Friday, December 28, 2012

Desktop Icons Missing?

empty-desktop-windows-7I ran across an interesting problem recently, all the icons on the desktop were missing!  The first thing I looked at was the desktop folder to make sure there where actually icons there, and they were there.  The desktop folder can be found under: My Computer >> Local Disk C (default location) >> Users (Documents and Settings under Windows XP) >> [User Name] >> Desktop.  The desktop folder contains all the files, folders, and shortcuts on your desktop.  Some of the shared shortcuts, including links to My Computer and Network shortcuts will not be in the folder.

desktop-folder

Now there are quite a number of things that can cause desktop icons to disappear, the most common that I have seen are Viruses and accidental deletion.  In this case there was no virus and the icons were in the desktop folder so they were not deleted.

The problem in this case was that the Show Desktop Icons was unchecked!  To access this option, you need to right click on an empty space on the desktop, go to View and Show Desktop Icons (not sure why you would even want an option like this? except for maybe a Halloween prank!).

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If you have a problem with your icons disappearing after a virus then I suggest trying this program: http://download.bleepingcomputer.com/grinler/unhide.exe

Friday, December 7, 2012

How to clean a Keyboard?

This something I get asked every now and then; so, I thought I would show you how I clean my keyboard.  Now, just as a warning I am not liable if you damage your keyboard if you clean it my way!  If you want a safer method then I would suggest you use a can of compressed air and a keyboard duster that fits down in between the keys.  Also you probably should not use this method on any of the fancier keyboards that built in screens or other specialty keys/mechanical keyboards.

First off a little explanation of how keyboards are built (not mechanical keyboards).  First you have the keyboard case, which is usually compromised of two pieces, the base and top which holds the actual keys.  Inside the keyboard there will be a couple layers of film plus a rubber keypad.  The top and bottom pieces of film both of electrical contact points for the all the keys while the middle piece of film has holes for the contact points.  Pushing keys presses the rubber pad which pushes the top and bottom film contacts together.

To clean the keyboard start by removing the top part of the keyboard case which holds the keys.  In my case I have a Dell keyboard with 12 screws on the bottom that I simply remove, then while holding they keyboard together, I flip the keyboard back over, and remove the top.  I then wash the top of the keyboard and the keys (not the bottom or the film!), this allows me to thoroughly clean the keyboard and makes the keyboard operate much smoother and quieter.  Just make sure the keyboard is completely dry before reassembling!  I have tried this on a number of different keyboards and this is the best way I have found of cleaning the keyboard.  While it may seem a bit strange to put your keyboard under water, by removing the top with just the keys, the electronic part of your keyboard will remain dry.  Although for anyone that is curious you can dunk the whole keyboard in the water as well – you just have to make sure it is completely dry before trying to use it!

Below is my keyboard (or at least one of them…)!

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The bottom of the keyboard with 12 screws, 4 along the top, 4 in the middle, and for 4 along the bottom.

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Below is the keyboard with the top removed (the part that you are going to wash).  You can see the rubber pad in the picture; this is actually what provides the resistance in the keys.

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Below is the rubber pad rolled over revealing the layers of film.

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Below the first layer of film with contacts is rolled over and the middle layer with holes and bottom layer with contacts is visible.  The middle layer is very hard to see because it is almost completely clear.

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Below the bottom layer of film with contacts is visible.

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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Fixing Corrupt Data on a Hard drive–CHKDSK

Corrupt data (files) on a system can cause all kinds of problems; for example, not being able to boot the computer.  Fortunately fixing this problem is fairly simple at least as long as the hard drive with the corrupt data is not a system drive or you have a second computer you can plug the corrupt system drive into to fix the corrupt data.  Just to note, by system drive I am referring to the hard drive that has your operating system (such as Windows).  In my experience trying to fix a system drive while using it does not work that well – even though it is possible.

What can cause corrupt data?  There all kinds of reasons that you can end of with corrupt data on a hard drive; the most common one that I have seen/experienced is the result of an improper shutdown; which can be a result of powering the computer without shutting it down, pulling the plug, power outage, ect.  Probably the second most common reason I have seen is a result of viruses and other malicious software; malicious software has a way of wrecking data on a hard drive and it is not a bad idea to check your hard drive for corrupt data after a virus.  The final reason I am going to mention is the result of a failing hard drive, failing hard drives in my experience usually give a little bit of warning before they fail and constantly corrupting data can be a good sign.  If you are constantly having to fix corrupt data on your hard drive, this can be a very good sign that your hard drive is failing – assuming you are not have trouble with the other two reasons (improper shutdowns and viruses) I mentioned.

CHKDSK is a command line program that has been around since the DOS days.  There is also a GUI (graphical user interface) program, which I will cover in this post as well. However, I actually prefer the command line program CHKDSK, contrary to the fact that I usually prefer GUI’s.  CHKDSK is accessed from the Command Prompt or a command line.  Also, in my experience it works best if you do not try to perform a CHKDSK on a hard drive that is currently booted and in use.  Obviously if it is the only hard drive in your computer – which is likely the case – and you do not have a second computer or the capabilities to hook up the hard drive to the second computer then you will have to try to perform a CHKDSK on the boot drive.  This will most likely require you to restart your computer in order for CHKDSK to check the hard drive.

To open Command Prompt, go to Start > All Programs > Accessories > Command Prompt [Right Click] and Run as administrative.  You should receive a warming about the program making changes to your computer – just click Yes.

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In the Command Prompt window type in: chkdsk [Drive Letter]: /f then press Enter on the keyboard.  In my case I decided to check drive I, so I typed in chkdsk I: /f.

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Finished results, this hard drive is in good shape so I did not receive any errors:

chkdsk-finished-results

The /f command fixes any found errors on the disk, alternatively you can also use /r or /b.  If you want more information about the CHKDSK command you can type in chkdsk /? which will bring up the help section.  You may also have to use /x command if the hard drive is in use. 

chkdsk-commands

How to Preform a CHKDSK from Windows without the command prompt (GUI).

If you do not want to use the command prompt, you can also preform the check from My Computer.  First open up My Computer, either the Computer/My Computer link on the desktop or under the Start Menu.

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In My Computer, right click on the hard drive you want to check, and click on Properties.

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In the Properties, click on the Tools tab, then click Check Now….

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Check Disk will give you option if you want to automatically fix file system errors as well as scan for and attempt recovery of bad sectors.  I recommend checking both boxes, just be aware that checking the second box for scanning bad sectors will make the scan take a long time.

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When done you will receive the results of the check – in my case no problems were found!

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Just to note here, if you try to perform this on your boot drive while in use, you will receive a warning that you can perform the check, and you will be given the option to schedule a check on the next startup.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Computer Troubleshooting–The Bootloader

windows-bootloaderFirst off, what is the Bootloader?  The bootloader is the initial program that loads the operating system.  After your computer passes all the initial boot tests from the BIOS, then the Bootloader is loaded, in most cases you will probably never even see anything of the bootloader unless something is wrong or if you have multiple operating systems.  The bootloader is installed onto the very first part of the hard drive.  Generally bootloader problems are relatively easy to fix because of automatic repair tools (at least for Windows anyway).

