Monday, November 22, 2010

7 Cool Computer and Related Useful Toys for The Holidays! Part 1 of 2

Looking for a Holiday Computer?
It's already decorated!

OK, sometimes you get tired of doing or buying what you NEED, what you should buy or what you have to buy. Sometimes you get to buy what you Want To Buy! In that category, let's put useful Computer Toys.  Oh, I don't mean kid's toys, but something like the latest iPhone, or Android 4G phone, or iPad. Maybe a top of the line computer with MORE hard disk space, CPU horsepower and memory than you need, that will not only do the job you need done, but obliterate it, that is, do it so fast and so well, that it's a pleasure. Holiday Toys. Computers, Monitors and Printers for 2nd Decade of the 3rd Millenium CE.

So I have 7 computer related suggestions, for things I like very much, which are still  useful and sensible, but which  represent the best of their type and should bring a lot of pleasure in use for a long time.

They are 2 Desktop Computers, 1 Laptop, 2 monitors, and 2 Photo Printers.

Both of the Computers I like use the new AMD 6 core processor, which, while not a powerful as Intel's 6 core unit, runs about $700 less, plus, these computers use related components which can be cheaper as well.

They are the Dell Studio XPS 7100 and the Cyberpower AMD Hex Core Custom PC -- the Dell is configurable and offers the advantage of purchasing from a first tier maker and a 24/7 extendable warranty, -- whereas the the Cyberpower is not only configureable by can be ordered with a stable overclock for a nominal fee, which is like a free upgrade to a faster computer, and has a good warranty for up to 3 years as well but not the 24/7 support and service scheduling.

As for the Dell, for most users adding the 1090T upgrade to the fastest AMD 6 core processor for $90 is worthwhile -- you can upgrade the graphics card too if you want to play video games -- as is upgrading to 8 GB of RAM for $60. You will need at least basic speakers for $20, and you can upgrade from the included 2 year on-site service to a 3 year plan for $80 which is a good idea. Total price delivered, not including tax, is $999.99. Beautiful machine, beautiful price. Over $350 off the SRP as this is written.

The Cyberpower offers a huge and confusing array of options, many of which are irrelevant to most users, but quite a number of the options are VERY USEFUL indeed and make for a very powerful computer at a very good price.  The set of options that I like, and which gives you a faster, more robust, and more powerful machine than the Dell, includes the top of the line AMD 1090T CPU, 16 GB of 1600 GHz memory (8 GB max is availalble with the Dell), 4 Sata 3 6 GHz  2 Terabyte drives in a RAID 10 configuration for 4 Terabytes of Stoarage and a 4 TB mirror so you are protected  in case of a drive failure, and a 2 TB backup drive. Also included are the Coolermaster 690 II case, a Corsair AX 750 Pro Gold super Efficient 750 watt Power Supply, an ATI 5770 1 GB Graphics card, a BluRay Rewritable Optical Drive that plays BluRay movies, DVDs, and CDs and writes them, too, up to 25 GB per disc. This machine also includes USB 3.0.
Total price $2228.00 including a 5% limited time discount.

What is that you say -- the price is over 2 X that of the Dell? Yeah, and it's worth it, too. You get high quality stuff on this system that you cannot even order on any Dell. But you can reduce or change the disk configuration or any other part of this machine to suit you and your wallet.

FYI USB 3 and Sata 3 are the new peripheral and disk interfaces that operate at much faster speeds than USB 2 and Sata 2, and are not available on the Dell.

So you get to choose. The 24/7 support Dell warranty is very nice, and I know from experience that this Dell computer is a good one. Cyberpower is a well respected, by comparison with Dell, boutique PC maker, and nobody can guess if they will have long term staying power, but the Cyberpower machine is made of industry standard non-proprietary parts and can be serviced easily by any shop long after the 3 year warranty ends.

Now to my favorite Monitors: You can buy a lot of nice 1920 X 1080 pixel  1080P Full HD monitors in the $220 to $300 price range, but for sheer size, beautiful picture, even higher and more useful resolution, not to mention low price for all of that, nothing beats the Asus VW266H. It's almost 26" diagonally across and has a taller than HD 1920 X 1200 resolution, so you can not only watch HD movies, but also see almost 3 full size letters in Microsoft Word side by side across the screen. Because of the big screen, the fonts are bigger, too, so no eye strain. It truly is your window on the electronic world. I purchased mine from Amazon, which inexplicably doesn't have it in stock as I write this, but Buy.Com has it for less that $290 not including the $30 Asus rebate. Good deal, beautiful monitor. Do not buy the Dell or Cyberpower monitors -- buy this one

The next Monitor I like is a 30" 2560 X 1600 Resolution device, and that's a screen like picture window. When you see a screen like that for the first time attached to a computer, you feel like you could just step into the CyberWorld.

But I've talked too much for today, so I'll finish this series in a few days.

May dreams of Sugar Plums and Cool Computers Dance in Your Head!


Make 2011 Go Off Like A Rocket!

Photo Credits: Lighted Computer c/o
                       2011 photo c/o various websites

Monday, November 15, 2010

Zen and the Art of Computer Maintenance. The Top 3 Things To Do For Your Computer In The Fall!

The computer needs a little love to keep the evil out!

If you're like most people you don't DO anything for your computer. It runs. You use it. End of story. But, let's be honest -- you know it needs a little maintenance, yes? Things you can do maybe once a year? Things that will prolong its life, keep it running, and even running well? You would be willing to do those things, hmmm? So here are 3 easy things you can do, and this is a good time of year to do them. Now.

First, clean out the dust. Take off the side panel (figure it out -- I know you can) with the computer unplugged and disconnected, and take a look inside. Again, if you're like most people, you've NEVER done this. So, it's likely you are going to see, instead of a pristine clean interior, dust bunnies and layer of dust and maybe fur and hair from your pets as well. This is not a good thing. It cuts down on airflow, gums up mechanical parts, could possibly cause an electrical short, and even cause the power supply to overheat and fail.

Blow it out (outside -- you know why) with a hairdryer on cold, or a vacuum cleaner with the flow reversed. Really get into all of the nooks and crannies and blow out the power supply and the DVD or Blu-Ray drive, and especially blow clean all of the fans and heat sinks as well as the card  and memory slots. See my previous post, Top Ten Computer Problems Out There In The Jungle, problem #3 on Dirty Computers for more info.

Second, check your Anti Virus or Internet Security Subscription. Make sure you have AV or Security Software installed, of course! But beyond that, most software, free, or for-pay, requires that you renew your license annually. It may cost nothing to do it, but they want to keep track of who is using their software and make sure you are using up-to-date software, so the companies that make the AV and Security Software make you renew. If you do not, you will not be getting the virus and program updates and may very well leave your machine exposed to infection.

