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How to Protect Your PC from Springtime Threats

Power Surge

Spring time is upon us.  Sunny days and warmer temperatures invite us to enjoy the great outdoors.  But the spring season also brings with it the threat of storms, power outages, and damaging lightning.

Thus, it is important to consider how you can protect your computers from these destructive events and the associated expensive repair bills or insurance claims.

Power surges, sudden power outages and lightning strikes can cause a variety of computer problems.   These events can weaken or completely damage computer hardware, such as the power supply or motherboard.  When hardware is damaged, many times the computer will either not turn on or load the Windows operating system.

Other times, these events can cause issues with the operating system or other software programs.  If a computer is on when the power suddenly goes out, the computer immediately shuts off and does not shut down in a proper way.  This can cause corruption of important files that run your computer.  The computer may not load into Windows or error messages may appear as a result.

Loss of data files is another potential danger of power surges, power outages and lightning strikes.  You could lose all of that information you just typed into a Word document if your computer suddenly shuts off while you were creating that document.

The best way to protect your computer from these threats is to connect your computer components – the tower, monitor, printer and any other peripherals – to a battery backup UPS.  These UPS devices are designed to shield your computer against three different power problems –something that regular power strips cannot do:

  1. Voltage surges, spikes and sags.  Throughout a normal day, electrical voltages coming into your home or being passed through your electrical outlets may increase or decrease.  These mostly undetectable changes can damage sensitive computer equipment over time.
  2. Total power failure.  A complete loss of power due to a wide scale power outage or a blown breaker can damage your computer, as discussed above.  A UPS device switches over to battery power for up to 15 to 20 minutes, allowing you plenty of time to save your files and power off your computer.  A UPS can also automatically initiate a proper shutdown of your computer if you are not home.
  3. Frequency differences.  Power typically oscillates at 60 Hertz.  A UPS device can detect if the oscillation is higher or lower and can correct the frequency being passed to connected devices.

The UPS also allows you time to properly shut down your computer should you lose regular power.  You will be able to save any documents that you were working on and to close programs you were using.

Many UPS devices also include a protected equipment warranty ranging from $5,000 to $75,000 or more.  While manufacturer policies vary, these warranties generally will reimburse you for repair or replacement of equipment if they are damaged while those components are properly connected to the UPS device.

It is best to consult with a trusted computer professional to determine the appropriate type and size of battery backup UPS will adequately protect your computer system.  For most home users, a 550VA battery backup will suffice.  Our general-use recommended battery backup can be found here: http://amzn.to/IKGew8

Buying and implementing a UPS battery backup, though, is not a one-time event.  We recommend replacing the UPS at least every three years.

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Use the Web to Plan Your Summer Vacation

Summer Vacation

Summertime!  It’s the perfect season for making a getaway from the daily hustle and bustle of life.

The Internet is a great resource for planning a short weekend road trip or a full-scale family vacation.  With gas prices once again nearing record highs, the web can help you find creative ways to save money on your upcoming travels.

All major airlines and hotels have websites that allow you to plan an entire trip – everything from travel to accommodations to daily excursions.  But these sites may not offer you the best value or variety.

For adventurous vacationers who like to explore various parts of the country (or world), Groupon Getaways serves up unique weekend travel deals at huge discounts.  For example, a recent search found a two-night stay for two-adults at the Palms Place at the Palms in Las Vegas for only $169.  Another offer was for a 4-night stay for four at the Blue Ridge Village Resort for $259.  Groupon’s deals change frequently and do come with some limitations, but it may be worth checking out.  (Visit www.groupon.com/getaways.)

The State of Indiana offers a searchable trip planner for those who like to stay close to home.  You can search the type of activities you enjoy, such as family fun, outdoor recreation and sports, romantic retreats, and art and cultural.  Then you can choose where in the state you would like to explore.  (Visit http://www.in.gov/visitindiana/tripplanner/trips.aspx.)

