Tuesday, June 26, 2018

COMPUTER MAINTENANCE ROUTINE

Running some simple tasks regularly will improve the performance and extend the life of your computer while reducing popup reminders and likely, your stress. 

I've developed my clean and maintenance routines over the last 30 years. 
You can look through the archives of this site and find several posts on how to update and maintain your computer. Like everything in life, things change. Here are my latest step-by-step recommendations on how to keep your computer up-to-date and as safe and fast as possible. 

If I set up or serviced your computer, I installed all the tools you need. Don't be fooled by ads for programs that claim to speed up or clean your computer, or install up-to-date drivers. In fact, think about and research any additional programs before installing. If you find something missing I'd love to know and to add it to my routine installation. 

I use free applications that I've tried and tested for years. While some have a pay and free version, I've found we only need the free version. I avoid the pay versions not because I don't think they're worth the money or the developers shouldn't be compensated for their work, but because the "Pro" or pay versions install themselves to run all the time in the background, using memory, processor cycles, Internet bandwidth and collecting tracking data without providing enough additional benefit to warrant the negatives. Donate to their development fund if you like, but don't allow the programs to run all the time. 
Also see my post on third-party security software here. WHY YOU DON'T NEED FOR-PAY SECURITY SOFTWARE

Microsoft and other developers and manufacturers constantly release updates to the software and hardware that make your computer work. Generally, Microsoft starts pushing out monthly updates on the second Tuesday of each month (aka "Patch Tuesday"). Not all computers will receive the updates on that day; they are spread out over several or even many days. You can check for Windows Updates anytime - see below. First, you should know we're now encountering some issues with Windows Updates, particularly on Windows 10 with huge changes like the Creators Updates. 

The industry has done a great job convincing us to turn off or allow our computers to go into sleep or hibernation, and the default times are set quite short. While this may save some energy, it also prevents the computer from downloading and installing big updates. The next time you turn on your computer it starts again with the automatic updating process - which slows down the computer and confuses and annoys you with sluggish performance.

To avoid this problem, leave your computer on and connected to the Internet for at least an hour on a regular basis. Restart it when prompted to allow the updates to finish installing themselves. And manually check for and install updates so they're not hijacking your computer when you want to use it. 

ADJUST POWER SETTINGS

Windows 10 - type power into the "Type here to search" box (aka Cortana). Click on Power and sleep settings and adjust the sleep time. The screen can turn off whenever you like, but don't let it go to sleep in less than an hour or so. 

Windows 8.1 - click the magnifying glass to search, type power, then click on Power settings. Adjust as needed. 

Windows 7 - click the Start button (lower left corner, usually), then type power in the "Search programs and files" box right above the Start button. Choose Power Options under Control Panel. Click Change plan settings next to your power plan and adjust as needed.


WEEKLY TASKS

CCLEANER - open CCleaner, click the Run Cleaner button in the lower right corner. When finished, close. Don't worry about installing every update. CCleaner doesn't have an internal updater and must be downloaded and installed new with every update released. It's very easy to click the wrong link and find yourself with a trial of the for-pay version. I'll update it anytime I work on your computer. 

NINITE UPDATER - If I've worked on your computer you'll find the Ninite Updater shortcut on your Desktop or in the Service folder. Open it, give it permission to run, and let it update a whole list of common, basic applications installed on your computer. It won't install any third-party software, won't ask you to make any decisions and works beautifully. If you see a popup to update Java, close that message and run Ninite instead. The Java popup updater might trick you into installing a toolbar, security scan or other software you don't want nor need. 

MALWAREBYTES (MBAM) - open Malwarebytes, click Scan on the left, then click Start Scan. If it finds anything allow the program to quarantine and then run SuperAntiSpyware. 

SUPERANTISPYWARE (SASW) - open SuperAntiSpyware (I know, dumb name - but good product). Click the link that says "Click here to check for updates" and allow the updates to download and install. Then click Scan this computer and choose either Quick Scan or Complete Scan. If it finds any Potentially Unwanted Programs (PUPs), click the boxes to delete them. If it finds only cookies, that's good - delete them. 

