Malware doesn’t usually sit idly on a computer; it will run as a background process behind windows where you cant see it. From there, it can monitor your activity and start throwing pop-ups. The first place to check to see if you have malware is through the Task Manager.

If you aren’t familiar with the Task Manager, it is one of the most powerful utilities Windows has to offer. You can access it by pressing Ctrl+Shift+Esc or by right clicking on the task bar and selecting “Task Manager”.

Once there, you will have all of your system’s applications, services and processes (they are different) at your fingertips. The Applications tab shows you currently running programs that you can see ie. Microsoft Word, Google Chrome etc. The Processes tab shows you all of the software that your computer is using in the background of your Applications. This is where you want to look.

From here, you can see the Process ID, Memory Usage, CPU Usage and a description of the process itself. You can sort by these  values to either list the processes alphabetically or by the amount of resources used. I find it most useful to sort by Memory Usage if your computer is running slowly.

Most processes developed by reputable manufacturers will have a full, and ‘well written’ description that succinctly describes the process’ function. Your first cause for concern is a process without a description or one that is extremely limited. Note, sometimes a valid and reputable process wont have a description. Now its time to Google it! Simply search for the name of the process in question and you will no doubt find dozens of websites that carefully evaluate the process’ reputation.

Lets say that you see a process running called “Hijack.exe”. It has no publisher information and its description is also empty. Upon searching for Hijack.exe you find that thousands of people have identified this as malware. What do you do from here?

First off, end the process. Simply select it and click End Process/End Task. From there, you should run an antivirus scan. If, somehow, your antivirus doesn’t detect it you should open up a Run Dialog with Win+R and type in MSCONFIG.EXE and press enter. Once there, navigate to startup items and make sure that Hijack.exe is not listed in your startup items. (On Windows 8, Startup Items is also in your Task Manager).

Next, restart your computer and get yourself some new antivirus!

Task Manager is an extremely powerful tool that should be used with caution. Some processes are critical to windows functionality and stopping them can lead to the dreaded BLUE SCREEN OF DEATH. Google is your friend, and so is the task manager. Become familiar with your normal process IDs so that you can immediately identify a suspicious/malicious one.

If you have any questions, feel free to comment or give us a call at the office! =)

 

The most common complaint of any computer user is that their system is “too slow!” We, at netEffx, would like to provide some suggestions to speed up your older computers.

First of all, any utility on the web that purports to “Speed up your PC” is lying and will likely give you a virus. Almost all the tools you need to speed up your computer are already on it.

  • Startup Items
    • Problem: When you start up your computer, Windows will look at the list of “startup items” and attempt to launch them all before letting you do anything. This could cause extremely long boot up times and can bog down a system for as few as 30 seconds to as long as 30 minutes.
    • Solution: Simultaneously press the Windows Key + R to bring up the “Run Window” Then type in msconfig and click ‘run’. Next, go to the Startup tab. Go through the list of items and place a check in the box next to the items you do not wish to start up with your computer. This comes with a great deal of discretion on your part. By disabling on startup, you are not removing the software, you can start it whenvever you want. It will simply not be automatically started for you. NOTE: some of these items are very important for proper functionality of Windows. Do not disable any items that are published by Intel, Microsoft, Synaptic, Realtek, or your Antivirus provider. 
  • Disk Space
    • Problem: Windows uses your free disk space as a ‘speed booster’ when that space is used up, Windows will have less to work with and as such, your computer’s responsiveness will suffer.
    • Solution: Open My Computer (Windows 7) / Explorer (Windows 7&8) and right click on your primary drive–usually the C: Drive. Then click “Properties”. You will see a lot of technical information and a pie chart. Next to that Pie Chart will be a button that says Disk Cleanup. Click on that. You can safely check all the boxes and then click Ok. This will delete the temporary information that Windows has held on to and empty the Recycle Bin.
    • Additionally, its a good idea to go through your computer and clear it out from time to time. Empty out your Downloads Folder; delete unnecessary files and folders; uninstall programs that you no longer need or use.
  • Registry
    • Problem: Windows keeps track of all of its programs, functions, settings and features in its Registry. Imagine it to be a big instruction book. When you get your computer for the first time, that instruction book may only be 10 pages long. After 4-5 years, that instruction book will be the size of an ancient tome. Forcing Windows to look through such a big ‘book’ is going to slow it down.
    • Solution: Go online and download the utility CCleaner. *I know I already told you not to use the internet but CCleaner is one of the most useful utilities available and is worth having on your computer.* Once it downloads, run the installer and start up the program. The free version has slightly less features but will serve the required purpose. On the left side you will see options for Cleaner and Registry. Cleaner will do essentially what Disk Cleanup did. Click on Registry then click “Scan for Issues” and let it Scan. Once finished, click “Fix selected issues…” It will prompt you to Backup Changes to the registry, click YES and save to desktop. Once it finishes clearing, scan again and fix again. You don’t have to back up your registry again. Repeat until no issues are found.
  • Malware
    • Problem: Malware can do terrible things to your machine if left unchecked.
    • Solution: Go online (again) and download the free version of MalwareBytes. When you install, uncheck “Free Trial of Malwarebytes Premium”. (If you leave it checked, it will relentlessly remind you to purchase the upgrade.) Once it installs, run a Custom Scan on your hard drive. Be sure to check “Scan for Rootkits” on the left side. This is a lengthy process and can be left alone while it runs. You can continue work as usual. Once it finishes, click “Apply Actions” and reboot once it finishes cleaning. It never hurts to run a second scan after rebooting!
  • Antivirus
    • Problem: Antivirus can (ironically enough) be extremely invasive and slow down your computer more than malware!
    • Solution:  If you have, Norton Antivirus, AVG Antivirus, Kaspersky Antivirus or McAfee Antivirus, uninstall them and replace with a light weight alternative. These include Webroot, Malwarebytes or Avast*. Make sure that you cancel whatever subscription you may be paying for so that you don’t get billed. *Note Avast can be light weight and was the best in the recent past but has lately gotten more cumbersome.

Be advised that there is an inherit risk in modifying/deleting system files. Please use caution when performing any of these maintenance procedures. The information contained in this post is for general information purposes only. We make no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, about the completeness, accuracy, reliability, suitability or availability with respect to the content on this website.

 

Introspection: What type of computer user are you? Are you a creator or are you a consumer? Creators of content are going to require very different hardware than a consumer of content.

If you are a consumer of content  you aren’t going to need the fastest or most powerful laptop. Your needs are going to be fulfilled by a high-quality screen and easy usability.

Consumers:

If you are in this category, you might be best suited for a tablet/laptop hybrid. Most manufacturers have at least one 2-in-1 option available and reputable manufacturers like Dell, HP, ASUS or Lenovo are the best places to look for purchasing such a device.

Amazon and other online retailers are excellent sources for user reviews of products. Research each option thoroughly to find which one is most highly rated by users.

Specifications to look out for include: high-resolution screen (1080p or better), hybrid design (detachable keyboard for example), touch based interface, Solid-State-Drive (SSD).

*NOTE: Most laptops/netbooks/2-in-1 devices do not have an optical drive anymore. If you plan on watching DVDs or installing software from a disk, make sure to purchase a laptop with an optical drive or plan on purchasing an external optical drive.

Creators:

‘Creator’ is a broad category with a variety of different types of needs but as a baseline: people in this category should look at ultrabooks and laptops. As of February 2015, you should look for machines that have a minimum of 8GB of RAM (16 is better), a SSD, and at least a 2.4 Ghz i5 CPU with an i7 being a better long term investment.

Depending on the content you intend to create, you might have more specific needs. Graphics intensive work will necessitate a dedicated Graphics Card (GPU) with at least 2GB of VRAM. Graphics work also tends to require more disk space, which would mean a larger SSD. Alternatively, you could get an external drive*.

