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Posts from the ‘Computer and Laptop Repair’ Category

PC Habits: Your New Year’s Computing Resolutions

January 12th, 2016

Martin

The start of the year is a good time to take stock of your PC, in the same way you might be doing in other parts of your life. Good habits can make or break your computing experiences.

But while you can’t take your PC to the gym to get it toned, there are plenty of good habits you can start doing now. Getting started is the hardest part, so here are some reminders of my top blog posts which will get you going. Read more

Keep your PC simple, stupid!

December 1st, 2015

Martin

Minimalism is quite a fad at the moment. Whether it’s decluttering your bookshelf or chucking out the chintz, from the piles of stuff in your house to the very patterns our things are decorated with, plain and simple is “in”.

Why is this? And is it something we can apply to our computers in a useful way?

There are a million reasons why minimalism might be the fashionable thing right now. I’m not going to go through every single one, but I’d like to suggest that it’s the feeling of freedom, of knowing that everything in your house it useful or beautiful, and that you know where everything is.

There’s also something about deciding what you need, and also being more certain of what exactly it is that’s lost when something goes wrong. Read more

Web browsers vs search engines vs your home page

November 24th, 2015

Martin

Does it really matter if you don’t know the difference between the Google search engine, the Google home page and the ‘Google web browser’? No, not most of the time.

But I’ve had customers in situations where a knowledge of these differences would have prevented problems occurring, or at least stopped them early in their tracks.

I’m not surprised about the confusion, especially now that companies like Google make one of everything! With that in mind, here’s a quick run-down of what the main phrases mean, and what you can do to spot problems early on. Read more

Backup: your complete guide

September 17th, 2015

Martin

Backup: everyone knows they should do it, but so many don’t. Whether it’s your family albums or your business’s accounts, you need to protect what’s on your PC from loss or damage.

You may worry that it’ll take ages, cost a fortune, or that you’ll forget to keep it up. In this guide I’ll show you the different types of backup available, the software to use, and how to get around all these problems and worries.

Basic Backup

There are two types of backup you can do right now (as long as you’re reading this on a desktop or laptop!). They’re not the perfect solution, but they’re infinitely better than doing nothing.

Copy and Paste

At its most basic, a backup is just a second, reserve copy of your files so that you can recover from accidentally deleting things, or if your computer breaks down. So, the easiest way to back up is simply to copy and paste all your files to a new, second location. Try copying everything to a dedicated folder on your C:\ drive, or – even better – onto an external disk. That’s it – you now have an infinitely better backup than you did a moment ago!

System Restore, or Recovery

Open the Windows menu and search for ‘restore’. In Windows 10, open ‘Recovery’, from where you click on ‘Configure System Restore’, then ‘Create…’ to save your computer’s current state. With Windows 7 you should look for System Restore.

If Windows suffers a problem, such as being unable to boot, you can roll back to any of the system restore points that have been created, and essentially undo any damage. This tool does not back up your own documents etc., so use it in conjunction with (at the very least!) Copy/Paste to preserve your machine properly.

Proper Backups

There are much better ways to backup your computer than the ones mentioned so far. There are a handful of different types, and so the following will give you an idea of your options. Choose the one which suits your needs the most.

1 Synchronising backup

This type creates a copy of all your files, and then whenever you run this backup again it simply updates any files which have changed at the source, deletes files which have gone from the source, and adds new files which have been created since the last run.

This is one of the smallest backup types, and takes up the least space. The second run, and all runs after that, are quick. However, if you accidentally delete something but don’t notice until after the next backup run, the file will be gone entirely. Therefore it’s not very sophisticated.

Examples: Create Synchronity, GoodSync, Allway Sync.

2 Incremental backup

Incremental backups first make a copy of all your files. Then later runs make a record of all new files, deleted files and changed files, and notes the date.

That means that updates after the first one are quick, and you can roll your computer back to any date on which a backup was taken. It takes more space than the Synchronising type, but it means that every file that’s ever been on your PC is preserved, until the drive is full. At that point, your software should start deleting old backups as it creates new ones.

Examples: Time Machine (for Macs), Backup4all, EaseUS.

3 Disk Image

With a disk image backup, your entire hard drive with all its contents – program files, documents, photos, registry – is wrapped up into a single huge file, and put away for safe keeping. If your computer was to be abducted by aliens, or fall into a canyon, then as long as you had the image, and built a computer identical to the one it came from, you could restore the disk image and carry on from there.

