The Rules of Rebooting/Shutting Down Your PC

Something I’ve noticed about a lot of end user’s is that they never turn off their PC, let alone restart it. Whether this is out of fear that it won’t reboot, or simply out of laziness, I do not know, but it is not healthy for the machine.

Think of it this way: a human needs sleep to be able to function and think well. The less sleep you get, the less functional you are, and if you go days/weeks without sleeping, your mind becomes a complete mess. The brain is a lot like a biological computer, so if it needs rest, why wouldn’t your mechanical computer?

A fresh restart a day is a good place to start, and then a complete shut down for every night isn’t a bad move either. You see, restart and shutdown are two very different things. Shut down is not to be confused with sleeping/hibernating. If you close your laptop, IT IS NOT SHUT OFF. To shutdown your PC, go into the Start menu, go to power, and select shut down. If the computer is frozen due to a virus or a crash, hold the physical power button for a few seconds to do a hard shut down, but only due this in EXTREME circumstances as a last resort.

Sleeping/hibernating causes it to use minimal power but keeps it running for a faster start-up, while shutdown turns it off completely, causing it to use no power, and deals with issues such as overheating and hardware stress. But it doesn’t fix all problems. With Windows 10 especially, I’ve noticed that the longer your machine goes without a reset, the more RAM the basic Windows processes will use. I’ve experienced the System Kernel process using 25% of my RAM with not a single application running, and on a 12 GB machine, that is A LOT (It is most likely an issue with Windows and Nvidia drivers since Windows 10 isn’t perfect yet). However, when you restart, you not only cut off power for a short while, it completely refreshes the entire machine, dealing with any and all RAM issues you might be having.

Restarting your router helps a lot with slow internet if clearing your caches doesn’t work, which there will be an article on very soon. Think of the internet as a pipe: if you try to push too much through, it gets clogged and stops transmitting. A router needs to be refreshed often so that the pipe can be flushed before more is poured through.

If you’re having hardware issues but you can’t tell from which device it is stemming from, shutdown each of your devices in the correct safe manner, then one by one, unplug all the devices, then one by one, replug them in and reboot them until you find where the error is. This is also a good way to just let your devices sleep and cool down once in awhile.

Should You Build Your Own PC?

Computers are expensive machines, but they’re also a machine that, more often than not, is as powerful as the amount of money you pour into it. A method that is becoming more popular is to simply buy the parts and build the PC yourself. This is good, and bad, for multiple reasons.

It grants a lot of options for customization. One trouble I’ve always had is that stock and pre-built machines never have exactly what I’m looking for, and on the rare occasion that they do, they are generally fairly pricey. Building your own machine allows you to make it however you want, within certain parameters of course.

It can also be cheaper. There’s a machine no longer on the market that was somewhere in the neighborhood of $3000 for the machine and a basic keyboard and mouse, but after some research, I discovered I could build a machine that was more powerful for about a thousand dollars less. I always say that with computers, you get the amount you put in, but in this case, you’d be putting in too much for too little.

On the flip side, it isn’t easy. For an end user to with little to no knowledge on computers, there’s all the hassle of knowing what to buy so that everything is compatible, and that’s not even worrying about putting the actual machine together when you have the parts. If you’re starting to figure computers out, it might be worth a shot, but in my personal opinion, do not attempt liquid cooling unless you are experienced or a professional, because a soaked machine is nothing to laugh about.

Building your own machine is definitely an efficient way of buying a computer. If you are a gamer, or looking for a very specific build to suit your needs, this could very well be the option for you.

How to Speed Up Your Computer

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How to Speed Up Your Computer

Your computer has felt bogged down recently. It takes a few minutes to launch Windows, after your computer has already booted, it takes several more minutes to actually open up the programs that you want to use. Or, maybe your games don’t seem to be running as fast as they did when you first installed them. In this post, I’m going to offer 8 tips that could help speed up your computer. As we get farther into the list I’ll slowly start offering more advanced options for you to use. If are already proficient in the use of computers, you may already know a few of these tactics but you may be pleasantly surprised if you just go through the list.

Uninstalling programs

The first thing that you would want to look into is uninstalling unnecessary software from your computer. If you are on a Windows machine, you can reach the uninstall utility this way.

