Reboot Your Thinking About Restarts

Restarting your Windows-based computer clears out a lot of electronic junk and improves performance. The only problem is that you may not be restarting – or rebooting – your computer when think you are. We had one client go 73 days without performing an actual restart on a computer, which meant we needed a lot of time to clear out all the junk and reset the system.

One of the most common misconceptions we’ve found about restarting is that people think that simply turning on a computer after it’s been sleeping is a restart. To human logic, that makes good sense. To a modern computer, it’s all wrong. When you select the “sleep” option to close a session at your computer, you’re putting it into a state of hibernation. Your PC will seem like it’s completely off, but it saves a hibernation file to boot back to where you were before going to sleep.

When you tap your keyboard to wake up your computer, you’re using Microsoft’s “fast startup” feature to launch the hibernation file that essentially restores your system to where it was before going to sleep. The combination of sleep and fast startup get you up and running faster to use your computer, and it also helps various software and hardware vendors update your system while it’s not in use. Whatever electronic junk your computer has been holding is still there.

Fast startup also helps your computer get up and running faster from a complete shutdown. In a sense, shutting down your computer puts it into a stage of hibernation if fast startup is enabled, so you’re not getting a complete restart, which is necessary for clearing out the electronic junk. In our experience, fast startup is the root of all evil in a lot of problems we’re finding that can be solved by a restart.

All of this leaves you with two options. The first is simple: restart your computer once a week. It’s sort of like flossing your teeth; it’s another thing to remember, and it’s time-consuming. But it will keep your system clean and maintain a higher level of performance. To restart make sure you have saved all work files and application settings by properly closing out of everything. Then, just click the Windows icon at the bottom of your screen, click the power icon and click Restart.

The other option is to disable fast start. You can do that by doing a search for Control Panel, and then clicking on Power Options. On the left side of your screen, click on “Choose what the power buttons do.” Then, uncheck “Turn on fast startup.” Doing that will give you a complete restart when you power up from a shutdown. It can also be helpful when working with a speedy solid-state drive (SSD).

Along with restarts from a shutdown, we’ve found that clients using a laptop as a second computer have another set of problems. When their computers are out of action for an extended period of time, the startup routine when they power on induces a search for all sorts of system and application updates. In the case of Windows updates, the computer looks at when the last update was installed and then initiates a sequence of consecutive updates. That’s necessary because unless Microsoft issues a Service Pack that consolidates several updates, the latest update is typically an addition to a previous update. If you missed three updates, for example, your computer goes back to the first of that sequence and goes through three update procedures.

That entire process can take up a lot of time, and we usually get a call in the middle of it all because it seems like the computer isn’t functioning properly. The easiest way to solve that problem is to turn a computer once a week. It will look for updates as part of its boot-up, and the need to download and install only one Windows update or just a few recent updates for apps will get your second computer operational faster.

Just remember, though, if you’ve turned off the “fast startup” feature for a computer that’s been powered down, you’ll need to make sure you check for updates.

If you have any questions about restarts and power-ups, call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us. We can walk you through the process to set up the options that will be best for you or work with you remotely to set them up.

Size Matters for Computer Performance

Small mechanical hard drives can be a major cause of poor computer performance. We could add small thinking as a cause, too. It may be time to “right-size” your approach. We’re conscious of price and performance, but we tend to think more about the present price when buying a new computer and not looking ahead to future performance issues.

In too many cases, small drives are the result of being penny wise and pound foolish. A small drive, one in the range of 128 GB, may seem like it has a lot of storage capacity, but it’s really not sufficient for today’s use. Word files, Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations take up more and more space, and then we have all of those pictures we store. It’s easy to forget that the more megapixels our cameras can use, the bigger the files become. In addition to larger data files, our application files get bigger, too, as we add more capabilities and speed.

We also tend to hold our computers for many years, putting even more pressure on those under-sized hard drives. With less room for the hard drive to move data files around, your computer gets slower as we pack on years of data and apps. The restricted storage space on the hard drive is one factor that shortens a computer’s service life. The other major factor is that it can take 20 to 30 seconds at startup or restart for a computer to be functional, and that’s intolerable for most users.

