Tag Archives: computer repair

Handle Computer Viruses Properly

Computer viruses affect millions of computers each year, with 2018 ranking at over 800 million. In turn, this costed individuals and businesses billions of dollars in the process. This malicious software is created to access sensitive information, causing disastrous issues to your computer and allowing hackers to either collect or destroy data. In turn, this slows the computers functionality and operation or might even crash it all together, making it unusable.

The viruses can be spread through e-mail attachments, scam links, and pop-ups and often times seems legitimate. And while it’s extremely frustrating, you can take the necessary precautions of reducing your computers risk for a virus by avoiding clicking on any advertisements shown on web pages you might visit. You can also download anti-virus software, which can detect and remove harmful trojans or malware, and is beneficial to have even if you’re not concerned about a potential threat. Norton and McAfee are well known anti-virus software subscriptions, available for you to purchase online. Keeping your OS updated to the latest version is helpful as well, as it contains the protection and security needed.

Trust your gut – if it seems fishy, it probably is!


Dells vulnerable to remote hijack

A security flaw in the DellSupportAssist that comes preinstalled on all Dell computers could allow a remote hijack of your computer. The attack exposes a vulnerability DellSupportAssist has with remote code execution.

How the remote hijack works

A Dell computer user would have to go to a web page where the attackers would place compromised Javascript. The Javascript can trick the DellSupportAssist into thinking Dell is trying to remote into the computer to fix a problem. The attacker has to be on your same network to then take control of your computer. Attacks on home computers are unlikely (unless other computers are already compromised). Attacks emanating from public wifi (coffee shops, large public venues), hotels and on corporate networks are much more likely.

Proof of concept attack already published

A proof of concept showing how to implement the attack was published on Github several days ago. The attack and vulnerability, called
CVE-2019-3719, is already live and can now be reproduced by anyone.

What Dell Computers are affected?

All recent and old Dell computers that have not disabled the built in DellSupportAssist are vulnerable to this attack. Dell is working on a security patch / update for DellSupportAssist but we would recommend that you disable the DellSupportAssist service for now.

If you have a Dell computer and would like to have a professional computer service company verify your system is secure, call us at 1-800-620-5285.  Karls Technology is a nationwide computer service company with offices in many major cities.  This blog post is brought to you from our staff at the Lakewood Computer Repair Service, if you need computer repair in Lakewood, CO please call the local office at (720) 441-6460.

Roaming User Profiles will reset

If you are a mobile computer user that uses a Roaming User Profile look out for the new update of Windows 10. Roaming Users that customize your start menu settings or any operating system settings will be reset after updating to May 2019 Update of Windows 10.

Microsoft lays out a work around in a support article ( https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/help/4493782/customized-start-menu-not-persisting-after-upgrade-in-windows-10 ) published today. The work around only works if the Start Menu customizations that are stored locally and have not been deleted due to a group policy.

This update is part of the LCU (latest cumulative update) released today for older versions of Windows 10 (versions 1703, 1709 and 1803).

If you use a Roaming User Profile and would like some assistance, please give us a call at 1-800-620-5285.  Karls Technology is a nationwide computer service company with offices in many major cities.  This blog post is brought to you from our staff at the Frisco Computer Repair Service, if you need computer repair in Frisco, TX please call the local office at (469) 299-9005 or schedule an appointment at www.friscocomputerrepairservice.com.

End of Life for Windows 7

All good things must come to an end.

Windows 7 End of Life

The last day of support for Windows 7 is January 14, 2020.  After which, Microsoft will no longer provide security updates or support for PCs running Windows 7.  With over half a year until END OF LIFE day for Windows 7 you should start making plans now.  All Windows 7 computers can be upgraded to Windows 10 and as of today, Windows 7 keys are still authenticating for Windows 10 installations.

The other option is to replace your computer and have all your data migrated to your new system.  Give us a call at 1-800-620-5285 and talk with one of our support specialists to figure out which is the best option for you.