There is plenty of good, free AV software out there, so don't let cost keep you from being protected. See my article on Microsoft's own, free AV and Security Software, Microsoft Security Essentials. The thing I like best about MSE is that it truly is a set-it and forget-it program -- it doesn't bug you or talk to you. It just works quietly in the background and leaves you alone. Check the other free AV programs available, too, if you like. See my article on 3 Free and Good Programs, maybe a little noisier and they do solicit you to upgrade to their commercial counterparts, but still, very good in and of themselves. Do also make sure that Windows Firewall is turned on, or that your Security Software includes one and IT is turned on. Windows Firewall is accessible from the Control Panel.

Third, and last, make sure your computer is receiving and installing Microsoft's Updates for your OS, be it XP, Vista, or Windows 7. We see too many machines that have updates turned off, or where updates have not been given permission to install, and left their owners with big security issues unresolved as well as reliability and functional problems. It's easy: run Windows Update from the main menu and make sure it says there are No Important Updates Available, or Windows Update!. Check to see that updates are set to either install automatically, or ask you to let them be installed, by looking at the left hand side of the Windows Update Window where it says "Change Settings", click on that, and make sure that updates are set to be donwloaded and and installed, either with permission or automatically.

There are other things you can do to maintain your machines, such as defragging the filesystem on a regular basis automatically, cleaning out old or duplicate files, and a bunch of other stuff, but these 3 things are the absolute minimum that needs to be dealt with annually.

Oddly enough, too, they often do not get done.

Do them and get the Evil Out!


Photo credit: Evil Inside c/o

Monday, November 8, 2010

New Computers Worth Having, OR, How Long Will My Computer Last?

Slow Computers Giving You The Blues -- Don't Be A Blue Turtle!
The Fall is a good time to talk about buying a new computer -- a lot of people consider doing so then -- the holidays are coming up, people are inside more, and statistics show it's one of the most popular times to do so.

What should you buy?

Well, why do you want a new one?

For most people it's because the old one isn't doing the job anymore. It's too slow, isn't reliable, or, well, it's dead. How should you choose a new one?

There are a lot of ways to choose a new personal computer. Using common sense is one -- choose a middle of the pack machine from a first tier maker -- don't go overboard -- watch your pennies -- that kind of thing. Another way, is to get what you WANT, price be damned. Yet another way is to figure out what you NEED. Within reason of course. But what do you really need?

Many people want a machine that provides a decent user experience doing common tasks for as long as possible -- they intend to own it and use it until it no longer provides that good experience, or, it dies.

It used to be the case, that you chose a computer based on what you used it for, and to some extent, that's still true. A word processing and accounting system doesn't have to be very powerful to be useful and seem speedy. But now that's now longer true. Now you have to choose a machine, or at least most of us do, based  on how it deals with the internet, how fast surfs the web, loads pages, and processes network information. But most new machines will do that out of the box, you say. So, how does that help?

Well, OK. But. Ask one more question. How long will my new machine last? The truth is, hardware failure aside, it will last only as long as it is powerful enough to deal with current software and the internet. Older machines get retired because they do not have the horsepower or memory to provide a satisfactory experience online.

Try surfing the web with a 7 year old single core Pentium 4 and 512 MB of RAM. It ain't pretty.

So in a very real sense, the more powerful your machine, the longer it will last.

There are diminishing returns however. And, for most people, they set in around the $1000 price point. Will a $2000 machine last 2X as long a $1000 machine -- not necessarily. And maybe, depending on what CPU and Memory are chosen, that $2000 machine may last no longer at all.

2 new Desktop Computers that I like, and that I think will provide a long and happy experience to their lucky new owners are based on the new AMD 6 core processors, which have the advantage of working like 6 little computers for you, at a price no higher than that of many of Intel's 2 core processors. Intel does have some higher performing CPUs, but you will pay dearly for them, and they fall squarely into those diminished returns I was talking about.

These 2 machines are the Dell XPS 7100 and the Hewlett-Packard HPE-460z, both of which can be had for well under $1000, nicely equipped, and both of which should last you a good long time.

They come with 2 years of onsite service, 1 TB hard drives, 8 GB memory 10/100/1000 GB networking, a fairly high end video card, and external eSata for easily expandable disk storage and backup.

Monitors are extra, and both Dell and HP offer nice ones, but my favorite is the Asus VW266H which can be had from Amazon, delivered, no tax, for under $290. It's a gorgeous 25.5" diagonal screen with 1920 X 1200 resolution, and because of the large screen size, even with that high resolution, the fonts are plenty big enough for most of us to read them easily.

Both Dell and HP computers can be upgraded to whopping amounts of RAM (16 GB) if you like, more and bigger hard disks, wireless N, faster video, and so on, but the base versions are plenty fast.

They should get you to 2015 at least, and that's saying a lot especially considering that the pace at which the load the internet and software place on our computers seems to be increasing.

So Go Forth and be Fast, be Powerful, and ... be Cheap.

Well, sensible anyway.


Photo credit:
Blue Turtle c/o

Friday, November 5, 2010

Computer Relationships ... No -- It's Not What You Are Thinking!

Is this your computer? Useful, huh?
Not talking about Online Dating, or anything like that!

I mean, what kind of relationship do you have with your computer?

Is it an invisible toaster oven, there to be used and abused,  thrown away and replaced as needed?

Do you pay actual attention to it when it bursts into flames 'cause you didn't clean out the drip tray?

THAT's the toaster oven I'm talkin' about.

But still, is that what it would take to make you to pay attention to your computer?

For a lot of people, that's the way it is. And that's the relationship they want to have with their machine(s).

And that's OK ... until ...

It comes back to bite you!

Yeah, I know, computers are just supposed to work and leave you alone, but really, what mechanical device does that ALL of the time?

And unless you are just surfing the web, and you have perfect backup and duplication systems and procedures in place, and unless you don't mind buying a new computer just because you wouldn't listen to that grinding noise from the fan, which usually just went away after a while (while your CPU fries), maybe it would be a good idea to pay a LITTLE bit of attention to it.

Think of it as cleaning the grease out of that toaster oven drip tray before you have to get out the fire extinguisher, you lazy b ... , I mean, well ... you know what I mean.

Pay Attention To The Computer!
That's my intro into The 3 Things You Should Be Paying Attention to With Your Computer as you use it on a day to day basis.

Some of the stuff I'm going to say sounds pretty silly, but you would be surprised what people will not pay attention to just because the haven't learned that lesson or the symptom comes on gradually.

Do you listen to your computer? Most computers are very quiet these days. Most people will pay attention to a suddenly noisy computer, but a machine that gradually gets louder, perhaps due to a fan problem or drive issue is trying to tell you it's sick. It's not something you want to to ignore. Replace the fan or the drive or get somebody to check it out -- don't just tell yourself that noise is just a minor problem and, hey, the computer still works fine. Computers often work fine until they don't work at all.

