Wednesday, September 03, 2008

34. Guide to New Laptop Inspection...and Beyond!

By: Matthewrs Rahl

Disclaimer: I take no accountability to anything that might occur to you or anything that either exists, does not exists, never will exist, nor has ever existed, regardless of the time stream that you are partaking in, when utilizing this guide. With that said I must admit I haven't done most of this myself. But, I'm compiling what I've read all over the net (particularly NBR) and felt this was a good line of thought to follow. So, feel free to brutalize every single one of my statements and offer up more suggestions. This way we can have a KILLER guide for people with new computers...


The Purpose of this Guide...
So, you just got a new laptop? Congratulations! But before you boot-up that bad boy you might want to take a moment to look over this beast you'll be spending every waking moment of your nerdom with. Got your attention? Alright then, let's go!


You Just Received Your NEW Notebook!...
1. Carefully unpackage the laptop and all guides/cds/components/etc.
In case your computer has problems, you want to be able to ship it back hassle free and not be held liable for those unorthodox ripping/tearing motions you dub "opening". For those of you willing (<5%),>

2. Carefully inspect your notebooks exterior (front, back, top, bottom, sides).
If you discover any scratches/dents/sharp-edges/loose-screws/etc, then you may want to consider returning the laptop before proceeding any further. Take this moment to also press down gently, but firmly, all around the laptop. You want to do this to verify the integrity of your laptops chassis. It shouldn't give-in or creak excessively. You should do this particularly around the palmrest/keyboard.

3. Slowly (repeat: SLOWLY!) operate the mechanism to raise the lid of your laptop, thus exposing the screen/keyboard. Carefully inspect the screen/bezel/frame/keys for anything out of the ordinary. Take a moment to press on the keys (excluding the power button) to make sure they operate properly.
If you discover any broken-keys/scratches/dents/sharp-edges/etc, then you may want to consider returning the laptop before proceeding any further. You want to open the lid slowly, otherwise you might weaken the hinges, thus setting yourself up for warranty problems.

4. Smack yourself in the face if you didn't spend at least 10 minutes doing the above three steps.
This is because you were probably foolish and rushed through it. Ideally, you should spend 15-20 minutes doing the above steps.


Time To Power On...
1. Place your laptop on a smooth flat surface (e.g. a table) and plug your power adapter into the wall outlet and then into your computers power port.
[i]Give your notebooks battery at least 5 minutes to charge up, before moving on to the next step.

2. Rejoice as you press the power button for the first time! Keep an eye out for any "out of the ordinary" messages during the boot-up sequence, you'll recognize it immediately if you have this great misfortune.
Rejoice as you watch the OS boot the fastest you've ever seen it boot! Not just because it's the first time you've boot it up, but because it will likely never ever boot-up this fast ever again!

3. Follow the simple steps of account creation and proceed with caution.
Caution, as you should be wary of accidentally allowing your computer to connect to the internet or registering your laptop prematurely.


What To Do About Hardware
1. Make certain you got the hardware specs you ordered.
--For windows users. Right click "My Computer" and select "Properties". It will show your processor/ram info right there. Now, select the "Hardware" tab on top and click the button "Device Manager". Now, just scan through the items and compare it to your receipt.
--Aida32 = awesome freeware for Windows XP and below (it may work with Vista, but I'm not certain). This is like the “Device Manager”, but MUCH more detailed (e.g. it includes serial #s and firmware for the BIOS). Unfortunately, the software is a bit out of date (it was discontinued in 2004) and is no longer hosted on the main website. Fortunately, you can download it from either here or here.
This software can directly link you to the manufacturer’s page for the device (or firmware) you select for more information. It even tells you interesting facts like your product key #, OS code name, # of licenses you have and so forth. This is also like “procexp” (a program that monitors and allows you to shut-down active processes, some of which your task manager does not keep track of. It is similar, but not quite the same, as “HiJackThis”) in that it tells you what processes, dlls and so forth are running (as well as where it is running and who manufactured the programs, with their available links)! You can also monitor your network and information (e.g. a hacker will be loving this aspect). The list goes on and on, so have fun and look around at the many other useful features! An added bonus with this program is that it doesn’t need to be installed, you simply run the executable whenever you need it.

