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Category Archives for Computer Speed

Vista- resource hog or not

I recently attempted installation of the Vista Home Premium operating system. I first attempted this operation to see how well it performed with the minimum system requirements. Of course it wasn’t as crisp and quick as I had hoped it would be.

After testing for quite some time I turned off all the fancy shadows and features of the operating system and of course it ran better. As I added my third party applications performance began to lag once again.

Ok… time to try the installation with the recommended requirements. Just to review what the recommended requirements are I have them listed here.

1 Ghz 32 or 64-bit processor
1 GB of system memory
40 GB hard drive with 15 GB available space
128 MB graphics memory card that supports directx 9.0

Even after updating the system configuration with the new hardware… performance did improve. Of course being a tech head I do desire the as fast as possible scenario.

After reviewing my options I decided to attempt using Windows Ready Boost to see if I could boost performance. I added a compatible USB 2.0 drive with 2 GB of capacity and configured ready boost to use the device.

After testing I would have to say I would recommend to anyone that uses Vista (which does seem to be a resource hog) and needs peak performance you may want to consider using the ready boost option. Even though you cannot monitor the ready boost device performance while installed it does appear to have benefits.

As well as the performance benefits it is as well much cheaper to add a USB drive than internal system memory. I guess Microsoft knew we might need some other option to boost performance of their new os. I’m glad they decided to add this option to the operating system.

Fiber to the house…Oh yeah!

Are there any other tech heads out there like me who wish deployment of better connectivity technology would move a little faster?

A month or so ago I visited a friend in Florida. While I was there his ISP was installing fiber to the house for Internet connectivity. Of course it made my mouth water thinking of the reliability and speeds he would have.

That is just totally cool that they are converting their entire network for all consumers to fiber connectivity.

After installation he purchased a connectivity package which allowed for up to 20MB download speeds and I believe 6MB upload. Now if you are an avid tech head or a system administrator you know just what that means…..no more slow uploads due to those darn limiting QOS files.

I hope this practice becomes a standard for all high speed Internet ISP’s. I dont know about you but that would enable me to be twice as productive when uploading websites or large files.

Currently I can only dream of a connection like this, but maybe…just maybe one day I will have something comparable.

Unlimited Wireless Broadband?

An associate of mine recently signed up for so called unlimited wireless broadband access with a major provider. They installed their hardware and configured it for broadband access.

After a day of using the service they noted that they kept losing connection once every 30 minutes so they decided to contact the service provider for assistance.

After three days of troubleshooting the connection problem the service provider concluded it may be a tower problem that was at the root of this issue. They suggested waiting a couple of days for the engineers to review the information and they would contact them back.

After waiting an additional day past the set time frame my associate decided to contact the provider back. Of course they apologized for the lack of communication. They reviewed the case file and this time concluded that the issue was not a problem, but rather by design.

They explained that their towers are set by default to log users off automatically regardless of activity. Well this causes problems for users who work through wireless broadband for hours on end. Especially if accessing information remotely.

I think they should rename their “unlimited Internet access” plan to something more precisely descriptive…..such as the unlimited Internet for a brief period of time plan.

Be sure if you are looking into wireless broadband that you ask as many questions as possible about connectivity and speeds before you decide on a particular plan or you will end up where my associate is………trying to get out of their two year contract.

Windows Vista UAC

I have completed the new Microsoft Windows Vista course 5118A just this week. In review of my new training on Vista Microsoft has a new and very annoying utility internal to the operating system.

The new utilitiy is the UAC or user account control. If you have recently purchased Windows vista you know just how annoying it can be.

The utility was designed to prevent malicious software from invading your computer and to “protect users from themselves”.

Even logged in as an administrator this utility is still active and still annoying as it monitors even administrative account activity. You can turn this feature off in the accounts control panel, but of course Microsoft does not recommend it.

