Operating System |

Sleep, Hibernate or Shutdown – Which is Best?

Posted January 6th, 2014 by Mark with No Comments


It’s the end of the day, you have the choice to put your computer in sleep mode, hibernate the computer, or do a shutdown. What is best option? Let’s examine each so you can decide:

Sleep – When you put a computer into sleep mode, it saves your current working environment to memory and then partially powers down.  Your computer is still running, but it uses much less energy than if it were completely on. Later, when you come back and “wake up” the computer, it powers up again and picks up right where you left off.  This process is faster than a regular startup.  Laptops often automatically go into sleep mode when you close the lid.  A potential downside of sleep mode is that sometimes things like scanners don’t wake up correctly.  I’ve even seen this problem with keyboards and mice.

Hibernate – the hibernate mode saves power and stores all your memory contents on your hard drive, including your running software and open files.  After everything is stored, your computer shuts completely off.  Then, when you power it up again, it loads your previous session and allows you to pick up right where you left off.  Like Sleep mode, this process is faster than a regular startup.  Because this procedure doesn’t clear your RAM, Downsides are the same as sleep mode.  Sometimes, everything doesn’t work correctly when the computer comes back out of hibernate.

Shutdown – This means closing all of your software and completely turning off your computer. Keep in mind that when you turn on your computer again, there will be boot up time, since you are starting fresh. This option is best for energy saving and for the longevity of your computer as long as you don’t mind the boot up time.  Additionally, your RAM is completely cleared when you reboot.

The best option really depends on how long you plan to go before using your computer again, whether you are interested in saving energy/power, and whether you’re using a laptop or a desktop. Now that you know the options, try each one to see how it works on your own computer.  Once you know that, you can choose the best option depending on your individual situation.

6 Windows 8 Keyboard Shortcuts You Should Memorize Now

Posted December 3rd, 2012 by Mark with No Comments

Windows 8 Keyboard Shortcuts

If you have a new computer with Windows 8, you are probably knee-deep in the learning curve, trying to get used to the new interface.  I’ve said before that it’s one giant game of “Go Fish”.  Here are 6 Windows 8 keyboard shortcuts to help you along the path.  They all use the “Windows Key” – usually left of the spacebar, with the Windows logo on it.

1.  Windows Key + E     This bring up the familiar “My Computer” window when you in Desktop mode.

2.  Windows Key + C     Immediately brings up the Charms bar, for quick access to things like Search, Share, and Settings.

3.  Windows Key + D     Switches you to Desktop mode

4.  Windows Key + I      Opens the Settings window, where they hid the Power icon, for example.

5.  Windows Key + X     Opens the Tools window

6.  Windows Key + PrtScrn Key     Saves an image of the current screen to the Screenshots folder in your Pictures folder.

One more – the easiest way to find something is to just search for it.  If you are in the start screen, just start typing the name of what you are looking for.  You can also bring up the Charms bar and click on Search there.  Happy Hunting!

Does Your Computer Have Enough RAM?

Posted November 29th, 2012 by Mark with 1 Comment

If your computer is slower than it should be, it might not have enough RAM.

Folks often confuse RAM (working memory) with Hard Disk (storage).  I like to use this analogy:  Your Hard Disk is like your desk drawers.  The bigger your disk, the more things you can store.  RAM, on the other hand is like the top of your desk.  The more RAM you have (the bigger your desk top), the more files you can have open at the same time, and the bigger the file you can work on comfortably.

To check how much RAM you have, and how much your computer “wants,” do the following:

1.  Open the programs you use most often.  This might include your email, the internet browser, and Word or Excel with a typical file open in each.

2.  Open Task Manager.  To do this, right-click on the task bar at the bottom of the screen and choose Start Task Manager from the menu that pops up.

3.  Once in Task Manager, click on the Performance tab at the top.

4.  On the Performance tab, take note of two figures.

a)  The first one is listed on the left side of the page in the second graph, titled “Memory.”  This graph shows how much RAM your computer is currently using for the programs that are running.  This figure is quoted in Gigabytes, and represents how much RAM your computer “wants” to run your programs.

b) The second figure that is important is the at the bottom of the window, in a section titled “Physical Memory.”  Look for the figure labeled “Total.”  This is the total amount of RAM Memory your computer has.  This figure is unfortunately quoted in Megabytes, so you have to divide by 1,000 to convert it to Gigabytes for comparison purposes.

5.  Next, compare these two figures (how much your computer “wants” vs. how much is “has.”  If your computer is using most or all of its available memory to run your programs, then you need more RAM to get better performance.

