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Tech Q&A: Chip security fix hurts some PCs

Steve Alexander, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in Science & Technology News

Q: On Jan. 8, my 10-year-old, custom-built Windows 7 PC crashed. (I got the "blue screen of death.") My technician wonders whether I'm the victim of Microsoft's software patches for the AMD processor chip security problems, which locked up some computers. (The small Oregon firm that built my PC used a main circuit board from ASUS.)

My technician said the PC's hard drive was damaged, but might still be functional. The repairs sound expensive, and I'd rather not buy a new PC. Can I get Microsoft to pay for this?

Larry Ritterband, Colorado Springs, Colo.

A: That's hard to answer. While your hard drive problem is most likely caused by its age, it could be caused by one of the Microsoft' emergency software patches issued in early January.

The Microsoft patches were designed to partly fix major security issues with Intel and AMD processors. An update from PC manufacturers is also required. (For an overview of the security issue, see tinyurl.com/ybhahfhg).

If your PC uses an AMD chip, it may have been affected by a flawed Microsoft-AMD software patch. Microsoft stopped providing the patch after it left some computers unable to boot (see tinyurl.com/ycormeme). Microsoft offers tips on the problem at tinyurl.com/y8935lxp (see "Resolving stop (blue screen) errors in Windows 7.")

So why is the age of your hard drive the more likely explanation? Your PC is 10 years old. If that's the original hard drive, it's already outlived the typical drive life span of three to five years. So, you can only make a claim against Microsoft if your PC has an AMD chip and you can show that the damage was caused by a Microsoft patch.

How much might repairs cost? If the drive is damaged, it will have to be replaced for about $50, plus the labor to install it. In addition, either you or a technician will have to reload your data and software (including Windows 7) on the new drive.

Then you will have to deal with the processor chip security issue. Because the Microsoft software patches only partly correct the processor chip security issues, PC owners also need to download some "firmware," or chip-based software, from the PC's manufacturer (see tinyurl.com/yc74phpd.)

Because you don't have a PC manufacturer to turn to, you will have to download the firmware from ASUS, the maker of your PC's main circuit board, also called a "motherboard." But, to do that, you will first need to locate the model number of the circuit board, then find the correct ASUS firmware to download. So far, ASUS offers only Intel firmware (see tinyurl.com/y9sww9cd).

As a result, repair costs may exceed the $300 minimum cost of a new laptop.

Q: I have some .jpg pictures from the 2000s that I can't open after updating my PC to Windows 10. What can I do?

Dan Nichols, Colorado Springs, Colo.

A: Tell Windows 10 what program should open your photos. Go to the start button and type "default" in the search box. In the resulting list, click "default app settings." From the "default apps" list, choose photos. You'll get a list of apps that can open a photo. Either choose one, or download a different app (see tinyurl.com/y9sah4kf for free ones).

About The Writer

Steve Alexander covers technology for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Readers may write to him at Tech Q&A, 425 Portland Ave. S., Minneapolis, Minn. 55488-0002; email: steve.j.alexander@gmail.com. Please include a full name, city and phone number.

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