Category: Hardware

Buying a new PC

Buying a new PC

We are frequently asked what features and specifications to look for when purchasing a new PC. You can save a lot of time and effort by letting us get your new computer for you. But if you prefer to get your own, here is some information to help you.

In order to determine what features you need in a computer, it’s important to classify yourself into the appropriate category of user. Please read the descriptions of the following three categories of users and decide which one best describes you. Once you know that, read the rest of the article to find out what features you need.

Casual User

This user reads e-mail, surfs the web, edit’s documents and other similar tasks only. May play low graphics games like solitaire. Typically only has 1 or 2 applications going at the same time. Casual user would also include pre-teen/early teen children.

Power User/Business User

This user does everything the casual user does. In addition, this user does occasional editing of photos, graphics, or video. May play games that are somewhat graphics intensive but not action oriented. May have 2-4 applications going at the same time. This category would include students in the final years of high school or college students.

Gamer/High-End Business

This user does everything the power user does. In addition, this user may play games that are graphics intensive (First Person Shooters, etc.). User may perform tasks like CAD drawing. This user may do a lot of graphics or photo editing. This user may also frequently edit video. Once you have determined which category you fall in, you can then determine what features you should look for in a PC.

Now that you have categorized yourself, here are our recommendations.

PROCESSOR

The processor, also known as the CPU (Central Processing Unit) is the brain of your computer.

Casual Users don’t need too much processor power. Even so, we don’t recommend low end processors. Get an Intel core i3 processor. Get one that has a speed of at least 2.2 GHz. For AMD, get a Ryzen 3.

Power/Business Users need a fairly beefy processor, but you don’t need the latest and greatest. An Intel Core i3 would be OK but an i5 or i7 would be better. Get one with a speed of 3.0 GHz or faster. An AMD Ryzen 5 or 7 would be fine. As with Intel, 3.0 GHz or faster.

Gamers/High-End Business Users will want an intel core I7. Get one with a speed of 3.5 GHz or faster. Although we recommend you get the I7, if money is tight a core I5 will be fine. Get the fastest speed and the most cores you can afford. An AMD Ryzen 7 will be good as well. A speed of 3.5 GHz or better.

WINDOWS

There are several different editions of Windows 10. However, if we eliminate the ones for big companies and for education, we are left with two editions. The Home edition and the Pro edition. Their are two main differences between the Home and Pro versions. The Pro version can join a company’s domain and the Pro version has Bitlocker. Bitlocker is a security feature that allows you to encrypt files. In a nutshell, everyone should get the Home version unless the computer will be used in a business environment with a server or if you need Bitlocker.

64 bit versus 32 bit. In general, we recommend the 64 bit version, but some business users will need the 32 bit version if they have old outdated software or devices that won’t work on 64 bit. 32 bit systems are getting harder and harder to find.

SYSTEM MEMORY

There are basically two types of memory in a computer. System memory (often referred to as RAM) and hard drive memory. Hard drive space is the amount of space you have to store programs and files. System memory is the computer’s internal work space. When we talk about computer memory, we are talking about system memory or RAM.

Imagine that the computer’s processor is a person who does the work. Imagine that this person has a desk to work on and that the desk represents system memory. All work must be performed on this desk. If the desk is too small, then the person must move things he’s not working on off the desk and move things he wants to work on to the desk in order to work on them. If the person is working on several things at once, they may spend more time shifting things on and off the desk than they do actually working on things. This is why system memory is so important to the performance of your computer. Even if you typically only run one or two programs at a time, you still need a good amount of memory because even if you are doing nothing, there are still a lot of programs running on your system in the background. Things like Anti-Virus, Anti-spyware, Firewall, Windows internal processes, and the like.

Casual Users should have 6GB or more system memory.
Power/Business Users should have 8GB or more system memory.
Gamers/High-End Business Users should have 16 GB or more. If a computer will be used for CAD or video processing, you’ll probably want more.

VIDEO/GRAPHICS

The video functionality of your computer is the part of the computer that processes graphics and displays information on the monitor. Some computers have the video functionality built-in to the motherboard or built-in to the CPU. This usually means that video processing will take up processing time on the main processor and also will take up system memory. You can get better performance, in general, out of your computer, and better graphics, if you have a video card that is not part of the motherboard or processor. This is called a distinct video card.

Most higher end desktops come with video cards or you can purchase one and add it to your system. Laptops, however, are a different story. You can find laptops with distinct video cards, but they are expensive. In addition, you can’t easily add a video card to a laptop.

The video card provides a dedicated processor for processing graphics along with dedicated memory, thus taking a huge load off of the processor and memory on the motherboard. Note that just because and computer says it has a XXX GB video card, doesn’t mean that the video card itself has that much memory on it. Some video cards steal system memory away from the computer and use that. Make sure you get a video card with DEDICATED memory, not shared.