I know you will be just as frustrated with it as I have been, but it does add an extra security feature while monitoring installation and removal of software. As we know malicious programs can install in the background while browsing the Internet or opening email.

The UAC utility as well monitors the registry for changes and notifies if a program or user attempts to alter it and then prompts for permission.

When looking at it from a security point of view this utility can be a very useful one, but when looking at it from a productivity stand point you will have a different view of this utility.

Why me?

The other day I was approached by a friend asking if I could upgrade some hardeware on one of his computers. Of course I told him it may be possible.

My friend stated he only needed it for internet and that it would not be running any applications other than Windows which was already installed and configured.

After accepting the hardware to go over there was something I had not seen in quite a while. It was a 75mhz Cyrix chip with 72 pin memory. Wow! I couldnt believe it. It’s like a paleontologist coming across a great find.

Well after the initial shock wore off I contacted my friend again and said I can do some upgrades but I will not make any guarantees as to how or even if it would do what they were wanting it to do and he agreed that was ok.

Well the upgrades worked for what they wanted it for. Just to realize…..what they spent on upgrades (in the range of $200) could have been put torwards a new computer with better functionality.

Get rid of that old hardware.

Backing Up the registry and using Sytem Restore

The registry contains extended information, settings and various other values for the Windows 98, Windows NT, Windows 2000, Windows ME, Windows XP Operating System. Within the registry you can control a majority of the operating system as well as fix issues with Windows. However we only recommend users extensively experienced with the Windows registry edit it manually.

Before going into the Registry and changing or deleting anything I always recommend that you backup the registry.
To back up the registry Go to Start/run and type in the command field “regedit” without the quotes. Once the interface is open select file and then export. You should select the save in location as the root of c:. You will need to provide a name for the file. Once completed select save.

The computer registry consists of two files hidden in the Windows directory, system.dat and user.dat. User-specific system information is contained in the user.dat file and computer and hardware specific information in the system.dat file.

Microsoft Windows now includes a new feature known as system restore. This great new feature enables a user to backup and restore their important registry and system files from an earlier date. By default this feature automatically creates a backup of the system each day When working properly. If you wish to create a restore point using system restore follow the steps below.

Try downloading the bug doctor software to test your pc for problems.

Creating a restore point

1.Click Start, Programs, Accessories, System Tools, System Restore

2.Select the option to Create a restore point

3.Click next and follow the remainder steps.

Reversing to a previously created restore point

1.Click Start, Programs, Accessories, System Tools, System Restore

2.Select the Restore my computer to an earlier time option and click next

3.Select the day and the restore point you wish to restore and click next.

Using regedit to incorrectly change data can render you system non-functional and it can cease to boot up. Please do not attempt to manually edit registry information if you are not experienced in doing so.

Keep your pc running like new with the brand new version of PC Registry Cleaner Version 2.0

Avoiding and dealing with duplicate files

Recently I discovered an issue where I had duplicate files on my computer. These were mainly document files. Somewhere in the confusion I was updating the wrong documents. This caused me to lose some very important documentation.

I had noticed that there were three different locations I was storing backups of the original documents. At some point while editing these documents I had opened a secondary location. In my confusion I had updated a backup file which was later deleted as I thought it was an older back up file. This caused a huge problem.

I had to re-write several articles(mostly from memory) which was very time consuming. My energies would have been better focused somewhere else to say the least.

I was determined this would not happen again. I attempted to locate all the duplicate files myself at first. If you have ever attempted doing this then you understand how time consuming this operation can be.

This process entails searching for all .doc files. Once the files are located they have to be reviewed for which contains the most recent data. Once you know which article is the most recent you then have to delete the older file. Once you have a current copy of the file if it is not located in “my documents” or your specified folder it then has to be moved to this location.

When dealing with approximately one hundred documents you can imagine how much time was spent on this project. I was determined to find a better way of removing these duplicate files.

I resolved this issue mainly by changing the default save in location for documents in the word processing software I used. This helped in a big way.

