Category: home-tips

How to speed up your old desktops or laptops in Windows

We typically see newer systems being purchased for a household or business because “it’s too slow” or “it doesn’t work”. Before going out hunting for the latest, greatest, and fastest piece of equipment, you really should ask yourself if you can get it working again. Over the past 15 years or so, I’ve cleaned up Windows desktops and laptops so that they run faster than when they were originally handed to me. Fortunately, Windows has some easy tweaks that you can make to get things running more efficiently. The tweaks below should mostly work with Windows XP, Vista, and 7 (I have not played around with 8/8.1/10 that much….yet):

  1. Appearance vs. Performance:
    • If your old system is going to be tossed out the window, I’m guessing that you don’t mind how it looks vs. how it performs
    • A quick tip to get Windows working faster (with a small decrease in visual appeal) would be to remove the fancy graphics and visualizations that Windows typically has setup by default
    • To do this: click ‘Start’ – right-click ‘Computer’ – click ‘Properties’ – click ‘Advanced’ tab – click ‘Settings’ (in ‘Performance’ section) – select ‘Adjust for best performance’ radio button
  2. Remove old software:
    • Just having extra software from 6 years ago, that you don’t use anymore, is completely pointless to keep on your computer. The only reason to keep this software is if it’s a dependency for a more current version of the software that you’re running (I’ve never seen software in the last 8 or so years that keeps the old version around for the current version to run properly)
    • Windows XP: click ‘Start’ – click ‘Control Panel’ – click ‘Add or Remove Programs’ and then select which programs to remove
    • Windows Vista/7: click ‘Start’ – click ‘Control Panel’ – click ‘Programs’ – click ‘Programs and Features’, and then select which programs you want to uninstall (so this is almost exactly like Windows XP, except for the small name change of ‘Add or Remove Programs’ to be ‘Programs and Features’)
  3. Clean up old data
    • So nowadays, we have 1TB drives and data in the cloud, but for our old hunks of junk, we might have some smaller drives, and large amounts of music or movies filling it up
    • Windows XP: click ‘Start’ – click ‘All Programs’ – click ‘Accessories’ – click ‘System Tools’ – click ‘Disk Cleanup’ . Disk Cleanup was really easy to find and use….or maybe it’s just the fact that I used XP for so very long
    • Windows Vista/7: click ‘Start’ – click ‘Computer’ – right-click your C: drive and click ‘Properties’ – click ‘Disk Cleanup’ in the window that opens
    • Overall, Disk Cleanup is a great tool to easily free up space on any drive (temp files, compresses files, empties your trash, etc)
    • Another method which I tend to use is the manual method. Yes, I simply scope out my various folders and decide what stays and what gets axed.

There are plenty of other methods to enhance upon your Windows operating system. I’ll be adding some more of these in a later post.

DFU Mode on iPhone (or other “i” device)

I’ve received quite a few iPhones that have been locked down due to the phone being tied to the ‘Find My iPhone’ app, which is also tied to that person’s iTunes account. Simply put, I didn’t want to reach back out to the individual, have them temporarily change their iTunes password, allow me to successfully disable the ‘Find My iPhone’ feature, and then have them change their iTunes password back…..that’s just too many steps to go through and possibly run into errors (“I swear I did not have caps lock on. I’m not sure how that happened!?” – nobody ever).

So if you want to avoid the headaches and just get the iPhone wiped without bothering anybody, you’ll need to learn how to get into DFU mode. DFU stands for Device Firmware Upgrade, and not some other funny acronym that I’ve heard often. To get into the mode, follow these simple steps:

  1. Plug the iPhone into your laptop/desktop with the provided USB cable
  2. Power the iPhone down
  3. Once it’s successfully powered off, press that ‘Power’ button for 3 seconds.
  4. Right after 3 seconds, release the ‘Power’ button and then press & hold the ‘Home’ and ‘Power’ buttons together for 10 seconds. Do a good job counting…
  5. Release just the ‘Power’ button, while keeping a good thumb grip on the ‘Home’ button.
  6. After 15 more seconds, you’ll get an alert in iTunes stating ‘iTunes has detected an iPhone in recovery mode. You must restore this iPhone…’. At this point, you can simply restore the iPhone to factory defaults. Good job!

