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Computers Today: By GTech (Revised 2nd Edition)

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Computers Today

Today most Americans and many people in countless other countries have access to a computer of some sort or another, whether it be their own computer, a computer shared in a public resource area, such as a library, or even a relatives or friends computer. Though, for the sake of this discussion I will be covering Notebooks, Netbooks, and desktops, mainly because they utilize a productive keyboard.

Many savvy techs, which are people with intermediate to advanced computer skills, use a Desktop or a Notebook (Laptop), while most shy away from Netbooks because of their size, and tablets because of a lack of a productive keyboard. Though for many computer users a phone, PDA (Personal Data Assistant), tablet, or Netbook will work just fine for them.

I once heard it best put like this, there are the phone people, and then there are the computer people, which pretty much separates the class of people you deal with when it comes to technology. Mobile computer users tend to use smaller than Laptops and rarely use a Desktop, they prefer mobile computers over larger computers. This isn't a negative statement as one might guess, it's just a classification of what kind of computer person you are, you are either a mobile tech lover, or a desktop/notebook lover.

Notebooks today are quite fast, can operate on par with a desktop, though a desktop is by far more powerful in some respect, especially when talking about video and viewable monitor screen real estate (size of monitor). Obviously computing on a 27” HD Monitor vs a 15.6 – 17.3” monitor is significantly different, likewise computing on a 4” - 10” Monitor provides a different experience all together.

While I'm not one who was ever into mobile technology, I still do check out mobile devices only to remain hip in the tech world, because it's difficult to follow conversations when talking with “Phone People” if you are a strictly a “Computer Person”. For this reason it's best to understand terminology on both sides, so you will not be lost, as tech savvy computer users tend to talk about GHz, GB (Gigabytes), thorough put, and things which hold little to no meaning to the “Phone People”.

Techs tend to talk about heady things, while mobile user will absolutely dazzle you with their crazy phone skills. I was rather amazed when I told someone about a breaking headline in the news (just saw it on the TV) and he was able to show me the story on his phone in less than 30 seconds. To me that's just amazing. Therefore, for the sake of inclusion, I'll say that mobile technology is good for staying in touch, and for that sole reason, it should be something you become proficient in, even if you are a tech.

One of the largest and growing trends in the computer world, listen up here because I'm talking about the wave of the future in computing, is Embedded Operating Systems (EOS), which are already here in mobile tech, like smart phones, etc. However Windows 8 is already in the Client Preview stage as I write this today. Windows 8 will come in two variations, the Embedded OS for mobile devices, which involves Windows On Arm (WOA) and the Desktop / Notebook version which isn't embedded, meaning you can install it yourself.

Windows 7 was the last great operating system, in my honest opinion, though Windows 8 has some nice features, it's obvious to me that Microsoft wants to move away from the “Personal Computer” into a “Corporate Computer”, so you see, we are moving towards a new era in computing. One which will be dominated by Cloud Computing, or that is to say, “Software As A Service” type of programs, online. This of course was done to completely eliminate the possibility of anyone escaping to pay for programs by illegally installing pirated / hacked copies of software, including games.

That's not the only reason this was done though, but it is the primary reason, for piracy and hacking brought about a lot of changes. Essentially corporations want to ensure they get paid for their work, furthermore, they want to imitate Apple, and have something like the “Apple Store”, though they will call it different names. Rest assured the days of piracy and hacking will very soon come to an end.

Thankfully, browsers are working hard to protect our privacy, but please remember that online tracking hasn't been brought to a halt yet, moreover, IT Techs are working hard to secure servers and infrastructures to increase security and completely eliminate the possibility of “Stolen Data”, which in turn will offer even more privacy to the world abroad. For those of you who are unaware, in America, it's a Federal Law that any business which has personal customer information, they must protect that data by encryption, no exceptions.

That means if you own and run a business and you keep customer information that is personal on your computer, it must be encrypted and unreadable at all times. The best way to do this is to use a program that encrypts the data saved within it's software, making it unusable by anyone who doesn't possess the software that is specifically installed on your computer. Meaning if they cannot physically access your computer, they will never be able to read the data.