Casual Users should not worry about what video card is in their system. Integrated video is fine.
Power/Business Users can usually get away with using integrated video unless they work with a lot of pictures, videos, graphics, or CAD or work at a fast pace. In that case, a distinct video card will make a big difference. You you don’t need an expensive one. Model names of video cards don’t follow a nice linear path, so I can’t say get version x and higher. The easiest way to rate a video card is by how much it costs, how much memory it has on it, and what type of memory it has on it. A video card that costs $100 or more with at least 1GB or better of memory will be good.
Gamers/High-End Business Users should get a distinct video card without question. You can spend about as much as you want on a video card. Up to $1000 if you want to be on the bleeding edge of technology. But we recommend going with a card that costs around $200 – $300. Your card should have at least 1GB memory or better on it. The type of memory should be at least GDDR4, GDDR5 preferred. The memory interface should be 128bit or higher. Although you can find laptops that are good for these types of users, they are very expensive. So unless you need/want a laptop, go for a desktop.

HARD DRIVE SIZE AND SPEED

These days, there are two types of hard drives. There’s the traditional mechanical hard drive, and then there’s the solid state drive (SSD). An SSD will make your system run MUCH FASTER. But an SSD is more expensive as a mechanical hard drive and doesn’t hold as much data. Many systems have 2 drives. An SSD for the system drive, and a mechanical hard drive for the data drive.

If you are getting an SSD, don’t get anything smaller than 256 GB. We recommend 500 GB. Make sure that’s going to be enough storage space for you. On a desktop you can have a second internal hard drive. You can also use an external hard drive on either a desktop or laptop as a second drive for more storage. It’s difficult to find desktops in stores that have SSD’s. You’ll probably have to have us upgrade your desktop. You can buy laptops with SSD’s. However, they are usually small and overpriced. We can upgrade almost any laptop to an SSD.

In terms of mechanical hard drives, make sure you get one that is 7200 RPM. This can be difficult on a laptop as many of them are 5400 RPM.

Sizes of hard drives vary.

Casual Users should get the smallest sized mechanical hard drive available.
Power/Business Users should get a mechanical hard drive with at 1TB of storage space. If you are going to be storing a lot of videos on your computer, get a 2TB sized hard drive or bigger. If you are impatient with your computer, consider an SSD if it’s in the budget.
On a laptop, a 5400 RPM drive will be OK but get a 7200 RPM drive if you can find it. Better yet, get an SSD if you don’t need a huge amount of storage space.
Gamers/High-End Business Users should get a 500 GB SSD for the system drive and a second mechanical hard drive for data. The mechanical hard drive should be 7200 RPM. At least 1TB unless you will be storing a lot of video or doing a lot of gaming, then get a 2TB or larger drive. If you are considering a dual drive or RAID configuration, we recommend you consult with Cyber Tek Computer Pros before making a purchase. RAID is too complicated to go into in this article.

BRAND, WARRANTIES, SUPPORT

Most brands are OK. If you look for the features and specifications we have outlined, you should generally end up with a decent computer. The question then becomes about the quality of the system, how long it will last, the cost of repairing it, how easy it is to find parts, and how the support is.

In terms of quality, the old adage that says, “You get what you pay for” is generally true. The cheaper brands like EMachines and Toshiba tend to have more problems and don’t last as long. No brand is perfect. In general, most companies provide a 1 year warranty on hardware. Many of them say it is onsite service as well. Many people pay extra for onsite service warranties thinking that if there a problem, someone will show up and take care of them. But it doesn’t always work that way. For example, if the hard drive on your 2 month old PC dies and your system won’t boot, the onsite service technician will come to your home, remove the old hard drive, install a new one, install Windows, and leave. That sounds nice until you realize that all of your data is gone and you are left to reinstall a lot of programs on your system. That is certainly not how Cyber Tek Computer Pros does business. In this example, we would get your data off of your old hard drive, install the new hard drive, and load all of your data and programs onto the new hard drive. We would also try and configure it as closely as we can to how it was before. Also, when you call technical support for any of these big computer companies, you are usually going to get someone in a foreign country that may be difficult to understand. For these reasons, we do not recommend upgrading your warranty. We also don’t recommend store warranties either. They aren’t worth it.

Our favorite brands of computers (desktops, All-In-One’s (AIO), and laptops) are Dell and ASUS. Dell is our favorite. Good computers and good prices and it’s easy to get parts for them.

We recommend going with a big name brand because it’s difficult and expensive to find parts for the smaller brands. For example, an Alienware laptop is a good, high performance laptop. If it breaks, trying to find parts for it is difficult and expensive. You pretty much have to get Alienware to fix it, which is a slow process and expensive. That doesn’t apply to desktops. Their parts are more standardized.

STORES

What store you buy your computer at doesn’t really matter as long as you are buying one of the major brands of computers. Just look for the lowest price with the specs you want. In the Austin, Texas area, good places to look include Best Buy and Fry’s Electronics. Other places include Office Max, Office Depot, Walmart, Costco, and Sam’s Club. Reminder: We do not recommend purchasing extended warranties or store warranties on computers. You can purchase from these stores websites as well. You can also purchase directly from the manufacturer on their website. You would think that would be cheaper, but it’s not. The advantage, however, is that you can custom configure your computer. In terms of online only stores, some good ones are newegg.com and amazon.com.

