Linksys 4124There are times where you have a piece of equipment that sits there quietly for years, and then one day it just stops. What causes this? What did you do wrong?

When we previously disccessed what a switch it, we mentioned smaller ones that feature 4 or 8 ports for home use.  At our offices, we’ve been using a Linksys 4124, 24-port switch for the past 5 years, but that came to end this past Sunday when it… just stopped.

Mind you that switches have no buttons, no moving parts, it is just a dumb device that sits there routing traffic.  We have never turned off the device in the entire time (except for power failures here and there), so all you can say is it truly just gave out with time.  While this is annoying, and you may feel like you’ve been cheated by your equipment, it is just a natural happening, and you kind of have to accept it.  We have already purchased a new switch, and gotten it installed, but this one will probably also just randomly die at some point down the road, but I know to expect it.

This is also an oppurtunity to talk about back-up hardware.  Until recently, I always had a back-up router, but I am currently using my last one, but I plan to purchase a new reserve router soon.  I know this may sound expensive, but when you are making all of your money via online means, that makes every piece of equipment that helps you with your connection becomes a mission critical piece.  Now that I know a switch can just die like this, in a year or two I will buy a spare switch.  I had an 8-port on hand, ao I was able to get the most critical computers back online, but some computers and printers were offline until the new switch arrived.  Never a good thing.

So what’s your back-up plan for hardware failues?  Do you even have one?

Categories: General Computing Tips   
 

extended warrantiesThere was a time when extended warranties for electronics made sense, but has that time come and gone?

With the ever decreasing prices for computers and gadgets, extended warranties have gotten to a point that they seem pointless on anything except really high-end desktops or laptops.  For instance, on a $499 Dell right now, it would be $209 for a 3-year warranty.   My thinking has become over the years it is better to put that $209 away into a side fund and let it collect interest for the three years.

Almost all computers come with a one year warranty any more, and speaking from experience, that is when most problems occur.  In all my years of running computers, I think I have used an extended warranty a grand total of one time.  As I noticed this, I started setting aside the money from each “warranty”, and about every third computer I needed was bought with warranty money.  (mind you, I buy more computers than the normal person as I run a business)

Now, this rule doesn’t apply to laptops for me as they are still so expensive, and the same with higher-end gaming desktops, but for pretty much everything else such as TVs, video game systems, DVD players, while it is tempting to protect your investment, when you do the math of how long the warranties last verses the cost of the item, you generally will find they don’t make the most financial sense.

Our recommendation is you always do the math for yourself, but in general, we have given up in believing in them.

Categories: General Computing Tips   
 

computer softwareThe other day we mentioned our computer failure on my personal laptop, and that a new hard disk drive was on the way to me. Well, now that it is here, I am having the grand fun of reinstalling all of my computer software again. This is a process I went through just two months ago when the computer was brand new, and it reminds me of the physical backups you have to make as well as to the ones you do with your data.

Whenever you buy software, whether it be a physical disk or a download, you are presented with a serial number to activate your software.  You need to keep this in a safe place because if you ever need to reinstall your software, you’re going to need that number again.

For physical media, I store all the disks in a CD case where I cut down the paper with the serial number to fit in the sleeve with the disk, allowing for easy storage and organization.  For software I download, I file all the emails with the serial numbers into one mail folder as well as print off a copy to keep with my physical media for ease of locating it.

Losing the serial numbers is as bad as losing the disks all together, so you need to make sure to take care of them as you would a piece of currency worth the value of the program.  Lose them, and you’re sunk in an emergency.

Categories: General Computing Tips   
 

Hard Disk DriveNormally at StarterTech we don’t delve in to the normal blog style posts where we relate personal stories, but this was just too odd not to.

Just two days ago we talked about making backups of your system. I was prompted to write that piece by my having just signed up for Backblaze, and I was in the process of backing up my system. As this is a long process, even two days later I wasn’t done and… my laptop hard drive failed today. Completely dead, as in a new hard drive is on its way to me.

