Tech – for Everyone

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

A New Wireless Router

Internet security made me decide to buy a new router...”

Folks, the very first article I published was, “The first Tech Paul Post: secure your web connection Increase the security of your Internet connection for less than $50“, which described the importance of using a router/WAP – especially in the era of ‘always on’ high-speed Internet connection – and provided the How To for enabling the protection features.. such as wireless encryption (WEP/WPA).

Linksys Wireless-G WAP

If that was the first thing I wrote about, I must have thought it was pretty important.

Well, guess what? I still do. (In fact, a router’s NAT may be the most important defense available.)

Since I wrote that article, in June of 2008, computers (and technology) have changed and progressed (at the exponential rate known as Moore’s Law) and routers and WAP’s (aka “wireless access points”) have as well. In 2008, “Wireless G” was the standard, which has a whopping 54 Mebabits-per-second “speed” (way more than my 3 Mbps Internet connection has). I have been using a Linksys WRT 54G, arguably the “most popular” router/WAP ever sold.

Today, 300 Mbps wireless is available to us with “Wireless N” hardware (aka “gear”)(way more than my 3 Mbps Internet connection has). Many offer “Gigabit LAN” (wired) ports as well. And, Wireless N has been on the store shelves long enough now that the prices for this new hardware are well within the range of the “average consumer”. But it wasn’t these facts which got me onto thinking it was time to upgrade my router. My Linksys was serving me well (and I am not trying to do any “media streaming”).

It was Internet SECURITY that made me decide to buy a new router

While chatting with a friend, it inadvertently came to my attention that an Enterprise Grade security feature was now being offered to us consumers (sometimes called “SOHO”), finally! (I had written letters to the manufacturers about this..) This feature was previously only available on “gateway appliances” costing thousands.

Have I got your attention?

What I am referring to is sometimes called (marketed as) “dual firewall”, “packet filtering”, and more precisely “SPI“. I won’t bore you with the Geek gibberish and technicalities (you can click the link if you are interested) but, short version: the router analyzes each ‘packet’ of your Internet ‘traffic’ to make sure it belongs, and the good ones do a basic antivirus scan of the ‘packets’ as well. That’s right: antivirus in your router. I want that. So I bought a new router. (Not all new routers have SPI/”dual firewall: you have to look for it.)

Dlink DIR-655

What I looked for: What I wanted in a new router (and, maybe, you do too) boiled down to 3 “factors”. Um.. four factors, actually.
* Gigabit Ethernet ports
* 300 Mbps version of Wireless-N
* Dual firewall/SPI
and…
* Under $100

What fit my bill best turned out to be the DIR – 655 from D-Link. It is an older model, and I found it priced at $70. (For those interested in a “virtual tour” of the DIR- 655, http://support.dlink.com/emulators/dir655/ss20/dir655_firewall.html.)

Unfortunately, I happened to get one of the devices which had a ‘bug’ and would not do a special, advanced ‘trick’ (port forwarding) which I needed for a special device I have. Most folks will not need port forwarding, but I did, so I returned the D-link. I could have tried a different DIR – 655, not all of them have that ‘bug’… and I really liked it, but I wanted to explore.

Netgear-WNR3500L

Next up was the WNR3500L from Netgear.

The Netgear was priced the same as the DIR-655, even though instead of 3 antennas, it had none.

Just kidding! The Netgear’s antennas are internal. Otherwise, the specs are much the same. I decided enough experimenting, and decided to stick with this make/model, and I did not put any special “firmware” on it, such as dd-wrt, though, as a Linux box, doing so is (supposed to be) simple.

I did not try the lesser known products – such as Billion. And.. if I had it all to do over again, I would probably be not so .. “thrifty”, and get a D-link DIR – 825, (about $130) as it has the additional feature of “true dual band” (that’s important when looking at dual bands.. most make you choose a bandwidth.)

Now I have Gigabit for my wired network, significant wireless range and speed improvements (and could “stream” Hi-Def video if I wanted to) and improved Internet safety for all the devices on my network.. for under $100.
Not bad!

