By Karim Salmi / Blog / 0 Comments

There are two kinds of hard drives: those that have failed and those that will fail.

Every week, new clients come to us in crisis. The worst case scenario just became a reality: a hard drive has died. A computer has crashed with years worth of data. Immediately we ask if there is a backup somewhere and inevitably the answer is no. How did this happen? They don’t know. When? Minutes ago. What have they lost? Irreplaceable pictures, financial data, emails, documents, presentations and a host of other data. Can we save it? It depends. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Could they have saved it? Absolutely.

Some problems are completely inevitable in the world of computers. Hard drive failure is one of those problems. Unfortunately, computers don’t come with a comprehensive guide that warn users of all the problems they might experience and how to resolve them. That’s why our clients always seem to be surprised that this has happened to them. After all, their computer was fully functional last time they turned it on. As we talk to more and more clients we realize that the problem isn’t that they didn’t want to back up their data, it’s that they didn’t know how. In this article, we will evaluate the different means of backing up and securing your data both locally via physical devices and online via data backup services.
Before we begin, let me stress one thing: backing up your data is so much easier and so much cheaper than trying to recover it. Don’t put it off!

1) What is a backup?
A backup is a fancy way of saying “a copy of your data.” Backing up your data does not have to be any more complicated than copying your data somewhere. On a small scale, back ups can be made of documents that are receiving multiple edits so that you can just go back to a previous version if a new one is unsatisfactory. As a more complete solution, backups can be entire copies of the content on your hard drive.

2) Where can I make backups?
Backups should be made on a medium other than the hard drive your are trying to backup. The reason for this is that if something happens to your hard drive then your backups will also be lost. That’s why backups are usually done on a second hard drive or other storage device such as a thumb drive or DVD. There are risks associated with most backup methods: a thumb drive can be lost, an external hard drive can be knocked off the desk or a DVD might get scratched. All of these things must be taken into consideration when choosing what medium to use as a backup device.

Additionally, we must plan for real catastrophes: what if your home office is damaged by a natural event and both your hard drive and backup source are damaged? While it seems like there’s a lot to consider, the lessons are simple: use multiple backups and keep them in different places.

Online service providers like Mozy and Carbonite address all the issues of choosing a recovery medium by providing data backup centers that have redundant servers with additional copies of your data. While their basic services are free, both companies charge for higher data usage on a recurring basis.

3) How do I make a backup?
First, you need to choose a medium. Because of size constraints, we recommend using an external hard drive because thumb drives and DVDs are limited by the amount of data they can store. Once you have an external hard drive, simply plug it in to your computer via the usb cable. On most computers, your main hard drive is assigned the letter C: and your external device will be assigned another letter (D:, E:, F:, H: etc…). Select the folders you would like to copy on the C: drive. In most cases, you will be interested in copying your documents, music, pictures, video and desktop folders. So why not grab them all?

On Windows Vista and Windows 7, your user folder can be found at C:Users*Your profile*
On Windows XP, the user folder is usually found at C:Documents and Settings*Your profile*

Once you have selected the folders you would like to backup, right click on them and click copy. Then, navigate to your external drive by going to Start Menu -> My Computer -> External Drive and paste them there. You can create a new folder called “my backups” or a dated folder such as “07-08-2011 Back up.” Voila! You’ve created your first backup.

Note: copying your entire profile will include copies of other folders such as your application data and local settings folders. This is where programs such as outlook store all of your email or financial data in database formats. To make sure that these folders are also copied, navigate to Start Menu -> Control Panel -> Folder Options -> View -> Select “Show Hidden Files, Folders and Drives.”

4) Automating the process.
To make sure that you have current backups, we recommend using an automatic backup program to schedule when your backups should occur. These programs will allow you to set a backup schedule and select which folders are backed up and to where. There are many different products that automate backing up. However, we would like to discourage you from using a software that converts your data into proprietary archive files because you will be entirely dependent on that software/company to store and retrieve your data.

