One of the most annoying things about buying a new computer is all of the trial software you will have to deal with. You know all of those, “Try our security program for 90 days! And then we’ll annoy you to subscribe for an eternity!” Sure you can remove it all, but it’s a pain. Don’t you wish you could buy a computer that didn’t come with any of that stuff? Well, there is a solution, and it’s called the Dell Vostro line.

Last night I ran into an old acquittance while I was out shopping, and he started telling me about his computer woes. He had been out shopping that day for a new computer and was lamenting all the trial software he would have to deal with.  I told him about Dell’s Vostro line, and it was then I remembered this has only ever really been marketed to small & medium businesses, but to the best of my knowledge, anyone can order them.

The concept of the line is simple enough in that the only software it comes with is what you request.  In other words, if you order Microsoft Office with it, it comes with that, if you don’t order it, it does not come with a trial version.  Don’t order security software?  No trial of that either.  There is absolutely nothing on this system except for Dell diagnostic software, the operating system of your choice and other miscellaneous little tools that help run the computer.  There is absolutely no trial software anywhere on the system.  Period.

The Vostro line has existed for a couple of years now, and I now have two desktops and three laptops from the Vostro line (one laptop is semi-retired), and not a one of them came with any trial software.  It isn’t a gimmick, it isn’t a trick, it just is.  The systems are solid, and while I’ve had an issue here or there, Dell has fixed them all.  Why and how Dell can do this, I have no idea, but I’m sure never going to argue with it.

So, if you need a new system, and have no desire to deal with all that junk software, give the Vostro line a look.

Categories: General Computing Tips   
 

If you are continuing to use Windows XP like a goodly number of people are, and you need a new hard drive after Jan. 2011, you may run into some new issues.

According to the BBC, all hard drive manufacturers have agreed to change how their devices store information effective with January of next year.  Under the old method, hard drives store data in blocks that are 512 bytes in size.  This was dune to work with floppy drives, and it stayed with the storage industry until now.  Under the new architecture, blocks will be increased to 4K in size, or nearly eight times the old size.  This is expected to make hard drives 7 – 11% more efficient than the current drives.

The problem is that Windows XP, despite its age, is still a very prevalent operating system, and it has no clue how to handle blocks of that size.  Mac OS X (Tiger, Leopard and Snow Leopard versions) Windows Vista, Windows 7, and versions of the Linux kernel released after September 2009 are all able to handle the new file format.

A workaround has been designed to trick the hard drive into working with Windows XP, but it could result in reduced speed performance of as much as ten percent.  So, it will work, just not at peak performance.

In short, if you feel like you may need a new hard drive, do it before the end of this year so you can get one of the old style drives.

 

I never knew a laptop could get so dusty.

The past few nights my laptop fan had been running a lot more than usual, and it was also running at the faster speeds meaning that the system was getting way hotter than it should.  I took a look at the bottom side vent holes on Friday night and saw some dust build-up, but nothing horrible.  I decided I would take canned air to it on Saturday before I turned it on.

… yikes.

I was right, it was dust, but the amount of dust was staggering.  I blew on to the actual fan and dust came shooting out of the side vent holes.  I blew out the side vent, and dust came out the fan.  It took several rounds before no dust was coming out, and then I opened my laptop lid and discovered dust had shot up through the keyboard onto the screen.

Again … yikes.

So, just because a laptop fan doesn’t look bad from the outside doesn’t mean it isn’t dusty where it counts on the inside.  Always make sure the computer is off before you do this so the fan is not running at all as it will move with the compressed air hitting it and you don’t want to fight the motor.  After I did this last night, my laptop ran smoothly all night and I didn’t hear the fan kick into high even once, so it was definitely all of the dust that had built up inside of it.

Keeping your computer physically clean is monumentally important for the longevity of your system.  Don’t neglect it, and if you hear it doing something unusual, investigate it!

Categories: General Computing Tips   
 

The OnlineFamily.Norton site has published the results of what children searched for online this year, and it is sobering to say the least.

