Google+ August 2009 ~ High Tech House Calls

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Monday, August 24, 2009

HP Computers - Recovery Nightmare

We do not recommend buying HP computers.
Here's why:

How much time did you spend setting up your computer when you took it out of the box?

If you are like most people, you plugged the computer into the wall, turned it on, and pressed the enter key a couple of times.

Did you notice which software CD's came with your computer? If it was an HP computer, there were not any CD's. Why?
  • CD's cost money. To minimize the price of the computer and maximize the profit, hard copy manuals and software installation CD's are typically not included with HP systems.
  • One of the pieces of cardboard that you probably did not read indicated that you needed to make a Recovery CD Kit for your new computer. Such a kit would enable you to restore your computer if the contents of the hard drive ever are corrupted and need to be reloaded.
What is a Recovery CD Kit?

A backup for your computer's files is written to CD. Typically this means 10-12 CD's; the process takes a couple of hours. If you did not create a Recovery CD Kit, and your computer crashes, you will not be able to restore your computer to the way it was when you removed it from the packing box.

If you did build the kit and need to restore your computer system, is everything going to be ok?

Not necessarily. If you bought an HP computer because it had features such as the TV Tuner, the Recovery CD Kit will not reload the driver for this component. The HP website will not have the driver for you to download. More than likely, you will be unable to find the driver and will have to buy a new TV Tuner to replace a perfectly good TV Tuner to get a software installation CD that works.

What do you do if you did not build a Recovery CD Kit and your computer needs to be reloaded?

You will need to repurchase the Operating System in order to rebuild your system. An Operating System Installation CD is $150 - $300. If your computer is a desktop computer, you are rapidly approaching the point at which buying a new computer ($400-$600) may make sense.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Browsing the Internet with Safari v8 Revisited

Safari v4 just came out. I gave up on it once, on previous releases when I started using an Apple laptop for my business about 4 years ago. I just gave it another test drive. Here are the results:

  • It still does not work well with many sites. I could not edit my newsletter at ConstantContact or view my daughter's eBill at college (not sure that was a bad thing!).
  • It loaded more quickly than Microsoft Internet Explorer v8, but what doesn't?
Conclusion: I am sticking with Mozilla Firefox.

Want to try your own test? Here are some ways to get Safari v4 loaded on a Windows or Apple platform:
  • If you have Apple's iTunes Application on your Windows computer, you may also have the Apple Software Update Application. Double click on it. It should present you with Safari as an available download. Select Safari and the rest should be automatic.
  • On an Apple platform, if you do not have Safari preloaded, bad things may happen: you may not being able to find, download and install updates to your software. Click on the Apple logo in the top left hand corner and select software update. The new version of Safari should be in the list. Follow the directions to install it.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Windows 7 - Countdown to Nirvana?

The newest operating system offering from Microsoft, called Windows 7, is due to ship October 22nd of this year.

Here are a list of early insights gathered from computer magazines:

  • Benchmarks indicate that Windows 7 is no faster than Vista.
  • Recognition of a device you plugged into a USB port is supposedly to better. Devices like cameras and camcorders should have slick wizards that assist in transferring your pictures and movies.
  • Have you tried to save some money by sharing a printer among various computers in your house? This process has been difficult in the past. Windows 7 implements something called HomeGroup that makes it easy to share printers, files and folders.
  • A feature called Libraries allows you to catalog items like photos and documents together.
  • One Click Wi-Fi. Windows 7 promises to connect more easily than Vista to Wireless Networks.
We have our fingers crossed. Hope for the best, plan for the worst!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Your Next Must Have Purchase For Your Computer

And the answer to the question is: An External Hard Drive!

