How to Fix Common SSD Installation Problems

I recently bought and installed a Samsung 840 Evo SSD to replace my aging and failing traditional HDD.  I ran in to a few problems but apparently these are common to everyone. So learn from my mistakes and do – or don’t do – the following:

  1. Don’t change any settings until the SDD is installed: While researching SDD installation I read that you needed to run it in AHCI mode, so right after I physically installed it and ran the migration software to clone my old drive I rebooted and changed the drive settings to AHCI in the BIOS. But when I booted into Windows 7 it would immediately crash. I panicked a bit but after I changed the settings back and booted everything was OK. Turns out that it needs to boot up in regular SATA mode first to install drivers and so on.
  2. Back up your Windows installation if you’re cloning: Even if you’re cloning your drive, you should create a disk image in case things go south. In Windows 7 go to Control Panel > Backup and Restore and then Create a System Image on the right hand column. Back up your image to an external or another hard drive.
  3. Make sure you’re booting to your new drive: This is an easy one to miss. If Windows can’t boot because it can’t find an installation, check to make sure the BIOS is booting to your new SDD first if you have Windows installed on it. What you think may be a corrupted MBR could just be a much simpler issue.
  4. Hack the registry: The following hack may also help when your SSD won’t work in AHCI mode:
      1. Startup “Regedit With Administrator rights
      2. Open HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE / SYSTEM / CurrentControlset / Services
      3. Open msahci
      4. In the right field left click on “start” and go to Modify
      5. In the value Data field enter “0” and click “ok”
      6. exit “Regedit”
      7. Reboot and enter BIOS (hold “Delete” key while Booting
  5. Don’t panic: I was installing this SSD alongside a large HDD that I use for file storage, and after I finally got Windows running in AHCI mode and booting properly off the SDD it wouldn’t find the HDD.  Most of the articles I read weren’t helpful, but after running Windows Update a new driver was found and after installing that and rebooting it found it fine. It turns out that I needed to reboot the system several times before everything was operating properly. This was a bit beyond what the instructions indicated, so at first I thought there was something wrong with my system. You may be tempted to go nuclear and wipe out your cloned drive and go for a clean install, but from my experience this was unnecessary.

After everything was up and working I rebooted a few times just to make sure everything was clear. I have to say that this thing is wonderful. I was so used to my old, slow, clattering hard drive that I didn’t realize how quiet and fast my computer could be. I had upgraded every other part on this thing – CPU, memory, motherboard – with nominal benefit. It turns out the failing hard drive was slowing everything down. My boot time went from over 3 minutes to nearly instant. This was by far the best upgrade in terms of performance I’ve done in a long time.

The future of Oculus Rift isn’t in gaming

Wanna get any hardcore gamer or tech junkie salivating like a Pavolovian dog? Just say Oculus Rift. It’s not even on the market yet, but it already has made a huge impact on what many consider to be the future of gaming.

But where I see the major impact of Oculus Rift is in everything but gaming: science, art, architecture…even space exploration.

Just consider the following scenarios:

  • An archaeologist uses a hi-res laser scanner to map the interior of a cave. Then using the Oculus, he is able to move himself around in the environment virtually, getting close up looks at structures and features that could be hundreds of feet off the ground without scaffolding or marring the environment itself.
  • A surgeon inserts a tiny camera laproscopically into a patient’s abdomen to perform a delicate surgical procedure. Using the Oculus he can zoom in and out much more easily than with a mono eyepiece and see everything in much higher detail. Oh yeah – and the doctor and the patient are separated by 1000 miles.
  • Engineers and architects move around in a 3-d model planned high-rise office building, seeing exactly how the rooms and floorplan will work, while interior designers play with wall colors at the same time.
  • On an orbiting platform, a small drone is guided by a ground control technician wearing an Oculus headset to change electrical panels on a docked satellite.

The fact is that none of these scenarios are highly plausible in the near future. Oculus Rift can significantly change major industries not just because of its hardware, but because that hardware is now much more within the grasp of everyday users. Oculus’ development kit also allows for companies to develop software that works with the Oculus headset already before it even hits the market. This makes it accessible not only to major developers, but solo programmers, college students and so on.

I for one don’t know if Oculus will make the grand change that many are hoping it will. Interaction is largely passive beyond moving your head around to look. And forget about being able to look at your keyboard while gaming.

 

Which is the riskier movie: Avengers 2 or X-Men:Days of Future Past?

image: comicvine.com

Marvel’s movie franchise hinges on two main universes: the X-Men and the Avengers. The Avengers universe admittedly started a bit stale with the two Hulk movies. They were both OK, but generally disappointing. Some would say that the Hulk movies weren’t really within the current Avengers field as they were pre-Iron Man, but given that the only other major characters that didn’t get their own flics were S.H.I.E.LD. agents I’m counting the Hulk movies as at least within the same universe as the other Avengers films. But post Iron Man I the overall series has been a huge hit. Even the movies that weren’t all that great (Iron Man II was just filler in my book) did very well. And now that Avengers 2 is filming there’s already a huge amount of excitement as to what’s going to go on between now and then, and whether or not it will top the original Avengers movie in terms not only of sales but as a film. Read the rest of this entry

ElementaryOS Luna: Impressions (with video FTW!)

