Monthly Archives: June 2009

10 Point Checklist For Cleaning Your PC

As boring as it may seem – cleaning your computer equipment is an essential part of any regular system maintenance schedule. You can stretch equipment life, reduce repairs and service calls, and keep your users happier. Who wouldn’t want that?

1: Clean the exterior
Keeping the environment clean via regular dusting and vacuuming will help reduce the amount of crud that finds its way into your equipment. It’s not enough – but it’s a start. Many experts also advise that you keep equipment off the floor, where the dust is most likely to settle.

Along with patrolling the environment, regularly clean the exterior of the PC case, cooling vents, and IO ports. You can use a dry cloth to dust the case, and a water-dampened cloth to wipe it clean. If the surface has gotten sticky, go over it with a lint-free cloth moistened with rubbing alcohol. For removing dust and debris from the cooling vents and ports, a battery-powered vacuum cleaner will come in handy.

The monitor case will benefit from the same treatment: Dust and wipe it down as needed. And don’t forget to remove dust buildup from the monitor vents. A battery-powered vac does the trick here, too.

2: Clean the display device
Use a cleaner on the surface of the display unit to remove fingerprints, dust, and/or other imperfections on the screen. Always spray the cleaner on a cloth to clean a monitor rather then spraying cleaner directly on the screen. If you’re cleaning an LCD, use a product designed for that purpose and don’t press too hard on the screen.

3: Degunk the keyboard and mouse
Paperclips, staples, hair, and food can collect beneath the keys, preventing them from working properly. The keyboard can become unsightly and even send erroneous keystrokes if foreign particles become lodged between keys. Use a dust vacuum and the alcohol/water solution to clean these dust- and dirt-collecting components.

Mice also get grungy in a hurry. Clean the exterior and cord with cleaning wipes. For a roller-ball mouse, remove the ball and wipe it clean. You can use an alcohol-dipped cotton swab to clean the rollers inside the mouse. To prevent a laser or optical mouse from becoming sluggish and unresponsive, drag it down and then across a sheet of white paper to rub the accumulated dust and wax from the contact points on the bottom.

4: Perform a periodic full system cleaning
Take the system apart and have a canister of canned air available. Remove all dust and clean the external and internal surfaces of the computer to get rid of dust and any other particles. Don’t neglect the power supply and CPU fans, which are especially prone to accumulating dust. If you do not have an electronics cleaning product, you can make a simple solution of 1:1 rubbing alcohol and water for external surfaces. Be sure to unplug the electronic components when introducing a solution and allow it to dry fully. As always, when working inside the case, make sure you dissipate static electricity.

5: Run a CD-ROM/DVD cleaner
As with audio systems, CD-ROM/DVD drives can be cleaned with special kits and/or discs. This is especially useful if you are in a very dusty environment.

6: Clean the floppy drive with canned air
Okay, you may not run across too many floppy drives. But when you do, a good blast of air can remove dust collections inside them. Use covers/panels if available to help keep dust out of the drives.

7: Run a cleaning tape
If any your systems have tape drives, run the cleaning tape through to keep the tape heads clean.

8: Keep it covered
Use a keyboard, CPU, and monitor cover to keep dust out of systems when not in use. If a system is used only partly during the day and turned off most other times, plastic covers can keep dust and airborne particulate out. Just be careful not to cover up a powered-on system in a way that will block airflow, as this can cause thermal damage.

9: Don’t overlook the surge protector
Most surge protectors lay forgotten on the floor. Dust bunnies, popcorn, even paper clips congregate around them. The dust that accumulates there could cause a fire. Disconnect the surge protector from the wall outlet and blow it off before reconnecting the PC.

10: Clean the printer
Printers are often overlooked during PC cleaning time, but they need a little bit of care as well. Obviously, different kinds of printers will need different kinds of attention. You should refer to the manufacturer’s instructions before diving into the guts of the equipment. Laser printers should be blown out each time the toner is replaced. Many printers come with the ability to clean themselves. If yours do, clean the print heads according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

A little spit and polish
Cleaning PCs may not be the most interesting or challenging part of your job, but it can improve performance and stretch the life of your equipment. It’s best to set up a schedule to clean all the systems in your office on a regular basis. This can translate into happier, more productive users, fewer repairs and replacements, and less downtime

How To Buy The Right Desktop Computer System

When shopping for a desktop computer for your small or medium-size business, resist the temptation to buy cheap. Instead, invest in a desktop that will help your office run smoothly for years to come.

Business PCs may not be the sexiest players in the PC market, but where the actual number of units the big PC makers ship each year is concerned, they do represent a significant segment. Think about it: You can still write a novel on a typewriter, shoot photographs with film, or play music live and record it with a DAT deck, but very few businesses can get their work done without a PC. Even a mom-and-pop shop that caters to a non-technological audience needs a PC to communicate with suppliers, customers, and potential customers. E-mail, Twitter, the Web: All of these technologies help make today’s business happen.