SATA drive testing


  • Laptop or desktop with Windows 7 (or higher)
  • Cygwin installed with smartmontools
  • SATA to USB docking station or cable adapter
  • 2.5” or 3.5” SATA hard drive to be tested


  1. Power on the laptop and plugin the SATA to USB (dock or adapter)
  2. Plug the hard drive into the dock or adapter
  3. Wait a few moments and Windows should start installing the drivers for the SATA to USB device
  4. After drivers are all loaded, open Cygwin (Run as Administrator)
  5. Type ‘smartctl -a /dev/sdb -d sat’ and press Enter (Note: you might need to use a variation for the device itself (sdb, sdc, etc) or the type of device (ata, sat, usbjmicron, etc)
  6. After you are able to get the basic hard drive information from the command above, you will now need to run a short offline test, using the command from above with the addition of ‘-t short’ (Ex: smartctl -a /dev/sdb -d sat -t short)
  7. After the short offline test completes successfully, you can run an extended offline test with the command from above with the addition of ‘-t long’ (Ex: smartctl -a /dev/sdb -d sat -t long)

Quickly save a list of all songs in iTunes

The following was done in iTunes 12.3 on a Windows 7 system. Just follow the quick and easy steps to create a document of your list of songs within iTunes:

  1. Open iTunes
  2. Click ‘File’ and then ‘Print’
  3. You’ll be provided with 3 radio buttons. Select the ‘Song listing’ radio button and keep the Theme dropdown set to ‘Songs’. This will create a list of songs that includes the artist, album, and length of each song.
  4. Click ‘OK’ and then you will have a few options. One that I like to use in Windows is to print to the ‘Microsoft XPS Document Writer’ in the dropdown list (if available). This will create a .xps file of all songs wherever you decide to save the file. Some other options are to use a “print to PDF” printer like CutePDF Writer or doPDF.
  5. Click ‘OK’ at the Print window and then select an area to save your .xps (or .pdf) file to. After clicking ‘Save’, iTunes will create the file where you saved it to.

Now you can take the file that was created in the steps above, and easily save it to an external USB flash drive or to some type of offsite cloud storage provider.

How to wipe your smartphone – Part 3 (Windows)

Similar to Android devices, I’m not the most well-tuned Windows smartphone user. Of course, I’ve went and scoured the web and looked through a variety of resources to come up with the straight and simple method of doing a factory reset for your Windows smartphone (of course, very similar to the iOS and Android devices, ensure that you back up your data first):

  1. Unlock your phone and using one finger, press and hold the screen and slide to the left
  2. Now you are at the ‘Apps’ list screen. Just scroll down to find ‘Settings’ and tap it with your finger
  3. Tap the ‘about’ button
  4. Tap the ‘reset your phone’ button
  5. Tap ‘yes’ to any warnings about your data being deleted (make sure you’ve backed it up first!)
  6. Let the phone run through the reset process and after a bit of time, your Windows phone should be loaded to the factory default.

How to wipe your smartphone – Part 2 (Android)

So I will confess that I’m not a very experienced Android device user (although not knowing about something has never stopped me from learning to “figure it out”). First things first, make sure that you backup your data from the phone before trading in or selling it. A majority of phones can be backed up with third party (or vendor) software and a USB cable to your home computer. We’ll write some more on Android backup specifics in a later blog post. This post is geared towards the wiping of your Android device:

  1. Navigate to ‘Settings’ on your phone or device
  2. Tap ‘Security’
  3. Tap ‘Encrypt device’ which will take up to an hour (NOTE: you might realize that this is not specifically wiping your Android device at this time. This is a precautionary step that will help to ensure that your data is not easily restored when you go to perform the wipe of the device)
  4. After the phone is encrypted, tap ‘Settings’
  5. Tap ‘Backup & reset’
  6. Tap ‘Factory data reset’
  7. ….then finally, tap ‘Reset phone’. This will reset your phone to factory defaults and wipe the encrypted data in the process.

That’s it! You’ve now successfully wiped your Android smartphone or device!

