bellsI told you earlier I am in the market for new office equipment. I need to find a new fax machine and a new copier. A back up scanner and printer would also be nice but they can wait or may not even be in the immediate picture. Now to get started, I have to decide how basic or fancy I want to go.

I am not really a bells and whistles kind of girl—I really just want stuff to do what it says it will do. I want reliable service and the least amount of repair calls I can muster. My present fax machine is an HP (Hewlett-Packard) and it has given my office 10+ years of spectacular service. It has just been in the past few weeks that trouble has started. I have checked on the basic repair avenues and right now it seems counter productive and just downright wasteful to spend money on a ten year old piece of equipment when I can’t get a definitive gaurantee that I will have even 1 more year of service for my repair money. For me that is not an option so I am in the market!! This fax machine was huge—it took up a lot of space but it did just two things—fax and copy. No bells and no whistles other than plain paper usage which ten years a go was a bell and whistle. So what do I want now?

The same two functions are available on several machines from several manufacturers. I am starting my research with HP—in my office it has been king. I even have a 12+ year old laser printer (must have for shipping labels) that has not had trouble one! So the logical place for me to start is with HP—but where? Well, there are several places to go to shop, read reviews and place an order without ever leaving my desk—remember I live in a very small town. But also remember that you may do your research on line and then take your facts with you when you visit an actual facility so you will have all of your ammunition at hand when you are ready to buy.

I am going to search for a HP fax machine that faxes and copies and perhaps scans and prints at Amazon.com, Buy.com, and Staples.com—all offer reviews, discounts and free shipping for the most part. I am not committing to anything with any one of them, no salesman will follow me and if I have a question I am going to ask my son to explain things to me. If you are on this journey with me—no matter what you are looking for please let me remind you that we are here to help answer your questions—bells, whistles or plain old doughnuts—we are here to help.

Categories: General Computing Tips   
 

on tvWhile there is more than one way to connect a computer to a TV, we’re going to cover one of the easiest ways to do it with a laptop.

The first question most people would ask why you want to display your screen on a TV, and there are numerous reasons for this. Quite often I do this to show my family a movie trailer from a web site, or a video on YouTube, or if we have a business matter to go over, it is a quick way for everyone to be able to see the same materials without crowding around a small screen.

svhsThe simplest way to accomplish this is most laptops feature a SVHS (short for Super VHS) output like the one pictured here to the left. You will just need an SVHS cable for the picture, and most TVs today have one, if not multiple of these inputs.

As each computer and television are different, you’ll need to consult your owner’s manuals on how to change the input on your television, but most laptops will have some sort of sub key on your “F” keys (the function keys across the top of the keyboard) with a symbol for a television, or something that says something to the effect of “CRT/LCD”. Once you have located this selector, it will give you the option of changing your screen to the TV only, to the TV and laptop screen or back to the laptop only.

One caveat, as you can see from the picture at the top, the display is rarely perfect when it moves to the TV. While this isn’t a problem in general use, just don’t expect it to be perfect.

belkin cableThere is one more thing you’re going to need if you want to play audio along with the video, and that’s some sort of audio-to-RCA cable, such as the Belkin produced cable we have pictured to the left.  While this cable is actually meant for devices like an iPod, hence it also having an output for video, it works perfectly for connecting your laptop to your TV via your headphone output.  Once you plug this into the computer, you then plug the red and white cable to the corresponding inputs nearest the SVHS input, and you will have audio as well as video playing from your computer to your TV.

As I said, every model of computer and TV varies in all the finer details, but at least you now have a basic knowledge of what to look for, and how to get from one to the other.

Categories: General Computing Tips, How To   
 

linksys routerQuite often if you have to call in for tech support on your broadband Internet connection, they will ask you if you have a router connected to your modem, but what is a router?

Typically called “routers”, the actual name for the pieces of equipment you put in your home to assist in running multiple computers is “residential gateway”. While you certainly can run your computers without a gateway, this device will allow your computers to not only talk to each other and share files, it will also allow your system to share the same Internet connection. So instead of plugging your modem directly into your computer, you would instead plug it into the gateway, and then your computers into the gateway also. Most of these devices today are Wi-Fi, so quite often you won’t even need to plug in your computers directly, but I personally always find it more reliable.

Besides allowing all of your computers to talk to each other, they can be a useful device to have around just for the convenience they give people who may visit you, and also as an added layer of security for your computer. Most gateways today come with a built-in firewall, making it that much more difficult for hackers to get into your system, causing potential damage. As for being useful to anyone who may visit your home, Wi-Fi is appearing in more and more devices from the iPod Touch to cell phones, so allowing someone to hop on to your connection to check their email is always nice, just make sure to secure the gateway from random users as should be listed in your instruction book that came with your gateway.

