Hardware Shortages Continue Amid Pandemic

When the pandemic hit and lockdowns were enforced, many people moved to working from home, including students.

Businesses and schools had to adapt to their new circumstances and embrace remote functionality to continue on.

So what does this have to do with a hardware shortage?

Many students were supplied Chromebooks by the school, and if they didn’t already have enough, schools suddenly needed devices for their student body.

And that’s on top of folks needing laptops to work from home. Everybody who didn’t already have a laptop suddenly needed one.

This demand continues to be a problem for manufacturers. Companies like HP and Dell, two of the three largest PC manufacturers (Lenovo being the third), have been reporting issues with PC parts.

When the pandemic first hit, there was a shortage of many components, but RAM stood out as one of the shortest supplies. Recently, CPUs and boards have had issues.

It’s difficult to adequately meet demand when your product is missing essential parts – but that demand is persistent and isn’t just going to go away while we’re still working and learning remotely. Much like the craze we’ve been seeing for recent video game consoles, devices are selling fast when they are available.

HP reports that its PC sales are up 7% annually overall with a 25% increase in notebook sales and a 31% decline in desktops. This is a good indicator that people are prioritizing being able to work anywhere, whether that’s the office or between different rooms at home.

HP also reported that their Chromebook sales more than doubled this year. The PCs and Chromebooks are flying off the shelf.

Dell reports 14% consumer revenue growth and 5% commercial. The commercial increase is directly related to government orders, as well as schools; those large orders for notebooks or Chromebooks pushed Dell’s commercial sales.

Dell also reported double-digit growth in major categories because of the need to work from home. They had four different models that exceeded the double-digit growth reported.
With all of the increase in sales, it is understandable that there is a shortage. It wasn’t only Dell and HP experiencing the shortage either.

High-end gaming PCs are becoming hard and harder to equip as the high-end equipment is also harder and harder to come by.

Companies like NVidia are struggling to keep GDDR6, the RAM used in video cards, readily available.

Nvidia also has a new desktop PC, which has been unavailable too. Along with AMD’s new RX6000, these items are not only out-of-stock, but are commanding a premium on the resale market.

Those who CAN get them are profiting off the demand (again, much like the people buying up and reselling PS5s and Xbox consoles).

Even Apple is having supply issues. It was reported that supplies are still low for Macbooks.

We’re seeing the pandemic’s impact in areas most people wouldn’t consider and watching it happen to companies we would expect to be invulnerable.

Things will eventually even out and stabilize, but until then, we’ll have to wait and see how it plays out, just like everything else during this pandemic.

CPU Basics: Multiple CPUs, Cores, And Hyper-Threading

What’s a central processing unit (CPU)?
The central processing unit (or CPU) in your computer is the brains of the operation. It’s a small computer chip that sits atop the main circuit board (motherboard) of a computer. It performs the computational work, such as running programs or applications.

It’s the core of your PC, smartphone, or tablet, and it’s what makes the whole device run as it should. At its core, a CPU takes instructions from a program or application and performs a calculation.

The executed instruction, or calculation, can involve basic arithmetic, comparing certain numbers together, or moving them around in memory.

Since everything in a computer is represented by numbers, those kinds of simple tasks equate to what a CPU does. It’s what facilitates everything from starting up Windows to watching a video.

CPU clock speed, or clock rate, is measured in Hertz – generally in gigahertz, or GHz. A CPU’s clock speed rate is a measure of how many clock cycles a CPU can perform per second. The clock speed used to be enough when comparing performance.

Things aren’t so simple anymore.

A CPU core is a CPU’s processor. A core can work on one task while another core works on a different task, so the more cores a CPU has, the more efficient it is.

A CPU that offers multiple cores or hyper-threading may perform significantly better than a single-core CPU of the same speed that doesn’t feature hyper-threading.

PCs with multiple CPUs can have an even bigger advantage.

All of these features are designed to allow PCs to more easily run multiple processes at the same time – increasing your performance when multitasking or under the demands of powerful apps like video encoders and computer aided design (CAD) applications.

