Haswell: Intel 4th Generation Processor – Marketplace Effect

Intel has recently released the Haswell, their 4th generation of the Core i series processor, and it has occurred at an interesting time. Some are viewing it as a factor in furthering the PC industry's sagging sales. I see that as a short term effect; let's also look at this from a more long-term view.

Yes, it's true the price point on the laptop low-end will be in the $700 range and $1300-1600 on the high-end. However, it is also true that with a new generation release (tock), the price will be higher. . . somewhat. Looking beneath the surface of that, let's consider what has occurred with the Haswell release in terms of it's features (or lack of) that are narrowing the gap between laptops (more distinctly Ultrabooks) and the tablets.

Let's consider the changes that have occurred from this 4th generation release:

  • Energy usage has become much more efficient. Longer battery life is the top feature; 7-9 hours are possible now. Users that have considered going to tablets because of their much longer battery life now have a viable option with a Haswell laptop/ultrabook. 
  • Enhanced Graphics capability will be a joy to many users. Users that opted for a tablet because of graphics support may now want to think twice about converting to a tablet.
  • Intel Ultrabook touchscreen mandate; the machine must now have a touchscreen or it is not considered an Ultrabook. Users that love the tablet touchscreen now understand all Ultrabooks will in fact have that capability; no exceptions.

The long-term laptop/tablet marketplace pricing will follow the features users desire for their computing. The features that were so attractive to tablets; long battery life, user interaction, good graphics capabilities, are now available to laptops/ultrabooks. As demand increases, prices should come down. This should drive laptop sales up and stabilize that industry sector.  That sector definitely can use a boost.

It will also be interesting to see the overall PC industry effect from the 4th generation Haswell. Intel has earmarked all sectors; tablet-laptop-desktop-server as candidates for this processor. This Fall, we will see more of the higher-end desktops available with this processor. Desktops with the Haswell will no longer have legacy PCI support on expansion cards. PCI Express is the only game in town now.

Many of you opting for a laptop to tablet conversion may find this is a good time to get a tablet, with the great prices available. However, I believe we will see in the not too distant future, the public being in an interesting position to consider two choices: the tablet, and the good ole tried and true laptop, that can also successfully meet your portable computing needs with similar features.  I see that as a great place to be.

 To get more information about the Hawell 4th generation processor from Intel, you can view it here.

Apple Computer’s Thunderbolt

Are you looking for a Windows PC that has the fastest external data transfer speed in home computing? Orginally desgined by Intel and Apple Computer for their computers, the Thunderbolt technology  has been licensed to a few companies, including Acer, for one of its higher-end laptops. Thunderbolt's speed is 10 Gbps; to understand just how fast this is, you can download a full-length HD movie in under 30 seconds. Yep, that's pretty quick. 

Thunderbolt vs USB

To put it in perspective to other data transfer technologies, USB version 3.0 is 5 Gbps, so Thunderbolt is twice as fast, although replacing copper with fiber-optic wiring in the interface cables will significantly add to the speed.

Acer Aspire and Lenovo ThinkPad Ege

The Acer Aspire S5 laptop is selling with the Thunderbolt port for about $1300. The Aspire is ultra-thin and light, at 2.6 lbs,  and all of the ports are contained behind a motorized door. Other PC makers on the Thunderbolt bandwagon include the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge laptop, and Asus has added it to a few of their laptops as well.  The issue right now is that only a handful of companies make peripherals that are compatible with the Thunderbolt standard, although many believe it will be a different story by the end of 2012.  Time will tell. 

More information about Thunderbolt vs. USB can be viewed here.

PC Manufacturer / Extended Warranties

The last time you were in a retail establishment and made a purchase and the sales associate asked you if you would like the extended warranty coverage, did you accept? For many products you are routinely asked that question. Why do you get asked that question when you see marketing display slogans and phrases attesting to the quality and performance of that product? There is quite a dichotomy in the selling process occurring here. That's what we're discussing today; extended warranties and other warranty types. You need to understand what's involved in order to make good buying decisions when shopping for a personal computer, while saving your hard earned dollars. 

Let's begin by discussing the different types of warranties you will encounter when you're shopping for a personal computer.

  • Manufacturer Warranties 
  • Extended Warranties
  • "Mom & Pop" Computer Shop Warranties

Manufacturer Warranty

The standard manufacturer warranty coverage period for most desktop and laptop computers is one year. When calling for service, ensure it's an authorized service center for your brand of PC. You can find this information in the manual that came with the PC, the manufacturer's web site, or from the retail outlet where you made the purchase.  Before contacting the service center, make sure you have the model and serial number of the PC since they will ask you for it. Once you have contacted the manufacturer's service center, they will direct you to either ship it to a main repair facility or bring it over to a local computer center near you that is authorized by them to make repairs.  The bottom line is make sure you understand the terms of the warranty. Some warranties might include labor but limited parts support. Do not assume they are all one year for parts and labor.