  • To stop you from filling up your hard drive with photos and your iTunes library. Your hard drive must have unused space in order to run the operating system efficiently. Filling up your external hard drive does not cause your computer to hang, slow down, crash or not boot.
  • Backup your hard drive. Hard drives fail and laptops get stolen. If you have backups of key files on your external hard drive, the pain of getting your new computer back to where you were will be minimized.
  • Save some money on your next computer by buying the one with the smaller hard drive. 2TB (yes, terabyte!) external hard drives exist. Why spend money for a big hard drive for your operating system when you can put all your stuff on a huge external hard drive.
  • One external hard drive will work on all your other computers. No more trying to remember what computer that document is located on. One thing to remember is that the external hard drive will be formatted to work with the various Windows Operating Systems or the Apple Mac OS System. A Windows drive will not read Mac OS files, but a Mac OS drive will read Windows files.

Buying an External Hard Drive

  • There are basically two types of hard drives; a) small physical size (pack of cigarettes sized) using the power from just one or two USB ports on your computer b) large physical size (thick paper back) using an electrical adapter like the one for your notebook that plugs into the wall. If you are lugging the external drive around, the USB port powered external drive makes sense. This convenience will cost you more than the paper book sized drive.
  • The other difference is whether backup software is included in the price of the drive. Do you want a program to automatically backup folders you selected or are you comfortable cutting and pasting, drag and dropping from one hard drive directory to another? External hard drives with a backup program cost more.
Go out and buy that external hard drive now!

Backing Up Your Blackberry

Would your business or social life be over if your Blackberry address book or calendar was corrupted or missing?

The "data conservative" folks at High Tech House Calls back up their Blackberry more than one way to ensure that an up to date calendar and address book are always available.

  • Is Blackberry Desktop Manager loaded on your Windows based computer? It should be. This piece of software is necessary to synchronize and backup your Blackberry. When you decide to get a new Blackberry, Desktop Manager can copy all your old Blackberry stuff to your new Blackberry.
  • Is PocketMac loaded on your Apple computer? It needs to be. This piece of software is necessary to synchronize and backup your Blackberry on your Apple computer. However, be aware that this software has problems and does not work at all with Entourage 2008. It seems to work fine with Entourage 2004.
News Flash. RIM has announced that a Blackberry Desktop Manager will be available for the Apple Operating System. Many Mac users will want to make the switch immediately when the product is available.

  • Google Calendar Sync will synchronize your Blackberry calendar and contacts with your gmail account. Gmail accounts are free. They work on your Blackberry and with Outlook. A Gmail account should be part of everyone's computer toolkit.
  • If you have more than one computer, back your Blackberry up on all your computers. We strongly advise doing a two-way sync one only with one computer and do a Blackberry to computer one-way sync on all other computers. A two-way sync compares the data on your Blackberry to your computer. Based on this comparison, data will be added, updated and deleted. A one-way sync replaces all the data on the target computer with the source computer data.
  • You must assume that something can and will happen to the data on your Blackberry. Without a backup, it will be very difficult to put the pieces back together. Do something about it today!

Easy Fix for Computer Freezes

An easy thing to try for a computer that keeps freezing is making sure your BIOS (Binary Input Output Software) is up to date. The BIOS is the first operating system that starts when you turn your computer on. Once it is loaded, the operating system you are used to seeing (Win XP, Vista, etc.) starts.

BIOS is specific to your computer. To obtain the lastest BIOS upgrade, go to your vendors' website and look for support or drivers. You should be able to specify your model computer and the operating system you are running. A list should be presented and you should see a catagory for BIOS. Follow the instructions on downloading and installing the BIOS. Cross your fingers. Maybe this fixed your computer Freeze.

Need additional help updating your BIOS. Drop us an email at carlthorne@hthcatlanta. We are here to help.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Skye - Keep in Touch With Your Away at College Kids

Skype is a computer application that runs on both WinTel and Apple computers that allow you to call or video conference using the Internet for free or a very low price.

Many parents use Skype to keep in touch with their away at college children via video conferencing.

What do you need to use Skype?
  • Each Skype user must have the Skype software loaded on their computer.
  • You must have created a Skype account to use Skype.
  • Each Skype user needs a WinTel or Apple computer that is connected to the Internet.
  • If the computer has a built in microphone, this can be used for the voice part of your Skype conversation. No built in microphone? Headsets that have a mic and a ear piece will easily plug into a usb port on your computer. If you are not interested in using the video portion of Skype, you have seen all the requirements for a Skype voice only connection.
  • Many laptops and monitors have built-in web cams. These may work with Skype. Only testing with Skype will tell. If your existing web cam does not work, review the list of approved web cams on the Skype website before buying a new one. Installing a web cam is not more complicated than plugging it into usb port and loading some software. A web cam can shared among many computers by just plugging into the other computers usb port.

