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CNET to the Rescue: Rebuilding Windows PCs

Donald Bell joins us today to help advise us on rebuilding and rescuing Windows PCs. Also, advice for using Android tablets in the car and keeping podcasts up to date, and more love for refurbs.

Donald Bell joins us today to help advise on rebuilding and rescuing Windows PCs. Also, we have advice for using Android tablets in the car and keeping podcasts up to date, as well as more of our ongoing love for refurb computers.

If you have a tech question for CNET to the Rescue, e-mail No question is too basic, so if you've got a tech problem that's been getting under your skin, please call us, and we'll try our best to help out.

Before we take your questions, we have two Road Tests: HBO Go and the HTC Flyer.

Now playing: Watch this: CNET to the Rescue: Advice on rebuilding Windows PCs

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Episode 47: Rebuilding Windows PCs

Listener questions
DC: I've been getting blue screens, and I was wondering how I could get that to stop. I'm running Windows 7, and I know it's not a virus because I've run various scanners. I cleaned my registry and the junk files, but I still seem to get them every once in a while. It seems I'm running Google Chrome almost every time this happens. What should I do?

Rafe: First, try Soluto. Also, make sure you're not using a nonstable version of Chrome. You might have signed up for a development version of Chrome, which could be causing your crashes. That happened to me.


Brianna Goldberg: I listened to the audio version of episode 48, where you went off on Windows and system rebuilding. I had a similar problem on my newish (6-month-old) Windows 7 Viao F series system. I had to reformat the HDD after I had a corrupt registry, at the recommendation of Sony. However, that seemed wrong to me. I brought [the machine] into the store for a system check and found out I had a dead HDD and a bad fan belt. It took three weeks to get my system back, but I have not had a single problem since then. Have you thought that there's a problem with the HDD and that's why your system is having problems?

Rafe: Yes! A bad HD can really mess you up. Personally, this is one case where I troubleshoot by ear, listening for repeated disk parks or disk access patterns that sound like constant retries. I'm old, and I know what a bad HD sounds like.

And I hate to tell you this, but your computer doesn't have a fan belt.


Nic: I tuned in last week to you and Brian complaining about system restores and reinstalling apps. I found this ironic because I had done a system restore the prior evening. It used to be a pain in the butt, yet this time was different. I had a backup of all the data on my external hard drive, which was easy to restore. I also found a nifty site called All you do is select the apps you want to download and install, such as Google Chrome and AVG, press Install, and, finally, let it run. Go have some coffee and come back in 10 minutes to find all of your apps installed.

Rafe: Good idea. See also NiNite, which I love.


Neill: Heard your tales of woe about 15-minute boot times and multiple re-installs of Apple and MS OSes during the last podcast. I agree, mainstream OSes are usually way beyond what most "normal" people ought to be expected to maintain. However, just after installing everything, and getting the system just how you want it, why don't you make an image of the drive? Just takes 15 minutes or so; saves an awful lot of pulled hair at some point in the future. The means to do this is completely free, except for some spare GB on a portable HD.

Rafe: That is a great solution. But who the heck does it?


Matt (the 13-year family IT guy): My mom has been using a very old computer for about 10 years now, and I decided it's finally time to get her a new, more-modern computer. She has tons of pictures, videos, documents, and stuff on her machine; as well as several business-related applications. Her hard drive is IDE, and the new computer uses a SATA hard drive, so I can't just put the old hard drive in the new computer, so I used the Windows backup utility to create a system image with all the data, programs, and the OS on it. Then I plugged the external hard drive with the image on it into the new computer, then I went to the Windows Backup/Restore window and told it to restore from the system image. It then restarted and began copying all the data/programs onto the new hard drive. When it was finished it restarted, however it got into a loop. It would Post; then it would say "Starting Operating System;" then the Windows 7 logo would pop up and it would freeze for about 45 seconds then restart and do it all over again. I tried booting into safe mode, and it started popping up with all the DLLs it was loading. It got to one called NULL.DLL and then froze and restarted and put me in the same loop again. I also tried using Acronis True Image to create the image, but I had the same results.

Rafe: If I understand you correctly, you tried to install a 10-year-old system image to a new computer. That's a bad idea. You want to keep the new operating system on the new computer intact, and just copy over the files. Here's how to recover. First, restore the original HD from the restore disk you should have. Reinstall the apps from scratch on the new PC, too.

Then plug the IDE drive in to the new PC's USB port using this gadget. Then copy the data files to the new drive.


Mark from Sacramento: You have convinced me to buy a refurbished MacBook Pro versus a new one. But should I order now or wait till after [Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference]? Not in a rush, but don't want to wait too long.

Rafe: Buying refurbs means getting out of the crazy always-getting-the-new-new-thing line. Buy when you want. Refurb prices are always going down.


