More Windows 10 update issues?

I don’t think this will be a major issue for most of my clients, and I am pretty sure it won’t cause me any major issues, but Microsoft needs to sort this out as soon as possible.

In a nutshell, the latest Windows 10 update can cause problems by removing some third party applications without your permission. Add to this that if you have Windows 10 Home you can’t turn off automatic updates then you may be in for some nasty surprises after your machine automatically updates Windows 10.

Currently there is no definitive list of the third party programs affected so I can’t tell you what is on it! Sorry!

Here is a good article explaining the problem.

Windows 10 Broken Update – Extreme Tech

 

Windows 10 upgrade woes!

OK, so my first Windows 10 upgrade on a brand new laptop went well and I was feeling pretty pleased with myself.

But then I was bought an older Dell laptop on which they had done the Windows 10 automatic upgrade. Unfortunately although this appeared to have worked OK, the screen went blank! Dare I say the Black Screen of Death?

So after a lot of fiddling and a lot of research (Dell and Intel were not a lot of help here) I decided to do a completely new installation of Windows on a new hard disk (the old one was reporting errors anyway so this seemed like a good idea).

First I had to download the Windows 10 ISO image and burn it to a DVD. Then I installed the new hard disk in the laptop and installed Windows 7. So far so good! Installed drivers, but not the Intel Graphics 3000 as I was pretty sure this was the culprit.

Now to Windows 10 installation. This went without a hitch and didn’t actually take very long (probably 1-2 hours). Rebooted and voila, Windows 10 installed and we were able to login. Checked the graphics driver and only the default Windows one was installed.

But I got excited too soon! After a few minuted Windows played a tune and the screen went blank again!

After consulting with my colleague I connected an external monitor and was then able to access Windows 10 on the laptop again! Checked and lo and behold the Intel Graphics 3000 driver had been installed by Windows Auto Updates!

After a lot of research which came up with the fact that this model, the Dell Vostro 3550 was not supported for Windows 10 and going round in circles on the Intel site looking for an updated driver I was just about ready to give up. But then I was reading about a similar fault on a Windows 8.1 machine and they said that a BIOS update fixed the problem, so with nothing to lose I decided to give this a try! And it worked! At least it is working so far, I now have the screen on the laptop working again!

Although rather excited about this I will withhold judgement until tomorrow and see if Windows Auto Updates managed to break it again overnight!

But still, i am feeling rather pleased with myself! Pat on the back!

 

Buying a new PC – how to get the PC you need

Buying a new PC

I am often asked the question “what PC should I buy”?

I will try to answer this question here although it is not an easy one to answer.

The information below applies to someone replacing an old PC or equally to someone purchasing their first PC, but it only applies to desktop (tower) PCs, not laptops, or notebooks (I will write about laptops later).

First of all I want to say that I am not a fan of brand name, or retail desktop PCs, for reasons I will try to explain. I prefer to use and to supply “white box” or built to order, no-name PCs.

Brand name PCs are sold through retail outlets or online. In most cases you have a limited choice of models within a brand and may or may not be able to customise these to meet your needs. These models are often sold at a perceptual price point to make them more appealing (e.g. $995 rather than $1000). Often they will “throw in” some failry useless or super cheap additions to sweeten the deal.

Also you really do not know what you are getting! For instance:

  • What is the make, model, warranty and reliability of all of the many parts that make up the PC?
  • How readily available are spare parts and at what price?
  • What is the warranty on the PC and most importantly what is the repair process if there are problems?
  • Is the PC upgradeable at a later stage if your needs change?
  • Can you do repairs, replace parts or add parts within the constraints of the warranty, and how easy is it to do this?

These and many more questions need to be asked when buying any PC.

Now to white box PCs. 

I have a supplier in Moss Vale, Bruce, who builds all of my PCs for me. Between us we have many years experience of supplying, building and supporting PCs and we know what is needed to make sure that a PC will meet all of the requirements of our customers, that it will perform as required and that all the parts used are good quality, reliable and easily replaced/repaired if the need arises (and it does occasionally).

