My PC & Upgrade Options

The Problem

The RAM usage by my computer has gone almost continuously to 96%. Performance has ground to a halt as the machine thrashes about, swapping virtual memory in and out. I have begun to search for a RAM upgrade. In addition the CPU and to a lesser extent the motherboard have begun to show their age.

Current Configuration

Motherboard Gigabyte GA-880GM-UD2H (rev 1.0)
CPU AMD Athlon II x2 250
RAM 4GB DDR3

The motherboard was released in the spring of 2010. The mobo, CPU, and RAM were all purchased at the same time, most likely in the summer or fall of 2010.

I have decided to use this machine as a server, perhaps with FreeNAS, or NAS4Free.

Evaluate & Repair a Laptop

A friend loaned me his laptop to repair and/or diagnose. The laptop doesn’t power on.

Information/Resources

Before attempting repair, some intelligence gathering is in order:

HP Pavilion dv5215us

DC adapter

DC Adapter specifications
HP Part# 380467-003
HP Spare 381090-001 HP-OK065B13 LF
in/out Voltage Current
input 100-240 VAC ~1.7A 50-60Hz
output 18.5 VDC 3.5A 63W

AC power cord (for DC adapter)

Testing

Isolation of the failed component is the next task. Given the complaint, failure in the following are possibilities:

  • AC power cord
  • DC adapter/cord assembly
  • laptop’s power jack
  • laptop power system
  • laptop battery (possibly shorted)
Action Observation
I verified the existence of the power problem by trying to start the computer with the included adapter. The computer failed to power up.

I noticed that the unloaded power adapter is cool to the touch. (Since adapters typically radiate waste energy as heat this could indicate a failure in the AC power cord or the adapter itself.)

I then began to isolate various components. Special thanks go to the friendly staff at the local Radio Shack, who provided the multimeter and the test power supply.
Multimeter readings were taken from the DC adapter. The AC power cable tested OK.
The DC adapter failed to deliver any power.
An aftermarket power adapter was connected.
  • fan started and then stopped
  • indicator LEDs lit up (and stayed lit)
  • no POST or video output on the LCD screen of any kind

A search determined two likely causes of the failed boot/video:

  • loose hardware component (typically RAM or hard drive)
  • bad motherboard

Diagnosis

  • The AC power cord is OK.
  • The DC adapter/cord assembly has failed. (as suspected)

Data Recovery

There’s a possibility I will be unable to either determine the cause or find a solution to the laptop’s problems.

I plan to give my friend various options to recover their data.

Camera Shopping

I’m in the process of shopping for a new camera to replace the Canon SX100 IS I received for use on my 2008 trip to Israel. I “planted” it somewhere and now I desire a new one. My father has a Nikon CoolPix P510, which I adore.

Currently I have two digital cameras, both built into other devices:

I’ve compared several cameras on Digital Photography Review.
In addition, I previously looked up models marked as a “Best Buy” on Consumer Reports‘ web site for digital cameras.

The following are CR Best Buys:

  • Nikon CoolPix L820
  • Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS8
  • Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS15
  • Nikon CoolPix L610

The following is marked as Recommended on CR :

  • Nikon CoolPix P520 (successor to the model my father has)

In light of my finances, my father has also recommended less expensive models:

  • Olympus VR-340
  • Olympus VR-320
  • Olympus FE-4030
  • Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX78
  • Fujifilm FinePix JX500
  • Fujifilm FinePix T400
  • Fujifilm FinePix AX500

Transcoding DVD images for Raspbmc

I had several DVD ISO images I wished to view on my Raspberry Pi. Raspbmc claims to support playing MPEG streams from such an image. However this is only possible on a local device; a file hosted on a network server is the exception. One solution is quite simple. Transcode the title to a format that is supported, in this case, H.264. A side-effect of this technique is that you can avoid the licensing fee for the Pi’s MPEG-2 hardware decoder. The MPEG-4 H.264 hardware decoder built-in to the Raspberry Pi is freely accessible.

Please note that DVD copy-protection techniques interfere with many, if not all, transcoders. The ISO images I used were “ripped” using MacTheRipper, which strips the CSS encoding.

The transcoder I chose to use is Handbrake. This includes many video filters which, if used correctly, can enhance and clean up the image.