For example, on the computer I’m using to write this article, I’m running my internet browser, my email program, and Microsoft Word.  My computer is using 1.78GB of RAM, and I have a total of 8,191 Megabytes (or 8.1 Gigabytes).  So, I’m using about 21% of the available RAM.  This is a good level, leaving lots of “spare” RAM.


Does your computer have enough RAM


If, on the other hand, my computer only had 2 Gigabytes of RAM, and running a common combination of programs used that same 1.78 Gigabytes, then I would be using about 90% of my available memory and should definitely consider getting more RAM.  In this situation, my computer would probably be operating exceptionally slowly because it would be starved for working memory.

RAM is relatively inexpensive, and can be one of the easiest things you can add to make your computer run better (good “bang for your buck”).   Call us if you’d like to add more RAM.  This is an easy single-hour appointment – we’d be glad to help!



The Double-Edged Sword of Updates

Posted November 25th, 2012 by Mark with No Comments

The Double-Edged Sword of Updates

Should I load updates


I get this question all the time – “Should I load Updates?”  It seems that every time you use your computer, there is some update or other waiting to be installed.  Windows (or OSX, if you’re an Apple user) updates, Java updates, Flash updates, Adobe Reader updates, iTunes updates, Quicktime updates – it’s endless.  Even if you are studious and install each and every update, there is always another one right around the corner – how did we get into this mess?

Sadly, these updates almost never add new and wonderful features to our software.  They are all security related.  Patching hole after newly-discovered hole in the defenses in a seemingly-futile attempt to keep the bad guys out.  Unfortunately, this is the world we live in.  Every company that makes software that is widely used (Like Microsoft, Apple, Adobe, Oracle, etc.) takes on a never-ending battle against the internet baddies that are constantly looking for ways to use their software as a way to get to you, the end-user – and your wallet.

Now, you might argue (and some have) that these companies are doing a bad job, and losing this war.  That may or may not be so, but I can tell you no small amount of effort goes into this whole process.

So…what do to?  Well, not to overstate the obvious, but you should install the updates when they are available.  Seriously.  Ignoring updates is one of the quickest ways to become the victim of the latest spyware scourge.

What’s the double-edged sword, you ask?  Well, there are at least two downsides to this process.  The first is that sometimes, in their haste to deal with a new security problem, companies don’t adequately test their updates and they end up breaking something.  On no less than 3 separate occasions this year, the anti-virus maker McAfee released an update to its software that broke the internet connections of its users.  No warning…it just didn’t work after the update was downloaded.  Unfortunately, once the update was loaded and the connection broken, the company had no way to contact its users to tell them about the problem.  Generally, this risk is small, though, and the additional protection you get is more important than your risk of something like this happening.  Plus, you’re backing up regularly anyway, right? …right?

The second downside is that the updates for third party software (I’m looking at YOU, Adobe & Java) almost always have a sneaky little checkbox on one of the dialogs they present:

               ___ Please install Google Chrome

or                  ___ Please install the Ask toolbar

or                  ___ Please install theBabylontoolbar

or dozens of similar offers.  The basic translation of all of these is “Please update my software, and also, please install this other crap I don’t want and didn’t ask for.”

Before we vilify these companies too much, remember that the softwares in question are free (Adobe Flash, Adobe Reader, Java), so these “extras” are really the only way they have to get paid.  Additionally, most of the extras aren’t necessarily bad.  I’ll bet though, that if you research each one to find out exactly what it does and why it might or might not be useful to you, you would choose to NOT install them.

My advice – ALWAYS look for the sneaky little checkbox (that will always be CHECKED by default) that offers whatever the add-on of the week is, and UNCHECK it before proceeding.

So remember, install your updates – you don’t have to drop what you’re doing, but don’t put them off.  As always, call us if you need help, that’s what we’re here for.

6 Ways to Speed Up Windows 7

Posted May 24th, 2012 by Mark with No Comments

How to Speed Up Windows 7 and Making Your Computer Run Faster


1. Rein-in those startup programs

Take a look down by the clock in the lower right corner of your screen. Click on the upward-facing arrow if necessary to show the hidden icons. Every icon you see there is a program that is running and using up system resources. The more icons you have there, the longer it takes for them all to start up when you turn on the computer, and the more system resources are being used – leaving less available for the things you want to do.

Speed up Windows 7

Hover your mouse over each icon in turn and read what the pop-up text says. Use this to determine whether or not you need each of these programs. If you determine that you need all of them, then that’s fine – but recognize that each one of them adds to the startup time for your computer and takes away from the resources you need to run other programs.

Speed up Windows 7

If you identify programs that you know you don’t need, then uninstall them (Control Panel, Programs applet) to free up the resources taken up. If you don’t recognize, or you’re not sure about some of these programs, then leave them alone. It’s easy to delete something important if you’re not careful.


