.0 you could buy a card to add that feature. There are different vendors that may sell cards like this, and it would then boil down to your preference. Once they support the standard however, the brand should not matter.

FORMATTING IS NOT THE ANSWER

I’d like this to be the very next issue I address. This happens both locally and overseas, and seems to be the go-to solution for most techs.

Once you’ve learned a bit about IT and either start doing things on your own or for a company, it seems like formatting is the go-to answer to every problem. I’ll be honest - that was the same thing for me as well…when it comes to my own PC. I’ve NEVER checked a client system and went “A format will fix it” as the FIRST OPTION . Matter of fact - as of this post (2021-08-08) the last one I saw was a format to fix a blank screen problem on a laptop. Seriously? Anyways.

Let me make the disclaimer since I didn’t do it in the first two posts. Any information provided is based on knowledge up to the point of the post. The post may either be edited, updated or supplemented with a subsequent post to make updates or corrections. Technology moves fast and the way things are done will change as things progress.

TROUBLESHOOTING METHODOLOGY

So let me try to break down the steps to take.

  • Collect the device (if applicable).
  • Talk to the customer/user.
  • Find out exactly what their issue is.
  • Ask them to show you / replicate the issue.
  • Attempt to replicate the issue yourself.

If doing above the problem does not show up - give it back to the customer (if applicable) and have them notify you immediately once the problem arises. Have them take photos/videos of the issue once it comes up so you can visibly see the issue. Once the issue is confirmed:

  • Document the issue.
  • If experienced before - check past documentation.
  • If not experienced before - troubleshoot issue.

Troubleshooting will involve testing or “checking Google” for the answers. I don’t expect every person interested in IT to know everything. I don’t expect that each person will use the same methodology outlined here. Just bear in mind that search engines don’t have all the answers. You should eventually become dynamic enough to troubleshoot and resolve an issue using all of the available tools you’ll have. Search for the issue. If you find a similar issue, check for the METHOD used to resolve it. Check if you can replicate the method - tweak the steps for your specific situation. If you found the solution on a community forum/website, you can join there and post your solution. If you have your own blog/website then ensure you give credit where it’s deserved.

If you manage to find a solution without having to format - then document the process so you can refer to it next time. There are a lot of free wiki solutions that can be used for this documentation. Save to your cloud storage so it’s accessible anytime.

WHEN TO FORMAT

There are times when formatting is unavoidable. You can’t find any other solution or it just doesn’t seem to work out. In that case:

  • Run a SMART test on the drive.
  • Backup the customer’s files.
  • Find out if they use any special software - backup what you can.
  • Backup drivers.
  • If possible and you have the tools/space - create a current image of their drive.
  • Proceed with the format.

The drive image is “just in case” and only if you have the resources to do so. This will help you to put things back EXACTLY as they were if the customer requests it. The SMART test is a basic test to verify if the drive is failing or not. There are free and paid tools to do these and I’ll mention them later on - before the next post.

That’s the general details about formatting that I’ll give. I will say that the one where the laptop was formatted for a screen issue - at least they made a backup of the files beforehand. In the next post I’ll expand on the formatting, but let me list some of the tools you can use beforehand.

TESTING & TOOLS

There are lots of tools available and many more than I can list or recall. You should use each one based on your specific needs.

  • E2B - for booting ISOs.
  • Ventoy - when E2B fails and for older ISOs.
  • Knoppix - for general checks and recovery.
  • WinPE - create a custom one and use with other tools.
  • Hard Disk Sentinel - for checking drives. Paid and free versions available
  • Crystal Disk Info - for checking drives.
  • WizTree - for drive space auditing.
  • Everything - for finding files on NTFS partitions (Windows only).
  • GreenShot - for taking screenshots of details (Windows only).
  • UBCD ISO - contains most of the free tools you’ll need.
  • Partition & Copy Tools.

There are other tools including Paragon and Acronis that fall under the partition and copy tools, but these will be suggested as we go along. Those listed should help you with various types of troubleshooting.

Due to the word limit per post - will have to split from here. TOC plugin is in use, so all of the topics in the first post should have TOC eventually enabled on the right.

LAPTOP & DESKTOP SELECTION

Alright. I need to add pictures later on. Will work on that.

One of the questions I find popping up all the time is “best laptop” or “best desktop” from customers. This is both easy and hard to answer.

Easy - the best one is the one that suits your needs.

Hard - what do you need it for?