Just as an overall disclaimer about manufacturer warranties, if you ever have a problem with a PC during its manufacturer warranty period, the warranty may be voided if you:

  • attempt to open the case
  • disassemble any part of the unit
  • modify anything, remove a part, and/or install a part
  • upgrade the operating system

The degree of warranty strictness depends on the manufacturer, but the above is quite common for many of the PC manufacturers today. 

Extended Warranty

Extended warranties are warranties purchased by the customer at the time of purchase. Contact information should be listed on the paperwork that accompanies your extended warranty purchase. Remember that the repair facility responsible for an extended warranty repair is not necessarily the same company as the PC manufacturer. In fact, many times it is not the same company. For an extended warranty, a service center's response on how to repair your PC can vary from company to company; some will provide outstanding customer service, others may keep you waiting for awhile. Some service centers will dispatch out a technician to your home within a certain time frame, other servicers may ask you to either ship the unit to their facility or take it to a nearby service center that they have authorized to do their repairs. Still others may even help you solve the problem over the phone, depending on the complexity of the problem.

Extended Warranty Notes to Remember:

  • They are the highest money maker for many retail outlets, even more of a profit maker than the product itself.
  • Do not rely or trust what a salesperson tells you about how great an extended warranty is and be careful of the ones who put down the manufacturer's warranty to build up the value of the extended warranty.
  • Nothing verbal that a salesperson tells you can be legally enforced, but rather what is in writing will be the authority for the coverage terms.
  • Ask to see what the coverage details of the extended warranty include before buying. If the salesperson cannot provide that information, leave and shop elsewhere. 

The ultimate question is should I get an extended warranty for a PC purchase? Statistics of PC servicing show that if a PC is going to break, it usually breaks down in the initial few months of use, which is already covered by most manufacturer's warranties.  Once it breaks, it's usually okay for a few years, which would put you out of the realm of extended warranty coverage anyway.  The best insurance policy you can have for a PC is simply take good care of it.  I've always done that and my PCs have lasted me several years, including the laptops.

"Mom & Pop" PC Store Warranty

An area of warranty coverage that you should be careful about is a warranty associated with a third-party PC store. They are generally referred to as a "Mom & Pop" computer store from your local area that sells and services PCs, builds their own PCs, and will also build a custom PC to your specifications. Their prices and selection aren't as good as the large retail chain stores, but they are competitive. The area where they make up for this is in the area of customer service. A local PC store that has been in business for a number of years will have good, personalized customer service. Before deciding to do business with them you should find out the following:

  • Their reputation for backing up service claims by customers is key.  Call your friends or coworkers and ask if they have done business with the company. A good rule of thumb is finding out how long they have been in business. If they have been in business for several years, that is usually a good sign.
  • Evaluate their customer service. Go inside the store and walk around. If asked by a staff member if you need assistance,  ask them about their service policies. Find out what types of PCs they offer for sale. Mention some problems that you've had in the past with your PC and see how they respond.  Stay in the store for awhile and see how customers are treated that are dropping off or picking up their computers. Does the staff seem knowledgeable, courteous, and have a customer-first attitude?
  • These companies should have warranties on their PCs as well as providing for refurbished, or reconditioned PCs. Find out what the warranty period is for reconditioned computers. They should have a 90 day warranty if you choose not to purchase their warranty.
  • Ask the technicians if they are A+ certified, have some computer industry certification, or inquire about their length of experience. 
  • Although being a member of the Better Business Bureau doesn't necessarily indicate integrity, it's a point in favor of them as a viable candidate for your business.
  • Are they an authorized repair facility for a major PC manufacturer? This is not vital but it's a good indicator of their expertise in the computer industry.

Understand that the validity of their warranty rests with their willingness to support it, which in most cases with reputable shops, is pretty good. Frankly, I have never experienced problems in this area, but I always made sure of that shop's reputation and did my homework before making the purchase. 

Credit Cards that Extend Warranty

If you really need to have an extended warranty so you can sleep well there are a couple of ways to get a free extended warranty. Keep in mind that the major credit card issuers have cards that do provide extended warranty coverage for products purchased with the card. Check your card issuer and find out if your card qualifies for it. If it doesn't, you may be able to switch over to another card they issue that does have the extended warranty feature with minimal or no cost to you for the card switch. If you call their customer service they can explain the details of the extended warranty coverage. 

