Gillette Wyoming – FMCA Rally and Devil’s Tower National Monument

FMCA Rally

Pre-Rally Upgrades

We arrive in Gillette on Sunday the 15th of July for an early set-up because on Monday we have our new sensors getting installed.  See the post here about the sensor installation.  Tuesday we got our tanks washed out then the 98th FMCA Rally starts Wednesday.

The Rally Begins – Here’s a typical day:

DJI 0129
FMCA Rally – Gillette Wyoming

Wednesday July 18th

LED Troubleshooting

Our first seminar Jeff attended is on LED lighting taught by Gregg Wilson.  Just about the first question out was how many folks have LED lights in their coach, and Jeff’s hand shot up.  The next question was how many have LED lights that are flickering?  Again, Jeff’s hand shot up.  We have a number of interior and exterior LED lights that are flickering that we got from M4 RV Lighting.   We went with M4 because some of the more popular blogs we follow have used the lights from this company.  Jeff is interested in getting some troubleshooting tips to diagnose the flickering.

Flickering Usually Means HEAT

Most often LED lights flicker because they get too hot, and inferior lights handle heat poorly.  Sure enough, the lights that we are having problems with are the enclosed Valance lights at the ends of our cabinets in the living area.  The light is enclosed in a triangular area 10″ x 10″ x 10″, so it is not like the lights are in a small space, but they don’t get any circulation.

Gregg designs, builds and sells LED lights that he has designed for the RV environment.   The second set of lights are in the ceiling above the bed – again the rear ceiling gets less circulation than the front and is more susceptible to more heat.  We elected to replace these lights with LEDs that have more directionality and are designed to allow more airflow around the light.  In addition, we picked lights that are shielded to create less interference for TVs and amateur radios.

External LED lights – A PROBLEM!

Our other lights that flicker are running lights on the outside of the coach.  Gregg informs us that there are no LEDs certified for use on the exterior unless they are fully encapsulated, and pass IP65, IP66 or IP67 standards for water proofing.  Replacing a conventional running light with an LED is not legal and will likely not work in the long-term.  Sure enough, most of these lights have been flickering since day 1.  Next job is to replace these with original style light bulbs.

Porch Lights

We also purchased two LED motion detector porch lights.  Jeff had already replace the porch light by the door with an LED version, because want to have motion detectors for our porch lights especially while boondocking this was a good find.  Since they are a) not running lights and b) enclosed there should be no issue with these lights.  That project will be on a future blog post & video.

Orthopedic Principals and Applications

Christine went to the Orthopedic seminar, which was a good seminar as they talked about key stretches to do, especially when sitting hours during travel days.  They also discussed keeping as limber as possible as we age because let’s face it… we are all getting older.

Extended Warranty

Next, we went to an Extended Warranty presentation by US Warranties.  It was an interesting seminar for us because our original extended warranty that we got when we purchased Lola is expiring in August.  We got several key take-aways:

  • Does it include roadside assistance?
  • Does it include towing?
  • Is there Trip Interruption services
  • Senior Citizen & Military Discounts
  • Does it include Consequential Loss Coverage (when an item that is covered damages other parts)

More on our experience shopping for extended warranties soon!

Other Notable Seminars

Freightliner Fireside Chat

Jeff attended the Freightliner Fireside Chat in Massachusetts 2 years ago and decided to attend this rally’s version.  A representative from Freightliner RV manufacturing gave an interesting overview of some of the newer technology being used in current Freightliner RV chassis.  In addition the standard Fireside Chat discussion is about basic chassis technology, troubleshooting and maintenance (as much as you can squeeze into an hour).

Griots Detailing 101

One of the things we like about the FMCA rally is that seminars are either general information (not vendor specific) or product oriented (vendor specific).  Detailing a Coach 101 was a product specific seminar from Griots (Griots Detailing 101 from Griots Garage).   Cool products at a premium price.  Check out the link to Griots for some of their cool stuff.

Air Brakes

The seminar on Air Brakes is presented by   I took some notes, but could really have used a hand-out.  There is a full course available from RVSafety on testing Air Brakes.  I did find an article on testing Air Brakes at Family RVing website.  Scroll down to the Pretrip Brake Inspection.  Also a basic Understanding Air Brakes from the same FMCA author.