Factors such as hard drive type, space, memory, processor and peripherals come into play - but then there’s the major factor that persons don’t want to talk about: MONEY.

Regardless of the industry, persons rather pay less for a product if they can - but they still want the best. You cannot expect that a USD$200 laptop is going to perform as well as a USD$400 or USD$1,200+ laptop. Same for a desktop. If you want something for basic usage - expect that it will be slower than if you spent more money.

Another option is to go refurbished. You can usually get a refurbished system for a fraction of the original cost. So…let’s use current local prices as an example.

Somewhere around JMD$80,000 to JMD$120,000 can get you a basic system with 8GB RAM (memory), 500GB HDD (hard drive), an INTEL CELERON CPU or AMD RYZEN APU (processor), and maybe a 15 inch monitor. Keyboard and mouse may be available as well. However - you can spend JMD$70,000 or less for a system with 8GB-16GB RAM (memory), 250GB SSD (solid state drive) or 500GB HDD (hard drive), an INTEL i5 or i7 CPU (processor) and similar keyboard/mouse/monitor. This would be a refurbished system with maybe 3 months warranty. The new system - depending on where you buy it - will come with 1 month warranty or 1 year warranty. Some persons don’t want a “used” system so they will go with the new one. The performance of the refurbished system will be much better than the new one based on the type of storage and CPU, but the stigma attached to something being used/old causes the reluctance.

On the point of warranty. I realize that most places in Jamaica now only offer 1 month warranty on most items. This disturbs me as hard drive vendors offer 3-5 years. I can understand lower warranty like 1 year on other items, but 30 days? 1 month? Really? When I provide items to persons I pass on the warranty, and as such I can’t do anything about the terms, but it is disturbing. The distributors would be the problem - they’re lowering the warranty periods or the resellers have lowered the warranty to account for the time it’s on their shelves.

Anyways - back on topic. A better/faster set of components will outperform the slower components - even if the “new” ones are newer in their manufacture date. One of the things that may have improved is power consumption, so newer models may use less power to give similar performance. You cannot compare the different range items however - meaning you can’t compare low end with medium or medium with high. Where INTEL is concerned, you’d have to compare a 5th generation i5 with a 9th generation i5 for example. You can’t compare an i5 and i3. In the same bracket - you’d have to take an equivalent RYZEN CPU and compare with the INTEL CPU. You cannot compare an INTEL i3 with a RYZEN 9. You’d have to be comparing a RYZEN 3 with an i3 for example. They need to be in the same bracket.

For the vehicle enthusiasts out there - or to try and get the point across better - you cannot enter a 1,000 CC rated vehicle in a 2,500 CC race. I mean you can, but it would be an unfair comparison. “There is no replacement for displacement” as the term goes. And this is why you also have turbocharged/supercharged races separate from naturally aspirated races. You have to compare apples with apples - not apples and oranges.

If you’re not sure what you need - speak with your technician or store and explain what you’ll be doing. Some laptops and desktops give very little upgrade paths since components are built on. Usually it’s desktops that have a larger upgrade path while laptops have limited upgrade paths. A modern laptop with built on CPU may only be able to get a memory and hard drive upgrade. A desktop is more modular and can have replacements for almost every part.

Decide on what your usage case will be - whether you’re doing designing or just school work - and let the store/technician know. Let your budget be known as well. Your decision can be taken from there.

LAPTOP TYPES

Another thing that has happened a lot recently is persons buying NETBOOKS and CHROMEBOOKS instead of laptops. Much like what was posted earlier, persons are in need of devices for online classes - for themselves or their kids - and the change of landscape has brought about the mistakes made when purchases are done. So let’s try and clarify.

LAPTOP

A laptop is basically a “notebook computer” - a desktop made portable. This has a battery, screen and keyboard built in. You can fold it open and use it.

With the current licensing situations and how devices are built, the CPU/RAM may not be upgradeable in some cases. Slightly higher end devices - and some mid range - will have upgradeable RAM and the higher end systems may have replaceable CPUs.

MAC users won’t have to worry about this part of the definition much, as MacBooks are going to run OSX and all Mac software will work as it did previously. For Windows users you need to really verify two things.

  1. Does the laptop run Windows?
  2. Is the hard drive under 200GB?

If the laptop does not run Windows and has less than 200GB of space - it’s most likely a NetBook or ChromeBook. We’ll get into those next. Summary would be:

  • Runs Windows.
  • Has more than 128GB of storage.
  • May have upgradeable RAM.
  • May have replaceable battery.
  • Has upgradeable storage.