Problems with the bootloader can be caused by both hardware and software problems.  I’ll start with the hardware problems first, mainly because in my experience the hard drive is usually at fault.  For the hard drive double check all the wiring is firmly seated, both in the hard drive and the motherboard.  When you first start your computer should be able to hear the hard drive spin up, this should tell if you the hard drive is getting power.  For further checking to make sure the hard drive is functioning properly most hard drive manufactures make diagnostic software that can be downloaded to a CD and run on the problem computer.  These diagnostic tools can check the hard drive for problems such as corrupt files and data.  If any problems are found they should be fixed, the usually problems are corrupt files!  If there is corrupt data on a hard drive, I usually remove the hard drive and plug it into a working machine and run chkdsk from the command prompt on the hard drive to fix any problems.  Also in my experience simply switching ports on the motherboard will fix the problem as well.

Another common problem is an incorrectly configured BOIS boot device.  The easiest way to fix this is reset the BOIS back to default .  When booting the computer, on the initial screen it should tell you what button you have to press in order to enter the BOIS setup, a couple common ones include F1, F2, and DEL.  Another common option at startup as well is the option to select the boot device (on most systems I have seen this is F12); from the options you will want to select the hard drive – hint, if you do not see the hard drive listed you probably have a hardware problem such as a bad cable, bad port, or bad hard drive.

For software problems the Windows Vista, 7, and 8 operating system comes with automatic tools to fix the problem.  While there are some manual methods for fixing the bootloader, the automatic tools are your best bet.   In most cases if Windows fails to start twice the option to repair the computer should appear.  Alternatively you can also insert the operating CD and use the repair option on the CD.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Plugged In, Not Charging?

plugged in not chargingThis is an issue I have experienced myself, you plug the laptop in, but it will not charge the battery, even though the battery is present and in good condition.  I did some research on the issue and one thing I came across with was a lot of people blaming Windows Vista for the troubles, which is what I had on my Dell laptop back when I had these issues.  Now, I knew that the operating system did not have anything to do with the battery not charging, since the battery charging is controlled by the hardware and not the software.  I purchased a new a battery but this did not fix the problem.  I next purchased a new power supply for the laptop and this solved the problem, the battery would now charge.

I did some more research to see if I could determine why a new power supply would fix the problem – I had checked my old one and it was outputting the proper voltages the best I could tell.  It turns out, in addition to the two power wires (positive and negative) there was a third wire which the laptop uses to communicate with the power supply.  The laptop uses this to determine that the correct power supply is attached to the laptop, if the correct power supply is not attached then laptop will not charge the battery!  A check of this third wire on my old power supply revealed that it was broken somewhere along the cord.  And, because the wire was broken the laptop could not determine if the correct power supply was attached and therefore it would not charge the battery.  The only laptop manufactures that use this third wire, that I have seen, are Dell and HP.  Most other laptop manufactures just a two wire power supply.  You can fix your old power supply by cutting out the old wires and soldering a new 3 wire cord into power supply and jack.

The power supply is not the only thing that can go wrong with the charging system on any laptop.  In order for the laptop to charge the battery, you need to have the correct power supply, the laptops motherboard charging circuitry needs to be working, and the battery needs to be in good condition.

Just an addition note as well, if you have a Dell or HP laptop and are experiencing these problems, you need to purchase another power supply as soon as possible.  Leaving your battery in a discharged state will wreck the battery!  And contrary to what some websites say, Windows Vista (or any other operating system for that matter) have nothing to do with the problem.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Top 7 best Computer Troubleshooting steps for beginners

Guest Post:

Got stuck with your PC? Fixing the problems of a computer may seem an overwhelming experience, but once you are through with the fundamentals, you find this job as easy as nut cracking. You need to have a little common sense and possess the skills to identify the part that is defective. It is possible for you to achieve this, only through practice and experience. You must have passion and dedication towards learning. You feel more satisfied on solving a problem on your own. Here are some simple ways that help you to track down the issue in a logical manner.

1. Relax

You may get frustrated when things go wrong with your PC. If you are expecting the results immediately, you are wrong. You should approach the situation in a systematic, cool and controlled manner. Frustration makes the computer problems appear more complex than they are in the true sense. Leave the place for some time and get back with new insight. Sometimes the problems get fixed by themselves when you give them some time. So relaxation plays an important role in troubleshooting PC.

2. Trial and error

As a beginner you may find it difficult to identify the malfunctioning component. You can do this by swapping the PC components and check if the system works. You can just connect different peripherals one at a time on different machines. Most of the PC problems get fixed by this trial and error method.

3. Check the plugging

Make sure the cables, connectors and other cords are connected securely. Sometimes a problem may be due to a loose connection. In case you are using a surge protector to protect your hardware from an electric jolt, make sure the surge protector is not destroyed. If it is damaged you need to replace it immediately. If the problem still exists, you should check if the monitor is on. In many cases, this has been the cause of the problem.

4. Take a note of the error messages

When you get error messages on the screen, write them down as they describe the problem in detail. Document the exact description of error messages. This helps the help desk to respond quickly. Sometimes your hardware may freeze without displaying any message. In such cases, try to recall what was happening before the problem occurred. You may be saving a file or removing your USB drive. Identify the cause and do a quick search on google to find people with similar problem and how they actually got it fixed.

5. Reboot

Take a backup of your data and simply reboot the system. If this does not work then you have to reboot using the keys CTRL-ALT-DEL where your data will not be saved. If the problem still exists, you need to hold the power button for a few seconds and the system gets shut down. Wait for a while and restart your PC. If this works, you can proceed with the applications you had been working. Some application programs notify you with recovered files. Just save them with a different name and proceed.

6. Run a complete system scan

Sometimes viruses hide themselves from anti-virus software. They make their way inside other programs on your system. When you identify a program that is working strangely, you need to check the system for virus. A complete system scan helps you to fight this problem.

7. Re-install

Re-installing a program is a long-term fix. Get into MS Windows Control Panel. Go to the Add/Remove programs and remove the program that caused the problem. Try re-installing the same program and check if this fixes your problem.

If you analyze the problem logically and work on it step-by-step, you have a good opportunity to tackle it by yourself. If the problem still exists, you can always seek a professional.

About the author: Brianne is a blogger by profession. She loves writing, reading and travelling. She is an avid golfer and answers how to ship golf clubs by suggesting Shipsticks.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Laptop Will Not Boot after Dying?

I have had several people with this problem in the past year – laptop suddenly dies (shuts off) and will not boot back up, even after plugging the laptop into AC power, it might not boot back up.  The cause of this problem in my experience has always been that the battery has been drained completely to 0!  Now, it is important to note here that you should NEVER drain your laptop battery all the way to 0.  The laptop should be configured by default so that it shuts off before reaching 0, usually when it reaches 5%, though sometimes this does not always work, as the computer may not be reading the battery level correctly.  Also you should receive a warning when the battery starts to get low, usually about 10%; when you receive this warning you should either plug the laptop in or shut it off!  Not following this can result in damager to your laptops as well as possible data corruption or operating system failure from data corruption.

Draining a battery down to 0, especially if it is a lithium battery, can cause the battery to drop below the charging threshold, at which point you will not be able to charge the battery and you will have to get a new battery.  I have had actually seen this happen, so trust me, when your laptop warns you that your battery is low you should plug it in, otherwise you might end paying a much greater price for a new battery or worse for data recovery.