Tire Knowledge

Roger Marble has been working with tires his entire life.  He spent many years ‘in the pit’ on race courses and ‘in the lab’ at a major US tire manufacturer.  Check his blog-site for lots of information on RV tires.  This seminar was focused on tire failures and the forensics involved in determining the root cause of the failure.  Fascinating, but probably a bit too in depth for our more practical needs.  His website and his contributions on forums is invaluable.  Guess it is important to have your tires checked on a regular basis.

Detail an RV in an Hour

This seminar was a combination general information and product specific.  The non product specific portion of the seminar covered microfiber cloth manufacturing and quality and how to tell if you are getting a good microfiber cloth.  The instructor from Almost Heaven Microfiber  also talked about the advantages of using poles instead of ladders to wash and wax your RV.   For the product specific portion of the seminar he displayed a variety of products including microfiber cloths of different texture for various tasks, poles to attach the cloths to as well as different wash and wax products.  We ended up stopping by the booth and picking up a heavy duty pole, some spray wax for between full wax jobs and a variety of microfiber cloths.

Boondocking 101 & 102

Two full seminar sessions by Dave Helgerson all about boondocking safety, resources and planning.  Because this is a very detailed subject matter too much to cover for this blog entry  we will devote some quality time to create another video and blog just on what we learned about Dave’s boondocking teachings.

Devils Tower

On Friday we take a break and drive to Devil’s Tower – the nation’s first National Monument.  It was a nice drive with the dogs and a nice break from all the learning we are doing at the FMCA Gillette Rally.



Happy Trails!

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Antenna Upgrade Part 2: WiFi Ranger and WeBoost Antenna Install

Antenna Installation Part 2

WiFi Ranger and WeBoost Antenna Rooftop Install

This is Part 2 of a 3 part set describing our antenna upgrades.  Part 1 is here.  Part 3 is here.

The WiFi Ranger typical installation is to tie-wrap or clamp the antenna onto the crank-up TV mast.  However, we have upgraded our old TV antenna with a King Jack Antenna.

WiFi Ranger Temporary Installation

This photograph on the right shows the King Jack Antenna – the point of the TV antenna keeps the WiFi Ranger antenna from being placed up above the TV antenna.  For our installation, we made a small stand-off using a piece of plastic rain gutter so the WiFi Ranger antenna is beyond the point of the King Jack Antenna.  Below you can see the final installation with the stand-off in place.  You can also see the WeBoost antenna on the Cake/Pie pan that is a ground plane.

WiFi Ranger with Stand Off

Here’s the video of our antenna installation:

Note:  We are not professional RV repair technicians!  The information provided here is how we upgraded our antenna system and your installation will be different.  If you are uncomfortable working on rooftops or with electrical wiring please consult a certified technician.

Happy Trails!
Trippin’ Engles


Antenna Upgrade Part 1 – King Dome Satellite Removal

Antenna Upgrade Part 1 – Satellite Removal

Why Remove the King Dome Satellite

Our vintage 2008 King Dome Satellite needs a major upgrade for it to work.  Our King Dome 9704-LP requires a circuit board replacement and a firmware upgrade.  Even with that, it does not recognize newer satellites.  We have other entertainment options such as:

  • Streaming content if we have a Wi-Fi or cellular data connection
  • Downloading content and watching later
  • Using Blu-Ray or DVDs
  • Renting from RedBox
  • Watching the dozens of DVDs copied to hard drive

Having a satellite dish on the roof is also a handicap since you need to park the RV in a spot with good reception – something we don’t always have control over.  If we are going to use a satellite service, we will go with a more portable solution such as the Dish Tailgater or similar setup.

King Dome 9704-LP
Our Vintage King Dome Antenna

For the past few months on the road, we use the WiFi Ranger for WiFi access.  This antenna is often attached to the crank-up TV antenna on the RV roof.  We also use the Wilson Electronics WeBoost 4G cellular signal booster for our phone and MiFi use.  We have been manually zip tying the WiFi Ranger to the TV mast and putting the WeBoost on a metal pie/cake pan on the roof each time we stop at an RV park.

With the removal of the Satellite dish, we can use the access panel in the roof to route the WiFi Ranger and WeBoost cables through the same access hole.  I don’t like walking on the roof so much – especially as the weather gets rainy.