In plain English, this means avoiding a program that takes your documents and pictures and stores them as anything other than pictures and documents. Instead of having thousands of pictures, these programs will store them in a few database files such as “data001.fbf, data002.fbf” and you will only be able to open them with that software exclusively! Anti-virus providers are now tying their backup software with their anti virus software. This means you are stuck using their antivirus and paying their fees in order to keep using the back-up components of the program.

We recommend a free and easy to use program called Automatic Backups that can be downloaded from http://automaticbackup.frigerio-ar.com/
Set the frequency of your backups to a daily, weekly, biweekly or monthly schedule. The frequency depends on you. If you cannot afford to lose your day to day work, then set a daily schedule!

5) Online backups.
To further minimize the risk of losing your data, we recommend using an online service to create another copy of your most precious data. Here is a 2011 review of current providers:
http://online-data-backup-review.toptenreviews.com/
The advantage of online backups is that they are generally safer than local backups. Additionally, you can access your data from anywhere in the world with an internet connection. However, they come with a monthly cost!

Taking care of your data backups now will save you a lot of money in the long run and a few stressful trips to a computer repair shop. Don’t wait!

By Karim Salmi / Blog / 0 Comments

Hello everyone,

We’ve been receiving numerous questions about anti virus solutions and how to protect yourselves from malware. While having an updated anti-virus is very important, we believe that the best defense against online threats is you, the computer user. Unfortunately, novice computer users don’t really know what is safe and what is harmful. Worst yet, there’s no easy way to learn to identify threats on the internet. That’s why we recommend a few “best practices”:

– Do not share your machine with guests and other risky users. For best results, we suggest having a separate machine for your children and a dedicated machine for adults (especially if you participate in online banking and bill payments).

– Use a strong and up to date anti-virus. VitalTech has always recommended Avast antivirus (available at www.avast.com) which is free for home use and easy to navigate even for the most beginner users.

– Do not visit risky websites or download files from other users. Stick to the big recognizable names that you are familiar with like google and msn.

Remember, there is no 100% solution to keep you safe from threats. So back up your data regularly!

By Karim Salmi / Blog / 0 Comments

Unlike today’s cars, our computers don’t have an entire on board system that identifies problems within our machine. This means we need to manually troubleshoot every issue that pops up. Because of the numerous differences between hardware, software and operating systems, the process of identifying a computer issue can be challenging. To simplify this task, computer repair experts have developed flowcharts that attempt to identify problems with the computer or laptop by process of elimination. These methods can quickly and accurately pinpoint a problem with your computer.
Clients are taken aback when we ask them seemingly ridiculous questions like “does the computer turn on?” because they don’t always appreciate the process by which we need to figure out what is wrong especially if we are diagnosing a computer problem over the phone. But these questions are necessary so that we can rule out possible causes. There’s no point worrying about whether a computer has a virus problem if we can’t even get it to power on.
The first step in troubleshooting a computer is to figure out if it is turning on or not. This means verifying that the power source is functional and that the cables are properly plugged in. From there, we need to monitor sounds and LEDs. Are the lights coming on like they should? Do you hear beeps? Is the fan spinning up? If all of these basic functions are starting up properly, then we can move on to verifying that the display elements are working properly. Otherwise, we’re stuck doing board level diagnostics. If the lights are not coming on then there is a power issue. Even if a motherboard is faulty, the system lights should still turn on when the power button is pressed. Verify the integrity of the power environment before testing the power supply with a power supply tester.
If the computer is turning on but the system fan is not spinning, you will need to visit your computer’s bios settings to make sure that the fan is set to spin. Failing that, you may have a faulty fan. The final sign of trouble is beeps or beep codes. These will alert you to various board level failures including memory and video failures. You will need to consult your computer’s service manual to match the beep codes with the error message.
Once past this point, we can see if anything comes up on the screen. If there is no display and none of the previous trouble signs were active then there is a video failure to troubleshoot. For laptops, connect the unit to a desktop LCD screen to see if there is a display there. If yes, then you have a LCD issue. If not, then you have a video chip problem. However, if you have gotten this far without any of the aforementioned problems then you have pretty much narrowed down the problem to your hard drive.
As referenced in our other articles, hard drives are very prone to failure. There are both hardware and software issues that affect only your hard drive. Once your computer has booted up and you are passed the bios splash screen and component tests, your computer is looking for a boot device. This is usually your hard drive where your operating system is installed. If there is a hardware failure, you will probably get a error message similar to “No boot device found” or “missing Drive on…” At this point, you want to verify that the hard drive is properly connected to both the data cable (IDE or SATA) and the power rail from the power supply. If it is spinning but not detected, try replacing the data cable or reseating it. If it is not spinning, try to power it up via a different rail or with a different power source. If it fails to power on, then your hard drive has failed.
Finally, if you bypass all the aforementioned problems then your computer is probably fine on a hardware level. Now, it is time to see if there is a problem with Microsoft Windows. If the Windows loading screen with logo comes up then you know that your hardware and hard drive are all functioning well so far. If you fail to get passed the logo screen, you cannot login to windows once the user list is active or you receive a blue screen of death (BSOD) then there is operating system corruption. The resolution for these are numerous and complex. The most basic step to attempt is to pop in a recovery CD and try to either repair the Windows installation or restore the computer to an early save point when the problem was not occurring.
Operating system issues are caused for a number of reasons from the unavoidable update failures to malware and virus infections. At this point, you have properly identified at what level the computer is failing and you can begin looking for a resolution or contacting a computer repair shop!