The solution to this problem in all the cases I have had, has always been to remove the battery and plug the laptop into AC power and turn the laptop on.  All the computer to boot all the way up to the desktop and then put the battery back into the laptop.  Hopefully the laptop will recognize the battery and start charging it.  If it doesn’t try rebooting the computer, and a hint here, do not shutdown, restart!  Once the laptop starts to charge the battery leave the laptop plugged into until the battery is fully charged!  If you cannot get the battery to charge it is possible your battery is below the charging the threshold and you will never be able to charge the battery.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Computer Troubleshooting–Computer Will Not Pass BIOS

This a continuation of the previous blog post on a computer that will not turn on: http://www.computer-skills.info/2012/05/computer-troubleshootingcomputer-will.html.  For this post I am going to focus on a computer that can turn on, but does not pass BOIS, usually indicated by a beep.  The BOIS is the initial booting of a computer – the part where you may see lots of technical information on the screen, although some computer manufactures hide this behind a fancy loading screen instead.

  1. The first thing to do with a computer that does not pass BOIS is to check for any error messages on the screen or if nothing on the screen is present, listen for any Beep codes from the computers speaker (this is not the speaker system that is attached to your computer, instead it is an internal speaker that should be attached to the motherboard for the main purpose of beep codes).  One Beep usually means the computer has safely passed BOIS and the computer has been started.  Multiple Beeps or continues beeps usually indicate a problem.  You will have to consult your computer manufacture or motherboard manufacture to determine what the beep codes mean.
  2. If you hear beep codes, you can determine what the beep codes mean and start trouble shooting from there.  For example if the beep code indicates something is wrong with the RAM, double check and make sure all the RAM is properly seated (all the way down).  If that doesn’t solve the problem then you can pull all the RAM out and place just one stick in the first slot – of course if you only have one stick this will not work and you will need to get another stick to test with.
  3. If you do not hear any beep codes, it is possible the computer has not booted far enough along for it to produce any beep codes; however, it is also possible that your computer does not have an internal speaker or that the internal speaker does not work.  If your computer normally makes a beep when you first start it up then your computer most likely has an internal speaker, which helps greatly in troubleshooting BOIS problems.  If your computer will not beep then it is possible the motherboard is bad; it is also possible the power supply is not supplying the correct voltages, power supply testers are fairly cheap and is a good way to determine if your power supply is at fault.
  4. Reset the CMOS/BIOS.  This is usually done on the computers motherboard by switching the jumpers or on some of the better motherboards through an actual button.  You will need to check your computers manual for specific instructions on how to reset the CMOS/BIOS since methods and locations of jumpers and buttons vary wildly!
  5. Try removing and reseating all the RAM in your computer (unless of course you already tried this in step 2).  Not sure why but this seems to fix a lot of the problems with computers not booting.  You can also try plugging in just one RAM stick and see if the computer will boot, do this with all your RAM sticks to make sure they are all good.
  6. Similar to my last post on troubleshooting a computer that will not boot period, unplug the computer and if you have a laptop, pull the battery out as well, and let it sit for a couple minutes to let all the power drain out.  Then plug it back in and see if it will boot.  If that does not help you can try pulling out the little coin battery as well and repeat the process.
  7. If that does not help unplug everything from the computer, including the mouse and keyboard (unless you have a laptop of course).  And try powering up the computer; if that helps try plugging the devices back in and see if the problem returns; if it does than one of your devices is most likely causing the trouble and you will have to plug them back in one by one to determine the cause.
  8. If that did not work, then try the same thing with the inside of the computer!  Unplug/remove all the components – Hard drives, CD/DVD drives, RAM, Video and PCI cards.  If that still does not work you can try removing the CPU as well – just make sure you leave the little internal speaker connected so you can listen for beep codes.  Naturally at this point the computer will not boot, what you are looking for is error codes from the motherboard to help determine if the motherboard or an actual component, such as a video card, is at fault for the problems.
  9. If your computer still does not boot it is most likely the fault of the motherboard and will probably need to be replaced.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Microsoft Word–Basics

Word is Microsoft Offices word processor for documents, letters, papers, envelopes, ect.  Microsoft Word is a WYSIWYG editor meaning what you see on screen is what you should get when you print the document – in early computing days this was quite an improvement.  For this post I am going to be looking at Microsoft Office Word 2010, version 2007 is very similar, and older versions of Word have similar features; however, they do not have the ribbon interface like 2007 and 2010.

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The bar along the top of Microsoft Word’s window is the Ribbon, the ribbon contains all the options and editing features.  For the most part you probably will be spending most of you time under the Home tab (shown in the screen shot above), which contains all the basic editing commands, including Font, Font Size, text alignment, and themes.  One helpful editing tip for selecting content; place your cursor on the left hand margin of document and the cursor should change to an inverted cursor, which by left clicking will select all the content on the line that the cursor is next to, by dragging up or down you can select multiple lines.  Another helpful editing tip is right clicking, right click will bring up quick access menus, for example right clicking on text will show the font options.

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The next tab is the insert tab.  The insert tab allows you to insert pictures, tables, charts, page numbers, fancy word art, and other objects.  Something to be aware of when inserting non-text content such as pictures is how the picture will flow (or float) with the text.  When you insert a picture or select a picture a new tab will show up; the Format tab (screenshot below).  The Format tab for pictures allows for correcting images (cropping, special effects, ect.), more importantly though it gives options for  aligning the image, in particular, how to wrap text (or not to) around an image.  I have seen this give new and even somewhat experienced Word editors trouble, so be sure to watch the alignment and how text are being wrapped around images.  Just to note, the format tab will only appear after you select a picture or other object that requires the format tab.

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The next tab in the ribbon is the Page Layout tab, this tab is especially important if you plan on printing your document.  On this ribbon's tab you can select the margins of the page (how far from the edge of the page can content be), the size and orientation of the page/paper.

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The next couple of tabs – References, Mailings, and Review; are for some of Words fancier features.  The Reference tab for example allow you create papers where you need to cite sources, for example school papers or technical documents.  The Mailings tab allows you to create envelopes and labels.  The Review tab is for correcting, marking up, and reviewing a document, including spell check.  Spell check can also be accessed by pressing F7 on the keyboard; Word is constantly checking the document for spelling and grammar, which are represented by squiggly red (spelling) or green (grammar) lines underneath a word.

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The last tab (at least that I am going to talk about) is the View tab.  In the screenshot above I also have and an Add-Ins and Acrobat tab, because I have a couple Add-Ins installed as well as Adobe software.  The view tab gives options for how you want to view the document onscreen.  The view tab has nothing to do with how a document will look when printed!  What view you want to use will probably come down to personal preference.  The view can also be changed along the bottom of the screen by the little icons on the right hand side.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Creating and Working with Folders

A folder is one of the most basic elements of the Windows operating system.  A folder basically holds files and folders, similar to a physical filing systems where a folder holds the files.  Folders are used to keep files organized, even your computers desktop is a folder!  For Windows 7 you can find your desktop folder at: C:\Users\{your username}\Desktop (screenshot below).  For a previous post on files, you can check here: http://www.computer-skills.info/2011/04/what-is-file.html.

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To create a folder, simply click on an empty spot either on your desktop or in a folder where you want the new folder.  From the right click menu, mouse over new, and click Folder.  When the folder is created it will allow you to name the folder, give the folder a name you desire and either click in a empty spot or press Enter on the keyboard.  You can find more information on renaming here: http://www.computer-skills.info/2011/04/renaming-file.html, works the same for both files and folders.

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naming-a-new-folder

Now that your folder is created you can add files, additional folders, or whatever you needed the folder for.

