Should I Partition My Hard Disk?

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What are the benefits of a partitioned hard drive, or some practical uses of a partition?

Disk partitioning is one of those topics that generates conflicting opinions.

Some swear that proper partitioning aids performance, makes backing up easier, and is just generally “better”.

Others opt to let Windows sort it all out, believing that improper partitioning might prevent the file system — already optimized for both safety and performance — from operating in the best way.

While I’m certain the truth is somewhere in between, I tend to fall into the latter camp.

I’ll look at some of the pros and cons to partitioning your hard drive, and make a recommendation if, after all is said and done, you’re still not sure.

Read moreShould I Partition My Hard Disk?

How Do I Best Extend My Wireless Network for Laptop Access?

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I have a basic D-Link “n” router. The signal does not penetrate well throughout my house. What is the best way to get excellent coverage everywhere? I was thinking of adding a wireless access point at the opposite end of the
house.

There are a couple of good approaches to extending your wireless network for your laptop or other wireless devices. Depending on the characteristics of your home, adding one or more wireless access points may well be the best approach.

On the other hand, it’s not appropriate for all situations, so I’ll look at a couple of common alternatives as well.

Read moreHow Do I Best Extend My Wireless Network for Laptop Access?

My Computers Keep Dying — Is It Me?

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Being absolutely serious here, do you know if certain people have something (possibly just static) in or around them that can cause computers to crash? I used to joke that I was so “electromagnetic” that I caused computers to crash. Not so funny actually, because I have had several new computers each crash in turn. This happened as early as two days new to six months new. I’ve had a motherboard die, a monitor die, a notebook that had a fatal crash and never turned on again and another notebook that had critical errors causing running problems 36 days into use. Most recently, my beloved HP Pavilion’s hard drive went bad after only four months!

As I wait for a new hard drive to be shipped, I am very discouraged. I do not believe it’s computer error causing these problems. I keep everything up to date. Have you ever heard of anyone else with such bad luck? All of this happened within the last 1-2 years. I can’t afford to have another one die.

Wow. You certainly have had a string of bad luck, to be sure.

I know there are days I feel cursed — days when it feels like everything I touch turns to garbage. Thankfully, those tend to pass.

While I’m not aware of anything that would be specifically related to you, there are some things I would look into.

Read moreMy Computers Keep Dying — Is It Me?

How To Keep an External Hard Drive Useful and Healthy Longer

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What are your external hard drive best practices?

External hard drives are a ubiquitous, simple way to provide additional storage or portability (or both) to an existing desktop or laptop computer.

These are the steps I take to ensure my external hard drives remain as useful as possible as long as possible. They break down into three categories: hardware, software, and something so important that it deserves a category of its own.

You can probably guess what that last one is.

Read moreHow To Keep an External Hard Drive Useful and Healthy Longer

How Do I Print An Email or Webpage and Have It Work?

The process of printing webpages is more often than not completely broken.

When you try to print a page, you get a confusing jumble of parts of the page, advertisements that overlap the text that is there, text that is way too large or too small, and pages and pages (and pages and pages) of output for a single, simple page.

And many of my Ask Leo! sites are just as guilty as the rest of the web.

The good news, for me at least, is that some are not, and I’m slowly switching to technology that should make things better.

The bad news, for you, however, is that many sites remain broken when it comes to printing. And email remains its own special mess.

Read moreHow Do I Print An Email or Webpage and Have It Work?

How Do I Password-protect a Flash Drive?

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I want to put all of my websites and passwords in a text file and store them on a flash drive for safekeeping. How do I password protect it?

There are several different ways to do this.

You can purchase flash drives that have built-in password or PIN protection. They tend to be pricey, but they’re almost perfect for this kind of situation.

Frankly, I don’t recommend them. There are other solutions that are more flexible and less costly.

Read moreHow Do I Password-protect a Flash Drive?

How Do I Get Data Off of the Hard Drive in a Dead Computer?

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My computer died on me. I can’t get it to boot up. I need to take the hard drive out and pull my files off from it. How do I retrieve the files from the hard drive in a dead computer? Thanks for any help you can give me.

This is a pretty common scenario. Depending on what caused the computer’s demise, there’s a relatively good chance you can retrieve the information off that hard drive.