We do not supply “cheap” PCs but we do supply reliable, robust PCs built for each persons individual requirements. When building a PC we will build it either to specifications you supply or we will work out from discussions with you what is required. Either way it is tailored to your needs.

Also Bruce only uses well known brand name parts such as Gigabyte, Kingston and Seagate. Even the PC case and power supply (PSU) are quality parts, and we always supply a PSU that will be able to provide adequate power to the PC (more important than you may realise).

Bruce will always thoroughly test the PC before delivering it and make sure it is ready to go.

So how much do they cost?

The usual answer: “how long is a piece of string”.

I usually talk about two types of PCs, a basic home model and an office model. There are other, higher end PCs but we don’t often get a call for these (we also build and supply Windows servers but that is a completely different story).

The basis of any PC is the CPU (central processing unit) and we generally only use Intel CPUs. The 3 main types of Intel CPU at the moment are i3, i5 and i7 with the i3 the least powerful and the lowest priced of the three. Within these 3 models there are “sub” models that vary by speed and other factors (and of course price).

Then there is the RAM, or memory where the work in progress is stored and then the hard disk where your data (documents, photos, email, etc) is stored. We would always supply a minimum of 4GB of RAM and the basic hard disk we supply is now 1TB (1 Terabyte or 1000GB).

We would only use an i3 processor in a very basic home PC which will be used for email, Internet browsing, some document writing or spreadsheets and maybe to store photos from phones and cameras. You should be able to get away with some other things like bookkeeping with, for instance, MYOB but you would not want to try anything heavy like working with raw photo images or video editing. If price is not a big issue we would supply an i5 CPU.

For an office PC which will be on a network sharing resources with other PCs or for more powerful processing requirements we would probably supply an i5 CPU or maybe an i7. We would probably put 8GB RAM in it as well to handle the more resource hungry programs. You could edit photos on this and probably videos as well and you could certainly do bookkeeping and run many other programs at the same time.

As for the i7 processor, we don’t supply many PCs with this processor unless asked to do so or unless it is really necessary as it is quite a lot more expensive than the i5.

So how much?

Last month I supplied a couple of i3 PCs with 4GB RAM and a 1TB hard disk at about $1050 (including Windows 8.1). This price varies from day to day and order to order as Bruce buys parts as required and the prices are subject to currency fluctuations and other factors. For instance a few years ago a factory in Asia which manufactured RAM burnt down and this pushed the worldwide price of RAM up considerably and this was reflected in the price of PCs we supplied.

Note that these prices are for the tower only. Monitors (screens), keyboard, mice are extra.  Monitors vary in price according to size and quality and keyboards and mice cost very little these days.

Installing your new PC.

I should point out here that when you receive your new PC from us it will have the latest Windows installed  and configured (assuming you ordered it with the PC) and any other programs you bought with it such as Microsoft Office will also be installed. It will not have any of your data. e.g. documents, photos or email, you will need to transfer these from the old PC as well as install other programs and configure email and other things such as printers. We can assist with this but obviously this will be at extra cost (I can usually do this in 1-2 hours).

So I hope that has explained a bit about how to select a new PC and how much it will cost. As usual if you have any questions please do not hesitate to to contact me.

End note:
What if price was not an issue (i.e. my dream machine)?

Then I would probably suggest a high-end i7 processor (maybe 2),  32GB of RAM, a 240GB SSD for windows, 2 x 3TB hard disks in RAID format (i.e. duplicated) and a high-end video card (this would aid with games, video editing, or allow for dual monitors for instance). This would make a great gaming PC or a video editing or music processing machine! At today’s prices that would be in the $2500-2700 range (not including Windows).

Note: All prices are indicative only and are not quoted prices. All prices will be subject to many factors such as exchange rates.

Windows 10 first look

windows-10

Completed my first upgrade to Windows 10 on the weekend and I must say it was reasonably simple and painless if a bit of a long process.

