Tech DIY: Our Equivalent of Calling the Plumber or Electrician

I can clean out a drain trap and change a light switch. But when I try to do something more, it usually winds up costing more than if I had called the plumber or electrician in the first place. It’s the same with your technology. There are some things you can do yourself, but there are things you shouldn’t touch.

To continue the plumber and electrician analogies, let’s look at some worst-case scenarios. When you do your own plumbing, you could break a pipe and flood all or part of your house – and maybe damage walls, floors and/or ceilings. But you’ll still have your house. With electricity, you could trip a circuit breaker – or shock or electrocute yourself or cause a short that starts a fire and…

In some ways, doing your IT can result in losing all your data, which is the electronic equivalent of burning down your home. Of course, you can back up your data in a secure, offsite location and replicate your system. You probably don’t have a full-size replica of your home or office stashed somewhere else.

So, what are some things you can do? You can download and set up apps, such as a password manager. You know all your passwords, and you can work your way through the setup process to take advantage of the random-generated passwords that make the apps work best. But if things look like they’re getting complicated, you can always call us for guidance or walk-through help.

What are some things we believe you should never do?

Never do anything that involves your website DNS, and don’t switch from one host company to another by yourself. The DNS info is at the heart of keeping your website on the internet, and one mistake can knock you offline. We can help you recover from a mistake, but in addition to the cost of our service, you’ll also pay the opportunity cost for lost business time. Another thing to keep in mind is that when you switch website hosting companies and something goes wrong, each party will claim it’s the other party’s fault. We can make sure that together we all follow the proper procedures to make the switch as seamlessly as possible.

Router changes are another task you shouldn’t do yourself. The biggest dangers are leaving open a port that can lead to security issues or not setting it up properly to manage other remote desktop capabilities.

Even buying a new computer can have pitfalls. With so many configurations available (processors, RAM, hard drive type and size, etc.), it can be difficult if not impossible to match up the right “package” for your needs.

One client experience illustrates the problems that can arise. Our client asked for help with transferring files from the old computer to the new one and assured us the hard drive had “more than enough space – more than I’d ever use.” It was a 128 GB hard drive, and after transferring app and data files, we had 30 GB of free space. However, the client also had 80 GB of music files to transfer. The problem could be fixed, but a lot of extra cost could have been avoided.

We can help make your technology life easier. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us when problems arise or if you want to change, add or reconfigure any part of your system. We can help you with advice or with doing the work you need. As the car mechanic said in that Fram oil filter commercial of many years ago, “You can pay me now or pay me later.” My plumber and electrician tell me the same thing.

New Technology Raises Bottom Line

Presenters at a recent conference we attended hammered home the economic benefits of upgrading your technology. Keeping old equipment running may far exceed the cost of investing in new systems, and here are some of the ways presenters quantified the costs.

In one analysis, the total cost of owning a PC that’s four years or older is $2,397, which is enough money to buy one or more newer PCs. The biggest factors in the cost are repairs and lost productivity, and here’s how they were broken down:

  • Total direct costs for PC repairs and upgrades for computers four years or older are $442. While this doesn’t seem like much at first glance, older computers experience problems nearly twice as frequently as newer ones – and they can drain employee productivity and IT resource efficiency.
  • Lost productivity costs can add up to $1,965 in the example we saw. They used an average of 98 lost hours and an hourly pay rate of $20 to come up with that number.

Your numbers may be higher or lower, but here’s the real question you must ask: What will it cost in lost business when you can’t close a transaction at the time your customer or client is ready to move? If your equipment is balky, your customer or client may balk. Four years seems to be the maximum service life for most technology these days, but your experience might be different.

What does a new computer cost? The range of variables is as wide as the sky, but let’s say $500 to $1,500. The numbers can give you some guidelines for determining how advanced you need your technology to be. In a world where time is money, you should be able to benefit from serving your customers and clients faster – because they benefit from it, too.

Companies that supply computers to businesses find customers want hardware-based features such as electronic pens, which essentially capture hand-written notations without the need for typing or retyping to increase productivity. Other features that increase productivity are faster multi-tasking capabilities – which can include the ability to run certain applications faster as well as switch apps fasters – and faster refresh rates. Businesses consider design (to aid productivity) and security as key factors, too, but performance is top of mind.

This doesn’t necessarily mean everyone in an organization should get a new, feature-filled computer. Today’s range of choices allows you to focus a computer’s capabilities on the needs of each job. A more basic set of tasks can still be accomplished faster with new equipment that doesn’t need all the bells and whistles. The same logic can apply to technology for printers/copiers. Those who need to print or copy more documents than others should have access to faster machines. If you’re the boss and you want to print or copy your own documents, you can tie your computer to a personal printer.