While it may be tempting to buy a simple consumer PC from a big-box store like Best Buy or Wal-Mart, you’ll probably be doing yourself and your users a disservice if you do. Specialized business PCs have extra features that make them better suited to the office than the $350 sales-circular special. For one, business PCs are built to last longer, and are usually easier to service, than consumer PCs. After all, the longer a business PC is down, the more money it costs you in lost productivity. Business PC makers may have specialized tech-support lines to help you troubleshoot your MS Office or Quickbooks problem. At the very least, you can add a service contract to your business PC so that on-site tech-support calls are handled by techs who respond in hours or minutes rather than in days or weeks, like the ones who handle consumer tech support. You’ll also have a better chance of reaching an US based, thus English speaking, support person.

The Heart of the Matter: How Much Power?
Dual-core processors, particularly AMD Athlon X2 or Intel Core 2 Duo models, are the norm in business PCs, though single-core processors such as the AMD Athlon 64 or Intel Celeron can still show up in really cheap models. Most Pentium Dual Core processors are based on the same architecture as the Intel Core 2 Duo processors, with a little less L2 cache, clock speed, or FSB speed. For example, the Pentium Dual Core E5000 series processors are similar to the ones in the Core 2 Duo E7000 series. I recommend a dual-core processor, preferably Intel based, because it’s a must for today’s attention-challenged, multitasking PC users. Quad-core is an option for the users like graphic artists, hard-core number crunchers, and geeks who stress over the speed of their PCs, but dual-core should be enough for non-technical and non-graphics-based users.

Look for at least 2 GB of RAM and the more memory the better, but don’t go overboard. 32bit operating systems can only utilize up to 4GB of ram and anything above that is just a waste of money unless you are planning to upgrade to a 64bit OS in the near future.

More memory allows you to do two things: open up more programs and windows at once and perform multimedia processes (like editing photos) faster. It you’re the type who keeps 15 tabs open in Firefox or Internet Explorer, you’ll need to have more than 1GB of memory. Windows Vista is a resource hog, particularly with the integrated graphics commonly found in business PCs, so 2GB is a minimum (and I still recommend 4GB even if you run Windows XP).

Storage: It’s Okay to Go Light
Business PCs require less storage than consumer PCs, since you’re less likely to sync your iPod or download lots of video to your work PC. A storage capacity of 160 to 250GB is a good balance between economy and space. Frankly, 40GB of available storage should be enough for just about all the PowerPoint, Word, and Excel documents you use on a day-to-day basis. Anything beyond that should be stored on an external hard drive or your server.

Optical drives are less critical for consumer PCs these days, what with being able to stream multimedia content from the Internet or downloading content directly to hard drives. But a DVD burner is still a must for a business PC. You may need it to burn copies of projects for your clients, and you’ll still need to read the occasional CD or DVD sent to you by a supplier or customer. Look for a full-size optical drive with a tray that opens—it will help for the occasional business-card-size CD that comes your way. (Mini CDs, survivors of a fad dating to the early 2000s, tend to get stuck in a slot-loading drive because of their odd size, and if that happens, you have to open up the drive to extract them.)

High-Powered Graphics Not Necessary
Most business PCs come with integrated graphics, whether from Intel, ATI, or Nvidia. Integrated graphics are fine for a business PC, since you won’t be playing 3D games on the system. (Installing games is the easiest way to make a system unstable, and you don’t want your money-earning system to go down unnecessarily.) Tower PCs and most small-form-factor (SFF) PCs will have PCIe x16 card slots for discrete graphics cards, in case you need one. Most businesspeople who require discrete graphics will use them for specialized tasks like GPU acceleration in Photoshop CS4 or 3D graphics visualization for architectural drawings. Ultra-small or ultra-slim form factors will likely have only integrated graphics and no card slots. These systems are best suited to general PC tasks (the majority of business tasks)

Expansion Room: Space to Grow
Most minitower and some SFF value desktops will have a measure of expansion space. You’ll find space for at least one extra internal hard drive, PCIe x16 graphics card slot, PCI or PCIe expansion slots, and maybe space for another optical drive. You may find extra DIMM slots, which will let you upgrade your system memory later. Eventual upgrades in a business PC are likely to be modest: the 125W to 350W power supply in these budget systems won’t be able to power more than a midlevel graphics card or more than two internal hard drives anyway.

