Thursday, April 24, 2008

Ed Bott Fixing Vista one PC at a Time.

Ed Bott Windows expert and Vista blogger extraordinaire, recently took on a friends Sony Vaio laptop computer. It seems his friend bought this machine shortly after Vista released. The laptop was a replacement for a older Sony laptop, that had been stolen. Apparently when the friend used the machine a few times it quickly became a nightmare. Boot times for the $2500 Sony were in the 3 minute time frame, that is insane, I bought a $599 Gateway with a relatively modestly powered AMD machine for one of my kids that boots in around a minute. The report continued on to indicate that performance once booted was equally disappointing. The friend eventually became disgusted, put the Sony in a closet and bought a MacBook.

Enter Ed Bott, former editor of PC World, Windows Blogger for ZDnet, and Microsoft MVP. Ed has written detailed guides to Microsofts operating systems for some time and is well respected in his field. Few people are as knowledgeable about the various incarnations of Windows as Ed is. Ed took the gentleman's PC with the hope of salvaging the PC, into something use able.

The story is a bit more complicated though. Seems his friend had contacted tech support and was told his experience was typical of the computers running the new operating system Windows Vista.

The story is fairly involved, to make a very long story short. A clean install of Vista and a new set of up to date drivers turned the machine around completely. Ed's post on the story can be found here, and here,

I think there is a very important point to the story. Many of the problems of the guys computer can be traced to a couple of things. One, a miserable load of crapware, that many new machines ship with these days significantly slow down and wreck the computing experience of new computer users. Two, poor driver support from the hardware manufacturers has made the Vista experience worse than any new operating system rollout that I can recall. My first Vista computer was a home built desktop, obviously no crapware there! The drivers on my machine worked fine and improved gradually over the months. The second Vista machine was a Dell Inspiron 1420 I bought from the Dell Outlet store, it had a fast processor, 2 Gb's of ram and a 7200 RPM hard drive. Dell also installed little or no crapware as well, the machine works great, always has.

This story should (but probably won't ) be a wake up call to the major PC manufacturers. I understand the thin margins they operate on these days. The crapware aka trialware, provides a small subsidy to the computer makers to boost their profit a little. Folks, it's not worth it, if you continue to push this junk on the consumers we will vote with our feet. Dell seems to get it, Lenovo's seem pretty good, even Sony is offering some models crapware free. HP and Gateway seem pretty infested with this stuff, the only way to get rid of this stuff is to not purchase machines that have it installed.

Now not all trialware is crap. Some things like a trial of Office 2007 may be useful for people and can be uninstalled easily. If you read Ed's account of the process of making the computer usable, you learn some of this junk like an AOL trial was difficult to uninstall from the control panel. Another problem he had was navigating the driver support site from Sony. This is just crazy, you should just type in your machine model number, or even serial number and all drivers should be arranged by release date so you can get the most recent one.

I've heard Sony support wasn't the best but in this case they managed to chase a customer right into the lap of a competitor.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Removing PC Antispyware

I really thought I'd beaten malware, and so far on my own PC's I have. Running Vista in limited user mode is very safe, if, the end user is careful. Enter one teenager running Vista, as a limited user as I set up their machine. No problem, if something tries to install just don't let it. The screen will darken and ask you for a password, just stop what your doing, and log off. Well what works for some people won't work for others, especially teenagers, who love adding pictures and screen savers and watching youtube ect.

So she sheepishly calls for me and tells me that she thinks she "let something install onto her computer". I take a look, and sure enough, a large window in the middle of her screen that looks similar to the McAffe antivirus. This program is called PC-Antispyware, and it's telling me that I'm infected with some bogus virus, and for 14.95 it will fix it for me. Sure thing I thought, infected yes I am, by you!

So I start the routine, running antivirus, antispyware, making registry changes. Rebooting doing it all in safe mode. After a few hours I thought I had it.

Of course I didn't have it, it still had me. These things are almost always impossible to rid of these days. After a half hour or so the PC-Antispyware window popped up again. After that some other bogus virus scan window appeared, not only do they infect you, then they have to invite their friends to the party. At this point there really is only one option: Nuke the Bastards!

I knew it would come to this, the malware these days is just way to dangerous. A clean install is good for the soul, a nice clean machine runs great, and it will get rid of all the crapware that comes with PC's these days.

Save it, this will be a pain in the ass, but it has to be done!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

What's the Best Upgrade for Notebook computers

People frequently wonder what would be the best way to upgrade their notebook computer. The answer would largely depend on what sort of machine they already have.  If the computer is a fairly recent model chances are it will probably have a fairly powerful processor. Often OEM's cut corners on a new machine to lower cost by skimping on other parts of the hardware. I recently bought my daughter a very nice Gateway laptop for a great price, problem was it only had 1 gigs of ram installed. Now, when Windows XP was the current operating system 1 gigs was fine, unfortunately Windows Vista really likes at least 2GBs. This wasn't much of problem however as ram is very cheap right now, so buying extra ram was relatively pain free. I opted to put 4 gigs of ram from the online vendor Crucial. It was very reasonable and was at front door in a few days. Even though Vista 32 bit will only recognize 3.25GBs I wanted the additional ram as she had a integrated Video card that would use up to 128 megabytes of her available ram. The machine runs far better with the ram upgrade and it was well worth it. Installing additional ram almost always improves your performance and in most machines, even laptops is not very difficult. It must be, as my kids remind me if I was able to do it,  it couldn't be very hard!

A little more difficult, but frequently even more beneficial is to upgrade your hard drive. In notebooks upgrading to a larger and faster hard drive is a great way to extend the life of your machine and increase performance. Most notebooks come from the factory with 5400 or even worse 4400 rpm hard drives. A slow hard drive in a modern laptop running a dual core processor of some type will often bottleneck the performance of the machine.

