Wednesday, December 2, 2009

How To Get your Computer Fixed or What About The Geek Squad?

So your computer is broken and you need to get it fixed. You'd rather it cost nothing, but you know it is going to cost. How much should you pay? And, who should do the work? Who do you trust to work on your computer? Should it be The Geek Squad? They are just about the only national computer repair outfit, affiliated with Best Buy and found everywhere that they are. I do not think they are your best choice, if you have a choice, but they do provide at least one useful service, which I am going to talk about.

If you search online for "computer repair" or "computer help" using Google, you come up with a lot of local listings, some of which are paid ads (those on the right, and those at the top on a beige field), and then some which are displayed in Google rank order according to how well Google thinks the listing matches your search.

But does that make the listings good? Or will they know how to fix your machine at a fair price?

It's still hard to say. But you can take a look at some online info to see what services are available, at what prices, and in what packages by checking out The Geek Squad website. They list their services, where they perform them -- at their place, your place, and by phone, and what they cost and how they are packaged.

Even if you don't use The Geek Squad, going through their service listings will give you a good working knowledge of what to expect, including the prices you may have to pay and the time it will take to get your computer fixed.

I personally have no knowledge what kind of service you will get from The Geek Squad, though, because that will depend on WHO you get, on the phone, in the store, or at your home or business.

For that you would need a recommendation from someone about the business or about the specific service personnel.

Nevertheless, it's interesting to see by the charges and times The Geek Squad indicates for certain services, how long they expect, say, Virus/Spyware/Trojan removal to take and what you will have to pay.

The Geek Squad lists a price of $300, for example, for Virus and Spyware Removal, as they put it, In-Home or In-Office. They charge $70 for Email Troubleshooting, but they do not offer that as a service other than by phone. Hardware install in the field starts at $150.

They also make it clear that the packages do not combine -- that is, if you need Email help and Virus Removal, you cannot just lump them together at an hourly pro-rated price. You pay for one, and then the other.

OK, I think that may be a little unreasonable and a little expensive, but the good thing about it is, you have a price and package with which to compare the time and cost estimates of other service providers.

Most will give you an hourly rate and a time estimate for a particular job, and you should expect that. And they estimates are just that, ball-park figures. You can ask about the experience of the technician who is coming to take care of you, too.

Once you have the dollar figures for a specific repair, you can also decide if the repair is worth it.

We regularly see 6 and 7 year old machines that have gotten virus infested, or have suffered a drive failure, but whose owners think they should be fixed. You can easily see that malware removal at $300 is not appropriate for a machine with no value, which is close to what it can cost for a really bad infestation. Certainly that's what the Geek Squad charges.

People do figure that out, too. I often hear the complaint, "I know it's not worth anything but I have all of my photos and letters and stuff on it ... and it's not backed up. What should I do?" You can hope your hard drive is still alive, and ...

For the answer to that question and others, see Bring in the Clones, a previous article on backing up, and Buying a New Computer, really 2 articles, on what you should pay and what you need.


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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Don't Send Your Computer to Dust Bunny Heaven!

Dust clogged computer

Beware of Dust Bunnies: they will send your computer to heaven!

It's that time of year. Time to ... clean out your computer!
No, not all that bloatware you've installed in the past 12 months, although getting rid of that stuff would be nice, but rather ... the actual dust and dirt that builds up inside the PC itself.

It never fails to amaze us how invisible the actual machine becomes once it's installed. Except for popping in a CD or downloading a photo to it, who actually looks at the box? Not too many people. But all those little fans inside are spinning away, sucking dust bunnies into the case to the point where -- they can cause problems and FAILURE, sometimes spectacular failure.

Dust is conductive, and can get into the open expansion slots and eventually short a connection causing a crash, or it can fill a power supply so that heat cannot be exhausted and so it dies, or, as in one exciting and memorable case, it can catch on fire from the spark in a short.

You need to blow out the dust. A hair dryer on cold setting works well, and a vacuum cleaner with the hose reversed into the exhaust does, too.

Or you can use a lot of expensive canned air, but the blow dryer is cheaper and just as good.

Be especially careful to blow out all of the empty expansion slots, and any empty memory slots, as well as the power supply, heat sinks, fan blades, and cd/dvd or floppy openings.

It could take a good 10 minutes to get all of that dust out of a machine that hasn't been cleaned in a year. After about a year and a half, or sooner, depending on the sticky stuff in your air, the dust will get a bit oily and hard to remove. Then you have a bigger job, that may take a lot of hand wiping.

We see a lot of machines whose owners say, "I don't know what happened to it. It just died." Often, pun intended, they've Bit The Dust.