If MBAM and SASW find and quarantine anything other than cookies we should talk - and possibly run more tools to further clean your computer. 

MONTHLY TASKS


MANUFACTURER UPDATES - Most manufacturers have recently been releasing more hardware (driver) updates and BIOS updates. Conventional wisdom in the past told us to leave everything alone unless there was a problem. That's no longer the case. Processors have been compromised and these updates help close the security holes. 

DELL: If you have a Dell computer you should find SupportAssist in your Programs. There is a recent update to SupportAssist itself, and if yours is unresponsive it needs to be removed and the new version installed. If SupportAssist is running properly you'll see a notice offering to run a system checkup where drivers are checked for newer versions and other optimization tasks are run. Do allow this to run and install the new drivers if found. 

HP: HP's support helper is called SupporAssistant, and runs pretty much as Dell's version. Run it, allow any new software to install, and read the messages. 

Other manufacturers may provide an automated update assistant; check your programs for a folder with the brand of your computer and run it if found. 


CHECK FOR WINDOWS UPDATES
Check for and install Windows updates at least monthly. If you see a shield on the power button, allow the updates to install and shut down the computer. Don't wait - things tend not to work right while the system is waiting to install updates and restart. 

Windows 10 - type updates into the search box, then click Search for updates. Click the check for updates button and allow anything found to install. Restart if prompted.

Windows 8.1 - click the magnifying glass, type updates and choose Windows Updates. Install all. 

Windows 7 - click the Start button, scroll to Windows Updates and follow the prompts. 


AS NEEDED:


DATA BACKUP - Only you know how important the data you've saved to your computer is to you. Or, how far back you'd have to go to recreate your Quicken file or family history records. You may think your photos are all on your phone so you don't need to back them up on your computer, and maybe that works for you. Data backup is a big, important subject that deserves its own post, and 

The short version is, if you'd miss it after a computer crash, it needs to be backed up somwhere. Use Carbonite or another online backup service, an external drive, Dropbox/OneDrive/iCloud/Google Drive or best, a combination of all three. 

TUNE UP - Have your computer serviced at least twice yearly. I can connect to your computer via remote a lot easier than you can drag it back and forth to my office and a lot less costly than having me sit in your living room for a few hours. If you do drop it off I can run more thorough tests and cleaning overnight - but for a periodic checkup, remote works for most of us. 


That's it - a few things you can do to help your computer run better. if you have questions about any of these items please contact me and we'll discuss. I don't charge to talk with you; I'd rather prevent a problem than fix it. 

If you know someone who's struggling with their computer or could use this information I'd be glad to have you pass it along or have them contact me. 
Text, email or call anytime. I'll get back to you as soon as possible. 

Thanks to all for your continued patronage!

Cathy Contant
cathy@cathycom.com
315-573-4905















Monday, June 4, 2018

LOW DISK SPACE ERROR AFTER APRIL 2018 UPDATE - WINDOWS 10

If you're using Windows 10 and have installed the recent April 2018 Creators' Update, you may be seeing a warning about your Drive E or Drive F is low on disk space. Don't panic - it's a known issue and can be quickly solved. Or, you can wait for Microsoft to install a patch. 
Here's how you can fix it. If it looks like you don't want to do this, contact me and I can do it for you remotely.

Cathy Contant 315-573-4905 cathy@cathycom.com

Sunday, June 3, 2018

SHOULD I REBOOT MY ROUTER - AND IS THAT ENOUGH TO AVOID VPNFILTER?

