Monday, December 26, 2011

Why You Shouldn't Use Internet Explorer

Bold statement I know... My reasons have more to do with security and safety and nothing to do with speed or aesthetics. I prefer to split my time between Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox. Both are head and shoulders above Internet Explorer(IE) for numerous reasons, but I’ll give you the 12 most important ones.
  1. Safety – The bad guys target Internet Explorer.  The reason is simple; the more popular a software program is, the easier it is to exploit its weaknesses.
  2. Microsoft fixes bugs in Internet Explorer on a fixed schedule. The problem with that is vulnerabilities are not discovered on a schedule which means IE users are vulnerable to known bugs until the next scheduled update. Neither Firefox or Chrome limit themselves to a schedule. Once a bug is found it’s fixed and the update is rolled out immediately.
  3. Flash -  In Internet Explorer Flash exists as an ActiveX control (the little drop down pop up). ActiveX lacks necessary security and most of you wouldn’t understand (nor should you) how to configure ActiveX configuration options.
  4. Buggy browser extensions/plug-in’s are often targeted by bad. Firefox and Chrome check periodically for outdated extensions and alert you. Internet Explorer does nothing. 
  5. Continuity – To my knowledge, the most popular operating systems are Windows  7, Windows XP and Apples OS X. For these three operating systems, the most up-to-date version of Internet Explorer, version 9, runs on only Windows 7. Many of us use more than one computer and are likely to deal with more than one operating system. Firefox and Chrome provide a cross-platform experience (including Linux). Internet Explorer does not.
  6. If you use multiple pc’s, both Firefox and Chrome allow you to synchronize bookmarks and more between different computers. Internet Explorer (at least as of this article) can't do this.
  7. Anyone running a 64 bit version of Windows 7 may have to deal with the confusion over 32 and 64 bit versions of Internet Explorer. There is no such confusion with Chrome and Firefox.
  8. The developers of Firefox (Mozilla) and Chrome (Google) pay anyone who finds a bug in their browser and brings it their attention. Microsoft does not. The result is Firefox and Chrome being updated on a regular basis. You can't fix a problem you don't know about.
More than once I have gently nudged non-tech savy Windows users (family – not customers) away from Internet Explorer by removing the icon from their desktop, installing Chrome, changing the Chrome icon to IE's blue icon and changing the name under the icon to "Internet". Some may consider this skeptical, but when I have to spend 6 hours removing viruses from my parents computer on Christmas, I consider it and investment in quality family time.

Lastly, if you’re a Windows 7 user you can actually turn Internet Explorer off.
To do this, go to Control Panel -> "Programs and Features" -> "Turn Windows features on or off." Internet Explorer (be it version 8 or 9) is listed as a feature that can be turned off.
*I haven't tested this so if you turn off IE and your computer is having issues, turn it back on.*

Friday, November 25, 2011

Tips When Shopping for a New Computer - Part 5 of PC Buyers Guide

Ask the retailer you’re buying the computer from if there are any manufacturer rebates available.

Consider a custom built computer
This is the best way to get the most BANG for your buck. Having a computer custom built to your specific needs means the components are interchangeable and therefore cheaper to replace or upgrade. Many manufacturer’s limit the options to upgrade and require you to replace failed parts with their costly replacement parts. Custom built machines allow you to upgrade or replace parts at a much lower cost.

Shop at the right time
Pre fall, the holidays and midsummer (July) are good times to shop. New models are introduced and promotions to move inventory mean you can find great deals. If a computer you like isn't on sale, ask for a better price.

Test drive
Especially when buying a laptop. Punch the keys, navigate different programs and test web surfing. Make sure the touchpad is large enough to allow your finger to cover the span of the screen with one swipe. Test the weight buy carrying the laptop around for a few minutes and make sure it fits in your existing or new case.

Ask a lot of questions
The only dumb question is one that isn’t asked, so don’t hesitate to ask questions. Some good ones are:
·         What is your return policy?
·         Does the price include any office programs like Word,  Excel, Power Point, etc?
·         Do you offer any free technical support?

Ask about recycling discounts
Some retailers will offer a small discount if you give them your old computer to recycle.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Are Extended Warranties and Service Plans for Computers Necessary - Part 4 of PC Guide

Part 4 of our computer guide covers extended warranties (service plans) and whether it's a good idea to buy it or say "no thanks". did it! You've found a great computer at a great price and the stock boy is bringing your computer to the check out. But just as you approach the check out... the salesperson goes into their pitch on the benefits of insurance and why you should buy their extended warranty.