2. Open up notepad or another document writing program (e.g. word) and test out every key on your keyboard.
If something doesn't show up, or a key gets stuck, or whatever, then now is the time to find out.

3. Test out the speakers/microphone/camera.
This can easily be accomplished in Windows, as sample music is provided in the "My Documents" folder. Now would be a good time to test your audio-in port, too. Just plug a headset/speaker into the headphone jack. If you have a microphone, use the "Sound Recorder" in "Programs -> Accessories -> Entertainment". Make sure you can raise/lower the sound of your speakers/microphone (using both the programs AND your buttons on the keyboard, as well as the mute button). Find something to test your video camera, too.

4. Test out the other ports/peripherals of your notebook (e.g. cd/dvd tray, hdmi port, fingerprint reader, all USB slots, firewire port, bluetooth, printer, etc (excluding ethernet port).
Try reading from the cd/dvd. Burning (if applicable) on to the cd/dvd. Transferring files from the cd/dvd. Do the same with your usb/firewire ports. Try plugging in an external monitor. Transferring a file to/from your notebook and another bluetooth enabled device. Testing your fingerprint reader. As well as any other ports/peripherals that apply to you (e.g. 7-in-1 card readers).

5. Scan your screen slowly/carefully for dead pixels.
I wouldn't do this, unless you have a dead pixel guarantee policy in place. Usually anything less than 5 dead pixels will NOT be replaced. A "No Dead Pixel" policy lasts with most resellers for approximately 30-days.
If you REALLY want to be thorough (some people on NBR are against this practice, due to the fact that once you spot a dead pixel, it is hard to NOT notice it again in the future) you may utilize a program such as DeadPixelBuddy.
You can easily do this yourself without the program, however. Just change your desktop background to Red, Green, Blue, Black, and White. Be sure to carefully scan (by eye) the screen slowly with each color. The larger your native screen resolution (e.g. 1920 x 1200 for a 17" screen) the more likely you are to locate a dead pixel (given how much more probable it is to find a dead pixel).

6. Look over your screen carefully for back light leakage.
This step is easier to do when following the steps detailed above (#5) for dead pixel screening.

7. Test your screen brightness levels.
You can do this simply by changing the brightness levels and seeing if it looks horrible on one of the settings for some odd reason. Every computer is different, but many (like the Dell Latitudes) utilize a FN+Up/Down arrow.

This is for Windows only. You can read more about this in the "Help & Support" section on Windows, by simply searching for "CHKDSK". A brief overview of CHKDSK is that is scans your harddrive for anomalies (most tech support people will tell you to run this, if you ever have suspected HDD problems).
To run CHKDSK. Go to "Run". Type in "CMD". Press Enter. Now type "CHKDSK /?" This will provide you with a list of operations and briefly describe how they work (e.g. "CHKDSK /p will run an exhaustive search of the HDD, while NOT changing anything on the HDD itself). I would recommend "CHKDSK /p", personally. Given the fact that it won't modify any of the data on your HDD and is very exhaustive (thus, time consuming) search of your HDD for errors. If it finds any, then I'd recommend trying out some of the other CHKDSK options (some repair problems). Note: If you try to use one of the CHKDSK operations that actually fixes/repairs errors, then you must close all other programs running on your computer (this is good practice for most scans you run, anyhow).

9. Harddrive Diagnostics Tools & Utilities (Storage Devices)
Your particular HDD might not be covered here as the above list is a bit outdated (if someone has a better list, please bring it to my attention). You can use these tools to make sure your HDD works.
You can try looking up the diagnostic tools & utilities directly on the manufacturers websites, too (e.g. Maxtor). Much akin to the Memtest86+ scan (I'll discuss this later on), but for the HDD, as opposed to the RAM.
You can also use Active SMART for any SMART (Self-Monitoring, Analysis & Reporting Technology) enabled HDD for a whole month (it's trial software, unfortunately). The site boasts a 70% success rate of finding HDD problems. However, I've seen some people report false-positives (meaning the program shows errors, even when there really aren't any) when using this program. So, if you get an error, I would recommend posting it on NBR to get peoples opinions on its validity and how to continue on.
You might also wish to try SANDRA (from SiSoftware Zone), you will need to have had the Windows Update for .NET Framework 2.0 (or above) installed beforehand for this to work, however. Regardless, I don't know how effective this software is (I've seen very few reviews) and it's up to you whether or not you'd like to experiment with it.
When it is all said and done, it is generally best to use the diagnostic utilities provided by the manufacturer of the HDD itself. If you're unsure of the manufacturer/model of your HDD(s), then you should check your "Device Manager", which you reach by right-clicking "My Computer", selecting "Properties", "Hardware" tab, and then "Device Manager". Then you simply take the information provided there and plug it into the greatest resource on this planet...namely Google H4x0r.


