Category Archives: Laptops

Battery care

Batteries are an important part of our lives, whether in phones or laptops. The technology is evolving, as is best practice to maintain your batteries in their best health.

An early contender was NiCad (Nickel Cadmium) followed soon my NiMH (Nickel Metal Hydride). NiCad couldn’t store much power for their size, in both NiCad and NiMH, the power drained away quite fast and had another big problem. This was that they could lose capacity quite easily, due to overcharging. When most laptops used NiMH batteries I recommended taking the battery out if using it mostly on the mains. Otherwise the battery gets ‘cooked’ and won’t hold charge. Then the battery tells the computer it doesn’t feel well and the computer won’t start unless the battery is removed.

NiMH is still used for conventional rechargeable batteries like AA

Battery technology has moved on and for devices built around rechargeable power (Phones, tablets and laptops) Lithium-ion is the current market-leader. This is more efficient for its size, retains charge longer and can be moulded around other components. This means that it is quite hard to remove the battery, but fortunately modern devices have circuitry to prevent the overcharging of batteries. Nevertheless there is still a downside, which is the number of full recharge cycles affects the capacity of the battery. So, unlike NiCad and NiMH, it is a bad idea to run Lithium Ion batteries right down. Recharging at 20% or so will prevent a full recharge cycle and preserve your battery for longer

The latest technology is Lithium Polymer, which is safer than other batteries. These batteries can also be made in much thinner sizes and also hold more power for their size, although they have a shorter life. Apple uses this type of battery quite extensively. These batteries tend to be in pouches rather than rigid container and the main downside is as they get to the end of their life, they tend to expand. I’ve seen a phone with the back pushed off and had a laptop which ‘blew’ the back off when I took the screws out.

Function keys acting oddly?

On my laptop function keys I usually have to press shift to get the second function e.g. flight mode). But sometimes they act as if shift is pressed. Annoying when I press F2 to rename a file and my Wi-Fi shuts down!

This is caused by a feature called ‘Function Lock’. If you press the Function (Fn) key and Escape (Esc) at the same time the computer switches between the primary (lower) and secondary (upper) functions – and doesn’t tell you.

It’s a bit like leaving Caps Lock on, WHERE YOU NEED TO PRESS SHIFT TO GET lower case.

So if things seem to be inverted, try Fn-Esc

Buying a new computer 4: what did we get?

In the end I bought an ASUS VivoBook M413DA from Laptop Outlet, through Amazon. The spec for this model is AMD Ryzen 7, 8 GB RAM, 512 GB SSD, Windows 10 – remember what I said about VW Golfs! The reason is the spec will give it a long life and it meets all my requirements. Not cheap, but cheap for what I got.

Co-incidentally, my customer’s machine was also from Laptop Outlet but via their website. They now have an HP EliteDesk 800 G1 SFF Desktop PC containing an Intel Core i5-4570, 4GB RAM, 500GB HDD. The processor is an early generation but the price was under £100 and will meet their needs.

See more here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PuoNhQds8uA

Buying a new computer 3 : where to look

A lot of people think they have to buy a new computer. How many of us buy a new car? No, we save money and get a fairly new car for a lot less.

I did buy my desktop new as I had an exact specification that I required (lots of speed, RAM and super-fast storage) so I customised a desktop spending money on parts where I got the best value for me.

But for the two machines we are discussing, I looked down the refurbished channel. These are reconditioned computers. Most are ‘open box’ where a customer has returned the computer as not what they wanted or ex-demo. Others are repaired faulty units. Some are office computers replaced on a periodic cycle. All have some form of warranty and will be graded from A (like new) downwards.

Personally I wouldn’t go too old as the processors on older computers won’t have the power to run modern programs properly. However my customer is on a tight budget and really just wants to get on the web so we can relax here.

First thing when buying a refurb is to look a for a new computer that has the spec you want. This gives you a top-line price to compare against.

Now use a search engine to find sites that sell refurbished computers – there are a lot out there. Many are attached to new computer stores so look for a name that you recognize and read some reviews. If you are unsure, Currys sells refurb items on eBay and even Amazon sells them!

