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Solwise Dealer

solwiseI've been a big fan of Solwise products and have been using them for many years so I'm proud to have just opened a trade account with them allowing me to offer competitive pricing on their products.  With a range of wireless and wired networking devices they have a product to solve any problem.  They are specialists in the Home-Plug style Ethernet over Power devices and also outdoor wireless systems such as building to building links, distributed outdoor wireless hotspots and laser line-of-site links.

Here is their press info: "Solwise do technical distribution. By this we mean that we do more than just shift boxes. All our products are carefully selected to represent the best value for money within their sector. If we can't offer something special in a product range we don't carry it.

We also understand our products. Whether you need help selecting a product before buying, or help to get your system working when it arrives, we will be able to give quality advice. This is because we are a small company and care about your business, as well as ours.

Our main areas are ADSL, VoIP, Home Plug, Networking and Wireless devices. Wherever computers meet telephone lines we will probably have something to offer.

Founded in 1991, Solwise Ltd. are a UK based 'Direct Channel' importer and distributor of Telecoms and computer products. In addition to our attractively priced range of high quality ADSL, VoIP, Wireless, Home Plug & Networking devices, we stock a number of interesting specialist items."

If you are considering expanding your wireless network or just need a new router, then please contact me to enquire about an expertly supplied Solwise device with expert fitting by me!

Operating Systems - should you upgrade?

I’m often asked for advice about operating system (OS) upgrades and there is some confusion out there about the status of Windows XP so this month I’m going to chat about what’s happening in April 2014 and what it means to you.  Windows XP is still the favoured OS for many businesses, because it can be the only OS to support their older admin or finance software, and I’m still performing several XP installations every month.

Microsoft has always pledged a 10 year lifecycle for XP and Windows XP (with Service Pack 3) was released in April 2004 and in April 2014 it will be exactly 10 years old. Happy Birthday XP!  ‘Mainstream Support’ has already ended for XP, which means that Microsoft no longer answer their phones to XP customers, but ‘Extended Support’ via their website site and support networks still continues today.  Independent support engineers like me will continue to assist windows XP customers for many years after the April ‘Switch-off’ so there is no need to worry about getting help if you do stick with XP.

Currently, Microsoft release security updates every few weeks for Windows XP which you should receive through the automatic update system (little yellow shield that appears now-and-then by your clock) but this will all stop in April 2014.  This means that if a criminal finds a security loophole in XP, Microsoft will no longer offer a ‘security patch’ to fix the problem and you will have no way of protecting yourself from viruses that can exploit that loophole.  This means that after April 2014 you will need to make sure that you use a heavy-weight Virus protection system such as Norton 360 or McAfee Total Protection and you should also ensure that you use a local firewall and a router based firewall on your internet connection.  It would also be advisable to use a malware scanner every few days too such as Malware Bytes Anti-Malware.

Microsoft has already alienated their XP users by discontinuing Internet Explorer updates on XP.  The most up-to-date IE for XP is IE8 and this will really affect internet usage as web pages become more advanced.  Google have already dropped support for IE8 so Google pages can often look odd or misformatted on IE8.  But there is an easy way around this problem by switching to one of the many modern web browsers that are still available for XP, such as Firefox, Chrome, Safari etc. (I’ll talk more about web browsers in a future blog)

What’s the conclusion? Well my current advice is still: if your XP computer is running fine and doing everything you need it to do, then stick with it. This advice may change after April 2014 depending on virus outbreaks, but let’s cross that bridge when we get there.   I’ll do a piece on system upgrades soon to give you advice on improving performance on older computers and I’ve been asked frequently about Windows 8 too so there is another blog coming soon…

I hope you enjoy my advice, and if you would like to see a particular subject covered then please feel free to ask at www.alfindlay.com.

Regular Servicing Could Save You Money

Unlike with Cars, there are no hard-and-fast rules about getting your computer serviced, it really depends on the environment they are in and the level of work they do.  I recommend an annual service for business and critical machines and up to 3 years for domestic computers.  But computers in hostile environments such as mechanic’s workshops or bars or nightclubs can need servicing as frequently as once every 6 weeks to keep them working at their best.

During normal operation a computer generates lots of heat, which it gets rid of using heatsinks and fans, normally by drawing cool air in at the front of the case and ejecting the hot air at the rear.  Most notebook computers draw cold air from underneath or through the keyboard and vent it through fins on the side or rear of the case.  If these air intakes or exhausts get blocked then this can cause a dangerous build-up of heat inside the machine which can make the machine slow and unreliable and at worst cause permanent damage to the computer.  Hard Drives can undergo permanent damage from heat which can dry out their bearings which will lead to malfunction and data loss.

A normal Computer service would involve taking the machine apart and cleaning it thoroughly inside and out to make sure all the air canals are unobstructed.  All rotating fans need to be cleaned and heatsinks need to have all traces of dust removed to allow them to radiate the heat away.  I also recommend that the heatsink paste (the thermal transfer compound) is removed and the heat transfer surfaces cleaned with surgical alcohol before being refitted with fresh paste.  I can undertake a full service for £25 if the machine is brought to my workshop in Newton Poppleford or I can service a machine in your home or business for £30.  An advanced service charged at £50 includes a deep virus scan and spyware check as well as performance audit to see if a software clean-up may have a benefit to you or if a memory upgrade could improve your performance.

A service is best left to a professional but there is no harm in taking a vacuum cleaner to the front of your computer every now-and-then just to clear any major obstructions. Check your computer today and if there is any sign of dust around the air intake or exhaust fans then book a service to remove any risk of damage. Computers in homes with pets or dusty environments are particularly at risk.

I hope you enjoy my advice, and if you would like to see a particular subject covered then please feel free to ask at www.alfindlay.com.