A client bought a new, low-end Asus laptop with Celeron CPU and 4GB RAM, Windows 8.1 and a free upgrade to Windows 10. Not a fast machine but at least with 4GB RAM it should be OK for basic stuff like Word, Excel, mail and browsing the Net.

When first setting it up I was given the option of doing the upgrade to Windows 10 so took the opportunity. It warned me the download would be around 3GB and to make sure the laptop was plugged into a power source and also that I should back up my data. No data to backup so off I went.

The download took the better part of 1 hour on my Internet connection which usually runs at just under 6Mbps. As I expected the rest of the process to take some time I actually left it running and went to bed, but I estimate that the upgrade process took about 2 hours or so. Not bad really.

Start Menu

I only had access to the laptop with Windows 10 for a few hours but so far I am reasonably happy with it. Great news that the start menu is back but I do think that Microsoft’s decision to put the apps in the menu will confuse and annoy a lot of users. Yes, I know you can customise it but many consumers will never do so and just get used to it but not be happy.

Windows 10 Start Menu

New Start Menu

Privacy

There are a few concerns about the default privacy settings in Windows 10 but to be honest, reading a few articles about it they do not seem to be a great deal worse than with Apple or Google. If you are concerned and want to learn more and also how to change the settings see the following article:

Digging into and Understanding Windows 10’s Privacy Settings

Summary

So, in summary, the upgrade process on a new laptop was reasonably quick and painless although we are warned that older machines, machines with a lot of installed programs (and certain programs) and lots of data will cause the upgrade to take a lot longer and probably be a bit more complicated.

My upgrade ran without a hitch, yours may not, so make sure you have at least a backup of your data if not a complete image backup that you can use to revert back to if necessary.

The new start menu whilst a little complicated is familiar enough for most of us to use straight away.

If you are concerned about privacy in your new Windows 10 installation read the above linked article and make changes as required.

So far it appears to be fast and stable, but these are early days and I haven’t had time to check this properly (though reports on the Net appear to confirm this).

And remember, call us if you have any questions or concerns.

Recovering data from faulty hard disks

HighComm can help you recover your files, photos, etc from a faulty hard disk (Windows or Mac)!

 

500GB HDD

Hard Disk failure and data loss

If you have owned a computer for any length of time then you have probably experienced data loss due to hard disk failure of some sort. Unfortunately like all technology, hard disks do break down occasionally. In fact hard disks are probably the most common type of computer failure due to how they work and because of the amount of work that they have to do.

 

Hard disks have a number of moving parts and are actually quite sensitive and delicate. They usually sit inside your computer and you really don’t notice them. But when they go wrong, oh boy, do they cause problems! Early indication of disk problems can be things like continuous noise from the disk (often due to disk “thrashing” where the operating system is having trouble reading from or writing to the disk) or system crashes and slow start ups.

So what can you do to avoid data loss? Well the obvious one is to make sure you have a reliable and regular backup regime! Other than that, basic maintenance like cleaning grills and fans on desktop PCs to avoid overheating which can cause damage to all the computer parts not just the hard disk.

Data recovery

So what do you do if your hard disk has failed, or appears to be failing?

First, do you have a recent backup? If not then run one straight away if you can. Then turn off your computer and do not turn it back on until you have spoken with a technician. If the disk is failing then running the PC can cause further damage to the disk and your data.

If you call us about the problem, then we will arrange to pick up your PC and take it back to our workshop. There we will remove the disk from your PC and attach it to a workshop PC and start the data recovery process.

This data recovery will take some time and we usually leave it running overnight. Once the data has been recovered then depending on the amount of data we can put it onto an external disk or some other media for you.

 

The Good News!

OK, in most instances we can recover most data from a failing disk. Even when machines won’t start due to disk problems we can often recover data.

Occasionally, due to major hardware issues we may not be able to recover any data at all.