I placed the 200GB limit in the definition since internal storage on some devices would be up to 128GB. Yes some can go up to 256GB or 500GB, but those would no longer be the NetBook type and fall under laptops. Usually the NetBook (next item below) has like 32GB or 64GB of storage - all you can set up is Windows and Office.

NETBOOK

A NetBook is essentially a low-powered laptop. It has limited space and usually has great battery life (due to being low powered). A NetBook may have up to 128GB of storage, but you cannot upgrade the storage. These devices usually have everything integrated - so no RAM upgrade or HDD/SSD upgrade available. Now this is where the lines get blurred. Summary of NetBooks would be:

  • Runs Windows or Linux.
  • Has 128GB or less storage.
  • Storage not upgradeable.
  • RAM usually not upgradeable.
  • Battery not usually replaceable.

Something they don’t tell you with NetBooks running Windows - DISABLE UPDATES. Most NetBooks have 64GB of storage or lower. Windows takes up half or more of this depending on the version, and by the time you install Microsoft Office you’ve got barely any space left. With Windows Update in the mix you may run out of storage in a short space of time - and there have been issues where old update files are not removed. This causes further usage problems. Have your technician or store perform the task of disabling updates for you if you have a NetBook.

MINI LAPTOP

These devices are much like the NetBook in terms of being small and having good battery life, but they have upgradeable storage and sometimes upgradeable RAM. So summary would be:

  • Runs Windows.
  • Has upgradeable storage.
  • May have upgradeable RAM.
  • May have replaceable battery.

Some mini laptops are higher powered than you’d think. I had the experience in the past of working on a Dell 13 inch mini laptop - had an i3 CPU and 500GB storage with 8GB RAM. Not a bad device. The higher powered CPU meant more heat however, so a larger heatsink and bigger fan was used in that unit.

CHROMEBOOK

This has been purchased by a LOT of individuals thinking it will get the job done. Unless you’re using the ChromeBook online all the time - you may not be able to use it. This does not run Windows and no - you cannot install Microsoft Office on it. Summary would be:

  • Runs Chrome OS.
  • Basically an Android device with keyboard and touchpad.
  • Runs most software available on an Android phone.
  • Limited storage.

The ChromeBook is almost like the NetBook. They push integration with cloud storage and services, so your storage is Google Drive and your “Microsoft Office” equivalent is Google Docs. While it can be used for work and productivity, it’s really only able to work with the software available on the device through the Google Play Store. These are lightweight and have great battery life. Some of these devices have passive cooling - meaning no fans whatsoever.

SUMMARY - Laptop Section

Consult with the store or a technician before purchase. Let them know what your needs are so you can get the right device.

UEFI & CSM

Since we’re on the topic of laptops and formatting and all that - for the more technical persons that are reading, I’d like to touch on this topic.

The Wikipedia link above should be detailed enough, but let me try and break it down.

Legacy Partition Structure

The older FAT and NTFS formatting (MBR) used a single partition that’s read by the system containing all files. Some newer operating systems (OSes) would create multiple partitions for their own purposes, but this is not EFI. All of the files on the partitions can be read by the operating system and there is no communication with the BIOS.

This structure is most commonly used by techs when they format a system. It’s easier to manage and very simple to understand. The problem with this when they do it on laptops/desktops that came from factory with EFI. Will get to that in a moment.

MBR/Legacy/CSM accesses files in a specific boot area of the hard drive. If no boot files are found then the system doesn’t start. Simple as that. It’s easier for techs to manage and easier to do recovery in some cases.

EFI Partitions

EFI and UEFI partitions are a bit different from the legacy ones. These are usually GPT. Microsoft has documentation on the install process.

The main difference with newer systems is the ability to have a “secure boot” established between the BIOS and the OS. This locks persons out of accessing the BIOS if the PC/laptop doesn’t boot to Windows. The method of setting up is slightly different and official setup images must be used. Some third-party images can be used during setup, but it may require disabling the “secure boot” options in the BIOS.

EFI/UEFI talks directly with the BIOS for security and contains details about the hardware and some essential drivers. If I’m not mistaken - GPT partitions can also be a larger size than MBR, and with the increased storage sizes these days, it’s become the go-to choice of vendors. That and the security aspect.

