Happy 16th Birthday to me!

Well, not actually. My chronological birth month is February, and I’m the better part of four times that old. But it was on this date in 1993 that I was stabbed and left for dead on a business trip to Concord, Cailf. Surprised everybody by actually surviving.

So I decided to start counting over again.

Besides, everybody knows that your average 16 year-old knows more about tech than your average 57-year-old, right? Just ask one, he’ll tell you.

Speaking of miraculous survivals, I found a great article on installing Windows 7:

How to Install Windows and Live to Tell About It, from www.engadget.com.

Will the Real Desktop Replacement Please Stand Up?

Q: We’re looking for a portable computer for our son, but are confused by the variety of choices. Can you explain the difference between a laptop, a notebook, a netbook and a tablet PC?

A: He wouldn’t be 16 years old, would he? Just kidding!

There really isn’t much different between a laptop and a notebook. They’re basically the same beast.

If I had to draw a distinction, I would say that the notebook has the bigger screen (15.4 inches and up), is more “luggable” than portable, and is designed with an eye towards functioning as a desktop replacement. The laptop, on the other hand, would have a slightly smaller screen (up to 15.4 inches), and be designed more with portability in mind.

The netbook is smaller (7-10 inch display), less expensive, and is great for checking e-mail and surfing the Web. It may or may not have an ethernet port, or an optical drive. In fact, it might not even have a hard disk at all – using instead a solid state drive, with no moving parts.

A tablet PC is a specialized laptop, with a touch-screen and software for turning handwriting into text.

Hukey-Pukey, my venerable old notebook, has a 17” screen (wide enough that there’s room for a 10-key pad next to the keyboard) and sports a pair of hard disk drives. I ordered it with the expansion base, which (when I’m home, at least) puts the screen at an ergonomic height and allows for a full-size keyboard and mouse. Put it in a case with all my computer-repair accoutrements and it has me walking through airports with a pronounced lean.

But I haven’t needed a desktop for the last five years.

The Dreaded Blue Screen of Death

Q: I have a Gateway notebook with Vista (32) installed. After I receive updates from Windows (sometimes) I start getting the BSOD (many multiple of times)error code 0000007F telling me to run a memory diag[nostic] and check my fan, and hardware. After checking everything and nothing is wrong I go back to a restore point before the BSOD appeared then there are no more until of course I update again, sometimes.

Microsoft will not fix and nothing I find on the web fixes the cause.

A: The “7F” error code translates directly to a hardware problem. Microsoft is generally pretty good about handling problems with Windows Update, but I can imagine that they are understandably reluctant to get involved with a hardware issue that isn’t their problem.

Here’s what I believe is happening in your system. The new update accesses a previously-unused segment in memory, a spot that’s bad in your system. It blue-screens, as it’s programmed to do. Going back to the previous restore point effectively uninstalls the offending Microsoft patch. Time passes. Windows Update downloads and installs the patch again, and your system starts blue-screening.

What you need is a comprehensive test which will take over the whole RAM area and be as small as possible, in order to thoroughly test the entire memory space. Translation: you need to boot something besides Windows from something besides the hard disk drive to run a proper test.

I recommend Memtest86.

You can get a bootable CD image - which includes a number of diagnostic programs including memtest86 (and its cousin memtest86+) – from www.ultimatebootcd.com.

Hopefully, your Gateway is new enough that the replacement memory will be covered by the warranty.

Suppose Microsoft and I are both wrong and it isn’t hardware. What I would then do is install the updates from Microsoft one by one. Choose the “custom” option. Just select one and install it. Let the computer run for a while after each. If it blue-screens, you know the exact patch that is causing the problem.

You can call Microsoft back armed with more specific information.

If It Walks Like a PATA and Quacks Like a PATA …

Q: My desktop PC's hard drive is getting full, so I want to buy another one. But all I see for sale are "SATA" hard drives. Will my three-year old PC work with one of those?

A: Serial ATA drives have all but replaced the older ATA (also known as PATA or EIDE) drives being shipped in new PCs. They are faster, more efficient, and the number of wires in the connecting cable drops from 80 to 6. This means a smaller obstacle for the cooling fans to pull air around.

The best part is that it’s almost impossible to bend one of the little connector pins and ruin the drive. Don’t laugh, it’s happened to me.

They’ve been around since 2003, so your motherboard probably has SATA connectors, along with the PATA/EIDE connectors. That’s the good news.

Unless you’ve upgraded to Vista or Windows 7, however, the operating system will probably see them as just another PATA drive – so you won’t see all of the benefits of switching to SATA. Windows XP does not support the native AHCI (Advanced Host Controller Interface), and runs the drives in a special IDE Emulation mode.

If you would prefer to stick with PATA drives, you can still find them. Best Buy, for example, will sell you a Western Digital 320Gb drive for about $60.

Either way, I would recommend installing the new drive as the primary drive, and let the older one serve as a backup. Most drives come from the manufacturer with software that will allow you to copy the primary partition to the new drive.

Make sure you do a complete backup of your important data, just in case.

If you’re not comfortable with transferring the data yourself, your favorite geeks-in-little-cars company should be able to perform the task at a reasonable price.


Jason, in California, writes:

You mention Google offers a "video chat client." They don't actually have such a client per se — if you're thinking of Google Talk, it just does audio (at least for now).

Instead, it's actually Gmail itself that allows video chat, right in the web browser. No client needed (just a little plugin to install the first time you use it).

Thanks for the clarification, Jason!


A hearty welcome to the newest member of the Briggs clan, my 3rd grandson, Kydin Briggs. Born August 16th 8 lbs, 14 oz, 22 inches. Mother and baby are both healthy and well. Father is button-bursting proud.

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