It’s a long process to create a disk image, and every new backup takes the same amount of time to make. This type of backup also takes up the most space, as your whole computer is effectively cloned every time. However, it’s also the most comprehensive, taking in everything in one go, and has other uses, such as duplicating systems in offices and the like without having to install Windows on each one.

Examples: Macrium Reflect Free, Acronis True Image.

4 NAS and Cloud backups

NAS stands for ‘network attached storage’, and usually refers to a dedicated box linked to your router or modem at home. It can be used to share storage across all your computers, or maybe to stream digital media around your home. It can also be used to store your backups. ‘Cloud backup’ is a similar idea, except that the data is uploaded to the ‘Cloud’, i.e. the Internet. Both processes might use one of the methods already mentioned in this article, such as incremental or disk image.

The big advantage of these network locations is that your files are secured away from your PC. If possible, you should always keep them in a different location to your computer, so that if something happens to the computer it is less likely to happen to your backup too. Imagine if your files were on a USB disk in your laptop bag, and your laptop was stolen, USB disk and all!

A big disadvantage is that transferring your files over a network connection is always going to be slow compared to backing up to a disk connected to your PC. And if your internet connection is limited, then backing up 200 gigabytes (GB) of photos to the cloud might use all that up in one go (or might take weeks)! You also need to pay a subscription to a company if you want cloud backup, and you need to trust that company not to spy on your stuff.

Examples: SpiderOak (cloud), Carbonite (cloud), Western Digital My Cloud (home NAS box).

Back up today!

However you do it, backing up your computer’s files and folders is arguably the most essential maintenance task you can do with your PC or laptop. It’s the first thing I do when a customer trusts me with their machine, and I make sure all my own computers are backed up at all times.

I must admit I got burned once many years ago, and nearly lost some valuable and much loved files. Luckily, even in those prehistoric days a computer repair shop saved things for me, and I learned my lesson. 🙂

Now you know how many options of you have, and how easy a basic backup is, so you’ve no excuse. Of course, if you need any more advice, just give me a call and I’ll be happy to help!

Speed Up Tools, Registry Cleaners and Driver Updaters

September 1st, 2015

Martin

We’re always looking for ways to speed up our PCs and laptops, aren’t we? We want to make them run more smoothly, reduce errors and Blue Screens of Death. There are plenty of free downloads which promise to help. But are we putting our computers at risk?

Registry Cleaners

The Registry is infamous, and hundreds of software titles claim to be able to solve the problems it causes. These programs strip out bits of the Registry which they claim are useless or broken.

But the Registry hasn’t benefited from cleaning since Windows Vista, and doing so will not speed up your PC. You could even end up breaking Windows by using one of the poorly-programmed titles which are a bit gung-ho about their job.

Driver Updaters

You see the adverts everywhere online, trying to get you to scan your PC and ‘Update Your Drivers’. You can download software tools which will do this for you, and bring all your hardware drivers up to date.

But bringing a driver up to date only helps in very specific cases, and can actually cause more problems than it solves. Many crash-prone Windows systems have bad drivers as their cause, and some newer drivers are not compatible with your laptop from a few years back.

PC Speed up tools

You can find dozens of all-in-one suites which will clean the Registry, update your drivers and strip out tonnes of ‘unnecessary’ Windows components to help give your PC a speed boost.

As you can probably tell by now, carrying this out without the proper caution can really chop mighty holes in an otherwise healthy computer. You really need to know what you’re doing to make proper use of these software suites.

How to solve the problem

So are all these programs mere snake-oil, to be avoided at all costs? They certainly can bring unwanted extra malware onto your computer, and some titles try to get you to phone premium rate international numbers.

But not all these titles are untameable monsters. Here’s how to stay safe, while getting the best out of these titles:

  1. Only use these tools to target specific problems. If you’re having trouble uninstalling a program, a Registry cleaner might be needed, but only remove those entries related to your problem software. A good cleaner will let you do this.
  2. Only use software that’s been recommended by an expert, or someone you know who’s used it. I’d go with CCleaner for junk file clearance, SlimDrivers for driver updates, and System Mechanic for all-in-one cleaning. These titles let you pick and choose which problems to solve. Avoid the temptation to tick all the boxes!
  3. Backup, backup, backup your whole system before you do anything! And know how to restore from the backup when something goes wrong.

