Desktop vs Laptop: Which is Right for You?

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Laptops have become the go-to choice for most people in the market for a new computer. They’re sleek, portable and heavily advertised. But are they the best choice for your needs? Before you buy your next computer, take a look at these considerations – you may discover you’ve been dreaming of a desktop all along!

How portable do you need it to be?

Hands down, laptops are easier to move around than a desktop. You can pick them up, pop them into a backpack and away you go. That doesn’t mean desktops are bolted to the floor, just that they’re not designed to take on vacation or go with you to the local café. With that portability though, comes a trade-off: thin and light means your computer performance takes a hit. The more powerful your laptop, the bigger and heavier it is, and you won’t enjoy lugging that weight around all day. If that’s got you leaning towards an ultra-portable, consider this: The smaller and lighter your laptop is, the weaker it is. In fact, some laptops struggle to run the most basic apps. Fortunately, when you do choose a desktop, cloud technology means your data is mobile, even if your main computer isn’t.

What balance of power and price do you need?

The bottom line here is that a desktop will always give you more power for less money.  Their larger cases allow for bigger and better components, with more effective systems to avoid overheating. Even the most powerful laptop is going to be hotter than its desktop equivalent, and much noisier too. If you’re using power-hungry software like games or video editing, I recommend choosing a desktop. The heat control alone is worth it as frequently overheated laptops don’t survive long.

Desired screen size

As laptops are designed to be portable, screen sizes are usually small, around 11-15”. Larger, more powerful laptops often go up to 17”. Desktop monitors however, start at 17” and average at 22”. These larger sizes give you more space to work in, options to tile your applications and multi-task, and even sit back and watch an HD (or even 4K) movie. They also allow for nice big text and images, with a better ability to choose the visual experience that suits your needs. If you’re after a large screen size without the actual desktop computer, all-in-one PCs are a great option with many offering impressive screen quality.

Your working comfort

Many people buy a laptop only to get home and find it’s a pain in the neck – literally! The traditional laptop design means you’re always looking down at the screen which can put a strain on your neck. You can try to raise the screen by placing the laptop on a stand, but then the keyboard is out of easy reach. The smaller keyboards and touchpad designs may also leave you more prone to repetitive strain injuries. Many people end up connecting their laptops to external monitors, keyboards and mice, simply so they can work in comfort. Desktop computers on the other hand, allow you to create the perfect working environment for your needs and even cater for other family members. Monitors are usually height adjustable, keyboards and mice are wireless, and you’re able to place the desktop on the floor out of the way. If you’re on your computer for more than short bursts, your body will appreciate you choosing a desktop.

Are you looking for flexibility?

When you choose a laptop computer, it’s like ordering from a set menu. You get this brand, in this design, with these specifications. Changing out parts for repair or upgrade can be difficult and expensive as there’s not a spare inch of space. Some parts are extremely hard to get to, which can turn a simple swap into a deal breaker. The extra space inside a desktop gives infinite flexibility for upgrades over time and fast repairs. This means you’re able to easily pop in more powerful components for a fraction of the price and extend the life of your computer by years.

If you need help choosing a new computer call me at (828) 290-8237.

Is it Worth Having Your Email Server On-Premises?

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There’s not a business around who doesn’t use email on a daily basis. Whether for sending internal memos or communicating with clients and customers, email is a core necessity of any modern SMB. What many modern businesses are doing though, is dropping the in-house email server and moving to a cloud solution. Here’s why you should do the same.

Reduced network problems

Your network operates in a delicate balance, and when one piece breaks chaos soon follows. Connected systems and processes tend to fail, dropping productivity to flatline levels as all focus shifts away from normal activities. It becomes a mad scramble to get the network up again, especially the email servers. The last thing you want is for all your client/customer emails to bounce back! While it’s good to have confidence in your on-site administrator, the assumption that any crashes will always happen during business hours has caused many regrets and panicked phone calls that could be avoided. When you move to a cloud solution, you’re able to say goodbye to onsite servers and all the accompanying drama, making your remaining infrastructure easier to maintain.

Lower hardware and maintenance costs

Maintaining your exchange servers is no doubt costing a tidy sum from hardware repairs and license fees alone. Add in the cost of scaling your server to keep up with your business growth, and suddenly keeping your email in-house doesn’t make financial sense. Instead, consider what it would be like to have predictable costs for your email hosting that covers everything, including the latest technology and round the clock administration. Many solutions offer on-demand plans, so you only pay for the options you want.