Are you wondering if you should reboot your router after all the warnings about VPNFilter malware? Quit wondering and just do it.
It's simple, it takes less than ten minutes, and you should be rebooting it anyway every once in a while. Here's how:
1. Unplug the power cord from the back of your cable or DSL modem.
2. Unplug the power cord from the back of your router.
3. Wait two minutes, then plug in the cable or DSL modem.
4. Wait two more minutes, then plug in your wireless router.
5. Wait five minutes or so, then go back online.
HOWEVER - rebooting isn't enough to fully protect your devices. You also need to turn off remote administration, and change the router admin password (NOT the WIFI password), and install the latest firmware. If I've worked on your router lately you should already have the latest firmware. If you don't know, it's easy to check - contact me for more info or look it up at the manufacturer's web site.
Still wondering whether you should be worried? Check your modem manufacturer and model number against the list of those known to be affected. In the Ukraine.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

DECEMBER 12 - PATCH TUESDAY UPDATES

DECEMBER 12

It's Patch Tuesday and my grand-nephew's first birthday. Cake later, here are the updates, so far - and how to get them.
CCleaner, Adobe AIR, Adobe Flash and Microsoft
CCleaner: Open the program, then click the "Check for updates" link in the lower right corner. Follow the prompts to download, then install the FREE VERSION ONLY. If you can't find it, I can help.
Adobe AIR: And a lot of other updates can be installed simply and without questions nor third-party software by running your Ninite Updater now. Don't have it? I can help.
Adobe Flash: Though it's quickly going away, many apps, web sites and games still use Flash and if you want to use them you need to install the latest version of Flash. In fact, if Flash is installed on your computer you need to update it. Recent versions update themselves (with some luck), and Chrome and Edge handle it for you. Firefox still needs some help, so open Firefox, go to adobe.com and click on Flash Player at the bottom. Follow the prompts, and uncheck ALL the boxes.
Microsoft will have a few patches, too, and on Windows 10 and 8.1 will attempt to install them for you. Watch for the prompt to restart your computer. If you want to check for yourself and get it over with, click Start - Settings - Updates and Security. Need help? Find me and I'll help.

Cathy Contant     315-573-4905    cathy@cathycom.com

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

TWC/SPECTRUM EMAIL WOES - AGAIN

Still using a roadrunner.rr.com email account? Are you getting fed up with it working only some of the time, whether you use the old Windows Live Mail (WLM) or the TWC email portal? Please don't change any settings - it's them, not you.
For weeks - ok, actually well over a year - Time Warner's email system has been unreliable. And if you're still using the no-longer-supported Windows Live Mail you're really out of luck.
When you call TWC/Spectrum for support you'll likely be redirected to the web mail site to manage your email. TWC/Spectrum actually admits the web mail portal is down... a lot. Of course, all those messages you've carefully sorted and filed for years will be left behind in the old Windows Live Mail program. Which will still allow you to see the messages until your computer crashes or you change computers. We can't even install Windows Live Mail anymore, so it's probably time to make the move to something else.
TWC/Spectrum may also try to send you to "Microsoft" or a third-party support company. Try really hard NOT to connect with such people - you'll probably be pressured to pay for support and they can't do anything to fix TWC/Spectrum's email issues, which - in fact - is the problem in the first place.
You can use Mozilla Thunderbird, which is probably the most similar to WLM, but importing contacts and messages is an adventure and by no means guaranteed to work. And, you're still relying on TWC/Spectrum to get their email act together.
You can set up a Google/Gmail account and either start using the new Gmail address or attempt to pull your TWC email through it - a solution that's worked well for years. Lately, it's been almost impossible to make it work without errors.
You can change to another email provider such as the Outlook Web App (Microsoft - used to be Hotmail), or Yahoo, or any other email service you like. Be aware that any free email service (such all the ones I just mentioned) owes you no support - you're not paying them. So, you either figure it out yourself, plow through the Help articles or search online for answers to your questions. Remember, if you have a roadrunner.rr.comemail account, you're paying for the service and have the right to expect support. That's not working very well these days through Time Warner/Spectrum.
Want to talk about your options? Contact me at cathy@cathycom.com or 315-573-4905 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

2017 DESKTOP COMPUTER BUYER'S GUIDE


Your desktop computer has served well for years, but it's time for an upgrade. Many of the points in my 2017 LaptopBuyer's Guide apply equally to desktops; where to buy, minimum specifications, what not to include.

