Tech – for Everyone

Tech Tips and Tricks & Advice – written in plain English.

What to Look for When Buying a New Computer

My Computer Shopping Guidelines

Some of you will be shopping for a computer this holiday gift-giving season, so today I will re-post some advice on what to look for in a new machine. I’m not going to get into a Mac versus PC debate. I am going to focus solely on hardware (the ‘capabilities’) options of a non-Apple desktop or laptop PC — though I understand that all anyone wants this year is an iPad.

Tip(s) of the day: What to look for..
* Laptop computers. Most of what I am going to recommend today applies equally to laptops and desktops with very few exceptions. Today’s portable machines (notebook and tablet PC’s) very nearly rival the hardware capabilities of a desktop (or “tower”), and some models market themselves as a “desktop replacement”. They have large hard drives for storage, can ‘burn’ dual-layer DVD’s, have nice large screens, can access the Internet wirelessly, and are fast. Some have high-end graphics adapters that can keep up with the latest games.

Where laptops are different is: they are comparatively more expensive, they (often) depend on a battery, and they’re limited in terms of “expansion”. Expansion, quite literally, is room to “add stuff”, commonly referred to as “upgrading”. For this reason, I advise (when purchasing a notebook/laptop/tablet) differently than when buying a tower/”box”/”desktop” – buy the most machine you can afford. (that means, faster CPU, bigger “Gigabyte” numbers..)
Also, I advise buying the battery “upgrade”.

If you have to penny-pinch, reduce the RAM and/or go with a smaller hard drive… because these are the two components on a laptop that it is relatively easy to “upgrade” at a later date, when your finances have recovered. The other things – CPU, graphics, motherboard, sound, etc. — are not so easy to swap out/upgrade. In a Desktop PC (“tower”) there is practically nothing you cannot replace: in a laptop you’re kind of stuck, so buy as high up the scale as you can. Not just what you think you’ll need today, but buy for tomorrow as well. Because that’s the way the machine will be for its lifetime. I would look for an i3/i5/i7 CPU.

When deciding which model laptop, do not forget to compare battery life (these stats are published). Also, and I can’t stress this enough, if buying for yourself, do not buy a laptop that you haven’t typed on. Yes, you can make your purchase online or out of a catalog, but go into a store and touch it first (sorry, all you Best Buy salespersons out there). Each keyboard and touchpad is different. Make sure you like the layout and “feel” of typing on the keyboard. There’s nothing worse (in laptop computing) than trying to work on a keyboard that just isn’t “you”–IMHO.

Considering a netbook? The portability of the compact netbook computers would certainly appeal to the student. For those who go this route, I would suggest the addition of an “external” hard drive (for more storage) as well as a DVD reader.

* Desktops: When considering which tower/desktop to buy, there’s basically three categories of machines; budget/student, workstation, and “performance”/gaming. Low, middle, and top-end. You can spend as little as $300 $250, or as much as $8,500. (Yes. $8,500. But, those systems are cool!) I have mentioned before that to do it right, you can get everything you want/need for $700 – $1,100 $399 – $899, and that even the budget machines have the “good stuff”.

My advice for what to look for in a desktop, is a little more flexible. First, decide roughly what you’d like to spend. If you really are in the $300 -500 $250-400 range, do not rule out “refurbished” machines. Factory rebuilt/refurbished machines are an excellent value. Any negative stigma they may have is largely unjustified.

Get the most RAM you can.I would not buy a PC today that had less than 4 GB’s.

If your machine is coming with Windows 7 (and most all of them are), you should look for 64-bit.

Go with a mid-to-high end CPU. The quad-core CPU’s from Intel are very good, and are my current preference. But you can save some dinero by choosing an AMD equipped machine. If it is in your budget, go quad-core.

Optical drives. Unless you really need a ‘high def’ burner and you want it right now, hold off on going for a “Blu Ray” burner just yet. Blu-Ray readers are available and should suffice. Two optical drives, while nice, is not a necessity. Do, however, make sure your “combo drive” can burn (”write”) to a dual-layer DVD.

Graphics. Most people do not need a $800 graphics card (only us hard-core gamers, and other boys-of-all-ages, do) nor do they need an “SLI” set up. However, whenever your budget allows, it is almost always better to have a “graphics card” than “onboard graphics”. Onboard graphics chipsets are built into the motherboard, and while they do a quite adequate job, they “share” your RAM … and by that I mean “steal” your RAM.
Please note, you can buy, and install a graphics card at any time..