You can read more about the End of Life for Windows 7 at https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/windowsforbusiness/end-of-windows-7-support


Hard Drive Air Filters

Air Filters

Nearly all hard disk drives have two air filters. One filter is called the recirculating filter, and the other is called either a barometric or breather filter. These filters are permanently sealed inside the drive and are designed never to be changed for the life of the drive, unlike many older mainframe hard disks that had changeable filters. Many mainframe drives circulate air from outside the drive through a filter that must be changed periodically.

A hard disk on a PC system does not circulate air from inside to outside the HDA, or vice versa. The recirculating filter that is permanently installed inside the HDA is designed to filter only the small particles of media scraped off the platters during head takeoffs and landings (and possibly any other small particles dislodged inside the drive). Because PC hard disk drives are permanently sealed and do not circulate outside air, they can run in extremely dirty environments (see Figure 1-6).

FIG. 1-6  Air circulation in a hard disk.

The HDA in a hard disk is sealed but not airtight. The HDA is vented through a barometric or breather filter element that allows for pressure equalization (breathing) between the inside and outside of the drive. For this reason, most hard drives are rated by the drive’s manufacturer to run in a specific range of altitudes, usually from -1,000 to +10,000 feet above sea level. In fact, some hard drives are not rated to exceed 7,000 feet while operating because the air pressure would be too low inside the drive to float the heads properly. As the environmental air pressure changes, air bleeds into or out of the drive so that internal and external pressures are identical. Although air does bleed through a vent, contamination usually is not a concern, because the barometric filter on this vent is designed to filter out all particles larger than 0.3 micron (about 12 µ-in) to meet the specifications for cleanliness inside the drive. You can see the vent holes on most drives, which are covered internally by this breather filter. Some drives use even finer-grade filter elements to keep out even smaller particles.

Hard Disk Temperature Acclimation

To allow for pressure equalization, hard drives have a filtered port to bleed air into or out of the HDA as necessary. This breathing also enables moisture to enter the drive, and after some period of time, it must be assumed that the humidity inside any hard disk is similar to that outside the drive. Humidity can become a serious problem if it is allowed to condense — and especially if the drive is powered up while this condensation is present. Most hard disk manufacturers have specified procedures for acclimating a hard drive to a new environment with different temperature and humidity ranges, especially for bringing a drive into a warmer environment in which condensation can form. This situation should be of special concern to users of laptop or portable systems with hard disks. If you leave a portable system in an automobile trunk during the winter, for example, it could be catastrophic to bring the machine inside and power it up without allowing it to acclimate to the temperature indoors.

The following text and Table 1.3 are taken from the factory packaging that Control Data Corporation (later Imprimis and eventually Seagate) used to ship its hard drives:

If you have just received or removed this unit from a climate with temperatures at or below 50°F (10°C) do not open this container until the following conditions are met, otherwise condensation could occur and damage to the device and/or media may result. Place this package in the operating environment for the time duration according to the temperature chart.

Table 1.3  Hard Disk Drive Environmental Acclimation Table.
Previous Climate Temp.Acclimation Time
+40°F (+4°C)13 hours
+30°F (-1°C)15 hours
+20°F (-7°C)16 hours
+10°F (-12°C)17 hours
0°F (-18°C)18 hours
-10°F (-23°C)20 hours
-20°F (-29°C)22 hours
-30°F (-34°C) or less27 hours

As you can see from this table, a hard disk that has been stored in a colder-than-normal environment must be placed in the normal operating environment for a specified amount of time to allow for acclimation before it is powered on.

This is an archive of Alasir Enterprise’s MicroHouse PC Hardware Library Volume I: Hard Drives by Rhett M. Hollander (alasir.com) which disappeared from the internet in 2017. We wanted to preserve Rhett M. Hollander’s knowledge about hard drives and are permanently hosting a selection of important pages from alasir.com.

Hard Drive Sector Format and Structure

The basic unit of data storage on a hard disk is the sector. The name “sector” comes from the mathematical term, which refers to a “pie-shaped” angular section of a circle, bounded on two sides by radii and the third by the perimeter of the circle. On a hard disk containing concentric circular tracks, that shape would define a sector of each track of the platter surface that it intercepted. This is what is called a sector in the hard disk world: a small segment along the length of a track. At one time, all hard disks had the same number of sectors per track, and in fact, the number of sectors in each track was fairly standard between models. Today’s advances have allowed the number of sectors per track (“SPT”) to vary significantly, as discussed here.

