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What makes a computer “fast”?

Everybody these days wants computers that are fast and powerful. Some people seek out RAM upgrades, other people seek out new toys like SSDs or RAID configurations, but when you go to speed up your system, you can’t just pick up a new piece of hardware and expect to see a world of difference.

To help our customers in deciding how to best speed up their PCs, Jafferson Computers has put together this handy guide on how to identify and solve speed problems. When it comes to computer speed, there are three main pieces of hardware we look at. The processor, the memory, and the hard drive. Each one helps out with different tasks, and one last thing to remember is that a computer is only as fast as its slowest component, so having a super-fast processor is no good if your RAM can’t keep up with it.

Part 1: The Processor

The processor is the first piece of the puzzle. This is the “brain” of the computer or the main calculator. Everything the computer does has to run through the processor, so good processor speed is very important. Unfortunately, its pretty difficult to fully understand how processor speeds really work. Basically, you have two things to look at.
1: The clock speed (measured in GHz or MHz)
2: The number of cores (1 core, 2 cores, 4 cores and up)

The theory behind all these “cores” is that if you buy a 2.1 GHz processor with two cores, then the total clock speed is theoretically 4.2 GHz.
This is a little misleading. The thing is that a 2 core processor can only use both cores if there are two things to calculate at once. Most programs, however, have to do things one at a time. So if you are trying to compile one big, awesome HIGH DEFINITION photograph, odds are that only one core can handle that task, and that one core will max out at 2.1 GHz while the other core will remain mostly idle, so you never actually get to use the supposed 4.2 GHz your processor is supposed to be able to do.

Please understand that this is an oversimplification of processor speed and there are many many other things that come into play, but here’s a good RULE OF THUMB
A dual core processor at 2 GHz can give you 4 GHz, but this only happens when conditions are perfect, and even if the conditions are perfect, it will still never be as fast as a single core processor at 4GHz. The downside to single cores is that it is difficult to make a single core do 4GHz, and they also get very HOT and use a lot of power. Having multiple cores is much more economical and cost effective.

For most people, all this doesn’t matter too much because all you need is a processor that is “good enough”. Modern processors are all fast. You only need to shell out money for good processors if you are doing something processor intensive.
FAST PROCESSORS HELP MOST WITH:
- Doing heavy calculations.
- Moving around large files.
- Searching or scanning your hard drive
- High definition movies or photos.
- Graphically intense video games:

Part 2: Memory (RAM)

RAM stands for Random Access Memory, and basically it is the part of the computer that holds all your short-term data — as opposed to your hard drive which holds all of your long term data.
Imagine the relationship like a bucket and a well. The hard drive is the well. It holds all of the water, and it takes a long time to get water out of the well.
The bucket is the RAM. The bucket doesn’t hold very much water compared to the well, but it is much faster to get water out of the bucket.

When you call up a program like Microsoft Word, the computer searches through the hard drive for all of the files associated with Word, and copies them into RAM. Once they are sitting on the RAM, we can access them much faster, because RAM moves data much faster than a hard drive can. When we go to use a different program, at that time the computer will push the Word files out of RAM to replace them with files from the program you are now using, so that program will start to run smoothly and efficiently.

There are two things to look at when determining your RAM speed.
1. Amount of RAM (512 MB, 1 GB, 2 GB, 4 GB and up)
2. Clock speed

The amount of RAM is easy. The more bytes of RAM you have (4 GB is better than 2GB), the more short term data you have to work with. This means that you can load more programs into fast memory at once, and your computer is wasting as much time trying to retrieve data from the slower hard drive.

The second part is clock speed. If the amount of RAM means how much short term data you can hold, the clock speed is how fast that data moves in and out of RAM. There are many ways to measure clock speed, but in general the higher numbers are better. The simplest way to determine clock speed is to look at the DDR or PC rating. DDR3 (a.k.a. PC3) RAM is faster than DDR2 (a.k.a PC2) and much faster than DDR1. DDR3 is the faster consumer RAM available right now, but DDR4 will be available to buy by the end of this year.