Of course, if it’s the drive itself that caused the failure, things get a little more interesting.

There are several approaches to this problem. I’ll start with my favorite: not needing to do it at all.

Read moreHow Do I Get Data Off of the Hard Drive in a Dead Computer?

Can I Use My TV as a Second Display?

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How can I connect my computer to my TV such that I can see everything I am doing on the computer on my TV screen. I am not trying to use the TV as a primary monitor but as a secondary one, like the one you can see in a computer show on TV.

If you have an old (as in pre-digital) television, the answer is that you probably can’t, and if you can, you probably shouldn’t. The results will be … well, I’ll just say less than ideal. Older TVs just weren’t made for the kind of display that our computers expect.

However, if your TV is relatively new — almost any “flat” TV will do — and your computer is also relatively current, you’ll probably be able to do exactly what you have in mind, just like the shows you’re watching on TV.

Read moreCan I Use My TV as a Second Display?

Why Don’t I Get Sound from My Computer? (A Checklist)

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Try as I might, I can’t get my computer to output sound. Nothing. I can’t figure out what’s wrong.

That’s actually a composite of questions that I get very, very often. Sometimes it applies to only specific applications; other times it applies to the entire machine.

The problem is, it’s a single silent symptom that can come from several sources.

So, let’s run down a bit of a checklist.

Read moreWhy Don’t I Get Sound from My Computer? (A Checklist)

The Journey to My New Computer: RAM Upgrade

My new laptop was capable of holding 32GB (gigabytes) of RAM, but for reasons I didn’t bother to pursue, I could find it only available with 16GB pre-installed.

I didn’t worry about it too much, knowing I could easily upgrade the RAM myself should I find it necessary.

I found it necessary. Smile

16GB worked fine, but it was clear that running virtual machines put a little too much stress on the machine, and RAM was the limiting factor.

Read moreThe Journey to My New Computer: RAM Upgrade

Should I Defrag My External Drive, and If So, How?

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Should I defrag my external hard drive? I thought I should as it contains some important documents and my computer backups. As such, I tried to use Defraggler (Piriform Ltd”s program) for the purpose. The program has been running on my external hard drive (capacity 2T) for the past 10 hours and it has done only 10% of defrag. The analysis does say that there are 32 fragmented files and 92% fragmentation. Is there anything I am not doing right? How should I defrag this drive, if I should?

While there are alternatives, you’re doing it right; Defraggler is a fine program to use.

The more important question is that, even with “92%” fragmentation, should you even be bothering?

Read moreShould I Defrag My External Drive, and If So, How?

The Journey to My New Computer: Update, Update, Update

As I described in a previous article of this little series, the first thing I do with any brand-new machine is make an image backup. Whether I go to the extreme to back it up prior to Windows Setup running or take an image immediately after Windows setup completes, I want an image as early in the process as I can get it.

Then it’s time to play, knowing that in the worst case, I can restore to that image.

Though I suppose not everyone will call the next steps “play”.

Read moreThe Journey to My New Computer: Update, Update, Update

The Journey to My New Computer: Choices

So far, I’ve discussed the equipment I have and what I do with it.

That sets us up for today’s article: distilling that information into requirements, and making decisions of exactly what I should buy. And then, of course, placing the order for my new machine.

As before, my specific situation — what I consider important and what I decide on — will only apply to me, but hopefully, seeing the process I use will be helpful when it’s time to replace your own computer.

Read moreThe Journey to My New Computer: Choices

The Journey to My New Computer: Just What Do I Do All Day?

It’s one of the most important questions to ask yourself when considering a new computer: what are you going to use it for?

In the previous article, “The Journey to My New Computer: Taking Stock”, I reviewed the computers I use each day and talked about why I’m about to replace three of them. Today, we’ll cover a more important topic: just how I use, and what I do on, those computers.

As I said before, while the specifics will likely not apply to you, the process of evaluating how I use my technology is something you might want to go through yourself someday.

Read moreThe Journey to My New Computer: Just What Do I Do All Day?

The Journey to My New Computer: Taking Stock

I’ve decided it’s time for a new computer.

My laptop has become unreliable and needs replacing. On top of that, I find myself juggling computers — a desktop, a laptop, and another laptop — more than I suspect I should.

