Go Wireless With a Router

Linksys 802.11ac router

Many of you already have a router for your home or office network. And some of you use your router for wireless connectivity with the Internet, and of course many of you do both. Routers can be a mystery to many people so I’ve tried to bring down the cobwebs of this device so it can be seen more clearly.

Before routers entered the home arena, they primarily were the backbone of network interconnectivity throughout the Internet. In order for a message to get sent from one location, perhaps on the east coast, to another location 3000 miles away on the west coast, that message would have to travel through several routers. Routers are the interface between networks. It is the traffic cop that “knows” which is the best network to route that message to as our message continues its 3000 mile trek toward its destination. And this process continues until the message finds its destination. Using that technology has been very beneficial for the home user, whether the need is for a personal home network or an office network, at a cost that most people can afford.

Perhaps one of the best investments you can make is purchasing a router, sometimes they’re also called a WAP (wireless access point). For around $80 you can buy a decent router and it will definitely add capabilities to your PC and smartphone that you did not possess before. The latest wireless standard is 802.11ac, which is about three times faster than the previous standard, 802.11n. 802.11ac is backwards compatible, meaning it can be used for older PCs that do not have the 802.11ac yet. If you need to purchase a router, you can buy the 802.11ac one, but it will cost more money. You actually would do fine getting a 802.11n version since benefiting from this speed increase will only occur if your PC also has a network card at the 802.11ac standard. More new PCs have it, but only a small number of PCs industry-wide actually have it installed.

Routers are multi-functional. They can be used for:

  • Home/office network
  • Wireless connectivity for your home/office PC
  • Wireless connectivity for your smartphone

As far as which companies make the best routers, that is really a judgement call, but some of the more popular routers are made Linksys, D-Link, Netgear, and Belkin.

Home/Office Network

One of the big advantages of having a router is being able to connect multiple PCs together, whether they are desktops or laptops. And if one of your PCs is a laptop, you can have it wirelessly connected to the Internet and surf the Web from anywhere in your home or office. Routers add a strong convenience factor and flexibility to your computing environment. You can have your home or office network wired together with Cat-5 cabling and/or you can set it up for wireless connectivity. This is great for sharing files between the PCs on your network or if you have a printer, you can have each PC share that networked printer.

To wire your network, you’ll need a few Cat-5 cables that you should be able to purchase where you purchased the router. Plug one end of a Cat-5 cable to your cable modem and the other end of that cable  into the router jack labled, “Internet”, located on the back of the router. The various PCs you will have on the network plug into one of the Ethernet jacks labled on the back of the router as well. When you first configure the router, you’ll plug it into one of these Ethernet jacks. Each router has an interface program which has all of the options/choices for operation, and many also have a quick start guide which will allow you to leave several of the options at their preset default values, so you’ll really only need to select a few choices to get it up and running in just a few minutes.

Wireless PC Connectivity

Let’s look at it first in terms of using it for wireless usage. Many of you know that you can use a public wireless (WiFi) hot spot (Starbuck’s or any Internet Café) to connect your laptop to the Internet. If you desire to connect to the Internet using wireless connectivity while you’re at home, purchasing a router is the way to go. Once you have your router set up for wireless operation, it is simply a matter of selecting your router amongst the list of routers you will see listed, and connecting to it.

Wireless Smartphone Connectivity

Not only can you use it for a wireless connection to the Internet for your PC, you can also use it as a wireless connection for your smartphone. Many people like this feature if they live in an area where there isn’t any cell phone tower coverage. On your phone you simply go into the settings menu and configure the phone for wireless operation. On a voice call, the wireless  part of the call if from your phone to your router. Since the router is wired to your cable modem, the voice call continues from the router to the cable modem and out through your cable line onto the Internet. It’s simple to do and just about all phones now have wireless capability. Most phones with wireless capability will also keep track of how many wireless minutes you have used as well. And if you’re consuming a lot of voice minutes through your cell phone carrier’s cellular network, by using the router to go wireless, you just might lower enough of your voice call minutes to drop down to a lower priced carrier plan, thus saving you money.

Avoid Router hijacking-Use Password Protection

You could be a victim of neighborhood bandwidth hijacking. It is quite common for nearby users in one’s neighborhood to tap into your router’s signal and connect to the Internet using your router’s bandwidth. Other people using your router not only causes your wireless performance to suffer, you are in essence giving them free Internet access. The way to combat this is to put password protection on your router. You can set up the password protection by going into the router settings as well as choosing the best type of encryption method.

Wireless Encryption

Data encryption discussed here is for the wireless portion of the data path. Once the data enters a wired path, the data is decrypted before traveling further. There are two methods for encrypting your data; WPA and WEP. WPA is a much stronger encryption method and thus much more secure. You would be better off selecting WPA as your encryption choice since the encryption key is changing regularly versus WEP, where the encryption key never changes, and is much easier to hack.

