Make Your Old Computer New Again

My late grandmother Betty, known to all of us as Nanny, had an eye for art and design. Many years ago, Nanny came across a tarnished jug in a second hand shop. Her intuition told her that this was more than what it looked like on the surface. She brought it home and gave it a super polishing. This transformed the jug into a beautiful piece of art, that now sits in a prominent position in my parents’ living room.

The always stylish and well dressed Betty Richler on the left; her polished work of art on the right, in its current home in my parents’ living room

You may have your own tarnished jug in the form of an older computer. Most computers purchased in the past 10 or so years may still have lots of life left in them. All they need is for you to “polish” and fix them up appropriately. Most importantly at this time of COVID-19, your older computer may be a perfect tool for a health care worker or a student.

The problem with Windows

Do you remember when you got your new computer and it ran so fast? All your programs opened instantly, videos played without skipping and everything just seemed to run smoothly. After a few years, the computer slowed down to a crawl. You would launch your programs and then go make yourself a coffee waiting for everything to open. Eventually you got a new computer and new and fast eventually led to old and slow again. While it’s true that there have been numerous advances in computers in the past decade, a laptop purchased 8 years ago may be more than sufficient for many tasks.

The problem with hard drives

Even if you knew how to make Windows run faster, the weakest link in the chain is still the hard drive. Hard drives were traditionally built with moving parts, and therefore were the slowest part of the computer. Eventually newer hard drives, called Solid State Drives (known as SSD) came out. These do not have any moving parts and are much faster than typical older hard drives.

Can I fix Windows and my hard drive?

What if you could make Windows work the way it did when you first got your computer and make your hard drive run like an SSD? Guess what? You can do this! Here is the method to “polish the tarnish” from your old computer:

  1. Reset your computer to its factory settings
  2. Upgrade to Windows 10 if you haven’t already done so.
  3. Replace the hard drive with an SSD.

The first two steps are relatively straightforward. In order to replace your hard drive, you’ll need the following:

Once the hard drive is copied over, you need to open the case of your desktop or laptop and replace the hard drive with the new SSD. When the computer starts up with a fresh install of Windows and a new SSD, it will run as fast or faster than it did when it was new.

What good is an older computer when I have a new one that is working well?

During this COVID-19 pandemic, there are many people who need computers to work remotely. Schools are closed everywhere and many households don’t have enough computers so that the kids can have a dedicated computer for school. A close relative of mine works in health care and will now be able to work remotely because I was able to fully reset and clean up an old computer that will now be re-purposed for work.

  • Your older computer may allow a student to finish their year and graduate
  • Your older computer may enable a social worker to work on their critical caseload from the safety of home

Besides social distancing, there are many ways we can help out during this COVID-19 pandemic. They say one person’s garbage is another person’s treasure. That old computer in your basement that you haven’t touched in 5 years may be the perfect solution.

If you have a computer that you think might be able to be fixed up, let me know. I can help you determine if it can be upgraded and have its hard drive changed. If we all keep our eyes out for treasures like Nanny did with that jug so many years ago, we’ll find that with a bit of elbow grease and polish, we’ll have some treasures that can make a real difference to others in this crazy world.

Stay safe and keep your distance!


Eureka, I figured out why my upgrade failed!

I’ve solved a mystery and I’m so very pleased! You know that feeling when something isn’t working but you can’t figure it out so you just live with it? I recently wrote about upgrading to Windows 10 and how easy a process it can be. Well, there’s also upgrades to Windows 10 to keep it healthy and working nicely. I’ve done this for a bunch of computers of mine and others and had no problems. Except for my primary personal laptop. Here, my Windows 10 upgrade failed.

A failed upgrade

Every time in the past year that I started the upgrade it would hum along for awhile and then end with this oh so helpful error message:

Thanks for the info, but why did it happen?

I’ve also seen the message: Error: 0x80070003 while updating Windows to Windows 10 1903

For those who are technically inclined, there are log files that get created on the computer when something like this failed. I started looking through but got impatient or distracted and didn’t find a solution. I just kept living with an older (and maybe more insecure) Windows 10. Until today, Fri Jan 31, 2020 when I stumbled across this discussion from Microsoft:

and the solution is buried in the discussion:

there’s a lot of technical lingo here but the answer is here

To make a long story short, what this is saying is that

  • a program called Macrium was installed on my computer
  • I removed it
  • It did not play nicely and left behind some incorrect settings
  • and this prevented Windows 10 from upgrading itself

I followed the instructions listed here and fixed the messed up settings – and the upgrade finally worked!

And what do we learn from this

I like to try lots of different programs on my computer and maybe you do too. And many of these programs come from reputable sources but still there can be bugs even in good, safe programs. And to be honest, I’m not going to tell you to stop installing programs that you need. In my case, this was a program for copying one hard drive to another and I needed it for something I was doing. We just have to be aware that there’s a lot of connections between seemingly separate programs on computers but that they can break each other. I also suggest to make note of any error messages and do a Google search for it. My theory is that I’m not the only one having this problem so if I can find someone else experiencing the same thing, then there could be a solution. And sometimes it takes a year!

There’s a line that my wife likes to say, consider your choices, consider your consequences. The more you add to your computer the more detective work there may be to solve unexpected problems.


Goodbye Windows 7

It’s been several months since I sent a newsletter. My new year’s resolution is to send a monthly newsletter. I want to write about relevant technology issues that are important to you. Please feel free to email me with any ideas or questions you have. 

It’s out with the old Windows 7, as of January 14, 2020

Cars vs Computers

In spring of 2009 we bought a 3 year old used Dodge Caravan minivan. It’s always risky to purchase a used car but here we are 11 years later and our minivan is still in remarkably good working order. We’ve made this happen by following the recommended maintenance over the years and using a talented, creative and honest mechanic. By the way, Leo (our mechanic) says to get your car rust proofed regularly with a service like Krown. It’s one of the few extra things he highly recommends and we still see the results today.

I realize that at some point soon there are going to be enough things wrong with the van that we’ll have to say goodbye. As long as it’s safe to drive and reasonably cost effective to run, we’ll keep it.

Think about the computers you’ve bought in the last decade

Do you still have one that is in good working order? Is it still ‘safe’ to use? Safety for a computer is a bit different than that of a car. Microsoft and Apple release security updates on a regular basis to keep the computer safe from hackers and other nasty villains out there on the internet. You can think of the security updates over time much like the Krown rust spray that we have put on our car every year. If you have a Windows computer that was bought between 2009 and 2012, it likely came with Windows 7. In fact, Windows 7 was such a successful and reliable operating system, that it was still being installed on new computers past 2015 when Windows 10 was released.

Up until now, if you asked me if you should upgrade your Windows 7 computer, I would ask these questions:

  1. What are you doing with your computer?
  2. Is there anything you are doing with your computer that can’t be done with Windows 7?
  3. And if the answer to the previous 2 questions was that everything is working properly, I would ask if you enjoy causing unnecessary chaos in your life?

That all changes now.

On January 14, 2020, Windows 7 will be reaching End of Life (EOL). You can read all about it here:

What does this really mean to you?

As of January 14, 2020, Microsoft will no longer release security updates. It would be as if the fine people at Krown looked at our van and said, sorry, your car is too old for a rust proofing, we’re not going to do it anymore. As you can imagine, at first the car would continue to run just fine but as time goes on, and no additional rust proofing is done, the rust will overtake the car and make it a good candidate for the junkyard.

It’s similar with your Windows 7 computer. On January 15, 2020, everything will work properly. And possibly for days and months to come it will be fine. But eventually a security issue will be discovered and there will be no fix from Microsoft. Your chance of some type of hack on your computer will only increase over time.

Should you throw out your computer on January 14, 2020?

No, you have several choices after Windows 7 goes end of life.

  1. Continue using your computer while being aware of the risks.
  2. Install a program such as Malwarebytes to provide some level of protection 
  3. Upgrade your computer to Windows 10

Continue using your computer

We already talked about what happens if you continue to use your computer after Windows 7 goes End of Life. Continue at your own risk!

Third party anti-virus and malware protection

Even after Microsoft ends support for Windows 7, numerous anti-virus and malware protection software will continue to work for some time. Examples include Norton Antivirus, McAfee Antivirus and Malwarebytes. I highly recommend a paid subscription to Malwarebytes as it runs all the time and can protect you from problem websites and other online issues. This also applies to modern up to date Windows 10 computers.

It is important to note that even with the best antivirus protection software running on Windows 7, continuing to use Windows 7 is risky.

Upgrade to Windows 10

Since Windows 10 was released in 2015, they have made a free upgrade to Windows 10 available at You need to either run it from the website, or create a USB key or DVD to do the upgrade. It will check your computer first and will notify you if any of your hardware isn’t compatible with Windows 10. I have had much success with this upgrade, even on some computers that are 10 years old.

Concluding thoughts

While on the surface it appears that the end of Windows 7 support means that your computer is now garbage, it’s couldn’t be further from the truth. With a little planning and effort, your computer can still be a useful tool for several more years.

Now if only there was a USB key that would upgrade my 2006 Dodge Caravan to the latest model!

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