While my decisions are not likely to apply to your situation, I think that my replacement process may be interesting and informative enough to share in a series of articles. Specifically, I’ll take stock of where I am (this article), what I use my technology for, and the questions I ask myself as I decide what to get.

Let’s start with what I have.

Read moreThe Journey to My New Computer: Taking Stock

“Chkdsk Cannot Run Because the Volume Is in Use by another Process” — What Does It Mean and How Do I Fix It?

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I think I’ve got a problem with my hard disk. I tried to run Chkdsk, but I keep getting this “Chkdsk cannot run because the volume is in use by another process” error. What’s that mean and what do I do to fix it?

Chkdsk is an important and little-understood command-line utility that comes with every version of Microsoft Windows. Its purpose, as its mangled name implies, is to “check” your “disk”.

In order to do its work, Chkdsk needs complete and exclusive access to the disk it’s about to check. If it doesn’t have that, “Chkdsk cannot run because the volume is in use by another process” is the result.

I’ll look at why, what to do, and what it looks like as it happens.

Read more“Chkdsk Cannot Run Because the Volume Is in Use by another Process” — What Does It Mean and How Do I Fix It?

A Drive with All My Data is Showing as Unformatted — What Do I Do?

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I recently replaced my system hard drive and have taken my old internal hard drive out and installed it into a external enclosure. When I plug it in, it shows up on my computer, but without a file system label, only a letter designation (G). Disk management says it is unformatted. It was NTFS as an internal drive. I’m concerned that if I format it, I will lose all of my data now stored on the drive. What steps do I take to format this external drive without losing my files? Or am I missing a step in accessing the information on the drive?

First, don’t format the drive.

Formatting will erase whatever’s on the hard drive, or at minimum, make it extremely difficult to recover your data.

I do have some suggestions of next steps to take instead.

Read moreA Drive with All My Data is Showing as Unformatted — What Do I Do?

Can I Reassign My Drive Letters?

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I have TWO hard disc drives and a cd rom drive on my computer. The HDDs are C and E, and the cd rom drive is D. Is it possible to swap the HDD letters, i.e C becomes E and E becomes C? Or are the letters fixed at the time of format?

Drive letters are not assigned at format time, and yes, they can be changed. In fact, it’s quite easy to change them, and I do it all the time.

For every drive except “C:”, that is. “C:” is special.

First, let’s look at the how.

Read moreCan I Reassign My Drive Letters?

What’s the Difference between a Hub, a Switch, and a Router?

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What’s the difference between a hub, a switch, and a router?

In a word, intelligence.

Hubs, switches, and routers are all devices that let you connect one or more computers to other computers, networked devices, or even other networks. Each has two or more connectors called ports, into which you plug the cables to make the connection.

Varying degrees of magic happen inside the device — and therein lies the difference.

Read moreWhat’s the Difference between a Hub, a Switch, and a Router?

Do I Need to Update My BIOS Regularly?

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I just updated/upgraded my computer this past February. New motherboard, cpu, ram, etc. There are a couple items from my older computer also. I like to keep my software, utilities, anti-virus, and so on, up-to-date; generally when a new update/version is issued. My question is this. Since my computer is fairly new and appears to be operating normally, is it necessary to update the BIOS, motherboard chip-sets, and so forth? My BIOS is at or less than 6 months old. I mean, I know that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”! But I just want to be alright with either keeping what I’ve got or update it.

It’s an interesting question. Even more interesting is that the answer may be changing.

We stress how important it is to keep your system software up to date with the latest updates and patches and the like. Even applications frequently self-check and notify you automatically when updates are available.

But what about your BIOS?

Read moreDo I Need to Update My BIOS Regularly?

Why Doesn’t My External Drive Appear When Plugged In?

Some time ago, when attempting to back up a new Windows 10 laptop, I inserted one of my external USB drives and … nothing. Since then, I’ve heard similar reports from others. If anything, it seems to be getting a little worse in recent months.

Now, to be clear, I don’t have an answer as to why things don’t appear.

But I can tell you what seems to work to make it show up.

Read moreWhy Doesn’t My External Drive Appear When Plugged In?

Can I Use a Charger that Provides the Same Voltage but a Different Amperage?

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I’d like to know if it is okay to use a different power charger for my netbook. Originally, the charger specs are 19v and 1.58A. This charger is not available anymore and I can only find a 19v and 2.15A. Can I use this as a replacement?