Improve your performance by experimenting

Play around with the router’s external antenna, if it has one. Move the antenna to various angles (45 degrees, 90 degrees, etc)and observe what it does to your performance. Some performance improvements as high as 20 percent are possible by these adjustments.

Relocate your router to various locations in the house, if possible. If you have more than one location for the cable outlet, that will make it easy. You can also get a splitter and split the cable into a Y configuration and run additional cabling to various locations throughout the house. If you have several PCs throughout the house, try to visualize a location that is central to all of them and establish that is the router location. That is much better than having all of your PCs on one floor and having the router down in the basement. Distance and obstructions can affect the signal.

Get Firmware Upgrades for Better Performance

If you purchased your own router for your Internet usage, check the router manufacturer web site for firmware updates since these updates often results in performance improvements. Check if one is available for your model by locating the model# printed on the underside of the unit. Enter the model# and see if there are any upgrades to the firmware. If there are, download and install the upgrade and you will more than likely experience some performance improvement. If your cable (high-speed broadband) provider is also providing a router for your usage, contact them and see if a firmware upgrade is available. Sometimes, rather than issue a firmware upgrade, your cable provider may simply swap your unit with a newer version, which often results in a performance increase.

Buying a router is one of the best investments you’ll make for your home computing environment. Compared to the various advantages, the cost is minimal and once it’s set up and running, you’ll be very glad you did. If you’ll be using it with several PCs and various users, purchase the most expensive router you can since the more expensive ones usually handle the additional bandwidth drain better than low-end routers. If you have an older PC that does not have a wireless network adapter card, you can usually find them at the same stores that sell routers. Many of the newer ones are very small and easy to install: just plug it into a USB slot on your PC. Once you begin experiencing wireless operation and the flexibility of using your laptop in any location of your household, you’ll wonder how you did without it for all these years!

Save Money ACPI Suspend Mode / System Hibernate S4

I’m sure many of you have asked yourself that question about your PC from time to time; should I leave it running or turn it off. To give you enough information to make the right choice, some points need to be made. The great news is that by properly configuring your system, you can some money!

Thermal Expansion and Contraction

First, understand that turning your PC system on and off regularly can cause damage because of electronic components expanding and contracting. When you turn on your system, the electronic components that make up your system, transition from room temperature to 185 degrees Fahrenheit (expanding) within a half an hour. After the system has been running and you power it down, the reverse process happens, cooling (contracting) the components back to room temperature. Since each electronic component has a different thermal expansion coefficient, each expands and contracts in a unique amount of time.

Long-term, this regular expansion/contraction causes damage to the components, and is the most popular cause of component failure in a PC system. Chips split, wiring and contacts break, and the motherboard and expansion cards can develop cracks. There are a number of other things that occur as well, none of which are positive. I’m not suggesting that you leave your PC on continually, but using your PC’s power options effectively is the key to combating the expansion and contraction problem, as well as reducing your power bill significantly.

ACPI Suspend Mode S3

Electricity rates for each kilowatt-hour are on average at about 10 cents in the U.S. Your average PC system costs over $200/month if it’s never powered off. The interesting thing is you can reduce that amount down to just over $50/month if you use ACPI S3 or even better with ACPI S4 Power Option. You not only enjoy saving $150/month, you run a far less chance of your system causing a fire, while left unattended.

To configure your power mode properly, you must first go into your BIOS setup. The setting is usually called the ACPI suspend mode; enable it for the S3 state. By setting up your PC for this mode, each time the PC goes into the S3 state, the system information is stored in RAM, and all hardware in your PC system is turned off, except for the RAM. To go back into the regular full mode, you simply depress the Power On button. However, your system will not do a normal boot, it will load much more quickly, with all prior system information and files reopened.

System Hibernate S4

As I mentioned earlier, you must go into the BIOS to enable S3. To further fine tune things, go into the Power Option Control Panel, select the Advanced tab, select Stand By as the choice for the question, “ When I press the power button on my computer.” Select the hibernate tab and enable hibernation if you want to go into the ACPI S4 mode, which saves the system information to the hard drive, and the entire system is powered off. When you press the Power On button, it will not perform a cold boot, and it will be fairly quick to recover all system information and reopen files, but not as quickly as S3. Go to the Power Schemes tab and select the amount of time you want to elapse before the system goes into System Standby S3 and System Hibernates S4.

As you can see, it’s not difficult to enable the S3 and S4 power modes, and by doing so, you will be saving money each month with a lower power bill, as well as prolonging the life of your PC. The cool thing about this is you have total control over your power consumption. In this case, you have the power!