Benchmarking & Stress Testing Ahead!
0. Stress test screen refresh (hertz/fps) rate of your monitor using this link (I recommend doing this step later, unless you went against my suggestion of accessing the internet already).
WARNING: Do NOT, I repeat do NOT use that link if you have epilepsy or believe that you might have epilepsy. I'm not kidding...If your monitor can survive the constant flashing of this page and refresh quickly enough (many laptop lcds have a refresh rate of 60hertz, fyi) and didn't burn-out, then congratulations! You're unlikely to ever stress your monitor as much as you did just now. Let it run for a minute (note: If you hear a chirping sound, that is your screen slowly melting from the inside out...just kidding).

1. Test your memory with Memtest86.
You should run this for at LEAST two cycles (this will likely take a few hours, so don't be alarmed if you return in an hour to find cycle 1 is still running)! The more cycles (more time) you test it, the better! This will make for a more efficient stress test. I've heard some people stress test up to two weeks, I don't think that long is necessary. Within 1-3 days, I think you should have your answer. This test will NOT prove that you have no errors, mind you. It just shows that the memtest software couldn't FIND any errors. If you do find errors, then I urge you to read the Memtest86+ FAQ section "What do I do when I get errors?", you should not have a single error.
To use Memtest86+ you must first download the Pre-Compiled Bootable ISO (.zip for Windows & .gz for Linux) file for cd/dvd usage. Alternatively, you can download the Pre-Compiled Bootable Binary (.gz for Linux) or Pre-Compiled Package For Floppy (DOS - WIN for Windows) file for floppy usage. Then burn (copy) the ISO image on to a cd/dvd. Leave the cd/dvd in the tray and shutdown your computer. Wait a few seconds (like 20) and then power on your laptop. At this point you will want to reboot from your floppy/cd/dvd, NOT your harddrive. Memtest should run automatically at this point and you can start playing the ever-popular "waiting game". The game MUST be fun, after all, it's been around since, like, forever!
Note: If you don't have a cd/dvd-burner (or can't get it to work), then you can try looking around the web (or NBR) for things like CDBurnerXP and ISORecorder. A great post by Miner outlines how to use CDBurnerXP with Memtest86 here.
For those still confused, please read the Testing your RAM with Memtest86+ (by Orev) and the Metest86+ FAQ (by Wichetael). They will cover just about any questions you have from start to finish, better than I ever could. Also, as an additional note, do NOT run this test in any different state modes, such as standby or hibernate, as these will skew the results (contrary to popular logic, seeing as hibernate is all about RAM usage, lol). The Memtest86+ may find errors that are actually problems with the RAM ports or other aspects of your computer (e.g. processor) and the interractions between. It is also a good utility to determine how far you can take overclocking (if you're into that sick sort-of stuff ). Lastly, I shall reiteriate this point. You may have RAM problems, even if this doesn't find any problems (e.g. it doesn't always test ALL of the RAM). Also, to those warranty novices out there, RAM usually has a lifetime warranty. So, even if your "warranty" period has ended when you run this test, you can still contact the manufacturer for a replacement.