Here’s my RULE OF THUMB for buying RAM.
Go for the higher clock speed over the bigger amount of RAM. Most new computers have at least 4 GB of RAM and the average user will RARELY max that out. It just doesn’t make sense for most people to pay for 6 or 8 GBs of RAM because they will never actually use more than 3 or 4 GBs at a time.  Clock speed, however, should get used to its maximum all the time, (assuming that the motherboard is able to match those speeds) so you aren’t wasting money when you pay for the higher clock speed.

RAM HELPS MOST WITH:
- Multi tasking or running multiple programs at once
- Accessing large or commonly used files
- Running big programs like Windows, Quicken, Microsoft Office, photo or video editors
- Running background programs, services, antiviruses or firewalls.

Part 3: Hard Drives & SSDs

The last part of our speed puzzle is the hard drive, or the “long term storage”. Your hard drive is what holds all of the files your computer uses, this includes documents, photos, movies, Windows system files, programs files, computer settings, drivers, registry files, and everything in between. The hard drive has to be much bigger in terms of storage than RAM, because the hard drive has to hold everything. This is why you buy RAM in amounts of 2-8 GBs, and you buy hard drives in amounts of 50-1000 GBs.

Again, there are two things the average user should look at when considering a hard drive.
1. Amount of storage space (80GBs, 320 GBs, 500 GBs, 1 TB and up)
2. The type of hard drive (SATA or IDE, and spinning disk or solid state)

Obviously the more storage space you have, the better. The laptops and desktops that customers bring into our shop usually have between 150 GB and 500 GB maximum capacity. In our experience the average user will fill up somewhere between 50 GBs and 300 GBs. Here’s a quick breakdown of things that will likely use lots of storage, and things that will likely use not-a-lot of storage. Remember, these are just general estimates.

BIG DATA
5 GBs + |  Large programs or video games
3 GBs     |  High definition video files
1 GB       |  Video files
500 MB|  Medium sized programs
3 MB      |  Music files
900 KB |  Standard photos (.JPEGs, .PNGs)
15 KB     | Documents
3 KB       |  small or simple images (.gifs)
1 KB –    |  Simple text
SMALL DATA

If you hold a lot of movies or big programs, you’re going to need a lot of storage space. If all you do is send emails write documents, and browse the internet, you don’t need a lot of space. Simple.

The TYPE of hard drive is the last thing we will go over. There are lots of factors in hard drive speed, like latency (the lower the better), and RPM (the higher the better), but for most consumers this is too much to worry about. The only thing an average user needs to worry about is this, IDE vs. SATA, and SSD vs. mechanical or spinning disk hard drive.

SATA and IDE are connection types. SATA hard drives use SATA cables to transfer data between the hard drive and motherboard. IDE hard drives use IDE cables. IDE cables are wider, slower, and less efficient, so nearly all modern computers have switched to SATA technology, so this is pretty easy. Always choose SATA, unless you have to use IDE for some reason.

Finally we have solid state drives or SSDs. SSDs are a new type of hard drive that are just now starting to make it into consumer laptops. Jafferson Computers has a whole article on SSDs already, but here’s the long and short of it. Basically SSDs are like giant flash drives or giant sticks of RAM. They are much faster than mechanical hard drives, because they don’t rely on a spinning disk to hold data. The trade off is that they are expensive. An 80 GB SSD will cost about as much as a 1000 GB (or 1 TB) mechanical hard drive. SSDs are great because it makes your long term data load almost as fast as your short term data, meaning your computer can boot within seconds of you hitting the power button. The downside is that they just can’t hold that much, so don’t try to load all your high res movies onto it.

THAT’S ABOUT IT FOLKS

This stuff is complicated, no doubt about it. If you take away nothing else, take this. Your computer is only as fast as its slowest part. Upgrading your computer with twice as much RAM is great, but if your processor is maxed out, then your processor is maxed out, and all the RAM in the world is not going to help. If you are trying to figure out which part of your computer to upgrade, you need to figure out what is the slowest part of your computer first. Thanks for reading!

