Tech – for Everyone

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

Back To School Computer Shopping Guidelines

Some of you will be shopping for a computer for a student, 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-Mac 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” – 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 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 the latest ‘generation’. 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.

* Will your student be in a dorm? 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

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


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August 20, 2010 Posted by | advice, computers, shopping for | , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Tips For Choosing A Digital Camera*

General Advice for Purchasing a New Digital Camera

I understand perfectly why people seek advice when it comes to buying a digital camera. There are literally hundreds to choose from – an overwhelming variety – and when you start shopping, it’s easy to become confused by the jargon.

A “mega” pixel is better than an ordinary, everyday “pixel”.. right? (You bet it is. It contains more vitamins and minerals.)seasons greetings

A long, long, time ago I wrote a three-part advice series on buying a new computer, and today I am going to reiterate a bit of advice from there – when buying a digital camera, you have to hold it in your hands. The “right” camera for you will just, well, “feel right”. If you keep accidentally pushing a button, or put your thumb right on the viewer screen.. that’s not good.

Tip of the day: General advice for purchasing a new digital camera.

* Optical zoom is better than digital zoom. Make sure that the “zoom” feature of your camera is handled by a moving lens. Digital zooming is okay in very small amounts, but the way it works will cause funny-looking “pixilation” when really put to work.

* You want image stabilization. Image stabilization is in my opinion simply a “must have”; fortunately, almost every manufacturer provides it. I won’t spend time, here, describing the different types. If you’re curious, click the link.

* The Megapixel. Folks, there is a lot of confusion regarding the camera jargon word “megapixel”. A higher megapixel number does not necessarily equate with “sharper image” or “clearer picture“.. in fact, they usually have nothing to do with each other.

Megapixels refers to the image (data) size and determines how big an enlargement you can make before you start to experience distortions (think of it as being a bit like film sizes). If the largest prints you ever make are 5 x 7, a three-to-four Megapixel camera is all you need. A 10 Megapixel camera is overkill for the vast majority of uses, and it will simply fill your memory card faster, with fewer shots. (But, you could make poster-size prints.)

* LCD “viewfinder”. I think it is important to have a manual viewfinder, as well as the LCD screen.. but that is personal opinion. In terms of LCD, the factors to consider are brightness, placement, and size. It should be big enough that you can see what it is showing when you hold the camera away from your body, and, it should be positioned on the camera in such a way as to not cause you to hold your hand in a funny/odd way so that you can see it. The image should be bright enough to be seen when you are out in the sunlight.
(And I’d like to repeat, your camera should just feel right in your hand.)

* Don’t buy features you won’t use. If you are not a photography buff, and don’t want to memorize a 200-page owners manual, then you don’t want to buy a D-SLR; you want a “point-and-shoot”, and you don’t need 24 “settings” if you’re only going to use one. Right? Right.

Today’s free link: SUPERAntiSpyware Online Safe Scan, a powerful new tool in the fight against the latest and particularly difficult malware infections.

Today’s free download: NetSetMan is a network settings manager which can easily switch between 6 different profiles including IP address, subnet mask, default gateway, DNS server, Win server, computer name, printer, DNS domain, workgroup, and scripts. Great for mobile devices.

Orig Post: 5/12/08

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

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December 21, 2009 Posted by | advice, Digital camera, gadgets, hardware, shopping for, tech | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Online Shopping — Basic Security Tips*

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 cyber-criminals 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 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
  • 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 a 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 one of the primary method hackers use to infect your machines. (You visit a website that they’ve ‘poisoned’, and if you have an unpatched ‘hole’, 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 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, you will need to 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

Tip of the day: Beware of “rogue” anti-spyware programs (aka “scareware”). There is so much money to be made off of stealing corporate data, identities, and sending spam that the malware writers (hackers) have created spyware that claims to prevent spyware. You think you’re installing a spyware remover, but you’re not. You are actually installing their malware.
Some claim to give you an anti-spyware scan for free, and they “discover” a critical infection (again bogus) which, if you buy the “Professional” version, they’ll clean up for you. Please, Dear Reader, never fall for this.

There are, literally, hundreds of these  rogues, and they’re designed to appear as legit products in every way.They have websites, and “user reviews”, etc. The quality anti-spyware programs are well-known and are routinely rated and compared by reputable sources like PC World and PC Magazine and C/Net.
[Note: there is an excellent list of know rogue anti-spyware apps posted on Spyware Warrior.]

*** If a window pops open telling you some nasty-sounding trojan has “been detected on your machine” — do NOT click on any thing!

Instead, launch the Task Manager (Ctrl+Alt+Del) and “End task” all instances of your Web browser. ***

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

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December 11, 2009 Posted by | computers, Internet, security | , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

General Advice For Purchasing A Digital Camera*

I understand perfectly why people want some advice when it comes to buying a digital camera. There is a whole gaggle of them to choose from – an overwhelming variety – and when you start shopping, it’s easy to become confused by the jargon.

A “mega” pixel is better than an ordinary, everyday “pixel”.. right? (You bet it is. It contains more vitamins and minerals.)

A long, long, time ago I wrote a three-part advice series on buying a new computer, and today I am going to reiterate a bit of advice from there – when buying a digital camera, you have to hold it in your hands. The “right” camera for you will just, well, “feel right”. If you keep accidentally pushing a button, or put your thumb right on the viewer screen.. that’s not good.

Tip of the day: General advice for purchasing a new digital camera.

* Optical zoom is better than digital zoom. Make sure that the “zoom” feature of your camera is handled by a moving lens. Digital zooming is okay in very small amounts, but the way it works will cause funny-looking “pixilation” when really put to work.