2. Hard Drive Benchmarking & Stress Testing
--HDTune (my apologies folks…I got too lazy to write this part).
--Iometer (freeware, see applicable platforms) is a nifty app. This program is a bit outdated (last updated in July of 2006), but still does what it was designed to do just fine. Unfortunately, this program is a bit complicated and can't just simply be run. If you're still interested in giving it a try, however, then read on!
Download IOmeter. Install Iometer. Run iometer (no desktop icon, btw). Just agree to all the start-up stuff. Alright, now for the fun stuff. Under “topology” you have your host name and two “workers”. Select your 1st worker and select your HDD. Change # of outstanding I/Os to 16 (default is 0). Go to the next stab “Access Specifications” and then go to “Default” and click “Edit”. Here you will have the opion of how you want to stress test the machine in particular. You can do either sequential/random or read/write. I recommend you make the “transfer request size” 64kb. Then, move the Read to 100% and Sequential to 100%. Run this for 1-3 days (at least 15 min). Then, do this again with Write 100% and Random 100%, run this again for 1-3 days (at least 15min). When you click “OK”, take the default and “<
Note: It is normal for this test to take a while to start (you may see a CMD open up that says it is “preparing” for a few HOURS, this is because it is filling up all the remaining free space on your HDD). Once all your testing is complete, you want to remove the written file (as it will REALLY write to your HDD, duh). Once it has finished “preparing” and has started the test you will be able to tell, as the “Results Display” tab will be showing everything running with blue bars. Just observe all the operations (e.g. Writes per second, Total MBs per second). You will want to post these results here on NBR (or elsewhere) to find out if the results or appropriate (or look-up the hardware specs of the HDD yourself). Once you are done, if done properly, nearly all of your HDD will be filled-up. The file that has taken all your “free space” is called “iobw.tst” and will be located directly on the “C:\” drive. Just go ahead and delete this file and you are back to normal.
Note: This will ONLY test your available free sectors of your HDD (nor will it damage anything existing on your computer). So, you want to run this BEFORE you install files on your computer, so it can test more of it (so, obviously, the sectors where Windows is stored, can’t be tested…sorry). (Courtesy of Tolga.US).
--For Linux users not interested in downloading any programs, try “dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/had# bs=64k count=20” or “dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/sda# bs=64k count=20” (these two codes vary depending on whether the disk is local “had#” or external “sda#”). This file “should” delete itself afterwards. This will ONLY test “writing” & “Sequential”. I do not know of any Linux commands to stress-test “Reading” and “Random”, however (sorry). You can look for yourself by getting the manual, which is “man dd”. Like I’ve said, I’m no Linux expert, lol. By any stretch of the imagination.
Note: This is NOT a great long-term stress-test, it will finish when it completes 20 times (you can make it more, however, by modifying “count=20” to something else, such as “count=300”). I would again recommend going to the manual ("man dd") and learning how to change the settings. Perhaps a kind linux-user reading this will post a response on how to do this?

3. Temps/PCMark/Etc
My sincerest apologies folks. I’ve run out of time and cannot complete this part of the guide. Perhaps another NBR user would like to take up this task for me? So as not to leave you completely without direction, I’d recommend starting off at this great guide by Gophn. Honestly, this guide is probably all you really need.

4. Battery life
Once again, my sincerest apologies folks. Time is a limited commodity these days for me. Much like before, I won’t leave you completely stranded, however. I will direct you towards using this guide (by Chrisyano), which absolutely rocks. As well as some additionally interesting battery information here, provided by MysticGolem. Hope you can find all your answers here.

5. Do the Dunk Test (courtesy of jhwyung).
WARNING: Chances are your computer isn't a gem and you should NOT attempt this test...It would certainly be a "keeper" if it survived this test, however.


Additional Thoughts...Beyond Inspection...
1. Clean Install
Without a doubt, I'm sure some of you are wondering why I didn't include a "clean install" or "reformating" guide. Due to all the bloatware most OEMs will put on your computer (along with the required Windows OS). This path will remove bloatware, but can just be uninstalled if you take the time to remove it. Some things will obviously still partially remain (such as registry keys), but if you follow a good guide like this (by Barry J. Doyle), you can hopefully be rid of most of the gunk and remain worry free about doing anything too technical.
If you'd like to go down this semi-difficult path however, then I recommend you read the Clean Vista Install Guide (by Orev). Orevs guide is a bit more difficult/technical than it has to be, however, so for the less technologically-inclined, you might appreciate this guide (by Stallen, also for Vista OS) more, as it also includes driver download information.
Don't worry, I didn't forget about you Win XP users, either. You can find an installation guide here (courtesy of E.B.E.)