Yes — with a couple of caveats, of course.

If it’s not made specifically for your particular computer, getting the right power supply is important, and involves matching voltage, amperage, and polarity.

Each have different constraints.

Read moreCan I Use a Charger that Provides the Same Voltage but a Different Amperage?

What External Drive Should I Get?

I frequently recommend you purchase an external hard drive for your backups. Backing up to an external drive is probably the most important first step in getting an overall backup strategy in place.

The inevitable question is, “What external drive should I buy?”

The problem, of course, is that the answer keeps changing. Technology evolves, and as a result, so does my recommendation.

Let me give you a few guidelines, and then a few current (as of this writing) examples.

Read moreWhat External Drive Should I Get?

Is it Safe to Install a Higher Wattage Power Supply in My Computer?

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I want to upgrade my current case that has a 300W PSU to a nicer looking case, but it has a 520W PSU. Is it ok and how does the “W” difference influence PC operation?

It’s quite all right, and if things were working well before, you probably won’t notice a difference.

Let’s look at why, and just what that “W” means. I get questions on this topic frequently.

Read moreIs it Safe to Install a Higher Wattage Power Supply in My Computer?

The First Eight Things to Do with Your New Computer

Congratulations! You got a new computer!

Of course you want to jump right in and start using it right now, but if you can hold on a bit, there are a few tasks you might want to do first. When all heck breaks loose later and the machine dies, the software crashes, or you get a massive malware infection, the steps you take now can save you lots of time and grief later.

Every day, people lose data, precious memories, and valuable time because they didn’t take a few simple steps to prepare.

And by far the best time to prepare is at the very beginning.

Read moreThe First Eight Things to Do with Your New Computer

Should I Cover Up My Webcam When I’m Not Using It?

This is one of those “rules of thumb” that have come into existence in recent years that, in my opinion, is totally overblown.

Sadly, webcam manufacturers are feeding the paranoia by providing easy-to-use lens covers with their products. There’s nothing wrong with that, other than it does increase the apparent need for the practice (and perhaps the price).

Cover the webcam if you must, but you can probably guess what I’m about to say.

Read moreShould I Cover Up My Webcam When I’m Not Using It?

How Do I Create a Bootable USB Thumb Drive from an ISO?

ISO files are disk images often used to distribute software. In years past, we burned them to CDs. As the ISOs themselves became larger, we’d burn them to DVDs instead. In either case, we would then boot from the CD or DVD to run whatever the software provided. A good example might be operating system installation DVDs.

More and more machines are coming without optical drives — that is, they don’t have the ability to read a CD or DVD, much less boot from it.

Fortunately, there are tools we can use to take an ISO that contains a bootable image and place it on a USB thumb drive from which you can boot.

Read moreHow Do I Create a Bootable USB Thumb Drive from an ISO?

How Do I Fix a Cyclic Redundancy Check Error When I Try to Copy a File?

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Outlook started acting up, so as part of my attempts to fix it I tried to copy the PST to another location. The copy failed part way through with a cyclic redundancy check error. How can I get past this and back up my data?

A cyclic redundancy check, or “CRC” error, indicates a bad spot on your hard drive. The fact that you see it when trying to copy a file indicates the bad spot may be within the file itself.

We need to verify that, try to recover your file, and repair your hard drive.

Then we need to learn from this.

Read moreHow Do I Fix a Cyclic Redundancy Check Error When I Try to Copy a File?

Should I Turn My Computer Off at Night?

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A friend of mine told me it is better to not turn off my desktop computer every night, instead to turn it off every few nights and just put it on standby every night. I work from home and I use my computer every day. Is it really better to not turn it off every night? I have a four-year-old dell Desktop with one of those old clunky monitors. Is putting it on standby saving as much power as turning it off? Also, does turning the computer on and off affect it negatively?

The issue isn’t as simple as you might think; there’s no single answer to this perennial question.

My answer, naturally, is “It depends.”

There are two issues at play here: the power used by a computer left running 24 hours a day, and the stress on hardware components being repeatedly turned off and on.

Read moreShould I Turn My Computer Off at Night?

What Should I Do About the VPNFilter Router Exploit?