ALL IN ONE (AIO) COMPUTERS

An All In One (AIO) computer is a large screen that has the computer built into the monitor. They are great for reducing the number of wires and saving space on your desk. But, like laptops, they are limited in performance, options, and upgrade-ability. In addition to the options explored above, the other options for an AIO include screen size and touchscreen. Get the screen size you that will fit on your desk. If your eyesight isn’t the best, the bigger the screen, the easier it will be to read what’s on the screen.

In terms of touchscreen, lots of people think it’s cool and want it on their computers but then don’t use it. It all depends on how you use a computer and what you will be doing on the computer. On an AIO, you probably won’t use it.

NOTBOOKS/LAPTOPS/NETBOOKS/ULTRABOOKS

Notebook or laptop computers are a special case. Laptops lag desktops in technology because of size and heat requirements. If you don’t need portability, don’t get a laptop. They are more expensive to purchase, not as up-gradable, more expensive to upgrade (if they can even be upgraded), and more expensive to repair. And they don’t have the performance that desktops can have. If you do need a laptop, then things to consider in addition to what we have covered are battery life, screen size and shape, size, and weight. In this instance, we are not breaking this down based on user category.

Here are our recommendations:

Laptop Type
These days there are several different types of laptops. Here is a list of the most popular types and a description of each.

  1. Standard Laptop
    This is the laptop you know and love. usually has a 15″ to 16″ screen. It has a hinge and opens up for you to use it and you can close it when you are carrying it around.
  2. Ultralight
    This is basically a standard laptop, but much smaller, thinner, and lighter. They usually cost more than standard laptops. They are great for carrying around but can be limited in performance and features. For example, they don’t have CD/DVD drives. They don’t have numeric keypads. They often don’t have wired internet and can only do wireless. They don’t have a lot of USB ports either.
  3. 2-in-1
    This is a laptop where the monitor can be folded or rotated around so that it folds down on the keyboard with the screen out so you can use it like a tablet. It’s going to be much bigger and heavier than a tablet. These all have touchscreens.
  4. 2-in-1 detachable
    This is kind of an odd animal, but it really works. It’s like a tablet with a keyboard. You can detach the keyboard and use it as a tablet, or attach the keyboard and use it like a laptop.

Battery Life
If you are going to be using it on the go, get a laptop with a long battery life. There is nothing more frustrating that paying a lot of money for a laptop you can use on the go, and then not being able to use it because the battery is dead. Some laptops can be upgraded to a longer life battery.

Screen Size
Get the biggest screen you can afford as long as the size of the laptop that goes with it is not too big or too heavy for you to carry around. Remember that the bigger the screen size, the bigger and heavier the laptop will be. Also remember that the smaller the screen, the lighter and smaller the laptop is, but it’s harder to read what’s on the screen because everything is smaller. Those of us who don’t have the best vision will want bigger screens and will want to avoid the smaller screens. Also be aware that the smaller laptops don’t have numeric keypads on the keyboard. If you enter a lot of numbers, that could be an issue.

When you are not traveling, you can connect an external monitor, keyboard, and mouse to your laptop and then when traveling use the smaller screen on the laptop itself. Hooking up an external monitor, keyboard, and mouse is easier with a desk dock, but not required.

Size and Weight
Size matters in this case. If you carry it around a lot or for long distances, the smaller and lighter it is, the better. A 9 pound laptop doesn’t sound like it would be that heavy to lug around, but when you add in the AC adapter and other accessories, it can get pretty heavy. Even if you just carry the laptop without the AC adapter or other accessories, 9 pounds get’s pretty heavy after a while. Get the smallest and lightest laptop you can afford with the screen size you want. In general, the smaller and lighter the laptop, the more expensive they are. But as we mentioned above, make sure your eyesight is good enough for a smaller screen.

Carry Cases
Be careful on the prices of carry cases. If you purchase a case at the same time as your laptop there is often a huge markup. You can always purchase a generic carry case later at a store like Best Buy or Frys or at an online retailer. Make sure you get a carry case that your laptop will fit in. In general it goes by screen size. The specifications for a case will tell you it can handle laptops up to a certain screen size. Most laptops with 15″ or smaller screen will fit in most any laptop case. However, laptops with 17″ or bigger screens won’t. It’s a good idea to get a carry case that doesn’t look like a laptop carry case, for security reasons. One of our favorites are the back-pack type carry cases. These look less professional in a business environment, but the great thing is they don’t look like laptop bags and are, therefore, less likely to get stolen at the airport or hotel.

Touchscreen
Touchscreen is a cool feature, but many people don’t use it. If you have a 2-in-1 or 2-in-1 detachable computer, you’ll have touchscreen. For a standard laptop or ultralight, most people don’t use the touchscreen capability with the possible exception of playing games like candy crush.

Power Issues And Computers

Power Issues And Computers

While all electronic devices are subject to power issues, computers are much more sensitive to them than other devices. That’s why it’s important to understand these issues, and protect your computer from them.

There are several different types of power issues that can happen. Here is a list, what they are, and how they affect your computer.

