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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Proactive PC Maintenance

When dealing with PC maintenance, as with anything else, it's always better to take a proactive rather than a reactive one.  The more secure, malware/virus/spyware-free, and stable you keep your system, the less headaches it will cause you in the long run.  Whether you just want to perform some general cleanup/maintenance, getting a spanking new PC, or having a fresh version of the Operating System installed on your machine, there are a few programs I would recommend installing right after making sure everything works correctly and making sure all the drivers are correctly installed.

One of the first programs you should install is a good antivirus program.  Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), there are several good ones available.  There are a few good free ones as well as some excellent paid options.  There are several well known names like McAfee, Norton, Kaspersky, Trend Micro, Panda, Avast, ESETNOD32, etc, etc.  With so many options it can be confusing as to which one will suit your needs better.  In my opinion there are a few AV programs that used to be the standard and actually pretty good.  Unfortunately they have become almost as menacing and annoying as the viruses and malware they are supposed to protect our systems from.  The best thing is to do your own research and find out which ones have a bad rap amongst the techies (the geeks and nerds to whom you take your computers to get fixed).  

Here are a few forums that give opinions about various programs:  Norton, Kaspersky, Trend Micro, McAfee.  As you can see, everybody's opinion varies.  Some of the free programs that I work with on a regular basis and haven't had any problems with are Avast, AVG, Comodo, and Microsoft Security Essentials.  Here is just one security challenge project that tested some of the more popular AV programs.  Take a look and see how they measured up.  There are also some paid versions to these that offer some extra features and protection.  Avast has just integrated a remote assistance feature in their AV program that makes it quite convenient if case you need help from a techie friend.  As long as you have internet access you can allow someone temporary remote access to your PC to try and help you.  One AV program in particular called ESETNOD32 is quite light weight (uses very little system resources) and even lets you know if your Windows Updates are out of date.  In my opinion, ESETNOD32 is one of the better paid AV programs out there.  One other paid AV program worth mentioning is PANDA AV.  They have been around for quite some time and seem to be doing a good job at expanding and keeping their databases up to date.

As for myself, I tend to overlap protection in order to keep my system as secure as possible (even though nothing is 100%).  By this I don't mean to install 2 or 3 AV programs.  Doing so can make your system unstable and cause it to crash.  I use other programs in addition to my AV program to run on demand virus/malware scans, cloud based virus/malware scans, and USB based viruses protection.  One popular program is HITMAN PRO.  This program needs an internet connection to work and uses a cloud based database to analyze your files for any know malware/spyware/viruses.  There is even a portable version floating around in cyberspace that can be placed on a usb drive used on any PC without installing any files.  Another program called ClamWin Portable is the portable version of the popular open source AV program ClamWin that has been around for years.  I also use Malawarebytes to run on demand scans for any malware or spyware that may be lurking in anything I download or have on my PC.  Last but not least, I use a program called Panda USB Vaccine.  Since most of us use USB flash drives now a days, they have become one of the most popular way to spread viruses and malware from pc to pc.  Most USB flash drives have a certain file that allows Windows to immediately recognize it and want to run some sort of program from it.  This is an easy way for a rogue program to infect a new system.  This program eliminates that autorun file and keeps your USB drives from running anything unless you specifically open it up and run it.  It also gives you the option to "vaccinate" your computer so that any other USB drives you insert in your PC will be automatically "vaccinated" as well.

A helpful tool that I use on a everyday basis and install on nearly every PC that I work on is a program called CCleaner.  This program is quite convenient and integrates some of the clean up tools that Windows has into one simple to use interface.  It can clean up your recycle bin, temp files, cookies, etc.  It has a utility to uninstall programs and also has one to stop programs from starting up upon Windows boot up process (helping your system start up faster).  It has a registry cleaner utility as well, although I wouldn't recommend using this unless you feel comfortable making some changes that could potentially hinder your system if you weren't sure about the changes you were making.  Here's a quick description of the program and you can download one of several available versions here.

You should also defragment your hard drive on regular basis, depending on what exactly you do and how often you use your computer.  Here are some of the benefits of defragmentation.  You can either use the built in Windows defragmentation utility or there are some alternatives that work just as well, if not better.

Of course there is always the golden rule when dealing with computers.  "There is no substitute for redundancy."  Always make sure to back up your important data.  Make a complete system image if possible, just in case you ever have a total meltdown of your system and need to recover it to exactly the way it is now.  If you have data that is extremely vital then I suggest not only backing it up to an external hard drive but you may want to make a copy on some sort of physical media such as digital tape, CD-RWs, or DVD-RWs and keeping them in a scratch proof container and in a safe, cool, and dark location.

Hope these tips can help someone out there.  I'm just trying to make this world better by sharing information.    As always, any tips, comments, rants, or kudos are welcome. 