This is even more important when transmitting data through wireless technologies, too many people are unaware that hackers can read data that isn't encrypted over wireless networks. Don't think it doesn't happen, it happens all of the time, indeed hackers often hang out at libraries, trying to connect to unsuspecting people's computers. Therefore it's important to remain vigilant who or what wireless connection your computer or wireless connection is connected to.

Becoming aware of technology is critical in today's world because the bad guys are everywhere. Indeed many people are extremely talented with technologies and they will not hesitate to steal your internet connection, so it's important to ensure if you are using wireless technologies of any kind that you learn how to properly secure it. Using weak or common passwords, like the name of your animal, or your initials and/or birth year, will make you very susceptible to the bad guys.

Because part of security includes physical security, therefore you just don't want anyone walking up to your computer and able to use it, especially if thieves steal your computer. Physically protecting your computer is easy to do in the mobile world, for now they offer software solutions / technologies which can track the location of your mobile device to it's current location, meaning the cops can get the bad guys.

Moreover, locking your bios with a password is the safest way to protect your mobile device, on Notebooks and Netbooks that is, and it's very easy to do, just go into “Setup” or the “BIOS” when you first start your computer, this is achieved by pressing F2 / F10 / F12 / TAB or Delete Key when you first see the first screen that appears. Each computer is different, though F2 is common and so is the Delete Key.

It's important to set up the user accounts to install a password, I cannot count how many computers I have found that clients had, which only required you to press the power button to access everything. Granted, if you take a part a computer and remove the hard drive, Linux can enter any hard drive which isn't encrypted and access and use anything stored on that hard drive. Linux is a free software which runs from just a CD. You can find a popular distribution (version) at ubuntu.com and the best part is it works on most computer, as they have different versions, just make sure you use the 32 bit version.

I didn't tell you that to teach you how to access information on stolen hard drives, I taught you that so you can recover the data on your hard drive should your computer die. It's important to remember that, any data you don't have encrypted is data you don't care if people can read it or not. It's also very important to remember that, any data you do not have at least 3 copies of, is data you do not care if you lose. If you have ever had the unpleasant experience of a hard drive failing on you, then let me tell you, it's a really bad experience because you lose everything on your hard drive, unless of course you want to spend hundreds ($300++) to recover the data.

This is paramount because it happens to people all of the time, indeed many manufacturers put very cheap and crappy hard drives in those cheap computers they sell at the stores, so don't think it can't happen to you, I have heard countless stories of clients who went out and bought a cheap retail computer only to have the hard drive fail on them within 3 months to 3 years. One of the tell tale signs that your hard drive is failing is, your computer will lock up and freeze often, the longer it locks ups, the greater chance that the hard drive is indeed failing.

Thankfully, Ubuntu (see above), has a software called “Disc Utilities” which can tell you the state of your hard drive, if it has smart features, then it can tell you a lot about it. If the hard drive is failing, then the software will tell you this. It's very important to become versed in computers because it can save you a lot of trips to the computer store to get your computer repaired. For this reason, I educate my clients, as I am a computer tech, so that they will not have to return to get their computer fixed.

You might think that's completely insane from a business perspective, but I do it for the betterment of everyone, even myself, because I hate to take people's money because they are just too lazy to learn how to do things for themselves. I feel better as a person knowing I actively take the time to teach people how to prevent them from coming back because they have a virus or whatever reason.

For this reason I'd like to talk about internet protection, in short, so that you can at least walk away from this book knowing important things you need to know. I only teach Windows, sorry Apple lovers, you will have to turn to Apple for help. Microsoft has done some really great things as of late, they made 2 very important softwares available to everyone who has a legal copy of Windows installed on their computer.