Peripherals:

Useful additions to any laptop include:

Mini-Display Port, Thunderbolt Port, HDMI Port, USB 3.0 Support, SD Card reader.

 

Decision time:

An Average Consumer laptop should look something like this:

  • Intel i3 2.0Ghz CPU
  • 128 GB SSD
  • 8GB 1600 Mhz DDR3 SDRAM
  • 13-15.6″ 1080P Screen

An Average Creator laptop should look something like this:

  • Intel i5 2.6Ghz CPU
  • Nvidia 730M w/ 2GBs VRAM
  • Intel 256 GB SSD
  • 8GB 1600Mhz DDR3 SDRAM
  • 15.6″ 1080p Screen

A Powerful Creator laptop should look something like this:

  • Intel i7 3.4Ghz CPU
  • Nvidia 760M w/ 2Gbs VRAM
  • Intel 512GB SSD
  • 16GB 1600Mhz DDR3 SDRAM
  • 17.1″ 1080P Screen.

 

Of course it goes without saying that netEffx technicians would be happy to answer any of your questions (no question is a bad question) and are ready and able to build your specific computer.

 

*If you purchase a laptop with a small SSD and have a Thunderbolt or USB 3.0 port, you can effectively use an external drive to increase your computer’s storage capacity.

When Apple released the iPad in 2010, they were ridiculed. No one expected there to be any need for a giant iPhone without any calling ability. Since then, the tablet market has exploded. Every major tech manufacturer from ASUS to Dell are manufacturing tablets modeled after the iPad.

Rewind 5-10 years and you will see a market of mobile computing that is emerging called ‘netbooks’. Designed to be low profile, lightweight laptops for highly mobile individuals (not unlike tablets). These devices were, and to some extent, still are, extremely low power, tiny form-form factor computers. The netbook market struggled for traction 5 years ago, and it continues to struggle today.

netbook

Tablets overtook the netbook world due to their attractive, simple design, touch screen interface and portability.
If you ask anyone in the mobile tech industry what their thoughts on tablets are, they will likely give you one of two responses; enthusiastically negative or enthusiastically positive. There is a pretty big gap between these two camps. Some see tablets as simple, powerful computers that fulfill their (minimal) computing needs. Others see them as redundant, larger versions of their phones that lack the functionality of a full computer.

As an owner of an Apple iPad and a previous owner of a Google Nexus 7 I find myself in the latter camp. I use my iPad for less and less every day. It simply doesn’t have the customizability or functionality of a computer; nor does it have the convenience of a phone. It sits awkwardly between the two, unsure of what its role should be.
That said, I don’t think this is a problem with tablets as a class; I think that this entire problem revolves around our mentality that a tablet should have a mobile OS, like iOS. In keeping with the Apple ‘ecosystem’, one cannot install OSX apps on an iPad. You can’t save documents to your desktop, there are no folders. You are locked into this ethereal state of app-jumping.

If only there was a middle ground. Something that took the small form factor, touch screen and low profile of a tablet, but the power and functionality of a mobile computer.

Enter the Microsoft Surface Pro 2 and 3.

Surface Pro 3

The Surface is incredible. It is a lightweight, touchscreen device in the shape of a tablet but it packs the hardware of a midrange desktop computer AND has a fully featured Windows 8.1 (soon to be Windows 10) installation on it.
Not only do you have a full Windows OS loaded where you can install any Windows program, you get to use Windows 8.1 as it was meant to be used—with your hands. If that wasn’t enough for you, it also comes with a USB port, a MicroSD expansion port and a connector to hook up a very well designed and fully qualified keyboard.
I firmly believe that the Surface is the future of mobile computing. Computing power is going to always be increasing, we have to match that power with user ability. That cannot be achieved through a mobile OS. A simplified OS has its place in small devices like phones or media players. But a mobile computing device like a tablet, deserves a qualified OS like Windows 8.1(10).

We at netEffx will be acquiring a Surface Pro 3 to conduct more extensive trials in the coming week. Stay tuned for more information on them and other new Microsoft Tech!