Power Supply. Do not forget to check the Wattage of the machine’s power supply. Here is another area where more is definitely better. It constantly surprises me how many seemingly unrelated computer ‘glitches’ and quirks turn out to be caused by an inadequate or failing power supply. Shoot for one that’s rated in the neighborhood of 350W, unless you’re going for a more “loaded”, high-end performance machine — in which case 500W, or higher, is not unreasonable.

* Is space an issue? Consider a “small form factor” (aka “mini tower”) size. These smaller boxes fit on (or under) a desk much easier than a normal size. You can find some “bundled” with a 17″ LCD monitor.. perfect for the dorm.

Well, that should get you started. Buying a new PC should not be a stressful thing. It should be an enjoyable and rewarding experience. Just remember to test drive before you buy, and do a little comparison. It really doesn’t matter if you decide upon a no-name, a HP, a Sony, Dell, or whatever (see, Which is Better, HP or Dell? and/or Tech’s Most (and Least) Reliable Brands).

Today’s free download: For those of you lucky folks who will receive a brand new PC… Whenever you buy a new computer, it will come preloaded with all sorts of trialware (as it’s called) that most of us don’t want. If you have just purchased a new PC, download and run the wonderful PC Decrapifier and clean off that *stuff*.

Copyright 2007-2011 © “Tech Paul” (Paul Eckstrom). All Rights Reserved.


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December 15, 2011 Posted by | advice, computers, shopping for | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Be Smart – Tips For Safe Online Shopping*

I think it is a pretty safe bet that quite a few of you are doing some last minute holiday shopping.. and that some of you are going to use the Internet to do some of that shopping.

I would like to remind you that there is a healthy, active, and well-financed underworld of cybercriminals who are well-aware of the fact that the next few days are prime credit card and “identity” theft opportunities, and are going to be particularly active in trying to GET YOU.

You will see an increase in spam, and bogus pop-opens that tell you you are infected when you’re not. (Note: The phraudulent Skype alert is active again, too. see Skype — “Windows Requires Immediate Attention”.. Not! )

I am posting the following Basic Internet Shopping Tips in the hopes that Tech–for Everyone readers will not join the 9 12 million Americans who had their identities stolen last year.

  • Download Software Updates — Regularly!
  • Use Complex Passwords (include numerals and @#$%^&*[])
  • Use Onetime Credit Cards.
  • Verify Secure Connections See that little padlock symbol at the bottom of your screen, and in the URL address bar?
  • Check Your Credit report.
  • Enter Your Shopping Site’s Web Address Manually (embedded links=no!).
  • Shop From Your Own computer (not a public ‘hotspot’).
  • Enable your browser’s phishing filter, or install an add-on. (such as the super-easy WOT toolbar)
  • Don’t Send Credit Card Information Over E-mail. Even if you think it’s secure. Don’t send it over IM either. If you feel uncomfortable about sending personal information online, call up the business.

I would like to direct your attention to the first bulletpoint. The programs on your computer need to be fully “patched” with the latest updates, as exploiting weaknesses is the primary method hackers use to infect your machines. (You visit a website that they’ve ‘poisoned’, and if you have an unpatched ‘hole’ [aka “vulnrability”], bingo – you’re infected.)

How do you know if you have the latest updates? For all your installed programs? Do you think you are patched? Don’t guess. Be sure!

Today’s free link+download: Secunia offers a tool that I highly recommend. The online scanner (which you should bookmark, btw) will scan your machine for roughly 100 programs and tell you if there is a patch/update you need. If you go this route, I suggest you visit once or twice a week.)
Better yet, they offer a download, a Personal Edition, which will scan your system against a database of over 7,000 programs.
Even better yet, it includes direct download links to the missing patches it finds.

I just ran it and it found an old ActiveX plug in, and told me that my Java Runtime Environment was out of date.. and I didn’t think I had installed JRE on this machine!
vulnerabilities1

Related: Careful online shopping (a repost)

“It appears that we’ve reached a point where more people are doing their gift-buying online than at the mall.  It’s a fact: there are more reasons to do your shopping online this year than there were before ($3.49-per-gallon reasons)”

I hope you all have a super weekend!

* Original posting: 12/20/08

Copyright 2007-2010 © “Tech Paul” (Paul Eckstrom). All Rights Reserved.


