Archive for January 2010

Anti-Spyware and Anti-Virus for new computers

I’m picking up where I left off last week with the $450 computer system I built for a client. The system has 2 GB of RAM, a dual core processor, a 500GB hard drive, a DVD burner, and it runs the latest Windows 7 operating system.

In my last article, I listed some software I install on a typical new computer; today, I’ll continue by discussing spyware protection with PC Tools Spyware Doctor and virus protection using avast!

Viruses and Spyware: What’s the difference?

Viruses

  • Viruses are small programs or snippets of computer code that are designed to spread from one computer to another by infecting email messages, computer files, or storage media. When another computer opens an infected file, message, or disc, the virus has an opportunity to infect the new computer.
  • Viruses often have noticeable affects such as slowing down a computer, blocking access to files, causing unusual counds or messages to appear, or even the deletion of files stored on a system.
  • Each virus needs specific conditions in order to take effect. For example, some viruses may require that a file or email message needs to be opened — often by a specific program (Word, Excel, etc.). In some cases your computer maybe infected, but without the necessary activating conditions, you may never notice the virus’s presence, but it is still possible for the the virus to spread if the infected message or file is sent to another computer.
  • Viruses can be detected and eliminated by anti-virus software.

Spyware

  • Spyware, as it names implies, is more difficult to spot. After all, a good spy shouldn’t be noticed.
  • While viruses are designed to spread on their own, spyware is often intentionally downloaded by a computer user. Typically the user is deceived and lead to believe that the program they are downloading is useful, beneficial, or desirable.
  • Spyware is often designed to seek out personal information, or to trick the computer user into providing personal information.
  • Some spyware may have “viral elements” which enable to spyware to spread to other computers. Such spyware can be detected by anti-virus software.
  • Spyware without a viral element is detectable by anti-spyware software.

Many computer owners mistakenly believe that they only need one or the other, but if you use the Internet you should have both types of software installed on your computer. Antispyware doesn’t detect viruses, and antivirus programs only detect some spyware programs (as mentioned above).

avast! antivirus

My antivirus software of choice is avast! This program is free for home users with only one computer. If you have more than one computer, they ask that you download the avast! Pro version. avast! Pro for one computer is $40, $55 for three computers, and $85 for 5 computers. I have installed this software on over a hundred computers, and there have been no complaints from anyone who’s used it.

PC Tools Spyware Doctor

My favorite anti-spyware program is PC Tools Spyware Doctor. I found this program several years ago, and was happily surprised to find it caught more spyware than any other program of its kind. I’ve been using it and recommending it ever since.

Spyware Doctor just keeps getting better with age. The latest version includes anti-virus software, and the October 2009 issue of PC Magazine says:

“The latest Spyware Doctor proved effective in every area of malware removal and blocking. It’s a great product.”

Spyware Doctor can be installed on up to three computers for $39.95. It’s only available online. Click the links above or the picture at left in order to buy your copy. Its available as a download and as a mail-order CD.

Software for a new computer

Several of my recent posts have been about a $450 computer system I build for a client — a homeowner in need of a computer for general gaming, web surfing, word processing, paying bills, etc. So far I shown you the parts I purchased or similar ones (Part1, Part 2, Part 3), then I provided instructions for assembling the system and installing the Windows 7 operating system.

Google PackNow comes some recommended software for this new system. The software I am listing here is software I typically install on a new computer system. Most of the software I am listing here is free, and it all comes from reputable online sources.

My first stop after booting up a new computer is the Google Pack site. This site from Google has a dozen different programs you can download and install on your computer. I download and install 3 or 4 of the following programs:

  1. Picasa: You can use this program to find, edit, and share your photos stored on your computer; download pictures from your digital camera; remove red eye from your photos; and upload your photos to be shared with your friends on the www.picasa.com web site.
  2. Firefox: This is the next most popular browser after Internet Explorer. Though there are many browsers to choose from, Internet Explorer and Firefox are the most popular, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with having more than one on your computer. Think of it as having two cars in the driveway. use which ever one you want whenever you want.
  3. Adobe Reader: This program is useful for all the PDFs you’re bound to receive from friends or web site downloads, among other sources. The reader allows you to open and print Adobe Acrobat files. (PDF, by the way, stands for portable document format.)
  4. Google Apps:  This one is optional. If they have Microsoft Word and Excel on their computer I typically don’t install this. Google Apps allows you to create and share documents and spreadsheets which can be stored in an online account on the Google Docs web site. This is a free alternative to Microsoft Office. (Alternately, you could also download and install Open Office from Sun Microsystems. It, too, is a free office software package. (Personally, I haven’t tried Open Office, but it’s been around for quite a while, and Sun is a very reputable company.)