OnlineFamily.Norton’s list of searches by children is disturbing and only goes to prove that computers should always be in a communal space where parents can monitor the computer usage.  First, the top 100 searches combines for all age groups under 18 years of age:

  1. YouTube
  2. Google
  3. Facebook
  4. Sex
  5. Porn
  6. YouTube.com
  7. Yahoo
  8. MySpace
  9. eBay
  10. You Tube
  11. Wikipedia
  12. Michael Jackson
  13. Taylor Swift
  14. Gmail
  15. Party in the USA
  16. Miley Cyrus
  17. Club Penguin
  18. Miniclip
  19. Fred
  20. Games
  21. Facebook login
  22. Google.com
  23. Hotmail
  24. Lady Gaga
  25. Amazon
  26. Yahoo Mail
  27. Justin Bieber
  28. Addicting games
  29. Facebook.com
  30. Webkinz
  31. Yahoo.com
  32. Boobs
  33. MSN
  34. Hannah Montana
  35. Dictionary
  36. Walmart
  37. Selena Gomez
  38. Dictionary.com
  39. MySpace.com
  40. New Moon
  41. Runescape
  42. Lil Wayne
  43. Google Maps
  44. Down
  45. Google Earth
  46. Norton Safety Minder
  47. Mapquest
  48. Boom Boom Pow
  49. Craigslist
  50. Twilight
  51. Megan Fox
  52. Sesame Street
  53. Poptropica
  54. Target
  55. Eminem
  56. Music
  57. Fireflies
  58. Disney Channel
  59. You Belong With Me
  60. Utube
  61. Weather
  62. iTunes
  63. Beyonce
  64. Pokemon
  65. Britney Spears
  66. Twitter
  67. Hotmail.com
  68. Demi Lovato
  69. Funny
  70. Black Eyed Peas
  71. One time
  72. Cartoon Network
  73. Jonas Brothers
  74. Halo
  75. www.youtube.com
  76. Watcha Say
  77. Family Guy
  78. Taylor Swift You Belong With Me
  79. Best Buy
  80. Taylor Lautner
  81. Rihanna
  82. Pussy
  83. Gmail.com
  84. Lego
  85. Gummy Bear Song
  86. Thriller
  87. You’re a jerk
  88. Nigahiga
  89. Girls
  90. Free online games
  91. New Moon trailer
  92. Translator
  93. Disney
  94. Ask.com
  95. Paparazzi Lady Gaga
  96. Poker Face
  97. Chris Brown
  98. iPod Touch
  99. Photbucket
  100. Bing

Sex being in the fourth slot isn’t too surprising with teenagers in the mix, but lets take a look at the top 25 broken down by age group:

Porn was in the fourth position for children under the age of seven, and sex was in the same position for the 8 – 12 age group.  Both terms are in the top 25 for all age groups.  The chart for gender had “sex” as the fourth term for boys and the fifth spot for girls.

I have talked many times on many different blogs about how children should not be allowed to have computers in their bedrooms, and these search statistics just go to prove that fact.  When you have 7-year-olds and younger searching for porn, you know you have a problem.

Categories: General Computing Tips, Internet   
 

apc backups rs 1200We had another one of those “real world” moments today that reminds you why you do certain things.

While at my office today, working away without a cloud in the sky and … the power goes out.  Not your normal power blink, but the hour long variety.  Luckily I have my two main computers on a battery back up and it gave me enough time to save all my work, close my programs and shut my computers down in the proper fashion so that there was no damage.

Considering what a vital part of our lives computers have become, at home and at work, an uninterrupted power supply (UPS) should be a part of anyone’s setup.  You don’t need a huge one as all you need is a few minutes of power to get your work saved and the computer shut down in the proper fashion.  If you’re on a laptop,  this is of course not an issue, but if you are using a desktop, this is a must.

As with any major purchase you need to research your options, check reviews and remember, one of the most important aspects, is remember the more you plug in to the device, the faster the battery will drain when you need it.  Make sure that you have at least five minutes of time, so divide the amount of time the device will provide by the number of items you will plug into it and make sure it comes out to at least that long.

Now, what are you waiting for?  Start looking for one before your next power outage!

 

elderly computerIf you are an elderly person in the UK, and you have stayed away from computers due to your fear of them, a new computer has launched that may be just what you are looking for.