Below is my video review of Elementary OS Luna. If you’re wondering this is running on a system with a Intel® Pentium® CPU B950 @ 2.10GHz × 2, and 4GB of RAM (effectively 3.7GB counting memory reserved for graphics. It’s a HP 2000 laptop.

Enjoy!

This might be the Windows 8 you’ve been waiting for

Microsoft recently released a video describing their plans to update Windows 8.1, and it looks like it’s finally listening to consumers. After throwing users in the deep end with Windows 8 and expecting them to swim, MS is bringing back a functional Start menu and taskbar. It will also allow users to boot to the desktop as a default option.

All of these are welcome additions for traditional PC users, who still dominate the market. It’s unsure as to when all of these features will be introduced from Microsoft, but hopefully it will be soon. Third party apps have filled in for user demand, and it seems like Microsoft will finally back up the clock a bit to accommodate for this demand.

Breathe new life into an aging system with a new motherboard: Do-it-yourself

In most cases, upgrading a desktop computer is a relatively easy task. Do a little research, pop in your new drive or card and – bang – you’re up and running. Then there’s the mother of all upgrades: the motherboard. I recently upgraded my mobo from a slowly dying Asus M2N-E to a new Biostar TA 970 and I’ll walk you through my process to give you an idea of how to do your upgrade.

Why upgrade your motherboard?

I had plenty of reasons to upgrade my board. Mainly, many of the on-board components were no longer working properly or not working at all. The sound and NIC were dead, and the USB was very sketchy. I had cheap add-on cards to get by, but when a good board came through on a deep discount I jumped on it. In doing so I also doubled the number of available on-board USB ports, added support for USB3, added support for AM3+ processors and DDR3 RAM – all faster than my current configuration – and upgraded my PCI-E graphics slot as well. So this was an across the board win in my book.

Before you begin!

You absolutely need to do your homework before you attempt this upgrade. You may find that some of your components may not be compatible with the motherboard that you want. This is especially true for your RAM and CPU. Before buying a new motherboard, check the manufacturer’s site to make sure your CPU is supported or if you will need to do a BIOS upgrade from the get-go. In my case, my old system’s DDR2 RAM was not going to work with my new board, so I factored that into the total cost of my project and purchased 8Gb of DDR3 Kingston HyperX RAM. Also make sure the board will fit in your case. If you have a computer by a major manufacturer like Dell or HP, I wouldn’t even attempt a motherboard upgrade unless you are really confident it will fit.

The other thing you should do is backup your data. Weird stuff can happen in an upgrade like this, as everything is getting detached and reattached. I’ve read cases where people had to do a complete reinstall of Windows because it wouldn’t boot.

Oh, and once you have your new motherboard READ THE MANUAL BEFORE YOU DO ANYTHING. This will keep you from making installation errors and make the whole process less painful.  Read the rest of this entry

“You’ll pry XP from my cold, dead hands!”; Why users aren’t switching from the dying Windows

Ask not for whom the bell tolls… image: stealth.com

Microsoft will be ending its support for Microsoft XP on April 8, 2014. That’s about 13 years since it was released. Three different versions of Windows have released since then, each one of them (some in many ways, some in only a few) better than XP. When April 8 rolls around, any exploit, bug or security hack will go unpatched. So why are so many users – up to 30% of all Windows users – still sticking with XP?

There are several reasons I’ve heard through personal interactions as well as reading comment posts. One of the most common reasons I find is “why move away from something that works?” As one commenter wrote, “It runs extremely good and am very satisfied with it that I don’t even want to upgrade to a newer OS. There’s no need when everything works, and not just works but working brilliantly.”

Another reason that comes up often is money. Many users balked at spending over $100 on a new OS that may not work as well as XP (et tu, Vista?) and took a wait-and-see attitude. Even with Windows 8.1 on the shelves, users are waiting to see if the next version will really be “worth it” this time. Another money problem comes from corporations and other entities like libraries and police stations that can’t afford to upgrade their entire computer infrastructure from XP. I recently took my son to a cub scout tour of our local police station, and was a little surprised to see some of the computers running XP. But with every penny counting, other needs get prioritized higher than software upgrades. The other side of the money problem is the perception that Microsoft is simply greedy, releasing OS software that is buggy and unpolished just to make users adopt it and keep the cash flowing in. Some users feel that MS should support XP indefinitely, and while that sounds reasonable it really isn’t feasible in the long run. How long is long enough anyway? 10 years? 20?