At Ship Shape Computers, I’ve seen my customers use every type of program to speed up their PC, often with devastating results. So think about what you’re trying to do, and use a tool that is accurate and reliable. And most importantly of all, make sure you can roll back any changes you make, before you risk making a bad situation worse.

Alternatively, call in someone who can carry out the pinpoint repairs needed without resorting to these scanners and Russian Roulette repairs!

Image: Crash at St.Marys Corner – Andrew Beaumont – LDS Alfa Romeo – Glover Trophy practice – Goodwood Revival 2013 – Driver ok by PSParrot (Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0))

What does it mean to say it’s ‘Your PC’?

April 21st, 2015

Martin

Photograph of ancient Greek pottery showing Cerberus the three-headed dog

For a while now, and certainly on this blog, I’ve been writing within a concept I’ve simply called ‘Your PC’. Having worked on dozens of desktop and laptop computers, I’ve come to realise that so many problems were caused by users not realising that this was Their PC.

With that in mind, I want to talk a little bit about what it means to know it’s Your PC, and just how this can prevent problems arising. With these few tips, you’ll be effortlessly blocking malware from wrecking your PC experience.

Permission

It boils down to permission, and your willingness to give it.

I say: on Your PC, Give No Permission.

But then again I’m prone to hyperbole.

But to some extent it’s true: certainly give no permission by default. Try following these ideas:

  • Don’t presume that the software installed when you buy a PC or laptop is the Best For You. Don’t presume that what’s shoved in your face is even the best software on this laptop.
  • Don’t just let the manufacturer install its own updates. HP do this, Samsung do this, and Sony and Dell do it too. They’ve got little programs which go online and update your this, that and other. They’re updates for things you probably didn’t ask for in the first place, so why waste time and download limits on more junk?
  • Always check to see if your new software – that program you’ve downloaded from Cnet.com – is trying to fill up your hard drive with adware and other dangerous nasties. Look for tick boxes with a tick already in them, and remove that tick. Click ‘Decline’ whenever you can; never ‘Accept’ unless you really understand what it is you’re doing. Sometimes, there might even be tricky ways of hiding the Decline button. It’s there; seek it out.
Screenshot of offer bundled into free software installation

CNet have become notorious for bundling ‘offers’, but it could happen anywhere

Those are just some tips for starters. What I’m saying is (and some people are not going to like it) you need to actively be the gatekeeper for what gets into your computer.

There are three reactions to this:

  1. Yay, Martin, you’re so right! I will henceforth be like Cerberus unto the underworld!
  2. Hmm, I’m not really sure I can be bothered…
  3. I don’t know anything about computers. I love to tell people I’m a technophobic idiot! La la la la!

The last of these is, of course, accompanied by fingers in ears and an end to further rational conversation.

No Excuses

If computers were onions, I would indeed know my onions. But just because there are such things as Computer Experts, this doesn’t mean that everyone else should be content in ignorance.

I’m not saying anyone is. Almost all of my customers would love to know more about their computer. What I’m saying is that I’m giving you permission (just in case that’s what you were waiting for) to demand to know what’s going on. And that’s because, after all, it’s Your PC.

Won’t I need a manual?

But I’m not just giving you permission to learn a little more about your PC. I’m giving you permission to learn only a little more. Here’s the rules which I live by, and which you can start with, to take control from those who would steal it from you:

  1. Know what programs are running when you turn your PC on. Is there a toolbar on the screen? See if you can find out what it does. Was it made by your PC manufacturer? Does it do anything useful? Do you ever use it?
  2. If anything new starts to appear on the screen, perhaps after you installed something new, perhaps a printer, then check what it is. Is it essential?
  3. If you’re asked whether you want something to happen – anything – by a pop up box or a message, read the message and act on it according to what you want. Don’t just click Yes, or OK, or Shaft Me Now, Thanks.

Don’t give away Permission on Your PC.

There are other ways to keep Your PC yours. These are just the things which you should do as rightful owner to prevent other companies changing things for you.

Finally, it’s OK not to know straight away whether that thing you’ve just investigated is doing Good, or doing Evil. You have two options: do a quick Google to see if other people are wondering about it; or call me at Ship Shape Computers. If it’s a quick query I can answer it, free of charge, over the phone. If it’s worrying you, or things have started to go wrong, then I can pop around to your house and sort it out for you there and then. Get in touch via the Contact page for a chat.

Playing with your new PC – the non-boring way

December 17th, 2014

Martin

There are a million blog posts out there telling you what to do now you have a new PC or laptop. They all have one thing in common:

They are sooo boring!