Related articles:
* Protect Yourself With a Router
* How to secure your wireless network
* Protecting your network–use your router for access control (repost)
* How To Limit Your Roommate’s Bandwidth And Keep More For Yourself.
* Which Is Better, Ethernet Or Wireless?
* Gigabit Ethernet Didn’t Make Internet Faster
* Boost your wireless for 25¢

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


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February 1, 2011 Posted by | advice, gadgets, hardware, networking, routers, routers and WAPs, security, shopping for, tech | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Super Discounted Windows 7 – Limited Time

Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium Upgrade Family Pack (3-User) – $149.

Good news for you today, Dear Reader. Microsoft has officially re-introduced its Windows 7 Family Pack, a limited-time offer that drastically reduces the price of licenses for their latest operating system (OS). For less than $150, consumers can now own Windows 7 licenses for up to three computers.

Win7_3pakSave $180 from Original Price, 3-User License

Microsoft has yet again refused to state an end date to this round of Family Pack price reductions, meaning the early bird catches the worm. In fact, the company went only so far as to state that the Family Pack deal will be available “while supplies last.”

Important #1: The purpose of this offer is to encourage people to UPGRADE as decade-old Windows XP still counts for as much as 66 per cent of all Windows systems used online. Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium Family Pack allows users to install Windows 7 Home Premium on up to three PCs in a household that already has Windows Vista or Windows XP installed. If you’re not running Windows XP or Windows Vista, you’ll need to purchase the Full version of Windows 7.
(Microsoft has so much as spelled out, they cannot secure XP any longer, and are discontinuing support for it. I will be more direct and blunt: I would not connect an XP machine to the Internet unless it was a “virtual machine”, as the Evil Doers pwn XP. They’ve had years and years and years to find its weaknesses. The time to get off of 32-bit, and XP, has come. Just my 2¢.)

Important #2: If you are considering purchasing Windows 7 Upgrade, be sure to download and run the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor Tool on the machine BEFORE you install the OS. (Maybe.. before you buy..)

The Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor will scan to see if your PC is ready for Windows 7. It scans your hardware, devices, and installed programs for known compatibility issues, gives you guidance on how to resolve potential issues found, and recommends what to do before you upgrade.

And in case you’re wondering… my loyal readers can attest that I have nothing but positive reviews for Windows 7. I repeat my humble opinion for you now — Windows 7 is the Windows operating system Bill Gates has been promising us since he hired the Rolling Stones and launched Windows 95.
I waited a long time …

Okay, okay, okay.. to see (or buy) this limited time “family pack” offer, click here.

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


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November 4, 2010 Posted by | Microsoft, News, shopping for, software, tech, Windows 7 | , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Is It Time To Say Goodbye To Windows XP?

I am often asked by clients using XP if they should “upgrade” their machines to a newer OS.

Microsoft’s Windows XP was their most successful operating system to date and more than half the computers in the world are still using Windows XP. There are several reasons for that. (One big one is software “pirates” and “warez”. Another is businesses, gov’ts, and org’s don’t have the cushion in their budgets to upgrade.)

XP was released in 2001. It was the first consumer-oriented operating system produced by Microsoft to be built on the “business grade” Windows NT kernel — which was far less prone to random Blue Screens Of Death (BSOD’s) than the Windows 9x architecture was.

Windows XP has many loyal fans. I used (and liked) Windows XP right up to 2007, when I was able to get advanced copies of a new operating system, “codename Longhorn” — which became “Vista”. I still have a couple XP machines I occasionally use for testing purposes, but the keyword there is “occasionally”.

Windows XP was, after Service Pack 2, stable, rather fast, and most of the software (aka “programs”) ever written would run on it. It had/has the “modern” abilities we needed to really allow the Internet to blossom and grow. The point of my article today is not to “dis”, “knock”, or “put down” Windows XP in any way. It is/was a “complete OS”; versatile; capable; and, the world of computing (and the Internet) would not be what it is today without it. It was an important part of our tech evolution.