A third reason is simply the difficulty of upgrading XP. As much as Windows wants you to upgrade, it isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Many XP machines were built on 32-bit CPU architecture, as that’s all that was available when it initially came out. Even when 64-bit processors came out, users still installed XP on those systems knowing that it would still work. The idea was that future upgrading would be easy. The trouble is, as I found out in moving from XP to 7, that you can’t just upgrade a 32-bit OS with a 64-bit one. A clean install has to be done, meaning wiping the drive and installing everything from scratch. For most users, that right there is a deal breaker. The time and effort involved simply outweighed the benefit. My father hasn’t switched from XP for precisely that reason. His files and programs are set up exactly like he wants, and the thought of starting over nearly sent him over the edge.

So is XP worthless? No, but it’s worth is certainly dwindling. After April 8, I think XP users who keep their systems off the Net or behind a really good security package (full-time antivirus and all that) will generally be OK. However I would really discourage people from using a Windows XP computer as a main PC for long after that date.

 

Turn Box into your free 50Gb Windows Backup drive

use Box not only as cloud storage but as your cloud backup for windows

use Box not only as cloud storage but as your cloud backup for windows

Lots of people, myself included, took advantage of Box.com’s 50Gb online storage offer by signing up a new iOS account through the service. I wanted to turn that into my cloud backup service, but Box Sync didn’t do it for me. Windows couldn’t natively do it either. So here’s what I did so you can sync and backup to Box right from Windows (I’m running 7 by the way).

  1. Sign up for Box if you haven’t already, and if you can sign up for Box for iOS. This will get you 50Gb of storage. If you don’t have iOS you can still use this tutorial to use the space you have on Box.
  2. Map your Box account as a Network Drive. In your Windows Explorer window click on Computer and then Map Network Drive in the toolbar. It will ask for a drive letter to designate for the drive (it can be anything not taken already) and an address. Put it https://dav.box.com/dav for the address. It will then ask for your account information to connect to the server. Check to have your password saved to make the process easier and more automatic in the future.
  3. Set up SyncBack Free for backups. SyncBack will do what Box Sync can’t and was the missing piece in my getting this to work. Install SyncBack and set up your connection following the instructions. It’s all pretty straightforward: set up one side as your Box network drive and the other as the folder you’ll be backing up and syncing to. You’ll need a different profile for each PC folder you want to back up depending on how your folders are arranged. I have one profile for documents and another for pictures. After that test your connection and then you can roll your backups and set up schedules as needed.

“8? What 8?”: Microsoft hoping Windows 9 will make you forget 8

MaximumPC recently reported that Microsoft is beginning to pump Windows 9, codenamed Threshold, and may announce further details at its 2014 developers conference. The product will likely roll out a year later.

image MaximumPC

Windows 8 has been, all things considered, a failure. Redmond managed to do the two things with Windows 8 it really needed not to do: alienate its consumer base and come up weak with a hardware line based on it. According to Paul Thurrot, Windows 8 is installed on less than 25 million PC’s (about 10% of total), with the now decrepit Windows XP still running on over 500 million computers by one estimate. As XP’s support is waning, usage is dropping. However there hasn’t been movement to Win8 apparently.

Desktop PC sales have declined overall, partly due to dissatisfaction with Win8 and the feeling that by taking a wait-and-see approach things might clear up. Hopefully MS will get the desktop right this time and allow users to boot to a more familiar interface, and therefore increase adoption and satisfaction overall.

LibreOffice a serious contender in the office suite competition

LibreOffice’s launch screen gives quick access to all the components

So I’ve been using Microsoft Office since at least 2004 – I forget exactly when but the fact that I’m still running Office 2004 tells me at least that much. Yes this is a 10 year old software package, and yes it is outdated and showing its limitations on a daily basis. However since I’m no longer a student I just can’t find the need to spend $100 or so on Office.

I had tried the open source alternative, OpenOffice, several years ago but found it just annoying enough to keep me from switching over completely. But LibreOffice 4 is really making my head turn in that direction.

I’ve been using LibreOffice on my laptop which is currently dual-booting Windows 7 and ElementaryOS. I’ve been using Elementary primarily on it, and installed LibreOffice as my office suite so I had something to do my work on. The semi-steep learning curve I had with prior versions is gone, and my satisfaction is so far good. I’ve found some minor translation issues in opening Excel files in LibreOffice, but nothing serious. Most of the issues seemed to center around default fonts being different in the programs, meaning that sometimes they overflowed the cell leading to “####” instead of my data. But these have all been minor.

I use Excel and Word quite a bit in the MS Office suite, and found both versions in LibreOffice easy to use. I haven’t tried the other parts of it so I can’t say much about them.

I’ve found that the more you use a particular program the less likely you are to move to something else, especially if you’ve spent a long time learning how to use that program. If you’ve invested a lot of time and energy into learning Office 10, chances are you probably won’t switch even if you don’t love it simply because of the investment you’ve made in it. However if you’re just getting in to documents and spreadsheets, or are in need of a free alternative to Office, give LibreOffice a try. It takes a little time to learn, but it’s well worth it.