  1. Open your start menu.
  2. In your search bar, type “Uninstall”.
  3. Click “Uninstall a program” from the list that appears. (Note: You may see other programs labeled “Uninstall” do not click these, you don’t know what program it might uninstall.)
  4. Once the Uninstall utility is open, right-click and select uninstall on all the programs that you want to uninstall. (Note: Please make sure that you know what each program that you are uninstalling does, you don’t want to randomly uninstall a crucial program.)
  5. Done.

Microsoft Uninstaller

Cleanup Your Disk

Another option that you have is to run Window’s Disk Cleanup Utility. When you use a program, it creates temporary files that do not get deleted after you close the program. As you can imagine, this can cause your hard drive space to be slowly eaten away. What the Disk Cleanup Utility does is it locates these temporary files and puts them into one place so that you can delete them if you want to. To get to this utility follow these instructions.

  1. Open your start menu.
  2. Click the “All Programs” menu.
  3. Look for the “Accessories” folder.
  4. Within that folder, find the “System Tools” folder.
  5. Locate the program “Disk Cleanup” and open it.
  6. Follow the instructions from there.
  7. Done.

Windows Disk Cleanup

CCleaner

A third option that you have is to download and install a program called CCleaner. This program is a much more robust version of the Disk Cleanup Utility program that we used earlier. CCleaner doesn’t just clean out unnecessary files, it does many other things as well. However, that is a topic for another blog post. Here is how to use CCleaner.

  1. Go to your preferred web browser and go to this link: https://www.piriform.com/ccleaner/download
  2. Download the file.
  3. When the download is finished, run the installation program.
  4. Once installed, open the program and click the “Run Cleaner” button on the bottom right. (Note: If you do a deep scan, this process may take several hours depending on the amount of files are on your computer.)

CCleaner can also fix up your computer’s registry, but I don’t recommend that you run that part of the program.

CCleaner

Disk Defragmentation

Yet another way for you to enhance your computer’s performance is by running a disk defragmentation. First, I’ll need to explain what that means. When you delete files of off your computer, they don’t actually get deleted, they just get shredded and put into many different locations on the computer and the computer interprets these areas as empty space that can be overwritten. Compare it to putting a piece of paper through a shredder, there are pieces of the paper scattered around everywhere waiting to be thrown away. But, just like with computer files, they could be put back together very carefully. However, that is yet another topic for a different blog post.

Window’s Disk Defragmenter Utility consolidates all of that empty space essentially freeing up more space on the hard drive. Here is how you can get to the utility.

  1. Open your start menu.
  2. Click the “All Programs” menu.
  3. Look for the “Accessories” folder.
  4. Within that folder, find the “System Tools” folder.
  5. Find and click on “Disk Defragmenter”.
  6. Follow the instructions. (Note: Just like CCleaner, this process could take several hours depending on the amount of files on your computer. Defragmentation is usually best done overnight, or while you are at work.)
  7. Done.

Disk Defragmenter

These first four methods have had to do with opening up space on the hard drive that is because of one reason. Your computer is always creating files, especially when you are surfing the internet, playing games, or writing a blog post. As you can imagine these files take up a lot of space on the hard drive. When the remaining space on a hard drive gets low, it starts to overwrite these files, this takes more time than actually creating a new one; thus, slowing down your computer’s performance.

These next few options that you have free up or create more processor “space”. If this doesn’t make sense to you now, it soon will.

Anti-Virus Software

If none of these earlier options help increase your computer’s performance, you can try installing anti-virus software. There are many companies that create ant-virus utilities; all of them have their pros & cons. For this example, I’m going to use Microsoft’s free anti-virus program called Microsoft Security Essentials, here is how to get it.

  1. Go to this link: http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/security-essentials-download
  2. Click the “Download now” button.
  3. Once it is done downloading, install the program.
  4. Open the program and click “Scan now”. (Note: If you do a “Deep Scan” it may take several hours depending on how many files you have on your computer.)

Microsoft Security Essentials scans through all the files on your computer looking for ones that it may believe “malicious”. Given the nature of modern computer viruses, you may need to update this program every few days because writers from computer viruses can still get around a scan from any anti-virus software.

Microsoft Security Essentials

Startup Programs

Your computer may be slow when you first turn it on, because you may have some programs set to automatically open when the computer is turned on. You may not even know that some of these programs are turning on at the same time as your computer because most of them run in the background anyway. Follow these steps to find out how to set which of or any of the programs will open when the computer is turned on.