  1. Power Surge
    1. What is it?
      A short term increase in voltage. Usually caused by faulty generators, air conditioners, and other devices.
    2. What can it do to my computer?
      Power surges typically will not harm a computer with a healthy power supply but if the computer’s power supply is weak or damaged by previous electrical issues, a power surge could cause it to fail.
    3. How do I protect my computer from it?
      A good surge protector or an Uninterruptable Power Supply (UPS).
  2. Power Spike/Impulse
    1. What is it?
      Similar to a Power Surge, but with a much more dramatic increase in voltage. Typically caused by lightning but can also happen when the power comes back on after a power outage.
    2. What can it do to my computer?
      A Power Spike can cause catastrophic damage to your computer, or any electronic device. Many people turn their computers off during a storm to protect it. But that doesn’t protect your computer from Power Spikes because your computer is still connected to the electrical grid and so the power spike has a path to get to your computer unless you have proper protection.
    3. How do I protect my computer from it?
      You can shut your computer down and unplug it from the electricity but you also have to unplug any cable that goes to your computer that is connected to a device that is plugged into an A/C plug. This includes printers, powered USB hubs, external hard drives, etc. A better way is to have a good surge protector or a UPS.
  3. Power Outage
    1. What is it?
      When the power goes completely out. Could last for a fraction of a second, or for hours or even days in extreme cases.
    2. What can it do to my computer?
      What a sudden loss of power does to a computer depends greatly on what the computer was doing at the time of the power loss. If you were editing a Word document, for example, you could lose the contents of that document. If the computer was in the middle of writing to the hard drive when the power loss occurs, it can cause corruption on the hard drive, but this is rare.
    3. How do I protect my computer from it?
      On computers with healthy power supplies and healthy hard drives, the chances of a power loss causing a problem are very slim. The only way to protect your computer is by using an UPS.
  4. Power Sag/Brown Out
    1. What is it?
      This is a short term decrease in voltage usually caused by high-demand on the electrical grid. These are rare here in central Texas but are more common in other parts of the country.
    2. What can it do to my computer?
      It can cause your computer to freeze, crash, or act weird. It can cause loss or corruption of data. It also reduces the lifespan of some electrical components like power supplies, hard drives, etc.
    3. How do I protect my computer from it?
      The only protection is a UPS.
  5. Noisy or Dirty Power
    1. What is it?
      Faulty generators, switches, nearby radio transmitters, and similar devices can cause power to contain “electrical noise” and interference.
    2. What can it do to my computer?
      It can shorten the life of your computer and cause it to act weird, suddenly shut off or reboot, or cause it to freeze or crash.
    3. How do I protect my computer from it?
      The only protection is a UPS.

As you can see from the list above, there are quite a few power related issues that can have an effect on computers and those effects can be catastrophic.

How you should protect a particular computer from these issues depends on what type of computer it is and how critical the computer is to you. First, if the computer is a laptop, then all you need is a good surge protector. That’s because a laptop has a built-in battery and so it’s not susceptible to power outages (assuming the battery isn’t defective and has a charge).

If the computer is an All-In-One or a desktop, then ask yourself what effect it would have on your life or your business if the given computer wasn’t working for a day or two. Would that be an inconvenience or would it be a big problem?

If it would be an inconvenience, then get a good surge protector that provides at least 2000 joules of protection and comes with an insurance policy for connected equipment. Don’t rely on these cheapo power strips that say they have surge protection. Their surge protection is usually not very good.

If it would be a big problem to be without a given computer for a day or two (or more), then we recommend getting a UPS. Not just any UPS. The first thing you should look for is a UPS that connects to your computer with a USB cable. This is important because when there is a power outage, your UPS can tell your computer to shut down. This prevents the computer from experiencing a sudden loss of power in the event of a power outage that lasts more than a few minutes. The other feature to look for in a UPS is the voltage. How much voltage you need depends on how much power your computer uses. This can be hard to determine. For the average computer, 550 VA should be fine. For a computer that is more powerful, you’ll need more voltage. For them, a minimum of 650VA is recommended.

When you connect a computer to a UPS, be aware that the UPS has two different types of outlets. On one side of the UPS are outlets that only have surge protection. The other side has ports that will be supported by the battery in the UPS. The computer itself and your monitor should be plugged into the battery backup outlets while all other devices should be plugged into the surge protection only outlets.

When you have a computer that is protected by a UPS that has been properly set up, you don’t have to worry about your computer. If there is a storm, the surge protection will protect it. If there is a power outage, the UPS will keep the computer from losing power and will tell the computer to shut down if the power outage lasts more than a minute or two. The only thing you have to do is remember to turn the computer back on after the power comes back on. You may be wondering why everyone doesn’t have a UPS. Two reasons. One is many people never heard of them. The other reason is that they aren’t cheap. A good surge protector is around $30. A good UPS is $80 or more.

If you are interested in getting a UPS on any of your computers, give us a call. We can install them for you and make sure they are installed and configured properly. We can even purchase the UPS for you.

And, by the way, we recommend that you have all electric devices plugged into good surge protectors. This includes TV’s, sound systems, DVD players, DVR’s, cordless phones, cell phone/tablet/laptop chargers, and so forth.

Power Outages, Lightning, and Storms. Oh My!