Desktops are usually less expensive than laptops, run faster and cooler and last longer. Many of us like the comfort of the keyboard and big screen. Desktops are usually connected to the Internet via Ethernet cable rather than wireless (WIFI), which makes the connection faster, more secure and more stable. Yep, I’m sticking with my desktop.

If your desktop is still using Windows Vista, 7 or even 8/8.1, it’s a good time to think about a replacement. Many computers can be upgraded to Windows 10, but you’ll have to buy the upgrade (around $120) and unless you’re adventuresome will want to have the backup and installation done for you. That total brings you a long way towards a new computer, besides having all-new, non-heat-affected components which run much faster than the current ones would also have a new warranty. And, you’d be using Windows 10, which by most standards is where you should be now.

COMMON QUESTIONS

What is the best desktop for you? The one that does more than meet your needs of today without going overboard. If your brand-new computer is slow today, think about what it will be like in a year or two.

What about an All-In-One? Usually underpowered for the gimmicky convenience. Poor airflow, shorter life. Your call.

Do I need a new monitor? Probably not. Most monitors are compatible with all modern towers/desktops, or can use an adapter.

What about my printer? Will it work with a new Windows 10 computer? It depends on the model, and it’s a quick search to check with the manufacturer. Many printers simply need the Windows 10 drivers installed. Do NOT use the software disc that came with your 7-year-old printer; it wasn’t built for Windows 10 and the right software is available and free.

So, where can I buy a good used or refurbished desktop? You can't. I have many examples of failed refurbished computers; if you're tempted, let's talk. 

TODAY'S PRICES

You may think there would be great bargains right now due to “Back-to-school” pricing. Well, not so much. Retailers and manufacturers know if you need a computer for school you’ll buy what you can find, at the price they ask. Prices will likely drop in the weeks to come, and there will be short deals around. 

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

Let's get to the minimum specifications for a desktop you'd like to use more than a year or two. Many people are only interested in using email, going to Facebook, maybe doing some banking, bill-paying or shopping, and looking at some pictures. 

You may think that's not much, so you don't need anything more than a $300 computer, but here's why you do. Before you get to log into Facebook or look at your email your computer is loading programs and checking for and installing updates. That takes a certain amount of horsepower, storage space and time. The cheaper the computer, the fewer horses, the hotter it runs, the smaller the storage space and the longer it takes to start up, load the background apps, then open a browser and go to the place you want. 

What runs in the background? Security software, office suites, printer software just for starters. Maybe you like music running in the background, having your email and Facebook open while you check out Pinterest. To do these tasks without dragging your new computer will need at least:

THE SPECIFICATIONS

RAM: 8 GB. 12 or 16 is better, 4 is barely useable. 
PROCESSOR: Intel Core i5 or i7; i3 if you're really on a budget. No Celeron processors, and I'm not a fan of AMD.
HARD DRIVE: 500GB or 1TB. Or, if you love fast performance go for the Solid State Drive (SSD). Everything will run like the wind, but the drives are expensive and the storage space is small.
WARRANTY: Typically 1 year. Some "great deals" come with only 90 days' warranty; you can buy more. Also, check to understand how the warranty works. Do they send a technician to you or do you have to mail the machine into a service facility, or take it back to the store for service?
BRAND: For reliability, quality and ease of service I like Dell, and have even relented on HP these days. I'm not going to mention here which manufacturers to avoid, but you can call me. If it's made by anyone but Dell or HP we should talk before you spend your money. 

MID-RANGE: Best for all users. Expect 4 to 6 years' use. 8GB RAM, Intel Core i5 processor and 1TB hard drive ranges from around $500 to $600. Expect a 1-year, mail-in warranty. 

BETTER: Faster performance, longer life. 12 or 16GB RAM, Intel Core i7 processor, 1TB hard drive - $600 - $800. 

BUDGET: Slower performance, shorter life. Try not to spend your money on anything less than this: 4GB or 6GB RAM, Intel Core i3, 500 GB hard drive - $400 - $450. 