There are 8 other programs you can add to your computer form the Google Pack web site, but the ones above are my favorites.

Come back later and I’ll share my antivirus and antispyware picks. If you’re a regular reader I’m sure you know which two programs I’m going to recommend.

Assembling the $450 computer system

Okay, we’ve got all our parts for the $450 system I’ve been discussing lately (Part1, Part 2, Part 3), and now it’s time to put it all together. It’s not all that difficult to do. I was hesitant the first time, all those years ago, but there’ s no fear anymore. Just be mindful of static electricity.

Note: When assembling the system parts, make sure you’re not in a place that will create static electricity, like on a carpet. The static charge could potential damage the sensitive electronic parts. I have a work desk on a wooden floor. Anything but carpet.


Install motherboard
(different motherboard shown)

Mount processor on motherboard

The processor fan. Pegs on fan attach to motherboard. Snap! Snap! Easy!

Install RAM on motherboard.
Snap! Snap! Easy!

Install SATA cable on hard drive

Assembly:

  1. Install the motherboard into the case with the screws provided. Follow the instructional manual.
  2. Connect the power supply lines for the CPU, motherboard, and any other locations as per the mainboard’s instruction manual.
  3. Connect case wires to the motherboard. Again, consult the mainboard’s manual. Typical connections are:
    • the power switch and reset switch which typically are on the same wire.
    • any front or side panel USB connections
    • any front panel audio connectors for headphone or microphones.
    • any cooling fans attached to the inside of the case
  4. Mount the processor and its cooling fan on the motherboard as shown in the motherboard’s manual and the processors manual. Connect the fan line to the motherboard, too.
  5. Install the RAM (memory) on the motherboard. Real easy. Snap! Snap!
  6. Install the DVD and hard drive.
    • Attach a power supply cable to each.
    • Connect each drive’s SATA cable to the motherboard.
  7. You might consider closing the case after you’ve installed your operating system. Just in case have to check your connections from the previous steps. If you have any pets who might find the insides curious, I’d seal it now.
  8. Connect your old keyboard, mouse, and monitor. If you need a new mouse and keyboard, you can get them for less than $20 each at many computer and office supply stores.
  9. Plug in the power cables for the monitor and case to a wall outlet or power strip.
  10. If you have high speed Internet service such as cable or DSL, you connect it to the back of the case.
  11. Power on the monitor and the CPU case.
  12. Check the motherboard’s manual about the BIOS settings that will pop up the first time you start the computer. Usually the “default” settings will be fine. (Don’t be alarmed here. It’s not big deal.)
  13. Insert the Windows 7 DVD into the DVD burner drawer. Restart the computer if necessary. Windows 7 will now install.

Windows 7 will take about a half hour to install. Give it time. Just follow the steps onscreen and you’ll have no problem at all. I’ve installed many versions of Windows, and I have found Windows 7 to be the easiest one ever.

After Windows is installed you can install any other software you might have.

Got an old PC you want to move files from? Just use the Windows Easy Transfer tool under Accessories and System Tools on the Programs menu. (I’ll discuss this one another time. Promise.) It’s easiest if you have a router and can wire your PCs to the router.

I’ll suggest some other software you can find online tomorrow. Stay tuned!

