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Category Archives for Tech Support

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In the old days PC911 had a forum where you could post questions and answers to. Now that we have this fancy new fangled blog technology I would like to ask you to post your tech support questions here and we will address them.

A lot of people have asked for the forums back but we would prefer to use this blog as a means to help you with your computer problems. Post your question as a comment below and we will help you. It’s that simple.

Vista Reliability and Performance Monitor

Having problems with Windows Vista?

Windows Vista has a unique feature embedded in the operating system. This feature is the Reliability and Performance monitor. If for any reason you are experiencing difficulties with Vista or a third party program that is installed this utility can be used to help identify the source of the issue.

The Reliability and Performance Monitor is a Microsoft Management Console snap-in that includes tools for analyzing system performance. You can monitor hardware and application performance in real time. Also available is the ability to customize what data you want to collect. You can define custom triggers for alerts, automatic actions, generate reports, and view past performance data.

The Reliability and Performance Monitor combines many functions of previous stand-alone tools such as Performance Logs and Alerts, Server Performance Adviser, and System Monitor. It provides a graphical user interface for the customization of Data Collector Sets and Event Trace Sessions.

Reliability and Performance Monitor contains three monitoring tools to aid you in determining a root cause of performance issues such as Resource View, Performance Monitor, and Reliability Monitor. Data collection and logging is performed using Data Collector Sets which must be defined to capture any required information.

Reliability and Performance monitor will be a useful utility for identify issues that may slow performance or cause instability.

Having acquired years of experience with windows and how well it performs (or not) I can assure you it will be in my arsenal of diagnostic utilities for Vista.

Turning off Hibernation in Vista

We all know what a hassle it can be when your computer enters hibernation mode. Many times you can experience blue screens when you attempt to launch your PC from hibernation mode. This is really a pain if you had unsaved data.

 With the release of Vista they have removed the ability from the power options control panel to disable hibernation mode. No where in the control panel will you find an option to disable hibernation mode. It is so nice of Microsoft to remove the abilityto disable this feature considering all the past problems it has caused

Don’t worry though…..there is a simple way to turn off this feature.

Instructions for disabling Hibernation mode:

1. Press the WINDOWS key and type cmd into the Start Search box but DO NOT press ENTER

2. Right-click on cmd in the Programs list  when it appears and select Run As Administrator

3. Click Continue when the UAC prompt appears

4. Type powercfg -h off and press ENTER

You have now disabled Hibernation mode in Vista. You should not experience any of the annoying errors normally experienced from this mode activating. Happy computing!

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.

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.

Top 10 list of funny computer questions and conversations.

I have composed a list of some of the funniest questions submitted by users. Most of these are from my own experiences, the rest are from other support communities. Its nice to know I am not the only one that has to answer these questions.

Enjoy our list of the top 10

1. Where is the “any” key?

2.Does Windows 98 support Linux?”

3.How much does Windows cost, and do you have to buy each one separately?

4.You said I would get 98 windows with this computer. Where are they?

5.Support: “Tell me, is the cursor still there?”
Customer: “No, I’m alone right now.”

6.Support: “Ok, ma’am, do you see the button on the right hand side of your mouse?”
Customer: “No, there’s a printer and a phone on the right hand side of my mouse.”

7.Customer: “Someone was just here working at my home and now I cannot connect to my printer anymore.”
Support: “What type of repairs were completed?”
Customer: “Plumbing repairs.”

8.Customer: “I am experiencing errors on my computer”
Support: “When did this start occurring?”
Customer: “After I restarted”
Support: “What were you doing on the computer before the errors started?”
Customer: “Nothing”
support: “Then why did you have the computer on?”

9.Customer: “I cannot start my computer.”
Support: “What was the last operation you completed on the computer?”
Customer ” I deleted the Windows folder cause my computer said I was low on disk space and it was the largest.”

10.Customer: “I love my new desktop so much. It’s powerful and fast. I especially like the new cup holder that came with it.
Support: “Ma’am….What are your referring to when you say cup holder?”
Customer: “My desktop came with this neet slide out cup holder.”
Support: “Are you referring to the cd-rom drive?”
At this point the customer simply hung up.

Yes believe it or not these are actual questions and conversations posed by customers. Man I hope people will arm themselves with knowledge so they can better voice there technical questions.