So, with this in mind, it seemed appropriate to mention it to you all again that it really does happen without warning, and you should always be working to backup your system,

Categories: General Computing Tips   
 

computer powerThere are times where you have to shut down your system in a hurry, and the normal method just isn’t working. So, what do you do in these cases?

Let me say first off that you should always shut down your computer in the standard method. Anything other than what you usually do can cause damage to your files.

If the standard shut down isn’t responding, I suggest you follow the steps we wrote in How To Determine What Is Slowing Down Your Computer. At thet your top, you will see an option for “Shut Down”, and because of where you are in the system, hat sometimes seems to get a better response than going through the Start button.

Another option is to push in the on switch and hold it for several seconds. This will reset your system, but without the normal shut down process, which means this should be used sparingly.

The absolute last ditch effort is to unplugging the computer. You should use this only after every other method has been exhausted, and there are times where the computer will simply not to react to any sort of input, so you have to use this option.

Essentially, just always try to be a responsible computer user and shut down properly, but don’t fret if you have any other option.

Categories: General Computing Tips   
 

Hard DriveThere can be nothing more devastating than a loss of your data. Whether it be from equipment failure, theft, natural disaster or any other number of reasons.  This is exactly why everyone should back up their data, but knowing how is half of this battle.

There are numerous options for PC owners, but almost all of them rely on you being diligent in making them.  Most people know how to burn files to a CD-ROM, but will you do it often enough?  CDs and DVDs also can suffer from “disc rot” where little holes will form in the recording layer, making the disk unreadable.  You can certainly use the format, but it isn’t always the best solution.

You also can use external hard drives or a Network Additional Storage (NAS) to back-up to, but these also require you to remember to do it on a regular basis.  There is software you can purchase to do it for you automatically, but then you also face possible hardware failure, and if you have a fire, you still lose everything.

My personal favorite option is remote back-up to an off-site company.  I currently use two companies for this: Carbonite for my computer at work, and Backblaze for my laptop.

Carbonite is fairly simple in that you download their manager, mark which files you want to back-up to their servers, and any time you make a change to them, the system will automatically upload the new copy to their site.  Backblaze is brand new, it isn’t even open to the public yet, and takes the approach of backing up every file on your computer except for the files associated with your operating system.  There is zero thought process needed to using Backblaze, it just assumes it should do everything, and does so.

There are other services such as SugarSync and Mozy, but we have only personally used the two I mentioned before.  every service has their pros and cons, and you should research which one best suits your needs, but I do highly recommend everyone go with off-site back-ups.  These services do cost (generally around $5 a month), but when your computer crashes, it is worth it just for the peace of mind.  When my work computer recently crashed, I did not feel the usual dismay and panic that accompanied that in the past because I knew all my vital files were safely stored at Carbonite.  That feeling was worth every penny I have paid them.

Categories: General Computing Tips   
 

ramRAM is short for “Random Access Memory”, and is possibly one of the most important parts of your computer.

When purchasing a computer, people can easily get lured in by the size of a Hard Disk Drive (HDD), but you can never over estimate the importance of how much RAM the system has. While HDDs stores the files and programs, RAM is the memory that handles everything on your computer that is currently being used. So, the more RAM you have, the more programs you can have open at any given time, or the smoother they will run.

Windows Vista greatly increased the amount of RAM that the operating system requires to run, and the minimum suggested requirement for smoothly running it is 2 GigaBytes (GB). Whenever a program tells you the minimum amount, they are being serious that really is the minimum amount you should work with, so if Windows Vista is saying you need 2 GBs, you should try for at least 3 – 4 GBs installed in the system so your programs will run smoothly.

Another thing to consider in your RAM calculations is what type of graphics card the system has.  If there is no information about the amount of dedicated video RAM, then you have to assume your graphics will be using space inside of the primary RAM.  This also can sometimes be listed as “shared memory” meaning that the video system and the main computing will be sharing the same memory.

