Sunday, December 29, 2013

Can a SSD deliver CPR to an old computer?

In a number of my prior tech posts, I have noted that my greatest discontent with laptops and computers in general is the boot up time.  In contrast, I can turn my iPad or Android phone on and in seconds be searching the internet to resolve my latest curiosity.  However, when it comes to any serious typing neither Android nor iPad can compete with a good old fashioned QWERTY keyboard.  My speedy dual core test computer died, leaving me with "old faithful" a single core, Vista operating system machine that I had purchased new from Walmart back when sub-$300 computers were beginning to be all the rage.  This particular model is the CQ60-410WM.  Some may be shocked to hear me say that it has been one of my best buys - the screen is nice and bright, the keyboard has a nice feel and is responsive with a separate number pad to the side and it even came with 3 GB of RAM, but it can be slow and boot ups and shut downs are particularly painful.  My boot up time on this machine into the original Vista operating system runs a little over a minute and the shut down sometimes runs even longer.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

4 Reasons to use Styles in Microsoft Word and a quick "how to"

Microsoft Word has many bells and whistles - sometimes I think too many.  Styles is one feature that I have found worthy to learn and use regularly.  Styles are simply pre-configured formats (such as font, size, color) for common elements (such as titles, bold / emphasis, headings, etc.) that are found in documents.  While you can customize styles, I tend to use the out of the box Styles within Word as this makes it very simple in environments where editing documents is often done by numerous individuals.  It is easy to use Styles in Word and you will find that it is a quick way to create very professional looking documents.  Here are my 4 reasons to use Styles:

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Merry Christmas to me...

The post Thanksgiving shopping binge has kicked off.  Did you pick yourself up something nice on Black Friday?  I hope you did.

Several years ago at our family Christmas, I (somewhat jokingly and somewhat not) suggested that instead of exchanging gifts each year, we should discontinue the practice and everybody should just buy themselves something nice and then at the get together we can all tell each other what we got.  Well this idea didn't exactly take off, but I'm pleased to report that we did restore some sanity to the madness and all agreed to limit gifting to buying gifts for the kids only.  I'm also pleased to report that since we've instituted the practice our Christmas joy has not diminished...

Sunday, December 8, 2013

How NOT to sell a laptop on Craig's list

I've been in the market for a good used computer and Craig's list is the number one destination for this type of purchase.  I never cease to be amazed at some of the postings.  These "how not to" tips are based upon actual current postings in the Albany, NY Craig's list.

1. Find the craziest background to keep them guessing...

Sunday, December 1, 2013

4 Laptop buying tips and more

Tablets are great for browsing, but when it comes to working with data a computer with a keyboard is still essential and currently this is likely to be a laptop.  I have purchased and worked on a wide array of laptops and there have been both hits and misses.  The great news for those shopping for a laptop is that since tablets are now getting the spotlight, there are some great buying opportunities to get a great deal on a laptop.

1.  Determine your budget AND stick to it:  Unfortunately for many, the "budget" is a moving target and there are many obstacles that have the potential to sabotage your plans.  Maybe you think you will save some money and buy used, but then find out later that you really need more memory or a bigger hard drive and quickly climb back to where you would have been if you had just bought new.  Or maybe you decide to save money with a used laptop, but then find that you need to buy and install an operating system or other software.  On the other hand, you may decide going with a new laptop is for you and as you excitedly exit the check out line are hit with that standard "would you like to purchase the extended warranty" question...whoops there goes that budget!

2.  Write it down:  Think through your purchase.  What is important to you?  For me, I like a nice large screen for old fart eyes.  I also like a nice touch keyboard - no squishy pad for me, please.  I also have a camera that uses an SD card so a built in card reader would be a plus.  Some folks may travel in which case battery life, size and weight may be a priority.  If you have a current laptop, it might be worthwhile to write down what you like about it and what you don't.

3.  Research:  Use the Internet.  Get familiar with what the specs mean at least on a global level - know what RAM is, what are typical sizes for hard drives, which processors are better, etc.  Also, check on what buyers are saying about their experiences with the seller.  Check out those advertised computers, but use some caution.  Try to get the exact model number.  There are many laptops with variations and a slight difference in model number may be meaningful.  Also, some manufacturers, notably Dell, often build to order so there is much variance from one computer to another although the model number is the same.

While Internet research is important, you should also do some "hands on" research.  Go to the stores, lift the laptop, feel the keyboard, open and close the lid examine the screen resolution.  There is no substitute for feeling that the fit is right for you.

4.  New or Used:  As I indicated in my opening, due to tablets receiving a large spotlight, there are opportunities to find great deals on new laptops.  For new laptops, consider the vendor - not all are created equal.  Some are simply better to work with if issues arise.  If you are a laptop novice or just want a "guarantee," then new is the way for you to go.

There are some great deals out there on used laptops as well.  Used laptops (or electronics in general) require some special consideration as there are some extra risks such as:
a.  It is likely an "as is" sale.  Some issues with electronics are not easy to spot.

b.  Cigarette or other smoking sellers.  Unfortunately, computers draw air through the components using fans and offensive smoke can and will be drawn into your computer.  This is something you may not think about until you get your bargain home and then end up dreading turning it on due to it spewing second hand air your way.

c.  Is it stolen?  Look for indicators - Is the seller too eager?  Is the deal too good to be true?  What is the motive for the seller to sell?

d. Ask for Restore Disks: I recommend this for two reasons. First, if the individual took the time to burn restore disks, it may suggest that they cared about the computer and took good care of it. Second, having restore disks will make your life much easier - there is no need to scramble for a legal copy of an operating system and it is a nice way to get rid of potential files (and even malware) that may be on the machine.
These are substantial risks so I look for the savings difference to be commensurate with these risks.  When calculating the savings, do your research to make sure you are paying today's prices.  A computer may have sold for $600 a year ago when it was new, but similar new computers may be selling for $500 this year.  If you buy it for $450, you didn't save $150, you only saved $50 and was that worth foregoing a warranty?  Maybe not.

Your laptop quest should be fun, but be careful not to get caught up in the excitement and be prepared to walk away from a deal if it doesn't feel right to you.