The second option I implemented was to use a good backup software which can do incremental backups. This means it only backups files to your designated backup location that have changed since your last backup.

lets hope you never have to experience this, but if you do I hope my resolution might help. It would be better used as a preventative measure if implemented prior to this happening on your own system.

Be sure when using a back up that you save your data to a remote location such as a removable drive. Implementing this backup strategy is better in the sense if you have a computer failure you will still have access to your backup data.

What happened to the idea of RAM drives?

Several years ago I remember the buzz about creation of a RAM drive. This new idea seemed to be a sound idea. At the time the only hurdle was the fact that RAM memory was volatile (meaning without power it could not hold the information).

Over the past couple of years the volatile issue has been addressed as we know when we use usb drives to hold data. Many memory based drives now have a nonvolatile setting which will enable memory retention.

Im just curious what ever happened to this idea. We know that a RAM drive would be faster than typical magnetic drives. As well since they have no moving parts they would be more reliable.

Could you imagine if someone was to create a RAM drive. It would almost be instant data access. Think about it….as soon as you were to power on your computer the operating system would be loaded. I know I would have to purchase one if they were made available.

I guess the manufacturers can make more money by having us upgrade an older technology rather than allowing us to have access to a new technology which might make our computer as fast as we need it to be.

I hope one day someone decides to revisit the idea of a ram drive. A computer is only as fast as it’s weakest link which in this day and age seems to be hard drive access speed. Who knows….maybe a few years from now someone will create the first in a new generation of data storage devices. I hope so anyways!

Best security practices for PC users

When you purchase a new computer and install it out of the box you hunger to get operational and active.

What you don’t know about security can be your downfall.

In today’s computing environment including but not limited to Internet browsing you must consider security measures to protect your data and your computer.

Vulnerabilities can include email, communication ports, wireless networking, spy ware, viruses, and securing the computer from local access.

We will review each in detail in this series. This article is designed to help protect you and your computer in hopes your computing experience will be a more pleasurable and safer one.

1. Email

As a rule when dealing with incoming email regardless of what email client you use you should generally never open an email if you do not know the party the email was generated from.

Your email client should be set to prevent attachments from being displayed or opened unless confirmed by you. Attachments can be set as executable and malicious software can be installed on your local machine.

A good way to prevent some of these entities is to have in place a good Spam blocking utility. Spam blockers can detect most types of spam that are used to either gain entry or used in phishing scams. You may ask yourself: What is phishing? Phishing is a practice used to gain information you may not consider valuable. In many cases this information can be used by the entity to obtain more valuable information about you for the purposes applying for loans, credit cards and other financial gains in your name.

Another practice to keep is anytime you use your email client you should not send valuable information such as drivers license numbers, user names or passwords for accounts(of any type). One practice that is widely used by scammers is to send an email that looks as though it is from a financial institution requesting that you update your account information. Once the information is sent you have now granted them access to the proposed account.

Setting rules to your email client can help prevent these as well. Rules are a way for your email client to detect certain words, domains or email addresses in the email and a subsequent action being taken by the email client such as deleting it automatically. Rules must be configured manually by the user for each email account. The configuration must be monitored and adjusted accordingly as tactics constantly change.

2. Internet communication ports

There is no basic way for you as a computer user to know which ports are open and dangerous on your computer. In order for you to protect yourself from these types of entry you will need to implement a firewall whether it be a hardware or software firewall. When using a firewall: remember they require constant monitoring and configuration.

Firewalls are only configured for basic prevention out of the box. Unless you purchase a monitored firewall software that receives frequent updates and rules. You must constantly stay updated on what ports are being used by hackers, viruses and other malicious code.

One of the easiest ways to keep your computer safe from entry is to use the Windows automatic update feature. Microsoft is constantly patching and reconfiguring the Windows operating system to block vulnerabilities. You must insure your Windows version is set either to automatically retrieve these updates or you need to check the Microsoft update site at least once every two weeks to insure your version is up to date. Remember if you reinstall Windows for any reason all past updates received will need to be reapplied.

