help a rookie; 8-year-old laptop music server died


This is my first post on any kind of audio forum, so I apologize in advance for my ignorance if I’m violating any convention/etiquette etc. I love music, but confessed to being overwhelmed regarding all the technical development since the days of tubes.

Over the last year I becoming I’ve I have come to rely more and more on my laptop/J River/Bryston DAC as my primary music source. I have a problem I’m hoping someone can help me with:

I have an 8-10 year-old "HP Pavilion entertainment" laptop that I use this strictly as a source to play un-compressed audio files on my home music system. The output from the laptop goes via USB to an outboard Bryston DAC, which in turn feeds the Audio Research LS17SE tube pre amp , and then into the amplifier etc. .

Windows is the operating system (although I think it may be obsolete – XP?). Within the last six months, I've replaced the hard drive with a "solid-state hard drive" (that I think cost around $300).

Finally, I followed what was for me, a super complex process based on some instructions on an audiophile website to configure the software so it is optimally set up to provide a high fidelity audio signal. I think this software configuration consisted chiefly of bypassing a lot of the typical windows and other software choices that affect the quality of the audio signal, but I really have no idea – like I said I’m not a technical person and have little computer knowledge so was pretty labor-intensive/time-consuming for me.

This sounded great, except the fan was too noisy. Unfortunately, now the laptop is not working. When I push the power button all the lights come on I can hear the fan spin for about 15 seconds, but it doesn't boot up – seems to keep cycling through this process. When this initially happened, I took the battery out and I was able to get it to boot up and open up the J River program to manage the music and it worked but it took a super long time. Now I can't even get the screen to light up or the computer to do anything but cycle on and off for 15 seconds – the screen never lights.

Now to the options; because the laptop is already configured for high fidelity audio playback, and has the solid-state hard drive, I'm wondering if I should just try and repair whatever is wrong. Ideally I would also like to replace the fan with a much quieter version.

If however, there's something fundamentally wrong/obsolete with the laptop then I guess the best option would be to buy another one. Because I only use it for this limited purpose, the ideal solution would be of the find something used and relatively inexpensive that I could transfer my solid-state hard drive to.

I would be interested in a dedicated CAPS type music server if:

1) It would sound significantly better than a laptop.

2) I could find something around $1000 – $1500.

3) And it didn’t require any computer expertise to set up and integrate into my system.

4) It would be ideal if I could use the solid-state drive I bought six months ago for about $250 for my laptop, but not a requirement.

My current laptop is connected to a Bryston DAC via a premium USB cable. Could I shop for a used CAPS type music server here on Audiogon or somewhere else? How would I operate/control it? I have a Microsoft Surface tablet and an iPhone.

I would very much appreciate any advice or suggestions from the knowledgeable folks here about what would be the best solution about what the audio files here think would be the best solution!

Thanks again for your consideration advice!
Best regards, Mike
mallen1010
You can likely find a local PC repair place to get your laptop running for under $100. My personal solution was to buy a Bryston BDP-1 which is basically a stripped down computer configured to only play music files. You plug drives off it via USB inputs. It would output very well to your Bryston DAC and you would likely control it using an Iphone with the MPOD software or using an Android OS. It's quiet (noiseless actually), and works great. You would still rip and download music using your laptop and then just plug in your external drives and update every so often. I think you can find one on Audiogon for about $1200 used or you can buy one new for about $1800 from Audio Advisor or another store. The BDP-2 is more expensive but you could actually install your SS drive internally.
The first thing I would try is pressing the F10 key repeatedly and rapidly when you turn on the computer, and seeing if you can then get anything to appear on the display. See "Accessing the BIOS Setup Menu" on this page.

The next thing I would try is a "hard reset." See the instructions here. Then try the F10 procedure again, if the computer still doesn't work.

If those things don't help, based on your description of the symptoms I suspect that chances are something has failed on the motherboard (the main circuit board within the laptop). If so, I doubt that the repair could be accomplished for anything close to $100, and availability of a replacement part or the entire motherboard may be a major problem as well.

One approach you could then consider, although I don't particularly recommend it, would be to find a working computer of the same make and model on eBay, and having your SSD (solid state drive) installed into it. The downsides of that approach:

1)You would still have the fan noise problem, which I suspect may not be fixable as a practical matter.

