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?

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

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

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?

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 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?

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?

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?

My Chromebook-only Trip

I’m writing this on a $200 ASUS Chromebook. If that’s not something you’ve heard of, I’ll explain what it is in a moment. If you know what a Chromebook is, then you also understand why what I’m trying is significant.

I’m returning from a five-day business trip during which I decided to see whether I could accomplish everything I need to do using a Chromebook.

Why? Because Chromebooks can be less expensive – and, more importantly, safer – than the traditional Mac or Windows alternatives.

And because if I can, chances are you can, too.

As I sit in the Dallas / Fort Worth airport on the way home, it certainly looks like I can.

Read moreMy Chromebook-only Trip

How Do I Get the Password for a Computer I Purchased at a Garage Sale?

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I purchased a computer at garage sale but they did not know main password. Is there a way I can get this free? Hope I did not throw my money away.

I’m going to assume that by “main password” you mean the Windows log-in password.

I’ll show you how you can bypass that on most computers and set your own – it’s really not that hard.

Then I’ll tell you why you really don’t want to do what I suspect you’re planning to do.

You probably have a very useful machine, even if you can’t log in to it right away.

Read moreHow Do I Get the Password for a Computer I Purchased at a Garage Sale?

Should I Get a Dual-Core or a Quad-core Processor?

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For a home user with no special programs and no gaming, am I better off with a single core processor or a dual core processor? I play no games. I simply have a few usual things (word processor, registry cleaners, anti-spy and security stuff, etc.) but I need a new PC. This one is over 10 years old. It is SLOW even after cleaning the registry, defragging, optimizing, and everything else. Would I be better off with a dual core or a single core processor?

Normally, I stay away from specific processor recommendations because things change so much, and so often, and I’m just not one of those people that wants to do a detailed comparison between processor A and processor B. There are plenty of other passionate people who’ll happily do that all day long.

In this, however, I do have an opinion: more cores may be better, but too many may not be worth it.

Read moreShould I Get a Dual-Core or a Quad-core Processor?

What’s the difference between i3, i5, and i7 processors?

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I was looking at some ads for various computers and noticed some confusing CPU info. For example:

  • Acer desktop with i5-650 @ 3.2GHz
  • SYX Gamer desktop with i7-950 @ 3.06GHz
  • Sony Vaio laptop with i7-740QM @ 1.73GHz

I always thought an i7 was better than an i5, which was better than an i3. Based on the above, is the Acer CPU better (as in more powerful, efficient, and faster) than either of the i7s? And why would one i7 (the SYX) be about 75% faster and more powerful than the Sony i7?

To call it confusing only scratches the surface of the processor nomenclature and configuration. In my opinion, it’s more complex than mere mortals can comprehend.

Sadly, I am but a mere mortal.

However, I will share my priorities, which the average consumer may share when selecting a computer. In so doing, I’m sure I’ll annoy some of the geekier members of my audience. Smile

I’ll also look at a few more things about the processor configuration mix, and compare the three processors you list.

Read moreWhat’s the difference between i3, i5, and i7 processors?

Why Won’t My Program use More than 25% of the CPU?

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I am running a VERY LONG Excel’03 Spreadsheet (can be configured to loop calculating alternatives for hours using an embedded Basic Program/Macro). I am running this on a Quad Core Intel Q6600 with 4 GB.

When I check in Task Manager, the System Idle Process will not drop LOWER than 75% and the Excel Process will max out at 25%. I’ve tried upping the priority of the process and have checked the “affinity” to ensure it’s using all 4 processor cores. The Performance tab does show activity / load on all 4 processor windows.

What’s up? Why can’t I utilize more than 25% of my system when I want to use it for a high priority and very lengthy task?

It’s one of the most frustrating things to experience. Here you go and spend extra money to get that super fast quad- (or more) core processor, throw a huge task at it expecting it to go two or four times faster…

And it just pokes along.

The good news, if you want to call it that, is that there’s nothing wrong. The bad news is that … there’s nothing to be fixed. This is completely expected, and depends entirely on the software you’re running.

Read moreWhy Won’t My Program use More than 25% of the CPU?

What Brand of Computer Should I Get?

Next to understanding the type of computer you need, which I discussed in a previous article, perhaps the next most important decision (and common question) is what manufacturer or brand with which to invest your money, and within that, the which specific model to purchase.

