Category Archives: Basics

How to Rescue Your Hard Drive

We just ran into a situation at Computers Made Simple that looked like helpful topic for a post. One of our laptops died. It wasn’t a slow death either. One day it worked, the next it appeared dead. Nothing showed up on the screen, the Caps Lock key blinked slowly and the normal boot-up noises just weren’t there. After a few minutes of trying to get it to boot, we decided to simply buy a new laptop. Here’s how we rescued the information from the old hard drive.

1. Most laptops allow you to get at the hard drive bay quickly and easily. Find the model number and search on Google using terms such as  ‘CQ42 remove hard drive’. That worked for us and in a matter of minutes, the hard drive was out of the laptop. Since most hard drives have moving parts inside, they shouldn’t be dropped or bumped, specially when they are being used.

2. We have quite a selection of computer tools in the office but one of these tools is absolutely essential if you’re going to attempt to recover information from a hard drive. Here’s what this tool looks like:

Photo of Hard Drive Recovery Kit
It looks confusing but really isn’t. Connect some of the pieces to the drive, connect the drive to your computer and you’re away.

Ours isn’t exactly like this but they are all pretty much the same. There is a power supply that connects to the power connector on the hard drive. The other connectors, in this case the red one, connects to the data port on the drive. Once that is in place, the unit is linked to the computer through a USB port. Two separate things are going on here. The first is a power feed to the drive. The second is a data stream. Once you get this set up properly, the hard drive will appear in Windows Explorer, allowing you to sort through the information on it. At that point you simply copy and paste that information onto your computer.

3. When you find the drive in Windows Explorer, click on it. If the old laptop had a password, Windows detects that you’re probably not the owner of the drive. A menu pops up that says something like ‘you don’t have access (or permission)’ to complete this action. It will have a Continue button, just press that.

4. Windows will slowly open the drive which allows you to see the contents of it, just be patient. All of this depends on which version of Windows you are using. If your old hard drove had Windows Vista on it, the process is much more complicated. This post is about Windows 7 and/or Windows 8. Vista requires you to change the permission for each folder and sub-folder, a daunting job even for an expert.

5. Once you can see the old hard drive in Windows Explorer, right click the icon of a folder down on your taskbar and choose ‘File Explorer’. This will open another instance of Windows Explorer. Navigate to your desktop, then right click in the open space on the right side of your screen and choose ‘New Folder’. Give it a name, something like ‘Files from Old Laptop Drive’ or something similar. Hit enter to set the new name then hit enter again to open the new folder.

6. Your job now is to copy and paste your data from the old hard drive to the new folder. Remember that you can search for files using universal parameters, we’re talking about ‘*.jpg’ for instance. If you type *.jpg into the search slot, Windows will find every jpg file (photo file) on the drive or folder you are searching. *.doc or *.docx works the same way. The asterisk represents ‘any’ and the letters after the period represent the type of file you want to search for.

7. Alternatively, you could copy complete folders from one drive to the other. The problem with number 6 above is that Windows stores some files in two places. Inside of Windows/File Explorer files with the same name will appear. In any other folder in Windows, you cannot have two files of the same name; separate folders yes, same folder no. If you copy all of your photos from the old drive, you will most likely run into a filename conflict. In that case choose to keep both files but let Windows rename one. If there are hundreds, and there often is, put a check in the little space that reads ‘do the same for the next 300 conflicts’. That will save you lots of time, believe us.

8. If you think about where you store data on your computer, it is easy to find that data and transfer it. There are some key files to look for: photos, documents, music and video. Remember that all of these types of data may have different file types. You may be searching for MP3s thinking that all of your music is in that format. iTunes, however, stores its music as MP4s. If you’re not sure what you’re doing here, get some help or simply ask Google ‘where are my music files in iTunes’, for example.

Good luck! Remember that we are always here to help. Use the form below to ask questions. We usually get back to you in a day or two.

Lastly, this whole post assumes that your old hard drive is still functional. We’ve written other posts on what to do if the drive itself is dying and/or dead. Our next post will tell you how to diagnose laptop problems. Stay tuned for that and thanks for reading!




Routers 101 – Talking to your router

Whether you have a DSL/ADSL or cable connection to the Internet, you most likely have a router somewhere between you and your ISP (Internet Service Provider). It may not be a separate unit, it might be part of a modem/router combination but we’re quite sure most of you have one.