Home Shopping Clubs Extend Warranty

Another free extended warranty avenue are the national home shopping clubs. There's a good chance one of them is in your area; check it out and see if they offer a free extended warranty with a PC purchase. 

Best Warranty – Caring for Your PC

Remember that you can always bank the money that you could have paid toward an extended warranty and save it for a repair down the road, if it's ever needed. But the most important thing you can do is simply treat your PC well, like any other large monetary investment. By caring for it, you are stacking the deck in your favor. To see my article on caring for your PC, you can view it here. Treat your PC with respect and it will last you well past the warranty period.  Besides stretching the dollars you paid for your PC and getting more than your money's worth, you will definitely sleep well at night. 

 

Replacing Your PC’s RAM – RAM Ads

This post is for those of you who are comfortable replacing RAM in your PC and want to understand how to interpret the RAM ads on the Internet.

Know the Terms – DDR, Buffered, Registered, ECC

  • The more RAM that is installed, the faster the PC. Use as much memory as your motherboard and OS can support, within your pocketbook.
  • Using DDR/DDR2/DDR3 modules will improve performance. DDR refers to Double Data Rate and processes data twice for each pulse of the system clock, once on the upcycle of the pulse, and once on the downcycle of the pulse. DDR2 is faster than DDR and DDR3 is still faster than DDR2.
  • Use buffered or registered modules if the motherboard supports it. Buffers and registers hold the data and amplify it immediately before the data is written to the memory module. Some modules use buffers, some use registers, and there are some that do not use either of them. If a DIMM uses buffers, it is called a buffered DIMM. If the DIMM uses registers, it is called a registered DIMM. If the module does not support the feature, it is called an unbuffered DIMM.
  • Use the fastest memory possible that the motherboard will support. If using more than one module, ensure that all of the modules are of the same MHZ speed. If not, the system will default to the slowest module, or with some PCs, will cause system instability.
  • Although many PCs use only single channeling, using dual-channel or triple channing will improve performance, providing the motherboard supports it. You must install matching pairs of modules with dual channeling or have 3 modules match with triple channeling.
  • If the board supports ECC (error correcting code) memory modules, use them. Although there will be a very slight decrease in performance, it will increase the reliability of the system. If the motherboard supports parity, use modules with parity.
  • CAS (column access strobe) and RAS (row access strobe) Latency, refer to the two ways that measure access timing. Both CAS and RAS indicate how many clock cycles required to write or read a column or row of data from the module. The lower the value, the better the speed. These two terms CAS and RAS, are referred to as CL and RL also.

Reading RAM Internet Ads

Let's look at the following advertisement for memory and breakdown the technical specifications so that it is understandable:

  • Looking at the first ad, notice the first specification listed: DDR2 PC2 6400. First of all the DDR2 is pretty clear, the module has DDR2 technology.
  • The next item listed is PC2. IF you are using DDR2 modules, there will always be a 2 after PC.
  • The 6400 means that the speed in bandwidth is 6400 MB/sec (megabytes per second; doing the math: 800MHZ speed X 8 bytes of data per clock tick = 6400MB/sec).
  • The CL=6 means that the module uses CAS for measuring the access timing and it takes 6 clock ticks for the module to access data on a memory read or write.
  • Unbuffered means that the module does not use buffers.
  • Non-ECC means that the module does not use ECC (error correcting code).
  • DDR2-800 means that this DDR2 module runs at 800MHZ (system bus speed).
  • The 1.8V is the voltage the module uses to operate.
  • 256Meg X 64 means that the data path is 64 bits and to find the total amount of ram on the module, multiply them and divide by 8 to convert to bytes. Doing the math, 256Meg X 64 = 16384 Megs. Now we divide by 8 to convert to bytes =2048Megs, which is 2.048Gig (we can drop the .048 portion). So one module contains 2 Gigbytes of memory.
  • If you ever see 72 instead of 64 in the advertised formula, that is a clue that the memory is ECC memory. 

 

ram ads

To get additional tips on how to speed up your PC, you can view it here.

How to Shop for a PC Surge Suppressor

Several years ago, my PC's external modem was fried during a storm while I was away. I did not have the modem plugged in to a surge suppressor. Luckily, nothing else was damaged from the storm. Since then, I've always made it a point to have a good surge suppressor for my PC. There are numerous other situations that can be very dangerous to your PC as well. Your local power grid can have fluctuations, or your neighborhood could be going through a power line replacement, causing power transients to occur. Knowing you have a good surge suppressor will tame your fears and give you the confidence that everything will be okay. Consider a surge suppressor as an inexpensive PC life insurance policy. Let's talk about what constitutes a good surge suppressor, hopefully without getting too geeky. To ascertain whether a suppressor is good enough to do the job, here's some good basic guidelines that will ensure you have adequate protection for your system. You should be able to verify these items either on the surge suppressor itself or on the packaging.