In the PC world, each sector of a hard disk can store 512 bytes of user data. (There are some disks where this number can be modified, but 512 is the standard, and found on virtually all hard drives by default.) Each sector, however, actually holds much more than 512 bytes of information. Additional bytes are needed for control structures and other information necessary to manage the drive, locate data and perform other “support functions”. The exact details of how a sector is structured depends on the drive model and manufacturer. However, the contents of a sector usually include the following general elements:

  • ID Information: Conventionally, space is left in each sector to identify the sector’s number and location. This is used for locating the sector on the disk. Also included in this area is status information about the sector. For example, a bit is commonly used to indicate if the sector has been marked defective and remapped.
  • Synchronization Fields: These are used internally by the drive controller to guide the read process.
  • Data: The actual data in the sector.
  • ECC: Error correcting code used to ensure data integrity.
  • Gaps: One or more “spacers” added as necessary to separate other areas of the sector, or provide time for the controller to process what it has read before reading more bits.

Note: In addition to the sectors, each containing the items above, space on each track is also used for servo information (on embedded servo drives, which is the design used by all modern units).

The amount of space taken up by each sector for overhead items is important, because the more bits used for “management”, the fewer overall that can be used for data. Therefore, hard disk manufacturers strive to reduce the amount of non-user-data information that must be stored on the disk. The term format efficiency refers to the percentage of bits on each disk that are used for data, as opposed to “other things”. The higher the format efficiency of a drive, the better (but don’t expect to find statistics on this for your favorite drive easy to find!)

One of the most important improvements in sector format was IBM’s creation of the No-ID Format in the mid-1990s. The idea behind this innovation is betrayed by the name: the ID fields are removed from the sector format. Instead of labeling each sector within the sector header itself, a format map is stored in memory and referenced when a sector must be located. This map also contains information about what sectors have been marked bad and relocated, where the sectors are relative to the location of servo information, and so on. Not only does this improve format efficiency, allowing up to 10% more data to be stored on the surface of each platter, it also improves performance. Since this critical positioning information is present in high-speed memory, it can be accessed much more quickly. “Detours” in chasing down remapped sectors are also eliminated.

The PC Guide
Site Version: 2.2.0 – Version Date: April 17, 2001
© Copyright 1997-2004 Charles M. Kozierok. All Rights Reserved.

This is an archive of Charles M. Kozierok’s PCGuide (pcguide.com) which disappeared from the internet in 2018. We wanted to preserve Charles M. Kozierok’s knowledge about computers and are permanently hosting a selection of important pages from PCGuide.

Hard Drive Error Correcting Code (ECC)

The basis of all error detection and correction in hard disks is the inclusion of redundant information and special hardware or software to use it. Each sector of data on the hard disk contains 512 bytes, or 4,096 bits, of user data. In addition to these bits, an additional number of bits are added to each sector for the implementation of error correcting code or ECC (sometimes also called error correction code or error correcting circuits). These bits do not contain data; rather, they contain information about the data that can be used to correct any problems encountered trying to access the real data bits.

There are several different types of error correcting codes that have been invented over the years, but the type commonly used on PCs is the Reed-Solomon algorithm, named for researchers Irving Reed and Gustave Solomon, who first discovered the general technique that the algorithm employs. Reed-Solomon codes are widely used for error detection and correction in various computing and communications media, including magnetic storage, optical storage, high-speed modems, and data transmission channels. They have been chosen because they are easier to decode than most other similar codes, can detect (and correct) large numbers of missing bits of data, and require the least number of extra ECC bits for a given number of data bits. Look in the memory section for much more general information on error detection and correction.

When a sector is written to the hard disk, the appropriate ECC codes are generated and stored in the bits reserved for them. When the sector is read back, the user data read, combined with the ECC bits, can tell the controller if any errors occurred during the read. Errors that can be corrected using the redundant information are corrected before passing the data to the rest of the system. The system can also tell when there is too much damage to the data to correct, and will issue an error notification in that event. The sophisticated firmware present in all modern drives uses ECC as part of its overall error management protocols. This is all done “on the fly” with no intervention from the user required, and no slowdown in performance even when errors are encountered and must be corrected.