WHEN TO BUY

The best time of the year for buying a computer is close. Around Thanksgiving you’ll find the best deals of the year, though quantities are usually limited, the deals usually aren't really deals and the crowds are a challenge. Of course, the best time to buy a computer is when you need one, but if you've held out this long it's time to get serious and pick one. 

WHERE TO BUY

You can buy good computers online or from a local retailer like Best Buy, Staples or Walmart – and they sell increasingly online. While you're deciding what to buy, also think about the seller. Generally, if you buy directly from the manufacturer's web site you'll get to configure the computer the way you want instead of picking whatever the store thinks will sell. Sometimes you get a better deal (components plus price plus warranty) buying direct. Ask for discounts! At Dell, there’s likely an employee, AAA, AARP or other discount you can get in on. Sometimes you find a great buy at a big box store - but only if you know what your minimum requirements are and stick to them.   

If you buy your new desktop at a retail store you're likely to get a sales pitch for additional software, services and warranties. You don't need to buy any additional software (unless you insist on Microsoft Office or QuickBooks, etc.) and you don't need any additional security software. Windows 10 includes a decent security software solution and the for-pay suites are unnecessary. See my post on WHY YOU DON'T NEED FOR-PAY SECURITY SOFTWARE

DECISION MADE, NOW WHAT?

There’s a lot of stuff on your old computer. How does it get to your new one?
It depends. If you have anything you don’t want to lose on your old computer and aren’t sure how to move files let someone do it for you. Even if your old computer is dead it might be possible to get some data from it.
ASIDE: You *are* backing up anything you don’t want to lose, right? See my post on Why and how to back up your data here: BACK UP YOUR DATA
If you haven’t done any backups and still want your photos, documents and music, let’s talk.

SETTING UP YOUR NEW COMPUTER

There are a number of steps involved in properly preparing your computer, though you can certainly take it out of the box, plug it in and log into Facebook. It's a mistake, but you can do it. Or, you can pay the store retailer to do a minimal job or I'll do a thorough job for you - and transfer your data and install the computer and printer, if you like. 

If you'd like to discuss what computer might work for you, let's talk. I can help you pick it out, get it for you, transfer the data from your old computer to the new one, install all the necessary updates and applications, create the recovery media, help get your email and other accounts working and even plug it all in for you. Or any part of it. We can even do most or all of it via remote.

This information is the product of my 30+ years' experience buying, selling and servicing computers. No one pays me to recommend their product - which means I'm free to tell you the truth, as gleaned from my service files. 


Cathy Contant            cathy@cathycom.com            315-573-4905



Thursday, September 7, 2017

2017 LAPTOP BUYER'S GUIDE

  • How To Pick Your Best Computer
  • What To Look For and What To Avoid
  • Why We Don't Buy $300 Laptops
  • Why We Don't Buy Refurbished Electronics

This information is the product of my 30+ years' experience buying, selling and servicing computers. No one pays me to recommend their product - which means I'm free to tell you the truth, as gleaned from my service files. 

WHEN TO BUY
The best time of the year for buying a computer is upon us. From now through early January you'll find the largest variety, the most stock and the best prices on electronics, with Black Friday as the peak. The problem with counting on Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) to find the best computer for you is that quantities are limited, the deals usually aren't really deals and the crowds are a challenge. Of course, the best time to buy a computer is when you need one, but if you've held out this long it's time to get serious and pick one. 

You can buy good computers online or from a local retailer like Best Buy, Staples or Walmart. While you're deciding what to buy, also think about the seller. Generally, if you buy directly from the manufacturer's web site you'll get to configure the computer the way you want instead of picking whatever the store thinks will sell. Sometimes you get a better deal (components plus price plus warranty) buying direct. Sometimes you find a great buy at a big box store - but only if you know what your minimum requirements are and stick to them. And, if you don't get conned into additional services or products you don't need. You don't need any additional products or services - more on that later. 

Let's get to the minimum specifications for a laptop you'd like to use more than a year or two. Many people are only interested in using email, going to Facebook, maybe doing some banking, bill-paying or shopping, and looking at some pictures. 