  1. Open your start menu and type “msconfig”.
  2. Hit the ENTER key.
  3. Once the program opens, click the tab labeled “Startup”.
  4. Select or deselect the programs that you want the computer to launch on startup.

System Configuration

Virtual Memory

There is one more way that you can possibly give your computer a speed boost. You can assign more Virtual Memory for your computer’s use. What is Virtual Memory? To put it simply, adding Virtual Memory essentially gives your computer more RAM to use. However, this memory is taken from the hard drive and is not nearly as fast as real RAM. I would recommend this almost as a last resort.

To assign more Virtual Memory follow these instructions:

  1. Open your start menu.
  2. Right-click on “Computer”, then select “Properties”.
  3. On the left pane of the window that just opened, select “Advanced System Settings”.
  4. Under the “Advanced” tab, under “Performance”, click “Settings”.
  5. Under the “Advanced” tab, click the “Change” button.
  6. Set Virtual Memory usage, click “Set”, then click “OK”.
  7. Done.

Virtual Memory

If after trying these things your computer is still slow, you may want to consider upgrading your computer. There are other posts on this site that can explain what computers you may want to buy.

I hope that this post has been helpful to some of you,

Griffin Brautigam, Technical Intern

Operating Systems Review

A computer is nothing without an operating system, and that operating system, or OS for short, shapes everything from how the computer looks to how and what it runs. As such, there are multiple different operating systems that have been created to complete different purposes. Here are some of the most popular, and what they’re good for, as well as their weaknesses.

The most common and potentially the easiest to use is Windows, and most work and personal home computers run on it. Created by Microsoft, Windows was the operating system that started the GUI that included movable windows that displayed graphics and text. There are 26 different versions of this operating system, the newest being a free upgrade, potentially because the previous version was not as successful as Microsoft may have hoped, although the free upgrade had its own rocky start. Windows is a versatile system that can do just about anything, and is a PC gamer’s best choice out of available systems.

Several years after Windows was released, Microsoft was challenged by who is now their main competitor, Apple, who released the Macintosh, or Mac, operating system. Although I personally don’t like Mac, it is not useless. Its synchronization with other Apple devices makes iPod/iPhone users’ lives easier, and has great photo, video, and music editing capabilities. It is not without limitations however, as a lot of software and games are not made to run on Mac, but this comes with its own benefits, as most viruses and malware will not affect a Mac’s system and core files.

A lesser-known system, called Linux, is becoming more popular because of the new SteamOS that was recently revealed, which runs on an edited version of Linux. Linux itself is more or less used for testing software and not really for any particular use, but the SteamOS is gamer specific, allowing you to stream games from computer to computer, all while giving you immediate access to the Steam store and community. The most obvious flaw is that it works similar to how the OS of Xbox and Playstation work, which basically means that the OS is Steam and is incapable of running anything else, similar to how a Chromebook works.

So, regardless of what you’re trying to accomplish, there is software that will help you reach that goal.

Should I Buy an HP Computer?

HP is one of, if not the leading computer manufacturer in the world. That being said, people can have differing opinions of the brand itself. I’m going to share my experiences with HP, and my overall thoughts about the brand.

I have an HP laptop that I got off of my brother 2 years ago. It worked great; I could play my games, browse the internet, do school work and pursue my secondary passions. My opinion of the brand was very positive for a long time.

That was the case, until this past summer; sometime in mid-June, I tried to turn on my laptop, all I got was a black screen. I tried all the things that the HP support site suggested: unplugging the battery, holding down the power button for 30 seconds to discharge static electricity, and I even tried replacing the hard drive; nothing worked.

After some more research in web forums and even calling in to HP I figured out that the problem was with my laptop’s motherboard. So next I did what every logical person would do, I bought a new motherboard and tried to replace the existing one myself. After about an hour of praying, losing screws and disassembling my laptop I finally had the motherboard replaced. Success! The computer turned on and worked like a dream, I had successfully fixed my laptop!

However, the story doesn’t stop there. Exactly 2 weeks later, I get the same black screen problem. Needless to say, I was furious; I emailed HP later that day. It took a few days of worrying and frustration but HP finally got back to me saying that I must have received a faulty motherboard
and that they would send me a new one free of charge.

The new motherboard came and I was once more able to successfully replace it. Since then, about 3 months later, the laptop is still working the way that it is supposed to work. In fact, I’m writing this on the very same laptop.