By Karim Salmi / Blog / 0 Comments

Good news everyone!

We’ve been successfully purchasing screens from our vendor for long enough (and with enough volume) to now get discount pricing. The details aren’t finalized yet but this will hopefully mean that we can replace laptop screens even cheaper. I’m currently inquiring to see if we can get a priority shipping service as well so that we can lower the turnaround time to 2 days for each repair and 1 day for express repair.

Stay tuned!

By Karim Salmi / Blog / 0 Comments

Are you considering becoming a computer repair technician? Well, let me save you a few hours of research by telling you what you’ll need to get started:

– A precision screw driver tool kit to work with laptops and macbooks. Make sure yours contains at least one torx screwdriver for some rare laptop models and all macbook models. These will serve as your bread and butter tools when disassembling the machines.

– A USB flash drive which will contain all sorts of useful utilities and tests. We stock ours with anti-virus installers, rkill utilities, malware removers, hijackthis, hardware tests, common drivers, automated back-up software and so much more.

– A CD pouch full of operating system disks. You’ll need both 64bit and 32bit variants of each Windows operating system. The most common ones will be Windows 7 Home Premium, Windows Vista Home Premium and their professional variants. Additionally, keep a live linux boot disk for data recovery and hard drive diagnostic use.

– A soldering iron for repairing laptop jacks. Very few shops perform this repair because it can be challenging and require soldering. However, computer users also can’t fix these problems themselves because of the expertise needed. Set yourself ahead of the curve by learning how to solder and repair a laptop dc jack.

– Hours and hours of experience. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I think I’ve finally seen all there was to see as far as home computer repairs go when someone stops by with something completely new. Since you can’t buy experience, I recommend spending time following computer support forums and trying to answer questions and help other users.

– To cover all your bases, you will also need to invest in a few rarely used but still very important when needed items. Voltmeters, power supply testers, measuring tape, thermal compound, spare SATA, IDE and power cables will all come in handy at some point. If you can afford it, stock working parts for quick repairs and troubleshooting.

By Karim Salmi / Blog / 0 Comments

Computer security is not to be taken lightly. The frightening stories you hear on the news are true. “Hackers” can infiltrate your computer and steal your personal information such as bank account information or personal login material. While it is impossible to be 100% safe on the internet, you can take a few basic steps to minimize your risk.

We recommend using strong anti-virus software with real-time scanners at all times. They are so important that even advanced computer users will always maintain anti-malware software. They will keep almost all threats off of your computer. Combine your anti-virus (we recommend Avast) with an anti-malware scanner as well. What’s the difference? Your anti-virus will protect you from items that really harm your computer. Anti-malware software will keep annoying bugs designed to harass you, the user, out of your system. For anti-malware, we recommend Spybot Search & Destroy.