Power Outages, Lightning, and Storms. Oh My!

There have been a lot of power outages recently in the Lago Vista/Jonestown area lately. Many of them were planned, but some were not. Several of our customers have had issues caused by recent power outages. In addition, now that we are entering the beginning of storm season, it’s a good time to talk about power issues and computers again.

There are two types of power issues when it comes to computers. Power surges, and power loss.

A power surge is a sudden, and usually short, increase in power. A power spike, if you will. A computer is designed so that it requires a certain amount of power. If you put too much power into a computer, its components can’t handle it and they can become damaged, often to the point of failure. Most of the time when a computer is hit by a power surge, it affects the power supply. The power supply is a part inside the computer that converts AC power to DC. So most of the time when a computer is damaged by a power surge, it’s the power supply that is damaged and replacing it fixes the computer.

A power surge can be caused by changes in the power lines, repairs and maintenance to power systems, and so forth. But another kind of power surge is lightning, and it’s much less predictable than your average power surge. Lightning can affect computers in the same way as a regular power surge by taking out the power supply, but lightning is weird and can do weird things and affect your computer in weird ways. I’ve seen lightning strikes leave a computer fine but only take out the keyboard. I’ve also seen lighting strikes totally fry computers. And I’ve seen everything in between.

Unlike your average power surge, a lightning strike can enter your computer in ways other than through electrical lines. Any cable or cord going from your computer to the outside of your house is an avenue lightning can get to your computer. Back before high-speed internet, lightning often struck computers through the phone lines connected to dial-up modems. I’m glad those days are gone. It’s still possible for a lightning strike to get to your computer through your internet connection, but usually those just take out your modem and router and usually don’t make it to your computer.

A power outage is the opposite of a power surge. It’s the sudden loss of power. But don’t let it fool you, it can be just as dangerous to your computer. What happens to a computer when it suddenly loses power depends on what the computer is doing at the exact time when the power loss occurs. If the computer isn’t doing anything then the power outage will probably not have any negative effect on your computer. However, if your computer is doing something, then a power outage can have a devastating effect on your computer. It can corrupt a file. It can make your computer unbootable. It can even completely corrupt an entire hard drive so that your data is not recoverable from the hard drive.
Now that we understand the types of power issues that can effect computers and what they can do to them, let’s talk about how to protect our computers from these issues.

When you know storms are approaching, a good practice is to shut your computer down before the storm hits. That protects you from sudden power loss, but does NOT protect you from a power surge. To protect your computer from a power surge, you would have to unplug your computer from the wall.

If you have a good surge protector, then turning your computer off before an approaching storm protects you from both power surges and power loss. But you can’t always anticipate a loss of power.

Most people have their computers plugged into surge protectors, but there are two things you should know about surge protectors. First, not all surge protectors are the same. And second, surge protectors wear out over time even if you don’t have any power surges. As electricity flows through the surge protection circuits, they slowly wear out. That’s why you should replace surge protectors every 5 years.

When you purchase a surge protector, purchase one that includes an insurance policy so that if your equipment is damaged by a power surge while connected to the surge protector, they will reimburse you for that equipment’s repair or replacement.

You can try and anticipate power outages and turn off your computer beforehand, but you can’t always anticipate power outages. For the most protection, use a UPS (Uninterruptable Power Supply), also known as a battery backup system.

When installed properly, a UPS protects your computer from lightning and power outages. A UPS has superior surge protection to protect against lightning just like a good surge protector. And when there is a loss of power, the battery kicks in to run your computer. The software that comes with your UPS should be set up so the UPS tells the computer to shut down after the power has been off for 1 minute. This way, if it’s just a momentary glitch in the power, the computer won’t shut down. But if the power is off for more than a minute, the computer shuts down normally, thus avoiding data corruption.

A UPS is a must for servers. It is highly recommended for any computer that is a critical part of a business. It’s also recommended for home computers if you rely heavily on your computer and don’t want to be without it for a day or two while it’s being repaired.

And please make sure you have a good backup. We recommend Carbonite. You can purchase Carbonite through us. If you do buy it through us, we will install it remotely at no additional charge.

Buying a New Printer

Buying a New Printer

These days, printers are not made to last a long time. It is generally more expensive to have one repaired than it is to get a new one. Our favorite brands are Brother and HP.

There are two basic ways that printers print. Ink Jet and Laser. Ink Jet is always color. Laser may be black and white only, or Color. For most home users, Ink Jet is fine. If you are producing brochures or something, or are doing a large volume of printing, you will want a laser printer.

In terms of features, all printers will print of course. Other features include making copies, scanning, and faxing. A printer that does all of that is called an All-In-One (AIO). Some manufacturers call these multifunction printers instead of All-In-One’s, but it means the same thing. If you just need to print and only print, a plain printer is fine. If you ever have the need to make a few copies, scan something, or send or receive a fax, then a multifunction printer is a great idea. It does all of those things and doesn’t take up too much space.