A router ‘routes’ the signal it gets from your modem, separating it into different sections then sending those sections to the various computers that are connected to it. The connections could be wired, as when you use an Ethernet  cable to hook your desktop up, or wireless, such as with most modern laptops and other handheld devices. Not all routers provide a wireless signal but most modern ones do.

The next several posts will take you inside your router. showing you how to take control of parts of it. Why? Because in order to set up our back office ‘recreation’ room, we had to figure out how to make one of our game consoles see one of our PCs. For that, we had to delve quite deeply into our old main router and another that we had sitting around. The next few posts will allow you to do the same thing or something similar. Here are two things you should read before we begin:

Warning! If you are working on the router that connects you to the Internet, you may accidentally change something that will stop that connection. This will entail a call to your ISP unless you have your current settings saved. We strongly suggest leaving your Internet router alone until you know what you are doing. Sure, you can look at it from your browser but don’t change anything.

TIP: If you have a new router, you must link it to your computer with an Ethernet cable. Once it is connected, you can communicate with it via your web browser. (If you are already connected to the Internet, you can communicate with your router the same way but you don’t have to do any other physical or wireless type of connection, other than the one that is already in place. If you can read this webpage, you are already connected to a router.)

Today, let’s figure out how to communicate and control a router. No tech talk, just plain English. Here we go:

1. Just as this website has an address, your router has one too. To talk to your router, all you do is open your favorite browser, we suggest Google Chrome, then type in a series of up to 12 numbers, separated into groups. How do you find out what those numbers are? You can find the paper manual for your router or, in some cases, the CD that came with it. If you don’t have either of those, you do a search on Google. Simple, right?

2. Get the model name and number of your router and do a search, making sure to keep any hyphens in place. Don’t worry about capitals but make sure you get the numbers and letters right. With any router that we’ve ever worked with, we’ve been able to find the manufacturer’s site and the PDF which describes how to access the router.

3. Once you get the number, open a new browser window and type that number into the address slot. Most router addresses are similar to this: as you will discover in the manual. Some switch the 0 and the 1 while others have a 254 or something similar in the third set. Regardless, make sure you type the periods and numbers in the order specified.

4. Next, an admin window will usually pop up. Let’s assume that you have purchased a new router. The default username and password is usually admin and admin. Here’s a list of default usernames and passwords for most routers that you’ll encounter:

List of Default Router Passwords and Default Router IP Addresses. 

Here’s what you should see after you type the correct IP address into your browser:

Photo of Router Screen 1
One of our routers has as its IP address. This is where you type in the username and password.






Once we type everything in, this is what we see next:

Photo of Router Screen
Don’t be intimidated by this. You’re just looking…for the moment.







All of the inner workings of your router can be adjusted from this screen. Many of the terms will seem obscure for now but some of them will become much clearer later on. At this point, just take a look around. The router defaults to the setup page that you see above. On this screen you can adjust the Basic Setup, the IPv6 setups and so on. These are in blue just on top of the white section.

Above the blue bit, you’ll see things like Wireless, Security, Storage, etc. Clicking on any of those will bring up a different set of adjustments and controls. Here’s what you will see if you were to click on the word Wireless:

Photo of Router Wireless Settings.
Here is where we setup the wireless signal for some of our computers.









As with the last screen, there are sub-settings, shown in the blue section here, that control Wireless Security, Guest Access and Wireless MAC Filter. This Cisco router is what they call a ‘two channel’ model, one with a 2.4 GHz signal and one with a 5 GHz signal.

For the time being, snoop around a bit and see what you can find. Make sure you don’t change anything, just take a peek to see what you could change if you wanted to later on.

TIP: With a new router, you can change anything you want and not worry. Why? Because every router has a reset button that will undo any changes and set the router back to its default, factory settings. All you need to do that is a paper clip. Hold the reset button in for a short time, usually about ten seconds, then everything is back to the way it was when it left the factory. If you buy a used modem, this is the first thing you should do.

That’s it for today. Your homework is to find the IP address of your router and gain access to it. Make sure you jot down the IP address and password so you can access it next time without looking everything up.

Thanks for reading! If you have questions or comments, please let us know. Better yet, Like us on Facebook and you’ll get every one of our updates as soon as we post them. Here’s the link: Computers Made Simple on Facebook


Here’s a link that might help us if you are interested in hosting your own blog with Fatcow Hosting. We’ve signed up to become an affiliate and we make a bit of money if you sign up for hosting via this link: FatCow Hosting Thanks!