You’re still in control

One of the main arguments for keeping your Exchange server is to make sure you have complete control over your email; you’re able to limit physical access, no 3rd party has access to your critical data, and you always know where your data is.  While control may have been the deciding factor in the past, the fact is cloud solutions have evolved so much that these arguments are void. Physical security at one of Microsoft’s data farms, for example, goes far beyond that of your locked server room and digital access is strictly limited to those you specify.

Greater protections

Cloud solutions provide automatic protection against many threats, including fire, power outages, viruses and flood. While your own in-house server has anti-virus running and a backup plan, it’s still incredibly vulnerable. Backups get forgotten, virus definitions don’t get updated in time, and you’re very lucky if your own server can survive fire or flood intact. Moving your email hosting to a cloud solution removes all that risk, usually with an uptime guarantee that lets your business get on with essential tasks. As email is a critical tool for your business, isolating your systems from risk may be one of the best decisions you make all year.

I can help you with your email server needs, call me today at (828) 290-8237.

How to Stay Safe from Scams and Malware on Facebook

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At last count, Facebook has clocked up over 2.7 billion users, which makes the platform more attractive than ever for scammers and hackers. While you may be logging in to share your latest family photos or catch up with friends, the chances of accidentally triggering a scam or malware are increasing daily. Here’s how to stay safe on Facebook and stop the spread.

Look out for freebies and surveys

Everybody loves a freebie and for the most part the competition posts on Facebook are legitimate. On the flip side though, when you see a giveaway for vouchers from a mega-store, alarm bells should ring. ‘Do this quick survey and we’ll send you a $50 Amazon Voucher!’ – it’s too good to be true. Even one click can take you on a messy journey through the underbelly of the web, picking up trackers and malware at every stop and at the end, you’re asked to share the post so your friends can get a voucher too…except nobody ever gets the reward.

Check your permissions with games and quizzes

Whenever you access a new game or quiz, you’ll need to give permissions for it to access your Facebook profile. Most people click the okay button without any thought, but if you review the permissions you’re giving, you’ll often find they’re asking for a massive amount of personal data; public profile, friend list, email address, birthday and newsfeed. Do they really need ALL this information? Sometimes the shakedown is from necessity, but sometimes the apps are preparing to launch attacks against you both on and off Facebook. For example, when you call your bank they ask certain questions like your full name, birthday and maybe which high school you went to. All that information is in your Facebook profile and now shared with your permission.

Don’t friend people you don’t know

Having lots of friends is always nice, but that friend accept could end up costing you. It might be someone pretending to know you, or a picture of a pretty girl to entice men (and vice versa). Once you friend them, they get access to everything your friends can see. In this case, it’s more than the risk of someone knowing your personal data, you’ve just given them intimate access to your life. It’s exactly how romance scams start, and there are even cases where the victim finds photos of their children circulating the internet.

If it’s weird, forget it

It doesn’t happen very often, but hackers find ways to take advantage of flaws in Facebook. A common hack that keeps popping up in various forms is to embed malware in a link. The virus then infects your machine and contacts all your friends with an enticing message, like asking whether a picture is of them. When they click to view the picture, the virus catches them and their friend list, and so on. Facebook is pretty good at staying on top of these flaws, but they need time to fix it. Just like if you got a weird email with an attachment from a friend, use that same level of scrutiny in your Facebook and don’t open messages or links that seem out of place.

Need help securing your privacy? Call me at (828) 290-8237.

Travel with Your Tech: What You Need to Know

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Taking a business trip can be stressful at the best of times.  Whether you’re off for an overnight conference, a week’s partnership or a longer project, you essentially pick up your entire business and take it on the road. Besides showing up in the appropriate clothing (which you absolutely packed, right?), keeping your tech up and running becomes your number 1 priority. Take a look at my tech tips for business travelers:

Be careful with free WiFi
Most hotels have free WiFi, as do libraries, cafes, and bookstores. It’s now easy for any business to open their WiFi to the public, with or without a catchy password. Unfortunately, that convenience can come at a huge cost. The wireless network you use to check your email while relaxing with a latte could allow someone to easily capture your information as it travels through the air. Using a VPN can help, as will making sure you connect only to wireless networks that require a password. Once connected, make sure the sites you visit have the little HTTPS lock.

