Your questions answered here:

Why is my computer slow?

A computer may be slow to start and slow to run.  Slow startups can be caused by programs that run at startup. Windows programs need to run at startup as do other programs such as security programs.  Other programs may be beneficial, but not necessary to run at startup.  These include programs that search for updates and programs that make larger programs faster to start.  The hard drivehard drive (pictured to the right) may have become slow over time, or be failing.  Or you may have a virus or spyware slowing your computer.   Many of these will not only make your computer slow to start, but also slow to run.     

Too little memory can also make your computer both slow to start and slow to run.  Sometimes so many programs are trying to run that there isn't enough memory left to spare for the programs you deem necessary.  What might have been enough memory in 2001 or 2005 or even yesterday, may not be enough today as programs (including your operating system) require more and more memory to run. Then your computer is slow and may freeze on occasion while it tries to shuffle things in and out of the existing memory to find enough memory to run the program.

Crucial's Memory Advisor finds the right memory!What do you do if your computer is slow?   The first and easiest check is memory.  The Crucial Memory Finder is what I use.  Why?  Crucial makes good memory at a reasonable price which works well in most computers (I use it in mine.)  I have had no problems with it except with a couple of "custom" built computers and a couple of HP's.  It will tell  you how much memory you have and how much is recommended.  I recommend 1 Gig for Windows XP and 2 or more Gigs for Vista. 

 Next, I check for running programs and see what can be stopped from running.  This is not something you should do because many programs are necessary for your computer to run properly and you will not always be able to identify those.  when I am checking the running programs I may find a virus or spyware running.  The internet security product I currently recommend is Norton 360.

Finally, there are tests I can do on modern hard drives to check their function.  Modern hard drives use SMART (Self-Monitoring and Recording Technology).  When the drive is in imminent danger of failing, SMART may give you a message at startup.  However, it may not.  So, I have tools to use to check the drive before it fails to see whether it is perfoming properly. 

If you need more information, please let me know!


When should I buy a new computer?

I tell most people to expect their computers to last 3 years and be happy if they last 4 years or longer.  A computer may last for so long that new hardware, printers for example, might now work well.  A computer may last so long that it can no longer be upgraded.  Or a major hardware component may fail and the cost of replacement is not worth it.  If your hard drive, power supply, network card, floppy drive, DVD or CD drive fail, these are all relatively cheap and easy to replace.  Anything else fails, and it becomes much more expensive.  And sometimes, even keeping an old computer going may cost more than a cheap new computer.  So, think about your computer's age.  Look at the cost of cheap new computers.  Is the repair almost half the cost of a new computer?  Then buy the new one.  You will be getting not just one new part, but a computer full of new parts.

What is the Difference between Hard Drive space and Memory?

hard drivePeople often confuse these terms and then they confuse me!  Just kidding.  A hard drive looks like this: 
It is relatively heavy and can be easily rendered dysfunctional if dropped.  It contains all the software and data on your computer.  It holds that data and software whether it is connected to your computer or removed, or whether it on or off.  There are two different styles of hard drives in use today.  The first and oldest is called PATA (Parallel ATA) or IDE.  The other type is called SATA (Serial ATA).  SATA drives tend to be faster than the other type and are found on newer computers.  Both types are attached to the power supply in your computer and to the motherboard. 

Memory has had several different forms and only the form compatible with your computer can be used in your computer.  All forms look very much the same, however.   The memory sits in a special slot on your motherboard.  Windows moves things in and out of memory as they are needed and once the computer is turned off the memory is empty.  How do you know which memory your computer uses?  The Crucial System Scanner is the best way to find out.Crucial System Scanner

What are Cookies and are they Dangerous?

What are cookies?  Cookies are tiny text files that web pages leave on your computer.  They send information to a website.  They may identify your computer to a website you visit frequently.  For example, The New York Times always knows who I am and doesn't make me login every time because it keeps a cookie on my computer.  When I visit their website, they see the cookie and log me in automatically.  There are also 3rd party cookies.  If you visit a website with ads, like the New York Times, those advertisers will leave a cookie on your computer to note your visit.  Then if you visit another website the advertiser also uses, it will note the visit to that website, also.  It then sells that information.  It may also place a specific ad on that website that it believes would appeal to you. 

In the interest of complete disclosure, my website does this.  I have ads on the website for products and companies I believe in.  I put these ads in for your convenience and also to pay for my website.  Every time you purchase something after clicking on one of the ads, I receive some money (Note: it is a very small amount, often as little as 1%, and does not in any way influence my decision about what to recommend).  It never increases your price, and it sometimes will decrease your price. 

Different people have different feelings about this.  Some people don't use the little discount card at the grocery store because they don't want anyone keeping track of their purchasing habits.  I, personally, don't care.  I even appreciate not having to sift through things I would never purchase just to find the few that I would.  If you are like me, ignore cookies.  If you are paranoid, you can block 3rd party cookies. 

How much space are they using?  Very little.  Even if you have thousands of cookies they are so tiny that they use very little space.  Most people have hundreds of cookies or fewer.

So are cookies bad?  In my opinion, only if you are paranoid.  And even the most paranoid often disregard cookies.  So, block them or leave them alone at your discretion.

Where can I learn more about my computer?

Many libraries offer beginning computer classes.  However, you don't know what the facility might be like and you don't know anything about the person teaching the course.  I am personally acquainted with some of the people who teach the computer classes at the Vineyard Community Center.  Most classes are free with a minor cost for a book or workbook.  The computers are on-site so you can work on a system that might be much like the one you have at home or at the office.  Here are the latest course offerings as well as some other educational opportunities. 

What Free Programs are Safe and Good?

Not everyone needs or can afford the best of the best programs out there.  So, which ones are free but still good?  Here is a list of my favorites:

  • OpenOffice--this word processor/spreadsheet/presentation program is not as good as Microsoft Office, but will work for those who cannot afford the higher priced program. 
  • Password Safe--this program keeps all of my passwords.  It generates random passwords for me on request and allows me to easily insert them into most sites.
  • Belarc Advisor--This small program, free for non-business users only, generates a print-out of everything in and all software installed on your computer.  Maybe not so valuable for you, but it makes my job easier if I don't have to search for what you have.
  • Firefox web browser--Sure Google Chrome is fast, but Firefox can do anything you want it to and do it well.  It's been my choice for many years and the best alternative to Internet Explorer for well-designed web pages.
  • Microsoft Security Essentials--The best free anti-virus/anti-spyware program out there.  Of course, it won't do everything that Norton 360 will, but if you can't afford Norton, then use Microsoft Security Essentials.  You should NEVER run 2 Antivirus products but SHOULD run 2 Anti-spyware products. 
  • Malwarebytes--The best free Anti-spyware program.  The free version is for personal use and does not have all the features of the paid program, but it will rid your system of spyware.  If you want it to run automatically, you must purchase the paid version.
  • Splashup Lite--Best free "more than basic" photo editor. 
  • Windows Live Essentials 2011--Only for Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8, this set of programs contains a photo gallery with easy editing, Movie Maker, Windows Live Mail and Messenger, Family Safety, and Writer (a program for easy blog postings.)  I recommend the Family Safety, Writer, and the photo programs.  I recommend the Mail program for anyone not using Outlook or Thunderbird.  For people running Windows XP you can have many of the programs, but not Movie Maker.  Click here for the version that works on Windows XP
  • Secunia Personal Software Inspector--Scans your computer to see if any of your software needs to be updated.

Remember, the best things in life are not free, there is always a trade-off, a cost to pay.  Most of the programs above are limited when compared to their commercial counterparts.