2)Although it would not be a major issue, you would most likely have to reactivate Windows, since the Windows installation on the SSD would recognize that it is no longer running on the same hardware. That might be doable by entering the 25 digit activation "key" (code) that would probably appear on a sticker on the bottom of the replacement laptop, or you might have to call Microsoft to get a new key.

3)Considering its age, the replacement laptop may also fail before too much longer.

A better approach, at relatively low cost, would be to buy a new laptop. Today's laptops provide much better performance at much lower cost (e.g., $300 to $500) than those from 8 or 10 years ago. Assuming you want to stay with Windows I would recommend considering Asus laptops, which are very quiet in my experience. Newegg.com is a good place to buy them (if you are in the USA), as well as the other items suggested below. Also, the user comments posted there are helpful in making choices, although those reporting negative experiences generally seem to be disproportionately represented.

Most likely a new laptop would come with Windows 8 or 8.1, which have been generally unpopular because the user interface differs considerably from all previous versions of Windows, and takes some getting used to. So I would suggest purchasing a separate copy of Windows 7 (a 64 bit version, not 32 bits!), and having someone proficient with computers install that.

To accomplish the following, you would also want to get an "adapter case" such as this one, which converts an internal laptop hard drive or SSD to an external drive connected via USB.

Before wiping out the Windows 8 installation, it would be preferable for the person doing the work for you to create an "image" of that installation, stored on another drive, which would allow you to readily restore the as delivered software configuration at a later time, if necessary for any reason.

The person would also install your SSD in the "adapter case," connect it to a computer, and copy from it any music or other data files it contains that had not been backed up on a different drive.

The laptop's internal drive and the SSD would then be swapped, so that the SSD would be in the laptop and the laptop's original drive (presumably a mechanical/non-SSD drive) would be in the external case. The SSD would then be reformatted, which destroys everything on it (the existing XP installation would undoubtedly not function properly in a new laptop, for many reasons), and Windows 7 would then be installed. The drive in the external case would also be reformatted, and connected to the new laptop via USB, and used to store image files, music files, and backup copies of data or music files that may be on the SSD. All of your music files should always exist on at least two drives, so that they would not be lost in the event of drive failure.

Good luck. Regards,
-- Al
Personally I'd bag the laptop and look at a dedicated streamer of some type, especially if you are computer adverse. It'll probably sound better and be way less of a pita
Thanks Al for your VERY helpful advice!! I am persuaded about the limitations of an old laptop and all the inherent problems.

I just bought a used CAPS 3 (I think the Carbon model?) here on Audiogon from a guy (Frank) , who was really patient and helpful. I also got the battery power supply.

Total "leap of faith" as I'm sure is clear from post, I'm a complete idiot when it comes to computers! Realistically it's 50/50 if I'll even be able to add to my system and operate. Seriously, reason I wanted laptop is the keyboard and monitor.

I have a MS Surface tablet and iPhone, but really no idea how I'm going to transfer my music files and operate the server to lay music. I also think I need a driver for Bryson DAC?, but clear about how to do that either.

I'm a 55 year old with a graduate degree and professional life that I'm sure would surprise those reading a post as ignorant as this. I love music and would gladly pay an expert to do this for me in hopes of getting the optimal sound but it seems like there is no such service. My local audio dealer knows Hi Fi but nada when it comes to computer audio. Maybe I'm missing something?

Any suggestions about resources to help me with set up would be much appreciated.

Thanks for making a newbie feel welcome!
Cheers, Mike
Look at computeraudiophile.com
I'm a computer systems engineer with 30 years experience and also a music lover and "audiophile".

I'd agree if you are computer adverse, I'd stay away from fidgeting with a computer as the streaming source and perhaps from using it as a server as well. An integrated device like the new Sony HAP units should do quite well. You'd still have the option of using an external DAC which is where most of the music making occurs.

Or take a look at SOnos or Bluesound streamers or anything else along those lines.

There are many things that go into good digital sound and it is very complex. Do you want to take your time and wade your way through it all and learn along the way or cut to the chase and just buy something designed already to make good music?

CAPS would seem to fall into the first category. From what you say I do understand why you would want to go down that path.
" From what you say I do understand why you would want to go down that path."

Meant to say I do not understand why....