Connect via your cell phone
Hotel WiFi is notorious for being slow or insanely expensive. You may find that your mobile phone allows you to tether or hotspot a connection. That means you connect your laptop to your phone via WiFi or cable and piggy back on its mobile internet connection. Many carriers and phones allow this, but not all. Importantly, if you’re in a foreign country it can also be worthwhile getting a local sim card rather than pay expensive roaming charges.

Don’t forget power adapters
You’ve seen it before…people scrounging around for a charger or cable, huddling around in groups until their device has enough juice to get them through a few more hours. Be sure to pack your correct power adapters and cables, along with any plug/voltage converters required to match your destination. It’s worth carrying your USB charging cables on your person, as many planes and airport shops now offer a place for you to plug in for a quick boost.

Have plans for being offline
Sometimes you simply can’t get online, which will do you no good when you’re checking into a hotel and your booking details are tucked safely away in your cloud email. You can print out essential travel and business details on paper, but if you have a lot or don’t want to carry them, you can also save them to a document.  Emails can be copied and pasted into a Word document, or you can print to PDF by pressing Print > Save to PDF (or similar). Many apps also have an offline mode that allows you to store the information on your computer, including Evernote and Netflix.

Need a tech checkup before you go? Call me today at (828) 290-8237.

3 New Year’s Tech Resolutions You Should Actually Keep

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If your typical New Year’s resolutions lasted about 30 seconds, you’re not alone. Pledges to eat better, start running and learn how to juggle can be rebooted again next year easy enough.

This year, I challenge you to think about your tech health with some resolutions you’ll want to keep.

1.  No More Junk Mail

Whether you checked a box agreeing to get newsletters, or you have no idea how you got on that list, it’s time to say goodbye. Start by emptying your mailbox to zero unread messages – no you don’t have to read all that spam – you have permission to delete it unread. Let’s face it, if you were going to read it, you would have done so already. Away it goes.

Now that you’re starting with a clean slate and a huge feeling of accomplishment, resolve this: Each day, unsubscribe from any emails coming in from company’s you don’t want. Keep an eagle eye out for that gorgeous ‘unsubscribe’ link and click it with confidence. You don’t even need to give a reason if it redirects to a survey page. Before too long, your inbox will be a refreshing place filled only with people and businesses you look forward to hearing from.

2. Go Password Pro

With all these password leaks from LinkedIn, Myspace, and goodness knows who hasn’t come forward, now’s the time to get smart with your passwords. Because most people use the same passwords on every site, a single breach can be the hack that keeps on giving. You know how important it is to use different passwords for each site, but let’s be real, that’s a LOT of passwords to remember!

Instead of writing them down, I recommend using a password manager like LastPass. It remembers all your various passwords for you, so all you need to know is the super-protected master password. Master passwords are kept encrypted on your system, not theirs, and 2-factor authentication checks with you via text for all big changes.

3. Backup. No Really, Backup.

I’ve been meaning to backup is the cry of someone who just lost all their photos. Good intentions don’t count AT ALL in data security, because once the data is gone, it’s gone. With new cloud backup options, there’s no reason to put this off, because backup apps are now easier and more accessible than ever before. You can also backup to local drives, but this will take a little extra remembering on your part, as you’ll want to have at least one drive that stays disconnected in case of viruses.

There you have it. Three New Year’s resolutions you can easily keep, and that will make a real difference to your year. Opening your email will be a pleasure, you’ll be a spectator only in any future password leaks, and your precious files will be safe against all manner of disaster. Feels better than any diet, doesn’t it?

Stuck with any of this? Let me help by calling me at (828) 290-8237

Is Your Home Wi-Fi Keeping Up?

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Wi-Fi has forever changed the way we live, work and play. We can surf the internet on the couch or by the pool, look up a recipe in an instant, and even connect our lights to voice control. It’s no wonder it was accepted with open arms, but is your Wi-Fi as good as it needs to be?

10 years after Wi-Fi first made its way into homes with those mysterious rabbit-eared boxes, it’s evolved into a juggernaut of speed and accessibility that we can’t do without. Think about how many wireless devices your home has – the average home has at least 10 devices connected wirelessly to the internet, many have more.

While older devices are typically happy with a slice of slow internet, your newer devices like 4kTVs and media streaming simply can’t function without fast internet. Add in a game console, tablet, a few smartphones and a laptop or two, and your Wi-Fi is suddenly stretched beyond full capacity and struggling to keep up. Yet, most people don’t know how fast their Wi-Fi is, or if it’s working right– they only know how many bars they’ve got.  Unfortunately, counting bars can add up to one big headache.