More than just computers and other office technology, your operating system makes a huge difference. And that’s why you should upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 10 if you haven’t done so already. In a business environment, you can select a level of sophistication to match the needs of groups of multiple users to keep your office workflow up to speed. Windows 10 OS software also keeps you up to date on system security. Microsoft has said many times that Windows 10 will be its last OS. All security and performance advances will come as updates of Windows 10.

Avoid the risk of falling behind because your systems are old, slow and prone to failure. We can help you plan equipment upgrades to maintain or improve your office productivity, especially if you haven’t moved up from Windows 7 – which Microsoft will no longer support after next February. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to set up an appointment to discuss how upgrades can improve your productivity.

Tech Upgrades for New Year

New technology is a great value. You can improve the performance and cost-efficiency of business and home systems by investing in new hardware and upgrading application software. Consider some of these upgrades.

December is always a good time for businesses to look at technology investments because it can affect your taxes. Your CPA or tax advisor can tell whether a year-end expense can help reduce your taxes while increasing your capabilities, and we can tell what might work best for you to make those capability increases a reality.

First, look at your operating system. If you are on Windows 7, remember that Microsoft’s support of this ancient OS will go away in a year. They’ll no longer provide security updates and bug fixes. Cybercriminals salivate when they see any outmoded system because they can likely pull a hacking technique off the shelf and get into your system.

Yes, there will be some workarounds for you to continue to use Windows 7, but why do it? Windows 10 is much more efficient and secure, and Microsoft is dedicated to supporting it. Most common business apps running Windows 7 are easily upgradeable to run on Windows 10. If you have customized software from a publisher that’s still supporting it, they should be able to help with a conversion to the newer OS. If not, you may want to move to a new app, especially for the security aspects.

You should also look at your hard drives for business and home computers. Solid state drives (SSDs) have come way down in price this year, and while they’re not necessarily Walmart specials, they are good values.

SSDs are faster and more reliable than mechanical hard drives. The mechanical drives have moving parts that can wear out and crash, putting your data in jeopardy. They also require more space to move files around, and as they become fuller, they are less efficient. SSDs have no moving parts and don’t physically move around files. That makes them immune from physical crashes, and you only need a drive half the size to hold the same amount of data.

Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us with questions about technology upgrades or to help you install new technology. You can hit the ground running in 2019 or get up to speed early on in the new year.

Choose the Right Router

As we add more traffic to our Wi-Fi networks in the office and at home, choosing the right router is critical for performance and security. If your router is more than a few years old, the combination of improved technology and the probable loss of full power due to wear and tear means you should consider investing in a new system. The good news is that you don’t have to spend a fortune.

How do you know it’s time for a new router? The first sign is sluggish performance, and it’s a subjective call. Whether you use your router for business or home entertainment, you can notice that data just isn’t moving throughout your location as fast as you’d like. With today’s demands for moving more data faster, your router could be worn out or not have the capacity to meet your needs.

Routers do wear out over time. Heat can damage internal components, and that slows them down. Newer routers have fresher components, and they meet better performance protocols. This is especially true when it comes to dual-band routers. Older routers tend to operate on the 2.4 GHz wireless band, where they share space with your other household products, such as cordless phones and even your garage-door opener. That creates a lot of interference that affects network performance. This problem is more likely to affect home offices and small retail systems. In some homes, whether used for home offices or as converted office space, multiple stories and thicker walls require more powerful routers to send signals where needed.

Dual-band routers work on both the 2.4 and 5 GHz wireless bands, and that gives you options. You can set some systems to run on the 2.4 GHz band and use the 5GHz band for managing bigger data capacities. Some routers even allow you to run on two 5GHz bands. For a home office, a home with multiple devices (computers, mobile devices and smart TVs), a business in a converted home, or a small retail space, this allows you to dedicate bands to specific uses. Think of it as having a slow lane, an express lane, and a lane dedicated to buses and trucks.

For a home or small office or retail use, look for a router with at least four 10/100/1000 (Gigabit) Ethernet ports to connect wired devices such as desktop PCs, network-attached storage drives and home-automation hubs. A USB port makes it easy to plug in a printer or a USB drive and share it across the network, but with two ports you can do both.

You can manage how your Wi-Fi network is being used with parental controls, Quality of Service (QoS) options, and a guest-network feature. Parental controls and QoS are for home use. The latter helps you assign network priorities for applications and clients, such as downloading files, running printers or managing streaming to TVs or devices. You can also manage priorities for gaming systems.

