This is one of my favorite subjects. And it kind of goes along with being prepared for the worst. Small devices such as computers can be easily recharged or used on even a small solar set up. So what can you do with a computer when there is no internet? Quite a lot actually.
I’ve done this before in 2018 with a Linux computer but I’m going to do it this time with a Windows laptop. But it is time to update that post a little bit, I suppose.
And as per my previous recommendation you want to probably use an old laptop and preferably something like a ToughBook. If the internet is down, and life is getting harder you don’t need some baby computer that won’t hold up.
Yep, your computer can be a TV with no internet connection. You do need a USB TV Tuner though. I use the Hauppauge 955Q which is probably obsolete since I couldn’t find it anymore on Amazon. This seems to be the latest generation. Despite which tuner you get make sure that it is ATSC and not PAL. ATSC is US and PAL is European. Your tuner combined with software called NextPVR or probably any number of software programs you can download will give you an Electronic Program Guide and allow you to watch Over The Air Live TV. That program guide does come down from the internet though, and you won’t be able to access it if the grid goes down. Still, you know what your local channels are though.
NOTE: I probably should state that my grid down situation is most likely a hurricane and all the local stations are 40 or so (driving) miles away and inland so they will most likely still be operational. Your situation may vary.
Being able to watch TV during a power outage or while you are Sheltering in Place could provide vital, life saving information. Or it could just provide much needed entertainment in a bad situation.
Now that I have a proper Windows laptop again I had forgotten how much stuff out there is Windows only. Here’s a quick list of stuff that I can really only do or do best with Windows. This list is unique to me and the toys I dabble with:
Police Scanners – I’m a scanner geek and the two most popular brands of scanners are Uniden and Whistler (arguably). Neither one provides any programming software or firmware update tools in anything but Windows. Advanced 3rd Party Software such as Proscan or others is also Windows only.
RTL-SDR – While you can most certainly do RTL-SDR stuff on Linux and Mac the most fun software such as DSD+ or the most intuitive control software, SDR#, is Windows only.
CNC Machines – I have a NextWave Shark HD500 CNC machine. All firmware tools, and control software are Windows only. The very best CNC software is from a company called Vectric and is called either VCarve or Aspire. All variants of VCarve and Aspire are Windows only.
Vinyl Sign Machines – I have a Roland GX-24 vinyl sign cutter. While there are various Mac or Linux software offerings the very best pro sign making software solutions are Windows only. (Flexi, CoCut, etc.).
Laser Engraving and Cutting – The very best software for Lasers is Lightburn which in fact is cross platform and offers Mac and Linux versions. The Mac versions have USB issues and the Linux versions are just buggy in my opinion. While I can generally work Lightburn to my laser via the Mac version OVER ETHERNET, when I need to move one of my more portable lasers around the best reliable method is to use the Windows version.
I bought a cheap laptop from Walmart, an Acer A514-54-501Z. While going through the system and deleting all the crappy extra programs they put in these things I noticed that many of the system drivers had a date of 2021 or earlier. Only 1 or 2 drivers even had a date of 2022 and for a fact I know one was causing the computer to Blue Screen (wifi driver) which certainly prompted an update from Acer. However, if I go to the Acer Support page I’m given a driver to download for my MediaTek Wifi module however if you go to MediaTek OEM drivers it isn’t even close to the latest driver.
Here’s what happens. Let’s say you make laptops and you make some real cheap for the Walmart and Target crowd. You make a profit, but not a big one. You are NOT going to keep a crack team of software engineers on staff to maintain this laptop in an up to date, pristine status. You find a driver that works, is stable and it STICKS. They don’t update them UNLESS THEY HAVE TO, and by have to I mean that they receive tons of complaints or crash data.
Or if their high end computer has the same component and gets updated, maybe they’ll push it down to the bottom tier. Like it or not, that is just the way it is.