Obscure Computer Terms – Wazzat thing?

If it seems that computer geeks speak a different language, well, they do. Computers and the Internet are no different from many other areas of our lives. From the cars we drive to the food we eat, everything has its own set of terms. Brakes pads and complex carbohydrates are just as confusing to some people as the various computers terms and acronyms  that we run into on a daily or weekly basis. Let’s take a look at some of these terms. By the time we’re through, you’ll hopefully feel a bit more comfortable around the machines you use everyday. Let’s go!

1. LED – Light emitting diode, something that doesn’t take a lot of electricity to make light. Most new computer display screens and HD-TVs have LED screens. They are cool, literally, and use much less power. The benefit? An LED screen on a laptop translates to much better battery life.

Photo of LEDs
LEDs make up most current computer and TV screens.









2. Codec – basically a translator. If you speak English normally but are learning Mandarin, your brain uses a codec to change the English words into Mandarin words. The VLC media player can play any video on your computer, provided that you have the correct codec installed. These days, you don’t hear that term too often since video and audio files are somewhat more organized than they were in the past but if you can’t play a video, you will know that you need the correct codec (translator) to play it.

3. File format – every file has its own three letter designation, remnants of the old DOS OS, that lets your computer identify it in order to know what what program to use on it. An ‘mp3’ is both a music file and a file format, just as an AVI is. Some formats have become nouns that we use every day, just as we say Kleenex when we mean tissue. These formats include: .exe, .dll, mp4, .aac, .jpg, .gif, .zip. .rar, and so on. We will do a separate post on the main formats that you need to know. We’ll also show you how to tell which format a file is. It’s easy, actually.

4. USB – Universal Serial Bus is a way to get things from one device to another, usually something external, such as a cell phone or a hard drive, to a computer (laptop or desktop). Yes, we know it’s not really universal, right? One end of a USB cable is almost always the kind that fits into your computer but the other end might have a completely different connector. Then again, the one that comes with your cellphone doesn’t fit your camera and it doesn’t fit your MP3 player. Here’s a tip for you: Use masking tape to identify each cable as soon as you get it. Mark what device it’s for and you’ll always be able to find it.

Photo of USB connectors
Micro, mini and standard USB connectors.







5. SCSI – this is a term you don’t hear very often at all these days. If you do, it means Small Computer Systems Interface. The only thing that you have to know about SCSI is how to say it (scuzzi) and that devices that use it are very fast. The fastest hard drives are SCSI drives, or at least they were until…

6. SSD – drives showed up. SSD means solid state drive, essentially a flash drive. There are no moving parts to a flash drive, that’s why you can knock them, drop them, drive over them with a Hummer and they will still work just fine. An SSD is a much larger capacity flash drive, one that fits into a laptop or desktop and replaces your old ‘spinning platter’ hard drive. SSDs are very fast, quiet and don’t use much electricity. They can also fail without notice so don’t depend on them as a backup device. You’ll regret it.

7. Boot – start. When you start your car, you are actually booting it, even though you don’t call it that. We boot computers and reboot them when we want to shut them down and start them up again. When something happens ‘on booting’, that means it happens as the computer is starting. Boot menu, boot screen, reboot (remember the TV show?), boot up; these are all variations of the same word.

8. OS – operating system. Windows is an OS. So are Android, iOS, and Linux. There are remnants of Unix in both iOS and Linux. Windows still has some remnants of DOS in it. The Internet, for the most part, runs on Unix. The operating system lets you interact with your computer, controlling the machine by harnessing your input and translating it into a form that the device can understand. Each OS has its good points and bad points. Unix, it seems, is the most problem free but it does not have a GUI, relying on a command-line interface (CLI) instead.

9. GUI – Graphical User Interface,  pronounced gooey, is what you use to interact with your computer, your cellphone, your HD-TV, your MP3/video player and so on. It’s the screen in front of you. Cars now have GUIs. Some refrigerators have GUIs. Again, a GUI is a translator. It takes something and makes it into something else, something you can see and, hopefully, understand faster. It also takes what you do, typing for instance, and translates it back into a form that your computer will understand. The symbol on a public wash-room door that designates it as women’s or men’s is, essentially, a GUI.