A guest network for a home or business lets you create a separate network to offer Wi-Fi connectivity to guests without leaving your entire network vulnerable. This lets them connect to the Internet, but doesn’t give them access to your files, printers, and other connected devices.

Wireless routers for businesses have improved tremendously. To meet the complexity and requirements of running a wireless network these days, routers now have a much more varied feature set, including hardware that is often found in computers. You can find systems with dual- and triple-band connectivity, as well as a slew of other features usually found on far more expensive enterprise-grade models.

Priorities for business users differ from most consumer users. Security, support, remote access, business-grade VPN, WAN redundancy, connectivity options and scalability are critical. However, this doesn’t mean that some consumer routers cannot be used as business routers, especially in a home office environment.

We can help you find a router that meets your networking needs and help you find the best location and configurations to maximize performance. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to answer your questions about router selection and help you with setup and settings configurations.

Refreshing Devices Re-Energizes Them – Up to a Point

Refreshing your computers, peripherals and devices requires you to take a long pause, but in the end, it still might leave you thirsting for better results. If you’re hanging onto old equipment, Tech Data reports a few facts that might make you change your mind.

First of all, the report says, some 46 million small and medium-size businesses rely on devices dating back to 2014. That’s approaching five years, and that can be a lifetime in technology. Second, repair costs for equipment four years old or more can be 1.5 times the cost of repairing newer technology. Finally, PCs older than four years can be less than half as productive – costing an average loss of productivity rate of $1,260, according to an internal study by Microsoft.

Microsoft, which is phasing out Windows 7 because of its increasing inefficiency (Windows 7 Support Ends in January 2020), certainly has an interest in seeing you buy new computers with their operating systems. But they also know that the more efficient and productive their customers are, the more likely they’ll continue to use Microsoft software.

So, with that last point out there, what are your considerations for refreshing or replacing a computer? If you’re running Windows 7, we see replacement as a no-brainer. One client engagement illustrates how extreme it can get. We were tasked with refreshing a 10-year-old computer to get it to run better, which we did at a cost of $200 or so – after we advised our client to replace it. Refreshing, in this case, meant reinstalling software and updating it as much as possible. A 10-year-old computer cannot run the latest versions of Windows or any application software, and you cannot install the latest, most secure browser software. If we had installed a new hard drive and added licensing fees and our setup time, it would have been about $570. A new computer would have been around $800 plus some setup time to properly install the operating system and applications and transfer some data files.

With that as background, let’s delve more into a cost-benefit analysis.

Performance: Older PCs, according to Tech Data, can only run approximately five applications simultaneously without performance degradation, while newer PCs can easily run eight or more, according to a 2016 study. On the other hand, new Windows 10 Pro devices with 7th and 8th generation Intel® vPro™ processors keep users more productive with up to 25 percent more time efficiency. They are also up to 28 percent faster for startup on average compared to Windows 7. Batteries can last up to three times longer on newer Windows devices.

Repairs: We mentioned early on that repairs can cost 1.5 times more for older computers than for newer computers. Some of that extra cost can come from more time to find parts. Generally speaking, older parts are scarcer and more expensive.

Security: We’ve harped on security, and here’s something to add: More than 50 percent of smaller businesses have suffered a data breach or cyberattack with the cost averaging more than $84,000 per breach. Older Windows devices are likelier to lack the latest hardware and software security features, putting data at risk. When you factor in the fact that small-business customers are prime targets for security breaches, you can be looking at costly recovery.   Upgrading to a computer that can run Windows 10 Pro will give you more built-in defenses and increased support for the lifetime of your device.

To translate all this into an action plan, we recommend refreshing and some component replacement for computers three years old or younger. For older computers, especially those running Windows 7, we recommend replacement. Business users will benefit from improved performance and security, and home users will benefit from better security. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to discuss your refresh/replacement needs.

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.

Apple’s New Adapter

I don’t know when Apple is going to replace its Lightning adapter with a new and improved model, but it’s going to happen. And when it does, the bellyaching will begin. But take a step back. Every time our hardware providers change ports and adapters, it’s because you want to transfer more data faster.

The Lightning adapter, the 9-pin connector now used with the latest Apple products, replaced the 30-pin connector. Just the fact that it changed upset a lot of people because they had to replace a slew of old ones – that seemed to work just fine. But in reality, it gave you access to newer, faster ports and improved performance.

Not be left out of the connector race, Android and Windows devices have started using USB Type C. This connector isn’t smaller than the Micro USB, but it introduces one standard port for both phones and computers. Soon it won’t matter which side of the cable you use or which orientation you insert the cable.