Hey, cleaning the computer is necessary. You know, like changing the oil on your car. What??? Yes, you have to do that, too.


Image courtesy of Tech Republic. Take a look at all of their other dust catchers!

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Free Microsoft Anti-Virus -- Microsoft Security Essentials

Well this is a very good thing and a long time coming. Microsoft has released their own, free Anti-Virus Software. It seems to be pretty good, too. Microsoft Security Essentials can be downloaded directly from Microsoft and installs very easily, and makes a good, preferable alternative to the other free Anti-Virus Software packages that are out there.

Microsoft has offered their own Firewall Software, bundled with their Operating Systems for some time now: it installs when you install the OS -- and now they have a complete Internet Security Software package. I can only hope they will bundle it with Windows 7 in the future.

While the free AV software packages do work and do a good job by and large, they are essentially advertisements for their not-free, for-pay, big brothers and are usually crippled in some way. Either they do not update automatically, or they pop up Ad Messages for the commercial up-grade, or won't let you do a deep scan, or something.

I am not sure why Microsoft decided to offer MSE at this time, but I wonder if the screams of customers, many with infected brand new machines, who painfully discover that they cannot safely connect to the Internet without purchasing a 3rd party program, have something to do with it.

In fact, I think that all PCs should come with basic Anti-Virus and Firewall software out of the box. Just the same way cars come with airbags these days.

We are one step closer to that now.

Meanwhile, unless you have some arcane and special need that Microsoft Security Essentials can't satisfy, I heartily recommend that you install it next time you are asked to renew an Internet Security or Anti-Virus subscription, or need Anti-Virus software.

It is available for the 64 bit and 32 bit versions of Windows 7 and Vista, and the 32 bit XP.

Symantec has begun to remind me that my Norton Internet Security is due for renewal in 7 days and they want $45 from me to do that.

No, not gonna happen.

MSE is already installed.

Meantime, Ive still got SpyBot and AVG Free installed, until I'm certain MSE is doing its job, but, I am hopeful.


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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Windows 7, Windows 7, Windows 7 … Sigh …

All right; Windows 7 seems to be a pretty good OS – Having used the commercial release for over a week now I have to say, it is everything Vista should have been, and almost was, ever since Service Pack 2, just a few months back.

I have very mixed feelings about Windows 7. First, I think it should be free to every Vista owner out there, partly in payment for the 2 years of misery Microsoft inflicted on us with Vista and Vista SP1, and finally because, under the hood, Windows 7 really is Vista done right.

All of that hardware specific plumbing and compatibility is still Vista, just fixed, and it was earned at our expense. Every Vista crash, every Windows Explorer cascading program failure, and buggy driver that was fixed in the 3 odd year Vista Beta Test of Windows 7, was paid for by end-users every day. Thank goodness we had reliable XP systems to shoulder the load for the painfully UNRELIABLE Vista Systems.

But for crying out loud, to have to pay a full upgrade price to escape from that bad dream seems like adding insult to injury.

I have seen a couple of Windows 7 odd behaviors – weird System Tray (now known as the Notification Area, thank you very much) stuff like hiding icons even when they’ve been told to stay put – having to restart programs which are already running – and, yes, one cascade failure of Windows Explorer.

Still, Windows 7 is everything Vista was not, and should have been, and I know Microsoft is happy with it – I mean, they got us to pay for it twice.


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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

What Kind of PC Do I Really Need???

Dell Inspiron mini towerMost people are light users of their computers, and do not need the latest or most expensive equipment a vendor has for sale. Dell or HP or others make expensive machines sound exciting, of course, but really, for web surfing, word processing, home accounting, light game playing and the like, a basic system for well under $1000 including a 3 year warranty is possible.

In fact, such a system, powerful enough to keep up with the ever-increasing demands that the web and applications will place on it over the next 4 or more years, very well configured, can be had for between $600 and $800 delivered including tax. You may pay a little more if you need a new monitor, too.

Oh yes, you can buy really cheap systems for $300 or so but they are compromised in power and longevity, and will make most users unhappy fairly quickly.

My last article mentioned that manufacturer coupons are a good way to get a fairly large discount on the price of a major maker's PCs -- 20 or 30% in some cases, and you should always search (google) for, say, Dell Desktop Discount Coupons, or HP, or Lenovo, or whatever.

But once you've done that, what are you looking for?

For the desktop system, as an all-purpose PC, you are looking for a mid or mini tower AMD Quad Processor System with at least 4 GB of RAM, preferably 8 GB, and at least a 320 GB Hard Disk.