How to wipe your smartphone – Part 1 (iPhone)

Before returning your smartphone to your wireless carrier or selling it online, you’ll want to ensure that it’s wiped and somebody can’t easily recover your private data. This blog series will cover iPhones, Android devices, and Microsoft Windows smartphones. Some important points to bring up that will account for all 3 types of devices are the following:

  • ensure you deactivate the phone with your wireless carrier (this might be obvious, but hey, we can’t have you missing a step and you end up getting charged with usage fees for an old phone)
  • remove your SIM card, unless the carrier requires it upon trade-in/returns….any private buyer will not need your SIM card
  • remove any SD cards and erase or destroy them, unless your private buyer requested the SD card to be included. Most phones have built-in features to clear your SD cards along with the factory reset

For all iPhone users, your two best friends when wiping the phone are the iTunes software and your USB cable. Those are literally the only requirements to wipe your iPhone….

  1. Download and install iTunes from the Apple iTunes site
  2. Plug in your USB cord to your computer, and the other end to your iPhone
  3. iTunes should automatically open (if it does not, open iTunes)
  4. You’ll want to backup the phone to save any of your data before wiping it – simply click the small iPhone icon in the upper-left area, make sure ‘Summary’ is selected in the left column, and then scroll down in the main window until you see the ‘Backups’ section….select whether you want to save to iCloud or your computer, and then click ‘Back Up Now’)
  5. After your iPhone is backed up, scroll up in the main iTunes’ iPhone Summary window, and click ‘Restore iPhone…’
  6. Click ‘Restore’ once again to verify that you want to wipe your phone and reset it to factory defaults
  7. Wait for the process to complete and you can verify that it was wiped when the ‘Hello…..slide to setup’ screen comes up on your iPhone!

There are a few other ways to wipe your iPhone, including doing it directly from the device or even if your device is lost, you can use the ‘Find My iPhone’ feature to remotely wipe the device. Hope somebody finds this helpful when trading in or selling their iPhone!

Formatting a computer before disposal

Before you get rid of an old computer, it is highly recommended that you format it. There are a bunch of different methods to quickly format your PC or Mac, and some are easier than others. The fastest and easiest way to ensure that your computer’s hard drive is formatted is by booting from a bootable CD/DVD/USB and running through some instructions to format the drive. My method below…


  • computer with a hard drive and a USB port
  • Internet access to download the bootable USB utility (Rufus) and hard drive eraser .iso file (DBAN)
  • 4GB USB stick to load the  DBAN .iso file onto (4GB is cheap enough and large enough to fit most .iso files you’ll find on the web, in case you choose a different software to format your hard drive)


  1. Make sure to backup all of your data using an external drive or cloud storage provider.
  2. Navigate to the Rufus utility site and download the latest version of the utility. At the time of this writing, the latest version is 2.6.
  3. Navigate to the DBAN download site and click the download link to get the latest version (Previous versions are located at the bottom of that page).
  4. Plug in your 4GB USB to your computer and let it install any necessary drivers.
  5. Open the Rufus utility, ensure the USB drive is listed under ‘Device’ and then check the box for ‘Create a bootable disk using’. NOTE: if the check box is grayed out, you might need to change the ‘File system’ type to something else.
  6. Click the dropdown next to the ‘Create a bootable disk using’ check box, and select ‘ISO image’. Then next to that, select the CD tray icon to locate your DBAN .iso file.
  7. Click ‘Start’ in the Rufus utility and you should have a bootable USB created shortly.
  8. Reboot your computer and at the BIOS screen, you will need to press a key to select what you want to boot from (most systems I’ve dealt with use F8 or F12 for this, but it depends on the BIOS manufacturer).
  9. Select your newly-created USB from the list and boot into the DBAN tool.
  10. Once DBAN loads, just simply type “autonuke” and press the Enter key on your keyboard. This will run a 3-pass DoD level wipe of the drive.
  11. After the wipe, DBAN will display that it has a log file to write and to press Enter to save the log file. This can be ignored and you can just reboot your computer.
  12. After rebooting, you should get the ‘No Operating System Loaded’ message, indicating that your drive was definitely wiped by DBAN.