Important Shopping Considerations

 

  • Joules rating: A joule is a measure of energy and the joules rating is the amount of joules the suppressor can consume before it's unable to continue protecting your equipment. Suppressors are usually rated from 200 joules to thousands; the higher the rating it has, the better it is. You should look for a rating above 600 joules.
  • Protection reaction time: 1 to 2 nanoseconds is sufficiently quick enough for the surge suppressor to react in time to the surge.
  • Clamping voltage (let-through voltage): This is the voltage at which the suppressor kicks into gear. A clamping voltage of 330 volts or above is acceptable. The PC's power supply handles the numerous lower voltage spikes in the line, allowing the suppressor to deal with only the large spikes and surges.
  • RJ-11 jacks: If you use a phone line, whether it's DSL for your Internet, a Voice Over IP phone, a fax machine, or some other device that is part of your PC system, they connect to the suppressor through a RJ-11 phone jack. 
  • Protection status indicator lights: I'm not referring to the on/off power indicator. Your protection circuitry could be blown and the power light will still illuminate if the fuse is intact. You won't know if the last storm finished off your suppressor's protection circuitry unless it has a separate indicator light showing you the suppressor's protection is still there and functioning properly.
  • Warranty for equipment involved: The manufacturer should have warranty replacement coverage of any equipment of yours that could be damaged through a defective suppressor, which shows their faith in their product. Make sure you understand the terms of the warranty, including the coverage amount.
  • Meets the UL 1449 standard: Many electrical devices today show the standard UL seal on it, signifying it has met the Underwriters Lab criteria for minimum safety standards. However, it's important to verify that this seal on the suppressor state that it's for transient voltages, which means it meets the UL 1449 standard for surge suppression. 

 

You Get What You Pay For

A couple of important closing considerations include remembering that even the best surge suppressor is not perfect at protection. During an electrical storm, you should always unplug your PC from the outlet. And always have the data on your active hard drive backed up onto a separate storage device, such as a CD, DVD, external hard drive, or a thumb drive. When you're shopping for a surge suppressor, this is an area where it's a big temptation to go cheap. And you'll find a lot of cheap stuff out there. You should spend some decent money on a surge suppressor, and $50 is not too much to spend for one. Many popular retail outlets that specialize with in-home electronics offer decent surge suppressors. Remember that some manufacturers call the device a surge protector, rather than a surge suppressor. They are the same item. Follow the above checklist and remember that you get what you pay for. It does not have to be an electrifying experience!

 You can get many more useful tips on caring for your PC by viewing it here.

PC Skills – Your Ticket to Success

What an age we live in. Computers are  so versatile,  if you have a great idea for using a PC to enhance your career goals, there's a 90% chance someone has written the software for it; if not, no problem-you can hire a technical person to write it for you. Having computer skills is practically a requirement now for your long-term success in your chosen career.

This blog is about acquiring  computer skills for success in your career. And that includes a lot, ladies and gentlemen.

But how much do computers really impact our career and daily lives? Without even thinking about new and unique ways of using a PC, let's consider some of a PC's standard usage areas that are already the norm.

Areas That Use PC Skills

 

  1. Internet Information Gathering
  2. Business / E-Commerce
  3. Email
  4. Photo creation / editing
  5. Video recording / editing
  6. Audio recording / editing / mixing
  7. Watching Television
  8. Radio listening
  9. Online Education / Online Degree
  10. Word Processing
  11. Spreadsheet
  12. Database
  13. Presentation Graphics
  14. Engineering Design / Number Crunching
  15. Accounting
  16. Taxes
  17. Security
  18. Police / Detective / PI work
  19. Gaming
  20. Virtual Reality training

I thought up these 20 categories in about 5 minutes.  I'm sure I could get to 100 without too much trouble.  We haven't even scratched the surface yet.

I'm making a major assumption here. . . you're an ambitious person who is looking for a vehicle to success.  Consider the PC as that vehicle. Think about every successful person you know. Do they know how to use a computer? Without even meeting them, I already know the answer: Yes!

So the question is not whether learning PC skills is worth your time. The question is, "What is the best and most efficient way of learning a PC skillset that will ensure my success?" The answer is right here. You're reading it right now. I'm going to discuss exactly how to go about doing that very thing.

You have to learn how to walk before you can run. Likewise, you must learn the essential PC skills before moving ahead to the more advanced ones. What are these basic computer skills?

Essential PC Skills

Once you are skilled at the above items, you are on your way. Then, you can go after anything you want that uses a PC and you will be ready.