AMD processors are good, and reliable, and drop as much as $500 from the cost of a comparable Intel Processor based system, and AMD CPUs are offered in valued-based systems that allow you to configure your machine without a lot of the expensive stuff you do not need.

Dell has a nice one, the 546, technically the Inspiron 546, which at the moment is being discounted with a Dell 20% coupon. Even better.

Take a look at Cheap Stingy Bargains for the coupon code, and a lot of other nice discounts as well, and the appropriate Dell web page for this offer.

Click on the Inspiron 546 offer and you will be taken to that Dell landing page.

From there you have a choice of 4 systems, including the 546. With the coupon I can configure a Quad Core system with a 500 GB drive, 4 GB memory, McAffee 15 mo Anti-Virus, Windows 7 Home Premium 64 bit, and a 20" HD Monitor, 3 yr In Home Service Warranty, and at the moment, Free Delivery, for $804. You can configure what you want. Also included are all the standard items, such as a DVD/CD Burner, Keyboard, Mouse, etc. You still have to pay State Sales Tax.

It's a good deal.

You get a system that will last for a long time, and one that has enough CPU horsepower, memory, and a large enough disk, to be a pleasure to use for 4 or more years.

Similar discounts are available from:

and others.

Just search for "HP (or Dell, or whatever) desktop (or laptop) coupon."

You can get a great PC for a lot less than you might think, and you won't leave any money on the table.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

How to Buy a PC as Cheaply as Possible -- Coupons!

Do you know how to buy a PC? What optional equipment, processor, memory, hard disk to order? How much you should pay and ... how to get the cheapest possible price? Did you know that you can spend from $200 to $500 or $600 too much for same machine just by ordering from the wrong web page on the Dell or HP website, or not being aware that Dell and HP (and others) issue discount coupons for up to 30% of the price of a given system?

It's true. I am going to give some examples of specific systems and coupons which may have changes by the time you read this, but the principle will remain the same. Go to well known websites, some of which I will list, and search for (google for), for example, "Dell laptop coupons". You will then be presented with choices of coupons issued by Dell discounting that particular laptop.

So on I am presented with several choices including a Dell Latitude 15 coupon for 20% off particular desktops and laptops on a specific Dell web page. Has to be that page. Has to be that machine.

I configured the machine I wanted for $1228.00, entered the coupon code, and received $245.60 off the price of that laptop. !!! Hey, that's good stuff.

I do think it's sneaky of the manufacturers to have these "ghost" discounts, but if they are going to have them, I want to know!

Now, these coupons are quite time limited, and when they are gone, they're gone. However, similar discounts come back. Just wait a week!

This summer I helped different people purchase an HDX18t laptop at different times during a coupon discount period and we got as much as $550 off the price of these systems, bringing close to $1500 laptops to under $1000. Between the times these laptops were discounted, anyone who bought them paid, yes, ... $1500.

Let's take a look at another example.

At I found a 20% off Dell 546 coupon and configured a system for $935, entered the associated coupon code, and got $187 off for a gorgeous Quad Core Processor system, a discount that most people did not know about.

Next time I'll talk about what kind of system you should buy for your coupon discounted money!


Sunday, August 30, 2009

Kinnelon Computers and Ted Whittemore

Ted WhittemoreHi, I'm Ted Whittemore of Working Computers -- which is this Blog, Kinnelon Computers, and American Micro Group, my 2 consulting firms. Kinnelon Computers is aimed at the Home and Small Business user and specifically at the problems they have.

I’ve always been interested in personal computers, or micro computers, as they were once called. I am attracted to the promise of tremendous utility for everyone at an affordable price. And business has realized that promise in every way. Home users have, too, almost. Home users lack one often glossed over area of expertise that business users have largely mastered – safeguarding their data.

There was a time when personal computers were just big calculators – they didn’t talk to each other – you couldn’t do more than one thing at a time with them. And what you could do with them was limited and boring. Useful in that narrow way, but boring. Certainly they were not very attractive to the great majority of home users. They were very expensive, too.

But now they do a lot of things, and they are cheap. People do their banking, tax paying, shopping, phoning, socializing, vacation planning, education, research, and so on, On Their Computers, and they store all of their documents there as well. Invoices, Receipts, Photographs, Tax Documents, Phone Numbers and Addresses, Calendars – all of which used to be Outside the Box, are now Inside the Box, which is great, which is great – until the box DIES.

People depend on their computers. I depend on mine, of course.

People entrust their most valuable documents to machines they do not know how to maintain, and treat as if they were Toaster Ovens. That’s how they buy them after all, down at Best Buy, just like a TV. So that’s how they treat them. Run them ‘til they die, and then get a new one. We know what happens to Toaster Ovens.