But that is my key point – evolution. (In tech.)

2001 may not seem like all that long ago to you. But in the arena of technology and computers (as stated by Moore’s Law), 2001 is either 4 1/2 “generations” ago, or 6 generations.. depending how you count. Let’s be conservative, and call it 4. In terms of hardware/software, Windows XP is a Great-grandpa. (Or.. a Great, great, great grandpa. Depending how you count.) In terms of Microsoft OSes; it has been ‘succeeded’ by Vista, Vista + SP1, Vista + SP2, and now Windows 7 (with SP1 for Win7 not long off).

Fact: Microsoft is ending support for Windows XP.
Phasing it out.
“Retiring” it.
Their most successful product.
(“.. turn out the lights .. the party’s over ..)

Support for Windows XP Service Pack 2 will be retired on July 13, 2010. Microsoft stopped general licensing of Windows XP to manufacturers and terminated retail sales of the operating system on June 30, 2008.

On April 14, 2009, Windows XP and its family of operating systems were moved from Mainstream Support to the Extended Support phase. During the Extended Support Phase, Microsoft will continue to provide security updates every month for Windows XP.

On April 8, 2014, all Windows XP support, including security updates and security-related hotfixes, will be terminated.

Is it time to say goodbye To Windows XP?
I am often asked by clients using XP if they should “upgrade” their machines to a newer OS, or buy a new computer altogether. What answer I give depends on several factors, but basically my decision boils down to the “generation” of their hardware, and whether or not they have any ‘mission-critical’ programs that are XP-only (i.e., DOS-based).

* Is your Hard Drive an IDE? When you plug in a USB device, do you get a message saying “This device can perform faster” and something about USB 2.0? Is your CPU (aka “processor”) a “single-core” (Pentium 4/Athlon 64 or older)? Do you have 1 GB (or less) of PC400 – PC800 RAM?
(You can see most of these things by looking at your System Properties. Right-click on “My Computer”, and selecting “Properties”. Then look at your HD’s Properties in Device Manager.)

If you answered “yes” to the above, my answer is to forget about upgrading to Vista or Win 7, and instead save your money for a new machine. Keep your machine XP until you can retire it. But be aware, XP is aged and vulnerable to cybercriminals: make sure you have proper defenses in place. Please see, Top 10 things you should do to your computer for the tools and How To’s for that.

However, if you answered mostly “no” to that checklist (in other words, you have a dual-core, more than 1.5 GB’s of RAM [and it’s DDR2]. and your USB busses are 2.0, and your HD is a SATA, well, then, you might want to consider upgrading to Windows 7. (Or at least, creating a “dual boot” setup. See, Video Tutorial — How To Dual Boot Win7.)
But it is very important that you download and run Microsoft’s Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor first. It will scan your machine and tell you if you have any incompatibilities, and save you a ton of headaches.

The critical reviews of Windows 7 are in, and they are over-whelmingly positive. A long time ago, I wrote A Tech’s First Impression of Windows 7 RC; my enthusiasm for Win 7 has not faded in the time since. I will repeat my “general opinion” of Win 7 –> it is the Windows that Bill Gates has promised us since way back when Windows 95 was released.

But! Short version, seriously consider a new machine over an upgrade. A new machine will be 64-bit, and have the current generation of hardware, and it will come with Windows 7 already set up and configured. A new machine will last you more years to come; while XP’s days are running out.


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


The folks at SYNCING.NET have generously donated six Professional Edition licenses to me, to award to my readers. SYNCING.NET is a Business Class program which enables users to sync their Microsoft Outlook data on multiple computers.
To enter the drawing, please see:
Software License Giveaway: SYNCING.NET
Enter my current giveaway and (possibly) win a license!

Today’s recommended reading:
* Google Admits Tracking WiFi Payloads
* Canada’s Super Spies “Discover” Cybercrime is a Threat

Today’s free download: Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor. Find out if your PC can run Windows 7.
To see if your PC is ready for Windows 7, download the free Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor. It scans your PC for potential issues with your hardware, devices, and installed programs, and recommends what to do before you upgrade.