But is the extended warranty (service plan) worth the extra money? It depends on how you look at it and your past experience with them.  Extended warranties are the same as insurance policies, you may need it or you may not.  But why are retailers so insistent you buy them? The truth is simple....They make an enormous profit on them.

Essential Software for a New Computer - Part 3 of PC Buying Guide

Part 3 of our computer guide covers software and the essential software you'll want to have installed.
There's a multitude of options to choose from but the core software you'll most likely use on a daily basis consist of:
  • The operating system
  • Office/school productivity software
  • Virus & spyware programs
  • Maintenance utilities
  • Web browsers

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Part 2 of PC Buyers Guide - Selecting the Right Hardware

Part 2 of our computer guide covers the internal hardware components and what you should look for when buying a new computer. Quality components play a key role in the performance and life span of a computer, so knowing what to look for will help you avoid problems with your computer in the future.

Throughout this guide I’ll be referring to computer users in two groups:

Average user: Surfs the internet, sends & receives email, downloads & prints photos, creates, views and edits documents, occasionally watches video online.

Advanced user: Works with multiple programs open simultaneously, frequently watches online video, uses video and photo editing software, occasionally plays video games.

Now let's look at the internal components and some minimum requirements

1) Processor
Often called CPU (central processing unit), is the “brains” of the computer and processes information. Performance is determined primarily by the number of cores it has and its clock speed.
Minimum requirements
Average user:
  • Any dual core
  • 2 GHz clock speed

Advanced user:
  • High end dual core or better
  • 3GHz clock speed or higher

2) Memory (RAM)
RAM temporarily stores data while the computer is running. The more memory a computer has the faster it can access files and programs... up to a point.
Minimum requirements
Average user:
  • 4GB (gigabytes)

Advanced user:
  • 6GB or more

3) Operating system
You have several versions Windows 7 to choose from and each has its own hardware requirements. Whether you’re an average or advanced user, we generally recommend the Home Premium version of Windows 7. If your computer will be used for business we recommend Windows 7 Professional.

4) Video outputs
VGA (analog) is fine for most users, but if you watch a lot of video or have a large monitor, a DVI or HDMI will give you better quality and much crisper images. You may need to purchase the DVI or HDMI cable separately.

5) Hard drive
The hard drive stores your programs, documents, music, photos, and videos. Hard drive’s measure in gigabytes(GB) and commonly range from 250GB to 2TB (terabyte).
Minimum Requirements
We recommend no less than 500GB. If you download a lot of music, photos or videos, opt for 1TB hard drive

6) Monitor/Display
Purely a personal choice. Go with a larger screen if you plan on watching movies.
Allow you to connect external devices and cable to your computer.
Minimum number of ports
Average user:
  • 1 Ethernet port
  • 3 Front USB ports
  • 2 Rear USB ports
  • 1 S-Video or HDMI port

Advanced user:
  • 1 Ethernet port
  • 3 Front USB ports
  • 2 Rear USB ports
  • 2 or more HDMI ports
  • 1 eSATA port

The hardware requirements listed above and your requirements may vary, so remember to carefully evaluate your needs before choosing your hardware options.

Next up in part 3 we’ll discuss the best options for programs/software to install on your computer!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Guide To Buying A Computer (Part 1 of 5): Types of Computers

Welcome to part 1 of our 5 part guide on buying a new computer. The holidays are fast approaching and with computers being a hot gift, I thought it necessary to put a little something together to give you the information necessary to make an intelligent computer purchase, ask the right questions and maximize the money you plan to spend. 

We’ve broken the guide into 5 parts:

Part 1 - The Different Types of Computer
Part 2 - Hardware Options
Part 3 - Software Options
Part 4 - Warranties
Part 5 - Shopping Tips

Part 1- Types of Computers

The choices seem endless when buying a new computer. Desktop vs. laptop vs. netbook, hard drive space and brand are a few of the factors people consider when they need a new PC. It all comes down to how you’re going to use the computer. Desktops aren’t mobile but allow for future upgrades to increase performance and capacity. Meanwhile, laptops are made to travel with some offering features and capabilities that compare with desktops. The three types of computers to consider are as follows: 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Should You Turn Your Computer Off At Night?