Do you pay attention to your computer's performance? This hits pretty close to home for most people. Who hasn't complained about waiting for the machine to finish something, or bring up a program? Beyond that, though, you know what is normal for your computer. Sudden extended latency, the computer's lack of response and seeming to freeze repeatedly for periods of time and then resuming normally (!) is not normal behavior. Nor is taking excessively long to boot, by comparison with previous behavior, or longer to do anything, for that matter. Did you just load a new application or utility? Did you mess around with system settings? If your computer is doing this stuff, fix it, or get it fixed; it will not get better by itself; it may get worse, and it could be a SIGN of something BAD.

Do you take seriously new computer behaviors? By that, I mean, beyond noise, and slowness, and beyond the obvious like Pop Up Windows demanding money to ransom your computers from Russian Hackers, stuff like a browser, say Internet Explorer, repeatedly unable to connect to the internet, perhaps a different program responding to an attempt to load Excel or Picasa, or even Error Messages, Pop Up Windows, and the like. Sometimes these are just innocuous and harmless, and sometimes not, especially when they are combined with other behaviors. Check them out or have it done.

Your computer is not Evil! Misunderstood, maybe.
You can even go a step further, if you like, and have your computer HELP you pay attention to itself!

See my previous article, Is My Computer OK?, in 3 parts, which shows you how to put a few freely available monitoring instruments up on your Screen to tell you what kind of a day it's having!


Photo Credits:

Computer Toaster c/o
Pay Attention c/o
Evil Computer c/o

Monday, November 1, 2010

Is My Computer OK? Or, How To Monitor What It's Doing Part 3 of 3

Hey! You Gotta Fix This!
This is the final part, Part 3, of a look at ways to Monitor Your Computer, What It's doing, and See If It's OK, as a part of the Is My Computer OK? series. We have been looking at Windows Gadgets for Vista and Win7, that are freely available for download, and cost no money. They are easily installed and stay on your Desktop wherever you want them just as if you had  instruments from your car transplanted to the screen. The first 2 we talked about together can tell you what the temperature of your CPU is, how hard it's working, how hot it is, and what programs are using the most CPU cycles and making it hot and how to deal with them. Exhale.

We are going to look a little more at some of that here, but we are also going to look at the Network Meter Gadget which will tell you not only if you are connected to the internet, but also if your internal network, on your side of the router, is working. You can see what the speed of data transmission is FROM your computer out to the net, and TO your computer, in from the net, and a few more things as well, including  a visual record of recent network activity.

Why should you care?

Well, if you cannot connect to the internet or your favorite websites, you'll want to know why, and how to fix the problem. The Network Meter Gadget helps you narrow down the choices for the culprit.

Go ahead and install it from the link above while we're talking about this so you can watch what it does while we go over its features.

OK, let's say you have a connection problem. You can't get to, your favorite insult and flash, umm ... romantic holiday getaway site (it's really a memorabilia site). How come? You look at the Network Meter Gadget and immediately notice, clever person that you are, that while your internal IP address is displayed and just fine, that you have NO EXTERNAL IP address. You hit Refresh External IP on the Gadget, a nice feature in itself, but no joy. What now? Well, your router is probably OK, after all, it's maintaining the internal address. So you go look at the Cable Modem or whatever device you have handling your broadband Wide Area Network. DSL, maybe, or satellite.

Anyway, you see that:

1) Your Modem is not lit and it looks dead, or
2) Your link lights (modem status lights) indicate no connection
3) Everything looks OK ... hmmm

So, you reboot (unplug to power off) both your modem and your router to initialize the network and the handshake between them, and see if that fixes the problem.

And then, either:

a) The problem is fixed! Hooray!! or
b) It's not! #$!#%$!

If a), move on to something else. If b), you may have an issue with your ISP, and it's time to call them up and tell them what the problem is and what you did to rectify the situation and let them deal with it. If you have a dead modem, get them to bring you a new one (or go get one). If your link lights won't sync per 2) you may have a line problem, and if everything looks OK per 3) your ISP may have a software issue or configuration issue.

In any case, you are likely on your way to resolution.

Thank the Network Meter Gadget, which first pointed you in the right direction. You may even notice an issue with your network, just by having the Gadget up, that you haven't seen a symptom for yet!

Do please be aware that these Gadget's bells-and-whistles features, beyond those described here, sometimes expose you to solicitations you may consider spam, and remember that the authors of these useful tools are making them available AT NO CHARGE, so just ignore the spam if you like, or don't even go there. The basic function of the Gadgets will be SPAM FREE.

How Do You Shut Down Your Computer???

Next to last, but not least, the System Controls Gadget, from Home Cooked Gadgets, is useful on those special occasions, such as when your system is acting weird -- the Start button on the Taskbar won't respond to the mouse, CTL/ALT /DEL won't bring up the Task Manager -- and you need to reboot the computer gracefully -- but how??? You put the System Controls Gadget up on your Desktop, and most of the time, not necessarily all, you'll be able to hit the Shutdown or Restart buttons on the Gadget and restart the machine. Mouse over the buttons and they'll tell you what they do, in case you've forgotten which little symbols do what. Your computer will be in a NO Hammer Zone. 

Cool, huh? What's that you say? Your computer never misbehaves??? Well, then, this Gadget's not for you!

So now you have 3 useful Gadgets for your Sidebar and your Desktop, Gadgets that can give you some insight in to what's going on with your machine and, hopefully take action on the basis of the information provided, whether it's to investigate a program or virus, get a fan replaced, fix the network problem or shut down a balky machine.

Here is one last gift, and one that is fun and useful, but not about the computer, but rather about driving your car. It's a Real Time Traffic Info Gadget, and it will show you a small but expandable map of the locale of your choice, your local towns and roads with a Google Real Time Traffic overlay. Check it out.

Realtime Local Map Showing Traffic Slowdown in Yellow and Jam in Red
Before I go out the door, I check to see if my local roads have a problem -- and this Gadget has kept me from wasting a lot of time! It's right there on the Desktop -- I only have to glance at it to see what's going on!

You can see above, that Rte 23S has a slowdown and a jam heading towards the interstate. If I were going out and that way, I'd want to know, wouldn't you? Yeah, I know; your GPS can tell you the same thing, but that's in your car, and you're down the drive and on your way before you realize you've got problem ...

OK, let's sum up, starting with the screenshot below:

Gadgets Grouped on the DeskTop for Console Display
So we can see the CPU activity, the temperature of the CPU, the programs using the CPU most, the memory hogs, the programs using the disk most, and a lot of network info. We also have the option of shutting down or restarting the system from the DeskTop. And just for fun, I put up the Traffic Gadget, a Weather Gadget, and an Uptime Gadget. Of course we have just scratched the surface of what you can do with this info -- you can start a virus hunt if you think you are infected -- that's fairly involved and beyond the scope of this particular article -- you can see why, and which of, your programs bring your computer to its knees, and lots of other things.