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December 17, 2010 Posted by | advice, Internet, security, shopping for | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Computer Shopping Guidelines

Some Advice for what to look for when buying a new PC

Some of you will be shopping for a computer this holiday gift-giving season, so today I will re-post some advice on what to look for in a new machine. I’m not going to get into a Mac versus PC debate. I am going to focus solely on hardware (the ‘capabilities’) options of a non-Apple desktop or laptop PC.

Tip(s) of the day: What to look for..
* Laptop computers. Most of what I am going to recommend today applies equally to laptops and desktops with very few exceptions. Today’s portable machines (notebook and tablet PC’s) very nearly rival the hardware capabilities of a desktop (or “tower”), and some models market themselves as a “desktop replacement”. They have large hard drives for storage, can ‘burn’ dual-layer DVD’s, have nice large screens, can access the Internet wirelessly, and are fast. Some have high-end graphics adapters that can keep up with the latest games.

Where laptops are different is: they are comparatively more expensive, they (often) depend on a battery, and they’re limited in terms of “expansion”. Expansion, quite literally, is room to “add stuff”, commonly referred to as “upgrading”. For this reason, I advise (when purchasing a notebook/laptop/tablet) differently than when buying a tower/”box”/”desktop” – buy the most machine you can afford. (that means, faster CPU, bigger “Gigabyte” numbers..)
Also, I advise buying the battery “upgrade”.

If you have to penny-pinch, reduce the RAM and/or go with a smaller hard drive… because these are the two components on a laptop that it is relatively easy to “upgrade” at a later date, when your finances have recovered. The other things – CPU, graphics, motherboard, sound, etc. — are not so easy to swap out/upgrade. In a Desktop PC (“tower”) there is practically nothing you cannot replace: in a laptop you’re kind of stuck, so buy as high up the scale as you can. Not just what you think you’ll need today, but buy for tomorrow as well. Because that’s the way the machine will be for its lifetime.I would look for an i3/i5/i7 CPU.

When deciding which model laptop, do not forget to compare battery life (these stats are published). Also, and I can’t stress this enough, do not buy a laptop that you haven’t typed on. Yes, you can make your purchase online or out of a catalogue, but go into a store and touch it first (sorry, all you Best Buy salespersons out there). Each keyboard and touchpad is different. Make sure you like the layout and “feel” of typing on the keyboard. There’s nothing worse (in laptop computing) than trying to work on a keyboard that just isn’t “you”–IMHO.

Considering a netbook? The portability of the compact netbook computers would certainly appeal to the student. For those who go this route, I would suggest the addition of an “external” hard drive (for more storage) as well as a DVD reader.

* Desktops: When considering which tower/desktop to buy, there’s basically three categories of machines; budget/student, workstation, and “performance”/gaming. Low, middle, and top-end. You can spend as little as $300 $250, or as much as $8,500. (Yes. $8,500. But, those systems are cool!) I have mentioned before that to do it right, you can get everything you want/need for $700 – $1,100 $399 – $899, and that even the budget machines have the “good stuff”.

My advice for what to look for in a desktop, is a little more flexible. First, decide roughly what you’d like to spend. If you really are in the $300 -500 $250-400 range, do not rule out “refurbished” machines. Factory rebuilt/refurbished machines are an excellent value. Any negative stigma they may have is largely unjustified.

Get the most RAM you can.I would not buy a PC today that had less than 4 GB’s.

If your machine is coming with Windows 7 (and most all of them are), you should look for 64-bit.

Go with a mid-to-high end CPU. The quad-core CPU’s from Intel are very good, and are my current preference. But you can save some dinero by choosing an AMD equipped machine. If it is in your budget, go quad-core.

Optical drives. Unless you really need a ‘high def’ burner and you want it right now, hold off on going for a “Blu Ray” burner just yet. Blu-Ray readers are available and should suffice. Two optical drives, while nice, is not a necessity. Do, however, make sure your “combo drive” can burn (”write”) to a dual-layer DVD.

Graphics. Most people do not need a $800 graphics card (only us hard-core gamers, and other boys-of-all-ages, do) nor do they need an “SLI” set up. However, whenever your budget allows, it is almost always better to have a “graphics card” than “onboard graphics”. Onboard graphics chipsets are built into the motherboard, and while they do a quite adequate job, they “share” your RAM … and by that I mean “steal” your RAM.
Please note, you can buy, and install a graphics card at any time..