Once those tools are in place, your best defense is yourself. Become knowledgeable of the sites you visit and do not click on anything you do not recognize or accept downloads you did not anticipate. Nothing bad will happen if you click “no” or “cancel.” Make sure that you keep your computer to yourself and maintain a password to keep unwanted users off of your system. If you share the computer with family (especially teenagers or younger), we strongly recommend either creating a separate user profile for them or giving them their own computer to begin with. The advantage of having a separate machine for the kids is that you will have no sensitive data stored on that computer. In case of a virus infection, you can opt to just wipe the machine clean and start over instead of getting it repaired at a shop.

Finally, it is much easier to prevent a computer infection than to repair one. Some viruses and malware can damage your computer to the point that it is unusable even after the threats have been removed. Make sure your anti-virus is up to date, is constantly running, and that your subscription is active.

By Karim Salmi / Blog / 0 Comments

There seems to be a bit of confusion about what kind of laptop screen you can use to replace your current screen. Many of our clients believe that if they have a Dell computer then that means that they have a Dell screen. The truth is that computer and laptop manufacturer’s order each part from different vendors and then put them together to make a finished product. This means that your laptop screen is not going to be made by your laptop manufacturer. Depending on the screen type, it will be manufactured by LG Philips, Samsung or AU Optronics in most cases. However, just because you have an LG Philips screen does not mean that you need the same one to replace it especially if a competitor is offering the same screen for a lower price.

Laptop screens need to be matched along certain uncustomizeable criteria:

– Data cable type (30pin, 40pin…)

– Screen Type (LCD with backlight, LED)

– Screen Size (13.3″, 14.1″, 15.1″, 15.6″, 16″, 17.1″…)

– Screen Resolution (XGA, WXGA, SVGA, UXGA…)

You cannot mix and match your screen or “upgrade” to a higher resolution screen of the same size. You need to order exactly the same kind of screen you have or it will not work.

Before buying a new laptop screen, make sure that you have properly diagnosed that that is the repair you require.

By Karim Salmi / Blog / 0 Comments

Computers slow down over time for a variety of reasons. The most common reason for the slow down is an excess of installed programs and start-up items. If your computer is really slow to initially load but can then be used normally then you probably need to tone down the amount of programs that start with windows. You can check the task bar next to the clock in the bottom right of your screen for all the programs that open automatically. Each one will have a setting in their options screen where you can uncheck “start automatically each time Windows loads.” To do a more advanced and quicker edit of your start up items, you will need to run msconfig.exe. Be careful using this method as you might disable some necessary start up items or services.

Another reason for a slow machine is viral infections and spyware. If your computer allows it, download an anti-malware program like Malware-Bytes and make sure it is updated before you run a full system scan. Your computer will run noticeably faster once these infections are removed even if you only have a couple. If you have more than a handful of security threats then you need to re-assess your anti-virus situation.

Over time, your computer will become slower because of failing hardware, over heating and other physical problems. What’s worst is that these problems can create a vicious cycle of abuse. If you have too many start up items, your computer may be constantly stressed as it tries to keep up with your operating system’s demands. Because of this, it will heat up and over time create physical damage which in turn will contribute to a decrease in performance.

Ideally, there is no reason to let your computer slow down and perform more poorly over time. With proper maintenance, your computer can run as good as new for a very long time. Maintain proper security, audit your startup list, create regular backups and system restore points and use your machine in a well ventilated work space and you will be fine. In the case of laptops, try not to use them on soft surfaces like blankets or pillows.

If you are in need of computer repair services, stop by Vital Tech in Rockville today.

By Karim Salmi / Blog / 0 Comments

To get a better idea of computer performance you need to consider the different components and their roles. While it is often an oversight, the power supply unit is a critical part of your computer. No matter how good your other components are, if they are not getting enough juice then your system will not run optimally. Make sure your PSU meets the wattage requirements of all your equipment especially if you have a dedicated graphics card which requires an additional power connection via a power rail on top of its PCI connection.

Your processor, or CPU, is the main brain and engine of your computer. With today’s computers, you cannot simply compare one processor’s speed to another. A 3.2GHZ Pentium 4 is vastly inferior to a 2.2 GHZ quad core processor. To get an accurate idea of CPU speed and capabilities, you will need to refur to a benchmark website such as cpubenchmark.net.