Make your own Instrument Cluster with these Gadgets and never be in the dark again as to What Is Going On With Your Computer. And you  will always know that Your Computer Is OK! 

Except of course -- when it's NOT!

I hope you enjoy them! 


PS If you really want a lot of info on your hardware, check out the Everest Program from Lavalys:

 But maybe that's more than you want to know!!! And, it costs money!

Photo of Network Trend c/o
Photo of Computer Hammer c/o
All other Photos are screenshots (captures)

Friday, October 29, 2010

Sluggish PC? NY Times Personal Tech Recommendations 10-28-10

If it gets too fat, you know what will happen ...
I like the Personal Tech pages within the Business section of the NY Times which appears on Thursdays -- generally they report on new, gadgety stuff -- and they clue you in to new products and possibilities you may not be aware of.

Today, though, I was  a little disappointed. In an article titled "Limber Up Your Sluggish PC", they were fairly confusing in their presentation of steps and solutions to the problem.  Several times the article states that all of the tools you need to speed up or fix your PC come with the the Operating System.

That's just not true. Some of the tools do. You can defragment, clean out excess files, and remove unneeded programs, but you can't fix your registry, remove the remains of old programs and registry entries that the PC doesn't recognize. There are 3rd party programs that do that.

I get the feeling that the author didn't understand some of what she was writing about. Too bad, because there are easy and quick things you can do to speed up you computer, some that cost no money, and some that don't cost an arm and a leg, and that'll make you think you bought a new PC.

I'm going to go over some of the points brought up in the Times article and try to straighten them out.

First the author talks about free and for-pay services such as are available from Staples and Best Buy. Staples' service is free -- you go there and they run some tools they license from Symantec/Norton -- and this is the quote from Staples' description of their free PC Tuneup:

"We'll boost the speed and performance of your PC by removing trial ware, adjusting key settings that may be slowing it down, and disk defragmentation and cleanup. When done in store, a PC Tune up also includes removal of dust and dirt buildup." They may do more than that, but that's all they own up to on the website.

They'll do the same thing at your home for 60 bucks, and remotely for $25.

The free service is not a bad deal, free doesn't cost you anything, nor are the other, for-pay services, either.

Per the description, anyway, Best Buy's Geek Squad service, computer Tune-Up at $50 online, or $40 in store (In-Home is N/A), seems to be more thorough.

It includes those items the free Staples Tuneup mentions, and also the creation of additional acounts, Windows updates, program shortcut (Desktop Icon) creation, Quick Launch and Taskbar Cleanup , Menu Navigation cleanup, and Startup and Shutdown Optimization, as well as making sure Security is enabled in both Windows and Internet Explorer. The do some sort of test and verify of hardware and software. You get what you pay for I guess -- you pay nothing for the Staples Tuneup, remember.

So the upshot is the Staples Tuneup is insufficent since it won't take care of the the above and following things

Most PCs that have been run for a while not only have Trial Ware, dead ended Registry Settings, Fragmentation, and a Cluttered Disk, but also weird and useless startup programs that sap CPU horsepower, duplicate and obsolete data which is the big disk hog, and maybe some level of infection and/or improper security software installation. These all need tech and user collaboration to resolve and while some may be caught by the free service; I doubt they all will.

The Geek Squad Tuneup should take care of all of the things listed above, and it may be worth your while to dump the problem on them, if you are at all uncertain about what to do.

Also you can set up a modern PC running Vista or Win7 to defragment itself when you are not using it. Just place your mouse cursor on open DeskTop background and hit the F1 key, and then in the search window type in "defragment" choose your solution, and follow the instructions on how to set up a schedule.

Not mentioned in the Times article, but important to note is the fact that hard disks are cheap these days -- I've seen 1000 GB (1 TB) disks advertised for 60 bucks. How easy is it to just upgrade to a bigger, faster disk, if too much useful data is your problem? See my prior articles on disk cloning -- you can clone your old disk to your new disk, and go from a 250 GB disk to a 1000 GB disk in under an afternoon. You can put a lot of movies on that extra 750 GB. Bigger hard disks with more free space defragment faster, too, and are easier to keep unfragmented. Anybody pushing the limit on his/her (I do dislike saying they as a singular pronoun) hard drive and not wanting to delete precious data and programs should not fear upgrading to a bigger and faster disk.

The Times article does mention a very nice program whose most apparently nice feature is that it shows you how much of your hard drive is committed to to certain file types, the utility. Download it and install it from the preceding link and you will see that if you have, say, 650 GB of mkv, wmv, avi, mov, and jpg files, which are all Video and Picture files, and only 100 GB left on your 1000 GB disk, you may want a bigger, or additional hard disk.

OK then. Do all of the recommended things for your PC.

Make sure you have an up-to date Anti Virus Program installed, such as Norton 360 V4 or Anti Virus 2011. 360 will clean up your registry. Or AVG Free, or Avira Free, or Avast Free. All are good. Or have Staples or the Geek Squad do it. Clean out all those old and duplicated files and programs. Get rid of all of those little helper programs that are supposed to start up with your computer and monitor something that you don't care about and never use. In Vista and Win7 go to the Control Panel and click on the Programs entry and go down the list of installed software -- I'm sure you will recognize a bunch of stuff you do not need!

One bad recommendation or at least misleading is the suggestion that using a stripped down alternative Media Player such as VLC instead of Window's own Windows Media Player will somehow save you disk space. Guys! The space is really taken up by the data files, that is, the movies, and you are not going to uninstall Windows Media Player from your system. Give me a break!

Also, let's be clear, it is not true that the biggest culprit in slowing down our computers is our insistence on new and bigger versions of our favorite software, although that doesn't help. The real problem is our insistence on installing all kinds of useless and sometimes conflicting, and sometimes even malevolent software on the fly.

We see some taskbar utility mentioned as we are cruising the internet, or decide our machine needs protecting from something, and on a regular basis, and without real vetting of the program or attention to how much other garbage we have already installed, happily add the Solar System Defense Widget, or the Pound Malware into Submission Widget, from a really cool Ukrainian website, to our Taskbar alongside the 26 other widgets we have installed over the last 11 months.

OK. I'm exaggerating. But not by much.

And we wonder why our computers are slow!


PS Take a look at your Taskbar's System Tray -- how much of that stuff do you really use?

Hey! It's just common sense!

PPS Casper 5 is now Casper 6 -- the article above is 2 years old -- but the link above will still take you to Casper and  disk cloning is still a good idea

Photo Credits: 
Exploding PC is from various sites

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

How Do You Feel About Your Computer?

Let's find out how you feel about your computer, what worries you about it, and what kind of computer you have.

And whether you should be worried. Or not. How do you feel about buying a new computer?

This is an anonymous survey -- we are not collecting any identifying info to blackmai, ... umm, sell to spam, ... or whatever, for any purpose other than to see what people say.

We are just curious and want to write about what you care about.