For Apple, it still matters, but for the past year, you’ve had a host of options.  For nearly a year, Apple’s Lightning-to-USB 3 Camera Adapter has made it much easier to transfer photos and videos from your high-resolution digital camera to your iPad Pro. After you connect it, your iPad Pro automatically opens the Photos app, which lets you choose photos and videos to import – and organizes them into albums. It supports standard photo formats, including JPEG and RAW, along with SD and HD video formats, including H.264 and MPEG-4.

You can even power the Lightning to USB 3 Camera Adapter with a USB Power Adapter and connect USB peripherals like hubs, Ethernet adapters, audio/MIDI interfaces, and card readers for CompactFlash, SD, microSD, etc.

Both the USB camera adapter and SD card reader take advantage of the faster speeds offered by USB 3. While USB 2 can transfer at up to 60 megabytes per second, USB 3 has a transfer rate of up to 625 megabytes per second. Think about that when you wonder if it’s worth a few dollars for a 10X increase in transfer speed.

Even though Apple calls it a “camera adapter,” it supports an array of devices that can be plugged into its full-size USB-A port to connect keyboards, microphones, USB hubs for multiple accessories at once, and even Ethernet adapters to an iPad.

In addition to a USB-A port, the camera adapter also includes a female Lightning port to charge your iPad while using a connected device, and you can add Apple’s 29-watt power adapter to connect with the 12.9-inch iPad Pro and charge it at a faster rate.

You can find numerous cables and apps to transfer data – and pictures and videos – from Android phones to Apple devices – and vice versa. We think it’s all intuitive, but if you have questions about what you need, call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us for recommendations. Just have the makes and models of the devices handy.

Holiday Cheer from Microsoft and Apple

Microsoft and Apple have put some new, high-price goodies on the market for the holidays. In a word, they’re getting “touchier” as tablets get more computing capability and computers use more touchscreen technology.

If you’re looking for an apples-to-apples comparison…no pun intended…maybe that should be oranges-to-oranges comparison, that may be tough. Both are pricey and feature Intel i5 and i7 processors. Each will do fine for those willing to spend the money. That said, here’s what we like and what you can expect.

Microsoft is heavily promoting its Surface Studio as a highly creative tool for design tasks that have long been associated with Macs. A tablet that acts like a computer, it starts at $2,999 and can go up to $4,199, and it can be used with a variety of tools, including the Surface Dial and Surface Pen, which enable you to draw on the screen. Because it’s a Microsoft product, it comes with Windows 10 Pro and a 30-day trial of Microsoft Office.

The Studio has four USB 3.0 ports (one high power port), a full-size SD™ card reader (SDXC compatible), a mini display port and a headset jack, and it has a high-resolution display and graphics card for artistic and gaming applications.

If you don’t need all the Studio’s computing power, you can choose the Surface Book at $1,499 or the Surface Pro 4 at $899. The trend we see is that mobile users who need more computing power and the flexibility of a tablet for mobility and touchscreen/keyboard capability will be looking more closely at a Surface.

Microsoft is also rumored to be planning to release a Surface phone in the spring of 2017.

The MacBook Pro doesn’t have the Dial or a pen, but its more advanced models have the Touch Bar, which is a strip just above the keyboard. It’s more like something you would find on a tablet. It appears and disappears as needed to give you shortcuts to the controls, sliders, menus and tools that relate to the task at hand. As you tap, swipe or drag the Touch Bar keys, you see the results of your actions. Touch Bar can help you access favorite websites in Safari, answer (or reject) incoming FaceTime calls or get predictive suggestions of the words you may want to use when writing, just like with iOS devices.

With Touch Bar opened to outside app developers, you may see it for many apps, and you can still use versions of the physical function keys, such as for adjusting screen brightness or speaker volume, that used to reside above the keyboard.

MacBook Pro has a big track pad, which we rate as a plus, and the 15-inch model has four USB-C ports — that double as Thunderbolt 3 ports — which can be used for Thunderbolt, USB, DisplayPort, HDMI, VGI, and charging. The USB-C ports are new technology. The basic 13-inch model only has two USB-C/Thunderbird 3 ports. This means you may need a dongle to attach certain hardware. There’s no SD card reader, which could be a problem for photographers.

We’ll have a MacBook Pro in a few weeks, and we’ll see how it’s all set up.

If you’re thinking about either or both of these systems, contact us by phone – 973-433-6676 – or email to discuss how you plan to use it and your budget considerations. We’ll also be able to guide on what to expect when integrating your purchase(s) into your home or office network – and among multiple users.