What is hyper-threading?
Hyper-Threading (simultaneous multithreading) is a process where a CPU splits each of its physical cores into virtual ones, which are known as threads.

Hyper-threading allows each core to do two things simultaneously. It increases CPU performance by improving the processor’s efficiency, thereby allowing you to run multiple demanding apps at the same time.

Multiple cores
Originally, CPUs had a single core. That meant that the physical CPU had a single central processing unit on it. To increase performance, manufacturers added additional “cores,” or central processing units.
A dual-core CPU has two central processing units, so it appears to the operating system as two CPUs.

A CPU with two cores could run two different processes at the same time. This speeds up your system because your computer can do multiple things at once.

Multiple CPUs
Most computers only have a single CPU. That single CPU may have multiple cores or hyper-threading technology – but it’s still only one physical CPU unit inserted into a single CPU socket on the motherboard.

Before hyper-threading and multi-core CPUs came around, people attempted to add additional processing power to computers by adding additional CPUs. This requires a motherboard with multiple CPU sockets.

The motherboard also needs additional hardware to connect those CPU sockets to the RAM and other resources. Systems with multiple CPUs also consume more power.

Systems with multiple CPUs aren’t very common among home PCs today. Even a high-powered CAD desktop with multiple graphics cards will generally only have a single CPU.

You’ll find multiple CPU systems among supercomputers, servers, and similar high-end systems that need as much number-crunching power as they can get.

Three Sure-Tell Signs Your Hard Drive Is Failing

Under ideal conditions, the average stationary hard drive lasts five to ten years. With the growing use of external drives and laptops that are toted around frequently and exposed to damaging elements, that life span shrinks to between three and five years.

Consequently, it is important to watch for indications that your hard drive is failing, so you can back up all of your valued files and data. Here are three signs that it’s time to act:

Slowed Operation and Freezes
You should immediately back up the contents of your hard drive when you notice that freezes and display of the blue screen become the norm.

It is even more imperative to do so, if these problems continue in Safe Mode or after a fresh installation of your operating system because that’s an indication that hard drive failure is imminent.

Corrupted Data
When it becomes problematic to save or open your computer’s files and you start getting error messages about corrupted data, you should know that your hard drive is failing.

As a hard drive’s functionality gradually wanes, this is a common problem, so act fast to ensure your business and personal data stays intact and safe.

Presence of Bad Sectors
If your hard drive has bad sectors, or areas incapable of maintaining data integrity, you may not immediately notice the problem.

The presence of such sectors is a grave problem and tells that your hard drive is in its final strides.

To check your hard drive for bad sectors, run a disk check with the options to automatically fix the problem and attempt recovery of files.

My Laptop’s Ethernet Port Isn’t Working. What Can I Do?

If the Ethernet port is damaged, purchase a USB to Ethernet converter.
The laptop Ethernet port is integrated into the motherboard, which makes it hard to replace only that part without swapping out the entire motherboard.

Since it just doesn’t make sense to throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water, just make it possible to plug into another port that is undamaged with a USB to Ethernet converter.

Fortunately, these converters are relatively inexpensive, so there’s no need to despair. Converters are available at virtually any store with an electronics section and there isn’t much difference between converters.

One thing you may wish to consider is to purchase the latest model of adapter, even if your current laptop is not new.

These converters are backward compatible, so the latest USB 3.0 to Gigabit Ethernet adapter works with even the oldest computers with older USB ports.

With the latest version as part of your arsenal, you can still use it in the future with a newer laptop.
These adapters have another great feature which is that they don’t require any technical knowledge, saving you time and money for installation and troubleshooting in case of problems.

Simply plug it in the USB port, and it’s ready to deploy your Ethernet connection, getting you back online without any hassle.

Windows automatically detects the adapter and the operating system installs the appropriate drivers for you.

Remember to use an in-line surge protector on your Ethernet cable, particularly if you travel frequently.