WiFi Ranger

The WiFi Ranger Go 2 not only gives our WiFi connectivity greater range, but also links all of our gadgets using a single connection when we buy WiFi access at RV Parks.  Some campground WiFi providers limit the number of devices that can connect.  We have seen services that only allow 1 connection at a time, and others allow different #’s of devices depending on how long of a contract you select.  With the WiFi Ranger there is only a single connection to the WiFi service for all the gadgets.

WeBoost Cellular Booster

The WeBoost Drive 4G is a cellular signal booster that is for RV’s and trucks.  It has a little rubber duck antenna with a magnetic mount that gives us an extra bar or two.  It cannot boost signals that are not there or are too weak, however it can often make a significant improvement when signal strength is marginal.  We even use it at our cabin with a larger truck antenna mounted on a flag pole!

Part 1:  Remove the Satellite Dish

This is Antenna Upgrade Part 1 – Satellite Removal.  We first need to remove the King Dome satellite and the cables.  In Part 2 we install the new antennas and route the cables, and in Part 3 we install the inside equipment.

Here’s the video with the details:

To remove the old satellite dish, Dicor and adhesives from the rooftop we use:

  • Screwdriver & socket wrench
  • Mineral Spirits to remove the Dicor & old adhesive
  • Magic Eraser to get some of the hard to remove dirt off
  • New Dicor Lap Sealant to seal the holes
  • Eternabond tape for extra protection

Note:  We are not professional RV repair technicians!  The information provided here is how we upgraded our antenna system and your installation will be different.  If you are uncomfortable working on rooftops or with electrical wiring please consult a certified technician.


Thanks for reading and watching,

Happy Trails!

Trippin’ Engles


Staying in Touch While Traveling

Trippin’ Engle’s Communication Setup

Communication with others has improved tremendously in the past decade, especially for gypsies like us.

Staying in touch while on the road

During the first month and a half of our travels Christine and I will be traveling in separate vehicles.  Our primary method to communicate will be using our cell phones (hands free of course).  In areas where there is limited coverage we have 2 BeoFeng hand held radios that have GMRS frequencies so we can talk car-to-car.  They can also be used when we are in campsites that don’t have cell coverage… honey, can you pick up a loaf of bread from the trading post?  As a licensed amateur radio operator, the BeoFeng radios also provide access to ham radio repeaters that may be in an area we are traveling. At $63 this was a ‘no-brainer’ to get a pair of them.  I might even convince Christine to become a ham.


Staying in touch while camping – the connection

We use a AT&T ZTE MiFi that allows multiple devices to utilize our data plan.  With this we can connect our laptops, cell phones, Kindles, iPads to the internet using our cellular data plan.

However we already know that many RV camping locations have marginal cellular coverage.  A marginal cellular connection is a minor inconvenience for most of us, however we like the security of being able to have wider coverage for emergency communication as well as staying in touch with the family.  Technomadia’s reviews of the WeBoost 4G-M in their technical website RVMobileInternet  cellular booster seemed to be the best solution for us to extend the range of our cellular access.  We picked this booster over other less expensive boosters because it has an external antenna and much more gain than the internal boosters.

We plan on temporarily placing the WeBoost on some foil or a pie plate until we get to NY when we can complete a more permanent installation (more on that later!).

Currently we have a 20Gb plan from AT&T and hope to keep it in that range, however we have the flexibility to increase it as we travel.  I will monitor our data usage from the Android AT&T app.

This will help us stay in touch with family using FaceTime on our Apple products and Skype on the laptop as well as cellular voice and Google Voice over the internet.  We can do everything we did in our sticks and bricks home utilizing Comcast internet service with the MiFi & WeBoost.

Cellular Data is expensive compared to an internet connection to a house – most home connections have unlimited data usage.  We gave up our unlimited AT&T cellular data plan several years ago.

To keep our cellular data usage down, we will be installing the WiFi Ranger Elite so we can more easily reach park WiFi hotspots etc. especially for streaming movies, uploading video and doing OS & program updates.   We plan on purchasing and installing the WiFi Ranger when we get to NY.  We want to remove the old satellite dish on the roof of Lola and use the access hole to route the WiFI Ranger and WeBoost external antennas.

2015-10-12-0942-35-AM SOLAR
Lola\’s Satellite Dome

Besides the WiFi Ranger we will probably get the Go2 to create a local wireless network inside the RV.  After having some great exchanges with Chris at RVMobileInternet and others who have actually installed and are using this exact setup, it seems like a great solution because this combination can actually manage cellular usage and WiFi usage from a single console.  As one person said, this combination of the WiFi Ranger antenna and the Go2 WiFi router makes it easy to manage and understand your data usage.  Also your entire WiFi setup is supported by one company.