Navigating Folders

The main folder (if you want to call it that) is My Computer.  My Computer holds all the hard drives, disk drives, floppy drives, card readers, and other devices with storage.  There is a My Computer or just Computer located on the Start Menu and sometimes the desktop, if enabled.  From My Computer you can access all folders and files on or attached to the computer.  For example, if you put a CD or DVD into the disk drive and nothing happens, you can go to My Computer and open the drive manually.

my-computer-link-on-the-start-menu

My-Computer

Another important thing for navigating is the address bar along the top of the Explorer window, in the screenshot above, I am in the “root” folder Computer.  In the screenshot below I am in Computer > Local Disk C > Users > Randy > Downloads.  The real address to this by the way is: C:\Users\Randy\Downloads.  This tells you that you are in the C drive, in the Users Folder, in the Randy folder, looking at the downloads folder.  Clicking on any of the individual links will take you directly to that folder level, for example if I Click on Local Disk (C:) it will take me directly to Local Disk C.

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Sunday, July 8, 2012

Network Cable Types

There several different types of cable that are used in computer networking. However for must users, especially home users, the only type of cable used is twisted pair "Cat" cable. There are currently seven different category cables: category's 1-7. Category 1-4 cables are not used in computer networking and instead are usually used for analog applications such as phone. Categories 5-7 are used for networking, with each higher number representing faster speeds.

Twisted pair cabling - probably better known as "Cat" cable

Twisted pair cabling is called twisted pair because the pairs of wire within the cable are twisted around each other. This twisting in of the wires helps prevent crosstalk; crosstalk is simply the picking up of unwanted interference, both from within the cable itself and from cables that may be nearby. Twisted pair cable is probably better known by its specifications currently Category 1-7. Only Categories 5-7 are used in computer networking, with the first 4 generally being used for analog applications such as phone. Category cables 5-7 all have 4 pairs of wire, with 2 wires to a pair, for a total of 8 wires. Category cables 5-6 uses a RJ45 termination jack. A RJ45 jack looks very similar to phone jack, except for the fact that it is slightly larger and has 8 connections rather than 4. The most common cable type, at least for home users, is Category 5e. Category 5e has a max speed of 1000Mbs or 1Gbs with a max length of 100 meters.

Category 1 cable type is not commonly used any more, and is listed as unsuitable for modern communication devices. Category 1 cable supports a frequency bandwidth of 0.4 MHz and was originally used for telephone and modem communications. Category 1 cable was never recognized by the EIA/TIA as a valid cable type.

Category 2 cable is not used anymore and is listed as unsuitable for modern communication devices. Category 2 cable supports a frequency bandwidth of 4 MHz. Originally category 2 cable was used for ARCnet and 4 Mbs Token Ring networks. Category 2 cables was the first cable to support speeds of up to 4 Mbs, which back then was fast! Category 2 cable was never recognized by the EIA/TIA as a valid cable type.

Category 3 cable is currently used primarily for phone and modem communication devices. Category 3 cable supports a frequency of 16 MHz and is cable of speeds up to 100 Mbs. Category 3 cable supports 10BASE-T and 100BASE-T4 (which simply means it uses all 4 pairs), as well as Token Ring and ATM25 networks. Category 3 cable is still recognized by the EIA/TIA as a valid cable type.

Category 4 cable is not commonly used except for phone/data communications, which is not common. Category 4 cable supports a frequency of 20 MHz and is cable of speeds up 100 Mbs over 4 pair. Category 4 cable supports 10BASE-T, 100BASE-T4, and 16 Mbs Token Ring. Category 4 cable is no longer recognized by the EIA/TIA as a valid cable type.

Category 5 is not commonly used anymore; instead Category 5e has superseded Category 5. You may still find Cat 5 cables bundled with cheap electronics as well as in older network installations. Category 5 cable supports a frequency of 100 MHz and speeds up 1000 Mbs. Category 5 cable is most commonly used in 100BASE-TX and 1000BASE-T. Category 5 cable is no longer recognized by the EIA/TIA as a valid cable type.

Category 5e is probably the most common cable type and is found in most new installations. Category 5e (enhanced) has bascially the same specifications as Category 5.

Category 6 cable is starting to replace category 5e, especially in applications where higher speeds are needed. Category 6 cable supports a frequency of 250 MHz and has better resistance to crosstalk. Category 6 cable can support up to 10 Gbs; however, using a Category 6 cable for 10 Gbs will result in a shorter allowable length of only 55 meters. Category 6 cable can support up to 10GBASE-T.

Category 6a has similar specifications as category 6, except it supports a frequency of 500 MHz and allows 10 Gbs to be run for the full 100 meters.

Category 7 is the newest cable type and supports speeds up to 10 Gbs. Category 7 cable supports a frequency of 600 MHz. The main difference between other cable types is the fact that category 7 cable is even more resistant to crosstalk. Category 7 cable has shielding around the cable as well as around each pair of the cable. Category 7 supports 10GBASE-T.

Category 7a cable has similar specifications as category 7, except it supports a frequency of 1000 MHz. Currently the highest speed supported by category 7a is 10 Gbs; it is possible in the future though that it might support 40-100 Gbs.

All the different wires I listed above have one thing in common, 4 pairs of wire. The wires inside the cable are all color coded starting with blue, white blue, green, white green, orange, white orange, brown, and white brown. In my experience cable manufactures vary the color on the cables that have white, sometimes they are all white with a colored stripe or sometimes they are all colored with just a white stripe.

Which cable type should you choose? It basically comes down to what speed do you want? For most home users Category 5e will be sufficient, which allows for speeds up to 1 Gbs. Although, you may want to consider Cat 6 for future applications.

Of course twisted pair cable is not the only type of cable you can use for networking; there is also coaxial and fiber. On top of that you also have Ethernet over power lines as well as Wi-Fi. I will just quickly mention these other types of cables since they either are not used any more or are used in business settings for high-speed backbones.

Coaxial cable comes in two types, thicknet (10BASE5) and thinnet (10BASE2). Thicknet has a max length of 500 meters and thinnet has a max length of 185 meters. Coaxial cable supports a max speed of 10 Mbs.

Fiber cable is for long cable runs (miles) and high speeds without out having to worry about crosstalk. Fiber cable contains a glass inner core that transmits light, because fiber cables use light they are not affected by electrical magnetic interference. There are two types of fiber cable, multi-mode and single-mode. The main difference between multi-mode and single-mode is multi-mode cable has a larger core, which makes it cheaper, but shortens the distance and speed of the cable.

Ethernet over powerlines relies on existing wiring, namely your electrical wires. This eliminates the need for you to run cables and allows you to get to places that might normally be hard or impossible to reach with a regular networking cable. For powerline networking you will need adapters that plugs into your outlet. Powerline networking is slower than using a regular network and is also affected by the length and quality of your electrical wires and connections. A good use for powerline networking are places where Wi-Fi might have trouble reaching, such as through thick walls or multiple floors.

Wi-Fi is wireless networking and has grown exceedingly popular over the last few years as more people are using mobile devices such as laptops, tablets, and smartphones. Wi-Fi with the proper equipment can also be used for long distances. Wireless routers or access points can be setup as a wireless bridge, you can use this setup to bridge a distance without a wire and then on the opposite end have a wired connection available.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

QoS (quality of service) for Vonage or Magic Jack

First off, what is quality of service (usually seen as QoS)?  Quality of service is important for internet connected routers to prioritize data types.  For example downloading some files and make a VoIP phone call.  You would want the VoIP phone call (I would hope!) to have priority over your download, otherwise your phone call quality might be poor or possibly not work at all!  In order for this to happen you need to configure your router so that it will give VoIP call priority over all other activities.  QoS of service can also be used to prioritize other types of data as well, such as a movie download.