Where Do Nettops Fit In?
Nettops belong to a desktop category that comes in below the value desktops, both in price (for the most part) and capabilities. Nettops run on the same basic components as netbooks, their laptop counterparts (low-powered processors, non-upgradable integrated graphics, 512MB or 1GB of RAM, smaller hard drives, no optical drives, Windows XP or Linux). They’re built to surf the Web, run Office apps, and perform other very light computing duties. Unlike full-fledged PCs, nettops have no capacity for internal expansion. One possible benefit, depending on the model, is an included built-in screen for under $600. I wouldn’t run a business on a nettop, unless all you want to use a PC for is communication. The extra speed of a “real” desktop PC will pay off if you ever have to recalculate a spreadsheet in the 10 minutes before the client arrives, or if you need to quickly retouch a photo or document layout.

Management Details: It’s All Small Stuff
The more corporate a PC, the more likely it will have security features built in and easy-to-access, IT-friendly components; and remote desktop management tools. You’ll need these features only if you’re a rapidly growing business or already have more than a dozen employees. Once a business grows beyond half a dozen employees it will need a dedicated IT staffer or subcontractor, and corporate IT features will help that individual. If you run a sole proprietorship or small partnership with just a few employees, then buying more of a budget business PC is fine—just be prepared to face longer waits on tech-support phone lines when things do go wrong. With a small-business-oriented PC, there are usually dedicated sales and technical support personnel who can help you tailor your purchase and support to your business’s needs.

Beware Crapware
A downside to cheaper PCs is the avalanche of crapware the manufacturer so kindly pre-installs for you. Often one of the reasons a PC is inexpensive is that, as with broadcast TV and “free” cell phones, some other entity is subsidizing the discounted price. Crapware consists of all of those “trial” and extra software that’s designed to tempt you into buying stuff that didn’t come with your PC. It can be hard to remove completely from your system and in many cases, even compromise performance. Although many desktops come with some crapware, manufacturers tend to put more of it into lower-end models.

Fortunately, business PCs, by and large, have minimal crapware. There’s almost always an Office 2007 60-day trial on the hard drive, but in a business system that can be a good thing. When the trial period runs out you upgrade to a full version for unlimited use simply by clicking the link to Microsoft’s site and entering your credit card number. There’s usually an antivirus suite as well, but be wary of packages that stop updating after 60–90 days. You don’t want to get a virus on a system you depend on to earn your money. Again, this is one case where if you don’t already have an office solution installed from your server, I’d consider upgrading to the full version over the Internet.

Final Thoughts
These days, it may be tempting to grab the cheapest system out of a sales circular and call it your “business PC,” but don’t do it. Keep in mind that this system has to last at least as long as it takes for you to amortize the capital investment (usually three to five years; but the exact length depends on your business’s accounting practices). Paying a little extra for more power or capabilities now will save you headaches down the road. The added value of a longer warranty, specialized tech support, and/or the elimination of crapware are among the extra benefits you may get. At the very least, the system you buy from the business division of your favorite PC maker will be more suitable to your company’s needs than a flashy pink desktop with a TV tuner and Blu-ray player.

AVG LinkScanner – Free and Easy

avg

FREE AVG LinkScanner

 AVG lauched its AVG LinkScanner as a free standalone product on April 20th, 2009. The free version of AVG LinksScanner is compatible with most current consumer anti-virus and security suite products, and is available to home users onlu.

AVG LinkScanner also included the AVG Toolbar which provides easy access to LinkScanner capabilities right inside the browser, along with built-in access to Yahoo!’s search engine.

AVG LinkScanner showcases technology that is uniquely relevant to today’s Internet users in ways that database-driven products (such as McAfee SiteAdvisor) are not. LinkScanner protects against random, invisible cyber-threats. These threats can steal or damage data simply by users visiting the infected page. Regular anti-virus software cannot protect users against this type of threat due to the transient nature of these threats. LinkScanner gives users an additional real-time layer of protection alongside their existing security software.

Additionally, this initiative will generate leads via downloads that will serve as an additional route by which to introduce new customers to the AVG product experience for later up-sell to a paid AVG solution.

The global announcement was made by AVG at the RSA Conference 2009 in San Francisco via a number of launch vehicles including meetings with key press and industry analysts, press release, a microsite and associated electronic marketing vehicles to drive download volume, a brief product demo and other tools designed to build awareness for the product.

Click here to download LinkScanner

And don’t forget to give AVG’s FREE antivirus program a try:
http://free.avg.com/


Malwarebytes – it's worth taking this one for a spin

Malwarebytes
Destroying malware, one byte at a time

We like to share the applications we’ve used and found to be effective. There are so many programs out there it’s very difficult for people to test all of them. Over the past few months we’ve been using and found Malwarebytes to be a very effective program for removing malware and other system risks.