This is one of those questions that also keeps changing over time. I’ll review some of the alternatives, starting with one of the most fundamental questions of all.

Read moreWhat Brand of Computer Should I Get?

What Kind of Computer Should I Get?

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It’s nearly new computer time at the old bunkhouse. What to do? What to do? Laptop? Desktop? Mac? PC? Dell? HP? How many gigabytes? CD? DVD? It’s been eight years for me.

This is an extremely common question. In fact, I’ll bet anyone who’s the tech in the family or neighborhood gets asked this same question more often than they would perhaps want.

The problem, of course, is that there’s no single answer.

It depends on your needs and your budget. And as technology is ever-changing, it even matters when you ask the question.

I typically ask myself this question about every few years as one computer or another needs replacing or simply comes to the end of its usable lifespan.

So rather than give you a definitive answer that doesn’t exist, let me instead walk you through some of the things you should consider when it’s time to get a new computer.

In this multi-post series, we’ll start with the most basic of questions…

Read moreWhat Kind of Computer Should I Get?

What do I do if my system asks for a installation disk and I don’t have one?

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I have a desktop computer with Windows 7 pre-installed. It won’t startup. It’s asking me for the installation disk which I don’t have. Can I buy that somewhere? Do I have to buy Windows 7 and install that or can I just buy Windows 8.1 and install that?

There are a few things you can try. I’ll list those, as well as one technique that will let you avoid this problem completely in the future.

Read moreWhat do I do if my system asks for a installation disk and I don’t have one?

Do I even need a computer?

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Why do I need a computer? I surf, I shop, I follow auctions, I email and I download photos from my point-and-shoot camera. I have an online bank account, which receives my directly deposited pension check. I also occasionally use Open Office to compose and print a letter. That’s it – no games, no design programs, nothing. I’m a digital Neanderthal who recently started using a tablet. Will a tablet do what I need without the seemingly never-ending hassles of the Windows operating system?

Everything you’ve described can be done on a tablet.

While the demise of the desktop computer has been grossly overstated in my opinion, scenarios like yours are certainly candidates for just using a tablet. I know several people who do.

However, it’s my opinion that you may replace the seemingly never ending hassles with Windows with a completely new set of hassles based on whatever tablet technology you pick up.

Read moreDo I even need a computer?

What Do I Do About a Blue Screen on Shutdown?

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When shutting down or restarting my computer, it freezes in the shut down process and then I get the blue screen of death. It’s been happening a lot more lately. I took pictures of it with my iPhone to see what it says but it’s too much to write out – but there’s something in there about a driver.

Blue screens can happen for a variety of reasons. These days, driver issues are probably number one on that list, tied with problems at shut down.

Read moreWhat Do I Do About a Blue Screen on Shutdown?

Would it be worthwhile to upgrade my RAM?

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Hi Leo. I know that in the past you said that increasing the RAM on your machine is probably the first thing that you would do to increase performance. But I’m wondering: These days, when machines come with generous amounts of RAM already installed, if that would still be your advice? I have an HP computer that came with 8 GB of RAM, but it will take 16 if I sacrifice the two 4 GB wafers. Do you think this would be worthwhile? I’ve already optimized the machine by fitting a Solid State Drive and this has made a big difference in performance. A RAM upgrade seems the other obvious thing to do.

Machines are definitely coming with more RAM these days. Prices dropped, so increasing RAM became very feasible for manufacturers to do.

So, let’s talk about RAM.

Read moreWould it be worthwhile to upgrade my RAM?

Why is my new computer flooded with pop-ups and ads?

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We’ve recently purchased an Acer notebook with Windows 8 and it’s protected by Norton. We’re being flooded with pop-up notices and advertisements. Please help us get rid of them!

No one likes pop-up notices and advertisements. In your case, it’s difficult to be specific about a solution because fixing this depends on exactly what ads and pop-ups you see, what they look like, and how they appear.

Because there are so many potential sources for pop-ups and advertisements, I’m going to review some of the most common and hope that one of them will apply in your situation.

Read moreWhy is my new computer flooded with pop-ups and ads?

Are PCs Doomed?

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Greetings, Leo! I’m retired and depend on my PC for communication, personal business, writing, maintaining a modest website, research, education, and entertainment. These days, I constantly read about the end of the PC era. What’s your opinion of the future of PCs, especially for home users? Please advise.