Google is also your friend when it comes to choosing a getaway or vacation.  If you’re thinking of visiting a certain city or area, type in “visit yourdestination name” (such as visit Nashville TN).  You’ll discover many websites that provide visitor guides, nearby attractions, upcoming events and festivals, as well as hotels and restaurants.

Another good search term to use in Google is “things to do near (city and state)”.  Again, you will find many websites filled with information on activities and events to enjoy near a specific destination.

We would love to hear from YOU as you travel this summer.  Please feel free to email us pictures and descriptions of places you’ve visited and activities you’ve done.  We may share them in a future column or in our monthly e-newsletter.  Our email address is info@calibre-cs.com.

Happy trails!

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Are you guilty of this computer “crime”?

External Hard Drive

Your computer.  It’s an important part of your life.  Each day you use it to communicate with family and friends by email or Facebook, stay current on news and other events at your favorite websites, and print letters or other documents.  You may also copy pictures from your digital camera or smart phone and store them on your computer.

The one seemingly insignificant device you use every day holds the only copy of some of your most important information – pictures, music, letters, email addresses, family history, and more.

But most computer users are guilty of not backing up the files on their computer.  They never imagine that all of those items could be forever lost without warning and in just a click of a button.

Why should you back up?

The first reason you should back up your files is because computer hard drives fail 100 percent of the time.  It’s a matter of WHEN not IF.  As one person has said, “There are only two types of hard drives – the ones that have failed and the ones that will fail.”

Hard drives, where all of your files are stored on your computer, contain moving parts.  Over time, those moving parts wear out and fail.  If it is a catastrophic physical failure, it may be impossible for any files to be recovered from the hard drive.

With the recent surge in virus infections attacking computers, a second reason to back up your files is to protect them from being lost due to a nasty virus infection.  Sometimes a virus infection is so bad that the only way to remove it is to permanently erase everything on your hard drive and reinstall the operating system and programs.  Without a backup, all of your important files could be forever lost.

Third, performing regular backups allows you to recover a file that was accidentally deleted.  We’ve all done it – erased a file or folder from our computer thinking we didn’t need it any longer.  Then a day or so later, we realize we do need that file.  A good backup allows you to retrieve the last saved version of that file or folder.

Finally, backups protect your files in the event of a natural disaster, fire, or someone stealing your computer.  Recently, one of our clients brought in her laptop and had us perform our data backup service.  She called us about three weeks later thanking us for backing up her files to DVD because someone had broken into her house and stolen her laptop.  Without the backup we performed, she would have forever lost important documents and pictures.

What should you back up?

Although every person uses their computer for different purposes, there are some common things you should regularly back up:

  • Your email addresses – think of how long it would take to gather and re-enter those again
  • Your list of favorite websites stored in your web browser
  • Pictures saved on your computer (typically in the My Pictures folder)
  • All your documents, such as recipes, letters and spreadsheets (typically in the My Documents folder)
  • Your downloaded music files from iTunes (typically in the My Music folder)
  • Financial information from programs like Quicken, Microsoft Money or QuickBooks
  • Family tree information from programs like Family Tree Maker

How should you back up your files?

Backing up your files simply means keeping a copy of them in a separate location in the event of an emergency.  It is NOT wise to keep both copies of your files in the same place.  It is recommended that you have two backups on two different types of media in two physically different places.

One way to back up your files is to burn them to CD or DVD.  Most computers come with a CD/DVD burner installed, as well as software that allows you to copy your files to discs.  This method of backup is relatively inexpensive and very reliable.  The downside is that it can be time-consuming if you have a large number of files.

Another method of backing up your files is to copy them to an external hard drive.  The external hard drive connects to your PC by a USB cable.  Then you can manually copy the files from your computer to the external hard drive.  You can also purchase and install software that will automate the backup process for you.

If you have a high-speed Internet connection, a good method of backing up your files is to use an online backup service.  Your important files are automatically and regularly copied from your computer to their secure servers over the Internet.