Have you ever considered what makes an anti-malware application effective? Ease of use tends to be an important factor for most people. Malwarebytes has created an easy-to-use, simple, and effective anti-malware application. Whether you know it or not your computer is always at risk of becoming infected with viruses, worms, trojans, rootkits, dialers, spyware, and malware that are constantly evolving and becoming harder to detect and remove. Only the most sophisticated anti-malware techniques can detect and remove these malicious programs from your computer.

Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware is being touted as the next step in the detection and removal of malware. They’ve compiled a number of new technologies that are designed to quickly detect, destroy, and prevent malware. Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware can detect and remove malware that even the most well known anti-virus and anti-malware applications fail to detect. We’ve proven this repeatedly by running scans with some of the major antivirus engines that report no problems found then we run Malwarebytes and identify and remove many instances of infected files. And all of these tests were completed using only the “Free” version.

If you decide to upgrade and purchase the full registered version, Malwarebytes monitors every process and stops malicious processes before they even start. The Realtime Protection Module uses advanced heuristic scanning technology which monitors your system to keep it safe and secure. In addition, there’s a threats center which will allow you to keep up to date with the latest malware threats.

Activating the full version unlocks the real time protection, scheduled scanning, and scheduled updating. For consumers and personal use, there’s a one-time fee of $24.95. For corporate and business customers, licensing is required.

As more and more exploits are released on the web, it’s becoming very important to protect your computer with high quality detection and removal tools. I feel Malwarebytes is one application of this caliber. I’m not saying that this is the end all-be all of anti-malware programs as we have encountered a few “false positives”. I am saying that it is worthy of your time and money.

Here’s the site where you can download the fee version as well as purchase the full blown registered application.
http://www.malwarebytes.org/mbam.php

CNet gave this program its’ editor’s choice award in April 2009 ranking it 4 ½ Stars out of a possible 5.

There's a Sucker Born Every Minute

Don’t Google Zuma Rossdale – Who is Zuma Rossdale? Gwen Stefani’s son of course….

There’s a sucker born every minute…. and it seems a lot of them love surfing the Web.

A worrisome new study by McAfee found that scammers are turning to search engine technology to attract a steady supply of marks. Apparently, hackers are identifying search terms that deliver the largest audiences—and then embedding their hacking code in these often legitimate sites. In some cases, McAfee found that scammers simply boost the search engine results of their own fraudulent sites. The cybercriminals then capture credit card numbers and personally indentifiable information from visitors.

Either way, web surfers are at risk. According to McAfee, the single most dangerous search term is ‘word unscrambler,’ with an average risk of more than 16%. In other words, out of 250 search results across a number of pages, close to 40 hits took visitors to risky web sites. Worse, McAfee found that the maximum risk for ‘word unscrambler’ (that is, a single results page with the greatest danger) was around 50%. In other words, up to half of the hits for the term “word unscrambler’ on that one page led users to bogus or infected web sites.

Given the growth of smart phones and netbooks—and the number of parents buying their kids smartphones and netbooks—it’s not surprising that search terms targeting kids dominated the results. Indeed, anything to do with music can be a bad bet. The keywords ‘lyrics,’ ‘free music downloads’ and ‘free music’ made the list of the top ten riskiest search results.

McAfee searched for more than 2,600 popular keywords, examining more than 413,000 unique URLs. Their security specialist found that the average risk level of all results pages was just 1.7%. In other words, only four out of 250 hits were dangerous. The average for the most dangerous pages, however, was much higher. For those pages, a list of 250 results produced about 25 risky hits.

Beyond music-related terms, the worst maximum risk profile was for searches that contained the word “free.” That category generated a 21.3% maximum risk profile. “Work from home” was another high-risk term–understandable given the current economic condition and unemployment rates.

In fact, it appears that hackers are keeping tabs on current events in an effort to attract the most victims. For example, three popular female celebrities generated high risk profiles: Angelina Jolie (8.3% maximum risk) Oprah Winfrey (10%) and Beyonce Knowles (10%). But searches for Zuma Rossdale, the son of trendy rockers Gavin Rossdale and Gwen Stefani, can be as risky as 25%

Let’s not forget that US Corporations were not immune from these cyber deceptions either. Both ‘Lowes’ and ‘Costco’ made McAfee’s list of the top 50 most dangerous search terms.

What to do?
As always – keep your anti-virus protection up to date and ALWAYS turned on. Lately, we’ve found that many of these exploits (also known as drive-by downloads) are written specifically for Microsoft Internet Explorer v6. I strongly recommend updating to Internet Explorer v8 for better built in protection and/or simply using Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox as your browser of choice for surfing. As these two browsers are still the underdogs in the Internet browser wars, hackers haven’t written as many exploits or malicious code to attack them.

Below is McAfee’s list of the “50 riskiest search terms”. Take a look – are you searching for any?

50riskyterms

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