Private browsing important to you? Maintaining your privacy while using the internet has become more challenging over the years. The recent Facebook privacy scandal made that abundantly clear, with users shocked at how much information had been recorded about them. While it’s almost impossible to enjoy the internet and leave zero digital footprints, there are things you can do to hide your online activities – some more effective than others.
1. Get a virtual private network (VPN) VPNs aren’t just for business and downloaders now, they’ve gone mainstream. Once set up, it creates an encrypted connection from your computer to the VPN providers computer. The other computer could be in another city or another country. When you visit a website, it can only see the VPN computer – not yours. You essentially run around the internet pretending to be another computer, in another location. Since your connection is encrypted, even your ISP can’t see what you’re doing online, making your usage anonymous.
The downsides: Because your internet usage has to route through another computer first, your browsing and download speed could be affected. They can be tricky to set up and not all VPNs offer the same privacy levels (the better ones tend to be more expensive). Some websites may even block visits from people using VPNs, so you may end up switching it on/off as required.
The downsides: It can’t pre-fill saved passwords and it won’t help you type in the website name even if you’ve been there before.
3. Think about who’s watching While you might be naturally careful when using a public computer have you thought about who’s watching what you do on your work computer? Some workplaces have employee monitoring software that tracks all sorts of data, including taking screenshots of your desktop. It helps them create rules about computer usage but it may also provide them with evidence you’ve been breaking those rules. Stepping out to the internet cafe can be even more risky, as people can install keyloggers that record every keystroke, including your credit card numbers and logins. You’ll never know your activities are being recorded, even if you use private browsing.
The downsides: None. Awareness of the risks and the possibility of being watched ensures you’re more likely to use the internet safely.
While private browsing can help keep your internet usage under wraps, it’s not a magic bullet to cover all possibilities. Many people believe they’re invisible AND invulnerable while private browsing, a mistake they end up paying for. You’ll still need solid anti-virus and password habits to protect against threat, and to be a smart internet user who avoids suspect websites. Consider the options above as privacy-enhancing measures, not one-stop solutions.
Looking for a VPN? Our recommendation is Nord VPN. For more information, visit: https://nordvpn.com/
Need help with your online privacy? Give us a call at (651) 456-8655 or visit our CONTACT page.
Planning to travel soon? For most people, this also means making sure your tech is packed and ready for the adventure. Smartphones, eBook readers, tablets, laptops and smart watches are now so light and portable that you’d never think of leaving them behind, plus they can add a ton of value your experience.
Here are a few tips to consider before you hit the road.
1. Backup to the cloud
While you’re jet setting around, relaxing on a beach or hiking your way to freedom, your tech is always going to be exposed to a level of risk. This might range from accidentally leaving your laptop at a cafe to having it stolen from your bag, but either way the problem is the same – your data is now gone. If you’ve backed up your devices to the cloud (eg Evernote, Microsoft OneNote or Google Drive) you’ll be able to access your files easily and securely from anywhere.
Hot tip: Scan or save important documents like itineraries and passports to the cloud.
2. Pack the right cables
Begging random strangers for a loan of their cable isn’t much fun, so remember to bring the exact cables and chargers you’ll need. Most smartphones and tablets use universal plugs like Micro USB, USB C or Apple Lightning, so you can get away with only packing one cable. Many locations now offer powered USB ports but be sure to also pack the right charger as well, it’s a convenience you’ll appreciate. If you’re traveling overseas and the socket is different, remember to pack a plug converter, and depending on your destination, you might even find the voltage is different. It’s a good idea to check whether you also need a voltage converter before you try and charge.
3. Download offline data
It’s no secret that global roaming can give nasty bill shocks. The easy access data you normally use over Wi-Fi or get included in your cell plan has us all accustomed to being connected. While traveling, you might find yourself in a location where data costs a fortune or it’s not available at all. Download any files you might need, including important documents like itineraries and bookings, so that you can access them even without a connection.
4. Update and scan
Just like you’d make sure you’ve got the right vaccinations and travel gear, make sure your tech is ready to travel too. Set aside a few minutes to run updates for your operating systems and apps, as well as your anti-virus. Go one step further and run a manual anti-virus scan too. The last thing you want to deal with one your trip is a cyber attack! While you’re doing your pro-active thing, turn on password protection for all devices so that only you can unlock them.
Hot tip: Use a complex password that is hard for thieves to guess.
5. Mark your territory
Almost exactly the way it sounds, let everyone know this tech belongs to you. Write your cell number on portable devices in case you get separated so whoever finds it can give you a quick call and save the day. Don’t want to use permanent marker on your shiny tech? Grab some sticky labels you can peel off when you get home.
You can also get little Bluetooth tracking tags to stick to your gear, so that if you ever lose something you can chase it down. Similarly, you might like to consider enabling the ‘find my feature on Apple devices. Having this feature switched on also means you can disable your device remotely, an excellent security option if it’s been stolen.
Most homes are trying to reduce power costs by turning off lights and appliances, but do the same rules apply to computers? After all, it requires more than flicking a switch on your way out the door. Some people believe you should shut down after every use to save wear and tear, others believe you should never shut down your computer – ever. Others simply want to make sure the pages and apps they left open are still there waiting for them. So, who’s right and what are they really doing?
Back when computers were clunky behemoths that took a long time to start, you’d go nuts at the person who shut it down when it was your turn. If you have an older computer, maybe you still do. Modern computers actually have two options for their downtime: Shut down or sleep.
When it shuts down, the system goes through and closes any open programs (often prompting you to save first), then gradually cuts power to all components. It’s a methodical process that seems quite fast to us but is actually made of 100+ intentionally ordered steps. If there’s a sudden blackout or you hold the power button until it turns off, it means the steps aren’t followed and damage is possible. The second option is to put your computer to sleep. This can be triggered by an automated timeout or a user click. Your system uses a special type of memory called RAM to hold all your running programs exactly as you left them but use minimal power. The hard drive stops spinning, the graphics card lets the screen go black, and even the system fan slows to become almost silent. When you wake it by moving the mouse or pressing a key, it ‘wakes’ again almost instantly.
Reasons to Shut Down
A switched off computer isn’t drawing power which is a tick for the environment. But shutting down is about more than saving power. It can sometimes give improved stability over a machine that’s been running for days/weeks. This is because every time you shut down, you give your computer a chance to clear out all temporary junk files it’s been carrying in memory. It also triggers various health checks on startup that may otherwise be missed, important routines like checking for updates or scanning for viruses. It’s certainly more convenient to spend an extra minute booting up than lose everything to a cyber-attack. For older computers or those under heavy strain like gaming or video editing, shutting down also provides a necessary chance for the components to cool down.
Reasons to Sleep
Speed is the big selling point here. You can literally sit down and start working where you left off without the delays of bootup, finding your program, opening your saved files, scrolling down… it’s all right there and ready. You can even tell it how long to wait before putting itself into sleep mode, just in case you get called away and forget. Windows updates still run in the background, so that’s okay, but it’s important to note that your computer might get stuck waiting for a reboot that never comes. Those pending updates may stack up, ineffective until it either forces a reboot or becomes unstable enough that you give in to a restart.
The best method is….
Since the whole point of having a computer is that it’s ready to work when you are, we recommend shutting down at night when it’s definitely not in use but using sleep mode during the day. Updates will get all the rebooting they need, memory is refreshed for the new day, and you’ll get the best of both worlds – speed and stability.
We can help your computer boot faster, give us a call at (651) 456-8655 or visit our Contact Us page HERE.
There’s been a massive digitization of the population, which despite keeping everyone entertained and connected, comes with one gaping flaw – a hard drive crash could wipe out your data in an instant. Nobody’s immune, even grandparents routinely rock the latest smartphones and post on Facebook. Nearly all schoolwork is done on computers or tablets, ebook sales far outstrip their paper cousins, and photo printing is a rarity. Unless there’s a physical requirement like putting a photo into a frame, all our data is staying digital. People’s entire lives, their memories, and work are on personal hard drives, yet a large majority of households have no backups.
If you’ve ever lost your data or had your computer stolen, you know the panic and rage that follows…turning the house upside down, hoping desperately to find that USB stick that maybe your data was copied to, once upon a time…before collapsing onto the couch as it sinks in: there’s nothing left.
While hopefully your hard drive is still in good shape, surprise failures do happen. The mechanics don’t last forever, and even brand-new drives can be blitzed by a power surge. Theft is always a risk, as is user error like deleting files accidentally, or even getting hit by a nasty virus that destroys or holds your files for ransom. That last one is tricky. Most households are using apps like Dropbox, iCloud or OneDrive as their backup, thinking if their hard drive crashes or gets stolen, they’ll just download the files from there. Unfortunately, those very handy apps are no help if you’ve been hit with ransomware. Almost instantly as the malware encrypts your local files until you pay up, those sync apps upload the infected versions – for your convenience. Older, safe versions of the files no longer exist, because these apps are designed to give a constant mirror of your drive, not a backup.
Stop for a moment and think about what you’d lose right now if your hard drive failed. What’s on there? Household management files like tax info, warranties you’ve scanned in, photos of your children or grandchildren, videos of first steps and school plays, maybe even your wedding video? While some losses are merely inconvenient, like recreating your budget or rebuilding your recipe collection, other losses are heartbreaking. It’s not a feeling we’d wish on anyone!
What You Can Do
Backing up at home used to be something only tech geeks did, but like everything cool, it’s gone mainstream. We recommend a 3-2-1 approach: 3 copies of your data, with 2 local at your home and 1 offsite.
Typically, this means keeping your regular hard drive where your data is now, one copy of precious files on a backup USB drive, and one that automatically uploads to the secure cloud as you add new files. That way, the USB drive protects your data if your computer dies, and the cloud copy protects you if something happens to the computer and your USB drive, like fire, flood or theft. It’s a good idea to make sure you unplug that backup USB drive afterwards and pop it into a drawer, as connected devices can easily become infected during an attack or stolen during a break-in.
Two of these methods require you to actually pay attention, which is where many households struggle. It’s a rare home where someone takes the time to sit down each week and carefully run a backup. Not that it’s tricky, but unless you’re one of those cool geeks it’s pretty boring and not a high priority after a long day! That’s why we recommend a cloud backup solution or letting us take care of it remotely.
You’ll be able to retrieve files at will, without having to roll back your entire drive, and know your solution has caught even the smallest file change without you needing to flag or mark it in any way. Even better, because it’s in the cloud, you can access your secure backup from anywhere. Left a work file at home? No problem, it’s in your cloud backup. On vacation and need to check a detail or show off a photo? No problem, it’s in your cloud backup. We’re able to get you set up with the perfect backup solution that meets your needs, both now and in case of emergency.
We know computers always break at the worst possible time, but what exactly prompts that failure? It’s easy to think it was something you did since you were using it at the time, but while your online gaming frenzy might cause a temporary crash, normal user actions are rarely the cause of a broken computer.
Accidents happen, but they don’t always mean you need to buy a new computer. As an electrical item, liquid spills are a big problem. This could be anywhere from a spill on the keyboard, going overboard with the screen cleaning spray or even a flood that reaches the computer. Laptop users need to be especially careful when choosing their work surface, as cafes and kitchen tables often have small puddles left behind. If you’re lucky and the liquid didn’t fry the circuits, ongoing corrosion is still likely, as is stickiness to gum up the internal parts. Similarly, a dropped computer isn’t going to be happy, nor is one that’s been knocked around. Even a light thump of frustration can cause loose cables, disconnections and internal damage.
Computer parts have an expected lifetime, especially moving parts like fans or mechanical hard drives. Some computers can run 24/7 for up to a decade, while others can be barely used but fail within warranty. When age is the issue there are usually early warning signs like extra noise or slowing down, but the actual ‘break’ generally happens when you go to turn the computer on, perhaps after a crash or overnight – either it makes a valiant effort before giving up, or nothing happens at all. Sometimes lasting age is the luck of the draw with how it was manufactured, and quality does play a big part in how long it can keep churning.
We like to think electricity is a constant stream that never varies, but computers are particularly sensitive to both surges (too much electricity) and brownouts (not enough electricity). You might notice the lights dimming or flickering during a brownout, or glowing just a tad too strong during a surge. These variations never last long, and they’re not something you can control unless it’s just your house (it’s worth checking with your neighbors), but they can easily break your computer. A surge protector can guard against mild increases in voltage, but brownouts and strong surges will still cause damage.
Overheating is a big contributor to premature computer death. Some computer parts run hot and need plenty of cooling to keep them working. You might not feel it from the outside, but internal components can rapidly build up heat that needs to go somewhere. When your airflow vents get blocked with dust or pet hair, the temperature continues to increase until components literally bake themselves to failure. At set temperatures, the computer will automatically switch off to try and cool down, however the more often this happens and the higher the temps, the more likely your computer is to die.
Hard Drive Failure
Your data is stored on a hard drive, and if you’ve got a mechanical hard drive (most people do), it works a bit like a record player with a spinning ‘platter’ and a needle that reads it. Small bumps, liquid, age, surges and overheating can all trigger hard drive failure. Along with making your computer unusable, hard drive failure means your data is also lost. While sudden breakage might leave you surprised, take note of any strange noises or repeated crashes and back up your data in advance.
Like a car, your computer needs to be serviced too. We can check your computer, both hardware and software, to make sure it’s running right and working its best for you. Give us a call at (651) 456-8655 or visit our contact page HERE.
Refurbished computers are almost like an insider secret – you can get great system specs for a fraction of the price. It’s how many families are meeting their back to school needs and upgrading their old systems, complete with warranty.
There’s one hot tip these people know: a refurb is NOT the same as used. You’re right to avoid those 2nd hand computers you see on Craigslist or Gumtree because there’s a reason that person is selling it! It’s probably slowed to a crawl, making weird noises or flat out broken in a way you’d never discover until too late. Refurbished computers are the complete opposite. They’re computers that have been given a new life, usually with a comprehensive repair, or sometimes they’re brand-new computers that were returned with a small problem like a hard drive failure, so we swap it out and sell it at bargain prices. Occasionally, the computer was even returned simply because the buyer changed their mind, but it’s still essentially brand-new (it might still be in the box!).
Quite often, refurbished computers start their life as business machines, built to the latest specs with business-grade components. When the budget or lease says ‘replace the computers’, that’s what the business does, whether the computers need it or not. There’s nothing wrong with them and they’ve likely been babysat by a corporate IT department who kept them in perfect condition every day. These are great machines that are still plenty fast for home use, both desktops and laptops. Plus, because business-grade components are more durable than the consumer ones, the entire system has been built to last longer and perform better, often up to several years without a problem. Rather than send these impressive machines to landfill, we check and replace necessary components and re-install a clean operating system. Next, we put them through a stack of verification tests, then pack them up ready for their new home. When you talk to us about buying one, we’ll always make sure you get a system that not only keeps up with your needs now, but gives you breathing space for the next few years too.
What are the benefits?
You save a LOT of money: You get yourself a great computer that’s been set up and checked over by an expert technician, for significantly less than the cost of buying new. Add in the fact that when you score a refurbished business computer you’re also getting more durable, higher-quality components that will last you for years longer than the off-the-shelf consumer model, it’s a clear win. We always recommend that when you see a refurbished deal that’s got you smiling, you act fast – it won’t sit around waiting for you!
Covered by warranty: A warranty is always included with our refurbished computers, giving you value plus peace of mind. It’s your guarantee that buying refurbished was a great decision. Problems are extremely rare since your computer has been through stringent checks, but if anything pops up that’s giving you trouble, we’ll fix it fast. Forget the delays and hoop jumping you might get with your other warranties, we stand by ours with rapid action.
You’re saving the environment: Fewer machines end up in landfill and fewer resources are used for unnecessary manufacturing. When you consider each computer requires a certain amount of precious metals to be mined, plastics to be created, packaging created from multiple materials and all the associated flow on effects of shipping, refurbishment is the right choice for the future. While you might not personally see the environmental impact of your decision to buy refurbished, rest assured the planet appreciates it!
Are they reliable?
Some people think that refurbished computers are more likely to break, when in truth, in some cases they’re actually more reliable than brand new. Manufacturers have an expected failure rate, a percentage of computers that go straight from the factory to buyers who discover their expensive new system is dead-on-arrival or breaks within weeks. A refurbished computer has already stood the test of time and it performed without missing a beat. By the time it’s gone through our checks and repairs (both required and pre-emptive), a refurbished computer is better than new.
How can you make the internet a safer place for your kids? It’s a common concern as all parents want their kids to be protected and happy whenever they go online. It’s relatively easy to supervise and monitor the very young ones as they stare delightedly at the Disney Jr site, but the risks increase greatly as kids get older and more independent.
You’ve probably heard the term ‘cyber safety’ before, but safe internet usage goes beyond reminding them not to talk to strangers. With the evolution of the internet and the way it’s now woven seamlessly into our lives, the focus needs to be on ingrained habits. That means ensuring your children have the tools and predefined responses to online events so that no matter what happens, they’re not placing themselves (or your family) at risk. Setting up these habits is easy, and begins with three basic understandings:
Downloads are a no-go
Most kids can’t tell the difference between a legitimate download and a scam/malicious link. It’s not their fault, the online world is full of things that will trick even the most savvy adult. The difference is that kids tend not to take that extra moment to check exactly where that link is pointing, question whether it’s too good to be true, or even read what they’re agreeing to. They want to get back to what they were doing, and if something pops up, their first instinct is to click ‘yes’ – purely so it goes away. Unfortunately, that single ‘yes’ may have just opened the doors to malware and viruses that will ruin their computer. Set a family rule that they need to ask permission for all downloads (and an adult will check it first), and to never click a popup. When you’re called over to give download permission or check a popup, talk through exactly what you’re checking and why. As your child matures, get them involved in this process so their safe habits extend outside the home.
Critical thinking is a must
Most youngsters think the internet is a magical place and can’t imagine their life without it. To them, the internet is on the same level as oxygen! With that acceptance though, comes unwavering trust that the internet would never lie to them, never trick them and never hurt them. While we adults know better, it’s only because we already view the internet with a certain level of distrust. The best way to keep kids safe is to teach them to approach every aspect of the internet with critical thinking. That includes teaching them to question the motives of other people online. Is that person really a kid? What do they really want? Unfortunately, all kids do need to be aware that predators use the internet to target and lure children. Ensure your children tell you immediately if a stranger makes contact. Along with this stranger danger, teach them to identify what marks something as suspicious, and what they should avoid. If they come across anything inappropriate, they should shut down the computer and come straight to you.
The internet is forever
Kids have an overwhelming drive to contribute to the internet, they don’t think twice about recording a video, jumping in a chat room or onto social media. The world really is their playground! But what they don’t understand until they’ve been burned, is that anything they upload, write or say is on the internet forever. Even if they delete it or use a platform where content self-erases, someone can still screenshot and send it right back out. Many cyber-bullying cases are based around this exact type of blow-back. Once your kids know that everything they post is permanent, they’ll be more likely to pause and think.
It’s pretty obvious when your computer is already broken, but how do you know when it’s about to break? Even before it falls into a heap and refuses to turn on, or flashes big messages about how your files are now encrypted, you’ll be given multiple hints that something is wrong. Here are the common signs your computer needs repair, sooner rather than later.
It’s running slow. Most people assume their computer is running slow because it’s getting older, but it could actually be a variety of reasons. A program behaving badly, a virus, overheating or even a failing hard drive can all cause a massive slow down. You might only notice it when booting up or starting a program, or the problem may have taken hold to the extent that even moving your mouse becomes torture. Sometimes the slow speed is simply due to some newer software that your hardware can’t keep up with.
Your system is running hot. A very common sign with laptops, running hot can be both the sign and cause of damage. Computers have fans to blow out hot air so they can cool off their internal components. At the same time, fresh air is drawn in through vents to create an effective cooling system. Unfortunately, just about every vent in a computer can quickly become clogged with dust and pet fur, essentially choking off the circulation and leaving components to overheat. Desktop computers have more space inside to circulate air, but you’ll still need to keep their vents clear. You’ll know your computer running too hot if your system shuts down frequently (safety cutout), the fan is working serious overtime, or your laptop is too hot to use on your lap.
Blue Screens of Death are everywhere. A classic Windows error, this is quite literally a blue screen that covers your view. The system will still be running, but something has gone wrong. You’ll be shown some text and an error code, often with Windows suggesting a restart. If a restart fixes your problem, perhaps something didn’t load properly at bootup and your computer had a whoopsie. It’s rare, but it happens. If you’re getting blue screens all the time though, that’s a sign a hardware or software problem needs to be resolved. Your computer will continue to give blue screen errors more and more frequently, so it’s best to take action as soon as you know something’s wrong.
It’s making strange noises. Your computer has a number of moving parts. You’ll know by now which noises it normally makes, from the startup beep to the whirring fan. When your computer starts to make extra noises…that’s when things get interesting. Fans can wear down and screech or grind, hard drives can start clicking, and in emergency cases, you might even hear a zapping noise. None of those are good! Whenever you notice a strange noise, remember your computer parts are all designed to work together and one problem could quickly become many if left unchecked.
It crashes and freezes. If your computer is crashing randomly, restarting without you, or freezing up completely, it’s a sure sign there’s a problem. As annoying as it might be, your computer isn’t doing this to drive you crazy – it just feels that way! You might notice it’s showing other signs from this list too because crashing and freezing are what happens when something isn’t just wrong, it’s terribly wrong. The problem could be almost anything, hardware and software both, but it’s always fixable. This is simply your computer’s final way of crying out for repair, desperately trying to get your attention and a little TLC.
Is your computer doing these things? Let us fix it for you. Call us at (651) 456-8655 or visit our Contact Us page.
Laptops have become the go-to choice for most people in the market for a new computer. They’re sleek, portable and heavily advertised. But are they the best choice for your needs? Before you buy your next computer, take a look at these considerations – you may discover you’ve been dreaming of a desktop all along!
How portable do you need it to be?
Hands down, laptops are easier to move around than a desktop. You can pick them up, pop them into a backpack and away you go. That doesn’t mean desktops are bolted to the floor, just that they’re not designed to take on holidays or go with you to the local cafe. With that portability though, comes a trade-off: thin and light means your computer performance takes a hit. The more powerful your laptop, the bigger and heavier it is, and you won’t enjoy lugging that weight around all day. If that’s got you leaning towards an ultra-portable, consider this: The smaller and lighter your laptop is, the weaker it is. In fact, some laptops struggle to run the most basic apps. Fortunately, when you do choose a desktop, cloud technology means your data is mobile, even if your main computer isn’t.
What balance of power and price do you need?
The bottom line here is that a desktop will always give you more power for less money. Their larger cases allow for bigger and better components, with more effective systems to avoid overheating. Even the most powerful laptop is going to be hotter than its desktop equivalent, and much noisier too. If you’re using power-hungry software like games or video editing, we recommend choosing a desktop. The heat control alone is worth it as frequently overheated laptops don’t survive long.
Desired screen size
As laptops are designed to be portable, screen sizes are usually small, around 11-15”. Larger, more powerful laptops often go up to 17”. Desktop monitors however, start at 17” and average at 22”. These larger sizes give you more space to work in, options to tile your applications and multi-task, and even sit back and watch an HD (or even 4K) movie. They also allow for nice big text and images, with a better ability to choose the visual experience that suits your needs. If you’re after a large screen size without the actual desktop computer, all-in-one PCs are a great option with many offering impressive screen quality.
Your working comfort
Many people buy a laptop only to get home and find it’s a pain in the neck – literally! The traditional laptop design means you’re always looking down at the screen which can put a strain on your neck. You can try to raise the screen by placing the laptop on a stand, but then the keyboard is out of easy reach. The smaller keyboards and touchpad designs may also leave you more prone to repetitive strain injuries. Many people end up connecting their laptops to external monitors, keyboards and mice, simply so they can work in comfort. Desktop computers on the other hand, allow you to create the perfect working environment for your needs and even cater for other family members. Monitors are usually height adjustable, keyboards and mice are wireless, and you’re able to place the desktop on the floor out of the way. If you’re on your computer for more than short bursts, your body will appreciate you choosing a desktop.
Are you looking for flexibility?
When you choose a laptop computer, it’s like ordering from a set menu. You get this brand, in this design, with these specifications. Changing out parts for repair or upgrade can be difficult and expensive as there’s not a spare inch of space. Some parts are extremely hard to get to, which can turn a simple swap into a dealbreaker. The extra space inside a desktop gives infinite flexibility for upgrades over time and fast repairs. This means you’re able to easily pop in more powerful components for a fraction of the price and extend the life of your computer by years.