2. Make sure your system has enough RAM

Random Access Memory, or working memory, is used by Windows itself and by programs that you run. When you don’t have enough free RAM, your computer will run slowly. To check on your RAM, do this:

- Run Task Manager by right-clicking on the task bar at the bottom of the screen. Choose “Start Task Manager” from the popup menu.

- When Task Manager comes up, click on the “Performance” tab. There are two live graphs shown. The 2nd one is labeled “Memory”. The left side shows the amount of RAM that your computer is currently using. Make a note of this figure. On the computer I’m using to write this, the RAM currently used is 1.49GB (or Gigabytes).


Speed up Windows 7


- Below the graphs is a section labeled “Physical Memory.” The first line in this section is labeled “Total.” Note the figure there. On my computer it says 8,191 MB (Megabytes, which is equal to approximately 8 Gigabytes).


Speed up Windows 7

- Compare these two numbers. In my case, I have a total of 8GB of memory, and my computer is currently using 1.49GB. In other words, I have about 6.5GB of RAM available (8 minus 1.49). This is the space used to run additional programs. You want to have enough free memory so that when you run programs like Word or Internet Explorer, your computer isn’t running out of memory.

- If you find that you don’t have much free memory, then it’s time to add more. Call us for help – this is an easy job.


3. Get rid of unnecessary browser toolbars

Open your internet browser and take a look at everything that is displayed above the actual website you are viewing. There is probably a menu bar, and maybe the address bar where you can see the URL of the web page. Every other toolbar shown is slowing down your browsing. Take a look at what toolbars are there and make a note of any that you can live without. Close and disable them from within Internet Explorer, then uninstall them from Control Panel.

Speed up Windows 7


4. Cleanup temporary files

Use the Disk Cleanup Utility to get rid of temporary files. Open “Computer,” right-click on the C drive, then choose “Properties.” Click on the “Disk Cleanup” button on the “General” tab. Make sure you DO NOT choose to “Compress Files” if that is offered. You only want to delete temporary files. Check the boxes and click “OK.”

Speed up Windows 7


5. If you are currently using Internet Explorer, consider trying Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome instead.

Both Firefox and Chrome load pages a bit faster than IE, and a new browser will not be encumbered by any toolbars or other add-ons that might have accumulated along the way with IE.


6. Scan for viruses and malware.

If you haven’t run manual scans in a while, take the time to do so now (make sure you update first!) Viruses or malware running in the background can certainly slow down your computer.

It should go without saying that you should have a good backup before making any big changes to your computer. If you’re unsure about any of this or would like us to just come and do it for you, just give us a call at (412) 480-9969 – that’s what we’re here for!

Reinstalling Windows

Posted April 20th, 2012 by Mark with No Comments

Reinstalling Windows

If your computer’s hard drive fails, or you have a particularly nasty virus, we might have to reinstall Windows for you.  This is one of the more involved and expensive routine services we do – but it’s not obvious why.  To help illustrate, here is a quick rundown of the steps involved in this task:

Basic Steps to Reinstalling Windows

Backup the data – this includes Documents, Email, Pictures, Music, Videos and everything on the desktop.  This can take anywhere form just a few minutes to hours depending on the amount of data you have.

Scan your data – If you had a virus infection, a separate scan (or two) is run on your backed-up data to make sure it is clean.

Backup the product keys for Windows and Microsoft Office to make sure these can be reinstalled and correctly activated.

Backup all of the system’s hardware drivers.  There are drivers for the motherboard, wired and wireless network, audio, modem, video, mouse as well as several others that vary from computer to computer.

Format (completely erase and reset the file system) your existing or a new hard drive.  This process can take a couple of hours on a large hard disk.

Install Windows – Depending on your computer, we may have to order recovery disks from the manufacturer to complete this task, which can add several days to the procedure.

Reinstall all of the system drivers and troubleshoot any problems that may arise (no sound, the video isn’t right, etc.)

Load all available Windows updates so your system is “completely patched”.  This process can easily take several hours.  For Windows XP, for example, there are over 300 updates to bring a fresh install current.  For Windows Vista expecially, this is an involved process requiring many reboots and installs.  Windows 7 is the newest version, so has the fewest updates, but there are still several dozen available.

Install and update antivirus software, iTunes, Email software, various addons like Flash and Java, reinstall Microsoft Office if you had it originally.

Reinstall the backed-up data

Reconfigure email, import backed-up messages & contacts, etc.

Check to make sure everything is ok and functioning.  Typically, there are several adjustments we make to the Windows settings to make your computer more efficient.

We typically charge between 2.5 and 3 hours labor for this process, but the actual project can take several days depending on the complexity of the particular install.

As always, call us at (412) 480-9969 if you have any questions about your computer.  We can help!