💻 Tech Refresh | The Saga of the Noise

hp userpicBack in July, I started the process of a tech refresh for the household computers. The last tech refresh was back in December 2010, so after almost 8 years, it was time.  [A discussion of some even older computers I’ve owned may be found here]

First up was my wife’s computer. She was using my daughter’s hand-me-down Toshiba E205, which had been repaired from a pineapple juice spill but had a wonky power connection.  This was a Windows 7 Home Professional machine with an i5 (i5 430M / 2.26 GHz) Processor, 14″ (1366 x 768) display, 4GB RAM, and a 500GB 5200 rpm hard disk. She wanted a machine that could run her cross-stitch design software, as well as supporting writing. We got her new machine from Costco: a Dell Inspiron 15 5000, with Windows 10 Home and the following key specs:

  • 8th Gen Intel® Core™ i5-8250U Processor + Intel Integrated UHD Graphics 620
  • 15.6″ Touchscreen LED-Backlit FHD (1920 x 1080) Display
  • 12GB DDR4 2400MHz RAM
  • 1TB 5400RPM SATA Hard Drive
  • 802.11 Wireless-AC WLAN + Bluetooth 4.2

She’s been happy with the new machine, although it does seem to take a lot longer to boot. She was also happy not to have a hand-me-down for once; her last new machine was a Toshiba Netbook (something like the Toshiba NB205).

I also planned to update my machine, but I was waiting until the end of 2018 to do so (primarily, to let my wife have the newest machine in the house for a while). For me, I already had a 15″ machine: A Toshiba A665-S086 (Windows 7 Home Professional, 16″ (1366 x 768) display, i3 (i3-370M) processor, 4GB RAM, 500GB 7200 rpm hard disk).  My update was driven not by machine problems: My system was reasonably reliable, although increasingly slow with page swapping. The more significant driver was the end of life for Windows 7: I wanted to be on a Windows 10 machine by end of life, and to have time to adjust for any transition hiccups. For my system, I knew I wanted a larger screen, so I started looking at the 17″ laptops. I also wanted an i7 processor, and the experience with my wife’s machine led me to look for 7200rpm hard drives. I didn’t want an SSD only machine due to the price for the storage I would need. After debating a bit between a Dell roughly equivalent to what my wife got (but as a 17″) and an HP machine, I ended up using the Employee Purchase Plan at work and purchased an HP Envy 17t in mid-December, which I received New Years Eve. Costco also had an HP 17″ i7 machine, but there were no good details on it as it wasn’t identified as part of a line, and thus appeared to be a one-off for Costco. The key specs on the new HP Envy 17t machine were as follows:

  • Intel® Core™ i7-8550U (1.8 GHz, up to 4 GHz, 8 MB cache, 4 cores)+NVIDIA® GeForce® MX150 (2 GB GDDR5 dedicated)
  • 17.3″ diagonal FHD IPS WLED-backlit multitouch-enabled edge-to-edge glass (1920 x 1080)
  • 12 GB DDR4-2400 SDRAM (1 x 4 GB, 1 x 8 GB)
  • 1 TB 7200 rpm SATA; 256 GB M.2 SSD
  • Intel® 802.11b/g/n/ac (2×2) Gigabit Wi-Fi® and Bluetooth® 5 Combo

As you can see, the key differences between my machine and my wife’s machine were: i7 processor (vs i5), 17.3″ screen (vs. 15.6″), 256GB SSD (vs. no SSD), a 7200 rpm drive (vs. 5200 rpm), and a slightly newer network card.

After setting up the machine, all was good and I was mostly pleased. The major issues were software replacements: My old copy of HoTMetaL Pro would no longer install; I had to find a replacement HTML editor (After trying to use Pinegrow, I’ve settled on BlueGriffon; I also use Amaya, but it is no longer maintained). I couldn’t install my really old Acrobat 9.0 version and had to find new PDF creation software: I settled on PDF Complete (Office Edition). The internal sound card was crap for input, and so I had to use a USB Sound Card for recording, which meant using Audacity to record as Roxio Creator 2011 couldn’t record from the USB card. The new machine also forced some hardware purchases: notably, a cable to allow for both audio input and output connections to a single 3.5mm jack (as the HP has a combined audio jack), and a USB-C hub to support connection of USB-A devices to the one USB-C port.

Those were the solvable problems. More annoying was intermittent soft scrape or buzz from the front of the laptop, near the hard drive and the optical drive. Based on the advice from a friend, I obtained a copy of Hard Disk Sentinel, and it showed an increasing number of raw read and raw seek errors on the internal Seagate hard disk. The disk hadn’t failed yet, but we surmised this was the cause of the noise (or an electrical surge in the disk controller). So I bit the bullet, and contacted HP Support. They agreed to fix it under warranty repair. On Tuesday 2/12 I shipped it out; I got it back on Monday 2/18. Impressive turnaround. They clearly replaced the hard disk: I had a new Hitachi 7200 rpm 1 TB disk, and HD Sentinel was showing no errors. Note: Kudos to Acronis True Image for their backup solution — they made it easy to back up, to move back to the old machine, and to restore the drive on the new machine once returned.

But the noise was still there.

At this point, my conclusion was that the noise was coming from the optical disk drive (DVD-ROM), whenever it was polled by the operating system as part of doing hard drive actions. I mentioned this to a co-worker on my van: his suggestion was to leave something in the drive. Last night, I just put a blank DVD-R disk in the drive.

Guess what: no noise since. Easy as that, problem solved.

That, my friends, is the saga of the 2018-2019 Tech Refresh.