You may think that's not much so you don't need anything more than a $200-$300 computer, but here's why you do. Before you get to log into Facebook or look at your email your computer is loading programs and checking for and installing updates. That takes a certain amount of horsepower, storage space and time. The cheaper the computer, the fewer horses, the smaller the storage space and the longer it takes to start up, load the background apps, then open a browser and go to the place you want. 

What runs in the background? Security software, office suites, printer software just for starters. Maybe you like music running in the background, having your email and Facebook open while you check out Pinterest. To do these tasks without dragging your new laptop will need at least:

  • RAM: 8 GB. 12 or 16 is better, 4 is barely useable. 
  • PROCESSOR: Intel Core i5 or i7; i3 if you're really on a budget. No Celeron processors, and I'm not a fan of AMD.
  • HARD DRIVE: 500GB or 1TB. Or, if you love fast performance go for the Solid State Drive (SSD). Everything will run like the wind, but the drives are expensive and the storage space is small.
  • WARRANTY: Typically 1 year. Some "great deals" come with only 90 days' warranty; you can buy more. Also, check to understand how the warranty works. Do they send a technician to you or do you have to mail the machine into a service facility, or take it back to the store for service?
  • SIZE: Laptops come in 11, 13, 14, 15.6 and 17" sizes. 15.6" is standard; anything larger or smaller will come at a premium. 
  • BRAND: For reliability, quality and ease of service I like Dell, and have even relented on HP these days. I'm not going to mention here which manufacturers to avoid, but you can call me. If it's made by anyone but Dell or HP we should talk before you spend your money. 
QUESTIONS
  1. "So, where can I buy a good used or refurbished laptop?" You can't. No one gives up a decent, working laptop so don't waste your time and money. I have many examples of failed refurbished computers; if you're tempted, let's talk. 
  2. "Craigslist? Ebay?" Nope. And nope. Just don't do it. 
  3. Someone wants to give you their old computer? Well... only if you can't get one any other way. They don't want it anymore for good reason. 
  4. "What about a 2-in-1?" Ah, those laptop/tablet all-in-one multitools. A great idea that hasn't yet found a way to work well, at least at the lower end. I've recycled several already. 
  5. "How about a touchscreen?" I used to say no, now I say yes. Wholeheartedly. 

If you buy your new laptop at a retail store you're likely to get a sales pitch for additional software, services and warranties. You don't need to buy any additional software (unless you insist on Microsoft Office or QuickBooks, etc.) and you don't need any additional security software. Windows 10 includes a decent security software solution and the for-pay suites are unnecessary. 

What about setting up your new computer? There are a number of steps involved in properly preparing your computer, though you can certainly take it out of the box, plug it in and log into Facebook. It's a mistake, but you can do it. Or, you can pay the store retailer to do a minimal job or I'll do a thorough job for you - and transfer your data and install it, if you like. 

TODAY'S SPECS AND PRICES

MID-RANGE: Best for all users. Expect 3 to 5 years' use. 8GB RAM, Intel Core i5 processor and 1TB hard drive ranges from around $500 to $650. You can find some deals for $400 to $500. Expect a 1-year, mail-in warranty. 

BETTER: Faster performance, slimmer and lighter-weight case. 12 or 16GB RAM, Intel Core i7 processor, 1TB hard drive - $580 - $800 with options of SSD, touchscreen, 2-in-one and DVD drive. 

BUDGET: Try not to spend your money on anything less than this: 4GB or 6GB RAM, Intel Core i3, 500 GB hard drive - $349 - $500. 

SUMMARY
You get what you pay for. Laptops are incredibly convenient, far more versatile and longer-lived than a tablet or smartphone. We pay upwards of $700 for a phone that last two years; why wouldn't we pay a lot less to get a lot more?

If you'd like to discuss what laptop might work for you, let's talk. I can help you pick it out, get it for you, transfer the data from your old computer to the new one, install all the necessary updates and applications, create the recovery media, help get your email and other accounts working and even plug it all in for you. Or any part of it. We can even do most or all of it via remote. But please - don't buy a $179 laptop!

Cathy Contant            cathy@cathycom.com            315-573-4905