I have two setup scenarios for this post.  First a Vonage VoIP box that is connected to my Linksys Router, which is connected to the internet (I am not use the Vonage box a the main router though you can do that if desired, not recommended for heavy usage though!).  For help on connecting your main router and Vonage box together you can check out an earlier post: http://www.computer-skills.info/2012/02/how-to-properly-connect-two-routers.html.  And my second scenario is a Magic Jack Plus that is connected to port #2 on my router.

To get started, I am using a Linksys router, to be more specific a Linksys WRT610.  It is important that you configure the router that is connected to your internet connection!  It doesn’t do any good to configure a router that is not directly connected to your internet connection!  For example in my Vonage Scenario above, configuring the Vonage routers quality of service instead of my Linksys routers QoS.

First off, you need to log into your routers interface, by default Linksys Routers have an IP address 192.168.1.1 and a default password of admin (no username).  For more information on how to connect to your router you can check a previous post here: http://www.computer-skills.info/2012/02/configuring-and-setting-up-router.html.

Once you are logged in, you need to go to the Application & Gaming tab and then to the QoS sub-tab (last on on the right).

configuring-qos-settings

Next to the Internet Access Priority, click on the Enabled radio button (if it is not already).  Next under the Category drop down select Voice Device.  For Magic Jack, I have a Magic Jack Plus which plugs directly into my router, I used the Ethernet Port category since I could not determine the MAC address of my Magic Jack (I didn’t spend to much time trying to find the MAC address).  If you do have a MAC address for your Magic Jack then use the Voice Device category.  If not then the Ethernet Port category will work just as well.

configuring-qos-settings-selecting-category

You can find the MAC address of your Vonage device by looking at the bottom of the Vonage box.  MAC ID: ############.  Unfortunately Magic Jack doesn’t have this.

image3

In the Enter Name box, type in any name you desire, I just used Vonage as the name.  Then type in your MAC address.  The Priority should already be set to high, which you can just leave it at that; and click the Apply button.  And then click the Save Settings button!  Do not forget to click the Save Settings button, if you don’t your QoS settings will not be saved and applied!  (Continue reading below for Magic Jack if you couldn’t find a MAC address).

configuring-qos-settings-vonage-mac-address

configuring-qos-settings-vonage-qos-applied

For Magic Jack Plus, since I didn’t have a MAC address I used the Ethernet Port option.  For this, you simply need to select the Ethernet Port category.  Select which Ethernet Port your Magic Jack is connected to (in my case Ethernet Port 2 on the back of the router) and select a Priority of High.  Then click Apply and Save Settings to apply the QoS settings.

configuring-qos-settings-magic-jack-port-settings

configuring-qos-settings-magic-jack-qos-applied

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Computer Troubleshooting–Computer Will Not Start

I plan to do a number posts on troubleshooting computer problems, so start with, a computer that will not start up.  I am going to cover just the physical booting of computer; for example, you press the power button and nothing happens!  Outside of swearing, lots of four letter words, and threatening the computer, what do you do?  I suggest reading through all the suggestions first before starting.

  • Ok, this may sound kind of obvious, but make sure you have power!  This is relatively easy to test, just plug a device you know works into the outlet or power/surge strip the computer is plugged into, if the device works then you know computer as at fault.  Do not be the guy that contacted customer support because his computer would not power on, because the power was out (supposedly this is a true story)!  Just to note, most motherboards have a little light on them that indicate that are getting power.
  • Along with the last suggestion, if you have reason to suspect a power problem, you can replace the power cord for the computer.  The computer should have a standard power cord that can be picked anywhere or even from other devices.
  • For the third troubleshooting step we are going to unplug the computer’s power and if you have a laptop pull the battery out.  Leave the computer and battery out for approximately a minute, then plug everything back in and see if that corrects the problem.  In my experience this fixes most computers that stubbornly refuse to boot for no good reason.
  • This next step simply takes the third troubleshooting step to the extreme.  In addition to unplugging the computer and if you have a laptop, removing the battery; also, remove the little coin battery on the motherboard and unplug the main power supply’s connection to the motherboard.  Leave everything unplugged and out for a couple minutes, the plug everything back in and try powering on the computer.  Just to note, if you have a laptop, removing the coin battery may be next to impossible without disintegrating the entire laptop, in which case you may want to try some of the other troubleshooting steps first.  In the third picture below, the coin battery is located under the graphics card.
  • motherboard power24 pin power connectormotherboard coin battery
  • Reset the CMOS/BOIS.  You will have to look up in  your computer’s manual how to do this or do a web search.  Some motherboards use dip switches, others pins, and also actual CMOS reset buttons, you will have to consult the manual to determine what your computer has.
  • Unplug everything from the rear of the computer, all USB devices, computer monitors, internet ect.  Try powering the computer once everything is unplugged.  If unplugging everything fixes the problem, power the computer back off by holding in the power button until the computer shuts off.  Then plug everything back and see if the computer works, if not then one of the devices is probably malfunctioning and you will have to test one by one which device is causing the problem.  I actually had this one time where an external USB CD/DVD burner was somehow preventing the computer from starting, it was not until I unplugged the device that I could power the computer on.
  • Unplug and remove all components from the motherboard, including RAM, CPU, Hard drives, CD/DVD ROM drives, and add-on cards (graphics, sound, modems, ect.).  Also unplug the power from all these devices.  Once everything is unplugged (except for the power button!) try powering the computer, while the computer will not work it should at the very least power on.  If this works, then you will have to determine which device is failing by plugging them back in one by one.
  • Check and make sure the power switch is working.  I have also had this one happen to me, the power switch failed.  You will have to consult your computers manual to determine where the power switch is and where it plugs into the motherboard.  If you have an electrical tester you can test the button using the OHM’s setting on the electrical tester.  Depending on your computer, if you have a reset button; you can plug this into the motherboards power switch and see if that button will work.  This is what I have able to do with my computer, I unplugged the power switch and plugged in the reset switch which worked.
  • Test the power supply or switch out the power supply.  If you have a power supply tester (cost about $20-30 for a cheap one) you can test if the power supply works and is outputting all the correct voltages.  Alternatively, if you have another power supply, you can also switch out the power supply.  If the power supply is working and none of the other suggestions have worked, then the motherboard is most likely dead.
  • A general inspection of the components may also reveal the problem.  Look for any blown components, components with burn marks; or any smoke pouring out of the electronics.

Friday, May 11, 2012

3 Tips to Test Internet Connection Speed

Guest Post by Brianne

Internet has changed the way people interact and do their businesses. Be it having an online shop or connecting with friends around the world, internet has become the means of communication. Therefore, it is essential to have optimal connection speed to avoid downtime when you need most. With internet service providers abound, it has become quite difficult to find a reliable service provider. The only way to choose a right provider is to test internet connection speed.

Here are different ways to test your internet connection speed:

1. Networx - http://www.softperfect.com/products/networx/

It is a simple yet powerful network monitoring tool that can evaluate bandwidth of your internet connection. Apart from finding internet speed, this application can determine source of problems for slow speed and help you stay within your data limit as well. Additionally, it can also track suspicious activities by Trojan horse or other malicious programs. The program is simple to install and use. After you install, the application automatically starts collecting data when you connect to internet. Its usage table is well organized with detailed information such as date, time, average download speed, average upload speed, volume of data transferred with average per hour transfer rates.