The other thing to look for is how a printer connects to your computer(s). You can hook a printer up to a computer using a USB cable or you can connect your printer to your network (either with a wire or using wireless). If you have one computer and no other devices (iPads, iPhones, etc) that you want to print from, using USB is fine. But if you have more than one computer or if you have any devices you want to be able to print from, then we recommend connecting your printer to your network. Setting up a printer this way is more complicated and you might need to have us do this for you.

Troubleshooting: Printer

Troubleshooting: Printer

This article contains some things you can do to try and fix your printer before you call us.

  • Print quality is poor
    • Can’t give you exact instructions here because each printer is different, but basically what you need to do is tell the printer to run a cleaning cycle. You may need to run several cleaning cycles. On the front of the printer there should be a button that says either menu, setup, or sometimes it’s a picture of a wrench. Use this button and the arrow keys and select key to find the cleaning cycle.
  • What I’m printing gets chopped off or spans multiple pages
    • To print in most programs, you click on File and then Print. You then get a window that allows you to change the printer you are printing to and also usually has some settings there. In that window you can usually switch between portrait and landscape. If what you are printing is too wide, try switching it to landscape and see if that helps. There is also usually a print options button next to the printer selection box that you can click on to check the settings.
  • A bunch of extra stuff gets printed when I print email
    • If you are printing email that you are accessing through a web browser, then do not use your web browser’s print button. Using your browser’s print button will print everything being displayed. But you only want to print the email itself. So, instead, use the print option in your email. Often times they hide the print function for some reason. On Outlook.com (which includes email addresses ending in outlook.com, hotmail.com, live,com, and msn.com) and also on Yahoo Mail, there is a button that is labeled “…” that you click on to find the print function. In Gmail there is a tiny printer icon at the top of the email being displayed.
  • Errors when trying to print
    • Make sure the printer is turned on and has paper.
    • Make sure there are no errors displayed on the printer. If there are, there may be an internal problem inside the printer. If the printer is broken on the inside of the printer, get a new printer. Nobody fixes the inside of printers because it’s cheaper to replace them.
    • If your printer is an inkjet printer, try removing and reinserting the ink cartridges.
    • Turn off your printer, wait 30 seconds and turn it back on.
    • Restart your computer.
    • If your printer is connected to your computer using a USB cable, unplug the USB cable from the back of the computer and from the back of the printer. Now plug it back into the printer and then plug it into a different USB port on the computer.
    • On the computer, click on Start and then click on “Devices and Printers”
      • Find your printer, right-click on it, and choose “See what’s printing”.
      • If there is anything waiting to print, they will be listed here. In the menu, click on Printer and then “Cancel all documents”.
      • Wait for all of the documents waiting to print to disappear from the queue.
      • Once they are all gone, try printing again.
      • If they don’t all go away, reboot and go back into the job queue to make sure they are gone and try printing again if they are.
    • If none of the above fixed the problem, call us.
Troubleshooting: Mouse or Touch-pad Not Working

Troubleshooting: Mouse or Touch-pad Not Working

This article contains some things you can do to try and fix your mouse before you call us.

A mouse can connect to a computer in one of three ways.

  1. PS2 connection. This is the older style connection that most newer computers do not have. It is a round plug that is the color green.
  2. USB connection. Most newer systems and newer wired mice use this connection. It uses a standard rectangular USB connector and you can plug it into any USB port on a computer.
  3. Wireless.
  • First thing you should do is to reboot your computer and see if that fixes the problem.
  • If your mouse connects to your computer using a PS2 connection (see above) then do not unplug or plug in this type of connection while the computer is turned on. Shut down your computer. Now unplug the mouse connector and carefully plug it back in. PS2 mice usually have either an arrow or a flat side on the connector.If you look at the PS2 port, there is a notch. The arrow of flat side should line up with that notch. Once you have it plugged back in good, turn the computer back on and see if it works.
  • If your mouse connects to your computer with USB, unplug the mouse and plug it into a different USB port. You can do this while the computer is running.
  • If your mouse is wireless
    • Press the sync button on the bottom of the mouse and then move the mouse around, clicking the button for about 30 seconds to see if it starts working.
    • Unless you have a bluetooth mouse, there is probably a wireless transceiver plugged into your computer that allows the computer to communicate with the mouse. Unplug that transceiver and plug it into a different USB port and try again.
    • If that doesn’t fix it, replace the batteries in your mouse and try syncing it again.
  • If the problem is with the touch-pad on a laptop instead of a mouse, some laptop models have a little switch above the touch-pad that turns the touch-pad on and off. Look for that and turn it back on if yours has that switch.
  • If none of that helps, call us.
Troubleshooting: My Computer Won’t Boot

Troubleshooting: My Computer Won’t Boot

If your computer won’t boot, here is a list of things you can try before you call us.