In my opinion, the death of the PC has been grossly exaggerated. They are not doomed. They are not going away anytime soon, for several different reasons.

Read moreAre PCs Doomed?

Can I replace my processor with a faster one?

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I have a Lenovo Tabletop C series with 8GB of RAM and 1TB hard drive. I love it all except the speed of the processor. How hard is it to replace the processor with a faster one?

To be perfectly honest, it’s rare to replace a CPU simply, much less replace it with one of a higher speed.

Speed is typically tied to the motherboard. Even when you can replace the CPU (and we’ll talk about a couple of scenarios where that can happen), the motherboard determines the speed. It’s the motherboard that is most often the limiting factor.

As for speed, let’s look at what you can do about that.

Read moreCan I replace my processor with a faster one?

What’s the Easiest Way to Upgrade an Older Machine?

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What’s the easiest way (other than buying a new machine) to upgrade my 10-year-old computer?

Unfortunately, there’s no blanket answer I can give to you. It depends on what you’re trying to do with this machine, and how it isn’t meeting your needs today.

If you’re considering an upgrade, it’s obvious there is something about this machine you don’t like. You either want to improve it or do something with it now that you can’t do currently.

Let me throw out a few ideas.

Read moreWhat’s the Easiest Way to Upgrade an Older Machine?

Why Is My Fan Running at High Speed?

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Hi, Leo. I’m using a Compaq 615 laptop with Windows 7. Why is my laptop fan running at high speed? It slows down a bit and then it starts running again at high speed. What can I do to stop it?

Sounds to me like you have a computer that’s running fairly hot.

Most computers have a temperature sensor and a variable-speed fan. As your machine runs, it keeps an eye on how warm it is and decides at what speed to run the fan.

It sounds like your machine is getting hot quickly and tries to cool itself off by running the fan at full speed. That cools it down somewhat so the fan can be slowed down, but then it heats up again and it’s full speed (fan) ahead!

The real question here isn’t why your fan runs so much, but why is your computer getting so hot? There are several reasons why this might be happening.

Read moreWhy Is My Fan Running at High Speed?

Why does my computer continually reboot?

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Hi. My PC will not start. It continually reboots even when you try to start it in all the different modes. There is a flash of the sign-in screen and the flash of a blue screen, but it just keeps on rebooting. I’ve tried disconnecting the power supply for extended periods of time thinking that this reset it. I now have a new laptop computer, but all I want to do with the old PC is to get my music files from it and download it into the new laptop for my iTunes and iPod. Hope you can help.

There are a couple of different things that could be going on, but as you’re just trying to grab the data off of that PC, you have a few options.

The solution for this depends on the version of Windows that you have and from your description, I can’t tell what you’re running, so I’ll look at some of the most common solutions.

Read moreWhy does my computer continually reboot?

Why Doesn’t My External Monitor Work?

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I’ve connected my Optiquest monitor to my HP PC but it won’t restart. I get an RGB “no input” message. What can I do?

This is actually an example question. I get a number of questions like this from time to time. The scenario is this: you have something like a laptop whose screen has failed. In other words, you can’t see what’s on your computer. One of the very common approaches to try and work around that until it gets fixed or replaced is to connect to an external monitor. The problem is that the external monitor doesn’t show anything.

There are a couple of additional steps that might be necessary, beyond just plugging in the monitor.

Read moreWhy Doesn’t My External Monitor Work?

Microsoft Surface Pro: the Good, the Bad and the Awkward

I was very intrigued when the Microsoft Surface Pro came out. The size and shape and the combination of it being both a PC and a tablet had me very interested in understanding whether or not this was something that was going to succeed.

Rather than being some kind of in-depth review (there are plenty of those elsewhere, I’m sure), these are simply my impressions after two months of having my Microsoft Surface Pro.

My emotions are mixed. I really want this device to succeed because it represents what to me is an incredibly interesting hybrid device – both tablet and PC. With that hybridization comes a tremendous amount of potential and power, and I’ll explain why I say that momentarily.

Unfortunately by trying to be both it’s possible that the Surface Pro fails to do either exceptionally well.

Good, perhaps, but not exceptional.

That may or may not be enough.

