Leaky Laptop


My friend has brown gunk leaking out of the bottom of her laptop. I’m not able to see it in person, but the above is what it looks like. She says that nothing has spilled on her laptop, but that’s the only explanation I can think of. Could it be something else?

Grynx has a couple of interesting posts on this kind of thing: One post describes rain getting in to a router:

It didn’t look that bad from the outside, but gee it really looked bad on the inside. The brown gook is what was left after the water dried. It seems like the water wasn’t that clean and that it contained a lot of minerals which has rusted.

He points out that the problem is not the water:

The water in itself is not your enemy but what is contained inside the water is. Especially the minerals which will be left after the water evaporates and in this case it went really bad as the minerals decided to corrugate.

I can only assume this is what has happened to my friend’s laptop. Over time the water has gone but left behind the minerals which have corroded the circuitry inside. What can be done about it? Well, the best thing would be to take it in for servicing, but if you wanted to try to resolve the problem itself, there are some interesting solutions among the responses to the post, and in this post on cleaning a laptop that has suffered from a wine or soft drink spill.

Among the tips:

  • Clean the laptop as soon as you’ve spilled something. Don’t just dry it out and think the problem’s gone.
  • As soon as you have done the spill, turn the laptop off and disconnect the power. Remove the battery.
  • The key is washing off the residues. Suggestions: compressed air, rubbing alcohol (which contains Isopropyl alcohol), contact cleaner, WD-40, distilled/deionized water.
  • When you dry it out, leave it for several days. Use a hairdryer and/or compressed air as well.

There’s another video here on cleaning up a spillage from eHow.com.

All these stories, however, have the computer/device not functioning. My friend’s does. But with that kind of gunk coming through, I can’t help feeling its days are numbered.

Update: Apparently, it’s not a liquid spill but a partial melt of the rubber seal around the hard drive, a problem not uncommon in the model (a Toshiba Portege R100.) It explains why the machine is still functioning, for now. Sounds like a design fault they need to fix.

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A Beginner’s Guide to Saving an Old Computer

(This is the text of my weekly Loose Wire Service column, written mostly for newcomers to personal technology, and syndicated to newspapers like The Jakarta Post. Editors interested in carrying the service please feel free to email me.)

What should you do with an old laptop that is so slow you have time to down a cup of coffee while it gets ready?

A reader wrote to me recently: “I would be very grateful for your advice on how to make my very old (1999?) Toshiba Satellite 2545CDS laptop work faster and less erratically.”

His symptoms may be familiar to you: “Composing this message in Yahoo Mail becomes a hardship. The cursor moves slowly or disappears, to suddenly reappear. The computer is always doing something other than what I want it to do — the hard disk drive light is flickering madly, the drive is whirring, but the cursor won’t move.

“Using the Delete or Back Space key is particularly exciting: you press the key many times and nothing happens until the machine wakes up and wipes out your whole sentence. Appending files to messages takes hours, and when you leave to go to the bathroom the computer has put itself on standby.

“It takes me a whole cup of coffee to wait for the laptop to get ready to do two things simultaneously like proofreading a document in PDF format while listening to AccuRadio Classical.”

The reader goes in a similar vein for several pages in the best description of a computer past its sell-by date I’ve come across. He concludes: “Other friends have told me it is time to buy a new laptop, and I now have a much faster Toshiba Portege.”

But understandably, he’s reluctant to let go of this piece of hardware, with plenty of hard disk space remaining, and better inboard speakers than its successor. So what to do?

This reader has done the first thing right — clean the Registry. The Registry on Windows machines is the place where all the information about your programs and settings is stored. Windows refers to this file a lot, so the bigger it is and the more messy it is, the slower your computer runs (and the bigger the chance of errors.) So you should keep it clean.

The easiest way to do this is via a program called CCleaner (no, that’s not a typo; the first C stands for something a family paper like this can’t mention.) CCleaner is free from here: http://www.ccleaner.com/. Download it.

Then, just to be on the safe side, create a Restore Point in your system in case you don’t like what CCleaner does (you’ll find System Restore under your Accessories/System Tools menu. CCleaner will also let you save a backup of your registry before making any changes).

When you’ve created a Restore Point, run the “Scan for Issues” on CCleaner’s Issues tab (it may take some time). Then click on the Fix Selected Issues button. When this is finished your Registry should be a lot cleaner — meaning the computer will be faster. A bit.