Here is a very common question we get asked by our customers. “Should I turn my computer off at night?” 
Some people often think that if you keep your computer on overnight, that somehow malicious “hackers” will try to infiltrate your system. 
The fact is that if your computer is full of malware and spyware, the cyber criminals can access your computer any time it is on, even if you’re using it! Having good anti-virus, anti-spyware and anti-malware programs is vital. If you have these scheduled to scan your computer at night, when you aren’t using it, then it is actually beneficial to keep your computer running during the night time.
The problem with keeping the computer on has less to do with security and more to do with power consumption and lifespan. Although mininimal compared to other electrical devices, computers cost money to run. 
So what’s the solution? The answer is in setting your computer’s power options to suit your usage.
First you should make sure that your monitor is set to turn off when it isn’t in use for a set period of time. The steps are different depending on the version of Windows you are running, but basically you will want to go to the control panel, look for your power options, then change how long it takes before the monitor goes to sleep when the mouse or keyboard isn’t being used. Two and a half hours is safe if you plan to watch movies often and for most people 30 minutes is more than enough time to keep the screen “awake”. 
Another important setting is the standby and hibernate options. These are modes where the computer seems to be turned off, but is actually on but in a low-power state. Here are some basic differences between stanby, hibernate and a full shutdown/startup: 
Standby: fastest to startup and shutdown, consumes the most power, aside from being completely on of course. (Important when running on laptop battery power)
Hibernate: takes longer to shutdown and startup than standby-mode but faster than from a full shutdown, consumes less power than standby but more power than a full shutdown.
Full Shutdown/Startup: takes longest to shutdown and startup, consumes the least amount of power when off.
I set my computer to standby after 4 hours, but the optimal setting varies from user to user. It all depends on when you prefer for your computer to “sleep”. 
I don’t like waiting for my computer to boot up. I usually want to just briefly look at a website or check my emails, something that will take 1 or 2 minutes. It wouldn’t make sense for me to wait two minutes to do something that only takes two minutes. Sometimes I will restart my computer when it is acting up. Standby or hibernate won’t fix those issues.
The only time I do a full shutdown is when I am transporting my desktop computer or when I am putting my laptop away for a long period of time and don’t want the battery to drain. Any other time, I am using standby mode. I don’t use hibernate because it just does not seem that much faster than doing the full restart and does not offer the benefits of the full restart (clearing the ram to make the computer run more efficiently.) 
So should you keep your computer running at night? Probably not. Should you turn it completely off? Not unless you like waiting for the computer to bootup. Should you put it in a lower power state? Yes. Standby works the best in most situations.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Signs Your Computer Has A Virus

Internet surfing and connecting other devices to your computer are the most common ways viruses are able to access your PC. With the increase in the number and severity of malware (viruses, trojan horses, etc), identifying an infection can mean the difference between saving and losing your important data.

Like human viruses, most computer viruses have symptoms which can tip you off that your Laptop is infected. These symptoms are easy to remember and keep a look-out for. The most obvious sign your computer has a virus is the reduced performance of your computer, but other signs may show up earlier, giving you time to back up and save personal data.

Other signs a virus may be infecting your computer are:
  • Applications running stop responding suddenly, freezing the computer and requiring a restart to work.
  • Performance and input response is slow - you attempt to open an application and it takes a long time to open or there’s a delay in mouse clicks & keyboard strokes.
  • Computer restarts on its own while you’re using it - screen freezes and then shuts down or restarts.
  • Unusual error messages and pop-ups - you may notice unusual Windows pop-ups without being online or coming up from the task bar notification area. The pop-ups may ask you to take certain actions immediately (Don’t act on these!) If you follow these instructions you will be in a worse situation so be aware.
  • Your antivirus may be disabled without your permission.
  • Unfamiliar icons or shortcuts may show up on your desktop. Don’t click these either!
  • Unfamiliar Windows system error messages will pop-up.
  • You can’t access devices connected to your computer or they may show up as unrecognized devices.
  • Programs and applications may be unavailable or removed without your permission.
If your computer shows the above symptoms your PC may be infected with a virus. First, Back-up your important files and documents to an external storage device like a flash drive. Next, scan and remove any viruses using your computers anti-virus program.

If your computers anti-virus program doesn’t fix the problem, shut the computer down and bring it to a computer repair professional. They have access to advanced malware removal programs and knowledge that can remove the infection and get your computer running properly.