Here’s why relying on your Wi-Fi bar count might be ruining your internet experience:

Bars measure the wrong thing: While it’s great to know you’ve got a ‘strong’ signal, it would be even better if you could have a ‘fast and available’ signal.  The internet could actually be down and you’d still have full bars because it’s really only measuring how close to the Wi-Fi router you are. That proximity measure doesn’t take into account how many devices are fighting for the same bandwidth or whether there’s any left for you. We can ensure your Wi-Fi isn’t just available, it’s up to the task.

Wi-Fi goes sideways: While next-door’s Wi-Fi can reach the back of their property, it can also go a similar distance sideways into your house. This extra ‘noise’ can disrupt and slow down your own Wi-Fi. In dense areas, your Wi-Fi is basically getting lost in a swirling field of signals, all using the same channel and frequency. It’s a digital crowd which can seriously slow your speeds.   I can fix this by changing your Wi-Fi channel to one with less cross-talk.

Everyone uses the default settings: Most home Wi-Fi uses a 2.4ghz frequency by default. While it makes a plug & play router easy to set up, it does mean you’re not getting the speeds you could be. Switching to the 5ghz frequency means your Wi-Fi is separated from the neighborhood cross-talk. 5ghz is also considerably faster, which is a bonus. I can help you upgrade to a 5Ghz-capable router or switch your existing frequency.

Priority isn’t set: While not Wi-Fi specific, I can also set up “Quality of Service” if your router supports it or supply you with one that does. This allows things like Netflix and Skype calls to always take priority and remain uninterrupted over less important tasks like downloads. You’ll be able to watch movies without those awful buffering jumps and video chat without freezing.

Is your home network not keeping up? Give me a call at (828) 290-8237and I can improve your internet experience.

 

How to Protect Your Business from the Piracy Police

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It may not get the same attention as the number of illegal Game of Thrones downloads, but software piracy still isn’t something your business can take lightly. In fact, one little slip can cost you thousands or even millions of dollars in fines, and there’s a global agency dedicated to catching you – even if the copyright breach wasn’t your fault!

Maybe it was something an employee used once to solve a certain problem, grabbing a quick download instead of bothering you with a purchase request. Or maybe it’s an application you use every day and long since forgot how the license works. Or perhaps you actually own a legitimate license but are running it on 8 computers when you’re only supposed to run it on 1. Whether you set out to be a brazen ‘pirate’ or not, the Software Alliance (often called the BSA) and their associates would love to make an example of your business. They’re now expanding their reach in sneaky ways too, including advertising for paid whistle-blowers.

Here’s how it all came about: Back in the late 80s, Microsoft founded an external agency whose sole task it was to protect the intellectual property of member companies, by finding and prosecuting as many cases as possible. The protection laws already existed, they simply needed a means to implement them. Until recently, locating software pirates was very resource intensive. Now, they can simply create a Facebook ad, target it to ex/current employees of a business, and offer a reward up to $1million (depends on country) for information. Your business doesn’t even need to be actively using the illegal software, it simply needs to be installed or show traces.  You can imagine how many calls they’re getting!

How to Protect Your Business

The safest option is a zero-tolerance approach to unapproved software. This means locking down employee systems so that they’re unable to install software, even on their own workstation. Set permissions so that only management and above can install new programs, and create a known process for requesting new software. When a software need arises, you then have complete control over the selection, installation and licensing.

Maintaining your software license documentation and running annual audits is also important. On a day-to-day level, it ensures you’ve got records that can keep your business operating during bad luck circumstances, like when an employee leaves and you suddenly discover no-one knows a particular password and the resets go to a dead email address.  Proper license documentation also makes sure you aren’t caught red-handed with illegal software, and if you are ever investigated, you have your innocence at the ready.

I can audit your network for pirate software and lock down employee systems – give me a call today at (828) 290-8237.

What to Do if Your Hard Drive Fails

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If your hard drive is going bad, chances are strange things are happening and you’re a little panicked. It’s where you put your digital memories, your household files and maybe that book you’ve been working on for months. As far as you’re concerned, that hard drive IS the computer and failure is not an option. Perhaps it was overheated, knocked around or came from the factory with a flaw.

Sorry to say, but eventually all hard drives will fail. So how do you know if it’s definitely the drive and what should you do?

Start by watching for these signs:
Computer slowing down: Because most hard drives contain moving parts, the slower it gets, the slower your computer gets. It’s a bit like a record player, with spinning plates and a needle whipping from side to side. Your hard drive may eventually take longer to spin up and longer to retrieve files, which will have an impact on everything from booting up to playing games.

