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So many PC laptops, particularly those in the cheaper range, are now shipping with “special functions” such as screen brightness adjustment and wireless adapter on/off switching as the default action when you press the F1 through F12 function keys. On what planet was this a good idea? What kind of morons were sitting around at HP and Dell going “gee, no one ever uses F-keys, so let’s make them do something else?”

What’s the keyboard shortcut for closing a program? It’s Alt-F4. This has not changed since the days of Windows 3.1, and is a very commonly used keyboard shortcut with anyone that knows what keyboard shortcuts are at all. Not having to shuffle a mouse to the top-right corner of a box to close it literally saves many seconds of effort, and those seconds add up when multiplied across an entire day’s work. Now, however, Dell’s infinite wisdom has decided that the out-of-the-box configuration requires pressing the “Fn” function modifier key to use any of the F1-F12 keys for the functions they have maintained on their own for the past two decades. (Apparently Microsoft isn’t adding any extra combinations for “Alt-Brightness Down” anytime soon.) So, when  I get on a Dell Inspiron 1545 laptop to perform service work, I hit Alt+F4 to close windows and instead of having the intended behavior, I just accidentally turned down the LCD brightness. Now I’m on the hook to press F5 to bump up the brightness again, then hit Alt+Fn+F4 to do what I originally intended.

Oh, but if you think that’s bad, it gets far far worse! Let’s say I’m downloading a big driver file for a printer or display adapter, because these are always hundreds of megabytes in size, yet 98% of the download is extra crap that isn’t required for printing a document or making a video card show cute rotating boxes. I’m waiting on a 200MB HP printer driver to come down the pipe, and while I wait, I’m performing other tasks. I find a file I need to rename for some reason, so I click the file and hit F2 to bring up the renaming function in Windows Explorer.

Guess what? Some complete and total asshats at Dell assigned F2 to be the magical key that disables the internal wireless adapter. Instead of renaming a file as intended, I just killed my wireless connection and lost the entire download. All that time waiting is lost as well, so I now get the privilege of waiting even longer for something that never should have been aborted in the first place. Just to make matters even worse, F2 is immediately above the number 2. Anyone who needs to type a 2 and overshoots the stroke could easily end up killing off their Internet connection instead. HP isn’t much better; while they usually put the wireless switch control on the F11 key instead of F2, F11 is still above the last keys on the number row and is still easy to accidentally press. Other functions such as internal/external monitor switching are almost as annoying, but tend to self-correct when they notice there’s no monitor to switch to, and so are somewhat more forgivable.

In the BIOS settings for most of these systems, an option exists to restore the function keys to their normal function key behavior, as it should be! The user should never have to change a BIOS settings on a factory released computer just to make the keyboard work properly! My problem is that the default setting from the factory is the one which is in favor of accidentally killing off your Internet connection and messing up your screen brightness. In my extremely not-humble opinion, every manufacturer that does this is stupid. No one should purchase these computers. It’s not worth supporting this level of ignorance about how a computer is used. Combine this kind of foolishness with the “ClickPad” garbage that’s being put into lots of laptops nowadays, particularly in HP laptops, and some of the ridiculous keyboard layouts on cheap Compaqs from the past few years, and you have a recipe for a brain-dead, productivity-hostile pile of crap laptops that I wouldn’t accept for free.

Add one more thing to the growing list of “it’s not a bug, it’s a feature” nonsense I’m so tired of tolerating these days. Grumble, grumble.

those seconds

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I ran into a persistent STOP error message that would always be in RTL8185.SYS on a client’s computer today.  He had a TrendNet TEW-421PC (the PCMCIA variant of the TEW-423PI PCI card) based on a Realtek RTL8185 chip.  He uses an older Dell Inspiron 2600 laptop, and you couldn’t remove the card or browse for too long without a crash.  Even updating the drivers with the card inserted would crash the system.

TrendNet’s “latest drivers” are old as dirt for this chip, and it turned out the solution was only a little bit further away: hit up realtek.com and search for RTL8185!  Downloading the latest drivers straight from Realtek and installing them solves the problem quite nicely.

But how do we update drivers when the card isn’t inserted to avoid the imminent crash?  There are a few ways to do it.  The least complicated way is to delete the file RTL8185.SYS from the “drivers” folder under the “system32” folder (the majority of systems store this at “C:\WINDOWS\System32\drivers” and insert the card.  The driver doesn’t load until the card is inserted, so deleting it before inserting the card will allow you to change out the driver without the crash.

For more advanced users, adding DEVMGR_SHOW_NONPRESENT_DEVICES = 1 to the system-wide environment variables under the System control panel, then starting Device Manager and going to View -> Show Hidden Devices will let you manipulate hardware that’s not plugged in, but the deletion is easier for most people.

If you need help with this process, leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.

Greetings! This article has been moved to the Tritech Computer Solutions page called Hooking Up a Wireless Router to DSL Service. Please update your links and bookmarks to reflect this change.

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