Most sites will have filters where you can narrow down the results to closer to your specification. Then sort by cheapest first.

Now browse the results and find items that you like to look of, especially if it is a laptop, tablet or phone. You will spend a long time staring at it, so buy one you would like to look at!

Review the spec against your needs and also use a search engine to find reviews of the item to get an idea of how old it is and that it does what you want. Search for something like

ASUS ZenBook 13 Flip UX363JA test

Make sure you put in the product number (in this case UX363JA) to make sure you are searching for the right specification. Modern laptops, especially, have more variations than a Volkswagen Golf! Also search for ‘test’ rather than ‘review’ as the latter brings up customer feedback rather than professional reviews.

Use a credit card to buy it to get more protection in case of problems but pay it off in full.

Finally I would stay away from second-hand items, except on auction sites. Most owners have an optimistic view of the value of the item and it clearly isn’t doing what they want so will it help you?

Buying a new computer 2: Set your requirements

I’ve always found it helps a bit to decide what you want the new machine to do and be in terms of physical (Like Size, weight) and functional capabilities (separate video card, processor, etc).

In my case I am replacing my on-site laptop. I already have a powerful desktop for any heavy lifting, so I wanted something:

  • small and light as I take it to customers and away with me;
  • As time is money, it should have a fast processor and speedy storage. That will extend its lifetime;
  • Decent battery life if I can’t plug it in;
  • Good HD screen;
  • Reasonable disc space to store programs and data;
  • connections to most things – USB, ethernet, video. USB can do most of this for us now, so three USB sockets is the minimum.

I decided that for me I was looking for:

laptop

ssd 512

RAM 8gb

Recent intel Core or AMD Ryzen processor

This is a reasonable spec for an office computer. If you want a gaming machine, your needs will be different.

My customer has simpler needs. They want a desktop to use email and the internet, but also have a tight budget. Most of their computer use is via the cloud, so the desktop doesn’t need to be very powerful. I’m looking for:

desktop;

hdd of 512gb or bigger;

RAM 4gb;

Any intel Core or AMD Ryzen processor.

Here’s my video discussion:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v8uRZSOb5QQ

My next post will have some technical stuff on specifications!

What new computer should I buy?

A lot of people right now are asking me about replacing their computers, as they are working from home and are using it a lot more. That’s a bit like recommending a car – we all have different needs and wishes. But I can give some thoughts about the minimum technical capabilities you should look for.

First question is laptop or desktop? If you want something that you can move about, take with you or put away, then a laptop is for you. If you want expandability and more power for you money, then a desktop. You do get a keyboard and screen included with a laptop but many people buy a keyboard, mouse and bigger screen anyway.

Now there are a lot of cheap computers out there and value can be found. However many will come up short and leave you frustrated. My views in a nutshell are:

  • Stay with Intel Core 3 or 5 or7, or AMD Ryzen. Everything else will run tooooooooo slow, including Pentium, Celeron, AMD A series;
  • 4Gb RAM (memory) minimum;
  • An SSD (Rather than an HDD) will perk the laptop up a lot but go for 256GB as a minimum SSD. 512GB is better;
  • you don’t need any extras like Office or extended warranties with the purchase.

Apple products are starting to use different processors and Chromebooks are becoming useful if you have good internet connectivity as most stuff on Chromebooks is actually stored in the Cloud. Microsoft Office pretty much works but many Windows programs won’t run.

And as I always say, you will spend a long time looking at a laptop, so buy one that you like the look of!

Battery care for laptops

Giving your laptop battery as long a life as possible is important. Older laptops didn’t have an intelligent charging system so batteries get cooked by continual charging. They do allow the batteries to be taken out, however, so I recommend running on battery 25% of the time or take the battery out completely.

Newer computers have the battery sealed in so you can’t take it out. But the charging system is intelligent. I’d still suggest using the laptop on battery from time to time, but don’t let the charge get below 40%.