I have already upgraded my desktop, bought Jacob a new laptop, and bought new office furniture. Seems like I’m already set up. Why am I futzing with an old laptop now?
So I have a strange history with laptops. Back in about 2000 or so, I was convinced what I wanted was a small laptop with no CD/DVD drive, basic memory, decent battery life, small footprint. NOBODY sold them. The closest I could find was a Sony Vaio model, not sure which one, but the price was close to $2K. Because it was super slick and portable, the price was high. Which is frustrating, right? I’m looking at laptops that are close in size, but they have a DVD crammed in it which adds weight. I wanted “less” but would have to pay more? I thought about “removing” it manually, just using the rest, but I wasn’t that brave. I even reached out to David Pogue who was then the NYTimes tech reviewer, and said, “Is there ANYTHING out there like what I want?”.
And the simple answer was no. The curve was toward desktop replacements so companies were putting in larger hard drives, full DVD burners, larger screens, more memory, and bigger keyboards. Eventually, I bought a basic unit, used it for a few years, still have it but will be purging it, likely soon. I can’t remember if I ever put LINUX on it to try to reduce the overhead, I forget, but it is way too slow to use currently.
NetBooks exploded onto the scene about 7-8 years later. Exactly what I had been looking for originally. I bought an Acer One at one point, used it for a while, and put Linux on it at some point to lower the overhead and improve the speed. Back when you could go to coffee shops, this was the small portable computer that I would take. I thought I would write my first novel on it. But I find it slow and clunky. By the time it boots, I’m already through a hot chocolate and a muffin. It never sang to me, to be honest.
Eventually I bought the new HP model I have now, 15″ screen, and it has served me VERY well over the years. I’ve had it about 6 years I think, and it runs full Windows. It has a larger screen and I have used it instead of my desktop on quite a few occasions. For the last 5 years, it has been my basement computer when I was watching movies or TV shows, streaming tons of stuff.
But back in late June or early July, I found it was acting up a bit.
Dun, dun, dun
I had tried to connect it to something, and it hadn’t worked. I didn’t think much of it, assumed it was some wireless glitch while trying to connect from the basement, and I just emailed myself the files through the wired network. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.
But then we went to the cottage in July and I tried to connect my phone to the Rogers hotspot. It wouldn’t connect. Well, no problem, I hadn’t planned on using it anyway, I have a hotspot option on my phone and 20GB of data, I was covered. Except it wouldn’t connect to the phone either. I fought with the settings, tried everything I could think of, it would not activate the wireless connection. I even had the latest drivers, I *knew* I did, and when I came back, I played with it some more while maintaining a full ethernet connection. No joy in Mudville.
But the problem felt a bit familiar.
A few months ago, I had a huge problem with the video driver not letting me use the built-in webcam. Since I don’t use it normally, I had disabled it long ago, and had NO idea how to reenable it. I tried about 20 different places in the laptop to tweak the setting to turn it back on, and I was about to go nuclear when I finally found a setting buried in a totally different part of the setup. Ah, gotta love/hate the old Windows menus. Although, in equal honesty, part of the problem was the naming convention the laptop was using, it gave it some ridiculous name that didn’t look ANYTHING like a webcam or even a camera at all. Kind of like trying to fix a doohickey when the thing is labelled thingamabob. 🙂
But this problem with the wifi feels/felt really similar. Is it possible that I had accidentally done something to the setting and I just can’t figure out what? It certainly wasn’t something I would disable. And the laptop works fine on ethernet, just no wireless. It’s possible over the years it has been bumped enough times that something has come loose, or it just went kaput. But there is the nuclear option first.
The laptop has one really sweet feature that I find is not as common as it should be in laptops, or even big PCs. Like a tablet or phone, it has an option built-in that you can use to reset it back to factory settings. Three keyswipes, that’s it, and it will literally WIPE everything and load a fresh but old version of Windows on to the machine. Plus a lot of bloatware for HP, but well, you can’t have rainbows. And it will be set up exactly as it was on the day I first activated it, having done a full reset for both hardware and software.
Given that I just removed a ton of stuff from my main system by doing the upgrade and blowing off a lot of old stuff I don’t need anymore, the nuclear option was attractive. I just had to move all the data off of it onto a portable USB hard drive at speeds that tortoises would mock. My lord it was slow. It probably took about 4 hours for it to transfer everything. And while I was at it, I decided to uninstall a bunch of software just in case the reset didn’t go cleanly. I basically rolled it back to almost new anyway.
Then 3 keystrokes, confirmed I wanted to do this, and sat back and waited. It took about 30 minutes for it to complete the wipe and then I had to give it the “test”.
The post-nuclear test
It was connected by ethernet and it found everything it wanted during setup. It even went off to the internet, found a few updates, downloaded those too, and was away to the races. Eventually whatever websites it was using will be dead, like a MySpace installer, but for this attempt, they all still worked just fine.
I booted up Internet Explorer, loaded Google, ran a test search, all good. Then I pulled up wifi, connected to my hotspotted iPhone (it couldn’t find ANY other networks even though my phone can find dozens in the neighbourhood, so it’s range is limited), and loaded Google again with the ethernet cable unplugged.
Yep, all fixed. I’m assuming the webcam is working again too but haven’t actually tried that yet. In the meantime, my laptop is shiny and new. Not fast, it was NEVER fast, but a lot of accumulated crud is gone. I will have to spend some time removing some other bloat stuff (One month of McAfee? Trials of Evernote? HP suppliers for ink? Game links? Bye bye!) but it’s working.
Today I choose to nuke my laptop and revert it back to its default settings so I can configure it for its new life as a more portable machine for me around the house. My laptop is untethered from the TV and wifi is working again, so I can use other PC units as my downstairs streamer. I might even take a Zoom call on the deck next week.
What choices are you making?