Ask Rick Maybury 2012



Ask Rick 215 28/07/12


Buy Before You Fly?

My daughter is going to Australia for two years and I would like to buy her a laptop as a going away present.  Should I buy one in the UK before she goes or give her the money to get one in Australia?  She will be using it for work and personal use, keeping in touch with family and friends via e-mail and Skype.

Michael Duffy, by email


A quick check of Australian price comparison web sites suggests that laptops in Oz cost roughly the same as the UK but even if they were cheaper the general advice would still be to buy before you fly. Hopefully your generosity will extend to funding any software she might need on her travels, and she will be able to familiarise herself with it, set up the PC and get used to things like Wi-Fi configuration before she goes. If a new PC is going to fail it is most likely to do so in the first few hours or days after purchase, so it’s a good idea to get that out of the way before she sets off. You should shortlist models from the major brands as they usually have global warranties and Australian dealer and service network, just in case. One last thought, Australian PCs use the US keyboard layout, with no £ sign and several frequently used keys are transposed, so with a UK keyboard there are no new tricks to learn, and no problems re-adapting when she returns. 



Order Of The Boot

I have recently come across a problem on my Windows 7 laptop. The computer will not boot if I have any USB devices plugged in, no matter what they are or which port I use. I get a grey screen with the message ‘Hit escape key to enter boot menu’. I have to disconnect all USB plugs and devices, switch off, disconnect the battery, reconnect the battery and power supply and then power up. This isn't a real problem as I simply now disconnect all USBs before powering up, but it is annoying. Is there a fix?

Jeremy Biggs, by email


This is a basic safety feature on laptops and PCs. The idea is if Windows is corrupted or the hard drive fails the computer can still be booted from a recovery CD/DVD or USB drive. At switch on PCs run through a short self-diagnostic program called the BIOS (Basic Input Output System). One of its functions is to tell the computer where to look for boot files. Usually the CD/DVD or USB drive is first, and if no files are found it boots normally from the hard drive and loads Windows. The solution is to change the Boot Order so the hard drive is the first boot device. The option to ‘hit esc…’ lets you change the order for that session but the setting may not be saved for next time. To make the change permanent you have to open the BIOS program. When you switch the PC on a message should flash up on the screen, something like ‘press F2 or F11 to enter Start Up’. If not there should be instructions on how to access the BIOS in the manual or on the manufacturer’s web site. Once the BIOS program opens look for the Boot menu; there should be some simple instruction on how to change the boot order. Make the hard drive the first boot device, followed by the CD/DVD drive and then USB or external drive. Save the change, Exit the BIOS and restart the computer.



False Memories

On my laptop, when connected to the Internet, a box often appears in the bottom right hand corner of the screen, which says: 'Performance Alert - High Memory Usage by Internet Explorer'.  I am not sure what this box is telling me.  Does it mean I need another memory card?  I should say that we only use the laptop for emails and the Internet.

Sue Pattison, by email


That message is probably coming from your anti-virus program and AVG and Norton are amongst the worst offenders. Web browsers do use a lot of memory resources and usually it is nothing to worry about. Providing you are not experiencing serious slow downs or freezes in normal operation the simplest thing to do is disable the warning. In AVG go to Tools > Advance Settings > Appearance and uncheck Display AVG advisor performance notifications. In Norton go to Misc settings > Settings > Performance Monitoring and set the Resource Threshold Profile for Alerting to ‘High’.



Building Sites

I would love to build a computer and I understand the basics, but lack the in-depth technical knowledge to construct a computer that is sure work first time.

Steve Burley, by email


Providing you know which end of a screwdriver to hold assembling your own desktop PC is really very easy; we even published plans for two DIY computers in The Daily Telegraph, most recently in 2006 (see Boot Camp 436 to 441 at: Hundreds were built and I suspect quite a few of them, mine included, are still in regular use. Needless to say the DT Mk 2 is now a bit dated and some of the parts are no longer available. However, the basic principles haven’t changed. Nowadays there’s a greater degree of standardisation and part selection is less of a problem as more component sellers supply CPU, motherboard and memory bundles, which remove all of the guesswork and trawling through specs sheets. The hardest decision is choosing the most appropriate CPU for the applications you’ll be using, though this only gets tricky if you are aiming to put together a high performance games or graphics machine. There are plenty of on-line resources and lots of good basic advice (see, Do not expect to save any money though, especially when you factor in the cost of a copy of Windows (though Linux is an excellent free option), but it’s well worth the effort and expense and there’s the immense satisfaction of turning an inert collection of parts into a working computer.



© R. Maybury 2012 0907


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