If we are unable to recover any data and the disk is really sick then it is not necessarily the end of the world. If the data is critical and you cannot survive without it then there are experts in Sydney that can often recover some of the data. These companies specialise in data recovery and often work in clean rooms where they can dismantle the disk and do all sorts of clever things to recover some or all of your data. Of course these services are not cheap and you have to weigh up the cost against the value of the data to you.

And lastly, it is sometimes possible to recover data from thumb drives!

 

So if you have a faulty disk and need to recover the data from it, give us a call!

Another Windows 10 post (Windows 10 release date)!

windows-10

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yes, another post about Microsoft Windows 10, but it is actually an exciting announcement this time!

In case you haven’t already heard Microsoft have announced the official release date for Windows 10 as the 29th July 2015!

So what does this mean to us Windows users?

Well, first of all, it is going to be a free upgrade for all users of “qualified” (their word not mine) copies of Windows 7 and Windows 8.1! See the link below for full details of the offer.

Microsoft Windows 10

Yes, they have dropped the initial idea of making it a free upgrade for illegal copies of Windows 7 and 8.1, so unless you have paid for your current Windows 7/8.1 and have activated it then you won’t be getting the free upgrade!

Secondly, it is a 3+GB download so make sure you have a fast connection with plenty of data allowance (I wouldn’t be trying this on your 4G wireless connection)!

So what do you have to do to get the upgrade?

You may well have already noticed in your Windows System Tray (bottom right hand corner of the desktop) a new icon that looks like the Windows logo. If you click on this it will open the following Window:

Get Windows 10

Get Windows 10

If you then click on the “Reserve your free upgrade” button you will be taken to the next screen which confirms this. It also states that the upgrade will be automatically downloaded when it is available and that you will get the option as to when to install it, immediately or at a later time.

Windows 10 reserved

Windows 10 reserved

Although I do not expect any major problems with the upgrade I would certainly advise the usual caution of making sure you have a full backup prior to doing the upgrade.

Should you reserve your copy of Windows 10?

I am not going to get into why you should or should not upgrade, or what new or improved features are available in Windows 10, as these have been covered in the past and anyway there is plenty of information on the Internet about this (see link to Microsoft’s page above). There is however an interesting article here about some of the missing features in Windows 10.

I am confident it will be safe to reserve your copy if you really want to. However, I would not be installing it immediately, or at least not until you have done a full backup of your system. I would usually recommend waiting until the intial stories start to roll in about people’s experiences with the installation and with the new Windows 10.

I also hope that Microsoft have designed the installation with a working, simple and reliable back out option in case anything goes wrong!

More on Windows 10 later!

Why you should carry out regular maintenance on your computer!

Do you ever carry out any maintenance on  your computer?

Here are 5 reasons why you should:

1. The operating system, such as Windows and many applications will leave rubbish on your hard disk filling it up and slowing down your computer

2. The operating system and all applications require regular updates to correct problems and to ensure the security of your computer and data

3. Log files need checking for errors and cleaning out

4. Security scans need to be run and checked regularly for infections

5. Fans and vents need cleaning to avoid overheating

And these are only 5 of many things that need doing to ensure your computer is running at it’s best. Regular maintenance can improve the performance of your computer as well as help to extend its useful life.

 

Backup!

OK, before we get started, I need to say one very important thing: BACKUP!

Yes, before you carry out any of the maintenance tasks mentioned in this post ensure you have a full backup of all of your data as there is always the slim possibility that something could go wrong!

Preventative Maintenance

I have a regular maintenance regime that I call “Preventative Maintenance” or PM and it contains a number of steps (currently about 20) that I work through on all computers.

Before I do anything, I create a Windows Restore Point so that in the event of something going wrong I can revert back to where I started!

Then I start by updating important software on the PC including Windows, applications and sometimes hardware drivers.

Once all the updates are completed I check logs such as those in Windows Event Viewer for errors and most importantly for “patterns” or recurring errors which are pointing to potential problems or even hardware failure.

I also check that the backups are running OK and occasionally test the restore.