The BBC had a report today about a new line of computers called SimplicITy that is directed squarely at the elderly.  According a recent survey, 6 million residents of the UK over the age of 65 have never used the Internet, and that are the people SimplicITy is going to try to help.

Using a simplified navigation screen that has only 6 buttons, a person can browse the Web, email, chat with friends and family and more, and there is no extraneous items on the computer that might confuse someone.  The computer also comes loaded with 17 videos hosted by UK television presenter Valerie Singleton (sample video at the bottom of the post) that will explain everything you need to know about your computer in simple terms.

Some critics have said that these new computers are patronizing to the elderly, but we say exactly the opposite.  My 89-year-old grandmother has never used the Internet, and is frightened to even try it with me sitting right next to her, but this she could understand.  I also would love it as her grandson because I wouldn’t have to worry about her accidentally deleting anything of importance, or possibly downloading all of the usual viruses.

This is exactly the type of product we had in mind when we started this site, and we think this is the type of product whose time has come.  With the baby boomers aging rapidly, there are still many of them who don’t understand computers, and this is going to be a huge segment of the population not online.  We hope it’s a huge success, and maybe they’ll think about expanding to the USA.


Categories: General Computing Tips   
 

extended warrantiesSometimes extended warranties may seem like a waste of money, but one my exception to this rule is on laptops.

I originally wrote about are Are Extended Warranties Worth It back in June of 2008, and at that time I said my one exception to not buying them was laptops.  Well, this held true when I purchased a new Dell Vostro 1520, and I’m glad I did it.

The new laptop is great except for some odd problem with my ethernet port.  For some reason after about 30 minutes of use it stops working, and then the only way to get it to work again is to reboot the system.  Unfortunately that doesn’t always work either, so to the Dell service line I go.

While the agent I’ve been working with has been fabulous, and has tried a million things, it just simply isn’t fixing it.  So this week they are sending out a technician to my office to replace the ethernert card for me.  Barring that working we will be reimaging the entire hard drive in the possibility it is a software issue, but hopefully the new card will fix it.

This is one of the reason I always believe in these warranties for laptops.  In my personal opinion it is just too much hardware shoved in to such a small space that it is almost destined to have problems.  Repairing laptops for the average person is next to impossible, so the technicians are always the best choice.

Sure it would have been nice to see the computer work flawlessly out of the box, but defective parts can and do happen.  The expenditure for the warranty can be a bit daunting, but when it comes to laptops, something more and more of us are coming to depend on, it’s worth it.

Categories: General Computing Tips   
 

Wi-FiIf you’re going on vacation, do you know that Wi-fi hotspots you use to check your email may not be who they say they are?

I am always leery of studies released by parties with a vested interests in the results (i.e. a group of wine makers releasing a study about wine being good for you), but sometimes they still bring up good points.  While I think the basis of this Fox News story on Wi-Fi security is a little suspect, it still raises good points for Wi-Fi security any time you are away from your home.

Multiple security firms issued warnings about your information security while in places such as an airport (again, notice the warning was issued by security firms…) or a hotel, and to make sure that the network you are connected to is legitimate.  Yes, this is good advice, and is something you should pay attention to, but the reason I find this whole thing suspect is that the original study was issued by AirTight Networks, a company that specializes in wireless security measures.  They sent out experts to 27 airports around the world to test their Wi-Fi and claim to have found unsecured networks in baggage claim, ticketing areas, passangers connecting to hacker Wi-Fi hotspots and more.

The reason I find this whole thing a bit “off” is:

  • Are the hackers buying tickets every day to get past security, and then setting up in waiting areas with Wi-Fi sniffers?  No one notices the people then not getting on flights?
  • Are they run by employees in the secured areas of the airport?  Those people are searched each day also.
  • No one notices stray, unexplained equipment in a storage room?

If all this is to be believed, I’m more worried about my physical safety if hackers can get this Wi-Fi equipment in with no one noticing.

No matter how cynical I may be, Symantec still offered five good pointers in the article:

— Pay attention to your surroundings. Just because you’re on vacation doesn’t mean you’re not in public. Don’t look at important documents when sitting in a waiting area for a plane or a train — wait until you’re alone and in private for that.