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Thinking about switching to SSD?

Thinking about switching to SSD?

SSD are solid state drives. These mechanisms are used like normal hard drives, they store long term data. However, instead of using spinning disks the way that hard drives do, SSD are solid. They store information much like your typical flash drive stick would.

SSD are expensive compared to hard drives. Most consumer laptops and desktops do not have SSD in them. The benefit of SSD is speed. SSD can move data many times faster than a standard spinning disc hard drives. This means that when you load big files, like programs, your favorite video game, or your library of music, everything will start up much faster. If you want a computer that boots within seconds of pressing the power button, SSD are truly the way to go.

It’s important to know that SSD make things load faster – they DO NOT increase processing power. If you want to run more powerful programs, or if you want to turn up the 3d graphics on your computer, SSD will not help.

Check out the article below if you’re seriously interested in making the jump!
http://www.hongkiat.com/blog/solid-state-drives-upgrade/

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Is My Computer Infected?

 

Computer infections happen all the time. We see them everyday here at Jafferson Computers. They are annoying, and can cost you lots of money and downtime. Unfortunately, there is no “easy way” to avoid computer infection. Computer infections are designed to fool you! The best defense against them is quite simply knowledge and experience. Read up on these simple tips to help you identify infections quickly!

 

Symptom #1: Running a trusted anti-virus program

The best way to identify infection is to run a trusted virus scan, simple as that. Some of Jafferson Computer’s favorites include: Norton, Kaspersky, BitDefender, Malwarebytes, and WebRoot.

 

If you suspect you are infected, our first recommendation is to download Malwarebytes (it’s free!) and run the scan. That should detect most infections. It is important to note that one virus scan by its self is usually not enough to get rid of an infection! If you run Malwarebytes and continue to see symptoms, seek more help!

Symptom #2: Slowness

Slow performance is probably the most common sign of computer infection. Everybody knows that viruses and malware will slow down your computer. Be careful in diagnosing slowness, however!

 

Sometimes it is tough to tell if your computer is actually slowing down or if it just seems like it. Unless the slow down is obvious or dramatic, you should keep in mind that your computer could be functioning normally and just seem slow. Slowness is also sign of hundreds of other problems, such a full hard drive, maxed out RAM, a corrupted program, an overload of programs running at once, corruption in Windows, failing hardware, or many many other things.

 

Symptom #3: Pop Ups

 

The rule for pop ups is simply the more you see them, the more likely you are infected. As a heavy internet user, I would say I see pop ups less than once a week. And I use the web a lot. If you see pop ups everyday, you most likely have an infection.

 

Most web browsers today come with pop up blockers built in. Since this has started happening, most legitimate website have stopped using them, so anytime you see a pop up, count that as a warning sign.

 

Symptom #4: Unfamiliar Programs

One of the first things we look for when we suspect a computer is infected is programs on the computer that the customer did not recognize or install. Try searching the web if you see a program that you don’t recognize to see if it is legit.

Infections will often install these programs on to your computer to get you to click on them:

  • fake PC TuneUp programs
  • fake web browser add ons or toolbars
  • fake anti-virus software, adware cleaners or junkware cleaners
  • fake Registry cleaners or driver fixers

 

Symptom #5: Website redirects, fake home pages, and fake search bars

Have you ever tried to do a search in Google, or in your search bar, only to be taken to a slightly different website, or be given search results that weren’t very helpful?

One of the most common infections we see is the hijacker infection. These will do things like change your default homepage, change your search bar, or redirect you when you try to access normal search engines.

Be very suspicious if you start seeing any of the following websites:

  • search.conduit
  • face smooch
  • babylon
  • findsee
  • Yontoo
  • searchnut

Symptom #6: Windows HiJack or Program Blockers

Lastly I want to talk about the more serious infections out there. These are the ones that prevent you from using your computer properly. If you’ve recently found yourself unable to open programs that you used to have no problem opening, there is a good chance you may be infected.

 

Along with the program blocker is the Windows hijack infection, or as we call it at Jafferson Computers, the “FBI Virus”.