Help us collect this information by filling out the following brief survey and we'll post the results after we've collected enough to be interesting!

Email subscribers will not see the survey -- do please click on the following link for the article and survey -- we need you!

Working Computers Survey: How Do You Feel About Your computer?



Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey, the world's leading questionnaire tool.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Is My Computer OK? Or, How To Monitor What It's Doing Part 2 of 3

Now we get to the fun stuff related to How To Monitor If Your Computer's OK.

We learned in Part 1 how to monitor the amount of work the CPU is doing and how hot it's getting by doing that work. Now we're going to find out what programs (and their processes) are using most of the CPU time and causing all of that heat.

Top Process Gadget (TPG) To Monitor Computer Processes 

In Windows 7 and Vista, as well as other older versions, there is a program called the Task Manager which can show us the programs that are running, the specific processes those programs run, and which are the busiest, and it's very useful, but it's big and a little clumsy to have up on the Desktop all of the time for monitoring purposes, so we will use instead the Top Process Gadget, which displays that information in an abbreviated form.

Top Process Gadget
Showing Process/CPU Usage.
Memory Usage,
Process Disk I/O

In the top box of the 3 above in Top Process Gadget, you can see what I have been talking about. Since I am very busy with my Web Browser, Chrome, in this case, and have many, many windows and tabs open, while I write this stuff and gather info and pics to entertain, umm, educate, Chrome is indeed the busiest program with the busiest processes on my computer at the moment.

Now, what if the process using all of my CPU time was instead "RussianTrojanCreditCardScam.exe" you can imagine I'd want to know that, too. So I could kill it, kill it, kill it. Quick. Sadly, such files are not always so helpfully named, nor do they necessarily use the most CPU time. However, for that you can use Task Manager, and you may see bursts of activity. Anyway, that's for another post.

But let's say Picasa, or some other program, maybe Internet Explorer, is using lots of the CPU, but you are not using one of them. You can close or kill the rogue if it will not close by itself. It may have gotten off track, gone into a funk, or developed a memory leak, and it needs to die. That you can use Task Manager for.
Right click on the Taskbar at the bottom of your screen and select Task Manager or hit CTL/ALT/DEL and select it, go to Processes, or even better, hit CTL/SHFT/ESC which takes you right to Task Manager, go to the Processes Tab, select the offending process, and left click on the bottom right hand button for "End Process". Follow the dialog for killing the process and confirm.  You may need to investigate further to find out why the program misbehaved, but you may never know. Stuff happens.
What if there is no high CPU usage showing in Top Process Gadget, and no piggy program gathering all of those CPU cycles for itself? Well that's good info too -- if your computer is hot and it's not busy then you may have a fan or ventilation problem. Is the fan making noise; is the computer jammed into a closed space; or did somebody put a poster up against the air intake? Check it out. That grinding noise is probably the exhaust or CPU fan. It's not working. Fix it.

Don't go nuts killing programs left and right. With great power comes great responsibility, and besides, kill the wrong program and you may lose data, or hang, crash or reboot your machine.

But now with Top Process Gadget you have a tool for investigation and monitoring that you can use. It will be up on your screen all of the time and you will be able to look at it while you work. You can learn what processes run on a regular basis and be sensitive to departures from normal behavior.

There are a lot of options for the Top Process Gadget which I will not go into here, but rather encourage you to investigate on your own at the TPG website. You can have, as I do in the screen shot above, 3 instances showing different, but related info. I recommend that you install it from the link provided.

I will close out this 2nd part of "Is My Computer OK" and how to know what it's doing and Deal With It, and next time in Part 3 talk about the Network Meter Gadget and the Control System Gadget, which will cover shutting down your system when you can't get to the shutdown menu, and finding out what's going on with your internet/network connection, and also take a quick look at a couple of for-pay gadgets that tell you much more (than you wanted to know, maybe).

And, just for fun, although it's really useful, too, Real Time Traffic info for your Desktop! 

Don't Leave Home Without Looking At It!


Monday, October 18, 2010

Is My Computer OK? Or, How To Monitor What It's Doing Part 1 of 3

Is My Computer OK? How To Monitor How It's Doing
It was just running a little hot, and then, well ...

Is Your Computer OK? How To Monitor How and What It's Doing

Is your computer OK or is it too hot??? Why is it doing that? How would you know? If you are like most people you don't pay much attention to your computer. At least, you don't until you notice it doing something out of the ordinary. Oh, like, say, making awful grinding noises, rebooting every 10 minutes, or popping up demands to give your credit card info to fake Russian anti-virus software vendors who will (yeah, right) then clean your machine for you. That'll get your attention!

There's lots of other bad stuff, too, that can happen to your computer. Wouldn't it be better to get some inkling of the illness before you're at last rites, or need to call in a pro? Wouldn't it be better to monitor what's happening?

OK, it's not a trick question. The answer is YES, it would be better to know how your computer is doing. And how might that be accomplished, you ask? Well, in lots of ways.

How To Monitor What Your Computer's Doing

Most of us are familiar with machinery that has status indicators of various types -- your car has a speedometer, maybe a tachometer, oil and water temp gauges or lights, and so on. You want to know how fast you are going, if you are overheating, and the like. You can add similar "gauges" to your computer's desktop. In Vista, they are called Sidebar Gadgets, and in Windows 7, just plain Gadgets. The same gadgets work with Vista and Windows 7.

By default in Vista and 7, you get a couple of Gadgets on your computer desktop, including a Clock, a Calendar, and a Slideshow Picture Viewer, and in Vista they open and close together by running a program called the Sidebar which lines them all up on the lefthand side of your screen. In 7 they don't explicitly run from the Sidebar program. They're nice, but they do not tell you what's going on in your computer -- you can get more gadgets, however, that do.

Plug and Play Computer Tachometer
You just plug it in!  
In Windows 7, you just right click with the mouse on open desktop and select the Gadgets item, which will open the Gadgets Window for Gadgets already installed on your computer, but not on your Desktop. Check them out. You may like one or two.

In Vista, you take your cursor to the top right of the screen, at the top of the Sidebar, and there is a little widget with a "plus" sign and right and left "arrows". Double left mouse click on the "plus" sign and your Gadgets Window will appear.

To get more Gadgets, and get the ones we are talking about here, click on the "Get More Gadgets Online" link in the bottom right hand corner of the Gadgets Window, or go to the Windows Live Gallery. Both have a lot of the same Gadgets, and are Microsoft sites, but will caution you that not all the Gadgets have been tested. YMMV and UAYOR. Your mileage may vary and use at your own risk.

That said, I have used the ones I am going to recommend to monitor your computer's health and haven't been bitten.

I am also going to give you links directly to the developer's site for ease of downloading, although you are welcome to go dig them up on the Gallery site.

How Hard Is Your Computer Working?

The First Gadget, All CPU Meter, which tells you how hard is your computer working (on all of its cores, be they one or more):

Go to, which has some really cool and useful gadgets, including:

How hard is Your Computer Working: All CPU Meter
All CPU Meter version 3.3 as of this writing.

