Stan's Chrome-Plated Tech Tips

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

 

Holiday Special - Picking a new Computer


The Holidays are here. Black Friday and Cyber Monday specials are calling your name. You've already been thinking it's about time for a new computer. The old one just doesn't seem as fast as it used to be and it's showing signs of being overworked. So it's decided - time to get a new computer!

I can hear those butterflies pitter-pattering in your stomach already. Now all you've got to do is pick already! Easier said than done, right? Well fear not, Dear Reader, I'll give you some direction.

Let's face the facts - most of you already know if you're a Mac or a PC. It's like dog people vs. cat people. You're really either one or the other.

Both platforms do pretty much the same things today. Macs are obviously much more stylish, but more expensive, as are the peripherals and software. PCs on the other hand certainly cost much less, but they are prone to viruses. If you do go with PC, make sure you get a solid, commercial Anti-Virus program such as the award-winning Kaspersky Anti-Virus (just my personal pick - there are a few other good ones out there).

So now that you've got that covered, time to decide one more thing: Desktop or Laptop. Now the majority of systems we see here in our West Hollywood computer repair shop are laptops. That's not a coincidence. Laptops are much more prone to have problems, BUT it's simply the trade off for mobility.

So now you've got to decide what features you really need. Now a lot of this will be determined by your budget, so once you've got that figured out it'll narrow down your choices significantly. Just figure for an entry level PC (laptop or desktop) you'll come in at around $300-500, ,mid-level run's $500-$700, and higher end machines go $700 and up. If you want a Mac, it'll cost you more than double. Seriously though, the entry level Mac Mini runs around $600 and you still need to buy a Monitor, Mouse, and Keyboard. The entry level Macbook is $1,000.00, and it only goes up from there.

If you need a basic computer to do a little web browsing, email, connect work on some office documents, and maybe do some online video conferencing like Skype or Google Voice, something in the entry to mid level computers should suit you just fine. Just make sure you get a webcam if you're planning on doing any video conferencing. Now if you want something to do all of that stuff, just faster, along with maybe playing some entry level games and maybe run a little photoshop of video editing, something in the mid to higher end is what you'll be looking for. If you're an avid gamer, or heavy video/photo editor you're going for the high end. Make sure to get a top-shelf video card and load up on the RAM while you're at it. The video camp is probably going to lean Mac and the gamers are PC all the way.

Then you've got to consider the add-ons. For all the complaints about Apple and their pricing, Macs come pretty well loaded. Mac OS X comes with a great backup utility in Time Machine, bluetooth comes standard on all Macs, and the iLife suite handles most of your basic photo, video, and music needs. Apple's Time Machine also is about as excellent a bundled backup program as you can ask for. With a PC, make sure you get a good Anti-Virus and a solid backup software program such as Acronis True Image. Get yourself an external hard drive to back up your data, and the best $5/month you'll ever send is on an online backup service such as Mozy.

There you have it. A blueprint if you will. Getting a new computer couldn't be easier (or less expensive) than it is today. Get an idea of what you'd like to spend and the kind of performance you're looking for and the decision will be easy. If you've got questions, just ask your friendly neighborhood computer guy. Like many a customer has told me, if they knew a new computer would give them such a significant improvement, they'd have upgraded much sooner.

-Still coming at you strong from the 90046, Stan

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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

 

Tech Tip of the Day - Viruses, Avoidance, and Removal


Viruses, spyware, malware - whatever name you may have for them, you know they're bad news. The reality is that you've probably misdiagnosed any problems on your PC as being virus-related. There was a time when viruses were just little annoying scripts that made your Microsoft Word go haywire, but now it's big business. Virus writers are in it for the money, your identity, and to wreak general havoc. If you're not careful, they'll get you too.

In the computer repair and service business, viruses are something we see regularly. Generally people don't bring their computers in unless they've basically become paperweights, so we've seen the worst of them. But there are plenty of viruses that never let themselves be known, and that's by design. Ever heard of a keylogger? It's this nasty little bugger riding silently on your computer like the barnacles on a whale recording your every keystroke and sending it back to its master. Yup, I see the light bulb shining over your head now as you realize how those jokers hacked into your myspace account, and spammed all the friends you've never actually met. How can you avoid this kind of scenario? Well, this is really a matter of an ounce of prevention being better than a pound of cure. Get yourself a good, commercial Anti-Virus and keep it up-to-date.

Many of you are giving yourself a false sense of security by using any of the number of free anti-virus products out there, but I've got to tell you that you're getting exactly what you pay for. We routinely see systems with free or even inferior commercial (cough, Norton, cough) anti-virus products come in with the worst of virus infections. There are a few good products out there, but the one we've found to give you the best bang for your buck is Kaspersky Anti-Virus. It's got a whopping 98% detection rate and doesn't slow your system to a crawl while it's doing it's thing. In fact, when we set people up with Kaspersky we give them a 1-year no virus guarantee. That's how confident we are with the product.

Regardless of which anti-virus product you choose, a little common sense goes a long way towards avoiding viruses. Keep your system up to date using the latest software updates from Microsoft. Make sure you have a sound backup strategy. Use a browser other than Internet Explorer. Since it's the most popular and widely exploited browser in the world, an alternative like Firefox or Google Chrome will help protect you from at least half of the viruses out there that specifically target IE users. Don't download pirated software, music, or movies and stay away from "questionable" websites. But just as in life, doing all the right things doesn't necessarily keep you safe. Let's say you get a virus, now what?