The range of reports it provides includes in-depth network usage, daily report, weekly report, monthly report, details about sessions, and hourly rates with graphs. You can also export data for further analysis in CSV, XLS, RTF, HTML, and TXT format.

2. Netspeed Monitor - http://www.floriangilles.com/software/netspeedmonitor/

This application allows you to track upload and download speed with traffic logging. You can use traffic logging to peruse your internet connection speed over a period. You can launch this tool by right clicking on the windows taskbar and the tool has to be configured first time for a specific network interface before it can analyze network data. This network monitoring tool runs on Windows 7, Vista, and XP. After you configure the tool, you need to click on its “Start Tracking” button. The tool then displays connection speed details along with list of processes that use internet.

3. Online services to test internet connection speed

a. SpeedTest.net:

If you don’t wish to install software to test your internet connection or if you want to quickly check internet connection speed, you can rely on www.speedtest.net. The site allows you to configure a number of parameters like speed measurement, preferred server, and distance. You can also use the site to test multiple internet connections at the same time.

b. Reliable speed testing sites:

You can also find few reliable speed testing sites. Some of them are www.SpeakEasy.net, www.bandwidthplace.com, www.internetfrog.com, and www.testmyspeed.com. Most of the online speed testing sites also provide various tools to boost your connection, optimize your connection, clean your system, and improve performance of your system with free system scan. As number of websites that provide online speed testing is increasing, you should be wary of using such tools to scan your system. As providing permission to online tools to clean up your system may not be a good idea. However, you can use these online sites to test your internet connection speed.

speed-test-results-2Mbps

Day by day new tools are popping up to help you test your internet connection speed. On one hand, it provides you with wider choices; on the other hand, you need to be quite careful about online tools that claim to boost your connection speed. Moreover, to find out correct speed of your internet connection, it is better to test it on different speed testing tools and see whether it varies widely.

 

About the author: Brianne is a blogger by profession. She loves writing on technology and luxury. Beside this she is fond of gadgets. Recently an article on samsung chat 322 attracted her attention. These days she is busy in writing an article on Bentley india.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Computer Specs

Ok, so you got this great laptop computer with a Intel Core i5 2467 1.6 GHz, 4 GB DDR3, 500 GB HDD, 13.3” LED HD Display, WiDi, 3x USB, Bluetooth, and Windows 7 Home Premium 64 bit.  Or maybe you have this great desktop with Intel Core i7 2600K 3.4 GHz GHz, 8 GB DDR3, 240 GB SSD, 1 TB HDD, 3GB GTX 590.  But, what do all these computer specs mean?  Just note, that is supposed to say WiDi above, not WiFi.  Even I had to lookup what is WiDi.

I have heard some wild specifications in my day, so I figured a post on how to read some of these specifications might be a good idea.

I will start with the Laptop specs I mentioned above: Intel Core i5 2467 1.6 GHz, 4 GB DDR3, 500 GB HDD, 13.3” LED HD Display, WiDi, 3x USB, Bluetooth, and Windows 7 Home Premium 64 bit.  This laptop is categorized as an ultra-portable laptop.

The first spec is Intel Core i5 2467 1.6 GHz.  In most computer specs the first spec is usually the CPU.  Now, I will have to admit this does not even mean anything to me, because there is one very important piece of information missing here, and that is the number of cores on this CPU.  So, before I pass judgment on this CPU, I am going to have to do a web search to find out how many cores this CPU has.  According to the Intel Website: http://ark.intel.com/products/56858/Intel-Core-i5-2467M-Processor-(3M-Cache-1_60-GHz), this CPU only has 2 cores, which is going to make this a rather slow CPU.  Of course for small laptop like this, that is to be expected.  A quick way to figure the speed is to multiply the speed 1.6 GHz times the number of cores, which gives us 3.2 GHz.  Just for comparison, the CPU in my laptop has a speed of 2.9 GHz and has 4 cores, which gives a speed of 11.6 GHz.  The higher the GHz number the better, just remember to check the number of cores!

The next spec is 4 GB DDR3 of RAM, which is usually second.  This specification is the RAM (random access memory), so this laptop has 4 GB of RAM, which for a small laptop like this is very respectable.  RAM is important for the CPU and the more you have the better generally.  The CPU uses the RAM for fast access to and storage of data.

The third spec is 500 GB HDD.  This specification is the laptops hard drive, which is a standard 500 GB hard drive.  Again, for a small laptop this is pretty good.  Just to note here as well, most laptop hard drives are 2.5 inches, compared to standard desktop hard drives which are 3.5 inches.

For the last few specs, you have a screen size of 13.3” and it is a LED backlit display, which is good for battery life.  As for the WiDi part, it is a wireless display, which allows you to wirelessly display content on a TV or other devices.  You also have 3 USB ports and built in Bluetooth (for mice, keyboards, ect.).

Ok, now they we are done with the laptop specs, we will take a look at the desktops specs: Intel Core i7 2600K 3.4 GHz GHz, 8 GB DDR3, 240 GB SSD, 1 TB HDD, 3GB GTX 590.  The very first spec is the CPU, which is a Core i7 2600K at 3.4 GHz, which makes a single core of this CPU faster than the entire Laptops CPU mentioned above.  This CPU has a total of 4 cores, so we can get a combined speed of 13.6 GHz.  The spec for the desktop is the RAM, of which there is 8 GB, which should be plenty.

The next spec for the desktop is the hard drive, this first of which if you will note seems kind of small at only 240 GB.  However, there is something special about this hard drive; this not a regular spinning platter hard drive; instead this is a solid state drive (SSD).  SSD’s are extremely fast, which should provide a significant boost in speed for this desktop.  Since the first hard drive is somewhat small, especially if you want to start storing pictures or videos; there is second regular spinning platter (HDD) hard drive, which is a whopping 1 TB is size (1000 Gigabytes).

And finally there is one last important spec for the desktop, which the laptop does not have.  This final spec is a dedicated graphics card, in this case a monstrous NVidia GTX 590 with 3 GB of RAM.  Should be all set for Call of Duty or for more boring tasks such video editing.

For a wrap up, most computer specifications start with the CPU, then the RAM, and finally the hard drives.  After that the specifications tend to be somewhat random.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Upgrades for Your Computer?

Have an old computer?  Or maybe your computer is not that old, but you want it to be faster?  There are a few upgrades that can add some additional life to your computer.

First components is the CPU.  The CPU probably has the biggest affect on speed in you computer.  Unfortunately this is also the component that is least likely to be upgraded do to compatibility issues.  CPU speeds are rated in GHz and also many CPU cores on the CPU, for example a Quad (4) core CPU at 2 GHz; this by the way is better then a single core CPU at 3 GHz.

Second component is the Motherboard.  The motherboard does not have as much to do with the speed of the computer other than the fact everything plugs into the motherboard and components are going to be limited to what the motherboard can support.  For example a motherboard can support a Core i7 CPU and DDR3 RAM.  The motherboard also is usually not a good candidate for upgrades.  Any upgrade in a motherboard is probably going to require a new upgraded CPU, at which point you basically have a new computer.  This by the way is not necessarily a bad upgrade, especially if all your other components (RAM, Video Cards, Hard drives, ect.) are compatible with the new motherboard and CPU.