I ran a program called Driver Booster 9 and it found TWENTY FIVE drivers that needed upgrading, including that MediaTek Wifi driver I mentioned earlier. Continue reading →
I was having an issue where only a 3 of my networked computers were showing in the Windows Network Neighborhood (or at least they used to call it Network Neighborhood).
All computers on the network were visible from all my Mac and Linux computers and running software such as LanScan showed everything proudly announcing itself on the network. So the problem pretty clearly was with Windows 11.
This is a blog where I wish I specified a FIX to the problem but the truth is, I’m not sure what fixed the problem, but this blog may not be a total waste to anyone else with this problem.
First of all, I’m not new to the geek stuff, but I am newly returned to Windows. I bought an Acer Aspire 5 laptop specifically to run a program called Vectric VCarve Desktop for my CNC machine. Also my CNC machine firmware can only be updated from a Windows computer. Also since I design my SVG files on a Mac and store them on a couple of servers I HAVE TO HAVE NETWORK ACCESS WITH MY WINDOWS LAPTOP WHILE I’M IN MY WORKSHOP TRYING TO CNC SOMETHING.
If you follow this blog at all you know that I am not a fan of Windows. I came all the way up from Windows 2 (at work) to MS-DOS and Windows 3.11 on my first home computer, a 486SX that cost a couple thousand dollars. There were some epic failures along the way. Windows 98SE and Windows ME, and Windows Vista were three giant turds of epic proportions. To make things worse they just kept making us PAY for new versions of craptastic Operating Systems.
At some point I became sick of paying for crap and started using Linux and then kind of turned into a Mac guy somewhere along the line.
But sadly for me many manufacturers of some cool toys simply don’t support Mac or Linux or if they do it is clear that the Windows programs are superior in terms of polish or workflow.
Case in point. For CNC machines the best software in the world, Vectric VCarve or Vectric Aspire, is Windows only. Yep you can do CNC work in Linux and on Mac but Vectric is just head and shoulders above every other experience, in my opinion.
I’m also a Software Defined Radio geek and have a few SDR’s from SDRPlay. Their software, SDRuno is currently Windows only. They are working on a cross platform version but it’s been years coming.
So now that I have this new Acer Aspire 5 (A514-54-501Z) that I upgraded it is time to explore some of the items that run best in a Windows Environment. Let’s make a short list: Continue reading →
Got this Acer Aspire 5 (A514-54-501Z) laptop at Walmart for $399 after doing a ton of research on budget laptops. Possibly the best part about this laptop is that it is upgradeable. The laptop comes with a Kingston 256GB NVME M.2 Solid State Drive. Through some projects and upgrades I just happened to have a 1TB Samsung EVO 970 Plus drive laying around. Might as well put it to good use.
If you are trying to keep the total upgrade cost lower than the cost of a more capable laptop then the sweet spot for a drive upgrade is probably a 500GB NVME which generally runs about $50. Add 16GB of RAM for about $60 and your total cost is about $510. Add 8GB of RAM instead and you can lop $30 off of that cost. There is not really another budget laptop with these specs at these costs.
Obviously the drive needs to be cloned, and cloning it in place is most desirable. The best way to clone the target drive is with a USB C enclosure. I used this one that I got on Amazon.
Plugable NVME M.2 Enclosure
The Acer Aspire laptop has a USB C port so connecting it was a breeze. You simply slide the target drive in the enclosure, add some thermal pads (included) to the drive, and plug it in the computer. It will be immediately recognized as your D: drive.
Another advantage of having the Plugable NVME enclosure is that now you will have a spare 256GB drive just laying around. Slap it in the enclosure and you just got yourself a 256GB external hard drive. I recommend using AOMEI Backupper to create an image file of the original drive just in case. Back in the day you used to get a Windows CD with your computer purchase. Now if a drive craps out you have nothing. To retrieve your original 25 digit Windows Product Key type the following at a CMD prompt:
wmic path softwarelicensingservice get OA3xOriginalProductKey
The software I used is AOEMI BackUpper Professional. While you can accomplish this with the free version of the software, the Pro version will convert your MBR drive to GPT and also automatically resize the unused portion of the partition. Also there will be no issues with it being a bootable drive. I didn’t time the clone process but it only took 2 or 3 minutes.