First, they made Microsoft Security Essentials, which is a free Virus & Malware Scanner, and a very good I might add. Secondly, they made a free software called the “Microsoft Standalone System Sweeper”, you can type either name into your search bar or address bard and find the microsoft.com webpage that offers the download location. The MSSS, is a software which you use to boot from a CD or USB Drive, technical skills required, which will allow you to scan your computer should it become infected to the point that you cannot boot the computer.

Those two programs will protect your computer a lot, however, there are other solutions I must recommend, one goes a long way in provention, and that can be found at “http://winhelp2002.mvps.org/hosts.htm”, which is the official web page address for MVPS.HOST, a protective measure to block Web Advertising & Popups, and it's extremely effective I might add too. This is not something I recommend if you work for and advertising firm, which will access advertising web pages, for it will not allow you to connect to any advertising, even advertising web pages either.

Finally, the last threat, Spyware, which is where Spybot Search & Destroy (1.62 version) comes in, and this is a great piece of software, one which has served me very well for many years, use it, update it, and stay protected by scanning your computer once every 1 to 2 weeks. Though Spyware isn't really the last threat, internet hijacking is, but that's a subject best left for techs.

The most important thing you can learn is drive imaging, you can achieve this by cloning a disc, from a disc to a disc, or creating a drive image, using a software like Acronis True Image (for sale in stores or on the web). With Acronis you can backup your entire drive, either on another partition on the same drive, or to another external or internal drive. When you create a drive image, take a snapshot of where the computer is at this moment, and you can restore your computer back to that moment at any given time, indeed you can even take that image and place it on a new drive, should your old drive fail.

Which in itself is absolutely amazing, furthermore, it's extremely easy to do too. With this software you can protect your computer from the worst things that you run into online, and there is a lot out there believe me. With a proper disc image in place it only takes 3 – 30 minutes to restore your computer. Most Notebooks and Netbooks (Windows OS Computers) come with a Factory Restore Feature, often you will need to press F11 or Ctrl or Shift + F11 when the computer first starts up. With the Factory Restore, which will take longer by than an image you create, you will be able to reset your computer back to where it was when you first bought it.

I like to create an image of my clients hard drive after I fix the computer, I usually store it on the same hard drive that the operating system is installed, however you will need to shrink the drive and create a new partition, which is easy to do using Windows 7 or Vista. To shrink a drive, you will need to go to the Control Panel (see start menu) and type “admin”, which will bring up “Administrative Tools” select that, then select “Computer Management”, find “Disc management” and then right click on the drive you wish to shrink and select “Shrink Volume”. In the very same place you will be able to create a new volume by right click on the drive you want to change as well.

If you have a backup, after you install internet & computer Protection, update Windows (very time consuming sometimes), and have all of your software installed, it makes it virtually painless to rewind the clock back to when your computer became inoperable, and fixing your computer becomes a snap, because 90% of the time, most issues that come up will be software related! Hardware either works or it doesn't, generally when hardware fails, you will not be able to start the computer, the BIOS (Basic Input Output System) will often either display something in white lettering on a black screen or simply show a black screen, and often you will hear beeping sounds (not always).

Now that you have had a crash course in computers, though nothing advanced mind you, you would do well to take the time to spend a few hours with a good computer tech or online in forums to read up about computer repair and “how to” guides, because the internet is stock full of great websites to help you with whatever you need. I personally write on “overclock.net”, though also “tomshardware.com” is a great place to ask technical questions to techs or tech savvy people out there on the internet.

Learning to connect with online communities, learn, and stay up to date with “Need to know” information is very critical in your daily life using technology. Staying “In The Know” in the computer world is important if you want to get job that utilizes computers, for many administrative, secretarial, and office jobs require you to be “In The Know” when it comes to computers. Many companies want their office staff to be somewhat technically savvy, and the internet is definitely stock full of material to bring you up to date, like this article for instance!