WiFi Ranger describes their Elite Pack (WiFi Ranger + Go2):

A complete network with indoor accessibility and outdoor range, with the Elite ready to be mounted to a ladder, crank-up batwing antenna, or flagpole. Provide a secure, private network for all of your wireless computers and devices with the Go2 which also has several LAN ports for hardwiring computers and devices. The Elite then brings in otherwise weak WiFi from Hotspots in the area to get your entire network online. The indoor Go2 is dedicated to providing the secure network and also allows for USB tethering a 3G/4G Aircard or MiFi device. To power the Elite and interconnect it with the Go2, its 30FT cable needs to run to the inside where the Go2 is stored. Avoid drilling a hole for this cable by routing it to the inside through a refrigerator vent, slide, or engine compartment.

That’s the hardware side of our communication tools.

Staying in touch while camping – the communicating

So now we can connect!  What then?  For ‘live’ communication of course there is voice (cell & Google Voice over IP), FaceTime and Skype; but what about pictures and blogging?

For private family use we have a SmugMug account to share pictures securely.  I use Adobe Lightroom for a majority of my photo editing, and it has a plugin for SmugMug.  That makes it easy… and I like easy!  We can also share private files using DropBox, and of course we use instant messenger (Apple and Android products) along with Gmail for email.

For our blog we utilize GoDaddy and their WordPress package.   For snail mail we utilize Escapee‘s mail service to forward mail.  Physical mail can be sent to the nearest post office as General Delivery and picked up, or to the RV Park we are staying in (check that they will handle your mail before sending anything to the park’s address).

Another option for WiFi is to stop by a Starbucks, Home Depot, local Library, or internet cafe.  This is especially useful for those big Adobe cloud updates!  If the signal reaches out to the parking lot we can even do it using the WiFi Ranger!

Especially for our grandkids we will be posting travel updates using a couple of cartoon characters (Lola the RV & Fritz).  The first ‘rough cut’ of this project was posted here on Vimeo.  We may incorporate these characters into this blog as we get more practiced at it.  Last Christmas we gave all 3 of our grand-kids a custom scrapbook, and we will be sending them postcards as we travel.  Sometimes old school is cool school – especially to 2 5 year olds and a 3 year old.  There are also some services that will snail mail out a custom postcard you create!  We will try some of those and give a review of our experiences when we do.

That’s our plan on staying in touch with YOU and FAMILY on this great journey!

Happy Trails!

Trippin’ Engles – April 23, 2016

Trippin’ Engle’s Trip Planning

Trip Planning with Trippin’ with the Engles

Mapping and Trip Planning Software

By no means have we tried all the trip planning software out there, but we have tried a few.

Basic Non-RV Specific Trip Planning

Google & Bing Maps – Online general mapping tools are great, unless you need to know where the low clearances are and would like to see more RV/Camping specific information.

RV Specific Trip Planning

Good Sam – for basic trip planning the Good Sam web application is reasonably easy to use but only uploads to the Good Sam/Rand McNally GPS.  For stop-overs along the way the application focuses on Good Sam associated campsites (no Thousand Trails, limited number of public and state parks, etc.).  Also there are no refueling information (fuel consumption or fuel stops) and low clearances are limited to under 13′ 6″.

Family Motor Coach Association – the FMCA mapping service is a non-interactive trip planning service that you enter in the places you want to visit and a route is generated then either mailed or emailed to you.  This makes it difficult to tweak and does not offer uploading to a GPS.

Escapees Online Trip Planning – This tool is ‘coming soon’ and will offer some unique dashboard items such as available jobs along the route and member added locations and ‘over night’ spots.

Garmin Base Camp – is additional software you can download from the Garmin web site.  The biggest handicap of Garmin Base Camp is that we have to have the Garmin attached to the PC so it can use the GPS’s map.  Also the software does not have height limitations for route calculations.

Garmin RV 760 LMT (Built In) – The built in trip planning software for the Garmin RV 760 does take into account clearance requirements along the route and has a wide variety of campsites, truck stops, gas stations etc., however the form factor to explore the route and options using a hand held device is awkward.  Perfect for short trips but not easy to plan long trips.