MANAGING EFI

It’s really not that difficult to manage EFI. Some devices (laptops) lock you out of the BIOS once the primary device is available, but many of them will still at least allow USB boot. Ensure that your USB device has a signed/secured EFI boot partition so you can do troubleshooting. Worse case - remove the hard drive from the device to force BIOS entry and change the “secure boot” setting temporarily. Always turn it back on after you’ve completed diagnostics.

For persons that don’t have EFI/UEFI bootable tools - I mentioned E2B and Ventoy previously. Those will be your first entry point into managing EFI/UEFI. Acquire the tools and experiment with the technology until you get comfortable with it. If you aren’t able to or have an emergency situation - disable EFI or enable CSM to boot your tools but put the settings back on completion.

I’ll say this again - PUT THE SETTING BACK ONCE YOU’RE DONE. I’ve come across quite a few systems where EFI is removed and setup is done using CSM. While not an “issue” as such, if the device happens to get reset due to a low/failed internal battery, the system will not boot. Some devices as well do not have CSM/Legacy options at all and will ONLY boot EFI. It’s in your best interest to get familiar with it - technology is moving in this direction and not away from it.

You only need EFI for the initial setup or booting your tools. Don’t be afraid of it. Create your custom WinPE ISO or use some of the “ready made” ones available. When in doubt, use the official Windows 8/10 ISOs available. Microsoft makes them free for download. Some repair and troubleshooting can be done from the Windows setup, so if all else fails you can use that as your starting point.

HARD DRIVES & SSDs

Since you’re on the topic of PCs/laptops for now, let’s add in about storage.

There are basically two types of storage that you’ll find in devices - HDD (hard disk drive) and SSD (solid state drive).

We won’t get technical about some of those built on and such, just to touch on the two main technologies.

HDD

Regular hard drives contain moving parts. You’ll hear terms like head, platter, spindle, read/write head and others. This type of drive physically spins a disk (platter) that stores data magnetically. The information is accessed using the read/write head.

SSD

You can think of an SSD as a large thumb drive. It stores the data in chips - not magnetically. This makes your SSD much faster than your HDD. You could consider “built in” drives on boards as SSDs as well - but with NetBooks these are much smaller in size/capacity. As mentioned above - NetBook drives may be as small as 32GB/64GB.

HYBRID

Some manufacturers have hybrid drives. These are somewhat of a merger of HDD and SSD, so you get the device at a lower price point. Not as expensive as an SSD but not as cheap as a HDD.

FAILURES

There is nothing made by man that doesn’t deteriorate over time. Hard drives have an estimated life span that is measured in work hours, age and total read/write cycles. This is the same for all types of drives. Manufacturers previously used MTBF (mean time between failure) as the benchmark, but now some have moved to AFR (annualized failure rate). It’s basically the same thing in the end - they give you a timeframe that they think the drive will last. Factors affect this such as abuse and improper powering off and such.

Please also note that HDDs and SSDs can both fail without warning, but typically the HDD will give some “signs” of failure. You may have the system slow down in performance for example - with an SSD you will likely not see a speed difference even when the drive is aging and failing. The SSD is more hardy than the HDD when it comes to “user errors” however. You can bump and even drop an SSD while it’s in use, and provided the chips aren’t damaged it will continue working. A HDD that’s dropped however, will likely stop working or give problems right after.

Technology has progressed and SSDs are now more reliable and affordable. If you have an older system and find it running slow - switch to an SSD and you may get an overall performance boost.

When it comes to hard drives, there’s something that I’d like to touch on. Testing, backup and failures.

I recently spoke to a friend learning IT - the method used for testing the system involved checking the storage (hard drive / HDD) last. While I don’t think there’s any “wrong way” to go about doing checks, I wouldn’t do it that way. Here’s why.

Running a basic SMART test on a drive will tell you the general health. From there you can run any other disk checking software you like and periodically monitor the health of the drive. I do this first instead of last - because there are so many different failure points for a storage device. You don’t want to be running extended operations or tests and the drive fails before you have a chance to pull any data for the client. Regardless of what it is, the most important thing to the customer is the data. So here’s my path when I get a system.

  • If it turns on - boot to a Linux or WinPE environment.
  • Run SMART tests on the drive.
  • Run RAM tests.
  • Run system stress tests if required.

After those are done, depending on the results I will proceed as needed. If the drive is found bad - immediately turn it off and advise the client to get a replacement drive. Set a disclaimer that if they decide to continue with it, it’s entirely on them. If you have an external storage device with enough space - do a backup for the client. I have a bad habit of holding the customer backup for more than 6 months and forgetting that I have it. I do this in case they get back the system and the drive fails - they’re aware that I did the backup. Sometimes this is an issue, because some clients will take it for granted that you have it - your responsibility - and just continue usage. This is why you need the disclaimer and a timeframe within which they need to have a replacement done.