Leaving the fundamentals about computers, I'd like to talk about newer technologies, like the SSD, which if you haven't learned much about, it's high time you did! A SSD, that means Solid State Drive, is a newer type of hard drive, though it's been out for years now, which doesn't have mechanical parts like a Hard Disc Drive. The SSD is an extremely fast hard drive, installing one in your mobile computer will make your computer cold boot up in seconds (8 – 12 seconds!) and in the case that you close the lid on your Notebook / Netbook, the computer will come on instantly when you open the lid, which is very nice.

I have to warn you though, Solid State Drives (SSD or SSDs) are not cheap, however, recently HDD (hard disc drives) recently have risen in price dramatically, which in turn made purchasing a SSD more considerable. You definitely want at least a 120 GB SSD, a 64 GB SSD might work if all you do is get on the internet and do not plan on installing a lot of software, otherwise a 120 GB is highly recommended.

I won't go name dropping on which brand to buy and which to avoid, because every month it seems one company will produce a better SSD, which is frightening. Nevertheless, currently the companies OCZ and Crucial make some very high quality SSDs. You definitely want to read up about installing a SSD, it's probably best to take it to a tech shop and have them install it unless you do not mind spending hours setting one up, though if you understand how to clone a disc they are very simple to do!

It's best to install Windows fresh on a SSD, make sure you have the ACHI option mode set under “Storage Configuration”, instead of IDE mode, in your BIOS before you install Windows, this way Windows knows to install and setup ACHI, which in turn will produce faster performance. If I lost you there, do not fret, just follow the advice above, and take your computer to a technically savvy person or a computer store, they will be happy to install it for you, and they shouldn't charge too much. It shouldn't take them more than an hour or two if they know what they are doing, always ask for a quote or estimate before you let them do it!

Many people are somewhat computer savvy, but many are not, and the only way to get there is to pick up computer books or search for information online and learn, if you aren't learned in technology then you should focus on becoming so, because the benefits are immense! I know many small business owners that crave high tech savvy people on their team, especially if they have good customer service and sales skills, though not required, you should focus strong in becoming technically savvy with software like SAP & Microsoft Office, these are very common in the Corporate world.

SAP is one of the biggest ones to be good at, because you can pretty much write your own ticket in the tech world if you master SAP, while mastering Microsoft Office may land you a good job in the office, do not expect to make a lot of money just because you know Microsoft Office good. If a job is not your thing, like your an Entrepreneur, like me, then learning computer skills is paramount for many reasons, mainly though, in the world of business, computers are everywhere, and while they are great and all, they still need computer users to be worth the parts that make them what they are.

Leaving the importance of learning about computers and software, I'd like to take the time to talk about purchasing a retail computer and more specifically about hardware, so that you can come up to date in that department. When it comes to purchasing a retail computer, for many people, it's about price, while some may be able to afford a $1,000 computer, many others cannot, therefore I will be talking about making the wisest choice based upon value vs performance, rather than other factors, like name brand.

When we look at Intel's Core i3, Core i5, and Core i7 processors, we see that Intel has gone out of their way to provide the computer world with some of the finest processors to date. The Core i5 processor holds the most value, but if you are looking for something more affordable the Core i3 is without a doubt a strong processor. The processor is the brain of the computer, and the better it is, the better the computer will work, overall.

I don't want to be biased and only talk about Intel processors, because in the mobile world AMD makes some very good processors indeed! However for the Desktop world, no other processor beats to the Core i7, that is if you want the best performance. However price is a factor you will need to consider, because the Core i7 is not a cheap CPU, indeed the hexacore (6 core) i7 cost quite a bit indeed ($500 - $1,000). For the mainstream or general public, an i3 or i5 will serve your needs quite well indeed!

Dual core (1 Processor with 2 Cores) processors are a blast from the past, now quad-cores (1 Processor with 4 Cores) is the processor of choice by many computer professionals. A quad-core computer will, without a doubt, provide a great computing experience and provide you with all of the computing power you need. One thing you should be aware of though is “Hyper Threading”, which is a processor with multiple threads, which are not cores, meaning a processor can have 4 cores with 8 threads, which is what the i7 has, or 2 cores with 4 threads, which is what the i3 has.

I say you should be aware because “Hyper Threading” is not equivalent to cores, because the more cores a processor has the better. A processor with 4 cores and 8 threads will generally only provide 20-30% more performance over a processor with just 4 cores. When you look at the cost of the i7 vs the i5, you see that the i5 is a better choice, value wise, though an i3, which is a dual core with 4 threads, offers more than enough performance for most computers users out there today, which is why it makes a very great mobile computer processor indeed!

When it comes to processors, the main thing you want to look at is cores, you definitely want at least a dual core, a single core processor is far too slow in today's computer world. Indeed even a dual core may not serve your needs if you plan on playing the latest games on the market, or desire to do processor intensive task like compression, video encoding, or other things which use a lot of the processor's power. I recommend at least a quad core computer processor if you plan on doing anything beyond the basics in computing, the experience you will get from a quad core computer will leave you realizing just how far along computers have come.

When it comes to RAM, that is how much memory your computer has, 2 – 4 GB is plenty in most cases, more than that is considered overkill unless you really need it. Do not go choosing a computer based upon how much RAM it has, as long as it has at least 2 GB, if not 4 GB, then you are just fine. The second thing that matters, to many people, is the size of the monitor, for this reason it's important to use a higher quality HD Monitor, that is a 22-27” monitor that offers 1920x1080p resolution.

The native resolution of a display can be learned by either asking a store sales person or right clicking on the desktop, in an unused area, and selecting “properties”, and the selecting “Display” on the left. Today many standard on-board video adapters, APUs, or basic video components will display 1080p HD resolution just fine, however if the computer seems rather sluggish in video, then avoid it completely!

If you want higher quality video, then ask the sale representative for a recommendation based upon video performance, if you plan on gaming though, most likely you will need to get a dedicated graphics card installed in your Desktop. I say desktop, because in all honesty, gaming on a laptop (Notebook) is clearly not the same as gaming on a Desktop, a desktop will produce a much better result, furthermore, laptops cannot play all of the latest games at good settings. Moreover, laptops get rather hot, and that's not good for the longevity of your laptop to be gaming on it, not to mention gaming on a laptop is a rather mute point if you are using it on a battery, you will not be able to game very long with it unplugged from the wall outlet.

I love monitor real estate, meaning I want the largest monitor possible without dropping a paycheck on the monitor, 23” monitors are affordable and are very high quality today, however 27” monitors are becoming more and more affordable every day. Hopefully, prices will continue to fall on monitors for many years to come, but don't bank on that. Indeed, many believe the cost of computers will rise significantly over the next year.

Once hard disc drives increased significantly in price, I'd have to say there is a lot of truth to that belief, truly. There is new technology on the way, and the industry is shifting away from “Cheap” moving more towards “Quality & Performance”, which in turn is increasing the price of computers as a whole, for processors aren't really cheap anymore. Indeed you really cannot find cheap computer parts for desktops, even the cheapest computer system you can build is around $400 - $500, depending upon the parts you put within.

For this reason, if you are going to spend the money to build your own computer, I'd highly recommend you save up around $800 - $1,200, so you can get the higher quality parts that you want. It would make no sense to spend $400 on computer parts only to see the computer parts fail on you, do your research and buy reliable quality parts.

When it comes to mobile computers though, you are pretty much stuck with what you get, there really is little choices to be had, other than the processors, and size of the monitor or screen. Where as the desktops there are many options, like a TV Tuner, a high quality Video Card, overclocking (turning up the speed of the processor), and many other options. This is why many people prefer a desktop over a laptop, along with the greater performance you can obtain vs a mobile computer.

I think I've done a fair job of covering most of the basics, newer technology, and where we are today, though there is probably a lot more to be told, and I didn't really plan on lingering too long on this subject, as it's not overly important as seeking out your own education on these subjects, especially in the area of technologies available. For every few days something new comes out it seems like, and staying on top of it all can be a lot of work, more hours than you care to spend, truly.

Edited by _GTech - 3/22/12 at 7:43am
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