  • I push the power button and nothing happens. No lights. No noise. Nothing.
    • Check both end of the power cord to make sure it’s plugged into both the computer and the power strip or wall.
    • If plugged into a power strip, make sure it’s turned on.
    • Try plugging the computer into a different socket or outlet.
    • Look on the back of the computer near where the power cord plugs in. Some computers have an on/off switch back there. If your computer has one, make sure it’s plugged in.
    • If it’s a laptop, check to make sure the power cord is securely plugged into the transformer (the brick like box that is part of the power cord).
    • If this is a laptop, remove the battery and unplug the power cord. Press and hold down the power button for 30 seconds. Now put the battery back in and plug it in and try again.
    • If none of that works, call us.
  • I push the power button and lights come on but nothing ever displays on the screen or something does display for a second but then the monitor goes blank.
    • Try connecting a different monitor to the computer.
    • If that doesn’t help, call us.
  • I push the power button. Lights come on, but I get a message about a boot device or non-system disk or disk error or NTLDR is missing or anything like that.
    • Unplug any flash drives and external hard drives that are connected to the computer and remove any CD’s or DVD’s that are in the drives and try again.
    • Call us
  • I push the power button and the computer starts to boot, but hangs.
    • Call us.
  • I push the power button and the computer starts to boot but then suddenly goes off.
    • Call us.
  • The computer gets a blue screen with white text that talks about an error.
    This is often referred to as the blue screen of death (BSOD).

    • If you made any hardware changes to your computer, change it back and try again.
    • Call us.
  • Computer goes into startup repair.
    • Let start-up repair run.
    • If start-up repair hangs or runs forever and never finishes, call us
    • If start-up repair finishes but when you reboot, it goes back into start-up repair, call us.
  • I get a menu that lists start-up repair, safe mode, safe mode with networking, etc.
    • First, use the up and down arrow keys to highlight Start Normally and hit enter on the keyboard.
    • If that doesn’t fix it, highlight start-up repair and run that.
    • If that doesn’t fix it, call us.
Important: HP/Compaq Laptop Charger Cord Recall

Important: HP/Compaq Laptop Charger Cord Recall

If you have an HP laptop, it’s very important that you take the time to read this.

HP recently recalled power cords for certain HP/Compaq laptops & Mini-Laptops. The cords can overheat and potentially start a fire.

Here is how to check to see if your cord is one of the ones recalled. Find where your cord plugs into the wall and follow it to the brick. The part of the cord that comes from the wall plugs into the brick. The picture on the left shows part of the cord that plugs into the brick. Note the LS-15 that is stamped there. If your cord has LS-15 stamped on it just like the one in the picture, then you have one of the recalled power cords.

If you do have one of the recalled power cords, you can get it replaced by HP for free. All you have to do is click on this link.

Don’t put off doing this. While you are waiting for your replacement power cord, you can continue to use the old one. Just make sure that the cord is not touching anything that is flammable.

 

Crystal Disk Info and Open Candy

Crystal Disk Info and Open Candy

All modern hard drives contain a feature called S.M.A.R.T.
S.M.A.R.T. stands for Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology.
What it really means is that the drive connects statistics about itself. These statistics can be used to detect when the drive has a problem and can often allow you to replace a drive BEFORE it fails and you lose all of your data.

The only problem with this technology is that Windows doesn’t really monitor S.M.A.R.T..
So even though this technology can be used to prevent hard drive crashes, it’s largely ignored by Windows and thus, this technology is not taken advantage of and doesn’t benefit most people.

The good news is that there are quite a few free utilities that you can install that will tell you about the health of your hard drive based on S.M.A.R.T.  We read a lot of reviews and tested a lot of these utilities. When testing we evaluated the software based on several criteria. First, the utility had to be free. It also had to be free from annoying pop-up advertisements. It had to be something that a non-technical person could open and immediately see if their hard drive was OK or not without having to sift through a bunch of technical jargon or statistics. And lastly, it had to be capable of sending email notifications about problems.

After testing several utilities, our favorite was Crystal Disk Info (CDI). The one caveat to CDI is that when you install it, you find that it contains Open Candy. You probably are not familiar with what Open Candy is. Open Candy is a service that can be included in an installation that prompts you to install extra free software. What software it asks you about installing depends on what’s currently installed on your computer.

Most of this software is not harmful, however, a few options in Open Candy are considered to be harmful. Even if the software isn’t harmful, you don’t want extra software on your computer anyway. So when you download Crystal Disk Info, your anti-virus software may detect it as an infection. Crystal Disk Info itself is not an infection. However, some software installed by Open Candy is considered an infection by some security software.

It is safe to install CDI, but you just have to be careful to de-select the options for the additional software from Open Candy. And before you download and install CDI, you might have to temporarily disable your security software.

Once you install CDI, you can run it and instantly see the health of your hard drive. But we recommend setting it up so that it will always run on your computer automatically so that it can notify you as soon as it detects possible problems. I run it on all of our computers. I also have it installed on all of our contract customer computers. This utility has saved several of our customers from suffering a hard drive crash. It has also saved us twice here at Computer Troubleshooters. In all of these cases, the utility warned us of rising problems and we were able to replace the hard drives BEFORE they crashed thus preventing downtime and data loss.

If you are interested in downloading and installing CDI onto your computer, be very careful. First of all, there are several infections out there that pretend to be Crystal Disk Info, so make sure you download it from the link below and nowhere else.

http://crystalmark.info/software/CrystalDiskInfo/index-e.html

Note that the only difference between the Standard Edition and the Shizuku Edition is that the Shizuku edition has Anime visuals. The functionality is the same. Again, when installing it, make sure you select custom install and deselect all of the options. Otherwise, junk software will be installed on your computer.