Recently Fujitsu announced that they have a 320GB @ 7200 rpm laptop hard drive, ready to ship. A 200GB 7200 rpm hard drive, can be had for around $170.00 right now from Now you certainly pay a premium for the 2.5 inch laptop drives over their desktop counterparts, but the performance increase and additional space can be worth it.  Upgrading your hard drive can be a bit daunting as it will require you to backup all your data and reinstall your operating system. Several commercial applications that allow you to clone your hard drive to another make this much easier. Acronis True image, Norton Ghosts and Drive Snapshot all work very well for full disk imaging. People who have shelled out the extra money for Windows Vista Ultimate or Vista Business  can use the built in back up and restore feature to image their hard drive, it work for day to day incremental backup as well as the other programs mentioned. There are a number of USB to Sata adapters on the market to connect your new hard drive to your computer. You will need to format the new drive first

Accessing a hard drive on many Windows based notebooks is often easier than removing a hard drive from a desktop. Several manufacturers on including HP, Dell, Gateway and Lenovo  all required no more than 4 screws to remove the hard drive from their notebooks. Some Dells and Lenovo's only have one screw to get the hard drive out, then 4 screws to remove from a bracket surrounding the hard drive. Unfortunately some notebooks, such as the old PowerBooks and the new MacBook Pro's require almost complete disassembly of the laptop to get at the hard drive. Several manufacturers including Dell, Lenovo and Apple allow you to spec the machine with a faster hard drive when you buy it. The MacBook Pro uses top of the line processors and some of the best video cards on the market, the 7200 rpm hard drive should be standard although right now it's only a  $50 upgrade for the 200GB 7200 rpm hard drive.

If you do ever decide to upgrade a hard drive or ram yourself make sure you unplug and remove the battery first. Also make sure you are very careful with static electricity as that can destroy computer components of any kind. Wear a wrist strap and discharge any static electricity before working on the internals of any computer.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Why all the Vista Hate?

Just do a search on Windows Vista and my guess is you will get a number of sites that are dedicated to bashing Windows Vista. Countless articles litter the net about how bad Vista is, and all the resources it consumes, and what a hassle UAC is. Blah blah it!

My guess is, that many of these people never used Vista. They certainly haven't tried it for any great period of time. Many of the problems that were present when Vista first shipped had to do with a lack of decent video drivers, especially from Nvidia. Many other people blamed Vista because their all in one printers didn't work, but the blame should have been laid at the feet of the hardware makers. Many of them didn't write drivers for Vista because they wanted people to upgrade to "Vista Compatible" hardware,rather than enable the older stuff to work.

My own experience with Vista I believe is far more typical of what you would hear from everyday users of Vista, if the pundits bothered to ask. My experience has been quite good,in fact, better than I expected, being am early adopter of an OS that had so many changes from its predecessor. I've been using Vista for 11 months on my primary desktop computer. It's a modestly powered by today's standards,but it does have dual core processor 2 gigs of ram and a outdated Ati Raddeon 1950 Video card. When I first put it together I ran it on integrated graphics with only 64mbs of video ram and aero glass worked fine. The machine has been very stable and the only real crash I experienced was when I tried to install service pack 1. I detailed that in  previous posts, but in general it works great, and whenever I go back to XP I always miss many of the features in Vista that make going back to XP not an option. I like the UAC, I know it gets a lot of complaints from some people, but it saved me at least once when I was half asleep and checking email not paying attention, and accidentally clicked on a nasty attachment. The start search is awesome, the ability to find a specific email, document or program before you get half way through typing it is great. There's no 3rd party  search that work nearly as well, neither Google's desk top search or Copernic come close. I have even come to really enjoy the sidebar. I have to admit I just turned it off for the first month or two but now I keep track of the weather, a few stocks and my calendar with the sidebar, I find it quite handy, when I'm using XP I'm always looking over for the sidebar or trying to do a start search, and I just think oh, yea it's not there,crap!

As for performance and hardware needs I recently installed Vista Ultimate on a 2 year old Lenovo Thinkpad that shipped with XP Pro and had the dreaded "Vista Capable" logo on it. Now I'm aware Microsoft is getting sued by some people that claim their Vista Capable machines were inadequate to run anything above Vista Home Basic, but the machine I have works fine. It runs an early 1.83 ghz core duo processor and a ati 1400x graphics card with 128 mbs of video ram. I installed 2 gigs of ram, which is a minimum for running Vista. I also upgraded the hard drive since the original only had 60 gbs and I wanted a multi-boot system, I put in a 7200 rpm 200 gb Hitachi hard drive. This machine boots Vista 2 seconds faster to the login screen than XP. Now I'm not saying Vista runs faster than XP, the XP partition has the Lenovo suite of applications they include with new machines and runs Symantec Corporate Antivirus and Firewall. The Vista side has no manufacturer installed "crapware" and runs AVG free version 7.5 . I used MSCONFIG to turn off all but the security software at start up so it a reasonably fair contest.

Now I still think XP is less resource consuming and is slightly faster in running applications once running, its just not that noticeable.(with identical hardware) With Service Pack 1 for Vista installed, it runs even better, file copy is much better and Vista is now compatible with hundreds of programs that originally it broke. There's no doubt XP has evolved into a very solid OS from the buggy and very insecure system it was, when it shipped originally. So if your older hardware still work fine, stick with it, but if your hardware's getting old and its time for an upgrade, don't fear the Vista, don't listen to the so called experts, bashing a Microsoft product takes about as much guts as bashing President Bush right now.