10. Modem/Router – the word modem is almost an anachronism these days but we still use it. It means ‘modulate demodulate’, actually, and is based on the older devices that changed your computer’s signals into bits of information that could be sent over a telephone line, then reversed when they got there. Think of a modem as the transporter on the original Star Trek episodes. Modern modems are silent, much faster and can be used on DSL Internet connections or cable Internet connections, although each is separate technology. A router uses wireless (WiFi) or wired (Ethernet) connections to distribute access to a modem across a network. Some devices are both modems and routers in one. The modem provides that pipeline while the router routes that pipeline to several computers.

Photo of Modem Router
These days, the modem and the router are often one device, not two.










Well, that’s ten terms or acronyms to start with. We tried to keep this short and non-technical, hoping to educate not bore you. If you can’t understand some concept, let us know. We’ll try to demystify anything that confuses you, whether it’s hardware or software or some arcane Internet term you’ve read.

Thanks for reading! Here’s the link to our Facebook page. Computers Made Simple on Facebook 

Tablets vs. Laptops

Some experts say that the PC is dying, if it isn’t already dead. Tablets and touch (as in touchscreens) seem to be taking over the market. Here are our thoughts on all of this.

Our Experience

1. In the past two months, we’ve had two tablets lock up completely on us. One was a Samsung Galaxy II, the other was a Lenovo 10″ tablet. When we say they locked up, they were dead, completely unable to boot or be recognized when hooked up to a computer. We returned both products to where we bought them. We replaced the Lenovo with two Blackberry Playbooks, one 16 GB and one 32 GB, which have, so far, been stalwart devices, ready for anything we direct their way.

Photo of Playbook
A BB Playbook. These are very solid tablets that aren’t, unfortunately, sold anymore.

2. As far as laptops are concerned, we’ve never had to replace one. Batteries get old and stop charging, chargers need to be replaced (Dell chargers are bad for that) but we haven’t had major problems with any of the dozen or laptops around here.

3. Our newest addition, the Nexus 4 that we purchased from Google Play, locked up this morning but we were able to get it working again after plugging it in to its charger. The battery was at 89% but the on/off button wouldn’t work. We’ll see how it goes from here.


DIY Repairs 

Laptops can be repaired fairly easily. Tablets? Not so much. There are ample resources out there for quick fixes on laptops of all kinds. With a tablet, there is nothing that a user can do except return it to the vendor or manufacturer or, if it’s out of warranty, dispose of it. There are no user serviceable parts on a tablet but even a non-tech person would find it fairly easy to replace a hard drive or add more RAM. For this reason alone we would suggest purchasing a laptop instead of a tablet.

Typing and interaction 

Microsoft came to the tablet party much later than anyone else. Their new Surface is marketed as a competitor to the Apple iPad. Since the introduction of the Surface, there have been major price cuts. Now Microsoft is offering cash to Apple owners who turn in their ‘gently used’ iPads on the purchase of new Surface tablets.

Photo of Surface RT
Microsoft seems to be in the dark about tablets and their users.

We’ll deal with PC and Android tablets here since our readers seem to be more PC people than Apple users. Consider how much actual work you’d be able to do on a tablet. Even the simple task of writing an email would be tough if you’re using a tablet. Sure, you could add a keyboard, USB or Bluetooth depending on which tablet you buy, but that’s  extra cost for something all laptops already have. Microsoft’s ads for the Surface show it with a separate, and optional, keypad and a device to make it sit upright. Laptops already have these things as standard equipment, right?

Screen protectors? Laptops don’t need them, tablets do. A whole new industry has evolved around tablets and mobile devices. You might want a cool bag to carry your laptop in but you sure don’t need a sleeve for it. As far as the screen goes, just close the lid and walk away. Many laptops, including a Lenovo we recently purchased, have water-resistant keyboards, too. No extra protection needed.


We’ve had great luck with our netbooks as far as carrying them around is concerned. A netbook has a hard drive and keyboard, same as a notebook, but doesn’t have an optical (CD/DVD) drive. Tablets, specially the larger ones, are slippery and the screen won’t stand up on its own. We can set our netbook screens at any angle and, when we’re ready to move on, they fold up to half the size they were before. Additionally, tablets are not as light as you might think. The glass screens add a fair bit of weight that a laptop, with a plastic LED/LCD screen does not have.

Photo of Netbook
They are small but not quite this small. Screen size is 10″ on most netbooks.