To set CDI up so that it runs automatically, click on the Function menu and then click on Resident. Then click on the Function menu again and click on Startup. That’s it! If you are on our SAM (Security And Maintenance) plan, there is no need to do this because we have already installed it on your computer.

Something else you should be aware of. Some laptops and small form factor computers run hotter. Because of this, your hard drive might run at a hotter temperature than most computers. In this case, you might get warnings from CDI about the hard drive temperature, even though this is normal for your computer.

Computer Performance

Computer Performance

What determines the performance of a computer? Many things. But it boils down to two broad categories. Hardware and software. Hardware is the physical computer itself and all of the components that go into making that computer. Software includes Windows, other software you have, and infections. In this article, we are only addressing the hardware side of performance.

If you use Vista or Windows 7, do this. Right click on Computer (either on desktop or in start menu) and choose “Properties” from the pop-up menu. Under the system section, you should see a number in a blue square and to the right it will say “Windows Experience Index” in blue. Click on Windows Experience Index to see the details.

Here’s what it looks like on my computer:

WindowsExperienceIndex

First off, let me say that I have a very high performance computer. So don’t feel bad if your number isn’t this high.The highest possible number is 7.1. If your computer is in the 4-6 range, you are in pretty good shape.

You can see here that the index considers the processor, the memory (RAM), Graphics, Gaming Graphics, and the hard drive. Let’s briefly talk about how each one determines the performance of your computer. When looking at computers in the store, this is a good thing to do to get an idea of the performance of a computer you are thinking about purchasing. You can also use this on your current computer to see if and how much you can boost the performance of your computer with an upgrade.

Processor
The processor is the brain of the computer. It’s what does the work. Processors can have anywhere from 1 core up to 8 (at the time this was written). They also have a speed rating in GHz. This says how fast each core can process. Most programs can only utilize one processor. So, the fastest a program like that can run is determined primarily by the speed of the core. So in that case, a core running at 3.0 GHz will run a program faster than a core running at 2.5 GHz. However, some programs can use what is called parallel processing. That means they can use more than one core at a time to speed things up. In that case, the more cores, the faster a program like that will run.

Even if you aren’t using any programs that use parallel processing, having multiple cores will still speed up your system because Windows will try to evenly distribute the load amongst the cores.

Memory (RAM)
The amount of memory has a huge impact on how fast your computer will run. The RAM is the working area that the processor has to work in. The processor can only process something if it is in RAM. If there is not enough RAM to hold all of the currently running programs, then Windows will swap out some programs to what is called virtual memory. Virtual memory is nothing more than a special place on the hard drive where it can store memory contents temporarily when there is not enough RAM to store all running programs.

So a system will a small amount of RAM will spend a lot of time swapping out programs between RAM and the hard drive and as a result, that system will be slower than a similar system with more memory.  When we get to the hard disk section of this article, we will expand some more on this, but I’m sure you already noticed from the picture above, the hard drive is much slower than the other components in the system. So the hard drive is often the bottleneck of the system. So anything you can do to ease the burden on the hard drive helps performance.

Graphics/Gaming graphics
I’m lumping these two together because they are very similar. Graphics performance is related to how well your computer processes graphics. Graphics includes things like games that use hires graphics, or working with pictures, videos, or drawings. Because graphics are large and require a lot of memory, there is a separate graphics processor in your computer for processing graphics. Sometimes this graphics processor is inside the computer’s processor, sometimes it’s a chip on the motherboard, and sometimes it’s in a video card plugged into the motherboard.

If you don’t use any graphics intensive applications like the ones I listed above, then having your video functionality built-in to your computers processor, or having a chip on the motherboard is probably fine. But if you do use any of the graphics intensive applications I listed, then you will get much better performance if you have a good video card with a good amount of fast memory on it dedicated to graphics processing. And many games require video cards in order to function.

Hard Disk
Files and programs are read from and written to the hard drive. When windows boots up, it’s loading from the hard drive. When you click on a program, it’s loading from the hard drive. When you open a document, it’s loading from the hard drive. Most any time you do anything in Windows it’s accessing the hard drive at least a little.

While processors, memory, and graphics processing have been steadily getting better and faster, hard drive speeds have not. That’s why you can see from the picture above that the hard drive is a lower score and is the bottleneck. Also notice that windows says the overall performance score for the system is the same as the score for the hard drive. That’s because overall system performances is generally determined by the slowest component in the system, also known as the bottleneck.

The component that is the bottleneck of the system will also be the busiest component in the computer. When you couple that with the fact that the hard drive is the most likely component in the computer to fail, you have a recipe for disaster! That’s why it’s so important to not only make sure you have a sufficient amount of RAM in your computer, but also back up your computer regularly.

We now have Solid State Drives arriving. They are fast, but they are expensive. My system has an SSD. You can see the rating for it above is 7.2. The motherboard in my computer is older and is limiting the speed of my SSD. SSD’s are fast, but they are expensive. And although the price has come down, they are still much more expensive than traditional hard drives.

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