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Laptop Buying Tips

May 9, 2009

About Laptop

Chassis – The condition of the chassis–meaning the laptop’s frame and body–would tell you about how well the laptop has aged. There will be indications if the computer has been maintained well, or if it had been misused.

If you’re lucky, you’ll even chance upon a laptop that’s rarely been used. The advises to look for irregularities outside of usual wear and tear, such as loose hinges, warping, lid alignment, and even missing parts like screws, port lids (where applicable) and the like.

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Screen – The LCD screen is one of the most expensive parts of the laptop. When buying a used unit, you probably won’t enjoy the warranty that comes with brand new. And if something goes wrong with the LCD, you’ll have to spend quite an amount on a replacement.

Make sure the screen is still properly aligned and that the lid sits well on the hinge, opened or closed. Also, it’s best if you can have the laptop turned on to see if the screen has dead or damaged pixels.

Input devices – These are the most abused parts of any computer, and with laptops, you’ll have to watch out for irregular wear and tear on the keyboard and touchpad (or trackpoint).

It’s not as easy to replace them as on a desktop computer, after all. Again, it would be best if you can turn the computer on to test, so you can see if all the keys are working and if the pointing device is functioning smoothly.These are mostly things to look for at first-glance. Usually, when checking out used machines, the first thing I look for is wear and tear.

If a computer seems older than it’s supposed to be, then that means the original user might have not taken care of it properly. Or, it could mean that that particular model (or even brand) was poorly built by the manufacturer, and should be avoided.

What’s next?

Suggestions in determining whether a laptop still has a few years of servicable life. After inspecting the build quality and physical characteristics, do look under the hood. Here are things I would look for.

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Processor – While old computers still do work, I won’t go with any technology older than five years. For this reason, I would probably not go below anything lower than a Pentium III or the more modern PowerPC G3s.

These can still run today’s modern OSes (such as Windows XP service pack 2, Mac OS X Tiger, or your choice of Linux flavor) pretty well. Do consider what you plan to do with the laptop.

A P-III should be able to handle wireless Internet and the usual Web surfing, email, IM and VoIP pretty well. Movie playing and MP3s are also handled decently. Don’t plan on playing around with multimedia manipulation, though. You’ll need raw processing power for that.

Also, I would personally advise against buying a Pentium-4 based laptop, as the P-4 chip (even the mobile version) isn’t designed to be truly portable.

These often get really hot and tend to come in bulky packages. P-4 machines are good for gaming, though, since they offer sheer processing power and usually come with large screens.

Memory – RAM is usually cheap these days. Whether it’s SDRAM or DDR SDRAM, you’re sure to find laptop memory selling for cheap.

Do check how much RAM the laptop already has, and whether it can upgraded easily. Most laptops have slots at the bottom or underneath the keyboard that are easily accessible and user-upgradeable.

Some laptops, however, have only one slot for RAM, while most have two. I would suggest putting in at least 512 megabytes of RAM, regardless of your OS. Having more RAM would speed up operations, regardless of your processor’s speed.

Storage – New laptops come with at least 40 GB of hard disc space, and this is the barest minimum today. The standard is in the 60 to 80 GB range. Older laptops, though, might come with 20, 10, or even 6 GB drives.

These are easily upgradeable, but you might have to spend for a decent 80 to 100 GB drive for storing all your MP3s, photos and videos. Regardless of capacity, though, do check the drive for strange sounds like clicking or abnormal screeching sounds.

These are signs that the drive is bound to fail soon. Also, try to check the hard disc’s model (usually under the OS’s device manager) for the speed. Standard is 5200 RPM. You can usually enhance performance by going for drives with higher speeds rather than the lower ones (like the 4200 RPM drives that come with low-end laptops today).

This is especially so for OSes that are fond of swapping to virtual memory constantly, such as OS X and Windows XP.

Battery – Used laptops almost always come with dead or weak batteries. This is because Li-Ion cells have a life of about three years, whether it’s on the shelf or in constant use. Thus, you should consider whether you’ll be needing a good battery for your used equipment or not. A new battery will cost you–OEM batteries can cost up to 1/3 the price of a new laptop..

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You can also have your battery set repacked for a fraction of the cost of buying a new one (you can even have higher-capacity cells installed for longer operating life). Just make sure you buy or get services from reputable dealers or service centers.

After all, batteries do burn and can cause explosions if improperly used or installed. If the used laptop will mostly spend its life on a desk at granny’s home as a desktop replacement, then you probably won’t be needing a good battery.

Feel – Lastly, ask yourself how you feel about the laptop.Is it the right choice? Should you buy a new, more expensive, unit? Does it look like it will still last a couple of years? A while back, I wrote about things to consider when buying a new laptop.

These are still very much applicable when buying a used unit. Again, a laptop is as personal as a computer can get, and even with used devices, I think you should have the power to choose what fits you well.

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Preventions

May 8, 2009

As the spyware threat has worsened, a number of techniques have emerged to counteract it. These include programs designed to remove or to block spyware, as well as various user practices which reduce the chance of getting spyware on a system.

Nonetheless, spyware remains a costly problem. When a large number of pieces of spyware have infected a Windows computer, the only remedy may involve backing up user data, and fully reinstalling the operating system.

Anti-spyware programs

Many programmers and some commercial firms have released products designed to remove or block spyware. Steve Gibson’s OptOut, mentioned above, pioneered a growing category. Programs such as Lavasoft’s Ad-Aware SE and Patrick Kolla’s Spybot – Search & Destroy rapidly gained popularity as effective tools to remove, and in some cases intercept, spyware programs. More recently Microsoft acquired the GIANT AntiSpyware software, rebranding it as Windows AntiSpyware beta and releasing it as a free download for Genuine Windows XP and Windows 2003 users. In early spring, 2006, Microsoft renamed the beta software to Windows Defender, and it was released as a free download in October 2006. Microsoft currently ships the product for free with Windows Vista.

Other well-known anti-spyware products include:

• ParetoLogic’s Anti-Spyware and XoftSpy SE

• PC Tools’s Spyware Doctor

• Sunbelt Software’s Counterspy

• Trend Micro’s HijackThis

• Webroot Software’s Spy Sweeper

Major anti-virus firms such as Symantec, McAfee and Sophos have come later to the table, adding anti-spyware features to their existing anti-virus products. Early on, anti-virus firms expressed reluctance to add anti-spyware functions, citing lawsuits brought by spyware authors against the authors of web sites and programs which described their products as “spyware”. However, recent versions of these major firms’ home and business anti-virus products do include anti-spyware functions, albeit treated differently from viruses.

Symantec Anti-Virus, for instance, categorizes spyware programs as “extended threats” and now offers real-time protection from them (as it does for viruses). Recently, the anti-virus company Grisoft, creator of AVG anti-virus program, acquired anti-spyware firm Ewido Networks, re-labeling their Ewido anti-spyware program as AVG Anti-Spyware. This shows a trend by anti virus companies to launch a dedicated solution to spyware and malware. Zone Labs, creator of Zone Alarm firewall have also released an anti spyware program.

What Spyware can do?

May 8, 2009

Spyware can do any number of things once it is installed on your computer.

At a minimum, most spyware runs as an application in the background as soon as you start your computer up, hogging RAM and processor power. It can generate endless pop-up ads that make your Web browser so slow it becomes unusable. It can reset your browser’s home page to display an ad every time you open it. Some spyware redirects your Web searches, controlling the results you see and making your search engine practically useless. It can also modify the DLLs (dynamically linked libraries) your computer uses to connect to the Internet, causing connectivity failures that are hard to diagnose.

Certain types of spyware can modify your Internet settings so that if you connect through dial-up service, your modem dials out to expensive, pay telephone numbers. Like a bad guest, some spyware changes your firewall settings, inviting in more unwanted pieces of software. There are even some forms that are smart enough to know when you try to remove them in the Windows registry and intercept your attempts to do so.

The point of all this from the spyware makers’ perspective is not always clear. One reason it’s used is to pad advertisers’ Web traffic statistics. If they can force your computer to show you tons of pop-up ads and fake search results, they can claim credit for displaying that ad to you over and over again. And each time you click the ad by accident, they can count that as someone expressing interest in the advertised product.

Another use of spyware is to steal affiliate credits. Major shopping sites like Amazon and eBay offer credit to a Web site that successfully directs traffic to their item pages. Certain spyware applications capture your requests to view sites like Amazon and eBay and then take the credit for sending you there.

Snitches and Sneaks

There are computer programs that truly “spy” on you. There are applications designed to silently sit on your desktop and intercept personal information like usernames and passwords. These programs include Bugdrop, Back Orifice and VX2. These are more like viruses or hacker tools than spyware.

Route of infection

May 8, 2009

Spyware does not directly spread in the manner of a computer virus or worm: generally, an infected system does not attempt to transmit the infection to other computers. Instead, spyware gets on a system through deception of the user or through exploitation of software vulnerabilities.

Most spyware is installed without users being aware. Since they tend not to install software if they know that it will disrupt their working environment and compromise their privacy, spyware deceives users, either by piggybacking on a piece of desirable software such as Kazaa, or tricking them into installing it (the Trojan horse method). Some “rogue” anti-spyware programs even masquerade as security software.

Spyware usually gets onto your machine because of something you do, like clicking a button on a pop-up window, installing a software package or agreeing to add functionality to your Web browser. These applications often use trickery to get you to install them, from fake system alert messages to buttons that say “cancel” when they really do the opposite.Here are some of the general ways in which Spyware finds its way into your computer:

• Piggybacked software installation – Some applications — particularly peer-to-peer file-sharing clients — will install spyware as a part of their standard install. If you don’t read the installation list closely, you might not notice that you’re getting more than the file-sharing application you want. This is especially true of the “free” versions that are advertised as an alternative to software you have to buy. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

inside_spyware_02_01While it officially claims otherwise, Kazaa has been known to include spyware in its download package.

• Drive-by download – This is when a Web site or pop-up window automatically tries to download and install spyware on your machine. The only warning you might get would be your browser’s standard message telling you the name of the software and asking if it’s okay to install it.

inside_spyware_02_02Internet Explorer security warning

If your security settings are set low enough, you won’t even get the warning.

• Browser add-ons – These are pieces of software that add enhancements to your Web browser, like a toolbar, animated pal or additional search box. Sometimes, these really do what they say they do but also include elements of spyware as part of the deal. Or sometimes they are nothing more than thinly veiled spyware themselves. Particularly nasty add-ons are considered browser hijackers — these embed themselves deeply in your machine and take quite a bit of work to get rid of.

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Bonzi Buddy is an “add-on” application that includes spyware in its package.

• Masquerading as anti-spyware – This is one of the cruelest tricks in the book. This type of software convinces you that it’s a tool to detect and remove spyware.

• Provide the ability to interact with another program or a Web site (For example, the HowStuffWorks screensaver keeps the mouse active, which allows you to click on several different icons to access specific areas of the HowStuffWorks Web site.)

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When you run the tool, it tells you your computer is clean while it installs additional spyware of its own.

What is a Spyware?

May 8, 2009

Spyware is computer software that is installed surreptitiously on a personal computer to intercept or take partial control over the user’s interaction with the computer, without the user’s informed consent. While the term spyware suggests software that secretly monitors the user’s behavior, the functions of spyware extend well beyond simple monitoring.

Spyware programs can collect various types of personal information, but can also interfere with user control of the computer in other ways, such as installing additional software, redirecting Web browser activity, or diverting advertising revenue to a third party.

In response to the emergence of spyware, a small industry has sprung up dealing in anti-spyware software. Running anti-spyware software has become a widely recognized element of computer security best practices for Microsoft Windows desktop computers. A number of jurisdictions have passed anti-spyware laws, which usually target any software that is surreptitiously installed to control a user’s computer.

True Type Font

May 8, 2009

Animated-FontsIf you are sitting at a Windows or Macintosh computer right now, then you are looking at a TrueType font as you read this! Fonts are the different styles of typefaces used by a computer to display text. If you are like most people, you are probably looking at text in many different sizes and you may even want to print out a document.

Early computer operating systems relied on bitmapped fonts for display and printing. These fonts had to be individually created for display at each particular size desired. If you made the font larger or smaller than it was intended to be, it looked horrible. And printed text was almost always very jagged looking.

In the late 1980s, Adobe introduced its Type 1 fonts based on vector graphics. Unlike bitmapped fonts, vector fonts could be made larger or smaller (scaling) and still look good.

Adobe also developed a printing language called Postscript that was vastly superior to anything else on the market. Microsoft and Apple were very interested in these technologies but did not want to pay royalties to Adobe for something that could become an integral part of both companies’ operating systems.

For that reason, Microsoft and Apple joined to develop vector font and printing technology of their own. In the end, Apple actually developed the font technology, TrueType. Meanwhile, the print engine being developed by Microsoft, TrueImage, never really got off the ground

TrueType technology actually involves two parts:

• The TrueType Rasterizer
• TrueType fonts

The Rasterizer is a piece of software that is embedded in both Windows and Mac operating systems. It gathers information on the size, color, orientation and location of all the TrueType fonts displayed and converts that information into a bitmap that can be understood by the graphics card and monitor.

It is essentially an interpreter that understands the mathematical data supplied by the font and translates it into a form that the video display can render.

The fonts themselves contain data that describes the outline of each character in the typeface. Higher quality fonts also contain hinting codes. Hinting is a process that makes a font that has been scaled down to a small size look its best.

Instead of simply relying on the vector outline, the hinting codes ensure that the characters line up well with the pixels so that the font looks as smooth and legible as possible.

There are literally thousands of TrueType fonts available, many of them for free on the Web. A lot of these fonts have simply been scanned and converted from other sources. While most fonts should be perfectly fine, an improperly created TrueType font can include errors that could potentially crash your computer.

Professionally designed fonts can cost a hundred dollars apiece but usually are heavily hinted and have been tested at a variety of sizes and angles for optimum quality. These features are important for advertising firms and publishing houses. For most of us, the free or inexpensive fonts work just fine.

Slow PC ?

May 8, 2009

Yesterday morning I was wake up by a commotion at my house. I couldn’tslow-pcmake out what was that commotion all about. I got up and saw my brother banging the key board, hitting the mouse frantically. Hardly had I discovered the cause of the situation I saw the key board flying towards me. My brother fling away the key board out of rage.

I, however, after somrtimes made out that it was all due to the slow PC which made my brother frantic. He wasn’t been able to finish his work due to this problem. Thereafter, I sat with my brother and refered him some tips to keep his PC running fast

I just felt to discuss those here…

1. Delete Temporary Internet Files. When you visit a new website its content is stored on your PC and takes up hard drive space. Go to “Tools”, then “Options” – as each browser is a bit different, click through tabs to find an option of deleting temporary files and cookies.

2. Use a registry cleaner such as Registry Mechanic. Windows® registry can be a common cause of crashes, slow performance and error messages. Registry cleaners will stabilize your system and help improve its performance.

3. Ensure automatic Windows® Updates is turned on.
You can turn this feature on via the Control Panel and then click on Automatic Updates to configure the settings.

4. Eliminate unused files & desktop shortcuts. Every file and application that sits on your desktop takes up extra space, delete them to free up your hard disk space.

5. Uninstall unused programs. The more programs you have installed the slower your system will become.  You need to use the “Uninstall” command in the Add/Remove program feature in the Control Panel. You can’t remove a program just by deleting its folder and files.

6. Empty the Recycle Bin.
Files that you delete from your computer are still stored in your recycle bin and will continue to take up a valuable hard drive space.

7. Schedule regular anti-virus & anti-spyware scans with Spyware Doctor or Internet Security (quick scan daily, full scan weekly).
Computer viruses and spyware can take over your computer’s memory and slow performance.

8. “Defrag” your computer regularly. Each time you work with a file your computer stores changes in a different place on the hard disk.  A defragmentation tool in Desktop Maestro or Registry Mechanic will bring all the fragmented files together for faster file access and reduced load on your computer. You can also do it yourself by right clicking on hard drive, choosing “properties” –”tools “and “defragment now”.