Next stop is to defragment the hard drive. This tidies up the files on your hard drive so they will load more quickly and new files can find a place for themselves without having to split into smaller bits. Think of it as cleaning up after a raunchy party: the files are the wine glasses and plates piled up in the sink, the kitchen cupboards are your hard drive where they all need to go.

Windows has a pretty good defragmentation tool called Disk Defragmenter in the same menu as the System Restore program. Run that — and drink another cup of coffee or six while it’s doing it. It could take some time.

This should speed up your computer. But it may not be enough. There could be several reasons for this. One is that the hard drive is overloaded. (If so, delete the big files until at least half the hard drive is empty.)

My reader is clearly not having this problem: He reports using only 1.5 gigabytes of the 4 GB hard disk. In this case, you may be better off cleaning the hard drive of everything and starting again.

This is not a step to be taken lightly: It involves backing up all your data, collecting all your serial numbers and installation disks for software you have, and then canceling all hot dates for a few days as you laboriously reformat your hard drive and install the operating system, the drivers for your external devices, software programs and settings, and then the files you saved from before.

It’s like war: boring and scary in equal measure. Boring because watching a progress bar move slowly from left to right isn’t fun, and scary because you occasionally get heart-stopping moments where you think you’ve lost an important file forever, or the whole process stops for no apparent reason.

I wouldn’t recommend it, but neither would I recommend you outsource it — at least until you’re absolutely sure you’ve backed up every single file, e-mail, photo and password you might need again. But if your computer is not responding to lesser measures, this might be the best way to go.

Another tip: If your computer is an old one, don’t try to force fancier operating systems onto it. If your computer was made in 1999, for example, chances are it won’t like Windows XP very much, for the good reason that XP came out in 2001 and was designed for faster chips than were available back then. Your computer won’t like it and will rebel.

Better to have an operating system that’s older than the computer. Even better, if the computer is not going to be your main device, ditch Windows altogether and install Ubuntu (www.ubuntu.com), an Open Source (meaning free) operating system that looks a lot like Windows, but will run quite happily on older machines.

You could still play music files, write documents and e-mails or surf the Web on it, and you’ll be considered very cool by your friends.

There’s always another option: Ditch the laptop and just use the hard drive as external storage for your other computers. But that’s for another day.

The Jakarta Post – The Journal of Indonesia Today

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Say Goodbye To The USB Flash Drive?

I had an interesting conversation the other day with Trek 2000’s chief financial officer, Gurcharan Singh. Trek, a Singapore company, claim to be the originators of the USB drive, or thumb drive as they call it, and are currently sueing a company called M-Systems in a test case over who owns the patent for putting flash memory on a USB plug.

That’s all going through the courts, and has been for some time, but clearly Trek 2000 are playing a central role in the whole flash-drive-on-a-stick thing, since besides selling their own products, they are the OEM manufacturers of several dozen such USB drives, including folk like iomega. But what intrigued me, among several things, was a gadget he had in his display case that he hinted was the future of USB drives. I had asked him about concerns over the durability and reliability of flash memory (my own experience making me less than sanguine) and while he was careful not to play up such concerns, he pointed to a device that was barely larger than a USB drive, but which contained a 0.85 inch 10 gigabyte hard drive, manufactured by one of Trek 2000’s main strategic partners, Toshiba. “This will address the issues of flash that you’re talking about,” he said. At the moment flash drives get no larger than a 2 gigabytes.

Toshiba has promised to lauch the 0.85” drive early this year, according to The Register, who point out that these drives are about 80% smaller than the hard drives you’ll find in an iPod or similar device. If Gurcharan is correct it sounds like these hard drives will have a larger capacity than earlier expected and they’re likely to be as popular, if not more so, than the USB flash drive.

So will this cause a splash? Yes, I think, because they’re so small. They’ll wow us and make us do a lot more with our USB stick. Not that there aren’t options beyond flash out there already. Of a similar ilk, but using the older, larger drives, take a look at Sony’s new 2.0 GB Micro Vault Pro, which I saw in Singapore’s malls for about S$450 ($275, see illustration) or Z-Cyber’s 1 or 2 GB Zling Drives, which I’m guessing use the same hard drives, but seem to sell for a lot less: I saw the 2 GB version selling for S$200, and the 1 GB for S$129. Then there’s the Emprex range of Micro Storage, from 2.2 to 4.0 GB, selling for S$190 and S$275 respectively. All of these are basically small hard drives on a USB dongle. They’re nice, but they’re not nearly as small as what Trek 2000 are likely to unveil some time this year.  