The other issue that is coming up more and more in technology is not just computers needing to connect to the Internet, but also video game systems, DVD players, VoIP phones and more are all using ethernet cables now to hook up to the gateways, as well as Wi-Fi. The ability for devices to talk to the Internet and download new software updates is becoming essential to any gadget’s operation. Eventually you will need to be connecting multiple devices to the Internet, so you may as well get to work on it now.

I can not stress this enough, though, if you purchase a Wi-Fi enabled gateway (router), make sure to follow the manufacturers instructions on securing your wireless signal so that no neighbors, are curious wander-bys can get on your network, or use your Internet connection for nefarious doings.

Categories: General Computing Tips, What Is   
 

It’s happened to all of us. Your Windows XP slows down, and for the life of you, you can’t figure out what is causing it. There is a way you can figure it out, but you need to be careful playing around in this area of your computer, so please follow along carefully.

Read More »

Categories: General Computing Tips, How To   
 

dusty computerFollowing up on our How To Dust Your Electronics piece, now we’re going to deal with your insides.

No one likes a dusty house, and no matter how much you may dust the outside of your computer tower, there is still dust getting inside of the actual CPU (central processing unit), and you really need to get it out.

On the back (sometimes, but rarely, the side) of every computer there is a cooling fan to keep air circulating through the interior of the system. While you may not be able to see the dust on the outside of the computer, believe us, there have been dust particles sucked into the body of the system. While you may not think this is a problem since you can’t see it, but as it coats the components of the system, this will cause them to overheat, and heat in a computer is never a good thing.

What can you do? Well, there is no way to prevent the dust getting inside the body of the computer, but what you can do every so often (say every few months) is open up the computer and give it a good cleaning. Each system varies in how you open the chassis, but over the past few years they have made this far, far easier then it used to be. Do be careful to always discharge static electricity off of you before touching the inside of your computer by touching something metal before reaching in to the systems.

Once inside the computer your going to want to use a soft brush to get the majority of the dust to fall to the bottom of the system, and then use a Swiffer or some other kind of cloth to pick it up off the bottom.  Now, this part can be a bit controversial, but I have never had a problem, I use canned air to blow out the deep nooks and crannies, but I never do it as first thing as that just put too much dust in to the air.  Just be careful, and try to use it sparingly.

Essentially treat the insides of your computer like your most delicate china, but do know you will have to do this to keep your computer from overheating and running as smoothly as possible.

Categories: General Computing Tips   
 

Mouse PadI just installed a new keyboard on my main computer in my office and so far I am very happy with it. The only problem is that it has made my old mouse pad look very old and worn out and in need of replacement. Replacing a piece of foam should be simple or is it?

Mouse pads are basically just pads for your mouse to travel on while you point and click—simple, huh? NO. Mouse pads are made in varying thicknesses, materials and configurations and finding the right one for you can be a bit daunting. My son loves his mouse arena—I can’t use it. It is a mouse pad with a stand attached to keep the wire out of the way and it also provides a wrist rest all the way around it. This is fine for him because he has the longest fingers in America but my digits are stumpy and I am not comfortable at all using it.

Most mouse pads are flat affairs made of foam in different thicknesses and covered with a surface that is supposed to make dragging that mouse around easier. Wrong. I have had mouse pads that were slick and some that felt like a bumpy road. I couldn’t tell which was which while it was in the package but at work or home the truth was there. I have returned mouse pads because they were simply not usable.. If you get the wrong one don’t be shy about returning it—after all that small piece of equipment is used all the time at your computer and you need to be comfortable. The very theme of this blog is to help avoid frustration and I believe that starts with even the most basic items such as your mouse pad.

Take a few moments when you are shopping at your favorite computer wonderland and look at all of the mouse pad offerings. Don’t hesitate to ask the store help for their input—micro pad (really flat – no foam at all) arenas, pads with wrist rests or upgrade to an optical mouse which does not require a mouse pad at all. The whole point is to be comfortable at your work or play space and for you to be happy with your setup

Categories: General Computing Tips, How To   
 

Ethernet CableComputer cables can be highly confusing, but they don’t have to be.  If computer makers have done any thing correctly, they’ve made sure the different styles of cables have very different connectors so you can quickly identify them just by shape.

Take this cable to the right.  It does look a bit like a telephone line, but if you saw it in comparison, you would see it is quite obviously broader.  We’re starting a series about cables with this one because it is probably one of the most misunderstood cables.

This one goes by many names, but the three most common are “RJ45″, “Cat 5″ and the most popular, “Ethernet”.  If you aren’t connecting your computer via Wi-Fi network, than more than likely you are using one of these cables.

Ethernet cables are almost always “Category 5″ (hence the “Cat 5″ name), meaning they run at 100 MHz and are used for 100 Mbit networks.  In plain English, this means they are perfect for transmission of data over a home network, and most other networks to be quite honest.  You will usually find  the connection on the back of desktop computers, and on laptops they usually are on the sides, but sometimes can be found on the back.