RVTripWizard – all the more advanced tools listed above are “free” if you either buy the product (Garmin) or are members (Good Sam, FMCA, Escapees).  RVTripWizard is $39 for a 1 year subscription.  I hate paying for something I can get free, but after trying all the above tools to plan our trip from California to New York via Florida I decided to give this tool a try with their free money back subscription.


  • Incredibly easy to configure and use
  • Configure your average MPG and see refuel warnings posted along the trip
  • Configure the number of hours or miles you want to drive per day and a circle is drawn so you can start searching for the next layover
  • By far the most comprehensive selection of RV parks among the tools tried out.  Configure the parks you want to see including Good Sam, Thousand Trails, BLM, Encore, Escapee, etc. and the order you want them listed
  • Configurable clearance warnings
  • Many truck stops are included
  • Drag and drop route modifications along the way
  • Configure the number of days to stay at each stop and view the overall trip length
  • Configure prices for fuel, lodging and meals
  • Download GPS points to a variety of devices including our Garmin RV 760 LMT
  • Easy to modify and copy trips
  • Prints to Printer (or PDF) as well as export to Excel.  Both formats include GPS information, reservation #, contact data, etc.
  • Links to additional fuel locations using Mapquest gas prices that pops up in a separate window.  You can manually add the address and estimated fuel taken on
  • Points of interest include Walmart w/parking, Sam’s Club, Costco, Pet Hospitals and more


  • For our GPS device the trip is downloaded as a set of points (in sequence) but not a trip (related sequence).  This should not be a major issue since each ‘point’ is a stop but it sure would have been nice to see it imported as a trip.
  • It’s not FREE, but for $39 we feel that it is well worth the subscription fee because it makes it so easy to create and edit your route.
  • Online (web based) only – no Apple or Android app.  Even using the tool in an iPad using Safari was cumbersome and I ended up moving a layover instead of selecting it (and all changes are permanent – no undo function).

Our recommendation:

Use the built-in GPS for quick trips, and RVTripWizard for long trips.

Our Trip Planning Strategy for 2016

Spring & Summer

Route Planning Using Good Sam Online Tool
  • Go to Florida and get our domicile established & vehicles registered
  • Go to northern NY to do some work on a house (need to be done by 7/1/2016)
  • Spend 3 months exploring New England starting with Maine, going to the FMCA Family Reunion in Massachusetts in August and winding our way back to northern NY about the first of October

RVTripWizard NY to ME

Fall & Winter

  • Head south around November 1 with the goal of being in Central Florida by December 1st, then Southern Florida before the Christmas holidays.

Happy Trails from the Trippin’ Engles

Are you protected (Surge Protection-Voltage Regulator)?

Surge Protection, Voltage Regulator or both?

Are you protected?

We have visited many RV parks over the years and never worried too much about poor quality electricity. That is when our mode of transportation was a Volkswagen Vanagon or our antique Prowler trailer. Neither of these had much in terms of electronics that could be damaged by low or high power. We only had lights and a small fridge.

All of that has changed buying a modern RV. Our 2008 Winnebago Journey has enough electronics just in any one of the rooms to call for investing some time researching how to protect devices like TVs, microwave/convection ovens, PCs and air conditioners (just to name a few devices) from power surges and low power conditions. Both can damage electronic devices.

The National Electric Code specifies a range of 126 Volts to 114 Volts as acceptable (105% – 95%) Average is about 117 volts. High voltage can burn out fuses (if you are lucky) or worse burn out your appliances and electronics. Low voltages can cause air conditioners and other larger appliances to work harder and heat up more. Both situations can results in fires and safety issues besides damaging equipment.

In reality, if I want the ultimate protection I need to buy both a dedicated surge protector and a voltage regulator… or do I?

Our Finalists

Of the many surge protection and voltage regulator devices available these three stood out in our research.




