It’s been that kind of week!

I usually try to write at least two or three posts a week, and with Star Trek: Picard being so prominent on the blog at the moment, I’ve been trying to manage at least one non-Picard article in between my reviews and theory posts. The latter has become an unexpected weekly series! But this week I’ve had some technical issues with my computer, and honestly it’s been so frustrating!

I’m not a tech expert. I dabble in the tech world, sure, but when it comes to the details of programming and such I’m well out of my depth, and I rely on Google searches to fix problems when they arise. The most frustrating thing is when something absolutely should work… but it doesn’t. This is the situation I’ve been in this week.

I use a television as my main PC monitor. I know that’s a little unusual, but I like to have things displayed on the biggest screen in the house – and since my PC is also my DVD/Blu-ray player, gaming device, and all-round entertainment centre, even a “large” PC monitor is too small for my preferences. Ever since I got this TV, though, I’ve experienced a certain amount of screen tearing and flickering. I tried changing my graphics card (currently an AMD Radeon 560; we’ll come to that in a moment) but to no avail. I eventually realised that the television will only display 50Hz and the graphics cards I’ve used were – for some inexplicable reason – set to 59Hz by default. So I scaled it down to 50Hz and some of the screen tearing and flickering, but not all, went away.

That was a few months ago and it had been ticking over more or less okay since, running in 4K at 3840×2160 pixels. But this week the flickering got worse, and eventually the graphics card I’d had – a GTX 1060 that was a couple of years old – crapped out on me and stopped displaying any picture at all. I couldn’t get it to work so I swapped in the Radeon 560 I mentioned above. The Radeon 560 is a slightly weaker card, and draws a little less power, but nevertheless should be able to output the same 4K picture. The key word there being “should”.

I can accept that components eventually break down, and while I was disappointed in my 1060’s demise, it’s not the end of the world. But the replacement card just isn’t working right, and despite hours of work and searching I just can’t find any solution.

Firstly, around half the time, the card just fails to display any picture at all. I get a blank screen when I turn on the display; the only solution being to forcibly restart my computer. Secondly, it stutters when switching to and from full-screen mode for videos. And thirdly, when it tries to display a 4K picture, it does so in a “letterbox” mode, with black bars at the top and bottom of the screen. Nothing has fixed these issues. Uninstalling the card, uninstalling the drivers, reinstalling everything, rolling back the drivers to an older version, using AMD’s Radeon software, not using the software, and of course searching online for answers. The Radeon 560, for some reason, will not output a full screen 4K picture, and has those other issues. So I’m stuck with a downgrade to 1080p, which looks fuzzy on my large display – when it works at all. So frustrating!

Because I’m not an expert, when something doesn’t “just work”, and playing around with its settings and looking online doesn’t fix it, it really irritates me. As a disabled person, I rely quite heavily on my computer for contact with the outside world and obviously I need it to work right! It’s also very difficult to open it up and fiddle with components inside, despite me keeping the computer in an accessible place. And as someone on a fixed income, I don’t have money to waste on barely-functional components.

It is partly my fault for choosing a screen that was only 50Hz. I genuinely didn’t realise how much of a problem the television’s refresh rate would be for modern graphics cards. I hope to upgrade the screen later in the year – something similar in size, but I’ll make sure it’s a 60Hz panel instead of 50Hz. Having now essentially busted two different graphics cards with different chips from different manufacturers, the only consistent thing that could be causing these graphics problems is the television itself. I’m hoping a different model will lead to the situation improving.

This isn’t the only frustrating “shouldn’t-be-a-problem” that I’ve had in the last few months, either. I’ve had issues with my phone syncing to my PC and downloading photos and videos, problems with my mail app and client not sending push notifications, bugs in Windows 10 which, upon investigation, were reported to Microsoft up to three years ago and still haven’t been fixed, and others besides. When something has been working, and no settings have been changed, and then for some unknown reason it just ceases to work, I just have no idea why or what to do. The graphics thing is just the latest example – why on earth is it behaving that way? Why do I have to reboot my machine to get it to display a picture? Why does it stutter when going to and from full screen mode? Why can it only display 1080p properly?

Honestly, messing around with this has been so annoying and taken up so much time the last few days that I haven’t felt like writing much. I hope to get something sorted out at the beginning of March as a stop-gap to get me through to later in the year when I can perform some much-needed PC and television upgrades! For now I’ll soldier on, and try not to lose my temper and break the damn thing! I know, I know. First world problems. “My moderately expensive graphics card won’t display an ultra-HD 4K picture on my big screen TV” is not the worst thing in the world. And I’m grateful for what I have.

The internet has been absolutely huge in just my lifetime – I remember when I first got an email account having to ask people if they even had a connection to the web, and having to say to friends I could only be online at certain times because my dial-up connection was tying up the phone line! And now look at where we are, practically everyone has an internet-enabled computer-phone constantly connected via wireless or mobile data about their person at all times. My PC, even though fibre-optic broadband isn’t available, is still connected at speeds I couldn’t have dreamed of back then. And 1080p would have seemed amazing then too, even if it feels like a downgrade this week.

And again as someone with health issues, being able to stay connected and keep up to date with what’s going on in the wider world, as well as shop and organise aspects of my life online, are really important things. As disappointed and frustrated as I’ve been, I try to remember that! It could be worse, after all. And I’m lucky to have the knowledge of computers that I do, so that I can perform some tasks myself. I shudder to think how much it would have cost to have a computer repair person visit, or how inconvenient it would be to send the machine away for repairs. As things stand, it works in a roundabout way, and I know how to get around the bugs that are present. Hopefully in the next few days I’ll get my stop-gap solution up and running so that things can get back to normal. I just wanted to share this little “life update”, since it explains why there’s been more of a gap than usual between articles.

Until next time!

This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.