Fear not Dear Reader because there's no computer FDA or corrupt drug company preventing your computer from getting well. For every computer virus there is a known cure. Even if that cure means reinstalling your operating system. Now for a serious virus infection, your standard virus protection isn't going to really help. Any virus writer these days makes sure once their virus lands on your system, it's going to disable any anti-virus you've got running. What you'll most likely have to do is restart Windows in safe mode with networking. Do this by rebooting and pressing the F8 key before Windows starts up. In safe mode, you'll be able to launch a virus scan with an alternate virus scanning tool, I prefer Malwarebytes. Once that completes, your viruses should be gone. Now granted, this is not a surefire recipe for all viruses, but for nasty suckers like the Windows Security Center fakeware pictured to the right, this is just the ticket. We have been seeing some viruses that won't even let you get rid of them in safe mode. Kaspersky has a bootable rescue disc that will let you start up outside Windows, and perform a scan without the virus interfering. If it's bad enough, you may well have to consult your neighborhood computer repair specialist.

Look, a computer virus isn't the end of the world. If you do happen upon one, the Internet is a wealth of information as to how to rid yourself of the problem. I'd also recommend you change all your passwords since you don't know just how much of your data has been compromised. After you've rid yourself of this little nuisance, for the most part, common sense will help you avoid viruses altogether. Using Kaspersky or some other solid Anti-Virus product is the foundation, and having a solid backup is never a bad idea. Duh!

-As always, coming at you strong from the 90046, Stan

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Monday, November 1, 2010

 

Can you hear me now? The Smartphone Wars Heat Up!


There's a war going on, and whether you know it or not, you're caught in the middle of it. It's the battle for YOUR ever-important, recurring cell phone bill. And while you may not have any interest in being a pawn in this battle, unless you're still rocking your extra-sweet old school flip phone (ah, simpler times), you're in it. Fear not for this healthy competition between Apple, Google, Microsoft, RIM, and Nokia (yes Nokia, that's what the report says, but I guess they're big overseas) will only amount to better products and more advanced features for you to be totally befuddled by.

Why all this hype all of a sudden? Well, Technology Research firm Canalys (I know, I thought they were a movie studio too), came out with this recent report on just which Smart Phones are leading the marketplace in sales for the third quarter. What did theycome up with? Not anything really definitive, but I'll outline some of the high points. There were 9.1 million Android phones sold, 5.5 million iPhones, 5.1 Blackberries, 600,000 Windows Mobile Phones (they did just launch), and 600,000 "others." Now I don't know what other consists of, probably Palm or Nokia, but they really amount to garbage that some cell company will give you for free for signing up. Truth is you don't care about other. If you're the typical U.S. Smart Phone consumer you'll be rocking an iPhone, Android Phone, or Blackberry.

So how do you know which is right for you? Most of it is preference and budget. As a Los Angeles area, technically savvy-type (I have a computer repair business after all), AT&T is just not an option. Sorry AT&T, but around West Hollywood, I can't complete a phone call, much less look up something quickly online. In the canyons, I'm lucky to get a text to go through. I appreciated the iPhone for it's simplicity, apps, and styling, but not being able to make a phone call sealed the deal for me. Bye bye AT&T. AT&T=Biggest. Fail. Ever. I gave it a run using the iPhone on T-Mobile's network, but being locked to the slow EDGE (still faster than AT&T's 3G around Los Angeles) network made having a Smart Phone, well it didn't feel so smart.

Then along came Android. Faster phones. Not being tied to AT&T. 4G Data speeds. Bigger Screens. Cameras with flash and video. Speaking of flash, Android supports it. I was sold. And I have to say, I'm staying. Don't get me wrong, the iPhone 4 is like a work of art, and has the great features, but I had all those features a year before it came out. Then there's still the AT&T problem. Apple has recognized that Android isn't going away anytime soon which is a big reason iPhone will be showing (as yet unconfirmed) up on Verizon in early 2011. Congrats Verizon! Enjoy your once proud network now become slowly eroded. Still, it should be a big improvement over AT&T, at least in the big cities, but as far as traveling Internationally with it, that's a big question mark too.

Still not sure? I'll make it simple for you. For corporate email users, or if you just want a basic smartphone to text and email with and still be able to do a little browsing, blackberry makes a nice (cheap) option. If you're more tech savvy than not, like to be able to tinker and customize your gadgets, enjoy freedom of choice when it comes to cell carriers, Android's your ticket. If you live in an area AT&T gives you decent coverage, want access to the biggest app store currently available, have a big iTunes library, or just want a phone that works regardless of vendor limitations, the iPhone's for you. Also, if you're simply a poseur who needs a status symbol of a phone to make up the your shallow existence, then you're probably not reading this because you had your assistant get in line to make sure you were the first to have the new iPhone. Ass.

Windows Phone, Palm, or Nokia - really? You're still considering them? It's probably not going to happen for you. Just a case of too little (Palm), too late (Microsoft).

In reality you, the average consumer, could care less about how this all shakes out. Unless you're the fanboy/girl type who's so blindly dedicated to one brand that you're entire sense of being rests upon the brand that you've pledged your undying allegiance to being the ultimate victor. If that's the case, you've already lost. ROTFLMAO.

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