Power Supply. Do not forget to check the Wattage of the machine’s power supply. Here is another area where more is definitely better. It constantly surprises me how many seemingly unrelated computer ‘glitches’ and quirks turn out to be caused by an inadequate or failing power supply. Shoot for one that’s rated in the neighborhood of 350W, unless you’re going for a more “loaded”, high-end performance machine — in which case 500W, or higher, is not unreasonable.

* Is space an issue? Consider a “small form factor” (aka “mini tower”) size. These smaller boxes fit on (or under) a desk much easier than a normal size. You can find some “bundled” with a 17″ LCD monitor.. perfect for the dorm.

Well, that should get you started. Buying a new PC should not be a stressful thing. It should be an enjoyable and rewarding experience. Just remember to test drive before you buy, and do a little comparison. It really doesn’t matter if you decide upon a no-name, a HP, a Sony, Dell, or whatever (see, Which is Better, HP or Dell? and/or Tech’s Most (and Least) Reliable Brands).

Today’s free download: For those of you lucky folks who will receive a brand new PC… Whenever you buy a new computer, it will come preloaded with all sorts of trialware (as it’s called) that most of us don’t want. If you have just purchased a new PC, download and run the wonderful PC Decrapifier and clean off that *stuff*.

Copyright 2007-2010 © “Tech Paul” (Paul Eckstrom). All Rights Reserved.


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December 15, 2010 Posted by | advice, computers, shopping for | , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Monday | Top Internet Security Suites | Countdown

Well here we are. Monday again. Today, some “miscellany”.

* A reader wrote and suggested that I start a “countdown to the Holidays” feature.. further suggesting that it go something like, “time to get the tree”; “mail 15 cards today”; and such.

While I welcome reader comments and questions and, yes, even suggestions.. I feel in no way obligated to honor each and every request that may come my way. (Some are outright whacky, as you may be able to imagine.)(Seriously, I do “answer my mail”.) Since I am not a huge fan of “countdowns”, and because I did not think of it myself, I am not going to do a “countdown to the Holidays” feature.
But I thank the writer (you know who you are) for their suggestion.

christmas_decorations-tips * There are a mere 18 days until Christmas arrives. Have you hung any decorations yet? Of all the ideas that come to mind about Christmas decorations for your front door, I particularly recommend the Christmas wreath. See, How to Make an Evergreen Wreath

* Loyal readers will have seen me write that the man I turn to for reliable, trustworthy reviews is Neil J. Rubenking (at PC Magazine). This has been true for .. well, as long as I can remember, really. And, Loyal readers will know that I am constantly urging computing safety and security.
Those two things come together, as Neil has just published his The Best Security Suites for 2011

“The security suites for 2011 are almost all available now, though as always a few companies march to a different schedule. If you need a suite today, read our roundup of 16 of the best (and worst) options, from Ad-Aware to Webroot.”

So, if you want to know how the various vendors stack up against each other, there is the place to look. IMHO.

If you are not interested in a “suite”, but simply want to know the best antivirus, he also has written The Best Antivirus Software for 2011

“We’ve reviewed 20 of the best (and worst) premium and free antivirus applications so that you can pick the right one for your needs—because, make no mistake: you need AV.”

I hope you all noticed the last six words of that?

* There are a mere 18 days until Christmas arrives, and we are smack-dab in the middle of the cyber-criminal’s favorite, and most active, time of year. It is the time to redouble your “paranoid common sense” and triple your vigilance for scams, e-mails links, making sure the payment portal is https://, etc.. Let’s all be safe out there!

Copyright 2007-2010 © “Tech Paul” (Paul Eckstrom). All Rights Reserved.


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December 6, 2010 Posted by | computers | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

A Parents Guide For Video Games

I came across a resource for parents that I think you should know about.. if your kids like to play video games, that is.

logo

Fellow tech blogger Jason, at 404techsupport.com, wrote an interesting review – which is how I came to learn of it (thanks, Jason!).

“If you’re a parent concerned about the video games that your kids are playing and would like some help making sure they’re playing appropriate games, be sure to check out the What They Play website.

What They Play is a site with the intent to make parents a little less clueless about the video games their kids are playing or are begging to play. Utilizing but going well beyond the ESRB ratings that you may already be familiar with, What They Play is a great resource for parents that explains without demeaning them.”

I not only agree with his statement, I think you will enjoy his whole article, so I am providing the direct link: What They Play – A Site Explaining Video Games to Parents.