You can download from the links at the bottom of the page linked to above.

As you can see it gives you a lot of useful info about what your computer's CPU is doing, including:
  • How Hard It Is Working in percentages and activity slider bar by Core and Thread
  • How Much Ram is Used and Free
  • What Your Processor Is and Its Speed and Particulars
  • A Visual Log of Activity by Graph
  • Temperature of Each Core ( if you also install CoreTemp per the links above)
OK, this is really important stuff. Assuming you pay attention to what this Gadget is telling you, you will see, over the first few days after you install it, just what the normal activity of you computer is and how HOT it gets when you are using it for common tasks. From this, you'll start to know what is OK for your computer.

Frankly, the CPU in the photo above is running pretty hot for the minimal work it is doing, 54% of max for 1 core and about 25% or less for the rest, which in my opinion should leave the CPU in the 40 to 50C range with decent cooling and a well-ventilated location. Anyway ...

OK, you say, how are you supposed to know that? What is too hot and what is not? Well, at first, you won't. But you can play with the computer, see what temperatures it displays when it first boots and is cool and what temps it stabilizes at under load. See what happens when you pull the poor computer out from the wall under the desk and it can finally breathe...

The point is, if and when you think something is wrong with you computer, you will be able to check the load on your computer and its temperature, both useful and critical items in diagnosing fan(s) failure, software issues, or infection.

For example, say your computer is slow to respond, seems sluggish, but you aren't really doing anything with the machine, so what's up? The All CPU Meter Gadget says all of the CPU Cores are busy at 50 to 70% of max and your temps are in the 70C range (fairly high). Something's going on in there. Something to make the machine work very hard, and maybe more than one something.

Next time I'll tell you how to find out what's going on in the example above, but ...

That's enough for now.

Oh, by the way, for you poor orphaned XP users, there are Gadgets available for XP as well, just not from Microsoft, but rather from Google, as a part of Google Desktop. If you are interested, let me know, and I'll do a post about it.

Also, over the next 2 post I'll discuss three more gadgets that monitor what your computer is doing, what your network is doing, and help you get control back if your computer won't respond normally: the Top Process Gadget , the Network Meter Gadget, and the Control System Gadget and why you need them.

Hint: If you can't connect to the internet, what do you do? And, how do you know what program is SLOWING your computer down, or INFECTING it? And, how do you shut your computer down, when you can't get the Taskbar to respond to the mouse?

Stay tuned!


PS: If you want to know more about Gadgets, just put your mouse cursor on open desktop and hit the F1 button -- when the Help window comes up, type "Gadgets" in the Search box and check out the topics

Note Photo of Shish Kebab Computer is out there on various sites
         Photo of USB Tach is c/o
         Photo of All CPU Meter is c/o of

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Top Ten Computer Problems Out There in the Jungle -- Part 2

Take Out The Tears!
But 5 problems are not enough! We need more! Well, we actually have more -- more that I see a lot of anyway, and to round out the Top 10 Computer Problems, or another way of putting it, the Most Common Situations people face, here are my next 5 in the Top Ten Computer Problems Users Face Out There In The Jungle.

6) Status: How Do I Know If My Computer Is OK? There are lots of things going on in your computer, including hardware, software, and maintenance issues. How do you know if there is anything wrong? Assuming you have a fairly late model computer running Windows XP, Vista, or 7, and you have kept your Internet Security Software up to date, your computer will tell you if there is a problem, and, you can help it do so by adding some monitoring devices in software to your computer's Desktop to display hardware parameters, such as Temperature of the CPU and its Cores, various subsystem temps, how hard the CPU is working, how much memory you have left unused, which programs and processes are running and taking up the most CPU time and so on. It's easy in Vista; you just add them as Sidebar Gadgets, and in Windows 7 you add them as plain old Gadgets. In XP it's a little harder -- you have to use Google Gadgets. You may not know what temperature your computer should be, but if you have the stats up there on the screen to see all the time, you WILL NOTICE when they move way up or down. Check out Is My Computer OK, a later post.

7) Upgrade to a New Computer (or OS): How do I get all of my Files, Photos, Documents, Programs and Settings (Logins, Passwords, etc.) to my new Machine?
Microsoft supplies a very nice program called Windows Easy Transfer, or ... WET, that comes with Vista and Windows 7 and is downloadable for XP that allows you to move all of you files, and settings for programs, BUT NOT THE PROGRAMS THEMSELVES, to a new machine, over your local network, or over a special USB cable, and it does a very good job of that indeed. You then have to install your programs, e.g., Microsoft Office, Turbo Tax, or whatever, BUT, when you do, all of you settings and presets are already there and initialized from WET. Wonderful. Still, you do have to reinstall the programs. With Laplink's various PC Mover products, however, you do not. It WILL move the programs as well as the files. You can even upgrade from the boot drive of a DEAD computer!   !!!

8) When should I Upgrade to a New Computer: How do I know when my old computer should be replaced? In many cases your older computer will simply die or fail in some way, but otherwise, most computers beyond the age of 4 or 5 years become very sluggish and fail to respond to keyboard input and "surfing the web" becomes a long wait for web pages to load and screens to display. This is partly due to the lack of horsepower in older, single core CPUs, and also lack of enough memory to run large modern programs like web browsers and office suites. The average modern computer ships with a dual core processor, many ship with quad core CPUs, and 4 GB of RAM, whereas 4 year old and older computers may have 1 GB or less. That simply is not enough to get a speedy response from you machine. You can extend the life of computers with 1 GB or less memory, that is, systems in the 4 to 7 year old range, by adding readily available memory to the computer, up to the usual maximum for such machines of about 4 GB. That may give you another year or 2 before even that won't be enough. Do make sure your computer's sluggishness isn't due to INFECTION!

9) What new computer should I buy? That depends on whether you are buying a toy, for games and surfing, or a tool for work and document storage. In the first case, buy whatever strikes your fancy limited only by the constraints of money and equipment lust. In the second, well, I always recommend that people buy a machine that will be easy to repair by authorized factory technicians within 1 to 2 days of a problem. That means a PC from a major make such as Dell or HP or another top tier brand with a nationwide service program, 24 hour response, and extended warranties. All of your important stuff is on that computer and you need it, right? That said, very well equipped and powerful systems with 4 or 6 CPU cores, 8 GB of memory, a 1000 GB hard disk, and 3 or 4 year onsite warranties are available for well under $1000. Check out the Dell Studio XPS 7100, just such a 6 core AMD based system, and also the HP Pavilion Elite HPE-360z series.

