Low budget PC revamp

SLOW

The PC was becoming slow and windows 7 was getting taller after all the updates and applications, it is a 4 core i5 running at 3,5 GHz with 4 Gb DDR3 and a geforce GT 450 graphics card. The 1 Tb disk that I got in 2011 is not the problem, it is running fine (and defragmented). It was time to revamp the PC:

  • Replace the system fan, any 3 or 4 pin 120 by 120 mm fan will do, the old system fan started to make noise and also, the PC was collecting dust. All dust (it was the size of a fist almost) removed with compressed air and a dust devil.
  • Replace the 4Gb DDR by 16Gb DDR (please read the motherboard documentation on what this board can handle and what they recommend) This gives a significant boost to Windows 7, the 4Gb was ok in 2011 but nowadays I do things with SDR software that make it slower, the 16 Gb prevents that the pagefile is used, probably 8 Gb DDR 3 would have been sufficient already.
  • Add a 256 Gb solid state drive (SSD) to the motherboard, you need a 3,5 inch bracket, a free power plug, a SATA cable and some tie wraps. Also here, 128 Gb may have been sufficient. My tendency is to buy things somewhat larger than that you really need them. Need them means need now, and in 5 years you need more because all applications and operating systems get taller.
  • Please ground the PC and wear a electrostatic wrist band when you do all this, most components have an ECC protection but I wasn’t planning to challenge it. Especially the DDR3 ram boards are delicate.

And here are the software changes:

  • Tell Microsoft ReadyBoost to use the SSD, and wow, what a difference! It would be good to put the original C disk on the SSD, but that would require some more planning.
  • Configure the virtual memory to use the SSD, so the pagefile goes to the SSD, google for it how to do this.
  • Move the google chrome cache directory to the SSD, google for it how to do this.
  • Check the Windows 7 updates and run a microsoft tool to repair the database, google for it how to do this.
  • Run CCleaner, only remove files you can delete for now. CCleaner is free and mostly safe, ignore all the ads until you find it. (Some call it bloatware, could be because if you don’t watch what you are doing you suddenly get avast as well, I didn’t ask for this guys).
  • Remove several unused applications to speed it up
  • Move the search index location to the SSD, rebuild the search index overnight.
  • Software updates and disk defragmentation (and more) is already running every week.

After this treatment the PC runs significantly faster than before, you spend roughly 200 euros and you avoid buying a new PC, so all together it is a low budget solution.

However

You should be aware that upgrading an 8 year old PC is not without risk, my last thought was, let me replace the CMOS battery, it is old so maybe it should be replaced, this turned out to be a bad idea, because after I replaced it windows 7 startup crashed on the infamous “blue screen of death“. Someone from Microsoft with a blue screen of death on the background, all news crews where there, good for a few million hits on youtube and some cheers and boos. What happens is that the startup procedure does not recognize some hardware change. And these bugs are very hard to find, my recommendation is, have the video on standby and look why it crashed. If it is a hidclass.sys crash then you may be lucky because either the keyboard or mouse could have caused it.

Try the original Windows 7 SP1 (or whatever edition you had) installation disk, and see whether you get something to work. But even that resulted in the blue screen of death. Reinstall windows 7 maybe again (please avoid this on hindsight)? And still the blue screen of death was coming back even after I had excluded all possible hardware failures (ran without the graphics card, a Getech GT 450, without a USB expander, without the new SSD, it simply did not matter.) The PC was about as useless as a dead puppy and you want to bring it away. Maybe a busted mother board, no, because a separate partition with Ubuntu would simply boot, it had to be something more fundamental, like:

THE MOUSE

Yes you read that right, a wireless Logitech mouse which was causing the problem because the original Windows 7 developers had no driver for it. Replace this by the oldest mouse there is (like a PS2 mouse or a wired USB mouse), and the blue screen of death suddenly disappears.

At this point I’m dealing with a smoothly running windows 7 PC with almost 200 updates installed. Once that stops you have a windows.old directory with all user files from the previous installation, a backup disk (I hope), and a NAS. A new installation is also (once in a while) a healthy idea. Everything runs faster, ditch a bootleg office version and replace it by OpenOffice which also works and migrate the user files from windows.old back to the new user desktops and document libraries. If necessary restore from your backup disk. (Buy them as large as you get them, the 3 to 4 Tb disks are reasonably priced).

Forget all suggestions like, maybe you should have done this, you should have done that, because all many of those suggestions are probably not an option for you. Install windows 10? NO! Why no? Because I already know that this motherboard and graphics card / disk / memory configuration will probably not pass the tests that you have to run before you install Windows 10. If we talk about windows 10, then we talk about a new motherboard, a new graphics card, and god may know what else. You talk about a new PC in my opinion. Maybe the consideration to go to Windows 10 could come when there are no more security updates for this operating system., and, when the environment you live in does not allow you to run an insecure OS. Reality is that your router/switch/modem/access point is keeping the banalities of internet out of your LAN, behind the router there are different rules.

At some point you reach the final verdict, which is when I update my blog. The PC now runs backup, a boinc project in the background, listens to SDRconsole, and that all  without memory starvation which was clearly the cause for slowness in the old situation. I thought it was worth the investment, just saved 6 to 800 Euro by not buying new PC which would have been the kneejerk reaction after blue screens of death when you return the installation disk.

Restore

Finally you restore the windows.old directory into the new location for all users, install the required software again, and made a backup. Make sure that the name of the new computer differs from what you had, so that the backup does not run into a conflict. After you moved things into the new location you can clean up whatever what was left from the old windows installation. Start making backups and a recovery disk as soon as possible. Altogether it takes almost one weekend to revamp and recover.

Last update: 27-jan-2019 20:41

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