When Your Computer Needs Retirement

Here are some points to consider when evaluating the fix versus buy new question.

Average Life of Computers:
  • The life of a laptop computer is three years.
  • The life of a desktop computer is five years. A desktop computer has a longer life because they are stationary and their components are not crammed into a small case.
What components fail on laptops?

Remember an entry level Dell laptop starts at $550 and an Apple entry level laptop at $1000.
  • Battery. Average life is two years. Batteries are easy to replace, but have a high cost ($100-$160).
  • Power adapter. Universal power adapter are ~$100. Buying one from the computer vendor can cost much more.
  • Hard drive. Three years. Lets hope baby's first step pictures are backed up before this happens. A failing hard drive may not give any indication of failing before it fails totally. Watch for missing or corrupt files or your system running slow. A new hard drive is $100 on up depending on its capacity. Re-loading the system software and applications can be very expensive if you cannot find your installation disks and have to re-buy software you already own. On a WinTel computer, usually one screw to remove the drive. On a Apple laptop, you might have to take the entire case apart.
  • Keyboard. $100 for part. On a WinTel computer, pretty easy to fix. On an Apple Computer can be as much as 45 screws of different sizes and 1 1/2 hours of work.
  • Broken screen. This part can be very pricey and usually makes the repair of the laptop uneconomical.
What components fail on desktops?

Remember an entry level Dell Desktop starts at $400 before you add a monitor.
  • Power supply. $40 - $100 depending on capacity. Easy to replace. Hard to find a matching replacement for the existing power supply. The new power supply must be of the same size and the same or more capacity. This part can be easily damaged due to an electrical storm.
  • Cooling fan. $40. Your computer may have more than one. One fan is part of the power supply. This is a relatively easy repair. If you computer shuts down for no apparent reason, it may be overheating due to a cooling fan failure. Placing your where the fans are located on the case should detect air being circulated
  • Sound card. Easy to replace if you are comfortable putting your hands inside of the desktop. ($20 on up for the replacement card.)
  • Video card. $100 on up. The most complex thing about this replacement is determining what to replace the broken card with. There are current 2-3 "standards" for the interface for a video card. You must purchase a video card that conforms to the interface standard of your computer. Easy to replace if you are comfortable putting your hands inside of the desktop.
  • USB ports. $20. It seems every new computer component requires a usb port. You can never have enough. This is a pretty easy replacement as long as you have a place to plug the new card into.
  • NIC (Network Interface Card. Connects your computer via a cable to the Internet.) $20. Easy to replace if you are comfortable putting your hands inside of the desktop. A replacement that uses a usb port can be used inside of a internal card. The usb replacement will be more expensive and take up a valuable usb port.
  • Keyboard. $10 on up. As easy to replace as unplugging the usb connection to your computer and plugging the new keyboard in to the usb port. Depending on the keyboard features, a CD with software may need to be installed. Cheap keyboards should be replaced with a keyboard that is more to your liking. Go to a geek superstore such as Micro Center ( so that you can test touch prospective keyboards.
  • Monitor. $200 in up depending on size and quality. Monitors plug into the video card on the back of your desktop. An easy to obtain adapter may be required if the plug for your monitor is different than the plug on your video card.
  • Hard drive. $100 on up depending on size, speed and interface type. Physically replacing the hard drive is relatively easy . The hard part is reloading your system and restoring your pictures, photos, emails, etc. If you cannot find the software that come with your computer, you will need to re-purchase it in order to reload your computer. Software costs can easily run to $400. A new entry level Dell desktop starts at $400.
  • Mouse. $10 on up. Cheap mice should be replaced with a mouse that is more to your liking. Go to a geek superstore such as Micro Center ( so that you can touch prospective mice.