10) I've deleted stuff from my Computer and I want it back! Whether you get it back or not depends on how you deleted it, and, to some degree, on how much you REALLY WANT IT BACK. Simple deletion on modern systems just requires that you double left-click on the Wastebasket Icon (Recycle Bin), which will show you a Windows Explorer directory of deleted files, and which you can then easily restore just by right-clicking on the file or files you want to restore -- you will be given a menu option to do just that. Now if you do not have the deleted file option to save them in the Recycle Bin enabled, or if you have deleted huge numbers of files, larger the the space available to the Recycle Bin, you will need special pro help with special software to recover the files. If your drive has failed, and you have no backup (How did that happen???) you will need special software and hardware and pro help and be prepared to pay the big bucks to a file recovery service that can charge into the several thousands of dollars for that recovery. Yikes! If that doesn't scare you, check out Ontrack Data Recovery. Last time one of our customers needed data from a dead drive, it took $3400 and a week to get their drive image. Still, they got it.

OK, that's my Top Ten List of stuff I get asked about and have to deal with on a daily basis from users out there in the Computer Jungle. Many of these things are fairly easy to deal with, prevent, or plan for. Some are very painful, especially if you had a chance to CYA, but Did Not Take It!


Let That Be A Warning To You!

Oh, and ... do as I say, and not as I do. :)


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Top Ten Computer Problems Out There in the Jungle

People have all kinds of issues with their personal computers, but most of them are the same problems over and over again, even for the same person! I guess that means many of us don't learn from our mistakes! Today I'm going to run down a list of the most common computer problem, ones I see again and again, and how to keep them from (almost) ever coming up. You need preventive maintenance for your PC.

It's not hard. Whether it's fun or not depends on your point of view! At worst, it's no worse than brushing your teeth -- hey, you gotta do it. Right? At best, you learn something about your computer and gain some confidence in your dealings with the mysterious box.

1) Back Up: Unless you only web surf, you HAVE to back up your computer. One of the greatest unhappy-making events I see is the near-irretrievable loss of pictures and documents from unbacked up computers. There isn't really any excuse, either. It's cheap and easy. You can back up your whole computer for just the cost of a large external disk and some disk cloning (mirroring) software. For a 1000 GB disk and the software, that's $150. Your system will be automatically cloned once a week, once a day, or whenever you choose, at night, or whatever. You can boot from the cloned disk in case of internal drive failure. See articles about elsewhere in this blog, Bring In the Clones, and also on free on-line backup (up to 2 GB), useful for critical system ID information and documents.

2) Internet Security: You might be surprised how many systems I encounter that do not have any Anti-Virus or Anti-Malware software installed on them, or have expired subscriptions for commercial AV or IS software that isn't doing much protecting. There is plenty of free AV and security software from reputable firms, and there is not need to either do without, or pay for a commercial product. See the articles on free antivirus programs, "Free Microsoft Anti-Virus ...", and "Free Anti-Virus Software".

3) Dirty Computers: Your computer is a Vacuum Cleaner and the delicate internal electronics are the bag. Sounds good, huh? The sad truth is that many people DO NOT clean out the dust and dirt that accumulates over time and settles onto the electricity conducting parts and blocks the free passage of cooling air exhaust. I see a lot of very dirty machines and some that fail to function properly because of internal shorts, and/or power supply failure, due to dust build-up. Just vacuum out the interior of the machine once every 6 months or so, and if the dust bunnies have gotten really aggressive, reverse the vacuum hose to the exhaust and blow out the machine. Do remember to take the computer outside for this! See this article on Filthy Computers.

4) Slow Computer: Nobody likes a slow computer, especially one that seemed to be faster only a short time ago, but now seems to crawl. Slowness can be caused by a number of things; it's a symptom, not the disease. The disease can be infection by malware of some kind, perhaps a virus, many viruses, a trojan, you get the idea! (see #5 below), or it can be too much junk software installed on your computer, that slows it down. All those little icons down there on the right of your Taskbar represent busy little programs using up precious system resources. Do you really need all of them? Maybe not. Get rid of the ones you don't. Or, it may be that the computer you feel as if you just bought a year or two ago, is really now 5 years old, and just does not have enough memory to deal with the demands of modern software, graphics intensive browsers, and high internet speeds. See "Keeping an Older, Slower Computer Going ...". If your computer is 7 or 8 years old, however, the likelihood is that you need a new computer, since your CPU itself is probably too slow to keep up.

5) Infection!: OK, this is the scary one. What now? Your computer is behaving erratically, popping up all kinds of dire messages, asking you for credit card info to download bogus for-pay solutions to problems, preventing you from using the internet, and generally making you miserable. Well, however you got here, there is a way out, or ways out. Starting with the easiest, least effort solutions, you need to see if you can install some malware removal software, or boot from that Symantec Norton Internet Security CD, or download a free bootable CD image to boot from (one good one is available from AVG), and then let the software see if it can't isolate and remove the Bad Stuff. If that fails you may need to remove the hard drive and attach it to a known good virus-free system with good security software and scan the drive form that system. Haven't yet seen a system where these 2 methods will not eventually work. Take a look at the following articles: 4 Articles on Virus Removal.

Also, I do have to say, this is one area where you may need pro help, since wasting time while failing to eradicate the infection just allows the problem to get worse.

OK, that's enough for now. I'll continue this article in a couple of days and finish of the Top Ten PC Problems and How to Prevent or Deal with Them.


Friday, May 14, 2010

Are you legal??? !!! Your Windows OS, that is.

Illegal Windows Operating System Software. I see it on a lot of people's computers, from Windows XP to Vista, and once on Windows 7, so far. It can be a real pain in the neck for the user who does not realize what has happened to his system. Why is the Operating System illegal? In most cases the owner is ignorant of how it happened. When the he bought the computer it came with a perfectly valid, licensed copy of Windows. So where did his perfectly valid license go?

In every case I see it's due to sloppy repair of a failed disk or system when the owner has had someone reinstall Windows and the repair installer has used an invalid or illegal Product Key or Volume Licensing Key instead of the owner's perfectly valid copy. I cannot begin to guess why this is done, since it simply isn't necessary and ends up costing the end-user in the long run.

How painful is it to pay somebody to come and fix the problems caused by the guy you originally paid to come and fix your computer problems?

Recently I came across an instance of this, for which the re-installer had used a different version of Windows XP, that is Windows Professional, instead of Windows XP Home. Sadly that meant that instead of just reinstalling the valid XP Home Product Key, which would not work for the XP Pro installed on his system, the owner had the choice of re-installing Windows from scratch, or buying a new license from Microsoft for $149.

Neither choice is painless, but in this case, it was less painless for the owner to simply buy the new license to make his system legal and avoid being harangued by Microsoft over his illegal system.

And that's what will happen. When Windows is updated it installs a validation program as well as the updates to see if the operating system has a valid Product Key and Activation. If this program, the so-called, WGA, or Windows Genuine Advantage program, fails to find a valid copy of Windows, it begins to complain all the time, on login, and randomly interrupts the user at work as well.