* You want image stabilization. Image stabilization is in my opinion simply a “must have”; fortunately, almost every manufacturer provides it. I won’t spend time, here, describing the different types. If you’re curious, click the link.

* The Megapixel. Folks, there is a lot of confusion regarding the camera jargon word “megapixel”. A higher megapixel number does not necessarily equate with “sharper image” or “clearer picture“.. in fact, they usually have nothing to do with each other.

Megapixels refers to the image (data) size and determines how big an enlargement you can make before you start to experience distortions (think of it as being a bit like film sizes). If the largest prints you ever make are 5 x 7, a three-to-four Megapixel camera is all you need. A 10 Megapixel camera is overkill for the vast majority of uses, and it will simply fill your memory card faster, with fewer shots. (But, you could make poster-size prints.)

* LCD “viewfinder”. I think it is important to have a manual viewfinder, as well as the LCD screen.. but that is personal opinion. In terms of LCD, the factors to consider are brightness, placement, and size. It should be big enough that you can see what it is showing when you hold the camera away from your body, and, it should be positioned on the camera in such a way as to not cause you to hold your hand in a funny/odd way so that you can see it. The image should be bright enough to be seen when you are out in the sunlight.
(And I’d like to repeat, your camera should just feel right in your hand.)

* Don’t buy features you won’t use. If you are not a photography buff, and don’t want to memorize a 200-page owners manual, then you don’t want to buy a D-SLR; you want a “point-and-shoot”, and you don’t need 24 “settings” if you’re only going to use one. Right? Right.

Today’s free link: SUPERAntiSpyware Online Safe Scan, a powerful new tool in the fight against the latest and particularly difficult malware infections.

Today’s free download: NetSetMan is a network settings manager which can easily switch between 6 different profiles including IP address, subnet mask, default gateway, DNS server, Win server, computer name, printer, DNS domain, workgroup, and scripts. Great for mobile devices.

Orig Post: 5/12/08

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

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September 19, 2009 Posted by | advice, Digital camera, how to, shopping for, tech | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

New Laptop For School

Some Tips For Shopping For A New Notebook Computer

Recently, my duties included an unexpected shopping jaunt. I had been asked to purchase and set up a new PC and home network (a service I provide at Aplus Computer Aid). Inspired by that, and in light of the fact that for many it is Back To School time, I am reposting some pertinent snippets from an earlier article, Selecting A New PC

Tip(s) of the day: 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 desktop – buy the most machine you can afford.
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 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.

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.

Today’s free link: To help shop for a new PC, an excellent shopper’s resource can be found at the PC World magazine’s website. Click here.

Today’s free download: Windows Photo Gallery. Simplify the way you work with photos.  Windows Live Photo Gallery makes it easy to import, organize, edit, and share your digital memories.

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

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August 4, 2009 Posted by | advice, computers, how to, shopping for | , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

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 cyber-criminals 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 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
  • 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 a 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’, 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, you will need to 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

Further reading:
Computer Security – Time to Think About It

A Teen Texting Trend All Parents Should Be Aware Of

Copyright 2007-8 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved. post to jaanix

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December 20, 2008 Posted by | advice, browsers, computers, cyber crime, hackers, how to, Internet scam, News, PC, Phishing, phraud, security, shopping for, software, tech | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Tech Paul’s Top Lists List

In this, the retailer’s make-or-break shopping period, you have no doubt seen at least one shopping gift idea ‘guide’.. or ‘Top Gift’s For 2009’ list.
(I have already lost track of how many of these I’ve seen..)

And you’ve probably been reminded — at least once — that there is ONLY x SHOPPING DAYS ‘TILL CHRISTMAS.

So I won’t remind you how many days you have left, but I will simply be unable to prevent myself from showing you a list– my list of the best lists.

Tech Paul’s Top Lists List

This being a Tech site, it is only natural that my list of lists should include some distinctly tech-oriented lists.. lists with names like “Gift Ideas For The Gadget Freak” (note, if this really is somebody’s list title.. I apologize)

* PC Magazine’s Holiday Gift Guide is divided into categories, and starts with Desktop computers. The editors at PC Mag use several criteria for determining their top picks; including value, performance.. and the all-important “kewl factor”.

* Tom’s Guide has the Shopping Guide: Black Friday and Beyond : Getting Bang For Your Buck which is also divided into categories; TVs, Cameras & camcorders, Game consoles, peripherals, etc.

* For those on a budget (and, who isn’t?) RealSimple.com has some interesting ideas that might very well spark an idea for those hard-to-shop-for folks on your list (not exclusively X-mas-oriented ideas found here too).

* A site on my Blogroll, MyTechTalk, has posted some nifty gift ideas here, 8 Gift Ideas from Amazon – for any budget- for the Tech Lover on your List, and here Consider Online Gifts for the Web Surfer on your List.

* Sometimes, it is important to know what NOT to buy, and so I recommend a visit to the Consumer Product Safety Commission site, where you can check to make sure the item you’re considering is not on a recall list.

* Toms Hardware: actually, I don’t need to go much further than Tom’s.

  • Part 1: Tom’s Hardware—No Hassle Hardware Gifts, Good To Go
  • Part 2: Tom’s Guide—Top Kid Tech Gifts For 2008
  • Part 3: Tom’s Guide—Great Gifts For Tech Gurus
  • Part 4: Tom’s Hardware—Hardware For The System Builder In Your Life
  • Today’s free link: Rick Robinette over on WhatsOnMyPC.com has found and posted a geek video that may just replace White & Nerdy as the Geek Music Video. Click here and check it out.

    Copyright 2007-8 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved. post to jaanix

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    December 7, 2008 Posted by | advice, shopping for, tech | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments