hardware

What is USB 3.0?

Sunday, April 3rd, 2011 | technology | 3 Comments

Do you know what USB 3.0 is?  Rashed Khan offered to do a guest blog posting on this topic for those of you who are interested in staying up to date with the latest technologies.  Rashed says:

I think it is safe to say that my dad knows literally nothing about computers (sorry dad) but even he has heard about and knows what USB is, in fact I believe it is quite rare to find someone who has not heard of USB (Universal Serial Bus) as it has quickly become the most commonly used peripheral bus used on computers and laptops today. Just about anything that connects to your computer or laptop connects via a USB port whether it is a digital camera, a Mobile Phone or even a digital photo frame.

The new USB 3.0 adds a number of additional benefits but before we look at this, let’s take a brief look at the history of USB to determine why it has done so well.

How did USB come about?

IBM started off the revolution of implementing removal media into their computers by creating the keyboard which (unlike the previous keyboards) was not attached to the computer itself but was to be connected to it via a port called the AT Keyboard port. The concept of being able to detach Computer hardware (keyboard, mouse etc.) became an instant hit and many computer manufacturers followed the trend by adding their own ports which could do the same job as IBM’s AT Keyboard port. However, during the mid-90’s a problem was arising in the fact that more or less every manufacturer had their own port so if you had a keyboard made by one manufacturer, you would not be able to use it on a computer made by another manufacturer

USB was created during the early 90’s but its success really began to escalate during 1996 when it was marketed as the single Peripheral which would be used universally by all the manufacturers. Many manufacturers jumped on the USB bandwagon by adding USB ports as well as their own ports on their computers and Apple completely dropped their old ADB ports in order to introduce USB ports on all their computers during 1998. By the year 2000, it became rare to find a computer which did not have a USB port. One of the key benefits with USB was that it was able to power small devices requiring up to half an amp at 5 Volts which has introduced a whole host of unusual devices to be powered by USB such as USB Record players, USB podcast studios and even USB rechargeable batteries!

USB 2.0

USB was re-designed in order to optimise its performance during 2006 and was called USB 2.0. The key benefit of USB 2.0 was that it had a much faster transfer rate than the old USB 1.0 as it was 40 times faster. A faster data transfer rate means that the user does not have to wait as long for data to be transferred from their removable device to the computer.

Arguably one of the key factors in the success of the USB 1.0 was that (unlike the other ports) it did not have any compatibility issues, which is why USB 2.0 was made backwards compatible. This meant that USB 1.0 products could be connected to a USB 2.0 port and would still work but would run at the speed of USB 1.0 rather than at the faster speed of USB 2.0.

Enter USB 3.0

The new USB 3.0 boasts a massive transfer rate of a maximum of a huge 5 Gbps! This makes it around 10 times faster than the old USB 2.0 which still has a respectable transfer rate speed of up to 480Mps.

A new feature of USB 3.0 is that it only transmits data to the port that needs the data which means that USB ports that are not currently being used can go into an energy saving state thus helping to reduce power consumption.

Support for USB 3.0 is quickly becoming widespread as a number of the new computer are now supporting it and if you want to get hold of a device with the new USB 3.0 hardware, look out for the SuperSpeed certified logo.

I thank Rashed for this explanation of USB 3.0.

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What can I do when my laptop runs out of memory?

Saturday, May 9th, 2009 | laptops, Maintenance | 2 Comments

When it is suggested to you that your laptop is running out of memory, it could mean one of two things:

  • you need more random access memory (RAM)
  • you need a hard disk with more storage space.

You may be in need of more RAM if you’ve acquired programmes which demand more processing power than is currently on your laptop.  This does not happen very often.  It is only very specialized software, or perhaps new versions of existing programmes on your machine, that would require additional RAM.

The good news is that RAM is relatively inexpensive.  It is also quick and easy to add more RAM to your laptop.

If the need for more memory relates to the hard disk, you have several choices:

  • create space by removing unused files and defrag your hard disk
  • acquire an external hard drive, which you can plug into your laptop
  • upgrade the hard disk. 

When you purchase a new laptop, it likely has enough hard disk capacity for your needs.  But when you create many files, and load many pictures, music videos or movies on the disk, you may find that you need more space. 

Now you have to decide which option would be the best for you.  Files used only occasionally could be stored on removable disks or data sticks.  If you require quick access, an external hard drive could be the solution.  But if you don’t want the bother to cart other storage media with you, upgrading the hard disk would be the answer to the problem.

When a hard disk is upgraded, the old one is removed and replaced by a new one.

Just as you would only trust a brain surgeon with poking around in your brain, you are advised to let only experts replace the hard drive, or add RAM, to your laptop.

Expanding the memory of your computer is a simple matter – if only it were that easy to expand our human memories!

Click here to find answers to more laptop related questions.

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Should I learn to fix my laptop myself?

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009 | laptops, Maintenance | Comments Off

The high cost of maintenance may lead you to think about fixing your laptop yourself when something goes wrong with the hardware.  Perhaps you are a do-it-yourself (DIY) person and are itching to get under the bonnet of your machine.

Remember that laptops use complicated technology, calling for specialist knowledge to maintain.   Furthermore, very small parts are packed into tight areas – these parts are easy to break or misplace.  Expert skill is required to work on such equipment.

Only some people have the aptitude to fix technical things.  You may have this talent and could learn how to fix your own laptop in the future.  In the interim, let the experts work on it while you concentrate on getting to know how to use your laptop as a teacher’s companion.

Aesop’s fable of The Widow and the Sheep  may give you some food for thought.

A poor widow had one solitary sheep.  At shearing time, wishing to take his fleece and to avoid expense, she sheared him herself, but used the shears so unskillfully that with the fleece she sheared the flesh. 

The sheep, writhing with pain, said: “Why do you hurt me so, Mistress? What weight can my blood add to the wool? If you want my flesh, there is the butcher, who will kill me in an instant; but if you want my fleece and wool, there is the shearer, who will shear and not hurt me.” 

There are two morals to this story:

  • the least outlay is not always the greatest gain
  • it is better to stick to one’s trade.

You don’t want to kill your laptop while attempting to fix it!  Rather learn to use the laptop as a tool first; if you have the aptitude you could acquire the skills to maintain it later.

Click here to find answers to more laptop related questions.

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What can I do to prevent a hard disk crash?

Saturday, April 25th, 2009 | laptops, technology | Comments Off

In some cases a hard disk crash happens as a result of a hardware malfunction and there is nothing you can do about that.  But there are some things you can do to protect the disk against damage.

The hard disk is an important part of a laptop since your data and programmes are stored on it.  Without the hard disk, the computer won’t operate.  But we are talking about a very sensitive component of your laptop – the disk is covered with a very delicate magnetic coating and spins at a high speed – up to 100 times per second.  The read-write head hovers above the disk surface on a cushion of air a fraction of a millimetre thick – that is less than the thickness of a hair.

The things you should do to protect the hard disk are:

Always handle the laptop with care – remember it is an expensive and sensitive piece of equipment.

When you shut the laptop down, wait for at least thirty seconds for the disk to stop spinning before you move it around.

Picking up a laptop and carrying it for a short distance while it is switched on is in order, as long as you do so gently.

Ensure that there is a reliable uninterrupted power supply when you work from the mains supply – power surges may cause a disk crash.

There are also some things that you must avoid doing to protect the hard disk:

Don’t bump the laptop while the disk is spinning.

Don’t expose the laptop to high temperatures.

Don’t switch the laptop off abruptly by pushing the power button while the disk is still rotating.

A hard disk crash is the exception rather than the rule.  It may never happen to you.  Just take care of your laptop as best as you can and if it happens, have it fixed and move on.

Click here to find answers to more laptop related questions.

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What happens if a laptop has a hard disk crash?

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009 | laptops, technology | 1 Comment

The hard disk is the place where your laptop stores data.  Since it is inside the machine, you won’t see it, unless you open the casing – but this is not recommended.  It looks like a rectangular metal box and it contains the disk.  The disk is not removable; it is unlike a CD, or DVD, that can be removed from its drive.  All your information – programmes, data, pictures, music files and video clips – are stored on this disk.

Think of the hard disk as a set of shelves where you store tools and materials.  When you want to work on a project, you take the required tools and materials off the shelf onto a workbench.  Similarly, if you want to use a program and associated data files, you load them off the hard disk onto the RAM.

A disk crash happens when the read/write head of the hard disk crashes onto the surface of the hard magnetic material that covers the disk and on which the data is stored.  In the process both the head and the disk are damaged.

The cause of a disk crash could be:

  • faulty hardware
  • an abrupt interruption of power supply
  • a bump or when the laptop is dropped.

If the disk crashes it will need to be replaced. 

Hope that this never happens to you.  But if it does, it’s not the end of the world.  Once the hard disk has been replaced, you can reinstall the programmes and reload your data from the backup. 

But if you did not take a backup, you are in trouble.

Click here to find answers to more laptop related questions.

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What is RAM?

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009 | laptops, technology | 2 Comments

RAM is an acronym for Random Access Memory.

You can think of RAM as the short-term memory of your laptop.  It is a temporary working space a computer uses to get work done and it gets cleared when the machine is switched off.

The RAM of your laptop can be compared to a workbench, or table.  While you are working on a project, you put all the tools and materials on the workbench.  When you’re done, you put all the items away neatly in the places where they belong.  In a similar way programmes and data are loaded into the RAM when you are working on them, but when you are done, your work is stored electronically on a disk for later use.  The RAM is then cleared for other activities.

When the workbench is small, you can do small projects on it, one at a time.  If you want to tackle bigger projects, or if you want to work on more than one project at a time, you either have to move tools and materials on and off the workbench to create space, or get a bigger bench. 

This is exactly what happens with your laptop.  If you have little RAM, you may be slowed down if you are performing complex tasks, of if you want to work on a few things at the same time.  Programs and data must be swapped into and out of the RAM all the time to create working space.  When you increase the amount of RAM, your laptop won’t have to move data and programmes around so much – you will then perceive your machine to be faster.

Don’t worry about the swapping of data and programmes into and out of RAM – this is handled automatically by the operating system of your computer.  You will not be aware of these activities at all and may only get an inkling of it when you notice that the laptop is slower than usual.

Unlike human memory, the laptop’s memory can be extended by adding extra RAM.

The good news is that your laptop will come to you with sufficient RAM to carry out all the tasks that you likely would need to perform.  It is only when you move into the realm of complex computing – or get some fancy games – that you have to consider a RAM upgrade.

Click here to find answers to more laptop related questions.

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