Malware known as VPNFilter is infecting routers world-wide. Depending on what you read, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of routers are impacted.

Not all routers are affected, and what steps to take will vary depending on what router you have. The good news appears to be that if you’ve already followed best router safety practices and changed the admin password, your router may well be immune.

The problem? There’s no way to confirm that your router is or is not impacted. What you need to do, if anything, varies depending on the router you have.

Read moreWhat Should I Do About the VPNFilter Router Exploit?

If Shutting Down Windows Cleanly Is So Important, What Happens When the Power Just Goes Out?

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I am aware that not going through the proper Windows shutdown can possibly have negative effects on a computer. But my question is if a computer loses power (due to a household power outage, not anything wrong with the power supply), are these negative effects strictly software related (meaning a format and reinstall would fix them), or might it cause hardware problems as well?

Shutting down Windows properly before turning off the power to your computer is important.

Not doing so can result in data loss and corruption as files are left only partially written to disk. But just turning off the switch is unlikely to actually harm your hardware.

Surprisingly, a household or other area-wide power outage turns out to be a completely different, riskier issue.

Read moreIf Shutting Down Windows Cleanly Is So Important, What Happens When the Power Just Goes Out?

My Computer Has Started to Shut Down Randomly. Could it Be the Fan?

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For some reason, my computer randomly shuts down a lot. It’s been happening more and more. It started around the start of summer. It usually would shut down for no reason. Yesterday, it said Over Temperature. This shutting down thing is annoying. When I’m trying to do work, I lose it all and the computer shuts down. I asked my cousin, he said that it could be my fan. I haven’t checked yet, I’m going to ask you first, is it my fan? Or is it another problem? 

Maybe.

The “Over Temperature” is definitely a clue, and the fan is a definite possibility.

But first we should talk about … dust bunnies.

Read moreMy Computer Has Started to Shut Down Randomly. Could it Be the Fan?

How Do I View the Contents of My Hidden D: Drive?

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In the past I’ve had what was called a recovery drive on my system, D:. Now, with Windows 10, I no longer have D:, but the recovery partition is still there. How do I view what’s in it?

As we’ve discussed in other articles, machines with Windows 10 installed frequently have multiple partitions. One or more of those partitions is typically labelled as a “recovery partition”.

While in the past you may have seen such partitions assigned a drive letter like D:, there’s no requirement that it always be that letter. In fact, there’s no requirement that it be assigned a drive letter at all.

Recovery partitions not having a drive letter is actually a good thing.

Read moreHow Do I View the Contents of My Hidden D: Drive?

Is it Safe to Just Turn Off an External USB Drive Without “Safely Removing” First?

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If I have an external hard drive connected and running (but not being used or accessed through my overt actions) and I get the message “The device … cannot be stopped right now. Try stopping the device again later”, would it be safe to turn off the external drive (assuming it has an on/off switch) and then unplug it from the computer? Or would switching it off be just as risky?

Turning off the device is essentially the same as unplugging it, so the short answer is no, it’s not a safe alternative.

Sometimes, a USB device appears to be in use for no apparent reason and cannot be stopped. I’ll walk through some of the approaches you can take to removing the device while minimizing the risk of data loss.

Spoiler: pulling the plug or turning off the power aren’t on the list.

Read moreIs it Safe to Just Turn Off an External USB Drive Without “Safely Removing” First?

Do I Need All These Partitions?

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Is it possible to remove some of the Recovery Partitions from my SSD laptop? I think some of these partitions are not needed but I don’t know which ones. If they can be deleted, how would I add that space to my C: drive?

The short answer is yes, but no.

Yes, you can delete partitions, but no, I would not advise it. As you say, you don’t know what the partitions are, so you don’t know whether or not they’re needed. It’d be a shame to delete one and find out later that this was a serious mistake.

However, if you feel the need, I do have one approach to doing it more or less safely.

Read moreDo I Need All These Partitions?

My Mouse and Keyboard Stopped Working, but Work Elsewhere. How Do I Fix Them?

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I have an older Dell that has been upgraded to Windows 10.

The other night I ran a maintenance tool and turned the computer off  and on. When it came back on, the keyboard and mouse were not working. They connect by USB ports. When unplugged and replugged the computer acknowledges they are there. But I am unable to use the cursor or get any response from the keyboard in order to correct any problem.