The capability of a Reed Solomon ECC implementation is based on the number of additional ECC bits it includes. The more bits that are included for a given amount of data, the more errors that can be tolerated. There are multiple trade offs involved in deciding how many bits of ECC information to use. Including more bits per sector of data allows for more robust error detection and correction, but means fewer sectors can be put on each track, since more of the linear distance of the track is used up with non-data bits. On the other hand, if you make the system more capable of detecting and correcting errors, you make it possible to increase areal density or make other performance improvements, which could pay back the “investment” of extra ECC bits, and then some. Another complicating factor is that the more ECC bits included, the more processing power the controller must possess to process the Reed Solomon algorithm. The engineers who design hard disks take these various factors into account in deciding how many ECC bits to include for each sector.

The PC Guide
Site Version: 2.2.0 – Version Date: April 17, 2001
© Copyright 1997-2004 Charles M. Kozierok. All Rights Reserved.

This is an archive of Charles M. Kozierok’s PCGuide (pcguide.com) which disappeared from the internet in 2018. We wanted to preserve Charles M. Kozierok’s knowledge about computers and are permanently hosting a selection of important pages from PCGuide.

VESA Local Bus

The VESA Local Bus, also called VL-Bus or more commonly VLB, was the first local bus used on PCs. Introduced in 1992, VLB video became very popular during the heyday of the 486, in particular 1993 to 1994. VLB cards can be easily identified by their longer connectors, compared to standard ISA card slots. See here for details on the VESA local bus.

VLB video cards provide, in general, much better performance than ISA cards. This is primarily due to the fact that the 32-bit local bus used by VLB cards allows for several times more data throughput between the card and the processor than ISA allows. VLB has however had its own share of problems. In particular, VLB video cards may cause reliability problems in motherboards running at 40 or 50 MHz.

Many VLB cards are very good performers, but are hampered by their general age, along with that of the motherboards they run in; most are at least four years old and new development of better and faster chipsets is entirely in the PCI world now. Still, despite the fact that VLB is older than PCI, it can provide quite acceptable performance (although probably fewer features and less video memory). VLB is much closer to PCI than it is to ISA. Any system that will support VLB should be using it for the video card; the performance improvement over ISA is substantial in most cases.

Note: VESA Local Bus video is generally limited to 486 PCs (or other motherboards that use a fourth-generation processor). The vast majority of Pentiums and later PCs use PCI (or AGP) and do not support VLB at all, although there are some very old Pentium systems that are VLB-based.

The PC Guide
Site Version: 2.2.0 – Version Date: April 17, 2001
© Copyright 1997-2004 Charles M. Kozierok. All Rights Reserved.

This is an archive of Charles M. Kozierok’s PCGuide (pcguide.com) which disappeared from the internet in 2018. We wanted to preserve Charles M. Kozierok’s knowledge about computers and are permanently hosting a selection of important pages from PCGuide.

Hard Drive Spindle Speed

As hard disks become more advanced, virtually every component in them is required to do more and work harder, and the spindle motor is no exception. As discussed in detail here, increasing the speed at which the platters spin improves both positioning and transfer performance: the data can be read off the disk faster during sequential operations, and rotational latency–the time that the heads must wait for the correct sector number to come under the head–is also reduced, improving random operations. For this reason, there has been a push to increase the speed of the spindle motor, and more than at any other time in the past, hard disk spin speeds are changing rapidly.