 

The FBI Virus is a virus that covers your Windows desktop with a bogus police warning, informing you that you have broken the law, and the FBI or some other agency has locked down your computer. These infections usually instruct you to pay a fine so you can get your computer back.

NEVER ENTER ANY CREDIT CARD INFORMATION into these programs.

They are designed to rob you, and they will not let your computer go, no matter how much you pay them. When you see these infections, take your computer to professional or someone you trust.

 

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Tips for Windows Users



A couple of tips this week for our windows users


One of the most common questions I get asked is how a customer can append a series of files easily and put them in a sequential order. The easiest way is to use the keyboard shortcut F2. Simply select the series of files you would like to rename and and press F2. You will then be able to label the series of files with whatever name you desire. All files selected will have the naming convention you typed in, followed by a counter that generally starts at 0 or 1 and progresses onward from there.

Another situation we run into a lot is systems with infections or strange errors on the screen. We ask the customer to show us the virus or describe what the error is, but oftentimes they did not get a picture of it or cannot remember. When you see a stranger error in windows or suspect your system is infected, try and a take a screen shot of what is currently displayed on your monitor. To do this, look for a button on your keyboard that has the abbreviation “Prt Scrn” or similar. Pressing this button will take a snapshot of your screen. You can then press Ctrl+V while in an email or within an image editing program such as MS Paint to paste that screen shot. To take a screen shot of just the window you are currently in, press Alt+Prt Scrn instead. This will copy just the window you want an image of.

If you believe there is an infection or a bunch of errors on the screen it you may want to try to get to just see the desktop. For the different versions of windows this can be a little confusing to describe, but the easiest solution is the keyboard shortcut. Simply press the Windows key on your keyboard + the letter ‘m’. This will minimize all open windows on your screen and hopefully get you to just the desktop. If that doesn’t work try the windows key + ‘d’ which should bring you to your desktop.

If you are concerned someone is logged into your computer or you want to keep other people from being able to gain access to your system, you can press the windows key + ‘L’ to lock the system.

Another issue I see with customers is when they accidentally close an important page they were on within Internet Explorer and become flustered because they believe they have to redo all the work they just did to find the page again.. A much simpler way while in IE is: If you accidentally close a tab and are trying to figure out how to get back to the exact page you were on, simply press Ctrl+Shift Key+T. You will re-open the previous closed tab.

The final tip is for searching an important web page for a piece of information by it’s keyword. If the text within the web page is not embedded into an image, but was actually written to the page, you can search for that specific information. Simply press Ctrl+F while on your page and a search bar will pop up. You can then enter in the terms or words you are looking for on that specific page and search for instances of them. For long articles or web pages with vast amounts of information this is a useful tool for research or location purposes.

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Data backup

Backing up your computer.
One of the most common issues we have here at the store is customers who never back up their data. Never assume your data will remain safe in your system and always be accessible! Computers catch viruses, hard drives wear out, and sometimes they take physical damage. No less than a couple times a month we run into people who have a dead computer and need us to extract the data. While we can often do this, the process can be lengthy and expensive. Having your data in two or three places is always a good idea and will cost you a lot less money and stress in the long run. I have listed some of the most common methods to backup your data below; please make sure you’re performing at least one or two of them.

1) External or Secondary Hard Drive
Pros:
- Relatively inexpensive in the long run
- Easy to move data back and forth from computer to external drive
- Large amount of storage space available, often times more than you can store within your computer
- Some drives come with software which can automate the process for you and run it when you are away from the computer
- Can perform “image” backups, which are exact copies of how your computer looks right now

Cons:
- External drives still susceptible to failure such as impact/water/fire damage since they are technically hard drives
- Without software automating the process, the system relies on the user to make sure he backups consistently
- Must replace every few years

2) Flash Drives or Jump Drives
Pros:
- Easy to work with, simply plug in and copy data over
- Cheap, can grab them just about anywhere
- Drives are getting increasingly larger offering more space on such a small medium
- Easily transportable, many can be put on your keychain
Cons:
- If the drive fails, it is almost impossible to recover the data
- Easier to damage due to size and forgetfulness of user
- In a similar vein, they are also easier to lose due to their size
- Generally no software for automation of backup comes with them, the backup process is reliant on the user