Third Component is the RAM.  RAM is usually rated for its size, for example 2 GB; however, there is one more important number for RAM and this the speed of the RAM, usually rated in MHz.  Higher number is better; however, before spending extra money though on higher speeds you should make sure your computer can support it!  RAM is one of the easiest and possibly cheapest components to upgrade in your computer.  How much RAM should you have? If you have less than 1 GB and your computer can support more, this is definitely a upgrade I would recommend. If on the other hand your already has 4 GB RAM there is no sense upgrading.  When buying RAM, I recommend buying the largest in both size and speed that your computer can support.  For example if your computers motherboard supports 2 GB modules at 1333 MHz per slot, then you those are the RAM modules that you should purchase.  As a further example, lets say that you want to add 4 GB or RAM to  your computer (computer has 4 slots and supports 2 GB per slot for a total of 8 GB), you should purchase 2 2GB module, do not get 4 1GB modules!  For finding the right memory for your computer, I recommend using the Memory Configurator at Tiger Direct: http://memoryselector.cnetchannel.com/tigerdirect/.

A forth component that can really speed up your computer is a Video (or Graphics) card.  I have already posted an article on video cards, so other than saying it is important, I will leave it at that.  You can find the previous post here: http://www.computer-skills.info/2012/04/video-cardsand-why-you-should-have-one.html.

A final component is the hard drive.  Yes, the hard drive!  If your computer is older than 4-5 years then this probably is not an upgrade worth investing in; however, if you have a fairly new computer that has a SATA interface for the hard drives, than an upgrade from a regular hard drive to a Solid State drive can drastically improve your computers speed.  It use to be on older computers that the CPU could only process data so fast and a regular spinning platter hard drive could keep up with no problem, but on newer computers the slow down is often caused by the fact that the hard drive cannot provide the data fast enough.  Solid State Drives (SSD) offer extremely fast read and write times and because there are no moving parts they use less power and are not likely to be damaged if dropped like a normal hard drive.  SSD are similar to a USB flash memory stick, just bigger and faster.  A SSD is definitely one of the more expensive upgrades that you can put into your computer; however, it also one that will probably provide you with the biggest boost in speed, at least if your computer can support it.  One issue that remains with SSD is that the price for per GB is high; for example, a 120 GB hard drive (which is very small by todays standards) can run over $200!  A standard hard drive will probably cost less then $30 for similar size.  Larger SSDs can run over $500 and even over $1000!  Most people recommend purchasing a smaller SSD (60GB to 120GB) and installing only Windows and any necessary programs such as Games and productivity software – Adobe, AutoCAD, ect.  And then purchase a larger standard hard drive to hold everything else.  This is what I have done with my Acer 8951G laptop.  The laptop originally came with a 750GB hard drive, which I replaced with a 120 GB SSD.  I installed Windows and a few necessary programs to the SSD and placed everything else on the 750 GB hard drive, which I put in the second hard drive bay on my laptop (second hard drive bay was originally empty.).  The SSD cut load times by about 75%, which is a significant increase.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Mouse

Yep, a computer mouse?  Computer mice come in all different shapes, sizes, and colors.  However, they all have one primary function that is the same, moving the cursor on the screen.  Most mice also have at least 2 buttons and a wheel.

Mice use a couple of different forms of tracking technology, the most common tracking method is optical.  Optical mice use a light to track the surface as it moves across it.  Laser optical mice use a laser beam for tracking, they offer more accurate and faster tracking.  Laser mice are becoming increasingly popular because of the impressive tracking speeds and being able to work on almost any surface, including in some cases glass, mirrors, and other transparent surfaces.  An older and no longer common from of tracking is the ball mouse.  A ball mouse used a larger rubber ball that was tracked by two wheels.  The problem with ball mice is they could only be used on only a few surfaces (namely mouse pads) and they collected dirt and dust and often got junked up and would work very poorly.

Laser and optical mice are usually rated in DPI (dots per inch) for how fast they track.  Now, a higher DPI does not necessarily make the mouse better than a lower DPI mouse it simply means that a smaller movement of the mouse will result in faster movement of the cursor on the screen.  Its not uncommon to see Gaming mice to go as high 6000+ DPI.

Most mice now days have at least 2 buttons and a wheel.  The two buttons are usually referred to as the left and right mouse button.  Obviously (I hope) the button on the left side of the mouse is the left mouse button and is the most commonly used button for opening files and programs, clicking buttons, ect.  The button on the right side of the mouse is the right mouse button and is usually used for opening menus and properties, for example right clicking on a file to rename it.  Just to note if you use your mouse on the left side of your keyboard you can flip these buttons around so the right mouse button actually is left mouse button.  The wheel on a mouse are used to scroll content, such as on a webpage.  The wheel on the mouse is also a button and is usually referred to as the middle mouse button.  The middle mouse button is used for scrolling or if you click on a link on a webpage it will open that link in a new tab (or window).  Mice also come with a number of additional buttons such as backward and forward buttons, custom programmable buttons, as well as DPI adjusting buttons.

In addition to mice there are also trackpads (or touch pads) and trackballs.  A trackpad is the touch sensitive surface on a laptop that uses a fingers movement across the surface to move the mouse.  Also most trackpads also accept single and double tapping for left mouse clicks.  Some newer mouse pads with the correct software also support multi-touch.  Multi-touch allows one to use both fingers on the trackpad and allows for similar gestures as a smartphone, such as pinching to zoom.  Some people have trouble with trackpads not reading there movements correctly, if that is the case try wetting your finger slightly.

A trackball on the other is like an upside down ball mouse, rather than moving the mouse around, a large ball is mounted to the top and you move the curse by rolling ball with your finger.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Video Cards–And Why You Should Have One!

This post is more directed at desktops rather than laptops; however, a graphics card can also be important in laptops.  The main difference with laptops is the fact that if you want a graphics card you are going to have buy a laptop with a graphics card in it.  Unlike desktops, you usually cannot add hardware to laptops.

So, what is a graphics card?  A graphics card is a piece of hardware that drives the display on your computer.  In other words, no graphics hardware, no display!  Imagine trying to use a computer without a display?  The most important part of a graphics card is the GPU (not CPU!) – graphical processing unit.  A GPU is similar to a CPU in the fact that is also processes data; however, a GPU is significantly different in the fact that it is a parallel processor, whereas a CPU processes data in a series.  One of the best demonstrations of a CPU versus GPU that I have seen is done by the Mythbusters:

Mythbusters Demonstrating a GPU

Basically a GPU is designed for one specific task and it has to do that task very fast!  A GPU has to drive every pixel on your computers screens and if you have a 1920x1080 pixel display that is a total of 2,073,600 pixels that the GPU has to drive (render).

All computers have graphics hardware; but, on most computers, especially cheap computers, the graphics hardware is integrated with the motherboard or CPU.  While this works, it means that the computer is stealing resources from the CPU and RAM in order to power the graphics.  For basic computing such as checking email, browsing the web, ect. you probably will never notice the difference between integrated graphics and a dedicated graphics card.  However, if you want to start playing HD video or playing games the integrated graphics are really going to struggle and you probably notice stuttering, jerkiness, and overall poor performance of the computer.  This is especially true of older computers where the integrated graphics where not very good.  Even the cheapest dedicated graphics cards can outperform integrated graphics solutions.  The motherboard is the large board inside your computer that everything plugs into.