A RAM test is usually done if there are system instabilities. The stress test is usually for CPU testing.

Having an external boot medium also allows you to do virus/spyware scans if needs be - and allows you to clean the system outside of the OS environment. This becomes a bit harder on some EFI systems where they lock you out of the BIOS, but it’s still doable.

RECORD KEEPING

So I was asked tonight by a friend about a ticketing system. This is something that I believe every tech should use and get into the habit of using. Whether you self-host or use a service - free or paid - you should have something in place to keep track of the work you do, and alert your clients of the progress of the job. The blog link below shows a couple of options that you can use. Pick one and test it out.

PRINTERS

All printers come in two categories. Note I said CATEGORIES and not TYPES or TECHNOLOGIES. As far as the two latter ones go, you have a few. The main ones would be:

  1. Ink.
  2. Laser.
  3. Impact.
  4. Thermal.

Ink is normally used in homes. Some models in small businesses. Laser is also SOHO (Small Office / Home Office) and up to enterprise. Impact is usually used in businesses needing receipt duplicates. Thermal is usually used for invoice printing - unless you’re talking about thermal wax.

The categories are really simple. Just two of them:

  • Serviceable.
  • Non-Serviceable.

Let’s get right into those two before we get into the types.

SERVICEABLE

These are usually the enterprise level ones, but some mid-range and SOHO models may fall into this category as well. These will have parts available from the manufacturer - not just aftermarket parts. Parts may be easily replaceable or require a tech, but you’ll get things for the major areas easily enough.

NON-SERVICEABLE

These are the most common that you’ll find. These are the “disposable” devices. You buy it, you can get ink/toner/paper for it, but if ANYTHING goes wrong - better to replace. In the case of the ink models (HP mostly) the cost of new ink is close to the cost of a new printer. You extend the life of that by getting the larger capacity ink/toner. For thermal (receipt) you just get paper. If something goes wrong - replace it.

Let’s get into the types now.

1. INK

This would be the most common type. HP is also the most common brand used in Jamaica. You do also have Canon, Lexmark (the old ones) and others, but you’ll find that HP is what’ll be around the most. These have something in common with the laser - whether it’s serviceable or not - and that’s a “waste” area. Any excess ink, or ink that’s used in cleaning, may get dumped into the “waste” area. This is usually a sponge in a specific area that can be replaced (serviceable) or leaks over time (both serviceable and non-serviceable). The non-serviceable models will eventually get an ink stain at the bottom to the side that the head rests when it’s powered off. The printer may continue to work, but this buildup over time will cause problems.

Ink printers literally “spit” ink on the paper and it dries. It mixes at the head or when applying to paper very quickly to give the colours you desire.

2. LASER

Laser printers are far more efficient than ink, but also cost quite a bit more. Toner (the “ink” used in laser printing) is also far more expensive. Considering that the toner cartridges have a higher print yield (holds more basically) than the ink models, it works out in the end - but most customers don’t see it that way. Price is the bottom line.

Laser and ink have waste areas as I’ve said, but laser printers have it either built into the cartridge or will have a separate waste area that you replace. Please note that you shouldn’t attempt to empty this and reuse. Toner is harmful if inhaled and should be properly disposed of.

Laser uses “magnetic attraction” by charging the paper versus the toner. This attracts the toner particles to the paper and then it gets “baked” on. This is why pages freshly printed on a laser printer feel warm.

3. IMPACT

These are mostly used as receipt printers and used in businesses where duplicates are needed. Small pins in the print head sit behind a ribbon and create an impression on the paper from behind the ribbon. This then causes a print on the paper. If the ribbon gets “dry” you can apply more ink. If there’s too much ink it may smudge the paper. Impact is one of the slowest printers you can get.

4. THERMAL

Not counting thermal wax in this category. Different technology. Very quickly - it melts and diffuses the wax onto the paper. What we’ll get into a little is thermal receipt printers. They’re widely used, but not in cases where duplicates are required. Thermal heads heat the paper and causes a “burn in” of the image on the paper. This only happens with thermal paper - don’t use regular paper in a thermal printer. Oh - thermal paper has to be loaded a specific way as well. If you turn it backwards it won’t print. Thermal printers are much faster than impact for receipts, and very cost effective as you only need paper. The major drawback would be the lack of duplicates. Even if you manage to print two, thermal fades over time making it impossible to read. Depending on the quality of the paper, you may have faded prints in 2-4 weeks.