As with most cabling, the price will vary depending on the length you purchase, but do keep in mind that it is not recommended to go past 100 feet; the longer the cable, the weaker the signal, and the more it degrades.  For people who travel extensively, I always recommend carrying a 25 foot cable in their computer bag as that should allow you to wander around a hotel room pretty well.  While you’re at home, or in your office, I always suggest 14 feet or shorter just for the strongest signal, though I do run some 50 foot ones so I can run cables through different floors of the house and have seen no discernible loss of quality.

A lot of people ask me why you should use a cable over Wi-Fi, and the thing is while it ties you down physically, it is a faster connection, and more reliable.  Wi-Fi can be affected by things such as weather, physical obstacles and any other number of circumstances, but the cable just chugs along.  Being connected by a cable may be “old school” but I see no reason to mess with success when you don’t have to.

What other cables do you wonder about?

Categories: General Computing Tips, What Is   
 

Windows XPThere has been a lot of talk about what a problem Windows Vista can be for users: peripherals that aren’t compatible, not enough computing power on some systems, a steep learning curve for some users, etc.

The good news is that until June 30th, 2008, you can still buy Windows XP if you just don’t feel comfortable with going to the next operating system, and there is really no problem with that. All of us here at StarterTech consider our selves fairly tech savvy, but you will not find Vista installed on any of our computers.  We just have too many printers, hard drives and more that wouldn’t be compatible with Vista to make it worth it to us.

So, what happens after June 30th?  Microsoft will continue to sell XP in lower-end systems and portable devices, as well as still offer tech support, but there will be no sales of the OS.  However, some computer manufacturers are trying to find loop holes around this, with the most adamant being Dell.

It seems Dell has found a loophole that will allow them to sell you a computer with Windows XP on it, and include Vista on an upgrade disc in the package.  So, technically they are selling you a copy of Vista, you just have to install it yourself, and it’s your choice whether you ever do that.  They currently plan to continue doing this through 2010 when Windows 7 is set to be released.  The one caveat to this is that Microsoft has never released a new operating system on time, so no one really knows when the next system will be ready.

If you are buying a brand new computer, have no old hardware to deal with, and feel like learning a new system, then you have no reason to go ahead and move up to Vista, but for those of us around here, it looks like we will be buying Dell systems only for the next few years.

 

Too Big Of A ScreenI recently purchased a Dell Vostro 1500, and while I love it, I am beginning to wonder about the size of some laptop’s screens.

The physical size of the screen is 15.4″, which is a great size, but the resolution is 1680×1050, which is causing some websites, such as my personal blog, to format oddly when I view them. If you click on the image to the right, you will see my screen in its actual size, you will see how an image from one blog entry is colliding into another entry.

Why do I bring this up? If you’re someone who surfs the web a lot, it’s something you should probably consider when buying a new laptop. And as someone such as myself who produces content for the web, I should have considered it more. It’s making it difficult for me to judge how things are going to look once they are published.

So when you are shopping for a new mobile computer, you need to ponder this, and if you are unsure how large a size is going to be, search around in Google Images for an image of a size similar to what your new screen will be, and get some idea of what you can expect.

 

Microsoft Natural Ergo Keyboard 4000.If you spend more than a few hours a day at the computer, then you probably have experienced some wrist pain. The standard keyboard is not built for proper wrist placement, neither is the way most people use a mouse on a flat surface.

So, what can you do? This is one of those times that ergonomic items really can play a roll in improving your life. For typing, we here at StarterTech highly recommend the Microsoft Natural Ergo Keyboard 4000.

Not only does the Ergo turn your wrists in the proper direction, it gives you a padded area for them to rest on. There are some other nice features, such as the quick launch buttons at the top, but the comfort alone is enough to warrant the purchase. People that have never used a natural keyboard get scare at the sight of it, but it really is easy to adapt your typing to it, and I find I even type faster on it than I do on a standard straight line version.

It is not the only model of ergonomic keyboard out there, and you can browse more models at Amazon.com with all sorts of different features and button configurations.  And do remember that even if you use a laptop, if you are going to be at a desk on a regular basis, you can attach these keyboards via USB cable and use them anyway, saving your wrists even when you don’t have a full-sized destop.

Mouse ArenaAs for your mouse situation, most people place it on a mouse pad on their desk, coming down at an angle so your wrist is bent while you use it.  My solution for years has been the Mouse Arena.  This handy little device features a padded wrist rest as well as an antenna you thread your mouse cord through to keep it out of your way.

The elevation, with the addition of the rest, makes this thing a dream to work with, and I always feel awkward when I don’t have it to use.  They can be a bit hard to locate, but we’ve linked you to the manufacturer, and they can help you locate a retailer.

I was well on my way to full blown carpel tunnel syndrome around 1992 until I looked into ergonomic computer parts.  As soon as I started using them, my wrists started feeling better, and now they feel fine, though it did take years for them to get that way.  So why not think of this of preventive medicine?  If you feel the slightest bit of wrist pain, you should always consult a physician, but these types of items should be of a benefit to you also.

Categories: General Computing Tips   
 
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