Your RAM, random access memory or commonly referred to as memory, is the next important component. RAM comes in different speeds and capacities. Unless you are an advanced user, you will not benefit significantly from higher CAS latencies (speed). However, everyone will benefit from increased capacity. As a starting point, Windows XP requires about 512MB of RAM to run (half a GB or gigabyte). Windows Vista consumes about 1GB while Windows 7 falls somewhere in between. That means that if you only have 1GB of RAM, most of that is already being used just by turning on your computer. Make sure you have at least 2GB of RAM for basic computer use and at least 4GB if you plan to run multiple programs at once. When choosing whether to go overboard with 8GB instead of 4, consider that you will only see an increase in performance if you actually use that extra RAM. If your system never exceeds 2 or 3GB, then you will not experience any benefit from upgrading passed 4GB of RAM.

Another often overlooked factor of speed is Hard Drive speed, RPM or rotations per minute. Manufacturers will sell you on the capacity of a hard drive (250gb vs 320gb vs 500gb) but they will rarely mention the speed of the drive. A 5400RPM hard drive will perform much slower than a 7200RPM hard drive or a 15 000RPM drive. Keep that in mind when upgrading your hard drive.

Finally, if you are involved in graphic work, video editing or modeling, you will probably need a stand-alone dedicated video card with enough juice to run your software. Depending on the requirements of your software, you may need a more or less powerful video card to work smoothly. Refer to the minimum requirements of your software and then consult a GPU benchmark website to find a video card that delivers enough performance for your needs.

If your computer is having problems, please visit our Rockville, MD computer technicians today.

By Karim Salmi / Blog / 0 Comments

The common belief about passwords these days is that they should be complicated and hard to remember so no one can guess them. Passwords like &iN_2%fmA are considered very strong passwords by website sign-up pages. But what if I told you that Maryhadalittlelamb123 was an exponentially stronger password? Well, buckle in because that’s the reality of password security.

Before we consider why the first password is not as good as we think, we need to understand what passwords are and how much security they really provide. We use passwords to access many secure websites and applications on our computers. That means our passwords are stored on the servers we connect to and also in our heads. While they are safe with us until we learn to start mind reading, passwords are not always so safe on the server side. For example, Sony was recently hacked and 77 million accounts were compromised because not only was their server protection lacking, but they also did not protect the raw data (your account information) with any sort of encryption. In this example, it doesn’t matter how good your password is because someone was able to simply read it in plain text format. What this incident highlights is that not only should you have a strong password but you should also have different passwords for different websites.

The most common way that passwords are compromised is by brute force attacks. These are done by setting a program to try every combination of lettering possible until it finds your password. Short passwords can be compromised in a matter of minutes or hours by brute force attacks. Long passwords however can take weeks or years for a brute force attack to breach which makes it extremely unlikely that you will be hacked that way if your password is long enough. Additionally, most systems are protected against brute force attacks because they limit the number of password attempts within a certain time period.

Another way that passwords are compromised is by a type of malicious software called a keylogger. These programs will run discreetly in the background of your computer and relay everything you type to the person behind the keylogger. In this case as well, it does not matter what sort of password you have because it will be read in plain text format. The way to defend against this sort of breach is to maintain a safe computer that is free of malware. You can do that by installing an anti-virus program and an anti-malware scanner that run in real time and scan everything that happens on your computer.

Finally, in some cases passwords can be bypassed entirely. For example, IT users can flat out remove your windows password without having to know or guess your password. Your account might also be compromised by someone who knows you well enough to answer your security questions (“Where was I born?”, “Mother’s Maiden name?”) etc. While all this may seem overwhelming, follow these 4 steps to keep safe very easily:

– Use a long password to protect against raw or brute force attacks.

– Use different passwords (that are easy to remember but long) for every website/service you use.

– Maintain your anti-virus on your computer and NEVER LOG ON TO YOUR ACCOUNTS ON A PUBLIC MACHINE (or your friends’ if you can help it).

– Never answer the question your security question asks. For example, choose “What year did I graduate?” with an answer like “Purple Venus.”