Windows 7 Choices

WINDOWS LOGO

Grumbling in the user ranks. . . that has been a common reaction to last year's latest addition to the Windows lineup, with Windows 8 now calling the shots. A number of unpopular changes, including the loss of the very popular start button, has not enamored Windows 8 with users. Although the release of Windows 8.1 is upon us with some needed improvements, that's not the entirety of the good news today.
Those of you who would like to have Windows 7 back can certainly get it back. It's not only available, you can get it installed on a new PC.

Windows XP Support Ends April 2014

Many of you who don't like making decisions will be forced to make one in the not-too-distant-future. Microsoft will be ending Windows XP support in April 2014. What that means is XP will no longer receive updates, including those critical security updates that keep it secure. At that point, you will have to make a decision on how you will get your next Windows 7 version, if Windows 7 is what you prefer over Windows 8.  You have two choices: keep your current PC and upgrade to Windows 7 or purchase a new PC with Windows 7 installed.

New PC with Windows 7 Option

Buying a new PC with Windows 7 installed is available through October. A number of vendors including Dell and Lenovo offer this choice on their web sites. If you do a Google search, you'll find it available for laptops and desktop PCs. Those of you on a budget can also get a refurbished PC at Walmart for around $150. 

Windows 7 Upgrade Option

If you want to keep your current PC and upgrade from Windows XP, select the Windows 8 Buy link here, and select the "Can my PC run Windows 8" button. Don't worry, if it says your PC can run Windows 8, it also means it can run Windows 7. If your PC is a candidate for Windows 7, select the Windows XP to Windows 7 upgrade link here, which will guide you through the process.

Windows 7 Considerations

  • One positive aspect of choosing Windows 7 is that although Windows 7 support ends in early 2015, it's extended support will last up through 2020. 
  • If you run the Windows 8 buy link shown above which tests your PC for Windows 8/7 compatibility, it may tell you that you can use it but only if you purchase the clean-install version, which is more expensive than the upgrade version. You could be looking at close to $200 depending on who you buy from.
  • Windows 7 has a Windows XP Compatibility Mode, which enables you to run Windows XP applications on Windows 7. However, this is not rocket-science and some of your applications may not run on Windows 7, forcing you to purchase a Windows 7 version if the software is in your "gotta have" category of apps.

Like many things in high-tech, the answer is not always crystal clear as to which way to go, but hopefully some of the above will help in giving you some basic guidelines for making your next Windows OS choice. The key is to shop around online and get some pricing numbers and then go from there. Good luck!

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!