What is a dedicated graphics card?  A dedicated graphics card is an add-on card that plugs into a slot on your computers motherboard.  One of the major advantages of a dedicated graphics card is that all the components are separate and resources are not stolen from the CPU.  Dedicated graphics card contain two main components, the GPU and the RAM.  Just like a CPU needs RAM to rapidly store and access data, so does a GPU need RAM for extremely fast access to data.  Most newer dedicated graphics cards have at least 1 GB of onboard RAM.  PCI-Express graphics cards range in price from about $15 all the way up to $1000+ dollars.  Specialty cards can cost even more.  Most dedicated graphics cards support more than one monitor, so you can have two monitors.  Two big names in a graphics hardware are NVidia and ATI (now made by AMD).

There are two main slot types that are dedicated for Graphics cards to plug into.  The first and newest slot is the PCI-Express (there is now three versions of PCI-Express all compatible with each other).  The latest greatest PCI-Express slots is PCI-Express 3.0.  PCI-Express slots have been around for about 10 years now and if your computer has a PCI-Express slot, this is the slot you should use!

The second type of slot is the AGP (accelerated graphics port) slot.  This is the older slot and I personally have not seen it on a computer newer than about 8 years.  Do to the fact that AGP is an older slot type, AGP cards tend to be slightly more expensive than PCI-Express cards, also AGP cannot support as large of cards as PCI-Express slots.

The third and final slot is a PCI slot.  The PCI slot is a standard add-on slot for multiple types of cards, such as dialup modems, audio cards, Ethernet cards, WI-FI cards, ect.  PCI slots can only handle smaller graphics cards and should only be used if you do not have one of the other slots type or you you need additional graphics cards (for more monitors).

If you have an older computer, one of the best add-ons you can buy to speed up your computer is a graphics card.  Even on newer computers a dedicated graphics card will help.

I will finish with a quick story about computer I recently fixed (computer was only about one year old).  This computer had experienced a power issue of some type (possibly lightning) and burned out both the power supply and motherboard.  So I replaced both the motherboard and power supply, the old motherboard had integrated graphics and the new board I got did not have integrated graphics (oversight on my part).  Upon hooking everything I realized the problem; luckily I had a graphics card on hand an older GeForce 8500 GT (with 1 GB of on board RAM).  Upon returning to the customer, the customer mentioned to me a couple weeks later that the computer was significantly faster, especially while watching HD movies.  The only real change was the Graphics card!  Motherboard was basically identical.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Hard-drive Fragmentation?

Next to cleaning up your registry, this has to be the second most common thing you hear for speeding up your computer.  At least with this one there is some truth; though do not expect the amazing results that are often claimed.

Fragmentation is caused by uninstalling programs and deleting files/folders and then installing programs or adding files/folders.  Basically when a file gets deleted it creates an empty spot on the hard-drive, so when you add a file to the hard-drive, the hard-drive fills the empty spot; however if the file is larger than the file that was deleted than part of the files need to be place elsewhere on hard-drive.  This means that parts of files and programs can end up scattered all over the hard-drive, thus causing the hard-drive to slow down while seeking all the needed files.

How often should you defragment your hard-drive?  In general I would say every other month should be often enough.  However, if you install or uninstall a larger number of programs or delete or add a bunch of files than I would recommend defragging the hard-drive afterwards.

Both Windows Vista and Windows 7 automatically defragment the hard drive on a regular basis.  As such, you should not have to worry about doing this on either Windows Vista or Windows 7.

If you have Windows XP or an even earlier version of Windows, then you will have to defragment the hard drive manually on a regular basis. 

The Windows Disk Defragmenter can be found under Start >> All Programs >> Accessories >> System Tools >> Disk Defragmenter.  It is in the same location on all recent versions of Windows.  To start defragmenting the hard drive, just hit the defragment button.

Windows 7 Disk Defragmenter

windows-7-disk-defragmenter

Windows XP Disk Defragmenter

windows-xp-disk-defragment

Monday, March 26, 2012

How to Configure a Wireless Router

Ever wonder what all those options are? Trust me, there are not that complicated and for the most part you do not even need to concern yourself with most of the wireless options on a wireless router.

To start configuring the wireless settings, you are first going to need to access the routers configuration, if you read my last post on getting into the routers configuration you know I strongly disagree with running the setup CD, instead log into the routers internet configuration interface. You can find the previous article here: http://www.computer-skills.info/2012/02/configuring-and-setting-up-router.html. Also, again I am going to be configuring a Linksys Router, in this case a dual-band Wireless N Linksys WRT610. In my experience most other brand routers are similar; you may however, have different options depending on the capabilities of your router.

First off I am going to log into the web interface, the default IP address for a Linksys Router is 192.168.1.1 and the default password is admin; leave the username field blank. Just to note, I have changed the default IP address on my router to 192.168.1.3.

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Once in the web interface, you are going to want to go to the wireless tab.

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On the wireless tab, the very first option you see is the option to configure the wireless settings manually or to use Wi-Fi Protected Setup. The Wi-Fi protected setup is designed to make it easy to secure your wireless network, as well as adding additional devices. I personally find it easier to manually setup the wireless options. In addition, there has recently been uncovered some serious security flaws with the WPS option.

Just to note here, that I have a dual-band wireless router, which simply means that I have two wireless radios, a radio that operates on the 5 GHz frequency and a radio that operates on the standard 2.4 GHz frequency. As such I have a set of options for each radio, each radio has its own SSID and frequency settings. Devices that operate on the 5 GHz frequency are still fairly uncommon; it is however, the preferred frequency if your device supports it, due to the fact there are very few devices that actually use this frequency.

Going in the order of options here:

  1. First option is the Network Mode. This will select the operating mode for the radio, including the option to disable the wireless radio. Unless you have a specific reason for wanting the radio to operate in a specific mode you can just leave it in mixed mode.
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  2. The next option is the Network Name (SSID). This is name you see when you try to wirelessly connect to your router. This should be the only option you really need to change on this page. In the screenshot below you only see my 2.4 GHz radio, this is because my laptop does not support the 5 GHz radio and thus I cannot see it.
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  3. The next three options all have to do with the wireless frequency the radio operates on. You should be able to leave all these options on auto. The only reason you may want to change these is if you are experiencing interference.
  4. The final option is SSID Broadcast. By disabling this option your router will not be visible to wireless devices. This will prevent you from finding your router, which may be desirable in an apartment setting where all the tenants of wireless devices. If you use this option you will need to manually connect to the router by configuring your computer or device with the correct SSID and passphrase.

Now that we got the basics done, we need to configure the most important wireless options. And that is the Wireless Security; so, go to the Wireless Security tab – just to note, in Linksys routers, not the Security tab! It seems like I always get this confused, probably do to the fact that the Wireless Security tab is almost directly below the Security tab. These options will prevent freeloaders from borrowing your internet connection or worse, stealing the data off computers and devices connected to your network!

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Again, going in order of options, and also I have 2 radios so I have a set of settings for each radio.

  1. The first option is the Security Mode. The best option here is WPA2-Personal. The other options such as WEP are easily hacked and should not be used! Some of the other options are also enterprise level options.
  2. The next option is Encryption. For this I recommend AES encryption.
  3. The next option is the Passphrase. This is the “password” you will type in when you connect wirelessly to your router. Depending on your router, you can set this to whatever you want, just remember don’t make to simple otherwise someone may be able to guess it!
  4. The final option is Key Renewal. You can just leave this option as default.

At this point you done! Your wireless router should be configured and unwelcome visitors should be locked out!

Just to leave with a word of advice, make sure you have your wireless router secured!  I personally have a long range wireless access point (couple miles) and I can pick up several unsecured networks.  Freeloading and personal information here we go!