(If you’re looking for larger storage you’ll have to go to iomega’s Mini Hard Drives, which come in 20GB and 40GB capacities. )

What I think we’re going to see are these microdrives really pushing out flash as folk come to rely on them more and more. It’s yet to be proven that these very small hard drives are as rugged as they claim to be, but I think we’re safe in saying that flash, while excellent, is not reliable enough to be anything other than a short-term means of storage. What’s more, with bigger capacities, micro drives are going to be able to do things, and go places, that flash drives just can’t do: Storing whole feature-length movies, an evening full of musical entertainment on a key-ring, a cellphone that doubles as your hard drive. There’ll be a role to play for USB flash but we may soon be looking back nostalgically at these devices as charmingly limited in what they could do for us.

Toshiba Asia’s PR

Take pity on us journalists. I tried to reach Toshiba’s PR handlers in Asia this morning. It’s not easy. Their Japanese site has a webpage which contains press releases but none of those releases contained contact numbers, names or emails. (How are we expected to ask follow up questions if there’s no contact number? A press release is not the end of the story, at least for a journalist who does his job properly.) Their regional webpage takes you to the same site.

Nowhere else on the website could I find any sort of contact that could be described as PR. The contact us webpage contains all sorts of exciting links, but nothing that could be described as a PR department. There’s a ‘non-product enquiry’ page which requires you fill in a form, but no names, no phone numbers, nothing that might help a journalist get a question answered.

Then I had an idea: Benjamin, a unit of Weber Shandwick, the PR agency, handles Toshiba in the U.S., so perhaps Weber Shandwick’s regional office in Hong Kong might know. Er, no. Nothing so far.

Eventually I picked up the phone and called their headquarters. A very helpful woman answered the phone, took down my details and then played me some rather soothing tinkly music (several times, I couldn’t help noticing) before telling me the whole PR department had gone for lunch (it being, after several rounds of tinkly music, 12.03 pm.) So I was told to call back ‘after lunch’.

Why is it easier to reach a small company than it is to reach a big one? Why issue a press release without any contact details on it? Why hire big PR companies to handle your PR but not actually let journalists know who those PR companies are, and how we can reach them?

Yuck. I’m going to have to call back Toshiba Japan just to soothe myself with some more tinkly music.

The Smallest Hard Drive In The World

Small is beautiful.

The Guinness World Records has certified Toshiba’s 0.85-inch hard disk drive as the smallest HDD in the world (it’s not actually out yet; expect to see it in September).

Toshiba say it’s the first hard disk drive “to deliver multi-gigabyte data storage in a sub-one-inch form factor”. (The 0.85-inch measurement refers to the diameter of the magnetic disk.) It comes in capacities of 2 to 4 gigabytes and will probably end up in mobile phones, digital camcorders and portable storage devices.

The Guinness folks offer some historical perspective: The first hard drive came out in 1956, and needed 50 two-foot disks to store 4.4 MB.

Of course, with hard drives the size of your thumb, this is going to have a very interesting impact on PDAs, cellphones, laptops and MP3 players. My tupennce worth: Marry these very small drives with thin displays and what else do people need?

Logitech, the Bluetooth Hubster

I’m still playing with mine, but on the surface Logitech look like they may be the first to fashion a real Bluetooth hub for the PC. The problem has been to develop a dongle, or some other widget, that can easily turn a non-Bluetooth PC into one that can easily recognise and deal with other Bluetooth devices. I’ve tried a lot and have yet to find one that works seamlessly. (The word ‘seamlessly’ and ‘Bluetooth’ don’t usually appear in the same sentence.)

Meanwhile Logitech has announced that its own candidate, the Bluetooth Wireless Hub, now works with the latest Bluetooth phones from Sony Ericsson and Nokia; new PDAs from Toshiba, HP, and palmOne; as well as hands-free headsets from Sony Ericsson, Motorola and Nokia. It’s worth checking out, although one word of warning: As far as I can work out, the hub will only work if you connect it directly to a USB port — and not to an external hub. If your PC only has one or two USB ports, and you’re using a lot of (non Bluetooth) USB gadgets, that can be a major no-no.

Site: PDA Reviews

  Interesting new website from BargainSpots.com, Inc., “a company devoted to helping consumers make informed decisions before buying handheld/wireless computing devices”: PDAReviewSpot.com.
The site provides links to written reviews and price comparisons of the latest models of mobile computing devices by such manufacturers as Palm, Hewlett-Packard, Handspring, Sony, and Toshiba, among others.