CLOSING

Hopefully that gives you some quick info on the different printer types. Each will have replaceable parts - genuine or aftermarket - and each can be serviceable or not. Personally for me, the risk to reward for repairs of non-serviceable printers is not worth it most times. Unless printer repairs is something you like, or you want to get into that niche market, it would be something to do in available time - not full time. If you’re going SME (Small/Medium/Enterprise) then it may be worth the certification and time spent for repairs.

I did forget to mention that there is a middle-ground category between the serviceable and non-serviceable. Some units have “partially” serviceable parts. Some units also have upgrades to extend their lifespan. I think it’s Epson or Canon that has the “Continuous Ink System” where you can just add ink in a side carriage. Some printer specialists (individuals or businesses) also offer this upgrade for some model printers, but you’re still at the mercy of what’s available.

As for brands - it’s down to personal preference. I would like to mention 4 brands when it comes to laser however.

HP - one of the best overall. Good balance between quality and usage. You can at times use a cartridge, fuser or other assembly beyond the “life” of the part. Being one of the most popular brands as well, you can refill the toner with aftermarket ones. Not recommended - but you can.

LEXMARK - while you can’t “milk” the parts like HP - they do promise an even quality from start to finish. If it’s a MFP (multi-function printer) then you can still scan if printing gets disabled due to needing a part.

BROTHER - similar to HP in that you can “milk” the parts beyond the supposed “end of life” or “replace part now” message. One function disabled doesn’t usually affect others in MFP models.

SAMSUNG - I honestly only placed this here to tell persons to avoid it. Those I’ve seen (usually smaller models in offices) are similar to the Lexmark in that they don’t allow you to go beyond “change part now” like the HP or BROTHER. What’s really annoying is that it stops all other functions of the printer if one part doesn’t work. So you need toner to print? You can’t scan. For example.

ANTIVIRUS

So this is something that I get asked about a few times. Much like “what’s the best…” - I get asked about either the “best” or “a good” antivirus to use.

I’ll find the articles and link to them when I can, but basically you should just use Windows Defender if you’re running Windows 10 or higher (10/11/12).

Windows Defender has an EXCELLENT online database - the cloud protection is on par with many of the paid services such as BitDefender and Norton. The difference? If you don’t have a genuine version of Windows, or if you’re offline most of the time, it’s better to get a traditional antivirus.

Windows Defender uses a cloud database to keep you protected - if you’re not online and something pops up, you’re likely to get infected. Traditional antiviruses use a local database that’s downloaded when you have a subscription. The free versions don’t usually do as well as the paid ones, and there are previous situations (WindowsXP and Windows7) where some free AV would cause a system crash when the paid version of the same software wouldn’t.

Do you NEED something other than Windows Defender? Probably not. If you’re offline most of the time however, having a free tool as backup may be the way to go.

HDD & SSD Health Checks

I’ve come back to this topic as persons have asked about the overall health of the drives. Unfortunately, there’s no specific formula since failures can occur in various ways.

HDD Failures

A regular HDD can have many things that cause a failure. PCB can go bad. Head crash. Actuator fault. Motor fault. Just to name a few. The thing with a HDD is that it will give you some warning signs of age/failure - unless you drop it or it gets some serious power surge. Tools like HDS (Hard Disk Sentinel - mentioned above) will help to give a general idea of the overall health. While you don’t always get some indication of failures, you will USUALLY get some warning.

SSD Failures

SSDs are a bit more tricky when it comes to failures. You may not always get warnings of pending failures, and this will result in overall data loss if monitoring is not done. If you have a device with both SSD and HDD, it’s recommended to use the HDD for storing all of your files, documents, etc - while the SSD is primarily used for the OS (Windows/Linux) and maybe frequently used game files - for speed purposes.

The Percentages

Even though you can’t put a specific figure on it - I typically say that HDDs need to be at 100% health all the time, while SSDs can go as low as 80% health before I think if replacements.

Again - this is very subjective. I’ve seen SSDs at 60%+ that are chugging away quite fine. I’ve also seen HDDs at 99% that are barely usable while others at 2% health work for literally years.

You can’t always tell what’s the issue or when a drive with degrated health will fail - the best option is to always have a backup if you’re concerned about your data.