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Renovating a computer (preferably laptop) for basic use


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#1
sue.words

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My husband, Paul, is a very reluctant computer user. He uses my computers for wordprocessing (using Word in a ham-fisted inexpert way) and has recently begun to research (eg, looking for building materials) using the internet instead of always asking me to do it for him. Currently I send and receive the occasional email on his behalf but he grudgingly admits that he should possibly get an email account of his own and when an email in unavoidable do it himself!

I have two HP computers, both bought in September 2006, a desktop and a laptop. (Paul prefers using the laptop because it is portable and can be put away when not in use.)

Both my computers have been causing problems for a while now (of the sort you'd expect of computers bought five years ago). This is frustrating for me, but as I've now been using computers for about fifteen years I have some ability to cope. (I also find it immensely reassuring to have two networked computers, both because they act as back-up for one another and because they do not usually have a bad mood at the same time.) But Paul has almost no ability to troubleshoot - even little Word annoyances, let alone freezes, refusal to boot up or close down, etc.)

I think that what Paul needs is the cheapest, simplest computer (that we can be sure is reliable of course), as all he wants to do is use Word, send and receive emails and do simple Googling for products or information. I was therefore thinking that perhaps we should we buy him something to fit that specification. But it occurred to me that PERHAPS the laptop could do this job if I (or someone more competent) removed everything from it and then reinstalled just Windows XP (or conceivably an open-source operating system), MS Office and Firefox.

My thinking is that it is the ambitious stuff that I do - downloading interesting bits of software, etc, - that has probably clogged up the guts (do I mean the registry?) of the laptop, and once all of this was cleared out/tidied up for Paul's very limited use it might be ok.

I would welcome any helpful comments but in particular I'd like to know if with a 5-year-old computer (laptop) there are likely to be bits of hardware that are worn out and would make nonsense of my plan. (We did have a problem with the battery a little while ago but that seemed to be resolved by buying a new adaptor charger.)

I don't want to be mean to him but he is reluctant to spend ANY money on computers, so IF it were a plan that genuinely made sense he would be keen on it too!

(I have just tried to attach a word file containing a screenshot of the laptop's System Properties but got an error message saying "You aren't permitted to upload this kind of file." I cannot imagine why.)
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#2
Digerati

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There are many computers older than 5 years still chugging along. About the only physical maintenance a computer needs is for the interior to be kept clean of heat trapping dust and dirt. This is pretty easy with a PC where the whole side panel can be removed for easy inspection and cleaning. Notebooks are a different story. They are very proprietary which makes them difficult, if not impossible for the normal user to clean. This is a problem due to their very nature (powerful computer in a tiny box) - heat extraction will always a problem with notebooks.

Since electricity is the flow of electrons and electrons have mass, they create friction as they flow through any device - or wire. So all electronics, even with no "moving" parts, eventually wear out. I would not expect pure electronics, if properly maintained, to work well beyond 5 years. But electro-mechanical devices may start having problems. In computers (notebooks and PCs), these are typically the motorized devices such as cooling fans and drive motors as the bearings will eventually fail. Do have a backup.

Operationally, you have to continually maintain your computers. You must keep them updated, patched, and scanned. I might suggest you give your computers what I call a "quickclean" to ensure they are free of clutter. I recommend purging the hard drives of clutter with Windows XP Disk Cleanup. Know your site credentials (user names and passwords) for sites you frequent before cleaning; you may have to login again at next visit.

Download and install Malwarebytes's Anti-Malware (MBAM) and scan as follows:

Check for updates before scanning,
Select Perform quick scan > Scan,
When complete, click OK, then Show Results,
Ensure all is selected, and click Remove Selected,
When complete, save the log in Notepad to a convenient place for future reference.

If you feel your machines are still having problems after that, I would suggesting starting a new thread for each machine and maybe we can sort them out.

Reinstalling Windows on a notebook can be a real pain because as I noted above, notebooks are very proprietary. Also, it is common for notebooks to NOT come with installation disks for Windows or the hardware drivers. Also, reinstalling Windows puts you back months, or even years in security updates, and that is not good. So I would stick to purging the system of clutter, ensuring all the patches and updates are installed, and of course, you have a good security system in place. You might run through Control Panel > Add and Remove Programs and uninstall any program installed by you that you don't use. If unsure, leave it.

Many people don't like computers because they are afraid they will break them. I say it is time for you to get a new notebook, and let Paul use the old one - then if he breaks it, no major loss. :)
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#3
sue.words

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Thank you very much for taking the trouble to reply in such detail, Digerati.

There's obviously a lot to think about in what you say so I can't tell you now what I shall do.

I shall have to do some thinking and some talking to Paul.

If and when I do buy a new computer - desktop or laptop - are there features I should look for that would give it the best chance of keeping going as long as possible?
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#4
Digerati

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are there features I should look for that would give it the best chance of keeping going as long as possible?

Yes, and they change every day. But generally, if you stick with the latest chipsets and motherboards, they will include support for the latest technologies. The closer to the cutting edge you buy, the further into the future it will last. But of course, the more expensive it will cost too. So you have to find a happy balance.

That said, with today's graphics oriented world, a decent graphics solution and lots of RAM are a must. Fortunately, unless a serious gamer or graphics designer, integrated graphics in the latest motherboards are most likely more than capable to support your need.

I would also go 64-bit Windows 7, or a free 64-bit Linux alternative.
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#5
sue.words

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Thanks again, Digerati. I'll bear these things in mind when I buy my next computer.
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#6
Digerati

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Sounds like a plan.
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