Security this, firewall that, registry clean the other.

You’ve got a new computer for Santa’s sake! It’s faster, whizzier, and more shiny than the one before. It’s got so much… potential! I really hope you didn’t spend Christmas Day spending Actual Money on upgrading your trial antivirus to a full version, or sitting there while Windows updates, restarts, updates, restarts…

There’s a whole encyclopaedia out there to read for free, you know! Read more

Backup: it’s what you should be doing

November 26th, 2014

Martin

Backup: a word to strike fear and guilt into all but the most committed computer user. We all know we should be doing it, but we don’t. We forget, delay, become complacent. We don’t think we’ll ever need it.

Read more

6 ways to make a bad PC situation even worse

November 3rd, 2014

Martin

You don’t need to have a computing degree to use a PC these days. That complicated bit of kit sitting on your lap has been honed to the point where it pretty much browses the web, installs programs and empties your bank account all on its own.

But when disaster strikes, why stop there? Here are a few ways to take a perfectly virus-ridden, shattered laptop and really go to town on it.

Grab a registry cleaner, any one will do. Then hit CLEAN, then CLEAN again!

Registry cleaners are a Windows user’s best friend. Install one (or four), hit the button marked ‘clean’ or ‘wipe’ or ‘destroy’ and wait a few seconds for your registry to be stripped of every pesky setting you’ve given it. Then hit that button again, just to catch a few extra things.

And try to install just one more registry cleaner from whichever popup catches your eye first.

Go on – or are you chicken?

One thing I’d certainly avoid is these two programs. They’ve got good reputations, let you backup your registry before making changes, and come with a host of other tools to keep you PC ship shape.

Free: CCleaner: not only makes it easy to do proper repairs to the Registry, but bundles in a couple of other tools too.

Paid: iolo System Mechanic: you get a hell of a lot of tools for your money, and I’ve been using this for years on my own PCs and laptops. If you’re happy to pay a little for a lot of power, try this out. If you’re a real glutton for punishment, get 40% of System Mechanic here.

Browse dangerously

Ignore the nay-sayers who think you should only use top-notch software like AVG and Kaspersky. To really bugger up your PC you need to find a ‘Top 10 Review’ website which peddles its own substandard product, and get that installed.

Then, when the shocking messages appear suggesting you spend more money, click away!

And pity those scaredy-cats who cower behind things like:

The Netcraft Toolbar Extension, which makes it far too easy to spot spammy links and dodgy websites. This is one freebie you won’t be finding me bothering with.

AVG Free: Supposedly the best free antivirus. I wouldn’t know, because I got my A/V from some website somewhere. I forget.

Kaspersky Security Suite: a reputation as the best of the best, two years running from PC Pro and MicroMart magazines. A whole security suite too, if you’re that way inclined. Put this on your computer and you’ll never achieve that Disaster Nirvana that we’re looking for.

Knacker your laptop

Laptops are a special case. They’re basically built to be thrown around literally, and to slip out of bags perched on walls.

So don’t treat your laptop like a priceless antique or the brittle concoction of plastic and silicon that it is. Try these tips:

Drop your laptop

Make sure your thumb is pressed hard on the screen when you close the lid

Slam that lid down like a mousetrap spring

Play tricks on siblings / husbands by crushing hands in laptops for combined laptop-relational breakdowns.

Bonus tips

If this isn’t enough to wreck all chances of seeing Facebook again, I have some bonus tips for you:

  • Always send angry replies to spammers. They’re a sensitive bunch, and will take you off their list straight away
  • If an email comes in offering something which sounds too good to be true (like, say, a pill which ‘doctors are furious at’), there’s only one way to reap the benefits: whip out your credit card.
  • To turn off your computer, just hold down the power button for 8 seconds. This kills the power, and saves you having to click three times to get it to shut down. This is best to do during a Windows Update or defrag.

Now that you know how to really mess your computer up, get going! Alternatively, if you know a friend who’s done one of these things and needs a little help, call in a PC repair expert.

 

Escape from Windows XP

March 21st, 2014

Martin

Windows XP was a great Operating System when it was released in 2001, and remains popular. It’s easy to use, familiar, and does everything people ask of it. But in many technical ways it’s now out-dated, and Microsoft, makers of Windows XP, will stop providing security updates to it after April 8th 2014.

If you’re still using Windows XP, you need to take action. Read more