Friday, September 30, 2011

What to Consider Before Choosing a Computer Repair Company

It goes without saying (although I guess I am saying), that owning a computer requires regular maintenance to keep it performing properly. However, even well maintained computers can malfunction from time to time, requiring repairs that are beyond the skills of most PC users. Finding a company to fix your PC problem is important, but you should consider more than just whether or not they can fix your computer.

Here are 5 things you should consider before choosing a computer repair service.

First, make sure the pc repair shop is bonded and insured. In the event your computer is damaged while in for service, you want to make sure they can pay for a replacement. Surprisingly, this will narrow your options significantly.

Check qualifications and experience. Make sure they have experience working on your brand of computer and operating system. The more experience they have the more likely your computer will be repaired the first time. Would you want to be without a computer for a month?

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Importance of Doing Windows Updates

If your laptop or computer runs on a Windows operating system (OS) then you’ve noticed the numerous Windows updates your PC installs. Most of us are familiar with the little yellow pop-up box in the corner indicating Windows wants to update the operating system. However, many people don’t know why they’re downloading these updates, what they’re used for and if they are really necessary. Here are some of the reasons why you should do your Windows updates and how they can affect your computer or laptops performance.

Nothing is more frustrating than a slow computer and one way to prevent this is staying up-to-date on Windows updates. They allow the operating system to run smooth and access programs efficiently. When people bring computers in for poor performance, the glitches and bugs that are found often result from failing to do the Windows OS updates. These updates offer patches to the computer which prevent problems with the operating systems performance.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Choosing the Best Anti-Virus and Spyware Software

Cyber criminals are always creating new viruses in hopes of harming peoples computers or accessing personal information. The best defense your computer has is thru software that prevents and removes these persistent cyber bugs from wrecking havoc on your computer and in some cases your personal information.

This article covers an often discussed issue: Considering the variety of antivirus solutions available on the market, which do you choose? There's no right and wrong answers when it comes to which anti-virus program is better. It's dependent on what you need the software to do. However, many consumers are interested in the real difference between free programs available and those you need to pay an annual subscription for.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Good Tips for Avoiding Computer Infections

Laptop and computer viruses have been around for decades and combating these cyber bugs continues to be a challenge for many PC owners. Viruses often result in costly repairs, loss of data and the headache of being without your computer.

Fear not! A basic understanding of what they are combined with a few simple maintenance tasks can help keep you computer virus free and performing at its best.

Just What Is A Computer Virus?

A computer virus is actually a software application that's been developed by an individual. The goal of the virus is usually to cause chaos and damage to the PC. While in most cases computer infections are tied to software programs, on rare occasions a virus can harm a portion of the computer’s hardware.

Thankfully, hardware damage is quite rare. The only way malware can harm the computer’s hardware is by exploiting a problem inside the hardware’s programming. For instance, a virus may target your computers processor fan by reducing the speed that it runs at. This has the potential to result in the processor overheating and causing it to melt down.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

How to Protect Your Home Wireless Network

The vast majority of households today utilize a wireless network to get online. Unfortunately all too often I see homes with wireless networks that are unsecured. Software and an increase in tech savvy criminals make network hacking a more common occurrence. Often, victims aren't aware it's happened until it's too late. Securing your homes wireless network is a critical first line of defense in preventing computer infections, identity theft, etc. The problem I hear from customers is; "How do I do it?"

Here's 9 easy but effective ways to secure your home wireless network

1.  Give your network a unique name
Avoid naming your network a generic name which makes it easy to locate or identifies it with you. Street names and house numbers let hackers know exactly where and how close they need to get to access your network more easily. Use a unique name - be creative!
2.  Password protect your network
Often we choose passwords based on names, birth dates, etc. Passwords like these are easy to crack for a dedicated hacker. A secure password should include a combinations of capital letters, numbers and special characters (!-@-$-%-*, etc). This makes it extremely difficult to hack. An example of a strong password would be; H@cker21!
3.  Think about where to position your router
Don't put your router by a window or close to any doors. The closer it is to the exterior walls, the stronger the signal is to the outside world. Placing your router in the center of your house is ideal, but might not be an option. Putting the router in your entertainment cabinet surrounded by other electronic devices can lower the signal so it's less likely to broadcast outside your house while retaining a good signal inside.