One important step is to check the Windows registry and make sure all is well with this as it is the center of everything to do with Windows, such as configuration settings and options. (Note: this is high level stuff, or “black arts” as I like to call it!)

Now I start on the cleanup by removing all the rubbish left on the hard disk including emptying the recycle bin, removing temporary files, cleaning out browser caches and temporary files and removing old log files. This can often free up a lot of disk space.

Once this is done I can run the security scans such as a malware scan and an anti-virus scan.

If required I will run a defrag on the hard disk and in many cases a chkdsk  (this is a program for correcting errors on the hard disk).

Finally, I will check the hardware and cabling and clean everything if required.

So you can see it is a fairly comprehensive process which can uncover potential problems before they occur as well as in many cases improve performance and fix instability in Windows and applications.

A PC that really needs cleaning

A PC that really needs cleaning

Another view

Another view

Tools

I use a number of tools to complete a PM. Most of them are easy enough to use but using them effectively or making sense of the results and acting on them are where knowledge and experience come in. You will also be pleased to know that these tools are generally free for personal use, although not usually for commercial (i.e. if your computer is used in a business). Make sure you are familiar with the licenses and usage rules if you are going to install them.

Windows tools

I mention these first as they are supplied with Windows and are completely free for everyone to use.

Event Viewer – Windows records various events in these logs under a number of headings of which two are important to us: Application and System. I am generally looking for patterns in here rather than individual errors.

Windows Update – although this is likely to be set to automatic for Security and Critical updates there are often other important updates that must be installed manually.

Disk defragment – I use a third party program rather than the windows one (see below)

chkdsk – this is a program that checks the disk for errors and tries to correct any it finds. It can only run on an “unmounted” disk so cannot be run on the C: drive with Windows running.

Other tools 

CCleaner – this is a great tool, free for personal use that will clean out all the temporary files and other rubbish as well as help with checking the registry. In all the years I have been using it it has never caused me a problem although I always use it’s option to create a backup of the changes to the registry before committing to them!

Defraggler – this is the tool I use in place of the Windows defragment program. Much easier and friendlier I think and again, free for personal use.

Virus-scanner – I use AVG but you can use your preferred scanner.

Malewarebytes anti-malware scanner – commonly called Malwarebytes this is a great program for finding and removing all sorts of nasties that are missed by other anti-virus programs. This program has saved me so many times! Free for personal use.

Ninite – this is  a great tool for automating the update of many programs including Java and Acrobat Reader.

These are the main tools I use, there are others that I may utilise in certain circumstances that I won’t go into here.

How often should you carry out maintenance on your computers?

Well, as usual, that depends on a number of factors but mostly, how much does your PC get used?

For instance if the PC is in an office and is used all day 5 days a week then monthly or maybe bi-monthly maintenance should be carried out.

If your computer is at home and only gets used for a bit of email, some browsing and maybe some letter writing or bookkeeping then maybe quarterly would be adequate.

It is really up to you. I suggest that if you feel your computer is running slow, or maybe you suspect is has been infected then complete maintenance on it straight away.

Automated Tools

There are a number of tools available that do a lot of the above tasks automatically. Personally I am not a great fan of these, they are often complex and run in the background and are not always completely clear as to what they are doing! Call me old fashioned but I like to keep control of these sorts of tasks.

Finally a word on Macs

Macs generally do not require so much maintenance as a Windows PC. Apart from anything else all Macs regularly run “scripts” that do some of the tasks mentioned above. However it is a good idea to check for software updates regularly, just click on the Apple logo top left of the screen and select Software Update. I recommend installing any security updates at least. On the subject of Automated Tools, I would not recommend installing MacKeeper on any Mac computer!

 

Windows 10

Yes, you did read that right, Windows 10!

PC World Windows 10 new features

PC World Windows 10 new features (www.pcworld.com)

Not upgraded to Windows 8 yet (or even 7)? Then don’t bother as 10 is on the way. OK, I know I wrote about Windows 9 back in August but I am having trouble keeping up with Microsoft!

