Tag Archives: PC

Novice’s Guide to the Internet and Computing part 6

Some people don’t know how to properly maintain their computer and don’t understand what’s happening when they boot it up one day and find that it crawls into windows, takes forever to open programs and screeches to a halt for “no reason”. Just like a car stops working for “no reason” when you don’t maintain it. I want you to be your own mechanic in this case and understand some of the easier maintenance tips. The only tools you may need are a phillips head screwdriver a can of compressed air and a little commonsense. Let’s get started talking about the computer’s most common arch enemy.

Dust is a computer killer and many people overlook or just plain forget about it all together. Dust wouldn’t be so bad if it was just standard mold spores and dirt, but unfortunately it contains hair and dead skin cells that are oily and stick to things. Have you ever seen what happens to a ceiling fan after a few months of running without being cleaned? Now imagine that same situation in your computer.

Your computer has to remain cool in order to function. When a computer get’s too hot it will do one of three main things.

1. Shut down to protect itself.

2. Burn up and stop working.

3. Lower the voltage to your processor making it run slower and slower and slower in an attempt to stay in the “safe zone”.

So when your computer mysteriously shuts itself down after running for 5~10 minutes everytime you use it, I would say check your CPU fan and heatsink first, followed by your power supply. If those appear to be relatively dust free and in working condition, boot into safe mode and try running a few scans for malware.

Before attempting the next step make sure you have shut down windows and unplugged your computer from the outlet.

Normally the side panel of a computer case is held on with a screw or two, sometimes they are thumb screws and sometimes it’ll just be a sliding lock. Regardless of the method the panel is held on with you should open it up and spend a minute or two just looking around at what makes your computer tick.  You should see a fan of some sort centrally located on the motherboard, there will also be some aluminum fins that this fan is either sitting on or touching in some other way. Those fins are called the “heat sink” and are used to pull the heat from the CPU like a radiator while the fan keeps the fins cool. Those fins can easily become clogged with dust, which causes poor air flow, which in turn causes heat to build up. Blow out the dust using canned air follow the instructions on the can. You may also want to go outside because the dust will be incredible. Go ahead and dust everything off while you’re in there. Some computers don’t have CPU fans anymore, but will generally have a fairly decent size heat sink.

Processor = CPU

I see a lot of people who cram their computers under the desk in those tiny cubby holes that have very little ventilation. That may be fine for a typical home office computer, so I won’t gripe, but if you have invested some serious money in tons of LEDs and bought a mega gaming computer for $2,000 from DELL, give it room to breathe. Make sure all the fans are free of obstructions and try to keep the exhaust vents from venting into the same are as the intake vents. You can  turn your gaming machine into a really expensive space heater in no time flat by providing poor air circulation.

Security risks are nothing new to computer savvy individuals, viruses, spyware, exploits and phishing just to name a few of the risks out there. The differences may be hard to see from the perspective of a novice user, but power users understand the differences very well. The risk is there whether you know what it is or not.

Exploits are like a hole in a system that wasn’t intended, but becomes painfully obvious once used. A perfect example of this is buffer overrun attacks. These are generally intended to leave a hole in your security to allow access. Every time I go to windows update it’s Buffer Overrun this and Buffer Overflow that. Those updates are the patches that cover those security holes to prevent access in the future.

I’ve been over viruses and spyware in the first part of this series, but needless to say an Anti-Malware program that is out of date isn’t going to catch the most recent threats on the Internet. Phishing is normally a commonsense issue, but keeping yourself updated on phishing attempts will give you more to work with in that battle.

To keep your computer running like it should you also need to  make sure that your hardware drivers are up to date. Drivers let your hardware devices communicate with one another. The most common drivers for an average user will be video, sound and networking. A corrupt  driver causes all kinds of lovely issues like Blue Screens of Death, horrible performance or even no performance. Update your drivers occasionally by either going to your computer manufacturer’s website or the component manufacturer, normally the drivers will be found under a “Support” link then under “downloads”, but of course it may vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.

I normally update my drivers about once every 3-4 months if needed, my virus and spyware definitions about once a week when I scan and go to windows update about once a month just for the heck of it. Oh, but wait, you can’t use Windows Update site with Firefox. I use WinDiz Update, the Windows Updater for non Microsoft browsers and now you can too.

Keeping your software updated and your computer clean will make your experience with your computer much more enjoyable. It will also save you money in costly unnecessary repair bills. I know people who charge or have been charged upwards of $80 an hour to do simple stuff like this and they even count the time Windows update runs it’s installer! That can be $80 or more just for it sometimes! So buy a $6 can of air and get busy!

Be sure to check out parts 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 of this series.

The Freeware Update

LogMeIn is a secure Remote Access program that allows you to access and control a seperate computer as if you were sitting in front of it.
Hamachi is a secure VPN that is very easy to setup and takes the guess work out of network games or games across the internet.
Openoffice.org is a full Open Source replacement for Microsoft Office.
Google Docs is a freeware replacement for Microsoft Office, I have only used the spreadsheet tool and it worked well enough for what I wanted to do.
Miranda is a very lite messenger. It supports all the major Messenger services, but can be a bit limited in some ways.
NetStumbler is a great app for keeping track of Wifi access points. It can use GPS to keep track of the exact coordinates of Access point locations so they can be imported to navigational software for easy reference.
Gimp is an open source image editor that is on par with Photoshop with just as big of a learning curve, which is why I still use Photoshop.
Picasa is another program from Google that allows you to do simple editing and effects to your images and also serves as a photo organizer.
Sketchup is a 3d modeling program from Google.
Artrage Starter Edition is the free version of a painting simulator. I have heard fantastic reviews of Artrage, but never used it myself.
Sygate Personal Firewall is the best freeware firewall around. I’m not sure how much has changed since Symantec took over.

Freeware my PC can’t live without

Back around 2001 I heard about this newer and up and coming garbage that would destroy my internet bandwidth and consume my system resources. That garbage was called spyware. I went with the opinion of a friend and downloaded a free program called Adaware and it cleaned my pc of a few infections. That’s when my obsession started with spyware. I would rather have 12 variants of virii on my PC than 1 piece of spyware. Why? People who write virii do it because they enjoy the challenge and know what they are doing. People who write spyware do it because it’s their job and like a lot of people out there, they really don’t like their jobs. That’s where the problem with spyware begins. Poor coding, memory leaks and hogging your bandwidth all lead to unstable and downright poor performance from your machine.

I already covered Adaware, which is considered the king of spyware removal software. If Adaware is king, then Spybot S&D (the S&D stands for search and destroy) is the uncontested queen of spyware removal. When used in combination they will slaughter the spyware and have your PC running almost like new again.

An all in one solution, still for free, is the web based scanner that searches for all types of malware and virii and that is Trendmicro’s Housecall. Trendmicro’s Housecall will find most of the bad applications and can clean them it also notifies you of critical updates that you may be missing that could represent serious security issues.

Sometimes you need to know things your system specs or task manager just can’t tell you. I like to use a program called CPU-Z to tell me the little interesting details that you can’t just look at with your base Windows applications.

The format for documents I despise the most is .PDF. It’s actually not the format I hate it’s the standard program for opening and reading those documents, Adobe Acrobat. I found a much faster .PDF reader that’s also much smaller it’s called Foxit reader (if you download it get the .exe with out the toolbar). It is very responsive and opens about 4 times faster than Adobe does.

You may have noticed that the new version of Internet Explorer has changed quite a bit from the old version. The changes they have made have been highly influenced by Mozilla’s Firefox. I’ve been using Firefox for about 4 years now and have never looked back. It’s an open source browser that you can customize through plug-ins and themes to get just about anything you want. It has less security flaws than I.E., but doesn’t start quite as fast. I am willing to make that sacrifice though. In fact I removed all of the components of I.E. to free up more system resources and haven’t missed it at all.

Since you can’t go to Windows update with Firefox and I leave the auto update feature turned off, I couldn’t update windows for a long time. I didn’t really need too anyway, but while looking for more security features for my laptop I ran across a website called Windiz Update that acts as a backdoor to the Windows update site and allows those people who don’t use I.E. to update manually. There is no Genuine Validation check or any of the other red tape Windows Update imposes.

Email is a major part of most people’s online time. Some folks use a free service and some use the one there ISP or web servers provide. Assuming you have the option of POP mail I have a few smaller freeware options you can try. The smallest application that I’m familiar with is ReachaMail. It’s small enough to run on most USB thumbdrives and does a fine job of it as well. A more feature rich alternative would be another Mozilla product, Thunderbird. Thunderbird
has all of the features of Outlook Express, but like Firefox, has less security flaws and a slightly faster core. The transition from Outlook to Thunderbird is pretty easy since you can import your settings from Outlook over in one click.

Freeing up disk space might be the first thing people do when their system starts to get that bogged down feeling. Ccleaner is a great system cleanup utility that seems tons quicker than the Disk Cleanup feature of Windows. Another great cleaner is PC decrapifier, but use caution, this program is designed to remove the preinstalled software from PC manufacturers, specifically Dell, and may remove something you use.

Any computer you buy these days just wouldn’t be complete with out a CD burner of some sort. You can use the one that is provided for you or get a real full featured burning software like Nero or you could go another route and try out one of the great full featured freeware burner like CDburnerXP. CDburnerXP can burn data, audio and ISO compilations all with a fairly easy learning curve.

I download a lot of files and normally they are compressed in a .RAR file. I’m not sure if they invented the .RAR format, but WinRAR is still one of the best archivers available. This isn’t technically freeware, but it is shareware with a “nag screen”. I avoid the “nag screen” by right clicking on the archives I want to uncompress and choosing “Extract to [folder name goes here]” if you want to try something a little different and perhaps smaller you can try 7zip. Either way you can’t lose.

Mp3s and video are another thing most people use their PC for. You need a good reliable player. I use VLC and it works like a champ. I also have WinampWinamp you can make playlists of your MP3s, listen to internet radio and watch internet T.V. (if you install Winamp try not to install the 50 free MP3s thing that comes with it and avoid any toolbars they offer). Videos won’t play right if you don’t have the right codec for the different formats. VLC claims to be able to play any video you throw at it, but I somehow doubt this claim, but if you go and download the Defiler pack you should have no issues playing any video. Realplayer and quicktime videos may be the exception. Realplayer is bloated and generally slow, as is Quicktime, the good news is they have alternatives to both available here and here respectively.

Another good MP3 player is called Foobar and uses very little system resources.

Sometimes you will come across a .ISO file or some other variant of a disc image.
you can either use a burner like CDburnerXP to burn it to a disc or use a handy tool like Daemon Tools to mount this .ISO to a virtual drive. This will allow the .ISO to act just like a real disc is in the drive.

Ok so I said that I download a lot of files. Where do I download them from and how? Well I won’t go into all of it, but if you ever come across a torrent file you would like to download the way to do it is to use µtorrent. That symbol apparently means micro, most people just call it Utorrent. Contrary to popular belief, not all file sharing is illegal and torrent files are the common way to share files now. Here
is a site you can try µtorrent on. Try a search on Google for “legal torrents” for more, but NEVER PAY MONEY for a site that allows you to download torrents. I’ve seen plenty of sites that make you pay to download torrents and just redirect you to the illegal download sites once you pay them.

guide for tweaking XP

I’ve mentioned this before, but feel like I should mention it again the virtual NES, is a java Nintendo Emulator that works in your browser and has all of the games already there to play.

I-am-Bored.com is a great site with interesting videos, images, links to blogs and flash games.

Something Awful is a comedy website with a free to browse forum and lots of funny photoshops.

Ok enough of that stuff, stare at the four dots in the following image for 30 seconds then stare at a white wall or ceiling and blink a couple of times.

All right that’s it for now. Thanks for reading.