Let's look at each one individually:

A computer is a device that is useful because of two things:

  1. It can accept an input from a human. Although there are many devices on the market that will connect to a computer, the most basic ones are from a keyboard and mouse.
  2. It can produce a useful output that we can view, make decisions and interpretations from, and assist us in our information gathering ability.

In order for the computer to produce a useful output, it must have an operating system that allows it to interact with the user in such a way that is understandable and easy to use.  The Windows operating system does that very thing. Windows allows a person to visually see what information is on the computer; it shows what kind of actions to perform are possible; and by breaking down the parts of a computer system into sections via its Control Panel, the user has control over major aspects of it. Thanks to Microsoft, the Windows operating system has revolutionized the way humans use computers.

It has been said that the wealth of a country is directly proportional to the speed with which it can process and exchange information amongst its people. Likewise, the wealth of an individual is directly proportional to his or her ability to quickly process information, make rational, informative decisions with that information, and share it with the appropriate people in a timely manner. With that said, it is obvious that knowing how to use a browser to surf the Internet, where information is king, is one of the most important skills a person can achieve.

Look again at my list of 20 popular uses of a computer. Think about how many of those items are things that are a part of one's daily life. I see distinct areas of a person's life that encompasses these things. They not only increase your ability to have a career, they are becoming instrumental in your home and personal life.

Learning essential PC skills not only greatly enhances one's prospects for success, but can vastly improve the quality of life in all areas. This skillset is one you cannot afford to be without.

 

 

Virus and Spyware Protection

Without a doubt the most overlooked aspect of computing is virus and spyware protection. It is amazing to me to find so many people I know who have absolutely no protection or minimal at best. For those of you in that category and for many of you who would simply like to improve your virus and spyware protection by learning how to fine tune the settings, this post is for you.

Good Virus Protection Can be Free

Many think that good virus and spyware protection has to be expensive to be effective but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, my own virus and spyware protection is free. I've used AVG and Avast, both of which offer free virus protection products. They are both excellent and of course they also offer more advanced protects with additional features for a price, but the free version certainly suffices.

Currently I am using Avast, so I will go over how to download, install, and configure Avast virus protection settings, and include some information about the virus and spyware categories. Okay? Let's start!

Avast Setup

Let's go to the Avast website and locate the free version. Go to http://www.avast.com.  After a couple of download screens we reach the download page, select Download Now button.

setup avast antivirus virus protection
The download begins; we received the .exe install file. After executing the .exe, you'll get this screen which verifies the originator of the download. Select Run.

                                 
setup avast antivirus

You get the option of custom or express install; we chose express install.

 
setup avast antivirus

 

 Successful installation; reboot your PC to complete the install.

 

 
setup avast antivirus

 

You will notice besides the Avast antivirus program installed in your programs listing, you'll also see the orange Avast ball down in your System Tray which is down on the bottom-right corner of your screen. You can click the right-button on your mouse and get a shortcut menu for various Avast choices you can select.

 

 
setup avast antivirus

 

 You can select Open avast! user interface which will tell you the security status of your system.

 Avast Registration

avast registration configure virus protection settings

 To ensure you receive regular virus definition updates and to ensure you can continue to use the product, you have 30 days to register.

 

avast registration antivirus

Configure Virus Protection Settings

To the left you have a menu of what to check/modify settings. Let's check our Real-Time Shield protection:

 

avast configure virus protection settings

Each shield shows the number of files scanned / number of files found infected. The menu on the left shows each individual shield; i.e. File System Shield, Mail Shield, etc.  We can indivudally select one and tweak its settings to our preference. Let's do it with the File System Shield.  Select File System Shield on the left and then go over to the right and select the button, "Expert Settings."  The following box gives us the choice of what type of files to scan and when/how they are scanned:

 

avast configure virus protection settings

 

We can also choose what kind of action Avast should take if the File System Shield finds a virus. To do that select "Action" from the choices on the left side. Once opened, we can see that we have a few options of what type of action to take: move it to the quarantine chest, delete it, etc.

 

avast configure virus protection settings

 

 Below that choice, we have another option to take if the first action fails. So you can see that you really need to go into each of these shields and decide on what the proper action should be. My settings have always been to put them in the chest. That is a safe choice, since the chest keeps the files from getting out and causing further damage. Once all of the shields are tweaked, select the OK button.

Now let's select " Scan Computer" from the menu on the left. You have the options of a quick scan which checks the most likely locations for the virus, a complete scan which scans the entire hard drive, and you'll notice the link for a custom scan, which you can specifiy exactly which folders and files you want scanned.

  
avast antivirus configure virus protection settings

 

Let's select our Settings tab up at the top of the box.