You can check your version of Windows to insure you are receiving automatic updates by opening the control panel. Select the system icon and double click the icon. Select the automatic updates tab and review your current settings. If you have scheduled your system for automatic updates and installation make sure you set this action for an appropriate date and time your computer will be in use.

3. Wireless networking

Wireless networks are considerably vulnerable to entry. If not configured properly your wireless network can be used to obtain information and gain access to your local computer.

When configuring your wireless router or access point the easiest thing to do is to disable SSID broadcast. This prevents other wireless network cards from detecting its presents.

You should always change the default user name, password and SSID set by the manufacturer on your wireless unit. The default information is shared by other hardware produced by the manufacturer. This is an easy way to gain access if the information is not altered.

Use encryption on your wireless unit. This may look a little scary and prevent you from configuring your encryption as manufacturers use many acronyms to describe each security encryption type. There are several encryption types available for use. No one encryption type is 100% secure, but in conjunction with other security measures they can be used to maintain a formidable security policy. Just remember when configuring your wireless device that manufacturers publish extensive how to articles on their website for your review. As well when you purchase new hardware the user typically receives an allotted time of free support. Whether this is done through the internet or phone support the manufacturer will be willing to provide their customers the appropriate support for configuration.

Note: This should be considered and verified when selecting wireless hardware and before purchasing new hardware.

Mac filtering is a very secure way of preventing access to your wireless network. Mac address filtering pertains to the MAC address of your wireless card. Every network card has a physical address and every address is unique. Designating which MAC addresses can connect to your device prevents all others from obtaining access. The MAC address of your network card is printed on the device and may be named as “Physical address”. If you cannot find the address you may as well open the control panel and choose network connections. Right click the wireless device and select the status button. On the opened status window select the support tab and the MAC or physical address is listed.

Another security technique used is to disable the DHCP functionality or your wireless device and assign static IP addresses to each computer that will connect through wireless. This will prevent your wireless device from assigning an IP address to unknown devices.

Note: Your wireless access point may not have DHCP capabilities.

When configuring your wireless network there is an option to add a computer to the “DMZ”. The DMZ is known as the de militarized zone and leaves the specified computer unprotected (This true for all router devices). You should never use this option. If you need a particular port open to run web based software or gaming software you should contact the manufacturer of the software for the specified port and then open only that specified port if your software is not functioning properly.

Anytime your computers are not being used they have no need for Wireless capabilities. You should disconnect the wireless units power. Access cannot be obtained when the device is powered off.

4. Spyware or adware

Spyware software was originally used to track habits of Internet browsing for the purpose of aiding companies in delivering more attractive ways of driving traffic to their websites.

In more recent times this software is used for delivering pop up advertisements, tracking your movements and can be used to deliver other more harmful types of software such as viruses. These types of software are common and typically delivered as tracking cookies.

There are many sites that use more harmful types. Typically these sites offer free entry and use of their software for on line gaming or other purposes. A good practice is to avoid these types of sites and advertisements.

You should add a good spyware scan utility to your arsenal which will help maintain your security. When selecting a spy ware scan utility insure your purchase includes automatic updates of the program and definition files as well as a scheduling feature. Having the ability to schedule scans and updates will help keep user maintenance to a minimum.

The best practice would be to have a couple of lines of defense here. In my experience no one single utility has been able to identify every type of spy ware or ad ware infection. I would recommend using a free spy ware utility in conjunction with your purchased software. You should scan your system for spy ware at least once every week (dependent upon your Internet activity habits you may require more or less frequent scans).

5. Viruses

Most don’t realize how vulnerable they are to viruses. If you own a PC you should own good virus protection software. Not only own a good software title but as well the software must be maintained through updates. Most manufacturers publish updates to their virus detection database weekly. If you own virus protection software it is a must to configure automatic updates on a weekly basis. The manufacturer of your software can provide you with the date of published updates in order for to configure the date and time of your automatic update.