As much as a higher number on the processing speed is nice, if you don’t have the RAM to go with it, it won’t matter how fast it says the processor is.  Always try to budget as much as possible for your RAM memory.

Categories: General Computing Tips   
 

ssdSolid-State Drives (SSD) are probably going to be the wave of the future in computing, but it’s not quite time for them yet.

For many years, computers have stored all of their data on magnetic drives known as Hard Disk Drives (HDD).  While these do a fine job, they have numerous problems with the fact they are made of magnetic platters that spin constantly, and do not do well when jostled due to the fact all data is written and read by a fragile metal arm.

SSDs will bring us a lot of advantages in the form of faster start times, less heat generation, less noise due to no spinning parts, lighter weight and more.  On the flip side, though, they can have problems with magnetic fields, have a limited number of write sessions and slower write speeds.

Even with its detracting factors, SSDs are improving all the time, and they will increase the lifespan of laptop computers and portable devices by quite a bit.  The biggest hold back from wide adoption right now is the cost is still running around $10 per gigabyte of store as opposed to HDDs being around $.20 per gigabyte.  Magnetic storage used to cost a similar price, and SSDs will eventually come down in price, it just won’t be for a while.

While the price may keep you away for now, expect these to show up in your computers more and more over the next few years.

Categories: General Computing Tips   
 

Windows 7While people are still sorting out whether to even switch to Vista, Microsoft is working full speed on the Windows 7 operating system. Unfortunately what little has leaked out on the operating system doesn’t look much more promising for the common user than Vista did.

Incomparability with existing peripherals, a demand for higher end hardware and a learning curve that is too much for most common users, Vista has been a rather large disaster for Microsoft. At a recent demonstration, Microsoft showed off a video of what the new interface will look like, and beyond still appearing a lot like Vista, they have come up with a whole new user interface that will radically change how everyone interacts with their computer.


Video: Multi-Touch in Windows 7

One has to wonder how they plan to make this work with existing computer monitors and laptops, or are we all expected to buy all new equipment to work with this?  What about finer graphics work like you do with Adobe Photoshop?

We are still some ways off from this system, and perhaps things will change, but the work that Microsoft is doing with Windows as of late seems to be getting more complicated and uglier by the minute, and may be the best advertising to ever happen for Apple’s Mac computers.

Normally we don’t editorialize here at StarterTech, but it would seem it is going to become impossible to ignore just how badly things are going with the Windows OS, and considering their market share, it is difficult to ignore.

 

backupWith spring upon us in the United States, it’s time for thunderstorms and black outs. Computers aren’t built to just shut down, and they certainly aren’t built to take the power surges that come along with them, so what can you do to protect them?

The absolute best thing you can do is unplug any computer during a thunderstorm, but if you must leave them running, then you may want to look into some form of electrical back-up unit.  These units will give you a limited amount of power running off of rechargeable batteries so that you have time to save whatever you are working on, and can shut down your computer you in the proper manner.

These units vary wildly in the amount of time they offer, how many of the plug-ins actually are connected to the battery, and how many of them are protected by surge protection.  This is one purchase you should definitely do your research and read up on what exactly each unit will do for you, and not just be lured in by price.  Also keep in mind that these batteries are very specialized and will need to be replaced about every three years to keep them fresh.  And one last caveat about these in that they can be very, very heavy.  The longer amount of time they will give you power for, the more they will weigh.

Once you have decided on a unit, you will need to figure out what is going to be plugged into the battery sustained outlets.  If a desktop, remember that besides your computer tower, you will also need to plug in your monitor so you can see what you are doing while you shut down.  If you are doing a lot of online work, while they will usually auto-save your work for you, you will need more outlets that run off battery to keep your modem, router and possibly a switch up and running.  For each of those items you are plugged into, you will need them running off battery to stay online.  My recommendation is always just worry about properly shutting down the computer, and ignore anything online.

Again, the best policy is always to unplug during a storm, but for those non-storm blackouts that happen, you can’t go wrong with having a back-up power source running.

Categories: General Computing Tips   
 
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