There is the usual hype about a new version of Windows and why you absolutely must get it but to be honest, I wouldn’t rush! It won’t be available to the general public for a while yet and in the meantime any new computers you buy will have Windows 8.1 (or possibly 7).

I am not going to write a whole lot here as there are plenty of articles already on the Web from the experts and many from those who think they are experts and you can Google these easy enough.

By all accounts it is much more mobile friendly (for phones and tablets), moves even further towards using the “tiles” which we first saw in Windows 8, has a redesigned Start menu and it also will have a new version of Internet Explorer.

One thing I do like, if it works as it says, is the dynamic interface that shifts from the modern user interface (think tablets and phones) to the more familiar desktop interface depending on the device.

Possibly the most exciting thing about Windows 10 is that Microsoft have just announced that it will be a free upgrade from Windows 7 and 8.1. Again, don’t get too excited as there are conditions but it is a step in the right direction.

More on Windows 10 later.

Anyway if you want to read more then go to:

PC World – Windows 10

The Demise (End-of-Life) of Windows XP!

So what does End-of-Life Mean For Windows XP and you?

rip-windows-xpYou may already be aware that Microsoft has “retired” Windows XP, its 13 year old Operating System. To be more precise, they have ended support for the Operating System which means no more critical and security updates will be released which in turn means it will no longer be possible to secure the system against attack.

Without these updates from Microsoft your PC will become vulnerable to harmful viruses, spyware, and other malicious software which can steal or damage your business data and information and steal your passwords. Anti-virus software will also not be able to fully protect you now Windows XP itself is unsupported.

So what are your options?

Well, if you aren’t worried about security or you don’t connect to the Internet then you may as well stick with your faithful old XP computer! This is especially true if you have old applications installed or hardware attached which may not be compatible with the later versions of Windows.

But if you are worried then you have two options, upgrade your current computer to a later Windows Operating System or buy a new computer. I guess there is a third option: get rid of the Windows XP computer and buy an Mac or a tablet!

OK, so what are the latest Windows Operating Systems (OS)?MS-Windows-8

Your first option is the latest version of Windows which is 8.1.1, a very different kettle of fish to XP. For starters it has no “Start” button on the screen and also comes with two vastly different interfaces (one designed for touch screens). There is a fairly steep learning curve with Windows 8 and some people really do not like it, me included. But don’t get me wrong, it is a good OS that works very well on later hardware and I am sure it works well on tablets as well, but from my point of view they have made Windows 8 a lot more complex than it needs to be from a maintenance and support viewpoint.

windows 7The other option is Windows 7 but this is not available from all suppliers or on all brand name computers. Windows 7 does at least have a familiar feel to it and you will find most things located in the same place as in Windows XP. You won’t have too many problems transitioning from XP to 7.

Note: our supplier can still source Windows 7 and this OS will be supported by Microsoft for at least the next 6 years according to their End-of-life fact sheets.

So what should you do?

You need to decide if you want to stick with your old XP computer or upgrade your OS on your current computer or buy a new one. If you choose option 2 or 3 you will have to decide between Windows 7 or 8. Obviously your budget will have an effect on these decisions. You will also need to factor in extra costs such as transferring all of your programs and data (assuming you don’t want to do it yourself). You may also need to replace aging hardware such as printers and scanners which may not be compatible with 7 or 8. If you do replace your computer then this would also be a good time to upgrade applications such as Microsoft Office.

So a number of questions need to be answered and please do not hesitate to contact me if you would like help with these!

Note: If you decide to stick with Windows XP then these are my recommendations to ensure the best safety online but these steps are not guaranteed to keep you safe:

  • don’t do any Internet banking, buy anything online or do anything that requires credit card or bank details
  • avoid any websites that require a login, particularly those which may store sensitive or personal data
  • do not click on any links in mail messages

Click on this link to read a good article from PC Authority: The end of an era .