Setting a full system scan is very important. You should scan your PC every time an update is made available. If you decide to configure scheduled scans it should coincide with the date the published update is made available and after the update is applied. As well you should designate exactly what to scan and what not to scan. Make sure when designating what to scan if you use external drives or partitioned drives that they are included in the scan.

When purchasing your virus protection a few things need to be considered before deciding which title to buy.

1. Does it have email protection?

2. Does it protect your instant messaging software from allowing infection?

3. Does it have spyware detection capabilities?

4. Does it block against internet worm viruses?

If the virus software you are considering does not protect against of these types of infection move to another title for consideration.

Remember: Virus software licenses are typically good for one year from the date of purchase. You must renew your license in order to receive further updates and maintain protection.

6. Securing the local Computer from being accessed

The first thing to consider is implementing an account password. Most people use passwords that can be easily remembered such as a birth date. If it’s easy for you to remember it may be easily guessed by another user. Passwords should be at least eight characters and should include upper, lowercase letters as well as numbers. Implementing this strategy will prevent most software titles that can be run to obtain your passwords from completing this action easily. You should frequently change passwords as well. Not just your user account password on the local machine but as well you should alternate passwords to secure websites or passwords for internet accounts.

Your computer can be accessed easily if you walk away for even a moment. If your PC is accessible by other users you should configure a screensaver password with the same guide lines as the password for your user account. This can be easily done by opening the control panel and choosing the display icon. On the screen saver tab select the item that states “on resume, display log on screen” or “require password”. Set the wait time for one minute and select apply. This will activate your screen saver after your computer is idle for one minute. The screen saver will only activate if the computer is idle or has no activity for one minute.

The same guidelines that apply for powering down your wireless unit when not in use apply to the local machine as well.

If you decide to document your passwords for accounts (of any type) this documentation should be kept in a secure location.

When considering these guidelines you must remember: Computers, security techniques and practices evolve constantly just as the strategies of intrusion do. It is a priority that you maintain your knowledge of prevention to keep your data and computer operating system safe.

 

Internal utilities to maintain Windows performace

There are a few things that can be done regularly to maintain Windows functionality. These utilities are included in the Windows operating system. A few of these are disk defragmentor, disk cleanup, scandisk and check disk.

Most of these utilities can be accessed by choosing startprograms or all programsaccessoriessystem tools. The check disk utility which is part of the NT operating system which includes 2000 and XP versions is accessible by right clicking the hard drive in my computer and selecting properties. Choose the tools tab and select error checking. This will require a restart of your computer as this utility must have exclusive access to the file system. Be patient when running this utility. This operation can take a considerable amount of time dependent on the amount of information on your hard drive.

Another well known utility which will scan for invalid versions of the Windows operating system files is the system file checker utility. This utility will require your Windows disk be placed in the cd or dvd drive. To use this utility choose startrun and type sfc /scannow. Once input select the ok button to run SFC. The utility will scan all os files and report any inconsistencies. This can be very useful if your problem stems from a failed update of the Windows operating system.

It is wise to use the Windows update feature to apply all current patches and security fixes to your version of Windows. Issues are reported to Microsoft and regular updates are made available. The updates mainly patch security issues internal to Windows, but as well some are provided to improve functionality.

Some other well known utilities which can improve performance are Disk defragmentor and disk cleanup. Disk defragmentor works by organizing files and removing small blocks of empty space therefore organizing the empty space into one large block. This improves caching performance if your drive is severely fragmented. The disk cleanup utility is an easy to use interface to rid your system of unused or temporary files. Both of these utilities can be accessed by choosing the start button/all programs/accessories/system tools.

It is recommended to use these utilities at least once a month to maintain your Windows operating system. These utilities will maintain performance and Microsoft updates can improve security and performance.