Rob Bagby; Cincinnati, Ohio: I'm asking you for a recommendation on a gadget for my truck. I drive a semi-tractor trailer and I need a tablet/MP3 player that I can mount somewhere in the cab. All I need it to do is be a great music and podcast player and have a touch-screen display (possibly around 7 inches) so I can quickly pause and skip songs and so forth. I would also possibly like to surf the Web when I'm at home on Wi-Fi, and maybe have access to an app store. I have no problem rooting or hacking something, then adding the right apps. I read online reviews of the Nook Color and some Archos products but can't seem to pull the trigger on anything. I would love an iPod Touch or an iPad, but the former is too small and the latter is too big. I'd like to stay under 300 bucks. Any help from you or your buds would be greatly appreciated.

Wayne: Tablets are still a little pricey--over $300. Here's something I've heard about, though: Rooting a Nook Color and mounting it in a car. See also: Cab mount.

Donald: Archos 70 with some rooting could be interesting too, though not the sturdiest thing in the world. Mount.


Brianna Goldberg: I own a Samsung Vibrant with Android 2.2, and I am using it as a single portable device. I am currently using the free Winamp as my sync program on the PC and the mobile version of Winamp for the player. I'm happy with the mobile Winamp, but the PC is very clumsy, particularly for podcasts (it doesn't auto remove played podcasts), and I am not happy with it at all. Should I switch to DoubleTwist, or is there something else that will have the auto remove of played podcasts like iTunes has?

Donald: Try Miro 4. Or DoubleTwist, or Google Listen for podcasts.


Comments and follow-up
Michael C. Richman: The Apple Store carries a Belkin device to play video consoles through the iMac screen. I was just looking into it last week and that is what the genius recommended.


Cory Hug: Regarding the discussion this past week and the week before about training your parents: Something my uncle turned me on to that I installed on my mom's PC: Web of Trust. It does two things.

1) It adds an indicator in your browser toolbar that shows green, yellow, or red, depending on the "trust" level of the Web site.

2) When you're searching with any of the major search engines, it will add that same indicator next to each site in the search results so you can see the trust level even before you can click on the link. So I just tell my mom, if it's yellow or red, don't go there.


Scott Bledsoe: Just to give you a correction for episode 46. Yes, military vehicles are 24-volt systems. But they consist of more than one battery (12 volt) in series/parallel. So if you want to hook up an inverter into one of these vehicles, you just connect onto one battery or more than one in series. Then you will have just 12 volts.

Cool feedback we couldn't get to on the show
Anne: Just listened to the podcast about contract-free mobile hot-spot products and heard the discussion of my question so I thought I'd give you the follow-up on my research and what I decided.

First, the price of the device: The Virgin Mobile MiFi has been around long enough to get a used one, but not the T-Mobile Hotspot that I could find. Retail on the MiFi ranges from $120 to $150 for new. Cheapest price I found for the T-Mobile Hotspot was $119 at Wal-Mart. sells the hot spot new, off-contract, for $129.99 (not the $79.99 that Brian mentioned on the podcast--that's the contract price); although the T-Mobile retail stores have the hot spot priced at $149.99, they will match the Web site price if asked.

Second, the cost of the data: As you mentioned on the show, VM is prepaid at $50/2.5GB cap. On its Web site, T-Mobile has both contract pricing and prepaid pricing for the hot spot. The $50 prepaid plan is capped at 3GB, so a tiny bit more generous for the same price as VM. I was leaning toward T-Mobile already, so I went into the local store to get answers to a couple specific questions, since the hot spot is new enough that user reviews on the Web are hard to find and some reviews had conflicting information. I found out that the T-Mobile stores offer a $50/month-5GB cap postpaid, noncontract plan not available through T-Mobile's Web site. Not only does the postpaid plan come with an additional 2.5GB for the same cost but you also get coverage through T-Mobile's partner networks if you're out of T-Mobile's coverage area, while their prepaid data plan offers no access to partner networks. This is important traveling through western/midwestern states as coverage can be spotty. Both pluses seemed worth the bother of having to call up customer service after the trip and cancel the plan.

Brought the hot spot home. A little confusing to set up, but I got it working in about 20 minutes by ignoring the printed set-up guide since it seemed to bear little resemblance to the steps that actually worked. (Why can't a lot more devices be as simple to set up as a Roku?!?) Testing it at home, the 4G speed seemed pretty decent at loading a Web page, 3G noticeably slower, EDGE was like I was on dial-up. The hot spot will automatically connect to the fastest of these networks it can find and will automatically switch between them as network coverage changes. Seems like it will be the ticket. When we get to the campgrounds in the evenings, I'll switch off the hot spot and everyone can use the campground Wi-Fi, which should help us from hitting the cap before the trip is over. The kids already know they won't be streaming Youtube/Netflix/AmazonVOD in the car, since we have a new audiobook series loaded up on an iPod to listen to on the car stereo while we're driving and that will help keep us from hitting the data cap as well.

Rafe: Thanks, Anne!