I blogged about this laptop previously but since then things have gotten better. When I first bought it, it was $499 however Walmart lowered the price to $449 but wouldn’t give me a price adjustment so I returned it and bought a new one.
Since that time the price has been reduced further to $399. Let me tell you why that is such a great deal. Not many laptops are upgradeable these days but this laptop has an accessible NVME M.2 drive (that you would need to clone, or do a fresh install, if you upgrade the drive). It comes with a 256 GB drive however I have a 1TB drive laying around here that I may slap in mine. I just need to figure out how to clone it first. I might have to buy an NVME enclosure as the laptop has no PCIe slot to plug an adapter into.
In addition to that there is an unpopulated SATA drive bay where you can add an additional hard drive. There are 8GB of RAM, 4 of which is built into the main board and a 4GB (PC4-3200) stick in the DDR4 slot. You could change that out to a 16GB stick for a total of 20GB. Lastly you could change the wifi chip if you wanted to.
This blog is mostly for me to remember what I did to fix the Blue Screen Of Death (BSOD) problem with my new laptop.
First of all I HATE Windows with every fiber of my being. However, I have a CNC machine and the best design software in the world comes from Vectric which is Windows only. So I bought a cheap laptop. An Acer Aspire 5 A514-54-501Z from Walmart. Not sure when it happened, but probably after an update or installation of some program but I started getting the dreaded BSOD with only a KMODE Exception Not Handled. The computer would boot loop with the BSOD every time but if I did a hard shutdown and restart it would boot however, then it would start without Wifi Drivers. The next reboot would clear it up.
That’s too much frustration. Googling the KMODE error basically just said “It”s probably a driver issue” with no more details. Since it seemed the Wifi driver wasn’t getting loaded after a BSOD I guessed it was that one. I did a Search For New Driver in Device Manager and it said I had the latest. Yeah. Not true. Seems there was a new Wifi Driver put up about 2 weeks ago. Probably for the BSOD issue. My device showed as this in the Device Manager
First let me say, “I AM A MAC GUY”. We can also say that “I AM A LINUX GUY”. I am most definitely NOT a Windows guy. All this being said I am also a Maker, or we used to say in the old days…….a Geek.
I have a lot of hobby type hardware such as Lasers, Vinyl sign machines, 3D printers, and CNC machines. These things all have Mac or Linux software of some kind but the cream of the crop software is written for Windows. While I can function on most of the hardware platforms with Mac, the straw that broke the camels back was my newly found love of CNC. The best CNC software, hands down, comes from Vectric, and the new CNC machine I bought comes with Vectric VCarve Desktop. The only computers I own with Windows on it are an old 3rd generation Intel i3 laptop with a tiny amount of RAM and a copy of Windows 10 on Parallels for Mac M1. By the way, Parallels on a Mac M1 runs about as efficiently and trustworthy as the Government. And it isn’t portable as I have it on a Mac Mini. My CNC is in a back yard shed which is either too hot or too cold and I want to do all my prep and design work in the house and run out with the laptop just when it is time to set up the job on the machine.
A new Windows laptop was really my only choice here. Here were my working parameters:
Cost – Always the first consideration. I only want to use this to run VCarve Software.
Availability – I wanted a computer I could run to the store and get and return if necessary. Buying a computer by mail can be a horrible PITA if something goes wrong.
Upgradability – The laptop I chose can have RAM, and the M.2 SSD upgraded and it has an un-used place for a 2.5″ SSD SATA drive.
At least an Intel i5 chip
Upgradeable to Windows 11
I ended up buying an Acer Aspire 5 from Walmart, specifically the: