HWiNFO tool Useful for PC upgrades

HWiNFO and HWiNFO32 are professional hardware information and diagnostic tools supporting latest components, industry technologies and standards. Both tools are designed to collect and present the maximum amount of information possible about computer's hardware which makes them suitable for users searching for driver updates, computer manufacturers, system integrators and technical experts as well. Retrieved information is presented in a logical and easily understandable form and can be exported into various types of reports. Currently, there is a Windows version (HWiNFO32) and a DOS version (HWiNFO).

I've used HWiNFO32 in the past couple of weeks to help out with some computer upgrades to include the recent attempt to upgrade my father-in-law's PC to Windows Vista. I recommend this tool if you want a quick way to determine exactly what is inside a PC or laptop.

Download the tool here: HWiNFO32

Microsoft Learning Snacks

Learning Snacks are short, interactive presentations about popular topics created by Microsoft Learning experts. Each Snack is delivered by using innovative Microsoft Silverlight technology and includes various media, such as animations and recorded demos. At the end of each free presentation, you can view more Snacks to learn more about the topic, or visit a related Web site.

Current topics:

Microsoft Silverlight
Windows Server 2008
Windows Vista

Learn more here: Learning Snacks

Vista Capable Logos are not Needed

Most of us have read the recent lawsuit articles relating to Microsoft's Vista Capable logo that was planted on basically every PC maker out there during the initial mass selling of Windows Vista. Infact, companies like Dell and HP were selling these PCs and laptops with a Vista Capable logo before Vista even hit stores basically stating this:

"The purchase you are making will allow you to install Windows Vista when ready and your PC will work fine".

Well, apparently, consumers feel they got scammed into purchasing PCs and laptops there were technically not Vista Capable even though the logo said it was. I would like to now squash this theory because whether or not the stupid logo is on the PC, it comes down to how bad a person wants Windows Vista. Anything is possible with the correct hardware.

Case in point......

My father-in-law has a 6 yr old PC, it is an HP Pavilion 551w. It came with Windows XP Home Edition installed and its been running perfectly fine for the last 6 years. Of course, he only uses it for the Internet and the occasional Word or Excel document but for him, its fine. To me....its extremely slow but that is only because I work with much faster PCs on a daily basis so my mind is accustomed to the faster speed. Anyway, I decided to see if it was possible to upgrade the PC to Windows Vista. The PC originally had only 128MB of RAM but that was upgraded to 512MB a couple of years ago. (I can not even remember when a PC that I supported only had 128MB of
RAM). From experience with Vista, I realized that before I even attempted the upgrade, I would need to at least bump up the RAM to 1GB. So I did. The 2nd thing I decided to do was install a better graphics card. I hate using the on-board video so I installed an Nvidia GF400 64MB card (it was free) in the free AGP slot.

The hard drive was the next thing that needed to be upgraded. The PC came with a 40GB drive but at some point during the past 6 years, the PC crashed and someone (who shall remain nameless) decided to try and help fix the problem. So after formatting the PC, he partitioned the hard drive in 2...another no-no in my book. I never partition hard drives, because you will eventually run out of space on the partition with the OS, it always seems to happen. I received a 40GB drive by donation and decided that I will just use it to install Windows Vista and then install the original drive as a backup and migrate all of his personal data to the new drive.

Quick recap:
Upgraded RAM to 1Gb from 512MB.
Installed a 64MB AGP video card
Installed a used formatted 40GB hard drive for the OS installation.

(by the way, so far, this has only cost us $40 which was for the purchase of the 1GB PC3200 DDR module)

I was now ready to upgrade to Vista....and just to be funny, I decided to upgrade to Windows Vista Ultimate just because I could. Here is where I ran into a snag. If you don't already know, to install Windows Vista, you now need a DVD drive since the OS is so large, the install no longer fits on 1 CD. I think that the size of the original ISO files are at least 2 or 3GB. Upon inserting the Windows Vista install DVD, nothing happened. So I rebooted the PC anyway because I need to do the install from booting to the DVD anyway. Again, nothing happened! The DVD drive was running but the DVD was not being recognized.

To speed this long article up, there were 2 problems:

1) The HP Pavilion 551w desktop is so old that it does not allow booting from a DVD (and yes, there is no BIOS update to allow this, I already checked)

2) The actual DVD drive was not accepting any DVDs. I could not even play a DVD movie from the original hard drive which I used as a test to checkout the drive. CDs work fine, burning CDs worked OK, but for some reason, it did not like any DVD. (for the record, this drive was an HP DVD writer 740b)

After spending another $60 to purchase a new DVD-RAM drive, I was able to install Vista but since the PC does not allow us to boot from it, I had to first install Windows XP and then do an upgrade to Windows Vista Ultimate. Everything was recognized after the install completed, including the video card drivers!

Total Cost to make PC Vista Capable: $100

Conclusion: Vista Capable logos are not necessary! If you can not afford to purchase a new PC with Windows Vista, just attempt to upgrade your PC as much as possible so that Vista will install for you. You will probably save money by doing so.

Testing Windows 7

Today, I installed the pre-release copy of Microsoft Windows 7. Instead of totally screwing up my own PC, I decided to attempt the install on a Microsoft Virtual PC lab. By the way, this is what Virtual PC is supposed to be used for.....testing beta software. At least that is what I use it for.

A couple of things to know if you decide to try out Windows 7:

1) You must already have a copy of Windows Vista SP1 installed in order to upgrade to the pre-release version of Windows 7.

2) If you have an actual DVD in ISO format, that would be best. But for those of you who "obtained" a copy like I did....with a setup file and the rest of the files just in folders on the DVD. I had to copy the entire contents of the DVD to the desktop first and then run setup.exe from there.

3) Supposedly, you will need the Windows Vista RC1 key or Vista beta key from last year if you wish to activate Windows 7. I personally do not care to do this, I just wanted to see how it works and how it looks. There are ways around activation....but I do not recommend doing it since its against Microsoft TOS.

After the installation was finished....Windows 7 looks almost exactly like Windows Vista. It did seem to load faster than Vista but I was running it on Virtual PC which makes all versions of operating systems faster. I will follow up with another post about Windows 7 and its features sometime this week.

Read more about Windows 7 here: Windows 7 news

Windows on a Cloud

Microsoft has unveiled Windows Azure - its new cloud computing operating system, writes Barry Collins in Los Angeles.

The company claims Azure will allow anyone from hobbyists to enterprises to write and host applications on the software giant's data centres.

"We've been working for some years now on a platform for computing in the cloud," said chief software architect, Ray Ozzie, announcing Windows Azure. "We're setting the stage for the next 50 years of systems."

read the rest of the article: Cloud Computing

Work from Home | A Solution to high Gas Prices

Could I work from home?

I probably could....but how many days in a row that would work is a different story. Eventually, I would need to come in to work to fix a PC problem that I was unable to fix remotely. All one needs to work from home is a PC with a highspeed internet connection and a work PC with remote desktop enabled. Both PCs could be Windows XP or Windows Vista or a combination of the two. And since I have my work PC setup with SMS 2003, I remotely connect to our clients PCs anyway to fix an issue for them instead of going to their office. I probably can do this about 95% of the time with success. So I figured, why not just do it from home and not even commute to the office? I am going to inquire about "testing" this scenario out but I have a feeling that my boss will not go for it.

Oh well, a guy can dream right? If you could work from home would you? How would you do it?

Benefits of Microsoft Virtual PC

I have another "testimony" of using Microsoft Virtual PC. A few months ago, I wrote about one reason to use a Virtual PC on your desktop/laptop. Well, just recently, one of our network administrators purchased a fiber optic cable inspector. Besides installing the drivers for the cable inspector on to Windows XP, he also needed software to be able to view inside the cable. Well, he found out that the old application called Imaging for Windows that worked with this type of cable inspector on Windows 95/98/2000 did NOT work on Windows XP. Why, you say? The answer is the company that created the Imaging for Windows software did not include their software with Windows XP for free. You would need to dish out about $200 for a license. At the time, he said he could not find another free application to use and our department was not going to spend money on something that is not used too often.

So I suggested that we install Microsoft's Virtual PC 2007 on his laptop, setup a virtual machine with Windows 2000 and then he could use the cable inspector. Without delay, he told me to go ahead. About an hour later, he had his Windows XP laptop with a virtual copy of Windows 2000! I really do love this application! It definitely can save a business or even a home user some money if you know what you are doing.

How have you used Virtual PC, or any other Virtual Machine applications?

Benefits of a custom-built PC

Computer manufacturers such as Dell, HP, IBM, etc, have come a long way in providing consumers with a number of options in building a custom computer system. These computers can be quite good for the typical user but if you really want a system that you can use for years after you buy it then you really need to consider a custom-built PC.

Most manufacturers use proprietary hardware with their PCs and this can make it extremely difficult to upgrade your PC as the various components become obsolete or are not compatible. Examples include the CPUs, RAM, network adapter, sound and video adapters. While some of these components can be upgraded after the initial purchase, you will often find that you are very limited with what you are able to upgrade.

Building your own PC allows you the most flexibility and when you look at the quality of the components used in the system, the cost is often less than buying a pre-built system of the same specifications. Another advantage of a custom-built PC is that you can start with a very basic system with a low end CPU combined with maybe a mid-range system board and minimal memory. You may also want to just start out with a generic sound card and video card or you could purchase a system board that has on board sound and video (not recommended unless you are totally broke or short on cash at the time of purchase). You can always upgrade to a better sound & video card later. You will want to do this if you decide to play some graphic intensive games on your PC.

Now you have a basic custom-built PC. When you have some more money, you can then install more RAM which is one of the best ways to enhance PC performance. Eventually, you may decide to upgrade your CPU and you may be able to do this once or twice depending on how much you are willing to spend. Best practice is to just upgrade the CPU to the best one that the system board will support. A custom PC like this would probably last you 1-2 yrs before it "feels" like its outdated. So, instead of going out and buying a whole new PC, you would only need to at most swap out the system board and processor. You can still use the same sound card, video card, computer case, RAM, CD/DVD drive, hard drive and of course keyboard/mouse. The only thing you will have to do though is probably reinstall your operating system and applications. The reason for this is that the current setup may or may not support the changing out of a system board which can cause the OS (either Windows XP or Windows Vista) to crash. Best practice, is to back up all important data to a CD/DVD, and then swap out the system board and reinstall your OS. Once that is back up and running, you can then restore your data.

Do you have a custom-built PC? What are your thoughts about them?

Hard Drive dead? Don't just trash it...

Destroy it!

Just because a dead hard drive will no longer boot an OS or the computer BIOS says its DOA, that does not mean the data is. There are utilities out there that will destroy hard drives (also called writing 1s & 0s to the disk). There are military standard DOD wipe programs as well.
And then there is the Verity Systems VS7000 manual hard drive destroyer which crushes the hard drive with the turn of a handle. The destroyer warps the hard drive platter so any data on it can never be read again. I've never seen anything like this!

Check out the other ways to destroy hard drive data

Vista slow? Download this free performance E-book

Microsoft recently released a free e-book called Windows Vista Performance and Tuning. I just downloaded the 14 page e-book and it is definitely something that all Windows Vista users can benefit from reading it. Microsoft claims that Windows Vista along with the recent release of SP1 provide major advancements in usability, reliability, connectivity and security.

The following areas are covered in this e-book:

1) Improve PC responsiveness
2) Improve speed by using external hardware
3) Improve PC start-up time
4) Improve PC performance
5) Maintain & Monitor PC performance to help stop small issues from becoming big ones.

The article focuses on performance improvements for a single computer but there is a section that includes ways to use tools for enterprise environments as well. Right from the start, it mentions having at least 2GB of RAM for PCs that use Windows Vista. I wrote an
earlier post about RAM and how Windows Vista would barely boot-up with less than 1GB of RAM. You can never have too much RAM installed in your PC.

That is the summary of the free e-book titled Windows Vista Performance and Tuning which you can download here:
E-book download

How to convert VHD to XVA

Today I've been playing around with a Citrix XenServer and my Microsoft Virtual PC environment. I just learned about XenServer last week at a CDWG sponsored event. Basically, it just a Virtual Machine (VM) environment that can be used as server to host VM desktops or servers or both. I already had a Virtual PC lab I was testing with 3 Windows XP VMs. So I decided to see if I could successfully move one of the VMs to the XenServer. After scratching my head for a few seconds, I realized that there is going to have to be some type of conversion process because the file formats are not the same.

Virtual PC hard disks are called .VHD
XenServer VMs are called .XVA

Here is a log of what I did to get the VHD converted: (by the way, this took all day for me to learn from scratch)

C:\converter>v2xva /verbose:loud /config:"c:\documents and settings\cha13299\doc
uments\my virtual machines\new virtual machine\Windows XP SP2.vmc" /output:"c:\t
emp\new virtual machine"

Virtual Disk Migration Utility Version 1.2: A V2V tool to convert VMware
and Microsoft Virtual Server/Virtual PC virtual machines (with Microsoft
Windows VMs installed) to the Xen Virtual Appliance (XVA) format.

[XVA] Parsing configuration file c:\documents and settings\cha13299\documents\my
virtual machines\new virtual machine\Windows XP SP2.vmc:
[XVA] Path for config file = c:\documents and settings\cha13299\documents\my vir
tual machines\new virtual machine\
[XVA] Parsing wide character MSVS configuration file
[XVA] Amount of RAM in configuration file = 512
[XVA] Getting information for disk 0
[XVA] Disk file name = C:\Users\cha13299\Documents\My Virtual Machines\New Vir
tual Machine\New Virtual Machine Hard Disk.vhd
[XVA] Number of vCPUs in configuration file = 2
[XVA] Display name for MSVS VM being used is Windows XP SP2
[XVA] Information extracted from config file c:\documents and settings\cha13299\
documents\my virtual machines\new virtual machine\Windows XP SP2.vmc
[XVA] Number of vCPUs - 2
[XVA] RAM size - 512
[XVA] Display name - Windows XP SP2
[XVA] Number of virtual disks - 1
[XVA] Disk 0 - C:\Users\cha13299\Documents\My Virtual Machines\New Vir
tual Machine\New Virtual Machine Hard Disk.vhd

Convert VHD virtual disk image to XVA...
Total disks to convert: 1

Converting Disk 0...
[XVA] Reading VHD file C:\Users\cha13299\Documents\My Virtual Machines\New Virtu
al Machine\New Virtual Machine Hard Disk.vhd
[XVA] Found VHD footer at begining of file
[XVA] VHD Footer Summary:
[XVA] -------------------
[XVA] Features : (0x00000002)

[XVA] File format version : Major: 1, Minor: 0
[XVA] Data offset : 512
[XVA] Creator Application : 'vpc '
[XVA] Creator version : Major: 5, Minor: 3
[XVA] Creator OS : Windows
[XVA] Original disk size : 65536 MB (68719476736 Bytes)
[XVA] Current disk size : 65536 MB (68719476736 Bytes)
[XVA] Geometry : Cyl: 32896, Hds: 0, Sctrs: 16
: = 65535 MB (68718428160 Bytes)
[XVA] Disk type : Dynamic hard disk
[XVA] Checksum : 0xffffee4d|0xffffee4d (Good!)
[XVA] Saved state : No
[XVA] Read header for VHD file
[XVA] VHD Header Summary:
[XVA] -------------------
[XVA] Data offset (unusd) : -1
[XVA] Table offset : 1536
[XVA] Header version : 0x00010000
[XVA] Max BAT size : 32768
[XVA] Block size : 0x200000 (2MB)
[XVA] Checksum : 0xfffff3f7|0xfffff3f7 (Good!)
[XVA] Read BAT for VHD
[XVA] Block size = 2097152
[XVA] Capacity = 68719476736
[XVA] Writing to directory c:\temp\new virtual machine\hda
[XVA] Writing chunk c:\temp\new virtual machine\hda\chunk-000000000.gz
[XVA] Writing chunk c:\temp\new virtual machine\hda\chunk-000000001.gz
[XVA] Writing chunk c:\temp\new virtual machine\hda\chunk-000000068.gz
[XVA] Write out ova.xml

[XVA] Write out XVA configration file c:\temp\new virtual machine\ova.xml
[XVA] Wrote display name to ova.xml - Windows XP SP2
[XVA] Wrote memory as 536870912 and number of vcpus as 2 to ova.xml
[XVA] Wrote VDI vdi_hda size as 68719476736 to ova.xml

There were 68 .gz chunks in total but I deleted few so the post would not be so long)

The whole conversion process took about 30 minutes for a VHD that was about 28GB in size. The next step was to import the new .XVA into the XenServer and see if it boots up as a Windows XP Virtual Machine.

At the time of this post, the import is about 50% complete. I will write again after its finished.

Which Virtual PC/Server software do you use?

EOC Activation, Is Your IT Department Ready?

As some of you may know, there is a tropical storm/hurricane on its way to Florida. I am one of the chosen IT support guys to be available after the storm is over. In our Emergency Operations Center, I will be supporting all of the PCs/laptops making sure they continue to run as expected when our EOC goes to Level 1 activation 12pm on Tuesday. There are close to 60 PCs inside the EOC and most likely, all of the will be used at one time or another over the next 48 hrs. I've been through this 2 times in the past, once during Hurricane Charley and I forgot the other storm but Charley was definitely the biggest. During the storm, the EOC lost power but we did run on generator for about 2 days. There really was no issues with the PCs (our IT office is awesome and all of the IT techs do a great job "running" the place). I basically got paid to sit there and do nothing. I guess its ok, FEMA paid the bill. Anyway, just wanted to write a quick post about IT departments during a storm. We definitely do whatever we can to keep critical operations running just as smooth as if there were no storm.

Unable to Complete Genuine Windows Validation

Ok....time to give credit where it is due. Miekiemoes helped me finish getting my friend's laptop back to normal tonight. If you read her post about the VIRUS ALERT! next to your system clock, you will discover exactly how fix this issue...I mean exactly....no joke....seriously. This post is so detailed that I actually made a joke in my comment to her asking if she created the virus! I worked on this laptop for 4 hours last night where at least I was successful in removing the virus categorized as Trojan horse agent.zak from his AVG scan. But the Trojan does some very strange things as Miekiemoes touches upon:

1) After pressing the start menu, most of your normal options are gone (like control panel, my documents, log off, etc). Apparently, the Trojan disables these items in an attempt to stop you from being able to remove the Trojan.

2)It also disables the registry (regedit.exe). Fixing spyware/virus laden computer in the past, getting into the registry is a MUST. I was shocked when I got a message saying "Your administrator has disabled registry access". Uh, hello, I was logged on as the Administrator!

3) Adds VIRUS ALERT! after the clock down in the system tray. Also in the Computer Properties area.

4)But the most annoying issue is the fact that the Trojan actually manages to delete your Windows Product ID. This then causes Microsoft to determine that your PC now has an illegal copy of Windows XP!!! Incredible! I've never seen a virus/spyware do something like this before!

As stated above.....I fixed everything based on the instructions listed here in Miekiemoes blog. If this ever happens to you, be sure to check her blog first.

IE7 slow to open

I finally figured out why IE7 has been opening slow for the past few weeks. At first, I blamed it on the fact that I have a totally wireless connection now on my desktop due to my current living situation. But that was not the problem. Then I decided to search Google for answers to IE7 slowness and I discovered some discussions but none related to me. So, I decided to add another hard drive to my PC with Vista preloaded on it to see if IE7 was still slow. And of course, it opened within 2 seconds (unlike the 17 second delay I had been experiencing).

side note: Firefox was slow as well.

The only difference besides the fact that this was a bare bones Windows Vista setup is that I did not have an Anti-virus program installed yet. Up until now, I had been using Computer Associates Internet Suite (free from Brighthouse). I had a stripped down version of only the Virus protection since Windows Defender is enabled by default on Vista. I decided to install the free version of AVG for Virus protection. Guess what....IE7 still opened within 2 seconds!

I guess I must have never noticed the slowdown or it just started. Maybe from the latest updates from Computer Associates. Anyway....AVG is now my virus protection software of choice for Windows Vista.

HP Certified Professional

Being an HP Certified Professional has its advantages. Sometimes we have to replace parts for desktop PCs and laptops. If you read my post a few months ago relating to a Toshiba tablet repair, you''l know that I was happy for repair shops. But in this case, our outside vendor (which will remain anonymous because they really are awesome...except for the prices) wanted $850 for the repair job of replacing a system board for an HP NC6230 laptop. I'm getting pretty good at these replacements so I decided to see if I could find the part online for a cheaper price. Upgradebay.com had the replacement board for only $354. Granted, it is refurbished, but I am Ok with that because if its not so a working board Upgradebay has a 30 day warranty for returns.

4 Hours later....I was done! Yeah, this has been the hardest replacement I've done to date....but I saved the client about $500.

Oh yeah.....the problem was with the PCMCIA slot, some pins were bent due to someone trying to jam a Sierra Wireless Sprint card into it.

Product Review: XP Repair Pro

Today's post is related to a product that I came across while troubleshooting my own PC. I usually do not use registry repair tools because I would rather go into the registry myself and attempt to fix the issue. But the majority of my readers probably would rather use a trusted software tool to handle these types of issues.

I recommend using XP Repair Pro for the following reasons:

1) XP Repair Pro has had over 2.71 million downloads in less than three years, and has quickly become one of the most popular system utilities on the market today.

2) It has no spyware, adware or viruses. (You would be surprised about this fact, there are products out there that claim to help you get rid of problems but only create more)

3) It fully supports Windows Vista, Windows XP and Office 2007

You can more information about this product Here

Programs with .exe file extension do not open

Recently, one of our work PCs was unable to execute any program ending in .exe. This can be very frustrating and immediately the client thought that the PC was infected with a virus. While this can happen, in this case, the program responsible for virus protection actually failed.

During the day, our office was in the middle of receiving some SMS packages related to the new Symantec EndPoint Protection. While 99% of the PCs were upgraded successfully, the PC in question failed to upgrade properly.

This then caused no application ending in .exe to open. I have never experienced this before! I was about to re-image the PC but that is the easy way out. If anyone knows me, I will troubleshoot an issue for hours if I have to. (In my opinion, that is the best way to learn).

So began my troubleshooting of this .exe issue. First, I was shocked that I could not even get to the Internet, but then I thought, oh yeah, Internet Explorer is an application so of course it will not open either! I went to another computer and began searching online for solutions. I found a website that already had the answer to my problem: exefix_xp.com

All I had to do was download this file and it fixed the registry entries for the .exe file association automatically.

Disclaimer: Do this at your own risk, even though its done automatically, your PC could crash and become unbootable. If you are able to, back up all important data before continuing.

You can find more information about this on Winhelponline.com

PC vs Mac: The Fight is On!

As most of you know, I am a big fan of Microsoft products. This includes Windows Vista and Virtual PC. Now granted, I do not know too much about Apple and its Macs but I am learning. (Watch for a future post on how I got a Mac on a Windows domain). Seeing these "I'm a PC, I'm a Mac" commercials, you think that Microsoft would retaliate with ads of their own......well, the wait is over!

Check out this article on Channel Web. From what I've read, Windows Vista is clearly better than any OS Microsoft has designed so far. Not to mention more secure. Think about it, when Window XP first came out, everyone complained about it as well. I'd really like to see someone that knows nothing about Windows XP start using Vista and see if they don't love it. It all depends on what one is familiar with. People hate change....but most of the time, change is needed.

In my opinion, Windows Vista is just what we need to have a better PC experience. But, I do give credit to my graphic design friends out there, so stick with your Mac! What are your thoughts?

Error Code 0x80072F8F Windows Update

The other day, a client of mine had a Windows XP machine that could not get its Windows Updates from Microsoft. The following error appeared:

Error Code 0x80072F8F

Not sure how it happens but apparently, the date and time on the PC is so different from the Windows Update site that the error appears.

The solution is quite simple and is listed on Microsoft's website. Apparently, this must be a normal issue if there is an entire support page for it. It even happens on Windows Vista.

I will be posting more of these type of problems/solutions in the next few days. It has been a busy few days at work and there have been lots of issues that I have not seen before.

Stay tuned for some more Windows XP troubleshooting tips.

Shell32.DLL error in Windows XP

Yesterday, I came across a PC at work that had a faulting application error related to shell32.dll. This happened while the person was using the Windows XP Search Companion to search for a file. About half way through the search, the following error appeared:

Faulting application explorer.exe, version 6.0.2900.3156, faulting module shell32.dll, version 6.0.2900.3241, fault address 0x00103537.

I've looked through some Google searches and really can not find an answer to my problem so I guess its time to reimage the PC. The PC has only been running for about 3 weeks anyway but just not sure what caused this problem.

I've tried all of the so called "Registry fix" programs out there including Regcure but nothing worked. I am assuming something got corrupt and sometimes reimaging a PC is much quicker than attempting to pull out our hair trying to solve an issue that seems to be unsolvable. I've even tested for possible spyware. I've also tried upgrading the PC to Windows XP SP3 but the error still appears while searching.

If anyone has an answer....please comment below.

Free Image Editor for Windows Vista

Many Windows users complain that unlike its Linux and Mac competitors, Vista doesn't have a very good "out of the box" image editor. Paint has been around for many years, with only small improvements. Windows Photo Gallery lets you do some basic image editing (adjusting brightness and color saturation, cropping, etc.) but it's pretty limited. Neither supports layers, lets you sharpen photos or contains much in the way of special effects. Sure, you can get PhotoShop or Paint Shop Pro but that will cost you from one to several hundred dollars. If you need more than you get with the built-in tools but not the complexity and sophistication of the expensive commercial ones, check out getPaint.net, a free image editor that works great on Vista.

You can read about it here: http://www.getpaint.net/index.html

Symantec Endpoint causes BSOD in XP/Vista

Apparently, the new Symantec product called Symantec Endpoint Protection may cause Blue screen errors in both Windows XP and Vista. Our Windows department at work recently begin upgrading individual workstations to this new version and Blue screen errors began almost immediately. Here is an example of the error message some of our PCs are getting:

Faulting application Smc.exe, version 11.x.x.x time stamp XXXXXX, faulting module ntdll.dll, version 6.0.6000.16386, timestamp XXXXXXX, exception code 0xc0000005, fault offset 0x00061635, process id 0x694, application start time XXXXXXXXX

Basically, the solution is to turn off some of the protection included in the software package....if you ask me, what's the point? If its going to cause errors, why even release the software.

Just another case of a vendor not testing software 100% before releasing it. Don't get me wrong, I am a big fan of PC security, but if a product does not do what it should, don't release it until fully tested.

Symantec support is available here

Compare Plans: Road Runner High Speed Online

Recently, I found out that Road Runner High Speed Online from Bright House Networks has more than one service plan for their customers to sign up for. I have been using RR for the past 5 yrs and all this time, I've been paying $44.95 per month. Now while I love my high speed connection, $44.95 a month was starting to seem a little bit silly. (I do have the option to use my work laptop with a sprint card for free while at home). So I decided to call Bright House to see if they offered any cheaper options for high speed connections.

Sure enough, they do.....and after comparing plans, I decided to go with Road Runner Lite for $29.95 per month. Actually, I am not sure if this is a special or not, but the Sales Rep informed me that for the first 6 months, I would only be paying $19.95, then the normal $29.95 per month price would kick in. She also informed me that I would not even notice a difference in speed. Well, she was right...and it makes me so mad that I've paid almost double the price for the past 5 yrs.

Anyway, if you are looking to lower your High Speed Online cost per month, Road Runner Lite is a great option.

MemoryDeal.net assures quality RAM upgrades.

Today during my usual search of product pricing, I came across a website that deals with PC memory upgrades. I've been searching for some new RAM for my PC at home and since its important to make sure you purchase the correct RAM that matches what is already installed, I figured I would search online for a website that will have compatible RAM for my Dell E521 desktop.

I already discussed earlier the benefits of adding RAM to your PC so I figured I would take my own advice. I have Windows Vista and although my PC came with 2GB of RAM, I decided to upgrade to 3GB for now since that is all I can afford at the moment. Upon looking at the PC3200 DDR400 SDRAM Upgrade prices at Memory Deal, it looks as though I found the correct RAM module for my PC. I will have to go with two 512MB 184-PIN PC3200 modules. For $19.88 each, that is an awesome price!

Memory Deal also does a great job of explaining about every type of RAM available. Whether its Apple Memory & MAC RAM, or if you are looking to do a 2GB Memory Upgrade, they explain it all! I love this website and it will now be the first website I check for PC memory prices.

Check them out today: Memorydeal.net

svchost.exe 99% CPU usage

I did not think I would have the same issues with Windows Vista. But apparently, I am...

There are tons of searches for
svchost.exe 99% CPU usage in Google and most are related to Windows XP. But not too many, if any at all are related to Vista. Well, maybe I am the first person to come across this issue so I am posting about it. I submitted a comment to the Windows Vista Blog this morning related to my issue. All of the searching I have done has come up with 2 yr old issues that were related to XP and not Vista.

For now, I've disabled Windows Updates because this seems to be the problem. Svchost.exe is a Windows process that is used multiple times within the Operating System. Its not possible to completely disable svchost but there are ways to disable certain services that use it.

Stay tuned for any updates. I know I am not the only person with this issue.

Is my hard drive going bad?

A PC hard drive is probably one of the most important parts of a computer. Basically, it is responsible for the physical storage of information which it does by way of magnetic disks. Here are 3 ways hard drives fail:

1) Normal wear and tear are possible due to the moving parts needed to retrieve the data on the hard drive. Data is constantly being transferred to and from locations so eventually, disk parts are bound to die.

2) Power surges among other electrical related issues can cause a hard drive to fail.

3) Logical disk errors such as software corruption, unexpected OS failures or computer viruses. This could also include the accidental formatting of a drive or deleting files without a current backup.

Usually, physical drive errors can not be fixed at home and will probably require a disk recovery utility from some well known company that specializes in data recovery. Hard drive recovery is possible because the data continues to exist on the hard disk even after it is deleted. Unless data is overwritten in the same sector, the data will continue to exist even if the operating system does not show it.

As for logical drive errors, data can be copied to an external disk, then the affected drive can be reformatted with the original OS. Data can then be restored to the original settings. I accomplish this task at least one a week at my current job.

Data recovery companies are generally used by businesses that can afford them as the price could cost thousands of dollars. Most of the programs they use can be installed easily and can be scheduled for self-maintenance such as taking a periodic backup of important files.

Backup your important files today! Your hard drive could fail at anytime.

Can Windows XP be Saved?

Infoworld is still trying to save Windows XP from its apparent removal from store shelves on June 30th. I personally do not care if Microsoft extends the deadline to support Windows XP but if enough people actually sign the petition, they just might do so. Windows XP is almost 8 yrs old which makes it most likely the longest operating system (from what I can tell) that Microsoft has had in existence to date. There is not much more that can be done to XP to make it any better than it already is. Even though Microsoft just released SP3 for XP, this does not seem to matter as they are sticking to their June 30th deadline.

Let's face it folks, Windows Vista is the future or something else will be. We will just have to embrace this and move forward. Technology is always changing, which requires people to change with it, good or bad.

HP Officejet 7680 Installation Issues

Let me give you a warning, if you want to spend all of your time trying to reinstall this printer, then feel free to purchase an HP Officejet 7680 All-in-One device. I am absolutely convinced that HP could care less if this printer ever installs correctly. I've read every HP related forum, talked to multiple techs for hours on end and nobody can help. Their solution, re-image the PC......are they serious!!!! That is the easy way out...this is their product and it should be fixed by an HP Technician.

Here is the issue:
Installing the device is OK the first time around. Printer/Scanner/Copier works great on Windows XP/Vista. Problems beginning if the device needs to be reinstalled or drivers need updating. Recently, I had an issue where Microsoft Word 2007 was closing unexpectedly and I discovered on HP's website that the cause was their Officejet 7680 driver. It says it clearly on their support site:

* Possible loss of print job when printing from simplex and duplex mode.

* Unexpected closure of Microsoft Office PowerPoint application.

Of course it just says Powerpoint, but it was happening for all Office applications. I attempted to upgrade the driver, when I did, installation got stuck at 96%, never finished. (I waited for 30 minutes). So, I started doing some research and I found what was supposedly some steps to take to troubleshoot the installation.

See HP's recommended troubleshooting

So, I did exactly what this page said to do....no luck. I spent 4 hrs attempting to fix this. The printer works fine, but you can not scan at all.
Just my opinion, but there should never be this much trouble installing a device. HP needs to step up the troubleshooting solutions!

Update: These installation issues also occur with the HP Officejet 6310.

Free Support for Vista SP1

For those of you still worrying about upgrading to Vista SP1, Microsoft is offering unlimited installation and compatibility support at no charge until March 18, 2009. Offering a service such as this will help home users and those not familiar with installing upgrades to Windows Vista. And I am very surprised that its actually being offered for a year! Maybe Microsoft is beginning to realize how difficult things like upgrading their operating systems can be for home users or PC beginners.

Click here for the Microsoft Help and Support Page

System Recovery Options

Today I wanted to discuss some computer system recovery options available to most people. Most IT departments probably have these tools readily available for use but home users may not know what tools are available out there. I am only going to discuss tools that I have personally used myself. I normally do not promote anything unless I know enough about the product or service being promoted. So, without any further delay, here is today's System Recovery Option:

EBCD is a bootable CD, intended for system recovery in the case of software or hardware faults. It is able to create backup copies of normally working system and restore system to saved state. It contains the best system software ever created, properly compiled and configured for the maximum efficient use.

EBCD will be very useful when you need to:

*** Copy/move files (with long names, not necessary in CP437 encoding) from/to the disk but OS which can handle them (windows, Linux...) cannot boot. In particular, you may create a backup copy of normally installed and configured Windows and later restore Windows from such backup copy. So, in the case of fault OS itself and all software and its settings can be restored in 5-10 minutes.

*** Perform emergency boot of Windows NT / 2000 / XP. When the loader of this OS on the hard disk is damaged or misconfigured, you are able to load OS using another, standalone loader from this CD.

*** Recover master boot record of HDD. This allows to boot OS after incorrect uninstallation of custom loader (LILO, for example), which made all OS on your PC not bootable.

*** Delete, move, copy to file (image) and re-create partition from file. Image transfer over network is also supported: so you may configure one PC and then make contents of hard disks of other PCs same as contents of the hard disk of the first one.

*** Change password of any user, including administrator of Windows NT/2000/XP OS. You do not need to know the old password.

*** Recover deleted file, even file re-deleted from Windows Recycle Bin, and, in contrast, wipe single file or a whole disk so that it will be impossible to recover it in any way.

*** Recover data from accidentally formatted disk. Sometimes it helps to recover data from the disk, damaged by a virus.

*** Recover data from a floppy disk, which is not readable by OS. Format 3.5" disk for 1.7 Mb size.

Download EBCD here:
EBCD Homepage

I've use EBCD numerous times to solve PC issues at work and at home. I've been able to recover data for clients that could not be recovered any other way.

Do you know of any other System Recovery Options available?

Is Firefox More Secure than Internet Explorer?

Firefox or Internet Explorer....which browser is more secure?

I never thought I would be "promoting" another web browser besides Internet Explorer, but I am beginning to enjoy using the
Firefox Browser from Mozilla. Reading some of the details related to the browser, I've decided to post about the main security features available for Firefox. I've been using the Mozilla browser now for the past few weeks and I absolutely love it.

Besides the following security features, this browser seems to be must faster loading pages over Internet Explorer.

At the end of this post, there will be a section available to download and install
Firefox if you choose to test it out which is another great feature, you can have more than one browser installed on your PC and it does not interfere with each other. Infact, you can import your IE favorites and homepage if you would like to instead of manually adding all the favorites again.

Pop-up Blocker

Firefox’s pop-up blocker notifies you when pop-ups are blocked via the information bar or icon on the lower right of the screen.

Protection from Phishing

Phishing Protection takes
Firefox’s security to a new level, helping to safeguard your financial information and protect you from identity theft. When you encounter a Web site that is a suspected forgery (known as a “phishing” site) Firefox will warn you and offer to take you to a search page so you can find the real Web site you were looking for.

Open Source, More Secure

At the heart of
Firefox is an open source development process driven by thousands of passionate, experienced developers and security experts spread all over the world. Our openness and active community of experts helps to ensure our products are more secure and updated quickly, while also enabling us to take advantage of the best third party security scanning and evaluation tools to further bolster overall security.

Automated Update

Firefox’s update system always checks to see if you’re running the latest version, and notifies you when a security update is available. These security updates are small (usually 200KB - 700KB), giving you only what you need and making the security update quick to download and install. The automated update system provides updates for Firefox on Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux in over 40 different languages.

Protection from Spyware

We talked about the Top 10 Reasons to Hate Spyware
the other day. Firefox will not allow a Web site to download, install, or run programs on your computer without your explicit agreement. Period. You will be notified whenever downloading or installing software, and Firefox will always tell you what’s happening so that you can stay in control of your computer.

Clear Private Data

Firefox offers the ability to clear all your private Web browsing data with just one click with the “Clear Private Data” tool. You can be confident that when you clear your private data in Firefox it’s gone - whether you are using your own computer or one at the library.

So there you have it......
Firefox is now my new Web Browser of choice. I will keep everyone posted on my use of Firefox since sometimes people are reluctant to switch if they are not too sure about computer related topics. Browsing the Internet securely is more important to me than using the "default" browser installed in my PC.

Firefox can be downloaded on RChase Computer Consulting. Click the button located in the left column of this website.

Slow Browsing of Network Drives in Vista

I've been noticing lately that when open my network folder connections, there is about a 5-6 second delay when browsing as it seems Windows Vista is searching the entire computer to "find" the already present network drive data. Attempting to click on folders or files that show up while its seaching seem to be delayed as well. Eventually, you may even get the "Windows is not responding" message. Our network domain is made up of mostly Windows 2003 servers so this may have something to do with it but I am not sure and I do not have access permissions to be able to troubleshoot this myself. So, is there a workaround for this slowness?

Of course there is......and yes I found it by using Google. Here is the answer, compliments of
Excalibur Partners.

Type in the following commands from the command prompt:

netsh int tcp set global autotuninglevel=disabled
netsh int tcp set global rss=disabled

RSS stands for Receive side Scaling, not the other RSS.

Make sure you are logged on as an administrator when you do this. You will need to restart your PC for the changes to take affect and you will definitely notice the speed difference.

If for some reason you need to reverse the changes, type the following:
netsh int tcp set global autotuninglevel=normal
netsh int tcp set global rss=enabled

So if your browsing of network drives are slow, try the above solution to see if this helps. If not, get with your administrator to see if they have any other ideas.

1 Reason to use Microsoft Virtual PC 2007

Background: Our office uses Microsoft SMS 2003 to remote to other PCs in the office. We also use it to distribute software to the PCs like most companies do. The majority of our PCs are Windows XP and SMS works great on XP. I love having the ability to remote to a user's PC and helping them (yes, I do whatever I can not to have to leave my desk!). I fix probably 95% of my PC troubleshooting issues this way. Its awesome!

Situation: Our office just upgraded our PCs and now some of the brave Support Techs have the option to use Windows Vista if we want to. Of course, I chose that option. I love Windows Vista (keep your tomatoes in your pocket). I love learning new technology and although I think Microsoft has enough money, I would still promote them.

Problem: Microsoft SMS 2003 is not compatible with Windows Vista!!! The only way I can use SMS on Vista is to wait....and wait....and wait....until our office upgrades our SMS server to the new System Center Configuration Manager 2007.

Solution: Use Microsoft Virtual PC 2007 on my Vista PC. Here is what I did:

On my Windows Vista PC, I downloaded and installed Virtual PC 2007. I created a new VPC (that's Virtual PC for short) and when you do this, you must install an operating system. So I installed our volume licensed Windows XP image since I know SMS 2003 works OK with it. I then joined the PC to our domain (something else I learned in the process, to use SMS, the PC must be on the domain).

Next, I installed SMS 2003 and and tested it.....it worked! I am now able to remote into other PCs just like if I were still using my old Windows XP desktop. Virtual PC is amazing and now, I actually have 4 VPCs installed on my Vista PC....I know, why do I need 4 right? I can do multiple things like troubleshoot XP issues, test software on XP since we as an organization are not upgrading to Vista anytime soon.

The only issue is that Virtual PC is somewhat memory intensive because you have to decide how much RAM to use during the installation of the VPC. I usually use 512MB for them. So after booting up 1, my RAM jumped up to almost 1.5 GB, after 2, basically I was maxed out at 2GB and my PC started locking up. (Solution to this.....I sold my boss on the fact that using Virtual PC was a necessity....so he purchased more RAM for me, now I am maxed out at 4GB)

I know some readers may be asking why I did not use VMWare. My answer, I just feel more comfortable with Microsoft products. VMWare is a great product as well.....its just not Microsoft!

Anybody care to comment?

Top 10 Reasons to Hate Spyware

Ever since I've been helping people fix or repair their computers, spyware & computer viruses are usually the two culprits for most of their concerns. For the purposes of this article, we will only discuss spyware.

Here is a list of the top 10 activities that spyware can do after its installed on a PC: (By the way, these are in random order off the top of my head)

1) Monitor your keystrokes for reporting purposes.

2) Scan files located on your hard drive.

3) Snoop through applications on your desktop.

4) Install other spyware programs into your computer just by activating itself.

5) Read your cookies to interpret information.

6) Steal credit card numbers, passwords, and other personal information.

7) Change the default settings on your home page web browser. (Usually the homepage is changed to some random porn site)

8) Mutate into a second generation of spyware (see # 4 above) making it more difficult to eradicate.

9) Cause your computer to run slower....and slower....and slower......

10) Deliver annoying pop up advertisements basically causing your PC to lock up due to lack of available RAM.

Ok......I just thought about 2 more so now its a Top 12 list........

11) Add advertising links to web pages for which the author does not get paid. Instead, payment is directed to the spyware programmer that changed the original affiliate’s settings.

12) Provide the user with no uninstall option and places itself in unexpected or hidden places within your computer making it difficult or actually impossible to remove.

Stay tuned.....next we will discuss ways to remove spyware.

If you think you may have a virus instead, read my article on how not to get a virus.

MySpace says Your account has been phished

Yup, it happened to my wife last night. I proceeded to calm her down as we discussed what happened and realized that it could actually happen to anyone at any time. Even though it does happen often we tend to think, “Really? This happened to me?” Another way to let you know your account was probably phished is that you start receiving very upsetting emails from your friends on MySpace asking why the @#$% are you sending them crazy pictures or weird messages. Well, if its phishing from MySpace, probably not too big of a deal, just follow the directions from Tom (the MySpace guy) to change your password and move on. It will probably happen again since these days, there are more “spammers” then “friends” on MySpace.

But let’s forget MySpace for a minute, who hasn’t received an email directing them to visit a familiar website where they are being asked to update their personal information? The website needs you to verify or update your passwords, credit card numbers, social security number, or even your bank account number. You recognize the business name as one that you’ve conducted business with in the past. So, you click on the convenient “take me there” link and proceed to provide all the information they have requested. Unfortunately, you find out much later that the website is bogus. It was created with the sole intent to steal your personal information.

Phishing (pronounced as “fishing”) is defined as the act of sending an email to a recipient falsely claiming to have an established, legitimate business. The intent of the phisher is to scam the recipient into surrendering their private information, and ultimately steal your identity.

Most of the time, it is not as easy as you think to spot an email phishing for information. At first glance, the email may look like it is from a legitimate company. The "From" field of the e-mail may look like it actually is coming from the company who sent it. But when you click on the link to take you to the company's website, it becomes a fake website built to replicate the legitimate one.

Many of these jerks are professional scam artists. They waste their days away creating emails that look authentic. Users need to review all emails requesting personal information carefully. When reviewing your email remember that the "From Field" can be easily changed by the sender. Also keep in mind that the phisher will go all out in trying to make their email look as legitimate as possible. They will even copy logos or images from the official site to use in their emails. Finally, they like to include a clickable link that the recipient can follow to conveniently update their information.

A great way to check the legitimacy of the link is to point at the link with your mouse. Then, look in the bottom left hand screen of your computer. The actual website address to which you are being directed will show up for you to view. It is a very quick and easy way to check if you are being directed to a legitimate site. So what do we do to help decrease our chances of getting phished? Here are two things I suggest that could help:

1) My recommendations, never, ever, click the links within the text of a questionable e-mail, and always delete the e-mail immediately. Once you have deleted the e-mail, empty the trash box in your e-mail accounts as well. If you are truly concerned that you are missing an important notice regarding one of your accounts, then type the full URL address of the website into your web browser. At least then you can be confident that you are, in fact, being directed to the true and legitimate website. (And trust me, if this email is coming from a bank, they will NEVER ask you for your account number, SSN or password in an email).

2) For most PC users that are familiar with Microsoft, you can upgrade your Internet browser to Internet Explorer 7 as it has an anti-phishing feature that you can turn on or off (it’s enabled by default) and it will help detect fraudulent websites. You can also download and install the Firefox web browser. This browser from Mozilla is more secure and stable. It also has an anti-phishing feature included which is enabled by default.

Upgrade to IE7 here: Internet Explorer 7

Firefox can be download here on my site. Just click on the box in the left column that says "Get Firefox with Google Toolbar"

Windows Vista SP1 now available from Amazon

Amazon.com is now shipping Windows Vista with SP1. All 6 editions are available. Before you decide to upgrade to Windows Vista, be sure that your PC supports it.

Read the system requirements for Windows Vista

I recently posted on installing Windows Vista SP1 and I recommend it for anyone looking to purchase a new PC or someone who has recently purchased a new PC but it came with Windows XP. Vista is very stable and my PC has not crashed since its been online (4 months and counting now).

Post your comments if you do upgrade...I would like to start building some feedback on Vista.

Degree vs Certification

When I first thought about going into the IT field back in the late 90's, everyone was telling me that all I need to do is get certified and I will make at least $60,000 a year. And the top 3 certifications I thought about were Microsoft MSCE, Cisco CCNA and Comptia A+. So, I listened and began going to Seminole Community College to study the current (at the time) Microsoft track because they offered 2 year degrees working toward certifications. No way did I have the money to pay for an MCSE bootcamp.

So technically, I was doing both, getting a degree and studying for a certification within the degree itself. I continued for the next 4 yrs taking basically every MCSE related course and 6 semesters of Cisco course content as well. And while I did manage to get my MCP in Windows NT Workstation (yeah, I know, but I did say the late 90's), I would still have to take 6 more certification tests to become MCSE. No money = No test taking. Each test cost around $100-125 per test. At the time, I could not continue to finish my certifications. Their were other students in my same position. But it did help get me a job in the IT field beginning at the IT help desk level. After about 4 months of that, while still studying and learning more about Windows NT/2000/XP and Cisco, I got promoted to a Desktop Support Technician where I am currently at level 3 now.

So what am I getting at....unfortunately, without a degree or an actual current certification (my MCP actually expired a few years ago), I probably will not get promoted again. Yes, I do work for a government agency and I've discovered that its even harder to get promoted because a degree or certification is still a big part of what's needed to apply to most agencies. There are people where I work, who have a 4 year degree that have basically walked into their promotion knowing.....yup, nothing about the new position. Which, in my opinion can be good or bad. If employers are just looking to give someone with a degree a chance to make a name for themselves...but if someone without a degree or maybe has a certification or two but still no degree is better qualified for the position, that person should be hired. But it all depends on the agency's employment policies.

So, its come down to this for me....go back to school and finish my degree in Computer Networking, or start studying for Microsoft and Cisco again.

Continue reading to see what I decided to do about getting a degree or certification.

Laptop vs Desktop

"Ray, I need a new computer, what do you think I should get?"

I hear that question....often. The answer may be simple for some, but most people do not realize how cheap they can get a decent computer or laptop...which brings me to another question I often hear: "Should I get a laptop or desktop?"

There are many websites out there that compare computers and most are just trying to get people to purchase their brand. In my opinion, all manufacturers are better than they were 5 yrs ago. I personally have 2 Dell desktop computers. One is about 4 months old, the other is 7 yrs old. I am not promoting Dell, but I never....not at all....had to call someone at Dell about my computers. They just "work".

In saying that....most people just need to find a computer that fits what they need to do with it. Now for the purposes of this post, I am going to stick with Dell because I use them at home so I can help someone choose the right model for what they need. There are basically 3 different types of people that need a computer:

1) The college student
2) The parents/grandparents or computer beginner
3) The gamer

I'll give a brief breakdown of what each group should purchase but of course, each group has its people that actually fall into more than one group.

1) The college student: Usually, a laptop is the best decision for a college student. Why? Because they will always be studying somewhere. Whether at work or the library, most places these days have wireless Internet access so they can connect to the Internet if need be. Besides that, laptops are portable and easy to carry anywhere. The college student generally does not need a high powered processor or extra RAM. Just the basics. Here is the laptop I would recommend to a college student:

Dell Inspirion 1525

2) The parents/grandparents or computer beginner: This group is also simple....although they probably need a desktop instead of a laptop. Again, unless the parents are into gaming or other graphic intensive things, a simple desktop will do. Here is my recommendation:

Dell Inspirion 530

3) The gamer: This group is a fun one. People in this group could range from kids to adults and vary from all different types of games including online gaming. To play a PC game, your computer should be maxed out in all areas as much as you can afford at the time. I recommend purchasing a desktop, not a laptop for gaming, even though there are some companies that sell "gaming laptops", its not the same. Video cards are still not the best in laptops. Most games are so memory and graphic intensive that a gaming computer will need to have the best available at the time of purchase. Of course, there comes a huge price for this...but hey, if you are willing to spend this much to play games and you love doing, why not? Splurge if you can. Here is what I would recommend to a PC gamer:

Dell XPS 720

Ok, well that sums it up for deciding to purchase a laptop or desktop. Like I said, the above list is just general. There are more questions I ask people before making a recommendation but at least whoever is reading this will have an idea of what to look for.

RChase Computer Consulting recommends Dell PCs with Microsoft Windows Vista.

Troubleshooting PC applications

Troubleshooting a PC application can be very frustrating sometimes. I know, I have been doing it now for the past 6 yrs. Each application is different and usually the issues are different as well. Recently, I had the pleasure of troubleshooting a financial application known as Peoplesoft (or JD Edwards now...the name keeps changing). Basically, JDE support could not figure out what the issue was (I will not go in depth due to it may take all night) so they advised us of our last resort option....."reformat the PC and call us back if you still have a problem."

Honestly, I hate that answer. This "fix" is only available when there is absolutely no other solution. In this case, there was. I never reformat (or reimage as some call it) a PC without first exhausting all options. Today, I did just that.....and what do you know, an hour later, I found the solution.

Now granted, sometimes reimaging a PC is the only option. But if you can fix it yourself, why not? I was very excited that I figured out a solution even when the application's own support team could not. Doing stuff like that is one reason I love helping people fix computers.

Do I really need Windows Vista 64-bit

If you don’t know already, Windows Vista comes in about 6 different versions ranging from Starter up until one called Ultimate. What most users may not know is that all but the Starter edition of Windows Vista supports a 32-bit or 64-bit version of the OS. Since I really did not have any idea of how a 64-bit Operating System was different than the 32-bit version, I decided to look into it. Here is what I found:

The difference between a 32-bit and 64-bit OS actually depends on if the computer’s CPU is 32 or 64-bit. The CPU (or Central Processing Unit) handles the information given to it. Its job is to perform most of the calculations of the computer. In order for you to use a 64-bit OS, your computer must also use or support a 64-bit CPU.

But in saying the above, why would you want to use a 64-bit version of Vista? The main benefit is the increased memory support beyond the 4GB limit that is currently available in a 32-bit OS. A 64-bit version of Windows Vista can access from 1 GB of RAM to more than 128 GB of RAM. Currently, I do not see any need for this much RAM but the way some applications are so memory intensive, it will definitely come in handy down the road. Another benefit is that all 64-bit versions of device drivers must be certified and digitally signed by the developer. This is a change from the original 32-bit version of Vista which allows unsigned device drivers to be used if need be.

So, do you think that you could benefit by using a 64-bit OS? Let me know

How Not to Get a Virus on Your PC

The following is a list of tips on how NOT to get a virus on your PC. These are just tips that I have learned over the past few years from helping family and friends with computer troubleshooting.

1)Do not go to adult sites: This is, in my opinion, one of the easiest and quickest ways to get a virus or spyware.

2) Do not use P2P sites (like Kazaa or Limewire): For 2 reasons, its illegal and it’s the easiest way for some idiot to post a file called music.wma which may actually be a virus after you download it. Don’t take any chances, stay away from P2P sites.

3) Install a browser toolbar with a pop-up blocker: Although some web browsers have built-in pop blockers, its an added benefit to install a 2nd one because somehow, some pop-ups still get through.

4) Install anti-virus software: This is obvious, but so many people ignore it. If money is an issue, then just use
AVG which is free. I use it on one of my PCs and it works great. It is not memory intensive and it scans daily in the background. If you were going to purchase one, stick with Norton. I’ve used them for over 5 yrs (3 different PCs) and rarely did I have any issues.

5) Keep antivirus software up to date: Another obvious one…..what good is anti-virus software if its outdated? If you purchased your AV software, make sure to renew it each time it expires.

6) Use a hardware firewall like a
Linksys router: Never connect your PC or laptop directly to the DSL or cable modem! This is like leaving the front door to your house unlocked. Hackers attempt all day long to break into computers….don’t make it easy for them. Purchase a router. It will hide your PC from the Internet and then at least the hackers will have to attempt to hack through the router first (yes, this does happen to but unless the hacker is a pro, it will not happen).

7) Use built-in Windows XP/Vista firewall if you can not purchase a router yet: Next best option….still blocks most things by default.

8) Use Windows defender or
Ad-Aware from Lavasoft to keep spyware/malware away: Ad-Aware is the best spyware remover that I have used. I use it at work and at home. There are multiple versions but the free version has always worked fine.

Following the above general tips should help you continue to stay virus and spyware free. Good luck!

DOWNLOAD: "Switcher 2.0" for Windows Vista

If you've got Windows Vista & you have Aero turned on, you really ought to get this utility. It's free and it's a helluva little app for Vista that frankly does a better job of the the MacOS's Expose function.

read more

Do you still use Microsoft Office?

There are many versions of Microsoft Office that date back to the old times. I just posted a new poll to see which version people are currently using. And although I love Microsoft products...I don't like how much they cost. There are some Office suites out there that are in fact free....yes, I said free!!!

Openoffice.org is probably the most widely known in the world of office suites. It is compatible with most other suites and is free to use and distribute.

Another free program is one by IBM called Lotus Symphony. I have not used this yet....but I am going to try it out since it is free.

So why pay $300 for an office suite? Whether we like it or not...people will still help Bill Gates be the 2ND richest man in the world because most of us fear change. Word, Excel, PowerPoint....these applications are so familiar to us, why change? Well, now that there are options to choose from......think about it before you purchase your next computer.

TBD Consulting Launches Virtual Classroom

I just finished reading an article from eMediawire about a virtual classroom. This is an awesome concept that looks like it will become a more widely used way for employers to purchase training. Save money on the travel and just learn from your desk!

Read the rest of the article here: Virtual Classroom

Vista SP1 installed

I installed SP1 for Windows Vista last night and I did not have any issues after the installation. The entire process took about an hour....just like the instructions from Microsoft advised. I did have to upgrade my sound card driver because Windows Update did not show SP1 available.

Steps I took to upgrade to SP1:

1) Downloaded stand-alone Vista SP1.
2) Upgraded sound card driver from Dell Support.
3) Installed Vista SP1

This is a great forum for Windows Vista, click here: Vistababble.com

Windows Vista SP1 Released to Windows Update

As of March 18th, Windows Vista SP1 was released to Windows Update. I have been waiting for this so my PC will maybe be faster after the update. I've installed the Beta SP1 at work a few weeks ago and it actually does seem dramatically faster. Here are a few things to know before upgrading to Windows Vista SP1:

1) You have not yet installed all the prerequisite packages you need for Windows Vista SP1.

To install them, visit the Windows Update control panel and click on "check for updates." Just so you know....this may take up to 1 hour to complete so do it at time when you are not busy.

2) You have a pre-release (or beta) version of SP1 and need to uninstall it before installing SP1.

If for some reason Windows Update does not show SP1, check out this list from Microsoft about Windows Vista SP1

Main reasons for Windows XP system crashes

If you are seeing random system crashes or periodical restarts, it may help you to know what the most common reasons for Windows XP to become unstable and usually lead to what we affectionately call the BSOD (blue screen of death). They are listed in random order off the top of my head:

Bad Memory Module: Having a bad memory (RAM) chip will cause these issues. To troubleshoot this, you will need to either swap out a module for a known good module one at a time until you find the bad module. Or, remove one module at a time and reboot your system. Repeat this process as necessary until you find the bad module. I can not begin to tell you how many times I've fixed an issue just by removing the bad RAM chip.

Sound Card Driver: It is fairly common for a driver to cause this type of issue. Sometimes they become corrupt for no reason or even become out-dated. The sound card driver is not the only driver that can cause these issues, but it is the most common and should be the first card to focus on. Just simply visit the manufactures web site and reinstall the correct driver for your sound card.

Overheating: Once your systems processor reaches a certain temperature, the system will shut itself down. The most common reason for overheating is a dirty fan not being able to spin fast enough to cool the processor. Or, a fan has just gone bad. Once you've gained access to the inside of your case, look and listen for a faulty fan. If they all appear to be working, it may not be a bad idea to go ahead and clean them while you are in there.

Failing Power Supply: A power supply that isn't providing enough power to create a stable environment will cause this type of issue. It would seem if your computer turns on and boots up that the power supply is working, but in fact, it could be failing. This can be a tricky one to troubleshoot if you do not have the proper equipment. Without the proper test equipment, you are forced to either replace the power supply with a known good one or replace it with a new one. On the other hand.....if the PC does not boot at all...this maybe your first sign that the power supply is dead making your decision easier.

And lastly....a bad USB Hub: This one is pretty simple to troubleshoot. Just simply remove the hub from your system to see if the problem is resolved. This is not nearly as common as the scenarios listed above, but I have seen it happen a few times.

Testing different blog templates

Hey everybody...

I am still trying to find the best template that will work for me. So over the next few days...this blog maybe redesigned multiple times. Please excuse the mess!!!

Upgrading VS Purchasing a new PC

Often I get asked the question, "Should I upgrade my computer or just buy a new one?" The answer, in my opinion, depends on a few different factors. Here are some of the questions I ask customers who are looking to upgrade/purchase:

1) How old is your current PC?
2) Is it a laptop or desktop?
3) Why do you think you need to upgrade?
4) How much are you willing to spend?

Now, I'll start with the last question because everything comes down to the money anyway. If someone has a PC older than 5 yrs....its definitely time to purchase a new one. The technology has changed so much in 5 yrs that it would just make sense to buy instead of attempting to upgrade the current PC. Actually, a 5 yr old PC make cost more to upgrade due to the fact that some of the parts needed (IE...more RAM, video card upgrade, bigger hard drive) are being sold less and less for older PCs so the cost goes up.

If a laptop is needed, its usually because someone is going to school/college and would like the portability factor. Also, its safe to say that most new laptops have built-in Wi-Fi (wireless) connections so they can basically get online anywhere they go. Most places like Starbucks and McDonald's now have Wi-Fi Hotspots inside their locations. A laptop is beneficial if you will be traveling for a job or business.

As for a new desktop PC, there are plenty of options. The top PC brands all have great deals so its just a matter of who can give you the most for the best price. If price is an issue, stay with Dell, HP or Gateway. If not, there is Sony and Toshiba. As for who is the best...well, I can't really say....(but I have 2 Dells that have never had an issue and 1 is 5 yrs old now)

So there you have it, a brief answer to the upgrade/purchase question. Any comments?
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