I encourage parents to read it. And then click the link he provides and visit this website.I give them both two thumbs up!

Copyright 2007-2010 © “Tech Paul” (Paul Eckstrom). All Rights Reserved.


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November 5, 2010 Posted by | computers | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Best Antivirus For Netbooks?

Reader Asks My Reco On Antivirus For Their Netbook

Q: Hey TP. I want to say thanx for your website. I just baught my first netbook and I love it. It is windows 7 and is ASUS 1005PE. Can you tell me what antivirus I should get? Thanx.

A: Dear Sir or Ms.,
Congratulations on your new computer. One of the neat things about netbooks – I am frequently told – is how small and portable they are, yet they are big enough to do some “normal computing” on. That’s on the “plus” side.

But on the “minus” side is that this compact portability is achieved by using “modest” components — a “reduced horsepower”, if you will.

Netbooks are not powerhouses, and it pays to use software on them that has a “small footprint” (not demand too much CPU, RAM, etc.). And that is certainly a factor to consider when choosing an antivirus.

Were I to own a netbook, I would install either one of two titles, and!, both are free.
1) If I were to own an older, or really basic (aka “budget”) netbook I would use Panda’s Cloud Antivirus. Or..

2) On a reasonably equipped netbook, I would install Microsoft Security Essentials.
2a.) If Microsoft is not your thing, you might try Avast! 5.0.

I should say, though, that your ASUS has an Intel Atom N450, and very good specs for a netbook, so you could probably run most any Internet security product on it. My list of recommended antivirus products is here, and my Anti-spyware list is here.

PS — WinPatrol is also a great security program for netbooks, and!, I just happen to be having a license giveaway contest (nice segue, eh?) for it this week.


** A Chance To Win A Valuable Prize! **


You say you don’t know about Scotty and WinPatrol? I have recommended it here before, and I’ve used it for so long I can’t remember. I consider WinPatrol one of those essential programs to have around.

To enter my license giveaway drawing, please see: WinPatrol PLUS License Giveaway

Here’s another good review of WinPatrol: WinPatrol Revisited – Powerful HIPS with a Bite

Today’s recommended reading: The flipside: Five things Microsoft is doing right in 2010

Copyright 2007-2010 © “Tech Paul” (Paul Eckstrom). All Rights Reserved. jaanix post to jaanix.


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June 16, 2010 Posted by | advice, antivirus, computers, hardware, Internet, mobile, PC, Portable Computing, security, tech, Windows 7 | , , , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

Tech Paul’s One Piece of Advice

A Non-technical Reader Asks For Computer Advice

Q: Tech Paul, about a month ago I found your website by a accidental click of my mouse. Your article made me laugh, and I think I learned something too but I am a older person and computers are not very interesting to me.

I can do the basic things like answer my e-mail and hunt for good deals on the internet. I have Yahoo and my son installed a genealogy program for me which I really enjoy. Most of what you write about I find too complicated but I like your articles on scam email.

My question is what one piece of advice you would give for someone like me who is not very technical?

A: Dear Reader,
Thank you for sending me this challenging question. The question is a challenge to me not because I don’t have Tech advice to give.. but in trying to limit myself to just one answer! And, I’m not sure I can do it…

Hmmm….

Don’t be afraid of, or intimidated by, your computer (or gizmo, or digital doodad). That’s it: my one piece of advice. All else flows from there.

Simply understand that:
* Your computer is NOT “smarter” than you. In fact it’s quite dumb — it can only think in terms of “off” or “on”, “false” or “true” (a zero or a one), and you can do better than that!
* You cannot, typically, damage it so badly as to make it irreparable. Often (like, 90% of the time) all you need to do is power it off and then on again to resolve the problem (called a “reboot”). When that doesn’t work, you may need to look up an answer, or ask for help.. and/or maybe buy a new part, but you might be surprised at what you can fix yourself. (See My favorite Life Saver flavor? System Restore)
* Computers are there to obey YOU, not the other way around. You’re the one with a creative mind. Did you know that almost everything on your computer is customizable? Make things the way YOU want them.

Yes, Dear Reader, I do have a second piece of advice, which I offer up here free of charge: keep coming back and reading my Tips & Tricks articles, and when you see one you like, give it a try.
And who knows? Maybe I’ll make you laugh again too, and in this day and age that’s worth something, right?

Copyright 2007-9 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved. post to jaanix

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July 6, 2009 Posted by | advice, computers, tech | , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments