New Shortages Popping Up

Late last year and early this year, we warned of Intel chip shortages, which made it difficult to get new computers for those who needed them to run Windows 10. Now, we have other shortages, compounded by some Apple decisions. So, who’s coming up short? It could be Apple.

Getting Apple stuff for our clients is becoming more challenging for the more expensive, high-end devices. The wait can be up to two weeks for things we used to get right away, and some of that is because of varying store hours.

One of our clients is waiting for a Mac with an SSD hard drive and a 27-inch monitor. It’s a combination that’s out of the ordinary, but it was never a problem to walk out of the store with that system. Now, we’re hoping the wait is only two weeks.

Looking ahead, Apple is expected to start making its own chips later this year for the 2021 Macs. It’s a logical move for the company, which is looking for more end-to-end control of its systems. Whether they’ll be able to produce enough chips because of COVID-19 concerns is one thing. Another thing is that when it drops the Intel chips (which could free up chip production for Windows-based computers), we think it may become harder to run Windows software on a Mac.

This has the effect of drawing a new line in the “cybersand” when it comes to compatibility, and that could be a problem in the business world. A lot of business applications are written for Windows, but the Apple platform has been able to accommodate them. For Mac fans, it’s the best of both worlds. But unless the app developers and Apple can up with apps for the platform, there’s another issue to add to our woes.

For those of you sticking with Windows systems, you can expect Intel’s supply problems to persist through the rest of this year. That is forcing some manufacturers to switch to AMD chips to meet the demand for their products. We’re still a fan of Intel chips, but if you need a new computer, we can certainly take a look at the AMD-equipped machines and see which one can work for you.

On the phone front, Apple is beating the drums for the iPhone 12, and it’s scheduled for release in the fall. Football is also scheduled for this fall, but we live in unusual times. Since all we can deal with at this time are rumors and speculations, this is expected to be the first year that Apple introduces 5G support in the iPhone. This will allow the new phones to connect to much faster networks. While all the phones will have 5G connectivity,  we don’t know if all models will have super-fast mmWave support in all countries. Of course, if you can’t travel, you can hold on to your current phone or, if you must upgrade a phone within your family or business, you can go with any of the less expensive iPhones, which are more than serviceable, and upgrade later.

While we don’t have a crystal ball, we can discuss your current and future computer and phone needs and help you find the best solution for your needs. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to talk about it.

Trade War’s Perfect Tech Storm

You could see this one coming way off on the horizon. Computer users on Windows 7 are starting to move to Windows 10 as the date approaches in 2020 – it’s eight months off – for the end of Windows 7 tech support. The shortage of chips is starting to abate, but with tariffs looming on chips imported from China (which means just about all chips), prices will rise – possibly affecting supply and demand. We’re finding ways to work around the issues for many of our clients, and we can still keep options open for those who call quickly to get equipment ordered and work scheduled.

For clients still running Windows 7 who have computers with the capability of upgrading to Windows 10, we’ve been able to execute a two-step strategy. Success depends on having a good processor and enough RAM (random access memory). The first step is to install Windows 10, and the second step is to install a new solid-state hard drive (SSD). The combination of the new OS and SSD makes those computers run like new, and that will buy you time to make a bigger investment in a new computer.

The new SSDs we’re using are mostly 256 GB hard drives, and they are providing enough space for users with 500 GB mechanical hard drives – and even some with 1 TB hard drives. For those who need to store a lot of files or may want to store them, we’re installing 500 GB SSDs.

There are two primary reasons why the smaller SSDs work for most of our clients. First, SSDs are a different technology. They don’t require the space to physically access, use and store files. Second, our clients with Office 365 packages, including those with the $5, $8.25 and $12.50 monthly plans, can store files on OneDrive and access them on any device from where they can get to the internet. Personally, I have 32 GB of files on OneDrive and keep only a handful of files on my hard drive.

With OneDrive now making the storage space part of its package and integrating it with Office 365, we believe it is now a better value than Dropbox. While Dropbox has a free plan, it is limited to use on three devices, and it can easily escalate to more than $100 year just by itself. OneDrive also gives you a better feature set, including Mile IQ, which we talked about in our opening letter in the email.

With prices expected to rise because of market conditions and/or tariffs, anyone who can solve their Windows 7 and upgrade issues with a new SSD hard drive can do it at a reasonable cost. A 256 GB drive costs $125, and 512 GB drive is $200. We generally need about 1-1/2 hours of time to set up the drive, including file transfer. While we can’t predict what prices will be in the near or long-term future, we can look at Apple for some guidelines. If a new iPhone costs $1,000, a 25 percent tariff increase will raise the price to $1,250. The supply chain can only absorb so much of the increase for a limited time, and once the prices go up, they won’t come back down.

If you are an Office 365 user, see our article Setting Up and Using Microsoft OneDrive to learn how to get ready for migrating to a new hard drive or computer. We recommend you call us to help you get your OneDrive account set up, and then you can manage the transfer of files on your own.

Again, we urge all who need or want an upgrade to Windows 10 and a better hard drive to call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to discuss your best migration path, order the required equipment and schedule the work.

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.

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.

Tales from the SSD

When should you spend more money for an SSD (solid-state drive) hard drive? We’ve talked about speed and about having electronic components instead of mechanical components. Here are two examples of when an SSD makes sense.

One of our clients, an auto body shop, recently bought a new desktop computer, and complained, after a month, that it was running slowly. We checked for viruses and gave the new computer a clean bill of health, but the performance still wasn’t the client had expected.

As we talked, we learned that the computer was being taxed by the shop’s data needs. The client accesses a huge database that’s used to create estimates for repairs. The process is highly detailed, and the shop’s customers can be highly impatient.

We explored his options, which came down to two: buy a newer, more powerful desktop computer or install an SSD and tweak the settings for better performance. Our client chose the latter solution, and when we turned on the system, the screen came up much faster than it had when the computer was just out of the box. The faster speed has increased the shop’s estimating productivity exponentially, and our client considers it a successful upgrade.

Another client’s mishap led to the discovery that he had an SSD, and that saved his data and apps. He had just brought in his desktop computer for some tweaks a few days earlier, but we never opened up the unit. As he was carrying it up a flight of outdoor metal stairs to get to his second-floor office, he dropped it.

He brought it back, and to our surprise it booted up. When we looked inside, we found a lot of broken components – and we did found a solid-state drive. This was good fortune. Had it been a mechanical hard drive, the fall likely would have damaged it beyond recovery, and all of the data and apps stored on it would have been lost. All of the other broken pieces were repairable, and our client was very happy.

Today, we are selling more desktop computers with SSDs because more clients are finding they can earn a faster ROI, such as our auto body shop. We don’t expect that computers will be dropped or damaged in some other way, but you can always insure your data and apps remain accessible by backing up your hard drive – a separate issue. Having the SSD was a bonus in this case.

If you’re thinking about a new desktop computer, we can help you with a cost-benefit analysis to see which type of hard drive best serves your productivity needs and your budget. We can also help with ROI projections. Just give us a call – 973-433-6676 – or send us an email to talk about it.

Disappearing Hard Drives?

Will your hard drive go the way of the floppy disk? Fifteen years ago, I never would have given it a thought. Now, I think it’s coming.

Mechanical hard drives have inherent problems. One is that they can wear and crash, and unless you have a good backup system in place, you can lose a lot of important data. Another is that they are slow – some slower than others by design and some slower because they fill up and don’t give your software space to search for the files you need.

The next alternative is the SSD (solid state drive), which is much faster but also much more expensive. While it always comes down to a cost-benefit analysis, the speed differential can be substantial. On startup, a computer with an SSD can be ready to work in 30 to 40 seconds. It can take three to four minutes for a computer with a hard drive to boot up.

The difference won’t seem that great until you experience it for yourself – or see somebody else’s system boot up faster. We love faster computers, and the more data we need to crunch, the more we crave that speed and performance. We have a number of clients who have made the switch and have found it worth the expense to increase their productivity.

If you’re not ready to commit to SSD technology, you could speed up your current technology by moving your data storage to the cloud. With fewer files taking up less space, your computer will have room to look through your hard drive to find the files you need. It will make it faster to save files, too. You could gain a significant time advantage by only keeping “working” files on your hard drive and then putting everything back onto your cloud’s server when you’re finished.

With technology changing so quickly, you may also want to think about changing your hardware more frequently to make more productive systems work more cost-effectively. Businesses depend on productivity increases to reduce costs and add profitability. We can help you look at the future and see what pathways will get you to your goals. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to talk about your evolving needs as the tech revolution continues.

Traditional Laptop or SSD

Where do you draw the line between speed and price for a new computer? While traditional, business laptops pack a lot of computing power for business applications, newer SSD-based technology, such as the MacBook and Surface families, are a lot, lot faster. They’re also a lot, lot more expensive. Here are some points to consider:

Cost – How much money do you really want to spend? The premium for speed and performance is considerable.