Backup - no excuses!

Last time I spoke about how important Virus protection is to your computer, and this month I’m going to tell you my number one computing rule: Backup EVERYTHING! We are all using our computers now more than ever and it is common for home users to store an incredible amount of information on their machines.  Music files, digital photos, letters, financial information and more. And losing any or all of this information can cause serious heartache.

Data can be lost in a number of ways; hard drives are the components which store all your information and these can fail at any time from bearing faults, motor failure, heat fatigue or electronic faults, and even a light bang while they are running can cause a hard drive to fail.  In addition you can lose data from virus infections, theft or fire, misconfiguration or even just accidentally deleting files.  So it’s easy to lose files and not so easy to get them back.

It is possible to recover files from a damaged or failed hard drive, even after fire damage, but it can be very costly with specialist companies charging prices of £500 upwards for a partial recovery. I can sometimes recover data from a hard drive with mechanical or electronic failure, but this isn’t always successful.  If you’ve suffered from a loss of data then turn your computer off now and don’t use it again until I’ve taken a look.  The more you use your computer the less likely it is that data can be recovered.

USB memory keys can be used to make a single backup of your important files, and these are very inexpensive with 16GB drives available from Amazon for under £8.  This will give you a good way to make a quick backup and transport data but an external hard drive will allow you to back up your entire computer in one go. Again Amazon sells a 500GB USB hard drive for around £40. So a small investment now will prevent a disaster or large outlay later in the event of a data incident.

Once you’ve made your backup, don’t store the backup drive near your computer because if you have a fire or a break-in then you will likely lose your backup along with your computer.  Put your backup device somewhere safe on the other side of your home or office so that it’s available when you need it. And don’t forget to update your backup every few weeks, or more often for business users.

There is some backup software built into your computer and there are free downloadable options too.  Microsoft SyncToy is popular for making verbatim copies of your data, and some external hard drives come with software to help make backups easier.  But if that all seems too complex then it’s perfectly fine just to make a full copy of your data onto your backup device, just using the normal windows copy function, the most important thing is that you’ve got a backup!

Virus Protection – It’s Essential

Virus Protection is one of the most important parts of your computer.  I respond to virus infections on average 4 times a week, and viruses can have a horrific effect on home machines and office networks alike.  Viruses and malware can enter your computer in a number of ways, normally by email, but also from infected websites and local transfer too across wireless networks or even on data disk or USB memory sticks.

Viruses are small pieces of software which are designed to prevent your computer from working correctly.  Some viruses sit in the background and track your web usage or capture passwords you type or credit card numbers and phone numbers, these are called ‘spyware’ viruses.  Some viruses try to steer your web browsing towards their advertisers or bring up pop-up adverts and these are known as ‘adware’.  Some viruses can hijack your computer and try to make you pay to unlock the desktop or restore operation and these are known as ‘hijacks’, ‘bribeware’, or ‘crimeware’.  All of these are collectively known as ‘malware’ and regardless of what these viruses are designed to do, they all take up resources on your computer.  Viruses like these can often try to disguise themselves as useful toolbars, performance enhancers or money saving programs, but in the background they are still viruses and have mal intent.  If you have any of the following on your PC then I’d recommend removing them ASAP: Rebate informer, INBOX toolbar, MyWebSearch, UniBlue, regtweaker, PCRegScan, FunMoods, or anything that sounds similar.

Antivirus software is essential on all computers, even if they are not often on the Internet.  Norton and McAfee are the market leaders in protection and give the best protection against low resource usage, but they are also the most expensive at approximately £35 per machine per year at full retail price or sometimes cheaper during special offers.  If your machine is regularly used by teenagers for social media, gaming and file sharing, then heavyweight protection like Norton or McAfee is absolutely essential.

Microsoft and AVG both have good free antivirus products which offer good protection for light or infrequent users.  There are many more AV products out there for a few pounds a year upwards, but they don’t offer much more protection than the free AVG or Microsoft products. Some of these providers offer ‘value-added’ software to make them seem good value for money, such as toolbars, PC performance tools or registry scanners, but don’t be fooled, you just need the live virus protection and anything else is just padding.  My advice would be: don’t bother with the likes of Sophos, ESET NOD, Kaspersky, Panda, Bullguard, Trend, etc, and stick to the free versions of AVG or Microsoft Security Essentials.  

Add-on protection software can give you extra peace-of-mind, and I often use a scanner called Anti-Malware by a company called Malware Bytes (often abbreviated to MBAM.)  If you install the free version of this software then it will allow you to run a periodic scan that can find many items of malware that your normal AV software misses.

I use MBAM and some other more violent tools to treat virus infections and I can normally clean a machine fully in around 90 minutes. But there are some viruses that are impossible to remove cleanly and even after removal they can leave your machine in a very poor state or can cause damage that can only be repaired by a system rebuild.

If you suspect that you have a virus infection then don’t delay, get it removed before you lose valuable or personal information, or before it renders your machine unusable.   The tell-tale signs of an infection are: unusually poor performance, random pop-up windows, unpredictable or erratic browsing such as web page redirections, hijacked web-searching or home pages, random crashing or rebooting, unmovable advert windows, etc.  If you have random behaviour like this from your computer then please call me today to book a visit.

Next time I’ll be talking about my number one computing rule: Backup EVERYTHING!

References and Links:

MBAM Scanner: http://download.cnet.com/Malwarebytes-Anti-Malware/3000-8022_4-10804572.html (be careful to click only the "Download Now CNET Secure" button as the other download options are just adverts

Microsoft Security Essentials: http://windows.microsoft.com/en-GB/windows/security-essentials-download

AVG Free: http://free.avg.com/gb-en/free-antivirus-download

 

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