Copyright 2007-2010 © Tech Paul. All Rights Reserved. jaanix post to jaanix.


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May 19, 2010 Posted by | advice, computers, tech, upgrading, Windows, Windows 7, XP | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Microsoft Office 2010 Technology Guarantee

Buy Office 2007 Today, Get Office 2010 Free

Today I received notice, via Amazon, that for a limited time Microsoft is offering a free upgrade deal. Purchase, install, and activate a qualifying Office 2007 product between March 5, 2010, Office 2010 logoand September 30, 2010, and you’ll be eligible to download Office 2010 at no additional cost. The Microsoft details page is here.

I noted, also, that Amazon’s price for Home and Student Edition is very competitive, and I was pleased to see that the option to have it on disc was free too. The Amazon page is here.

Some thoughts on Office 2007/2010:
I have been using “the new Office” since the beta of Office 2007, and am currently running the beta of 2010. I find the modest improvements in 2010 quite nice, but since I am not doing a lot of “online collaboration”, nor in a true business environment (no cubicle for me), I am not able to leverage all of its advanced features.

I have no trouble with the “new” Ribbon menu bars, and I love being able to preview, and then apply, formatting ‘dynamically’. But – and this is a pretty big ‘but’ here – longtime users of Office (97 – 2003) do not always find the transition to the new menus so… pleasant. Fortunately, Microsoft provides many aids for easing the transition to the newer way, such as the Office 2010 menu to ribbon reference workbooks. There is a learning curve going from Office 2003/older, yes.

Copyright 2007-2010 © Tech Paul. All Rights Reserved. jaanix post to jaanix.


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April 9, 2010 Posted by | advice, computers, Microsoft, MS Word, News, shopping for, software, tech, word processors | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

New Hardware In An Old Machine

Reader Asks About The New SATA Hard Drives

Q: Paul, I enjoy reading your articles. I have a question I hope you will clear up for me. A few years ago I had a computer assembled for me, and I have pretty much filled up its hard drive so I am shopping for a new one to add as a second drive. I read (not on your site) about the new SATA drives and how fast they are. I am wondering if the new versions will work in my computer and any advice you have for installing it. I took your advice and looked inside, and I have a Asus A7N8 motherboard. Thanx.

A: Dear Reader,a7n8
The quite new hard drive technology – called SATA III – is indeed quite fast, with a transfer rate of 6 Gbps.
And, yes, indeed your ASUS motherboard has SATA ports.
And, yes, adding a second hard drive is an easy and relatively inexpensive “upgrade” which will give you more storage room.

But (why, in life, does there always seem to be a “but”?) there are a couple of factors to consider. One, by “a few years” you really mean several years and you must remember Moore’s Law and that tech doesn’t age like you and I — your motherboard is several “generations” old (in reality a Great grandpa, or even a Great-great grandpa). It can only transfer (read and write) at the original SATA speed of 150 MBps.

Due to “backwards compatibility” you can install a SATA II, or even a SATA III drive, which will – indeed – give you more room for music/movies/games etc., but you will not gain any performance benefits (they will transfer at 150 MBps) unless you also upgrade your transfer path (aka your “port”) which is typically done by adding an “expansion card”.
(The method is the same as I describe here: Add Firewire 800 To Your PC– Fast Video Transfer).

I looked it up, and it seems that ASUS will be shipping the first such card any day now, and it will retail for around $30 (see Asus’ Awesome USB 3.0, SATA 6Gbps Card Now Shipping), and as a side benefit, the card has the new USB 3.0 ports as well.

So as I see it, it boils down to three options:
* Don’t worry about the “speed” and simply install an affordable second drive.
* Install a card and a SATA III drive.
* Think about a new PC… though, I know of no manufacturers shipping units with the new SATA III technology yet (Computer hardware technology really has come a long way since single-core CPU’s and 400 MHz DDR RAM).

Copyright 2007-2010 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.jaanix post to jaanix

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January 21, 2010 Posted by | computers, hardware, how to, PC, performance | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Upgrading Your CPU – Conclusion(s)

Replacing or Upgrading Your CPU

When my Windows 7 upgrade disc arrived in the mail last week, it triggered in me an urge to do a more extravagant hardware upgrade to the machine I intended to install Win 7 on. 180px-High_Performance_RAMThis urge resulted in me pulling out the OEM RAM and the E2200 dual core CPU and installing 8 GB’s of matched pairs of high performance DDR2 RAM and a Q9550 Core 2 Quad.

A fairly significant “performance upgrade”.
* See Windows 7 64-bit Adventures and Pt 1, Replacing or Upgrading Your CPU

In parts 2 and 3 (Replacing or Upgrading Your CPU – Pt 2 and Upgrading the CPU pt3 – Selecting A Processor) I described the process for determining which processors will ‘fit’ and function on your machine, and then how to look at benchmark scores for the different CPU models.
That brings us up to date.

Now that you know what CPU’s to look at (and which won’t fit) you can look at and compare prices and benchmarks to find the right CPU deal for you. In my real life example, I happened to find the Q9550 for well under $200, and I was satisfied with its rankings on CPU performance charts.. The deal you find, and CPU you prefer, may very well vary (there are better CPU’s than the Q9550).

CPU “Factors”

| # of cores | Speed | Wattage | Performance |

Three of these processor “factors” — # of cores, clock speed, and “performance” — will be reflected in the benchmark scores, so you don’t need to study and become an expert on each of those. The general rule of “more is better” (typically) applies here.

But when considering a CPU replacement/upgrade, you also want to look at the processor’s Watts.. and one other factor I’ll get to in a moment.

1) Look up the Watts on your old processor.
In my RL example, an E2200, which is rated at 65W.
2) Look at the Watts on the processor type you’re considering.
In my RL example, a Q9550, which is rated at 95W. (Also, try to find “recommended power supplies for”, and make a note of the most mentioned Wattage.)
3) Look at the Watts on your PSU (power supply unit).
Now it’s time for a little math — I know, yippee.

Continuing on with my RL example, we can see that my new processor draws 30W more power than the old one: further research shows that the most frequently mention recommended PSU Wattage is 500W: and when I plug my system’s components into the eXtreme Power Supply Calculator (and allow 20% for capacitor aging) I get a result of minimum = 315W (which seems low).

My power supply happened to be rated at 500W, and so I felt I could do the upgrade without also upgrading my power supply. But you may need to, and that is an additional expense that you should factor into your thinking and your budget. (See question #2 here, for the how to)

Another “factor” for consideration is heat (and therefore, cooling). My processor will produce more heat (higher Wattage, more cores..) than its predecessor did, and so I downloaded and installed SpeedFan to better help me keep an eye on the temperatures inside my case. Heat is the enemy of electronics, and letting your chips get too hot will kill them.
So you may need to protect your investment by upgrading the cooling in your computer case as well.. and that is an additional expense that you should factor into your thinking and your budget.

In conclusion:
So there you have it. It only took me 4 articles to describe all the most relevant considerations for a hardware upgrade, and if you do all those things, you should have a pretty good idea of your own personal “upgrade path”.

I was lucky: I did not have to upgrade my power supply, and it appears I won’t have to upgrade my cooling. My upgrade – 8 GB’s of matching RAM and a quad-core CPU – cost me right around $300. It could have easily been more.

So my upgrade to 64-bit Windows 7 and high performance components turned my machine into a real speed demon, right? Well…
Several of my “Windows Experience” scores went from 5.2 to 7.5; and yes, my computer is a bit quicker and more responsive. I like how it behaves.

But, I liked it with the E2200 and the 3 GB’s nearly as well.

Currently, very few programs and games are written to take advantage of 64-bit, multiple processors, and multi-“threading”. Also, I have yet to put any load on it that could use the extra RAM. So, simply put, there is really very little noticeable “speed” improvement in my day-to-day usage… though there is some. (Games perform with less hesitation, but to really bump my fps, a graphics card upgrade would have been the proper “upgrade path”.)

Short version: I do not regret my upgrade, but I would not do this again; as my original equipment’s 5.2 scores (under Win7) were quite satisfactory. The E2200 is a much better CPU than its “low end” reputation had me thinking, and 3GB’s of RAM is enough in most cases.
To improve the performance of my aging gamer computer, I have decided against a hardware upgrade: I will pool my money and replace it with a new machine with the new “i7” architecture.. and donate the old one to charity.

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

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November 7, 2009 Posted by | advice, computers, dual-core processors, hardware, how to, PC, performance, tech | , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Upgrading the CPU pt3 – Selecting A Processor

In the preceding articles in this series I described how receiving my copy of Windows 7 triggered in me the very geeky impulse to upgrade my machine’s hardware capabilities — to go along with my first (good) 64-bit OS. If you are new to this series of How To’s, please click the provided links and read the first two before reading further here.
1) Replacing or Upgrading Your CPU
2) Replacing or Upgrading Your CPU – Pt 2

In those articles, we established the three things we need to know before shopping for a processor (so that the CPU will fit and function), namely — Manufacturer/socket type/motherboard’s chipset. (The instructions for how to do that are in pt2.)

* In my RL case, that was: Intel/Socket 775/G33.
* In my hypothetical Pentium 4’s case, that was: Intel/Socket 775/915G

By consulting the chipset/CPU compatibility tables on the Intel website, we discover that the:
* G33 chipset can accommodate: pretty much any socket 775 processor.
* 915G chipset can accommodate: Pentium 4 (up to #672) and Celeron D (#351)
So that latter is a no go. I would reco forgetting an upgrade. Leave it as is and/or new machine is the way to go. So let’s keep going, but assume that we have a chipset more like the 33G — and we can choose from any of the Intel Socket 775 CPUs including the “Core” series duals and quads. OK?

Since I’m thinking quad-core, I see that there are more than a dozen “Core 2 Quads” to choose from (the Core 2 Extreme editions are too pricey for me) … and if I mix in “extreme” dual cores.. it’s a lot to pick from!

(AMD users will follow essentially the same steps but on the AMD website. AMD has a “wizard” to help you narrow down your search too, based on some answers you provide. Click here to see that. AMD has at least as many to choose from — Phenom vs Phenom II and X3 and X4 as well as different model #s.)

CPU “Factors”

| # of cores | Speed | Wattage | Performance |

There are a lot of CPU’s to choose from and it’s easy to get confused by all the specs. There are many websites that are dedicated to nothing but hardcore Geeks trying to squeeze the maximum performance from each and every component, and they have published many CPU comparisons (and tricks). Sometimes these Geeks call themselves “gamers”.. and they like the word “extreme” (a couple of clues for you, there).
There are also many reviews posted (sometimes.. conflicting).

sample_chrtI am going to save you some trouble. I am simply going to point you to two of my favorite sites which have CPU comparison charts which will look like the sample shown and tell you that the longer bars are better.

These are “standard” benchmark scores. (If you are thinking of overclocking, you can find benchmarks and scores for those too, but I don’t discuss OC-ing here. UltimateExtremeGamer.com is more the place for that.)

The two places I look for these scores are:
* Tom’s Hardware (in particular, the 3DMark Vantage 1.0.2 CPU)
* Passmark
I put Tom’s first because you really can “drill down” into CPU performance scores, as several different benchmarking tests are run, and videographers might decide on a different CPU than a gamer will (for example). Also, you can get a feel for pricing, and read reviews and recommendations there. Anyone considering an upgrade (of any kind) should make a stop at Tom’s.

Okay. That’s it for today. Go have fun looking at some charts. In Part 4 I will explain the “factors”, and how they will help you have a smooth installation of the CPU you decide to go with.

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

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November 6, 2009 Posted by | advice, computers, hardware, how to, PC, performance, tech, upgrading | , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments