30 September 2016

New 'Old' Laptop

The morale of this story is: capable ex-corporate tech can be sourced relatively cheaply.

My son just started at a new school and it was recommended that he had easy access to a computer for homeworking.  So with an idea in mind of what he needed I set about investigating potential machines - like I needed an excuse.  In the past I had reason to look into multi core machines with oodles of RAM for number crunching and simulation work like this one:

Quite a beast and ideal for Finite Element Analysis tasks that RAM limited.  The University I work at, and I imagine it is no different elsewhere, dictate that second-user equipment will not be supported or bought.  But if we were then how about this all for under £8k:

The processors are old but very capable with a Passmark CPU Benchmark for a Quad XEON X7560 listed as 15414.  It's never as simple as the summation of the benchmarks, but as an indication that is: 15414 * 2 * 8 =  246k... To put that into perspective the machine I play games on has a benchmark of 3.7k.   For pure number crunching the processing power and capacity to hold a massive simulation is drool worth.


However, I am getting horribly distracted by computer porn and should focus on the task: to identify and source a suitable machine for my son to do his homework on.

Most of the machines in the house are dual core with the exception of the TVPC which was upgraded to a quad core a couple of years ago to enable games to be played smoothly and my PC.  I considered giving him a desktop, my preferred type of machine due to speed and upgrade potential, a spare home theater machine would do, but considering where and how it would be used ended with this idea being quickly dropped.
So the machine would be a laptop, since I feel strongly that a device with a substantial keyboard is required for anything but a bit of browsing.  For size I would have considered a Raspberry Pi a couple of years ago and even though the RPI3 is significantly more powerful than the original it still lacks the capabilities to run smoothly and possible code on.

Investigating laptops I was not surprised to discover the sub-£400 sector offered both big and small screens with anemic supporting hardware and knowing how capable carefully chosen ex-corporate kit can be I snagged a Dell Latitude E6230 for £120 off eBay.  Upgrading the existing 300GB mechanical HDD with the latest version of the 240GB Sandisk PLUS SSD, courtesy of an earlier impulse buy on Amazon Prime Day, and augmented the existing 4GB RAM with an extra 8GB stick by Crucual.  I consider 8GB to be the usable minimum for a Windows system that may be required to do some real work and memory is so cheap these days.

Laptop        110SSD              40
RAM            18
Total cost:   168

With a little work a very capable machine for less than a dual cored atom with 2GB RAM and slow imitation of a SSD with limited size.  PassMark CPU benchmark of 4013 - faster and more capable than my Surface Pro 3 costing *a lot* more, but weighing less and talking natively to my Kinect v2. 

The end result was eminently usable machine that I was so impressed by the quality of the hardware and the availability of low-cost accessories such as the PR02X docking stations with every connection even I could use and USB3 for less than £10 and internal mobile broadband cards DW5530 and DW5620 for around £18, I bought one myself!

20 September 2016

BitLocker Orange Screen with White Vertical Lines

That's not right

I powered up my work machine after three weeks and was greeted with an orange screen with white vertical lines in place of the expected screen asking for a password.  Flip - that's not right, perhaps the machine crashed during an update.  Oh well, I will just reboot and everything will be fine - after all it is a Microsoft box.

But the reboot didn't rectify matters and neither did a cold boot with the power removed for thirty seconds.  Time to Google the matter on my phone.  Wow, in contrast with fixing computers twenty years ago the combination of the readily available information on the Internet and the access to another computer has transformed the effort needed to resolve an issue on another machine into a simple affair.  The 'solution' I was glad to learn was that the machine was still waiting for my encryption password under that garish orange veneer and by entering it and pressing Enter the machine would continue to boot as normal.  I was relieved to read this and indeed my machine booted to Windows shortly after.

The next day, today, this didn't approach didn't appear to work and I arrived at the BitLocker Recovery Key screen.  The link shown on-screen: http://windows.microsoft.com/recoverykeyfaq, was of little help so I reboot the machine and entered my password again, but more slowly this time.  The machine booted into Windows, but could very quickly become a hassle and a security risk if I need to remotely guide someone else to use my PC.

More Googling and several sites later I found this working solution which described that the boot font had been corrupted - I wonder what else has been corrupted? - and that reverting from the pretty Windows 8 BitLocker font to the simple text based Windows 7 version would produce a more useable interface.

The command to executed in a CMD window with Admin privileges is:
bcdedit /set {default} bootmenupolicy legacy
and to revert back to the, potentially corrupted, pretty screen (change "legacy" to "standard").

The solution was provided by Sholtz and this is the forum thread on TechNet.  Thank you Sholtz.