Hughes Autoformer
50 amp Voltage regulator and Surge protector

Provides 10% boost in low power
situations if power is less than 115 volts

Provides Spike and Surge Protections

Simple easy to understand
diagnostics lights

Boost indicator lights


Only 2 Year Warranty

High cost – MSRP $548.00
($520.94 at Amazon) compared with dedicated Surge protection only

Hardwire installation kit is an extra $65.00

Not weather proof – must be covered if not installed inside

Industries ems-hw50c Surge Protection

Less expensive – MSRP $431.00 ($347 at Amazon)

Remote display included


Open Neutral and Open Ground protection

Lifetime warranty

No Boost – shuts down power below 104 volts or above 132 volts


Surge Guard
10175 RV Voltage Regulator – 50 Amp

Provides 10% boost as low as 95 Volts

Easy LED status panel

Rain-tight enclosure

Can be mounted inside


More expensive – $660.90 at Amazon

Does not provide surge protection (Surge Guard does offer a variety of surge protection products)

1 year warranty

Other Resources used to learn about the products

Manufacturer links

Other Resource Links

 Our Decision – Hughes Autoformers 50 Amp RV Power Booster

After looking at the various options we decided to get Hughes Autoformers.   Even if the power looks good when you get to a park, that’s no guarantee that the voltage will remain good when everyone switches on their A/C during the middle of a heat wave – or when you arrive at the park and the section you’ve been assigned to has “Low Voltage” like you see below.

WARNING  - Low Voltage
WARNING – Low Voltage

Here’s the unboxing and review on YouTube.

Besides providing surge protection it boosts the power between 3% and 10% depending on the situation.  This would help out in those ‘Low Voltage in Section A’ situations. You may want to buy a surge protector anyways though – to protect the Autoformer!!!

The device came with no instructions however it’s fairly obvious how to set it up.  No manual in the box must have been an oversight because I was able to find it online – but not at the manufacturer’s website!  Plus their contact information is in a horrible blue against brown background that I can hardly read on my PC.  However the product itself seems solid and well built.

One negative is that it is not weather proof, so either must be installed inside the bay (there is a kit you can buy for this conversion) or cover it up.  We elected to cover it up for now, but will probably move it into the electrical bay sometime in the future.

The 50 amp power plug on the Autoformer plugs into the power pedestal at the park, then the rig’s power line plugs into the Autoormer.  It has 3 lights on the side – one central status light and two outer lights that show whether there is 30 or 50 amps coming in to the device.

  • Amber light – all is good – you have power and it’s within specs
  • Red Light – Park power is low – boost in progress.  It takes a few seconds for the Autoformer to analyze the power and decide whether to boost the power.

The Autoformer will boost when the park power is below 112 Volts and go into bypass mode at 115 Volts according to the manual that is posted here: Hughes_Autoformer

Always turn off the power at the pedestal when plugging in your RV power into the Autoformer or the Autoformer into the park pedestal.

You may need to supply pig-tails to go from the Autoformer’s 50 amp plug to a 30 amp park circuit if you buy the 50 amp Autoformer.

We only used the Autoformer for a long weekend and our park power was good.  We will update you with another post as we use it more and when we get the conversion kit to keep it in the electrical bay.

As always, Happy Trails!



Techno-Crap Happens

Laptop Lost

Christine and I have worked in the technology sector since about 1980, so we know ‘stuff happens’.  My first personal computer was a Radio Shack TRS-80 with dual cassette tape (then upgraded with an expansion bay)!  It was on this computer that I taught myself COBOL and switched jobs where I worked from supervising database administrators to programming.  Anyways, I dropped my laptop.  Shouldn’t be a big deal since I have a Kindle Fire HD that I use for light-weight web browsing, Facebook and reading/listening to books along with a high-powered desktop that I use for photo and video editing (along with the occasional flight simulator exercise).  But I only lasted about a week without a laptop before I was shopping.  A laptop provides a full size keyboard and a ‘real’ operating system that shows flash-videos from some of my favorite blogs – an important consideration for surfing on the couch.

Off to Amazon

So my laptop requirements are pretty light.  Besides surfing the web I also need to do some photo sorting using Adobe Lightroom and maybe some lightweight editing using Photoshop.  Other than that, I’ll use my desktop for any heavy-duty processing until we start full-timing.  Plus, this will make a good second/backup PC once we full-time.  My big home-built desktop uses an ASUS motherboard so I’m familiar with both the ASUS brand as well as their good support.

As I browse through Amazon, I like the choice of low-end laptops on the market.  I ended up zeroing in on an ASUS X551MAV 15.6-Inch Dual-Core Intel 2.16 Ghz Laptop, 4GB RAM and 500GB Hard Drive:


This PC has enough memory and hard drive space for our needs and the Intel Celeron N2830 2.16GHz processor should have enough guts to do some Lightroom photo sorting and some editing. I ordered the PC and it arrived a few days later.