 

avast antivirus configure virus protection settings

 

 Notice that the first setting, "Basic Settings" is just one of several settings to be tweaked. You really should spend a good 30 to 60 minutes going through all of the choices and ensure that you are satisfied with the settings. You can download the Avast Manual which explains things in more detail. To download the manual, select the "Support" tab at the top of the box, then select, "User Manual."

 

 

avast antivirus configure virus protection settings

 

 

Malicious Software Categories

  • Virus

Viruses are programs that attached themselves to other programs.  For the virus to do its damage, it has to infect a program and that program must be run. The effects can be insigficant, ranging from worms or insects crawling around on your screen to the terrible extreme, with your hard drive being erased and basically trashed. Keep your antivirus software running and have it set up for auto-updates.

  • Adware

Adware can be a pain but the aftereffects aren't usually as bad as viruses. Examples of adware would be pop-up windows with ads on them; many times targeted for you by knowing your internet surfing habits.  However, some adware can spy on you and capture some private personal information about you. It commonly gets into one's PC through Shareware or Freeware, especially if you're installing a toolbar. I've had a toolbar that I uninstalled but also uninstalled the program that I had originally downloaded with the adware.

  • Spyware

Spyware, as its name implies, spies on you, collects private information, possibly including bank information and other very sensitive data. Some spyware is fairly harmless, collecting information about your shopping habits, etc. Spyware can infect your PC from email attachments, freeware, or possibly an infected website.

Keep in mind that this free version of Avast is not going to fully protect you against adware and spyware also. It does a pretty good job as an anti-virus program. But it does have its limitations. I would take care of the adware/spyware protection with some other program.  I use Malwarebytes for guarding against adware/spyware. It's a pretty good program and does give you free automatic definition updates.

Virus and spyware protection really starts with you. Always watch which web sites you are visiting and make notes to yourself which ones to avoid for future use.  Be very hesitant to open any email attachments from senders you don't know. If you stay focused and alert, that is half of the battle right there. Good luck!

Sometimes hardware problems can be mistaken as a virus. To get information about addressing hardware issues, you can view it here.

How to Speed Up Your PC

There is nothing more frustrating than a slow PC. It's especially frustrating when  you know that it's performance could be faster but you're not sure what to do. What can I do to speed up my PC is the obvious question you ask yourself.

PC Tools

The following is a list of PC
tools I use to speed up my PC, whether I’m using a word processing program or
surfing the web. They include a virus scan to ensure you are virus, spyware,
and adware free, using the Windows Task Manager for locating memory draining
processes, running a registry cleaner to check your Windows registry for
errors, removing unnecessary files using Disk Cleanup, how to backup the
Windows registry using the Registry Editor, using the Error Checking utility,
Checkdisk, to locate and repair hard drive errors, running the Disk
Defragmenter to defragment your hard drive to speed up access, adding
additional RAM for an overall speed increase, using the Services tab of the System Configuration Utility for
removing slow background services, running an online speed test, check all
cable wiring for continuity, and verifying you have the best possible Internet service
provider plan to meet your needs. Be careful with this information though. You
may end up becoming the "PC doctor" amongst your circle of friends!

1. Ensure you are virus free by running a virus and spyware/adware scan to check for possible infections.

In fact, you should have a good virus protection program running 24/7 and have its virus definitions updated regularly. If the scan shows infection, successful removal will have a substantial impact on the speed of your system. Your pc should certainly run faster as a result.

 

virus spyware adware scan

2. Run the Windows Task Manager to check for CPU hogs.

a. To open the Task Manager, depress the CTRL + ALT + DELETE keys (in that order and keep them depressed). 

windows task manager

b. The Task Manager gives a considerable amount of information about your system. The tab to focus on is the Processes Tab. Check out all of the processes and see how much of the CPU is being used for that process (shown under the CPU column). Look for processes that are unusually high, 70-80%. 

c. Compare it to what it does for your system. You should get an idea of what application it is associated with by selecting the Applications tab and view which ones are currently running. If you're not sure, select the application with your mouse.  

windows task manager

d. Right-button click it with the mouse and from the shortcut menu, select the choice, "Go to Process." It will take you to it's associated process on the Processes tab.


windows task manager

 

e. One of the most misunderstood processes shown in the Task Manager's processes tab is the entry, "System Idle Processes." The number in the CPU column does not indicate how much of the CPU is being used, as it is with the other processes. It is an indication of how much of the CPU is FREE. If you don't have alot of things going on, this number SHOULD BE HIGH and a high number is NORMAL. If the number is low, perhaps in the teens, it reflects heavy system usage and is an indication to close some applications.

windows task manager

 

f. If you suspect a virus or malware infection, expect a low number since the virus or adware is draining the system with unknown activity. You should be able to find the bogus process by checking and verifying each process by researching them until you find one that is not valid. That process more than likely is the offending one from the virus.

g. You can right click that offending process with the mouse and select "End Process" from the shortcut menu. With viruses or adware, this may or may not work, depending on the sophistication and design of the virus.