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.

 

 

Fixing PC Hardware Problems

 No, you’re not losing your mind, although sometimes a PC can come close to giving you a coronary. It’s a little intimidating just to purchase a PC, given all of the types and models you have to sift through just to find the right one for you. Then, when something goes awry, it feels like you’re having to solve a 3-dimensional crossword puzzle! Well, let not your heart be troubled; we’re going to look at a few simple and maybe a couple of not quite as simple methods for fixing a hardware problem. 

Often, the solution to the fix is much easier than you think. The biggest piece of advice I can give you is first of all, relax. Take a deep breath and tell yourself that you will logically backtrack to what you were doing on the PC prior to everything going to battlestations.

The following is a good method for troubleshooting a PC hardware problem. Go through it step-by-step and chances are excellent you’ll find the hardware problem. Go slowly and methodically, okay? Okay; good luck.

1. Check for the obvious first. Many problems can be corrected by just taking a thorough look at the device and it’s connections.

  • Is the device plugged in and turned on? Is the power strip plugged in and turned on? 

How many times have you heard the classic story of the technician who spent 2 hours troubleshooting only to find out a blown fuse was the problem!

  • Are the interconnecting cables secure?
  • If it’s sound related, is the volume turned up?
  • If the problem is related to an expansion card, is the card seated correctly in the slot? 

Before opening the PC to check the card seating, 2 things to do first:

a-Ensure the PC is still not under it’s warranty. If it is, some warranties will be voided if you open the case. For more information about warranties, check it my article concerning them here.

b-If you do open it up, first power down the PC, unplug the power cord, and once again, depress the power button to remove any residual voltages still operating.

2. Consider all of the recent changes you or someone else have made to your system. Maybe the change is related to your problem. Sometimes in the process of installing or removing something inside of the PC, you could have accidently bumped something, causing it to not function correctly. Open your PC up and check inside for anything out of the norm. If the change was done by a PC shop, take it back to them and have them recheck.

 3. Research error messages. If you see an error message while booting or after the boot has completed, do not ignore it. Find out the reason why you saw the message. It could very well be related to your hardware issue. Use the Internet to find answers by doing a Google search. 

 4. Use the Vista Problem Reports and Solutions or the XP Error Reporting window. These tools can help classify and resolve errors that cause the system to lock up, device driver errors, and services and applications that did not start. Pay notice to the description given since that will clue you to identifying the device or application at fault.

To select the Windows Vista Problem Reports and Solutions window, select Start – All Programs – Maintenance – Problem Reports and Solutions.

To select the Windows XP Error Reporting, go to Windows Explorer, right mouse button click My Computer – select Properties from shortcut menu, select the Advance tab, and select Error Reporting. 

windows xp error reporting

 

5. Check your logs in the Event Viewer. In the Event Viewer, the Administrative Events log under Custom Views shows warnings and error events. Look for entries with a date close to the date the problem began.

To use the Event Viewer, select Start – Run – Enter eventvwr.msc and select OK. 

Using Event Viewer

 

6. Check your BIOS setup and ensure the hardware device is detected. It can be accessed by selecting a certain key while the pc is in the beginning stage of booting up, and should be on the screen with the BIOS version. If not, check your documentation for the key or keys to use.

 7. Check the Windows Device Manager and verify that the device in question is enabled and Windows sees it as working correctly. If you see errors or a yellow question mark warning symbol, this is an indication that it must be resolved now.

To use Device Manager, select Start – Control Panel – System – Hardware tab – Device Manager

Using Device Manager
 
For example, if you are having problems with your networking device, you can find out all about it by locating and selecting it in the Device Manager list, right mouse button click it, and select Properties from the shortcut menu.

Device manager properties  “

Observe the device status. Although it may have the entry, “This device is working properly”, you can select the Troubleshooting choice, which can help you localize the problem. 

If you need to update it’s device driver, select the Driver tab, then select Update Driver. Selecting Update Driver will bring you to the Hardware Update Wizard window. Continue to proceed by following the Wizard choices as applicable.

update device driver

 

Hardware update wizard

Sometimes just a Windows speed issue disguises itself as a hardware problem. If your system is operating slowly, first check it my article on speeding up Windows here. It is also possible that a virus problem could be causing your system to act strangely, to the point that you may think you’ve got a hardware issue. If you don’t have virus protection, check out my article on Virus Protection here.

It really boils down to a process of eliminating the most probable causes for the hardware sympton in the manner I’ve described to effectively combat a PC problem. There are different ways to troubleshoot a PC, but this procedure is one of the best ones to use. Faithfully use it each time you experience hardware-like symptom issues and you should minimize the amount of down-time you have. Good luck!