$450 System Hardware Wrap-up

In two earlier posts I spoke about a PC I built for a client last month. The whole system costs about $400—$450 in parts. The goal was to spend about $60 per part or less. The basic parts needed to build a complete system were:

  1. a motherboard (also called a mainboard)
  2. a processor. For $60 I could get a good basic dual core processor. The best thing is in the next year or two the client can upgrade to a faster, more modern processor for about the same price. Currently a quad core processor will set you back about $130.
  3. RAM (memory). For around $60 I used 2 GB of RAM, but the mainboard and 64 bit operating system will allow this system to be upgraded to 4 or even 8 GB if the client chooses to do so later.
  4. a hard drive for storage or programs and other files
  5. a case (to put all the parts above into) with a power supply. This part was only $35 in my budget.
  6. an operating system. For this system I used the new Windows 7 Professional 64 bit edition.
  7. an optical drive, or in this case a combination CD and DVD burner. I didn’t have to buy this part; I just reused the one that was installed in the client’s previous computer.

Apex Mid Tower CaseSeagate SATA hard driveIn my second post on this system I recommended some parts available from Tigerdirect.com to cover the first 3 items on the list above. Please note the client will be reusing the monitor from their previous computer system. You can probably do the same.

Here are my recommendations to cover the final 4 items on the list, and I’ll add on a DVD drive just in case you don’t have one, but you’d like to build a similar system.

  • Hard Drive: Seagate Barracuda 500 GB SATA driveicon ($50)
  • Case and power supply: Apex PC-375 Black Mid-Tower Case with a 300 watt power supplyicon ($35)
  • Operating System: Between all the hardware I’ve only spent $283 before taxes and shipping. So I’ve got about $167 left for the Windows 7 operating system. I have two flavors to choose from in my budget: (1) Windows 7 Home Premium edition (32 bit)icon for $110 or (2) Windows 7 Professional (64 bit)icon for $150. The 32 bit system will limit my future RAM potential to 4 GB, while the 64 bit system can upgrade to 8GB. 4 GB is fine for most systems. I went with the Pro version.
  • DVD Burner: Samsung SH-S223C DVD-RW Driveicon ($25) This one burns CD-R discs, too. The client had a Sony DVD burner from their previous system. A similar Sony model would cost about $50 to $60. If you already have a DVD drive from your previosu system, you can reuse. Windows 7 comes on a DVD, so that’s why your need a DVD drive. A CD drive will not do.

So that’s all the parts. Now comes the assembly once you’ve got them all. Tomorrow I’ll tell the steps in brief for putting it all together.

Facebook to charge $4.99 per month in June?

Not true. Just a few weeks ago, if you’re an active Facebook user, you may have read that Facebook was going to start charging $4.99 to use the service starting at the end of June 2010. Here’s a snippet of the message that circulated last month:

Spyware Doctor Free Scan

There is a website that has over 83,000 members of people protesting the following… WE’RE AGAINST THE 4.99 A MONTH CHARGE FOR FACEBOOK FROM JUNE 30TH 2010 See website here…

[website address removed]

Thankfully, this was just one of many Facebook-related hoaxes that circulate the web. (The bigger the site, the bigger the target, the bigger the audience.) Unfortunately, the bogus message caused real problems for many people who decided to look into the web site and Facebook group it promoted.

Many who visited the web site clicked on certain elements which initiated a hijacking attempt on their computers. Further clicking resulted the downloading of malware, spyware, and “highly objectionable images” to the visiting computer.

Shortly after a counter message began circulating among Facebook users and friends alerting them to the harmful effects of the phony Facebook group and web site. (I received copies of both messages. I ignored the first, and said “Just as I thought” to the second.) The warning messages looked something like this:

WARNING: DO NOT JOIN the group We are against paying $4.99 for Facebook – IT’s A VIRUS AND HACKER! There are extremely graphic images at the website they suggest you visit. FACEBOOK has no plans on charging us. ELIMINATE THIS GROUP from your groups & run your spyware ASAP. REPOST THIS AS YOUR STATUS on your Profile. Thanks

Do you think, or know, you were a victim of this insidious hoax?

The problem with malware and spyware is its hard to detect, and its becoming an ever more common problem. Even more problematic than virus attacks.

Best Buy’s Geek Squad will charge any where from $200—$300 to remove spyware from your computer, but I strongly recommend you purchase Spyware Doctor software from PC Tools. It costs only $39.95 and can be installed on up to 3 computers. I recommend Spyware Doctor over any other antispyware program on the market today, but it’s not available in stores.

Only have one computer? Why not ask a friend or relative if they’d like to split the cost with you? You can have PC Tools mail you a CD copy for $9.95.

Read more Skylarking articles about Internet and email hoaxes circulating the web:

HP Photosmart Premium All-in-One C309 conflicts with iPod

Hello, folks! Hope you had a great weekend. I’m getting better, too.

So last week I mentioned I had been helping a client with a HP Photosmart Premium All-in-One C309 printericon that was causing trouble with his iPods. The client had just replaced a printer in their home office, but now when they attached their iPods to synchronize their music they were alerted that the device was not recognized. They suspected they had done something wrong when installing the printer, so they reinstalled it, updated their iTunes software, but still no luck with their iPods.

After a little research and double-checking I had learned that there were other reported cases of an iPod not being recognized after a HP Photosmart Premium All-in-One C309 printericon had been added to the computer system. So I unplugged the printer, connected the iPod, and lo and behold the iPod was recognized once more.

No one wants to have to remember to unplug their printer to access their iPods. And no one wants to have to rememeber they disconnected their printer before they go to print something.

What to do?

Fortunately, the HP Photosmart C309 printericon comes equipped with WIFI (wireless capability). Furthermore, the client had a wireless router in their office as well. The HP C309 also works with a wired network connection, which I would preferred to use, but they didn’t have a spare network cable.

So I configured the HP C309 to access the wireless network using the instruction provided in the owners manual for the printer. The C309 supports WEP and encryption tools for a secure wireless link. Furthermore their router accepts MAC filtering (the unique identifier tag associated with any wireless capable device) to restrict which devices are allowed to access the network. Their PC is wired to the router, otherwise I could have set the PC to connect wirelessly to the printer without goin g through the router.

A few minutes later the printer was wirelessly online with the network, and the iPods could be relied upon to be recognized once more when attached via USB.

I know there are more people out there experiencing this problem. I hope this article helps you out. If anyone has discovered other solutions to this problem, let me know.

If you’re interested in learning more about the products in this article, click the images and text links for more information.

More on the $450 system with a future

Dragon NaturallySpeaking 10 Standard

This was to be yesterday’s post, but I was out on service calls. One of them involved a HP PhotoSmart C309 printericon that was interfering with the sync function of their iPods. They were also having trouble with their Dragon NaturallySpeaking 10 Standard dictation software, too. More on this story to come.

Here are some TigerDirect links to the products that I used in building the $450 computer system I discussed on Monday. The owner of this system is very happy, and keeps telling people how fast it is.

For the heart of this system I recommend the motherboard and CPU (processor) combination shown at left. Although I used an Intel E5200 processor when I built this system, the processor on this board is quite similar. Pricewise it sticks to my $60 per part plan. (Click the image or link below it to go to Tigerdirect for more info and purchasing.)

icon
icon

For the memory (RAM) I recommend using Crucial 2048MB PC6400 DDR2 800MHz Memoryicon. You can pick his up for only $50. By the way, 2048 MB translates into 2 GB of RAM. If you have more money in your budget, I would double the memory, and get 4 GB of RAM. Insuch an event I recommend Crucial’s Ballistix 4096MB PC6400 DDR2 800MHz (2 x 2048MB)icon. (Shown below). I am a big fan of Crucial’s memory chips. I’ve never had a problem with installation or operation. (How hard could it be you ask? Believe me, I have received enough defective chips from other companies.)

I’ll be back later with a list of the remaining parts needed for this system, and more about that printer and iPod problem, too. I have to check in with my doctor now and see how my respiratory problems are doing. I’ve been taking a steroid to keep my throat from swelling shut. Hope your day is going well.

$450 Computer with a Future

PowerSpec TX366 mATX CaseThanks to everyone who contacted me yesterday by email and on the Skylarking Facebook page to wish me well amid all my respiratory problems and woes. It only takes 4 or 5 kind words to really lift the spirits. Thanks everyone!

One of the things I had been doing when I was able to breathe and function was building a new computer for a friend with a tight budget. They were actually a business client, but I like to call them friends, too. That’s just what I do.