It is amazing  how lightweight this laptop is. Perfect to actually use as a LAP-top, and it does not get real hot as it sits on my lap.  The evening I received the laptop from Amazon,  I powered it up and after a few screen prompts Windows 8.1 started installing. After a very short time it rebooted and the keyboard and mouse died. Nada, nothing. Nothing I tried to do worked, so I held down on the power button and the laptop shut down. I restarted and the Windows installation resumed and I had keyboard and mouse control again.

I installed some basic things – Open Office, Wunderlist, Microsoft OneNote (Free), Chrome and Avast antivirus, then uninstalled McAfee antivirus. Everything worked fine until I upgraded my Avast to the paid version, then my keyboard and mouse died again. I called ASUS support and they walked me through powering down the laptop (30 second press on the power button) then resetting the BIOS (F2 while booting – which did not help), then starting in Windows Recovery mode (full power down then F9 while booting) and doing a ‘refresh’. The ASUS support tech said this should take care of it, and sent me a link to re-install the keyboard drivers.


I went through the process of re-installing Windows 8.1, uninstalling McAfee and then re-installing the keyboard drivers and installing Open Office, Wunderlist, OneNote, Chrome then I installed all the Windows updates (something I didn’t do first time around). I then installed AVAST and then entered my key for the full version. When Avast rebooted the laptop, again I didn’t have keyboard or mouse control. Techno-Crap!

Is it ASUS or Avast?  I decide to go the Avast route since I’ve already made my ASUS call.  I re-initialize the PC again, re-install Windows updates & all my software up to the point of entering in the Avast key – still using the Free version. Everything is working fine.  I call Avast support and explain my situation – that once I enter the key I lose my keyboard and mouse.  The technician sends me my key as a file via email and I ask if there anything that he can do to help diagnose the problem before entering the key since that is where it lost contact the last few times.  He downloads a utility that shows a number of application errors (errors that don’t show up in the standard Microsoft error log), plus he believes the Microsoft firewall is interfering with Avast.  He then suggests that I spend $100 or more getting more personal support ;-).  I decline and say I will run with what he’s found.

The only applications that I see that would be generating all those errors is probably the ASUS free stuff, so I remove all the games and the ASUS cloud backup app.  I decide to run this way for a bit before installing the key.  Looks good for 24 hours, so  I install Lightroom & Photoshop to see how they run.

After a couple of days I lose my keyboard and mouse control again.  Double Techno-Crap.  (Is there a Maxi-Pad for this?) I can’t get into Windows Safe Mode – or even the DOS prompt mode.  Again, I refresh my PC, but this time I leave McAfee anti-virus and install all the rest of my applications & remove the ASUS junk.  It has now been 4 days and still running OK without Avast.  In the meantime, I decided that I’m tired of spending 2 days refreshing the PC, installing Windows updates and then re-installing my applications.  I upgraded my Acronis disk cloning/backup software on my desktop to the latest version and added the 3 PC upgrade so I have a license for the new laptop.  Once that got installed I made a full backup of the hard drive and a recovery boot on a USB stick.  At least I won’t have to spend 2 days re-installing Windows updates and my applications.

I’m going to run this way using McAfee for a couple of weeks and then decide if I want to try to go back to Avast.  I have been a FREE Avast user for years, and it’s funny that when I finally decide to pay for the extra protection that the paid version has (Avast firewall and some other tools) that it fails to work on my new laptop.  I don’t know if it’s an Avast problem or ASUS, but it upsets me that AVAST wants me to pay for their help to decide whether it’s their problem or ASUS.

 Bottom Line on the ASUS Laptop

ASUS X551MAV Pros and Cons
Pros Cons
Low Cost Klickety-Clack Keyboard
Limited amount of 'Junkware' Keyboard-Touchpad issues
Decent performance for the price No DVD player
Comfortable spacing of keys on keyboard Screen a bit hard to see in sunlight
Light weight Decals on keys look like they will rub off soon
USB 2 & USB 3 and HDMI ports AvastAnti-virus not working
1 year waranty Can only return PC once during the warranty period

All in all it seems like it’s a good choice.  I am not expecting a fast PC, but I am expecting one where everything works.  Now the laptop has Acronis backup software running, I will decide if the removal of McAfee or installation of Avast is creating the problem with the laptop. I will also consider getting a square trade extended warranty since ASUS limits their returns to one.

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