2. Undervolting
Undervolting is when you decreased the amount of energy (electricity) into certain aspects of your computer. This is often practiced on the GPU. Undervolting will NOT harm your machine. However, if undervolted TOO much it will cause random crashes/errors (like BSODs) to occur. This is easily fixed, however, as you can just undo or lessen the amount of undervolting you attempted. Undervolting is particularly practiced on Nvidia GPUs, as they often have a "standard" amount of electricity they use on all the models. Thus, making for some very staggering benefits of undervolting them. The reason to undervolt includes...reduced electricity (being more "Green"), saving money (on electricity), increasing battery life, decreasing heat in laptop (thus, increasing the life expectancy of all the parts of your laptop), and due to reduced heat your fans may not need to turn on (or, at least not run at maximum) making your machine more silent. Best of all undervolting does NOT void your warranty and is FREE to attempt and is EASILY done (and EASILY reversible, too, so long as you do it through software). I recommend reading the Undervolting Guide (by FlipFire), it is very straightforward and should work for even the most novice laptop user here.

3. Overclocking & Underclocking
This is not a practice I recommend and it WILL void the warranties of most OEMs like Dell & HP. Some who aren't voided, however, are Falcon North West, XoticPC, and PowerNoteBooks. Overclocking will also reduce the life expectancy of the hardware it is being used on (usually the GPU, RAM and CPU). It could fry the hardware almost immediately, if done improperly. However, the benefits of overclocking are increased performance from the part your OC'd. So, if you were "skimping" on hardware on a new computer and want to "boost" its performance, this might be for you.
You might wish to look at the Overclocking Guide (by PatrickR), which goes into greater detail about how overclocking works and how to do it for yourself. It is argued by many that you can OC a little bit without harming your computer, but I don't share their sentiment. I'd personally use OCing at the end of my lappys life (before I buy a new one), if I were to ever do it at all. Not really a "New Laptop" concept now is it? There are plenty of other Overclocking Guides on NBR, such as this (by Leon) and this (by Ikovac). Just look around.
In regards to underclocking, this has the exact opposite effect of overclocking (except, it still will likely void the warranty). Another approach that one could attempt, without underclocking or voiding warranties, is to "turn off" the higher-end multipliers for particular hardware parts (e.g. the gpu). This thinking is very similar to undervolting, with one main difference. When undervolting, the user is LOWERING the voltage (electricity) used to run a particular multiplier. When underclocking, the user DISABLES the higher-level multipliers, thus never using that high of a voltage. Truth is, if you plan to underclock, you might as well undervolt in combination (for additive benefits), as the same software can often be used to implement both tactics. I'd recommend going back to The Undervolting Guide (by Flipfire), and just using the information I provided you with to "disable" the multipliers while you are at it. The guide will also explain to you what "multipliers" really are at the top of section #4

4. Notebook Cooling Solutions
A good laptop is a cool laptop (both thermally and cosmetically). In regards to thermal output, this is something we want to reduce as possible, without the use of Liquid Nitrogen (which, appears to be very popular with a small sect of NBR members, lol). I'd recommend starting with NBR Cooling Central (by X2P), as well as the Guide To Cooling Down Your Notebook (by Chaz). If you are still having heat problems (and, honestly, you shouldn't be having any with a new computer, unless you built it yourself or ordered something particularly exotic or high-end), then check out the Notebook Coolers Guide (by X2P again!).

5. Battery Longevity Guide
Given the fact that laptops are meant to be portable, we often don't have the luxury of "plugging it in" while on the go. In these instances we find our selves completely dependent upon our batteries. The longer the battery lasts, the happier we are with the laptop and the less pressure we feel to have to "wrap something up" or save file quickly or having to check the battery power left every 5-10 minutes. That is where the Notebook Battery Guide (by Chrisyano) comes in. This guide is brilliant and quite straight-forward, while not going into the science of batteries (I could actually explain some of it to you, but do you really care? ).

6. Traveling Guide *In Progress*
You got a notebook for portability, am I right? If so, then check out theNoteBook Traveling Guide, unless you aren't interested in traveling in style, while avoiding injuring your new lappy and developing aches and pains from those amongst you carrying heavy DR laptops (like the Clevo D901c...12lb+, not counting the 2lb+ powerBRICK and HDDs). I wish I could say it was completed, but unfortunately members such as myself and Xirurg will just have to keep trying to mentally push him through meer thought to hurry up and finish the darn thing! Lol.