Although it’s easy and cheap, do not use USB flash drives (also called thumb drives) as your primary backup device.  These devices are not designed for long-term storage.

Don’t wait to think about backing up your computer until it’s too late.  I’ve had the unpleasant job of breaking the bad news to clients that we are unable to save any of their files because their hard drive had failed, only to learn that they had not performed any backups.

Call us at Calibre Computer Solutions to protect your important files by setting up a reliable, inexpensive backup solution.

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9 Tips to Keep Your Computer Running Smoothly

Happy computers = happy people

Wouldn’t you agree that it’s very frustrating when your computer doesn’t work the way it should?  All you want to do is sit down, check your email or Facebook, or enjoy a few minutes playing solitaire – without becoming stressed out by an uncooperative computer.

Your computer is very similar to your car.  It requires regular, basic maintenance to help keep it running smoothly and more error-free.  It’s not a set-it-up and forget-it device like your home DVD player.

While performing regular maintenance on your computer does not mean it will never break or experience problems, it does reduce the chance of a more serious problem occurring and causing you major headaches or expensive repair bills.

Daily Tasks

1)     Back-up your data files.  If you create documents, manage your finances, or store pictures or music on your computer, you should back up your files every day.  This can be done by copying them to a DVD, an external hard drive, or USB flash drive.

2)     Perform virus scans.  Virus infections cause most of the problems people experience with their computers.  Installing a quality antivirus program, such as VIPRE Antivirus, and scanning your computer daily will help keep your computer healthy.

Weekly Tasks

1)     Install updates.  Software manufacturers release updates to fix problems with their software.  You should install Microsoft or Windows updates, Java, Adobe Flash Player, and Adobe Reader updates when you are notified that they are ready to be installed.

Each of these software programs has a distinctive icon or dialog box that will alert you that updates are ready to be installed.  These icons generally appear in the bottom right corner of your screen near the clock.  Download our update guide at http://www.calibre-cs.com/immunize.

2)     Reboot your computer.  If you leave your computer on all the time, you should shut down and restart your computer at least once or twice a week.  This helps clear the memory and allow the computer to operate faster.

Monthly Tasks

1)     Remove junk files.  As you use your computer for browsing the Internet, installing and uninstalling programs, and other tasks, unnecessary files begin to fill up your hard drive.  These files eventually slow down your computer.
The easiest way to remove all these files at one time is to use a free software called CCleaner.  It can be downloaded from http://www.calibre-cs.com/free.

2)     Run disk check.  This process examines the health of your hard disk, detecting and fixing potential problems before they happen.

To run a disk check, click on the Start button and select Run.  In the box, type CMD and click OK.  In the black window that appears, type:  chkdsk c: /f.  Then restart the computer.

3)     Defragment your hard drive.  Each time you use your computer, files get accessed by various programs.  When the program is finished using a particular file, it doesn’t always put it back in the same place it found it.  This causes your computer to run slower.
To run the defragment utility, click on the Start button.  Then choose All Programs > Accessories > System Tools > Disk Defragmenter.  When the program opens, click on Defragment Now.  (See http://www.microsoft.com/atwork/maintenance/speed.aspx#3 for more information.)

Every 6 Months

Computers attract dust, dirt, and animal hair.  This can cause problems, as it clogs up the fans inside your computer and can cause heat to build up and damage the critical components of your computer.

Turn off your computer and unplug it from the power outlet.  Open the computer case and gently blow out any dust with a can of compressed air.  You can also brush off any dust or animal hair from the outside of the case.  You may also want to blow out your keyboard with the compressed air.

Yearly Tasks

If you’re performing the preceding maintenance on your computer, it should run faster and more error-free.  However, it’s always a good idea to have a computer professional perform a more in-depth tune-up once a year.

A quality tune-up service will check all of your computer’s hardware for potential problems, uninstall unnecessary software programs, and clean the registry (something that should NEVER be done by a home user).

Performing these simple maintenance tips on a regular basis will keep your computer healthy and running smoothly.