Experience support

Ever contacted your OEM computer support only to find out that you can’t understand the person on the other end?

This is a very frustrating experience. I understand it’s more profitable for OEM manufacturers to roll support over to another region. This practice is more profitable due to the following reasons.

1.       The OEM manufacturer does not have to pay the usual 10% increase in pay to local technicians for working the evening shifts.

2.       Payroll costs associated with overseas personnel is much less.

 It’s very annoying to try speaking to someone with little English speaking abilities as well as an accent. If you have not had this wonderful experience yet then you should consider yourself lucky. My last experience in communicating with these facilities was so trying I simply hung up the phone and decided to purchase a support agreement from my local certified support technician. Yes even though I had free support provided by the computer manufacturer.

At least in my opinion it was well worth the extra money to not have to deal with that situation again. It’s bad enough that most people in this level of support simply read from a document of directions and ignore your input. They offer simple well known fixes that generally have no effect on the issue. Add an accent and remove the ability to annunciate English properly and well…….There you have it: Enough said.

You might want to consider on your next purchase not purchasing an extended service plan and instead locate your local OEM certified technician and see what they offer as far as support options. Most support technicians even offer onsite support…..WAHOO! Just insure the local technician is certified by the manufacturer for which ever manufactured model you wish to purchase. I can guarantee that you won’t have as many headaches and you won’t have to learn a new language to alleviate your computing problems.

 

Should you perform regular maintenance on the Windows registry?

Over time the “registry” in which Windows and other applications store information can begin to hold data that is no longer valid. Such information links to a location where there was a file or program, but the file has been moved or the program uninstalled.

Often such invalid links occur because uninstalled programs do not completely remove their registry entries. Whether the uninstall process fails or the uninstaller does not correctly remove all the entries. This can occur due to programs not being correctly uninstalled by the user or a user views a file attached to an email without saving them to disk first, or applications have been relocated without uninstalling and reinstalling them. A registry cleaner utility can come in handy to make this easy.

This invalid data eventually begins to clutter the system registry, slowing Windows down and causing other possible problems.

The Windows registry is simply a database which contains information on the Windows operating system and third party applications. This information is read at start up and includes system variables which tell Windows exactly how to operate. If this information is corrupted you will notice performance issues and can experience system error messages such as but not limited to runtime, script and start up errors.

It is recommended to perform routine maintenance to the Windows registry to maintain optimal performance. There are many products which can aid in the maintenance of the Windows registry. These utilities will aid in grooming the registry. This can be particularly helpful if you are not a certified technician. Even Microsoft states when editing the registry that making an error while editing it can disable your Windows operating system. Running such programs at least twice a month is recommended. If you routinely make changes to your system a more frequent schedule is recommended.

There are several registry cleaners on the market but only one that guarantees their software will fix your computer problems or their tech support will as long as your membership is valid. The Bug Doctor will easily fix all kinds of computer problems.

I do recommended reviewing any Microsoft documentation on the Windows registry for your particular operating system version if you plan to manually edit any entries. These articles can be informative and give a better understanding of how the registry works. For information on your particular version of Windows please visit the Microsoft knowledge base at www.microsoft.com

Top 10 suggestions for old computer hardware

Having worked in support for sometime I am amazed at the number of old 486 an first generation Pentium class computers still being used. Most people simply upgrade to new hardware. It is beyond me why people still use this old obsolete hardware.

Considering all of this I have compiled a list of the top ten ways this old hardware can be used.

10. Stack the cpus up to be used as a coffee table.

9. The old hardware is wonderfully suitable for taking space in your garage.

8. Donate the old hardware to a museum.

7. This hardware is great for occupying your local computer shops time by asking how it can be upgraded.

6. The CPU’s are great for holding projects down on a work bench.

5. Use a baseball bat on the old hardware to take out your frustrations with your new computer.

4. If you have a dog that diggs holes they are great as filler when covering the holes.

3. They are great conversation pieces for discussing the old days of computer hardware.

2. Several of them together can make a cool fort for the kids in their room.

Finally the last one, drum roll please!

1. Use your old 486 or Pentium class as a replacement boat anchor.

Just remember this old hardware is not upgradeable to current software standards. Don’t trouble yourself with figuring out how you can maintain these older components.