Read moreMicrosoft Surface Pro: the Good, the Bad and the Awkward

My computer lights up and turns on but nothing happens, why?

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I’m having problem starting up my computer. When I press the Power button, it lights up and everything inside it runs, but nothing appears on my monitor. I don’t know what’s the problem. I already cleaned it and had reset the CMOS, but nothing works.

Well, I’ll put it this way: just because the lights are on, doesn’t mean anyone’s home.

I get this and similar questions often. You turn on your computer. It makes noise, you can see lights – perhaps even blinking lights – and assume that it must be running.

It might be.

Problem is – it might also not be running at all.

Read moreMy computer lights up and turns on but nothing happens, why?

I spilled water into my laptop, how do I get it working again?

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While I was asleep, my cat must have tipped over a part full cup of water on my new laptop computer. The computer lid was closed and the AC power cord was connected when my daughter tried to turn it on in the morning. It did not turn on (and it hasn’t ever since, even after leaving it to dry out for a couple of weeks). There was also a small pool of water under the computer (about 5cm in diameter) and drips of water come from the keyboard when tipped over. What should I do to maximize my chances of getting it working?

I’m going to recommend an obscure long shot as something to try.

I’m also going to ask for help.

Read moreI spilled water into my laptop, how do I get it working again?

How often should I replace my CMOS battery, and what does it do, anyway?

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In all desktop PCs there is a battery – what is the purpose of this battery and how long does it last before it has to be replaced? Does the replacement of this battery affect the BIOS of the computer? I’ve had a PC for 6  years now and never replaced the battery.

Actually all PCs, desktop and laptop alike, have a battery like this, typically referred to as the “CMOS” battery. It serves an important function, even though it’s actually possible on most machines to run without
one … which quickly becomes annoying.

The good news is that, as you’ve seen, they typically last for years.

Read moreHow often should I replace my CMOS battery, and what does it do, anyway?

How Can I Keep My Laptop Running with the Lid Closed?

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When I close the lid of my Toshiba notebook, the internet stops, meaning that if I want to download stuff, the lid always has to be open, which is really annoying. Any way to change this without connecting another monitor and mouse?

It’s probably not the internet that’s stopping; it’s the entire computer.

The default configuration for most laptops these days is to go into Standby, or even Hibernation, when the laptop is closed.

Fortunately, it’s just a setting you can control in Windows.

Read moreHow Can I Keep My Laptop Running with the Lid Closed?

My computer doesn’t work, what do I do?

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My son has a computer that is not working. It only has a blank screen. Also the light to the hard drive it not on. Is the hard drive broken? Can I get the computer repaired. Or do I need to buy another one?

I get so many variations on this question so often that I just have to address it.

In short: there’s nothing even close to enough information for me to hazard a guess as to what might be wrong. And it’s just not a simple yes or no question.

Let me run through a list of some of the things it might be.

Read moreMy computer doesn’t work, what do I do?

How Do I Set Up a “Headless” Machine?

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I have a PC running Windows that monitors our security system. Since it must reside near the security hardware I use Remote Desktop to check status, etc. I would like to configure this pc without monitor, keyboard or mouse (i.e. headless) for security and convenience, but XP refuses to boot without a monitor attached.

A ‘headless’ machine is just a machine with no keyboard, mouse or monitor attached, which you access over the network only.

I’ve never heard of Windows refusing to boot because of no monitor being attached. But there’s at least one other ‘catch’ that could be the problem.

Read moreHow Do I Set Up a “Headless” Machine?

What is Virtual Memory?

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What is virtual memory?

There’s memory and then there’s disk space. There’s memory that’s on disk, not to be confused with memory that looks like a disk. Disk that looks like memory? Isn’t the disk a kind of memory? Or is it something else?

It’s very confusing, but we can clear a few things up. Disks and memory are fairly easy. Virtual memory is one way that they overlap; with a little explanation, we can make that a little less confusing, too.

Read moreWhat is Virtual Memory?

So just what is a “Server” anyway?

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So just what is a “server” anyway?

The word “server” gets thrown around a lot these days. We hear about web servers, print servers, mail servers, dedicated servers, shared servers, and more. Just what does the word “server” mean these days?

While it might have gotten confusing, it’s not really that mysterious. Servers are very common. In fact, you’re probably using one right now.

Read moreSo just what is a “Server” anyway?