In the following weeks I found out that my HP laptop is prone to overheating. Some say that this overheating is caused by a design flaw that HP left in on purpose. However, I usually give companies the benefit of the doubt (maybe not the best idea?), but this entire situation really affected me.

Overall, I think that HP makes great computers, but their customer service could user some serious work in my opinion. Despite what happened to me, I would highly recommend getting an HP machine to anyone who asks me.

~Griffin Brautigam Technical Intern

Nvidia VS. AMD

One of the first questions people ask themselves when building or upgrading a PC is what kind of video card should I get? For the most part, hardware producer doesn’t matter, and the question becomes quite simply, “Nvidia or AMD?” Both are good for different tasks, and each has its own pros and cons.

AMD is relatively cheaper, and has overall better processing, computing, and memory bandwidth, with a higher amount of texture units to boot, but lacks in its memory clocks, and has a higher TDP (thermal design point). AMD is useful if you’re looking for a video card that won’t run the highest graphics but will ensure a good FPS in-game.

Nvidia is much more expensive, with newer cards ranging in the $1000 range. But they make up for this with sheer power, being easier to overclock, with the clock boosting giving a larger upgrade than overclocking an AMD would. However, because it doesn’t have the same processing and computing speed, the high quality images it renders are more prone to framerate drops as it takes longer to generate the graphics.

Both Nvidia and AMD have software, Nvidia using GeForce Experience, and AMD with Raptr. Both can monitor your performance in-game and recommend settings that would be considered optimal (though in my experience those settings are not always optimal, and have made games nigh unplayable before), and Nvidia has the added Physx feature, which adds new visual effects into supported games.

So, which should you get? It depends entirely on what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for a high framerate and don’t mind sacrificing visual quality to save a few hundred dollars, AMD is for you. But if money is no object and you want shinier graphics alongside Physx effects, then Nvidia is definitely the better choice. Personally I prefer Nvidia, though that is simply because I’ve never used AMD before, and I know Nvidia’s software, but AMD is just as good, just for different purposes.

~Chris Watson, Technical Intern

How To Create Your Own Keyboard Shortcuts

You can create your own keyboard shortcuts to open up programs on Windows computers. Before you start, you need to make a shortcut on your desktop of the program that you want the keyboard shortcut to open up. Once you do that, there are a few steps in the rest of the process.

1. Right-click on the shortcut.
2. Click Properties.
3. In the Shortcut Key dialog select the letter that you want to be the shortcut.
4. Done.

(Note: Windows automatically inserts Ctrl + Alt before the selected letter, you cannot change this.)

~Griffin Brautigam – Technical Intern

Should You Upgrade To Windows 10?

Windows 10 has incredible potential but needs just a bit longer in the oven to bake properly. If you have Windows 7 now, stay put for a few more months. Windows 8.x is another story, if you are on a desktop or non-touch laptop, go for it (the new Windows can’t be any worse right?). Windows 8.x on a tablet is rather functional so it is up to you if you want to fight the bloody edge of technology;

Windows 10

All of the issues we have found with Windows 10 revolve around the web browsers and graphic card drivers. Most annoyingly is the horrible playback of streaming video (Netflix, YouTube, etc.).

~Edward Specht, Software Engineer

Computer Cleaning Software

Computers are a lot like any other appliance: they have to be maintained, cleaned (both internally and externally), and treated with some measure of responsibility. Most machines can get by with a little to a moderate amount of care, but I personally prefer to take no chances. There’s a wide variety of software that I use, for purposes ranging from maintenance to security, to just helpful tools.

A very useful tool I picked up early this year is CCleaner. Most applications, when run, will create temporary files that are stored away in your machine, and though small, they add up quickly into huge folders that just take up space. CCleaner seeks them out and deletes them, as well as being capable of deleting unused registries and defragging hard disks, and that’s only scratching the surface of its potential!

Something that every computer needs is an anti-virus or anti-malware scanner, and nothing beats a price tag of $0. Some of the best free anti-virus scanners are MalwareBytes and Avira, the prior being the better option of the two because it runs faster and scans more thoroughly, and it doesn’t give you advertisements. Microsoft’s malicious software scanner is effective too, but don’t make it your sole source of protection.

All the software I have listed is free, and I would give a positive recommendation to use any, if not all, of the above programs to keep your machine running at its peak performance.

~Chris Watson, Technical Intern