3. Check the Windows Registry for errors.

The Registry is a hierarchical database created during the installation of Windows. It contains binary files that hold system configuration information about various aspects of Windows, including security settings, user profiles, installed applications, attached hardware, and system properties. In Windows XP and Vista, the Registry folder is located in C:\Windows. In Windows 2000, the folder is located in C:\Winnt.

Registry problems can occur for various reasons, including power failures, corrupted Registry files, hard disk errors, or mistakes made while editing the Registry directly. It is time consuming to manually correct Registry errors, so it's much easier to let a registry checker/cleaner do the work. You can find a free registry cleaner by doing a web search with the words, "free registry cleaner".

With that said, be forewarned that although most registry cleaner utility programs do a good job of cleaning, a few of the cheaper ones have been known to corrupt a registry. You should backup the registry before cleaning when in doubt.

 

To do a Windows registry back up do the following:

a. Open the Registry Editor by selecting the Start button, select Run and enter regedit into the Run box, and press ENTER.‌

registry editor windows registry

b. On the Registry Editor, locate and select the key or subkey that you want to back up.

c. On the Registry Editor, select the File menu, then select Export.  To backup the entire registry,  select the location where you want to save the backup copy, for Export range select All. Enter a name for the backup file in the File name box, and select Save.

registry editor windows registry
 

4. Use the Windows Disk Cleanup utility to free up hard drive space so that you have a minimum of 20% of your hard drive free.

Disk cleanup is an important maintenance duty. The hard drive is used in conjunction with your system memory through Windows memory management. This utility will identify files that you can delete safely and will give you the option of deleting some or all of the flagged files. Some of the files it might mention are:

a. Temporary Internet files

b. Recycle Bin files

c. Optional Windows programs that you don't use

d. Installed programs that are not used

e. Unused restore points from the System Restore mode

f. Open Windows Explorer by Right-button mouse click the Start button. Select Explore.  Right-button mouse click the C drive (or the letter that represents your hard drive) . Select Properties from the shortcut menu.

windows explorer

g. Select the Disk Cleanup button.

disk cleanup

 

h. Check the files you wish to have removed and select OK.

 
disk cleanup

 

5. Locate and repair hard drive errors.

To repair hard drive errors run the Error Checking utility, known as Checkdisk. Checkdisk will scan the hard drive for bad sectors and will check for file system errors.

 a. To use the Checkdisk, open the Windows Explorer, locate the drive your checking and right-click the mouse on it. Select Properties from the shortcut menu. On the Tools tab in the Error-checking section, select the Check Now button and select OK.

checkdisk hard drive errors
 

b. Check both boxes, "Automatically fix file system errors" and "Scan for and attempt recovery of bad sectors. " Select the Start button to begin.

checkdisk hard drive errors

 

c. Since Checkdisk needs exclusive rights to the hard drive it cannot check the disk with open applications and will ask you if it can run with a system reboot. Select Yes to continue with the check of the hard drive. Reboot your PC.

   
checkdisk hard drive errors

 

d. After rebooting your pc, Checkdisk automatically performs checks on your hard drive.  Any problems it encounters will be automatically fixed if they are fixable.

checkdisk hard drive errors

6. Defragment your hard drive for faster disk read and writes.

To use the Windows  Disk Defragment program, select the Start Button – Programs – Accessories – Systems Tools – Disk Defragmenter.

 a. Select the Analzye button, which will check the hard drive for degree of fragmentation and determine if it's a candidate to deframent. If it's heavily fragmented, defragmenting the drive could possible take 2-3 hours or more. If you defrag your drive regularly, as part of a regular system maintenace chore, time for this will be minimal.

defragment

7. Adding additional RAM should bring a noticeable increase in speed.

4 gigabytes of RAM is what is generally considered to be the maximum amount for 32-bit PCs. If you've purchased a PC in the last 2 years it's probably a 64-bit PC which, if the OS and motherboard support it, allows you to install more than 4 gigabytes.  Consider your PC needs and gauge your decision to upgrade accordingly. 

 a.To find out how much RAM you currently have, go into the Windows Explorer and from the Menu bar, select Help – About Windows. At the bottom of the box there will be an entry "Physical Memory." Multiply the number portion by 1000 and that will tell you how much RAM your PC has in gigabytes. You can also go to http://www.crucial.com to ascertain how much RAM  is in the PC. You'll need to know the manufacturer and model# of the PC.  To get more information about how to read the RAM ads if you decide to order some, you can view it here.