These are some of our thoughts on laptops versus tablets. Many of you probably use smaller mobile devices such as cell phones or smart phones for your portable computing and social networking but you might be considering something larger. For most of our uses we’d stick to a laptop. As we’ve said before, tablets are toys more than tools, great for photo sharing or social networking but useless (and expensive) for day to day computing. We can get a fully functional laptop for under $300.00, complete with an optical drive and a very large hard drive. Even with the price cuts, Microsoft’s Surface is more expensive.

Thanks for reading!  Like us on Facebook and keep up with our latest posts and tech tips. Here’s the link: Computers Made Simple on Facebook 


Computer Troubleshooting – fixing random problems

We ran into a problem this weekend with one of our laptops. For some reason, still undefined, we could connect to our central router’s WiFi but could not connect to the Internet. We had good signal strength but no go on the Internet connection. When we’re faced with this kind of situation, we try to look at the problem systematically, running through a series of troubleshooting steps to get to the root of the problem.  Even though we didn’t sort out the trouble, here are some of the steps we went through. If you’re in the same situation, you can try to use a few of these DIY (do it yourself) strategies.

1. We tried to use Windows to sort out the connection problem but, as usual, the Windows troubleshooter was useless. It’s nice that Microsoft tries to help but in all of our years of using Windows, we can’t remember when their troubleshooter worked. You’re welcome to try, but our success rate is dismal, to say the least.

2. Rebooting (restarting) a computer or mobile device is the first thing you should do. Save your work, bookmark any important sites you’re on and restart. Signing out won’t work as well as completely shutting down and starting everything up again.

2. In the case of our WiFi problem, we weren’t sure if it was software or hardware related. Our next step was to uninstall the Broadcom WiFi adapter. While this may sound extreme, it’s not. The adapter is a piece of hardware, yes, but we didn’t actually remove it from the laptop. We simply went into our device manager and uninstalled it from there. Next we rebooted the laptop and, of course, Windows found the adapter and reinstalled it. Why did we do this? Sometimes a driver, the thing that makes a piece of hardware work, gets corrupted. Removing a device then rebooting your computer can sometimes bring it back to life. Windows checks the driver and if it’s corrupted or old, finds a new one or asks you to find one for it.

Photo of Disable or uninstall hardware
This is an example of the ‘uninstall’ screen in Control Panel then Device Manager.

3. Since most laptops can use a wired connection as well as WiFi, we took the laptop down the hall and connected it with an Ethernet cable to a spare port on the router. This bypassed the WiFi connection and we were able to connect to the Internet immediately. Because of this, we knew that our problem was not a virus. On to step 4 to read why.

4. Sometimes a virus or malware can interfere with your computer’s stability. If you’ve downloaded music or a new piece of software from an unfamiliar site, there is a chance that a virus has hijacked your computer. If you do not do a virus scan on a regular basis, and you should, make sure you do one as soon as your computer starts to ‘act’ differently. Here’s a link to a good and reliable online anti-virus scan: Free Online Virus Scan  We’ve used these guys for years when we have reason to distrust our own anti-virus software.

Photo of Trend Micro House Call
This asks you to download a small file with allows Trend Micro to scan your computer online.

5. Windows’ computers have what is called a ‘safe mode’. If you are having problems, try to reboot your computer into this mode and see if you can duplicate the problem there. There are two ways to get into safe mode, the easiest is to tap the F8 key gently a few times just as your computer is restarting, after you see the first letters on your screen.

Photo of DOS Screen
Tap your F8 key when you see the first screen like this.

Choose Safe Mode or Safe Mode with Networking (as we did) if you want to check your Internet connection:

Photo of Safe Mode screen
Use your up and down keys to choose, then hit Enter.

When you are in Safe Mode, everything will look quite different. Manage as best you can to check the problem, free from the many other programs that start when you run your computer. If you find you are having a problem running your anti-virus software or deleting some software, try doing it while you are in safe mode. Some programs defend themselves from deletion but when you run safe mode, they cannot run and cannot stop themselves from being deleted.

Somehow we were able to reconnect to the Internet but we’re not sure why we couldn’t in the first place. Maybe one of these steps solved the problem, who knows? Whenever we encounter a problem that isn’t immediately obvious, we run through these steps one by one until we sort things out. Hopefully, you’ll be able to do the same.

Thanks for reading!