7. Fun Tweaks
I'm not even going to describe this, I'd never be able to do it justice... Check out the Vista Tips & Tweaks Guide (compiled by Les) IMMEDIATLY! You can also find some more fun additional tweak here (the particular one I linked to can modify your WEI Score [Win Vista users only], to make people think your computer is more uber than it really is)!

8. Free Software (freeware!)
Who doesn't like freeware, right? Go check out the Best Free Software for Windows (by Calvin). As well as Linux Alternatives to Software (by Calvin, again!). I use a lot of the programs listed on there (I discovered this great list months/years after I had discoverd them on my own, lol) and I recommend it to anyone looking for high quality programs that work for free. Go check it out! Also, be sure to pick up the obvious security software (virus, malware, trojan, etc), before connecting to the internet (install w/ updated definitions to a cd/dvd/usb/diskette and install before-hand).

Boot CD
For those who'd like a Boot CD in case of the inevitable, try this guide. It covers a lot of others stuff, too. I recommend his guide, assuming you have lots of stuff you want to boot-up from. Personally, I just use the regulars Windows boot-cd in combination with a list of installers (I keep all the installations of programs I like in .zip & .rar format) on a seperate external hard drive. This way. This way, if I ever change something around that I don't want, I don't have to make a whole new boot cd. It's all a matter of preference, really.

Terminology For Those Eager Too Learn, But Still Lost...
HDD = Hard Drive/Disk
SSD = Solid State Device/Disk
PSU = Power Supply Unit
CPU = Central Processing Unit (i.e. the processor)
GPU = Graphical Processing Unit (i.e. the graphics card)
RAM = Random Access Memory (you can never have too much, but you can certainly have too little)
LCD = Liquid Crystal Display (i.e. the laptop monitor, can be either glossy or matte)
Chassis = The "box" your hardware fits inside of to form your laptop.
Keyboard/Mouse = Come on now...seriously? Lol
UV = UnderVolting (See #2 above)
OC = OverClocking (See #3 above)
BSOD = Blue Screen Of Death (something many people see when hardware malfunctions, forcing the user to shutdown the computer right there and then, provided it doesn't do so automatically on its own)
ODM = Original Design Manufacturer. ODM companies (like Clevo, Compal, Asus, Quanta, etc) create and produce the chassis of computers for OEMs. These barebones are often the physical bottleneck of the computer
OEM = Original Equipment Manufacturer. OEM companies (like Dell/Alienware, HP/Voodoo, Sager, etc) are often referred to as resellers/retailers. As they are the ones responsible for putting together the barebones (provided by the ODMs) with the other components necessary to make a fully functional computer (such as the gpu, RAM, hdd, etc) and then market it to people. They do NOT generally build any components of the computers, they simply assemble them.
Barebones = A barebones set-up need only come with a chassis, but often times also comes with the motherboard and PSU, too
Bottleneck/Choking Point = This is the aspect of the computer, which prevents its unbound potential. It's "weakest link", as many would call it. For example, if you wanted to play a really intensive First-Person Shooter like Crysis, you'd probably get the best graphics card, sound card, screen, ram, processor, harddrive and so forth that you could get your hands. Once you got the best of the best in every category your computer will totally own least for the first five minutes. After that, your computer would likely BSOD due to an overwhelming amount of heat. In this case, the thermal budget was too high for all the components and the culprit of this is likely the ODMs chassis being unable to support the parts. Another bottleneck can be a weak component. For example, try running Windows Vista with <256mb>OS = Operating System
Windows/MAC/Linux = The three most well-known OS platforms.
App = Application
OP = Original Poster (short-hand when referring to the creator of the thread you are reading, when the poster is too lazy to take 5 seconds and spell out the users name )
DR Laptop = Desktop Replacement Laptop (17"+ sized monitors on laptops. The performance of which often rivals that of the best desktops out there...and weighs nearly as much as one, too!)

Thanks for all the Fish!
Just wanted to give a big thanks to all the members of NBR to whom I could never have finished this guide without. If not for you men and women, well, I'd be some sort of kook twiddling away countless hours online talking to my imagination. Huh? Crazy talk-who-wha?
As well as a big thanks to Tolga who helped me with the Linux aspects of this guide, as well as suggesting the Aida32 & Iometer software for usage in this guide.

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