 

ram

 

b.If you feel comfortable opening up the case, ensuring you are not violating your warranty on your PC by doing so, check the RAM location on the motherboard and see which slots are filled. Compare your observation against your PC documentation to determine how much RAM can be inserted into each available slot.  This is important since you will need to know what memory size of RAM module and how many are necessary to obtain the desired amount of RAM. You can do an Internet search and find a vendor that can sell you the RAM.

If you feel uncomfortable in any way about doing this yourself, take the PC to a computer shop and have them do it for you.

8. Time how long it takes your pc to boot up.

Press F8 while booting and you will be taken into a menu screen. Select Safe Mode, which will load only essential items for your system. You will know when you are in the Safe Mode since it will display "Safe Mode" on all 4 corners of your screen. Time the boot from the second you depress the power-on button until the time the Windows logo appears on your screen.

To shorten the boot up time, you can prevent the items from loading using the System Configuration Utility, known as Msconfig.

a. To launch the System Configuration Utility, select Start – Run. Enter msconfig.exe in the box and select OK.  On the General tab, select the choice, "Selective Startup." Then uncheck the box "Load Startup items and select OK. Power down the PC.  

b. Time how long it takes your PC to boot up and compare the time with the first time you calculated with the all Windows items loading. Again, timing should be from the time you depressed the power-on button until the time the Windows logo appears.

system configuration utility services

c. You can also remove Startup items selectively by selecting the Startup tab. Uncheck the box of the Startup item you wish to prevent loading and select Apply/OK. Reboot the PC.

system configuration utility

9. You can use the Services tab of the  System Configuration Utility Services tab to locate all running background services and stop it if it increases system speed.

a. Select the service and uncheck its box; then select Apply/OK.

 

system configuration utility services

 
b. You can use the Services utility to obtain more information about a particular service. It can be launched by selecting Start – Run – enter Services.msc in the window and select OK. 

system configuration utility services

Focus on services that are loaded automatically and see what the difference is by disabling it. If you find that you need the service, you can change its status to Manual, which will prevent it from loading with Windows, but will be available if you decide to use the service at will.

You can then double-click a particular service to open, obtain more information, and disable it if necessary.

c. To disable it, on the General tab, Startup type choice, select the menu drop down arrow and choose Disabled, then select OK. To change it to Manaual, select Manual from the menu so you may use the program at will.

Using the Services utility is also an excellent way to remove any services that are causing other problems with your system. It is an excellent troubleshooting tool.

system configuration utility services
 

Performing the above steps should give you a speed increase in your overall PC performance. If you would like to automate these house-keeping chores, a low-cost utility program, SmartPCFixer does an excellent job as well as performing other duties.

There is another speed consideration and it relates to the Internet. If after completing the above steps,  your online speed is not up to your expectations, there are external factors to consider.

10. Run an online Internet speed test.

A good speed test site is http://www.speedtest.net. Conduct the test during different parts of the day, since performance varies throughout the day. Most of the online testing sites will test the speed for bandwidth and the quality of the connection through a ping test. If the speed test results in less than 80 percent of their published speed or the ping test takes longer than the average time, contact your ISP's technical support and explain your case so they can troubleshoot. If their checks do not indicate anything wrong with their end, continue to step 12.

 11. Check all cable wiring and their connections to devices.

 To check all cable wiring includes ensuring the cables are not crimped or pinched, and the connectors are solidly on the wires. Check your router and ensure it is capable of processing data at the desired speed.

12. Ensure you're getting the best possible service for your Internet service provider's (ISP) service plan.

a. Check your service plan details from your Internet service provider and locate the upload/download speeds expected. The stated speed will range from a few hundred kilobits per second to several  megabits per second. While these numbers will vary between regions of the country and Internet service provider, you should verify the downstream and upstream speed for your package.

b. Call your Internet service provider customer service and explain your speed problem for a possible free improvement or upgrade. Providers update their service plans regularly. If you signed up for your service more than a few months ago, you should verify you’re receiving the best service possible. It is possible to have your speed increased without additional cost, just from calling their customer service. Sometimes you'll find a service upgrade package for a few extra dollars that will substantially boost your speed.

 After performing the above steps, you should notice a faster PC. Several of the steps should be performed on a regular basis, perhaps once per month, depending on how much you use your PC. In future posts, I will go into more detail concerning some of the issues mentioned above. My desire is that armed with how-to knowledge, you should experience more productivity and efficiency in your computing and on-line needs for a more enjoyable experience. Good luck to you all!