— Beware of “Evil Twins.” Some Wi-Fi networks look legitimate but are actually dummy networks created by criminals. Even if they contain the name of your airport, airline or hotel, they will directly link your computer to the hacker’s. If you always use the official access keys provided by the establishment, then you should be safe.

— Always assume Wi-Fi connections are being eavesdropped on. Never enter sensitive data — Social Security numbers, bank account information, etc. — when browsing the Web via a Wi-Fi network.

— Set all Bluetooth devices to “hidden,” not to “discoverable.” Better yet, if you don’t use Bluetooth, just shut off the function altogether.

— Keep your security software current and active. Mobile PCs are just as vulnerable to viruses, worms and Trojan horses as are desktops, so make sure you have the latest protection installed.

I would say don’t live your life in constant fear, but do try to use common sense and your own good judgement in what networks you connect to.

 

staticI always knew electricity and computers don’t mix well, but static electricity is a pain in the behind also.

As I mentioned the other day in my post on the Kirksville Tornado, when I returned to my office that evening, we began having a computer problem.  My primary computer is a Dell Vostro 200 mini-tower, under 1-year-old.  When the tornados began to hit I started shutting down our systems, but when it came time to unplug them (as you should during a storm), the tornado sirens started sounding and that meant it was closer than I thought, so I left without unplugging.

When I got back to the office a few hours later and went to turn my Vostro on, I got the Dell logo screen and then… nothing.  No function keys worked, nothing changed, it would just sit locked on that screen.  Finally I bit the bullet and called Dell tech support since I was still under warranty.

The tech agent, who was actually one of the nicest I’ve ever dealt with, told me to remove the side panel of the computer tower.  After that was off, he told me to locate the main power cord connection that runs to the mother board.  I did so, and I did look it over for signs of damage, and it looked perfectly fine.

Secondly he had me remove all four of my RAM chips and then reinset them.  At this point I knew where he was going with this, and it was more than likely that my system had received a shock of static electricity.

cmos_batteryIt was the next thing we did that I would have never thought of.  If you’ve ever opened up your computer you’re sure to have noticed a round silver battery on your mother board.  This is the CMOS (Complementary metal–oxide–semiconductor) battery which helps your system remember things like the time and date while your system is shut down.  He had me remove that battery from the mother board and leave it out for over a minute.  We then popped it back in and tried to boot the system.

We did get the system back up and running, although we did keep getting an error message.  The technician had me go into the BIOS (Basic Input/Output System) system, and it seems while the battery was out, the system convinced itself it should have an old 3.5″ floppy disk drive.  Why it thought this we had no clue, but we reset that and the computer is working great now.

Oddly, it is actually working better than it did before the storm.  We had been having a weird problem with it not shutting down programs properly, and at times we would have to confirm each one by hand when shutting down the system.  That problem has not appeared once since we did this reset.

Now, this isn’t something I would recommend doing just for the heck of it when you have a computer problem, but it is best to know that this is a possible solution that your tech support may recommend for you to do.

Two other lessons to take away from this:

  1. Yes, you should unplug your computer when possible, but the tech guy quickly added when I told him the sirens had gone off, “Sometimes your life has to come first.”  If you can unplug your system, do so, but don’t ever risk your life for it.
  2. I am a big believer in remote backup services, and seeing as I use one extensively now, I can’t tell you how much panic and stress that takes out of a computer crash.  Even though my system was down, and it would be a pain if I had to set it up all over again, it was a relief knowing all my documents and files were safely stored somewhere on a remote server.  If you haven’t started backing up your systems yet, do it, you won’t regret it for a second the first time you have a computer problem.

All in all it was a good learning experience, if also a bit frightening.

Categories: General Computing Tips   
 

Do you have a spare $25,000 laying around, collecting dust? Want to build a supercomputer that has 6TBs of memory with write speeds of 2GBs a second? Now you can thanks to Solid State Drives (SSDs).

A good computer these days writes data at approximately 60MBs a second, but when staging a marketing event to promote Samsung’s SSds, they were able to get the write speed up to 2GBs a second, or 34 times faster than the current average. Course, it took over $25K to do this, but it is still impressive. You can see just how impressive this would be in the video below, and even more impressive since they chose to run Windows Vista!

Categories: General Computing Tips   
 
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