So they had a tight budget of around $400, and I wanted to see to it that they got quality parts that weren’t going to give them any problems. I also wanted to get them setup with Windows 7 as an operating system. They had a Sony DVD burner in their old Windows XP computer, so I was able to transfer that to the new system. So I am not counting the cost of that DVD burner in the price of this system. I also reused their old monitor, but they could get a new flat panel for about $90 — 100.

As for the rest of the parts, I managed to spend about $60 on each component:

  • ASUS P5KPL-AM Motherboard: This is the base of the system. Everything attaches to the motherboard (mainboard). Asus makes a lot of fine computer components, and they also make the Asus Eee PC netbook I often talk about.
  • Intel Pentium Dual Core E5200 Processor: This processor operates on the motherboard’s low end, but I let my friend know they could always get a better processor in a year or two when they had another $120 or so to spend. After their old Windows XP machine, the current processor is plenty fast for them.
  • Crucial Ballistix, 2 GB RAM: Again, they could spend more money here later to double or even quadruple their total memory. Using the 64 bit version of Windows 7 allows them to add up to 8GB of RAM.
  • Hitachi Deskstar 500 GB SATA Hard Drive
  • PowerSpec TX366 mATX Case with power supply: $35
  • Windows 7 Professional, 64 Bit Edition (OEM): $90. OEM means “Original Equipment Manufacturer”, which means it is meant to be installed by a computer builder. It also means if they have trouble with Windows, I am supposed to help them, and not Microsoft. Another $30 or $40 might have got them a standard retail copy, but I stand behind the parts I’ve added to this machine. I don’t anticipate them having any problems.

I am a little short on time this morning, so I’ll be back later or tomorrow to talk a little bit more about this system, the parts, etc. Have a great day!

Coupon Code for Samsung HDTVs from TigerDirect

Oh, you have no idea how miserable 2010 has been for me, friends! Respiratory problem since early December — all the way through the holidays — then my car was hit by a drunk driver on New Year’s Eve. I suffered a dislocated index finger when my air bag deployed. The car, despite being drivable, has suffered damage which exceeds its value, so the insurance company will be taking it away. Then I got a ear/nose/throat infection, and had an allergic reaction to my antibiotic, Levaquin, which caused me difficulty in breathing. So now I am on three antibiotics, a steroid for the swelling, and Prilosec to avoid getting ulcers from it all.

But here I am.

One of the first things I’d like to tell you about is am inexpensive computer system which I built for a friend. I’ll be sharing those details with you tomorrow. It’s an Intel Dual Core system with Quad Core capability, a 500 GB SATA hard drive (storage), a DVD burner, 2 GB of RAM (memory) and Windows 7 64-bit for the operating system. All done for less than $450. Check back tomorrow.

For now check out these LCD and LED HDTV offers from Tigerdirect. (I am constantly on the lookout for new audio video equipment. I’ve been playing with my old gear this past weekend.)

“SAMSUNG” EXCLUSIVE COUPON OFFER
Promo code DXZ373 is entered at checkout
SAVE $1150 and get free shipping. Offer expires Jan. 31, 2010.

Samsung 55″ Touch of Color 55 inch LCD HDTV. This is the model LN55B650 from Samsung. A full 1080p High Definition TV with a sharp 100,000 to 1 Dynamic Contrast Ratio for brilliant whites and deep, dark blacks. On the back you’ll find 4 HDMI connectors for connecting the audio and video with one cable from your DVD, Blu-ray player, camcorder, and gaming systems. The HDMI connectors are much simpler than the old triple connectors (1 video, 2 audio).

With the LN55B650 you get advanced new connectivity that includes InfoLink feeds, real-time stock quotes, weather updates, news articles and more straight to your screen. It also Auto Motion Plus technology that keeps brilliant full High Definition action running smooth. It’s innovative Touch of Color design complements any room décor, and its multiple inputs will let you add such digital devices as a Blu-ray Disc player, camcorder and gaming system.

Price: $1649.99 after using promo code DXZ373 at checkout.

Also check out the $1,300 in savings and free shipping on the Samsung 55″ LED HDTV UN55B8000! Only $2,499.99 after using PROMO CODE SNH361.