At one time all PC hard disks spun at 3,600 RPM; in fact, for the first 10 years of the PC’s existence, that was all there was. One reason for this is that their designs were based on the old designs of large, pre-PC hard disks that used AC motors, and standard North American AC power is 60 Hz per second: 3,600 RPM. In the early 1990s manufacturers began to realize how much performance could be improved by increasing spindle speeds. The next step up from 3,600 RPM was 4,500 RPM; 5,400 RPM soon followed and became a standard for many years. From there speeds have steadily marched upwards. Usually, faster PC hard disk speeds “debut” on SCSI drives that are used in higher-performance applications, and then filter down to IDE/ATA a few years later. At one time 7,200 RPM spindles were only found on top-of-the-line SCSI drives; they are now being used in consumer IDE/ATA disks sold at retail while SCSI has moved on to loftier heights. This table shows the most common PC spindle speeds, their associated average rotational latency, and their typical applications as of early 2000:

Spindle Speed (RPM)Average Latency (Half Rotation) (ms)Typical Current Applications
3,6008.3Former standard, now obsolete
4,5006.7IBM Microdrive, laptops
5,4005.6Low-end  IDE/ATA, laptops
7,2004.2High-end IDE/ATA, Low-end SCSI
10,0003.0High-end SCSI
12,0002.5High-end SCSI
15,0002.0Top-of-the-line SCSI

Note: Hard disks for laptops and specialty applications come in a wide variety of spindle speeds, even beyond the several speeds listed above. I have not exhaustively researched and listed these here.

Increasing spindle motor speed creates many design challenges, particularly aimed at keeping vibration and heat under control. As discussed here, when the motor spins faster these become more of an issue; some high-end drives have very serious heat, vibration and noise problems that require special mounting and cooling work to allow them to run without problems. To some extent, there is a trade off between spindle speed, and the heat and noise issue. Engineers generally focus on keeping these matters under control, and usually improve them significantly after the first generation of drives at any given spindle speed. However, in some applications, using a slower and quieter drive can make sense.

The PC Guide
Site Version: 2.2.0 – Version Date: April 17, 2001
© Copyright 1997-2004 Charles M. Kozierok. All Rights Reserved.

This is an archive of Charles M. Kozierok’s PCGuide (pcguide.com) which disappeared from the internet in 2018. We wanted to preserve Charles M. Kozierok’s knowledge about computers and are permanently hosting a selection of important pages from PCGuide.

VLB for x86

VESA Local Bus (VLB)

The first local bus to gain popularity, the VESA local bus (also called VL-Bus or VLB for short) was introduced in 1992. VESA stands for the Video Electronics Standards Association, a standards group that was formed in the late eighties to address video-related issues in personal computers. Indeed, the major reason for the development of VLB was to improve video performance in PCs.

The VLB is a 32-bit bus which is in a way a direct extension of the 486 processor/memory bus. A VLB slot is a 16-bit ISA slot with third and fourth slot connectors added on the end. The VLB normally runs at 33 MHz, although higher speeds are possible on some systems. Since it is an extension of the ISA bus, an ISA card can be used in a VLB slot, although it makes sense to use the regular ISA slots first and leave the (small number of) VLB slots open for VLB cards, which won’t work in an ISA slot of course. Use of a VLB video card and I/O controller greatly increases system performance over an ISA-only system.

While VLB was extremely popular during the reign of the 486, with the introduction of the Pentium and its PCI local bus in 1994, wholesale abandonment of the VLB began in earnest. While Intel pushing PCI was one reason why this happened, there were also several key problems with the VLB implementation. First, the design was strongly based on the 486 processor, and adapting it to the Pentium caused a host of compatibility and other problems. Second, the bus itself was tricky electrically; for example, the number of cards that could be used on the bus was low (often only two or even one), and occasionally there could be timing problems on the bus when more than one card was used. Finally, the bus did not support bus mastering properly since there was no good arbitration scheme, and did not support Plug and Play.

Today VLB is obsolete for new systems; even the latest 486 motherboards use PCI, and all Pentiums and higher use PCI. However, these systems do still offer reasonable performance, and are now plentiful and very inexpensive–if you can still find them.

The PC Guide
Site Version: 2.2.0 – Version Date: April 17, 2001
© Copyright 1997-2004 Charles M. Kozierok. All Rights Reserved.

This is an archive of Charles M. Kozierok’s PCGuide (pcguide.com) which disappeared from the internet in 2018. We wanted to preserve Charles M. Kozierok’s knowledge about computers and are permanently hosting a selection of important pages from PCGuide.