The mouse works fine when connected to a different computer.

In your infinite wisdom…would you possibly have any ideas for me?

Several ideas.

I have a guess as to what happened, and a couple of ideas on what I might do next, were I in your shoes.

Read moreMy Mouse and Keyboard Stopped Working, but Work Elsewhere. How Do I Fix Them?

How Do I Remove a Document Stuck in My Printer’s Queue?

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I’m trying to delete a document in the queue of my printer, but I can’t. It writes “deleting”, but it never finishes. I’ve tried to cancel the same document from the field of my printer but it doesn’t disappear. Restarting my computer, restarting the document, turning off the printer, unplugging the cables, still I can’t. What else can I do? It doesn’t allow other documents to print!

This happens too often, and you’d think Windows would have figured out how to handle it by now.

When you print a document, it’s not sent directly to your printer. Instead, it gets placed in a queue. Once in the queue, Windows comes along and notices something needs to be printed, and sends it to the printer.

The problem is that sometimes the queue gets “stuck”, for lack of a better word.

It can be really, really frustrating. It’s also easy to fix.

Read moreHow Do I Remove a Document Stuck in My Printer’s Queue?

Hard Disk Failure Is Imminent! What Do I Do?

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I get a message that shows hard disk failure is imminent, please back up your hard disk and have it replaced. So I did the backup with the system built in backup process. But it stopped the process halfway. So some files were encrypted and some files were not. I copied the files which were not encrypted to my external hard disk drive. But the remaining files which were encrypted are not able to copy and open. Please give me an idea to recover my files.

I’m sorry to say it’s very possible that you are S.O.L.: Severely Out of Luck.

I’ll run down what I suspect is happening, what I would do in your situation, and additional options you might have.

And, of course, I’ll review how you could have prevented this in the first place.

Read moreHard Disk Failure Is Imminent! What Do I Do?

How Do I Shut Down a Machine with No Display?

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My computer is on an uninterruptible power supply (UPS), but its screen is not. When the power goes out and only the computer is running I have no way of seeing what’s on the screen, so I have no way to safely turn off the machine. Is there some way I can?

Honestly, that’s a tough situation unless you plan ahead for it.

The good news is that if you can plan ahead, there are several reasonable approaches to getting that machine shut down cleanly.

Read moreHow Do I Shut Down a Machine with No Display?

Are USB Ports Going Away?

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At least two articles on the future claim that either USB sockets and/or Flash drives will disappear in 5 years or more. I use mine daily. Should I stock up on flash drives while I can?

The article(s) in question predict the USB port’s demise on two things: cloud storage replacing local, physical storage, and smaller mobile devices that leverage the cloud with no ability to connect to external storage devices.

The problem is, they’re absolutely right: much of the technology we take for granted and rely on today will be replaced by something.

The question isn’t whether it will happen; the question is: when?

Read moreAre USB Ports Going Away?

Making Things Look Bigger in Windows 10

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We got a new laptop, and of course it has Windows 10. It also has the latest fancy-dancy screen, or so I’m told. Supposedly it’s “bigger”, 3200×1800 I guess? But everything on it is teeny tiny! That’s the exact opposite of what I want! I can barely read it!

It’s always frustrating when making things “bigger” makes them smaller instead. As newer displays have much higher resolution than we’ve seen in the past, yours is a very common reaction when people get new machines.

Fortunately, Windows 10 has made this easier to deal with than in previous versions.

When we’re done, icons and text will indeed be bigger, and everything — especially photos — will be crisper and clearer than ever before.

Read moreMaking Things Look Bigger in Windows 10

Can I Just Unplug My Computer to Shut It Down?

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I have been having problems with the Power button on my computer turning itself on and off. I have stopped shutting down my computer because I have difficulty turning it back on. I just restart it every morning, but I really don’t like leaving the computer on all the time. If I were to cut the power to the computer and then plug it back in the next morning, would I need to use the on/off button and would I be damaging anything?

You may damage your computer.

By pulling the plug or forcing a power-off by holding down the power button, you risk corrupting data on your hard drive and damaging hardware.

I’m not sure what kinds of problems you’re having with the power button, but even that needs to be used correctly, or you could end up with the very problems you’re seeing.

Read moreCan I Just Unplug My Computer to Shut It Down?