Once I knew nothing about computers.

I forced myself to learn about computers for business reasons back in the 1980s, but I started out knowing Zip, Nada, Nothing … Most people today know a little more than that, but they still manage to get themselves in trouble by ignoring the stuff that really is important. How does it go? A Little Knowledge Is A Dangerous Thing – That’s it. Just enough knowledge to run and use the computer, but not enough to back it up, keep it virus free, keep from clicking on those infected and infecting Trojan Horse programs, clean it up once it’s infected … you get the idea.

Back in 1987 when I started my first company, it was a metals trading company, that had nothing to do with computers, nor did I know much about them. The PC first appeared in 1982 for goodness sake, and by 1987, after 5 years (a computing eternity these days) we had progressed only as far as the 80386 Intel processor, which was the 1st real Intel processor capable of multi-tasking, and supporting a Multiuser and Multitasking Operating System.

I was curious about computers and especially interested in what this machine could do for my business – which was not a lot with the Microsoft operating system of the day – DOS, which for those of you who do not know was a character based single tasking system of limited utility compared to what we have now. Windows (3) did not appear until 1990 and NT until 1993.

But there was a REAL multi user OS out there, and that was Unix, and it has been ported to the 386 processor by 2 companies, SCO, and, believe it or not, Kodak, which had a product called Interactive Systems Unix. SCO, which became infamous in later years under different ownership for trying to extort money from IBM and Microsoft and Linux users, called their product Xenix.

I automated my business with ISC Unix and eventually became an authorized dealer for the product, selling complete multiuser turnkey systems with ISC Unix. Eventually my company built Intel processor based clones as well and sold systems with terminals and eventually clients to businesses looking to migrate away from proprietary hardware and software.

That was so cool I thought, multitasking and multiuser computer systems had become affordable for the smallest businesses. Not for home users, though.

The trend, of course, continued – with the appearance and rise of Linux, small businesses don’t even have to pay for the OS anymore. Eventually, back in the 90s, Microsoft began to offer the omnipresent Windows OS, which had rudimentary multitasking capabilities, and machines became available which end users found more to their liking. Not very good or nice systems with old Windows 3 or 95, but still, useful, if frustrating and unreliable, and people actually began to entrust their data to their home PCs.

My business changed over the years to focus on consulting exclusively, and now I devote a portion of my time to home users who run into problems, primarily those related to loss of data, usually because they … did not back the data up.

Bye bye photos, letters, tax documents, invoices … all gone.

Now, it is possible to recover some of that data, but it’s expensive – VERY – and not usually complete.

How much better to just not lose your precious photos in the 1st place?

I have found that the only way to get people to do that is to make it very, very easy to back up their data, because, as we know, people treat their computers as if they were toaster ovens, and, really now, who backs up a toaster oven?

Now I talk about other issues in this forum, too, all related to solving problems with the present state of computers and computer awareness, but backing up your data is probably the most common and serious issue.

And one that I will continue to talk about.

~ Ted

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Anti-Virus Software -- Free is Good, Free and Good is Better

We all know, or we should anyway, that we need anti-virus software, and anti-spyware, and anti-adware, and most of us pay for it.

But what can you get for NO Money.

Would that software be any good?

The answer is: Yes.

I know of a number of programs that are free to home users which rival commercial software in effectiveness, although they may be just a little more work to use. Paying NO Money makes up for just a little trouble, doesn't it?

Do not be fooled by a number of commercial programs that suck you in to downloading and installing their software, leaving you to discover that only the download and first 30 days are free, and after that you MUST Pay, or kerflooey for the software.

I particularly like Avast! and Spybot, 2 programs with different purposes which can, together, deal with viruses, trojans, and a variety of web related malware and adware, and they cost NO Money.

Now you have to update them both manually and while Spybot and Avast both provide automatic resident protection against threats and nuisances, you do have to run a Spybot system scan manually. No big deal really.

You also have to register Avast! and get a key, but it's free and good for a year when you are required to get another free key.

I find a lot of annoying but not deadly stuff that commercial software does not find or protect against, just by running Spybot on a regular basis, say, once a week.

There are other free programs as well, often intros to more expensive and convenient for-pay packages, but these 2 are at the top of my list.

Take a look at some of the others if you like.

Two are AntiVir, and AVG Free Edition. Do not even consider CyberDefender, which is poor at best and malware itself at worst.

Now you really have no excuse not to be protected against malware of any kind except ... laziness and procrastination, and ... that certainly doesn't apply to you, now, does it?

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