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Drivers? We don't need no stinkin drivers! (maybe)

So you've decided to upgrade your operating system to Windows 7 or you are one of the lucky individuals whose pc just went on the fritz and you've had to re-install your Operating System.  You were able to install your OS without a hiccup and now your pc is good as new, right?  Maybe, maybe not.  One of the first things I recommend after a clean installation of any OS is to double check your system properties (right-click on My Computer and select properties) and check your Device Manager to see if you see any dreaded yellow exclamation or question marks (a.k.a Unknow Devices).  If you do, then this means you don't have the proper drivers (just a piece of software that tells your hardware what to do) installed for some piece of hardware in your system.  I've found that Windows 7 does a pretty good job at finding most of the drivers, but you still run into a specialized piece of hardware or one that is just too old.  Sometimes Windows doesn't gather the correct version of the driver that is needed by your particular piece of hardware.  Ah...the wonderful nightmare that is Driver hunting.  Luckily, there are some good tools out there that can make this task a bit easier and less stressful.  One such tool is a program called Driver Pack Solution.  This helpful program has saved me numerous times and is quite user friendly.  Previous versions used to come up in Russian, which would automatically make one think it was some sort of intrusive program or virus.  (Afterall, the Ruskies don't exactly have the best reputation in history when it comes to being trustworthy.)  After some updates (it's up to version 11.8 now), it is now much better.  It does tend to change your homepage to it's own, but this is easily remedied by your browser options.

As all good pc techs know, you can never back up data too many times.  Especially when it comes to your system's drivers.  There is one utility that has eliminated numerous headaches for us when it comes to backing up a machine's drivers or re-installing drivers after upgrading or re-installing the OS.  Double Driver is a simple, effective utility that allows you to do all of these tasks.

So if you guys ever have trouble with some drivers or if some of your hardware just isn't cooperating, try these utilities or send me a message and I'll be more than glad to try and help you out.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Android Update

Well, first of all, I would like to apologize for seemingly abandoning my duties as a fellow blogger.  Life sometimes has a way of dragging you away from your hobbies.  But alas, I am back and have made a resolution to myself to try and dedicate at least one night per week to my blog.  After all, no dedication usually produces a poor product.

Okay, now on with the show....the drama with my HTC Sensation 4G Android phone and FedEx has officially come to a close.  I am sorry to report that FedEx truly disappointed me in this situation.  They never resolved my complaints and concerns.  They denied my claims and never even called me back to explain why or try and compensate me.  I am glad to report though, that WireFly did not show such bad customer service.  They actually helped me to try to resolve this matter with FedEx and ended up sending me another phone.

In the end, I am happy with my phone and will surely return to WireFly for my next purchase of a cell phone.  This phone is truly a powerhouse.  Take a look at these specifications and see for yourselves at all the bells and whistles this little marvel has.  The 8 MP camera will keep all you shutter flies happy.  I love the convenience of having WiFi as well as a WiFi Hotspot available whenever I want it.  TMobile might not like the fact that you can use the WiFi feature for free whenever you want, but I look at it like this:  I am paying for unlimited data, so I should be able to access that unlimited data however I see fit.  Granted, they limit my speeds according to my data rate plan, but even regular 3G speeds are better than the speeds I was getting on my old Blackberry running on the Edge network.

I love all the useful apps that one can download from the Android Market.  It has a front camera as well as a 8 MP back one.  Once you find a browser that you like, the internet is a cinch to browse.  I chose Dolphin HD and am quite happy with it.  There are quite a few available.  One thing that I do have to warn you guys about is that most of these new Android phones require you to have a Google account in order for various features to work properly.  I know some folks aren't too happy with the way that Google keeps information and how it can potentially be hacked.  Another warning is that the battery life can be quite short, depending on what apps you have running most of the time.  If you tend to use WiFi and GPS features a lot, then make sure you always have a wall charger as well as a car charger handy.  Now a days you can find some sort of handy universal charger that can accommodate both car and wall outlets.  Another thing that I'll have to get used to is the virtual keyboard.  I was quite proficient at the actual physical Qwerty keyboard that the Blackberry has laid out so efficiently.  I could type complete text messages with my eyes closed.  These virtual keyboards are nowhere close to comfort of the real ones.  There is an app that you can download called The Hacker's Keyboard that makes the virtual keys a little bit better to work with and gives them a bit more functions.  All in all, I would say I'm quite satisfied with my new phone.

Here are a few pics that I took of the new phone as I unboxed it.  Enjoy and as always, your questions, comments, and rants are always welcome.

Finally my hands.

Still in the box.
Nice, sleek design.

Not terribly bulky.

Fits nice and snug in my hand and the grip on the back allows it to feel secure.