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Live event: ask your questions about tech – 3pm 28/7/21

Which? Computing’s Kate Bevan was live answering your questions on all things technology and computing. Check the comments for her answers.

Our last live Which? Conversation event saw us joined by Kate Bevan. She was with us answering your questions on tech and computing.

The event itself took place in the comments with replies appearing as text – it was not a live stream/Zoom meeting.

📄 Live tech Q&A

🗓 3pm Wednesday 28 July 2021

Whether it’s our phone, laptop, tablet or smart devices, we’re more reliant on our technology than ever before – but what are the tech issues that matter to you the most?

Are you concerned about privacy? Digital obsolescence? Battery life?

Kate answered your questions in the comments.

Comments

I have hearing damage from a laptop with noisy cooling fans. Due to circumstances, I wasn’t able to return it when I first bought it years ago, and I haven’t been able to get a quiet replacement computer

I use the computer for at least a few hours every day and the fans are always on

What does consumer rights law as well as health and safety law say, if anything, about noisy fans, and am I legally entitled to compensation for the damage done to my hearing?

Also, when Which reviews laptops and desktop computers, does it take into account how long the thermal paste for the cpu will last for before it dries up and has to be replaced? And is dry thermal paste covered under consumer rights law for a warranty repair, especially if it dried up after only a few months?

I will have to check with our consumer rights team on that – I’ll ask them to pop in and look at this question. On the test lab process for thermal paste, I’ll check with the lab, but I suspect we don’t: I’ve never had a problem with thermal paste failing, on either a desktop I’ve built myself or a laptop. I imagine if you could prove that the thermal paste had failed while the device was in warranty it would be covered, though.

Kevin says:
28 July 2021

If it’s Windows/Intel, google (or DuckDuckGo…) “Intel power gadget”. It’s available directly from the Intel site, so only download it from there. It will tell you how much power the CPU is consuming and what temperature it’s at, among other things. You can at least baseline your system and work out if a CPU is hot because it’s busy (hidden crypto miners?) or because the cooling is inadequate.

If it’s running with high CPU constantly and it’s not malware, Windows update often misbehaves and causes high disk/cpu leading to high fan activity, there are some built in windows tools to help reduce this and return it to stable operation. Again the Microsoft site has more detail on this, though it’s probably easier to ‘google’ it than rely on Microsoft’s site search to find it.

Just coming back to this, I have checked with the lab, and as I suspected, the answer is no, they don’t test the thermal paste: they don’t take computers apart as part of the testing.

Kate, would you be able to ask your lab to include thermal paste quality and longevity from now on as part of reviews?

It’s very important as once the paste dries up, cpu temperatures will go quite high. I’m seeing 95-99 Celsius cpu temperature on a 30-40% cpu usage and above, and that’s with the cooling fan at max

For people who don’t know anything about computers, or who can’t open their computer to repaste because it would void their warranty, like MSI customers, knowing which thermal paste is inside and how long it will last is essential

Over the years I have rebuilt quite a few PC’s, to renew their CPU cooling, by cleaning out fans and replacing the thermal compound that bonds the CPU to the heat sink and / or heat pipes.

From that, I’d say that most new PC’s and new heat sinks now actually use thermal tape not thermal paste. Both tape and paste are now available for aftermarket use too.

I’ve also discovered that Windows 10 has an advanced power setting that can be used to make a noisy PC quieter by setting a maximum limit on CPU utilisation. The downside is that this also makes the PC slower.

Usually W10 will install with this limit set to 100%, to give maximum performance and maximum noise. But, for some reason, on my ThinkPad X240, W10 sets this limit to 30% by default.

The problem with thermal paste is that repeated heating and cooling can gradually force the paste from between the CPU and the heat sink, etc. I presume this is the reason for moving to thermal tape and pads, which should continue to work without loss of performance.

I think thermal tape is also easier to use and less messy.

Em says:
28 July 2021

Given the pace at which technology is evolving and computers break, I think testing the longevity of thermal paste should be given priority. Right after Which? finish testing the best brand of antifreeze to buy for my internal combustion engine.

I spoke to the lab about this yesterday and it’s a no from them: they don’t open up laptops and desktops as part of the testing process, and in any case, by definition if you open up a device to the level of the thermal paste, you’re going to compromise its ability to do its job. And in any case, most people don’t even know thermal paste exists, never mind consider opening up their device to re-paste their CPU. I’ve built PCs and it’s not something I’d consider doing, especially not to a laptop.

Thanks very much for all your questions, everyone – it was great to be able to help and talk with you all. Do email me on whichcomputingnews@which.co.uk if you’ve got any more questions, and obviously I’m going to plug Which? Computing and suggest you subscribe! It’s a fiver a month for six magazines a year plus unlimited access to our excellent Tech Support team. You can sign up here https://signup.which.co.uk/wlp-tech-support

It seems to me that ALL the “anti-virus” (etc) protective products (free or not) are merely a method of forcing more and more “vital protection products” (at more and more expense) on to the poor innocent computer user!!!! Is there ANY way we can evaluate what is/isn’t NEEDED or has any VALUE or is SAFE TO USE?

Em says:
28 July 2021

Does anyone have any good suggestions about how to reuse or repurpose very old laptops before considering recycling? A mini trouser press, maybe? A waffle or panini maker?

Failing that, how can I ensure they are recycled responsibly? Even if it costs me a bit in shipping.

See:-https://computing.which.co.uk/hc/en-gb/articles/115004416785-How-to-recycle-your-old-computer

and:-https://www.which.co.uk/news/2021/03/how-to-recycle-your-old-smartphone-tablet-or-laptop/

and:-https://ecogreenitrecycling.co.uk/broken-laptop-disposal-guide/

Where I live both Emmaus and Project Reboot will take in old PC’s for resale or ecological disposal.

During the recent lockdowns and school closures, second hand laptops were in high demand by schools and charities furnishing laptops for kids without laptops. But there was usually a limit to the age of machines they could use.

Personally, I now find that PC’s from before about 2008 will be too old and too slow to be of much use, except perhaps for retro gaming. My old broken ones were recently put out for my local council recycling collection, but were actually taken away by a passer by before the recycling collection came.

Anything later than that cut off can be UPGRADED to run a suitable Linux (e.g. MX or Mint or Manjaro with XFCE desktops). Such PC’s can be used for lighter duties at home (or someone else’s home, if they do not have enough computers already).

When I say “light duties” that includes posting on here (my 2011 W10 ThinkPad X201 says “hi”) or watching YouTube and Netflix and doing some light video editing, but perhaps not for long 4K films.

Out of support tablets and phones are hard to upgrade. In theory, an out of support Chromebook might be upgradeable to a full (and still supported) version of Linux, but I have no recent experience of attempting that.

Em says:
29 July 2021

Thank you both @DerekP and Jon for the links and suggestions. I will investigate and see if I can shed several pounds.