3) Using Email as a backup
Pros:
- Cheap, essentially no cost since most email clients offer unlimited storage space
- Accessible anywhere and off different computers as long as you can access your email client
- Relatively simple to do since most users already know how to attach a file to an email
Cons:
- File size is constrained due to email file attachment limitations
- Process can be lengthy for backup as you generally can only attach a couple files at a time and have to keep emailing yourself dummy emails with attachments
- Requires computer with internet connection to recover data, and depending on the connection speed and number of files you have, could take a long time

4) Burning data to DVD/CD
Pros:
- Cheap
- Can store a decent amount of data on a standard DVD (4.7 GB)
- Media lasts a while, once it’s burned it may be good for over 10 years
Cons:
- Process for burning can be confusing for certain customers; may require specific burning software
- Large volumes of data (40+GB) will take awhile to backup due to the size constraints of the DVD’s and the length of the burning process
- Relies on the user to consistently burn backups
- Smaller netbooks and tablets generally do not have a disc drive

5) Online Storage Solutions
Pros:
- Relatively cheap, oftentimes free up to a certain point (5-10 GB)
- Process can be automated, merely relies on your internet connection
- Once your data is backed up, it is put in the “cloud”, and essentially will never be lost
- Many reputable companies out to choose from with online storage solutions such as: Carbonite, Copy, & Dropbox
Cons:
- Can take awhile to backup depending upon internet connection speed
- Pulling data down on a different system may require the user to install the storage software on the machine
- If the user has a large amount of data to backup, they will be charged a monthly fee based on that amount of data

If you haven’t backed up your data in a while, please consider one or two of the methods above. It’s best to use multiple methods for backup to ensure that you will never lose your important data. If you have questions or want us to help set up your backup solution let us know!

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Microsoft is officially ending support for Windows XP on April 8, 2014

We know a lot of you out there really love using Windows XP. The operating system has been out for over 11 years! It is the operating system many people started with and still use on a regular basis. Many of our customers come to us citing their love for XP and their distaste for the newer versions of Windows. There is a resistance to move onto the next thing, and we warn customers that this will eventually lead to a problem. Microsoft is officially ending support for Windows XP on April 8, 2014. Does that seem like a long time from now? It really isn’t, especially when you have to consider all of the programs, printers, accessories, and devices you are currently using with XP. To quote Microsoft directly, “After April 8, 2014, there will be no new security updates, non-security hotfixes, free or paid assisted support options or online technical content updates.” This means if you are running Windows XP at home or in your business beyond April 8, 2014, you will be more vulnerable to a host of issues. Start considering how to move on to Windows 7 or 8, and what software and hardware you will be able to take with you. If you need help figuring out what you are going to do, drop by and ask!

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Windows 8 Solution for the Missing Start Button

 

Windows 8 came out less than two months ago, so we haven’t seen too many systems with Windows 8 installed on them come in for service. Those who have come in with Windows 8 installed on their PCs are giving it mixed reviews. Some love it, and some hate it. Either way, everyone agrees that the system is missing something that they’re used to from passed Windows releases. The biggest complaint we hear from people is that they miss the start button. Thankfully, there’s an easy fix for this. We stumbled across this add- on while looking through another service that we use all the time, ninite.com. The add-on is called Classic Shell. It gives you a very nice looking start button, which functions just as you would imagine. You get a search bar, links to all your programs and options for shutting your system down. Another nice thing this add-on does is it switches the default page that shows up after logging into Windows. Instead of seeing the default Windows 8 start screen, you get to go straight to your desktop.

Not having the start button isn’t really a big deal. If you’re working on different PCs all the time it’s a good idea to get used to all of the defaults within Windows 8. For customizing your own machine or if you get a request for it, though, it’s nice to know that there’s a solution offered.

Classic Shell can be downloaded from classicshell.sourceforge.net

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