On new computers, we consider a 256 GB hard drive as the standard unit. It gives most users enough room for the drive to manipulate files. When factory-installed, it’s not that much more money, and it will give you the opportunity to get more life out of your computer.

You can replace a 128 GB with a 256 GB unit, and that will cost $150 to $175 for the hard drive plus the labor to back up and reinstall all of the software – as well as to physically replace the drive. However, it’s still considerably cheaper than replacing a solid business-use computer, which can run $750 to $1,500.

Better still, Windows 10 users can replace a small hard drive with a solid-state drive (SSD). SSDs are electronic, not mechanical. They don’t require space to physically move data, which means they don’t need to be as large to hold and use a similar amount of data. The lack of moving mechanical parts also makes them faster. We don’t consider this a viable option for Windows 7 users because it would take way too much time to get all of the OS updates and prepare the system for the reinstallation of applications and data files.

In practical terms, you don’t need as large a hard drive if you install an SSD on a Windows 10 computer. In fact, you could downsize from a 500 GB mechanical drive and have the same usable capacity on a 256 GB SSD. And, you’ll get better speed. On an older business-grade laptop, such as a Dell Latitude 5550, you could essentially get a machine that’s “like new” for half the price of a new one. Conceivably, it could add three or four years of service life to a two-year-old system.

If you’re running out of room on your hard drive, running out of patience with your computer’s performance, or both, we can help you find the best solution for your specific need. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to talk about it.

Who Really Sent That Email?

We’re seeing a pattern in security problems caused by “fake emails.” Although the pattern is not restricted to business emails, they seem to show up more frequently in offices. Here’s what’s happening.

Just like good marketers, email spoofers and hackers have noticed that Wednesdays and Thursdays are “light days” for email traffic. If someone who’s not overwhelmed by email gets no messages (OK, this might be theoretical), it doesn’t raise eyebrows because they’re not accustomed to a huge number of messages. When traffic gets back to its normal level on Friday, nobody bats an eye or says anything. That leaves the hackers free to move about.

What we’ve found when that happens is that a hacker has created a rule to move email messages to a place where they can do their dirty work. One of their tricks is to change a log-in to a fake website that looks like one you frequently visit. When your password is not accepted, you have them send you a link to change your password. When you sign into the fake site with the real password, they can use it to update your info on the real site and keep all of the function for themselves.

That “password” scenario is the one that seems to be most common way for hackers to gain their access, and as in most cases, the cybercriminals count on the fact that you’ll be too busy to notice anything unusual – and that you won’t say anything until well after the fact.

While offices – even SOHO businesses – seem more susceptible to this type of attack, anyone can be a victim. Here are a couple of telltale signs that you might be under attack.

The first is that you get an email that directs you to a website that you can’t log into because your password is invalid. If you use a “master password” application, that should tip you off right away. If you enter passwords for your sites and have them written down in a safe place, consult your records. If you can’t enter a password that you firmly believe is correct, that should be a tipoff, too.

The second telltale sign is that people got messages that looked like they were coming from their office’s email system. To see if something like that is a fake message, you have to find the IP address for the computer. If it didn’t come from your computer system, that could be the tipoff, but not always. In one case we had to solve, a New Jersey company was victimized by a New York IP address, but that didn’t raise any concerns at first because the company does a lot of business with New York IP addresses.

We can use a number of tools to help pin down the IP address from where the email originated, and the earlier we can get on the case, the better the chances of resolving your issue. If you want us to look at a message, you need to follow this procedure:

  1. Drag the message from your email inbox to your desktop. You’ll see it as an envelope.
  2. Email us that envelope as an attachment.

If you are convinced you have a threatening email, call us right away – 973-433-6676 – so that we can ask you a few “yes or no” questions and help you take appropriate steps before the consequences get really costly. If your questions aren’t urgent, email us for answers or to set up an appointment to talk. Email security problems will only get worse as time goes on.