Patience or Impatience – In today’s on-demand world, many computer users are losing patience with their computer’s boot-up time, either when you power it up, restart it or awaken it from sleep mode. In some cases, your impatience can be justified. If you are making a sales presentation, for example, you just don’t want to waste time for your computer to go through its start-up routine, and you want to give the impression you and your technology are on top of your game.

You can manage the start-up time through Task Manager by deciding which applications to load, but that’s something you should do in advance of any presentations. Trying to do it seamlessly while standing in front of people you want to impress probably won’t come off as you’d like.

The difference between the technologies in start-up time can be a couple of interminable minutes, and patience may not be an option.

Physical – Consider a couple of physical points, especially if you will be traveling a lot with your computer. The MacBooks and Surfaces are a lot lighter than traditional laptops. Additionally, SSDs are much more resilient and better able to avoid damage if you drop your computer or if it gets jostled a little too vigorously.

Free Space on Drive – If you have a lot of free space on your hard drive, you may not need the faster SSD or MacBook just to improve performance. As we’ve pointed out, you need to leave room on your hard drive so that your applications have room to move files and do their work. Look at your drive’s capacity and at what you’re storing. Your hard drive should be a minimum of 256 GB, but 500 GB or 1 TB are much more realistic. If you need more space, you can always offload data files to the cloud. If you have a lot of free space and don’t anticipate needing a great deal of storage, you might not need the speed and performance – and expense – of SSD technology.

Flexibility – You don’t necessarily need to buy a new computer to get SSD technology. Depending on the age and RAM capacity of your existing computer, you could buy and install a new SSD hard drive, and that might a good investment to give you a performance boost for a year or two – maybe longer – if that’s what you need.

We are getting into the heavy buying season for electronics, so you can expect to see a lot of choices and price points. New products and ways to upgrade an existing computer will give you enough options to make your head spin. You can make your best decision after you gather all the facts, and that’s where we can help. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to discuss your needs and budgets for now and for the next few years, and we can guide you to the best options.

Spend More for Speed and Capacity

As we demand more performance from our IT systems, our choices can come down to balancing the speed to write files and the cost of storage media. You can have the best of both worlds if you combine planning and foresight.

A number of so-called “power users” have fallen in love with SSD (solid state) drives, which are totally electronic. They contain no moving parts and they can write data to memory with lightning speed. But they have their downsides, such as cost per gigabyte of storage and the lifetime of the data in flash memory. Data recovery is a much more complicated and labor-intensive process than if you have mechanical drives.

As a result, we think they’re better suited for users with higher levels of technical knowledge and corporations that have the technical capability to support the drives and their users. Most users and small businesses can get great system performance by buying the right drives for computers and servers and planning to replace systems after five years.

We find some basics have held true over our 20 years of IT service.

For individual computers, we recommend SATA drives. They are more than adequate in terms of storage size and speed and provide good cost value. Today’s desktop and laptop computers are available with hard drives having 1 terabyte or more of storage. Some bargain hunters think they’re saving money by buying a smaller 500 GB hard drive, but file sizes are growing larger, and they can eat up free space very quickly. If you’re planning to keep your computer five years – or even longer – you’ll likely exhaust the capacity sooner than you planned, and you’ll need to replace the hard drive (and restore files) or buy a larger external hard drive. As we’ve noted before, once you approach 60% to 75% of your hard drive’s capacity, you make it more difficult for your computer to write files to the drive, and that can severely limit performance. It’s much more cost-effective to buy a large-capacity drive with the computer, which is already set up with the right RAM (random access memory) capacity and motherboard to optimize performance.In addition to size, get a hard drive with enough speed. In general, SATA drives range up to 7200 RPM. When you combine the larger size and RAM with the higher speed, you’ll get better performance for a longer time, and that will keep you happier with your investment.

If you do find you need a new hard drive for your desktop, we may be able to walk you through the process of installing your new drive and recovering your data from an online backup site or an external drive.

For a server, we’ve found SAS drives running at 10,000 to 15,000 RPM offer the best performance. Again, your needs will grow as your business grows, and you’ll want to be able to add upgraded application software, more file storage capacity and more users without sacrificing performance. Whatever you save in buying under-performing technology can be eaten up very quickly in reduced production and unnecessary, unplanned downtime.

For us, the bottom line is getting our clients to think proactively about planning for a cost-effective technology purchase today and budgeting for the next purchase. Everyone has different needs and budget constraints, but everyone has the opportunity to take a smart approach. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to discuss your hard-drive and system needs for your computers and servers. Making the right decision today can save you money and give you peace of mind.