The same thing happens with Microsoft Office -- I regularly run across systems with illegal Enterprise Microsoft Office licenses installed which require either a removal and reinstall with a valid license or the purchase of an Enterprise license from Microsoft -- whoa that's EXPENSIVE.

The moral of this story is: Absolutely and positively make sure that your support person uses your legal and valid software and version when he reinstalls it, and that he enters the correct Product Key for the license you own. Period.

Every computer system you buy running Windows, from XP through Vista, and to Windows 7 comes with a sticker on the computer with your Product Key and Windows version listed. Save that information. Write it down. Paste a copy on the reinstall or recovery disk.

Also most computers still come with a reinstall disk from the manufacturer, such as Dell, or HP, or whomever. Guard that disk well. I keep mine either velcroed to the side of the machine or in a pouch taped to the side of the machine. I do not want to misplace it.

Some systems now do not ship with reinstall software, but only come with a partition of the hard disk with so-called "recovery" software installed on it, which will return the system to its as-purchased state. Unfortunately it cannot recover your disk if the disk itself has failed. If your computer does not automatically come with a reinstall software or a recovery disk, do buy it as an option. It's usually less than $20, and will save your bacon if you need it.

OK, one last thing. All this talk of re-installing Windows software compels to me to add:

If you have to reinstall your OS, you also have to re-install your data including all your documents, photos, email, and the like.

You have backed up you computer, haven't you?

Good. I'm glad to hear it.


PS In case you are one of those people who has not backed up his system, take a look at the following 2 articles in this blog, Cloud-Based On-Line Backup for free (up to 2 GB), and Bring in the Clones, how to cheaply backup your system by cloning the hard disk automatically.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Cloud-based On-Line Back-Up -- Why It's a Very Good Thing!

A lot of companies these days are offering automated backup of your personal computer over the internet to their storage facilities. In fact, Dell offers 2 GB of on-line backup of all of their personal computers for one year after purchase. After that they expect you to pay of course. And they want you to pay for backup beyond the 2 GB limit as well. Anyway, is on-line backup a good thing for the home PC user?

You betcha! That's a YES!


The advantages are:

You do not need any specialized or additional backup hardware.

Your data is stored off-site, so in the case of complete disaster, your data can be easily restored to a new PC, if necessary.

You cannot screw up your backup by messing with the backup device.

It is easy to set up and fully automate.

It costs nothing (for up to 2 GB).

OK, that comes to 5 real advantages.

The only real downside is that the total backup is limited to the 9 to 25 GB or so range because of upload speeds over standard high-speed internet, so you will still have to have another backup strategy for backups of larger size.

Are you worried that your data won't be safe? Don't be; it's all strongly encrypted as it leaves your computer and before it goes out into the cloud.

There is also one service from Mozy, a subsidiary of the very large storage company, EMC, which offers ANY home user up to 2 GB of free backup storage, and beyond that $4.95 per month or $55 per year for unlimited home backup.

So for up to 2 GB, which is quite a bit of data, backup costs no money! How cool is that?

OK, 2 GB is not enough to backup all of your pictures and documents, maybe, but it IS enough to backup all of your unique identity info, that is, all of the login, password, mail server, cookies and other info that makes your computer yours, and that you can never remember or access when ... ooops, it's gone.

But, once again, it's FREE, and it's EASY, and it will PROTECT you from misery in case of disaster. Also, it can save you a lot of money, paying some guy to figure out and/or recover all of the specific personal info you've accumulated over the years you've been using your computer, and that could be hours and hours.

Even I do it. How does the story go? The cobbler's children go unshod ... well, it's so easy I even follow my own advice.

You should, too.

Oh, you want to comparative shop? Check out Carbonite, SOSOnlineBackup, and iDrive, as well as services offered by Symantec and McAfee of Internet Security fame, or just google online backup services.

They all cost money.

Remember to test the restore feature! Mozy fared well in independent testing of the home-based software solution, and better than some of the others.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Keeping an Older, Slower Computer Going by Making It Newer and Faster -- Add Memory

Wake Up, computer!One of the most common complaints I hear from people with 3 or 4 year old and older computers is, "My computer too slow; I can't get anything done, and I can't stand waiting around for the web page to load." Or something else to happen, whatever. The truth is that computers should wait for people, and people should NOT have to wait for computers.

Sadly, this is not the case for resource-challenged older machines. They ARE SLOW. And we wait for them.

But there is something, or there are a few somethings, you can add to your computer to extend its life by a few years.

You can add memory. This is the biggest bottleneck for 3 year old and older machines -- not enough memory to run current day programs without paging to disk, a very slow process that can be eliminated by adding more memory.

Many of these older systems have only 512K or 1 MB of memory, but most will have 4 memory slots that will accept 1MB of memory per slot, for 4 MB total, which will turn an older 512K machine into comparative race car (so to speak).

And it is EASY to swap out the older memory cards for the newer ones, and it is easy to find and order the correct memory for your computer. You just have to know the make and model of you computer and how much memory it has to begin with.

Most computers, when they boot, show the installed RAM as one of the first screens they display, and any Windows computer will tell you how much RAM it has or recognizes by clicking on the System icon in the Control Panel window. If that amount is less than 2 GB and your machine is too slow when you are loading multiple programs or surfing the web, it is almost certain you can speed up your machine by adding memory.

System will also tell you your processor type -- if it is a Pentium 4, Pentium 3, Celeron, or earlier processor, there may not be much you can do, since these are slow CPUs and their motherboards will likely not accept much more memory.

But let's say, for example that you have a Dell Dimension 9100 computer from a few years back. That machine usually came with 1 GB of DDR 2 RAM in 2 cards, but can accommodate 4 X 1 GB cards of 4 GB total, which can be purchased reasonably, either from Dell, more expensively, or from 3rd parties, at lower prices.

To see what's available for the 9100, just Google "Dell Dimension 9100" memory, and see what results you get.

In this case the top 3 results are from Crucial, Dell, and 4AllMemory, all reputable suppliers I have used with success. They list the memory that will work with this systems, and in some cases there are different specs for different prices, but all will work.

Dell has the 1 GB modules for $34.95 ea -- I need 4 modules, so I'm going to pay a little under $140 for what I need, and which, while not a negligible sum, is a fair price to pay to get your computer to painlessly take you into, say, 2013 or 2014.

As for taking out the old modules, most slots have latching clips at the end and are to be pulled gently away from the modules until they release, at which point the module can be lifted out.

The new modules go back in the same way the old ones came out and are directional -- there is a little slot in the bottom of the module that needs to line up with the plastic tooth in the slot. Press down on the top of the card until the side-latching clips click back into place.

Do be careful to work in a low static environment with decent humidity, say 40% or above. That's hard in the winter! And do hold the memory modules by the sides and not the bottom contacts.

You do have to be willing to open the case and do a little out-patient surgery on your computer, but the time required is very small, 10 minutes max, and the reward is great! Speed!

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