Blue screen of death: A classic Windows error, this is when your computer locks up to only show a blue screen with an error code, which while it does mean something specific has gone wrong, can always be translated loosely to ‘nope, not today’. The more often your computer does this, the more severe the problem is.

Not booting up: During the initial bootup stage, your computer is loading a program stored on the hard drive – it’s your operating system. If some of the files have a problem or can’t be found, Windows won’t boot. Errors vary, but the outcome is the same.

Corrupted files: Sometimes a file won’t open because the computer says it is corrupted. Some essential pieces of the file are missing, and unlike a book where a missing page is only inconvenient, it’s a deal breaker for computer files.

Noises: You’re familiar with the normal noises your computer makes, but as the hard drive fails the noises can change. You might hear clicking, grinding or even a sci-fi phaser noise. Noises will get louder or speed up during heavy file access.

Whenever something is clearly wrong, the key is to stop and turn your computer off. Continued use can result in more data loss. Even if you don’t have a backup yet, turn it off now because the large task of backing up can cause extra strain on an already delicate hard drive. It’s tempting to hurry and try to get a quick copy of your files, but in these cases, it’s not about time – it’s about the extra spinning, scratching, warping and electrical charge, all dissolving your precious data with each access.

If your hard drive is failing, let me know and I’ll do all I can to retrieve your data. Call me at (828) 290-8237.

Get Back to Brand New with a Refreshed Computer

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Remember how well your computer ran when you first brought it home? It was booting so fast, files were whizzing around at light speed, and no matter how many tabs you had open, nothing was slowing that baby down. It was spotless, inside and out. Then one day you turned it on and everything was so slooooow, taking forever to do anything – and that was only if you could even find your files in all the clutter. All that zip and speed you loved so much was gone.

The good news is you probably DON’T need a new computer, you simply need what we call a “format and reload” to:

Clear the clutter: Over time as you install applications you collect icons, files and options everywhere. They’re not necessary, they’re not used, but they were installed automatically ‘just in case’. It’s a bit like when your overnight guest shows up with a massive suitcase and then claims a shelf in your bathroom. Those applications are making themselves at home in a big way! All that uninvited clutter is slowing your system down and making it hard for you to find the things you need. Simply put, it’s a mess. I can clean your system back to pristine in no time.

Beat viral overload: Is the virus really gone? Sometimes a virus has multiple layers and can bury itself so deep even your anti-virus doesn’t see it. Despite getting the all-clear from your anti-virus, you might also be seeing the damage from the infection. Perhaps the virus made a mess of your internal file structure, left pieces of code all over the place, or deleted files essential for smooth running. When an infection has been cleared but the system is still running slow, you might still have issues that need repair.

Assess incompatible software: Installing a new piece of software can sometimes produce unexpected results. While your system met the hardware and operating system requirements, maybe it’s simply not playing nice with your other applications. Maybe they’re fighting over the same resources, system files, or clashing with one of your hardware components. Clearly, something isn’t quite right, but you’re not sure what. I love to play detective and get your system back to normal.

Archive older files: Some of your files are definite keepers, long term. Your photos, recipes, accounts etc, they’re all important to keep – but are they important to keep sitting on your desktop? They’re not just slowing your computer down, you’re at risk of losing them in a crash. It’s much safer to archive them to an external drive or cloud storage, simply let me know what you’d like to keep.

What exactly is a computer format-and-reload? It’s like a car tune-up, but more flexible. Rather than tick the boxes saying I’ve changed the oil, cleaned the filters etc, I treat each computer as a unique case. Sometimes I can tune it up in a few minutes, and that’s all it needed. Sometimes it’s worth starting over like day 1.

I can reinstall Windows and migrate your data (photos, docs, emails, bookmarks, etc), putting back only what you WANT to keep. The rest of the clutter that built up over time or piggy-backed on a virus gets flushed away. I can also set up your email and install any devices you need, like printers. It’s doing whatever is necessary to give you a fresh start with your computer, but keeping the essentials.

Ready to get back up to speed? Give me a call at (828) 290-8237

How to Stop Your Business Becoming a Victim of Social Engineering

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You can have top-notch security in place but there is still one danger: social engineering. It’s the old kid on the block, but most of us have never heard of it.  Perhaps the more familiar term is ‘con’:  the art of manipulating people to take certain actions or divulge private information.

Social engineers are a special type of hacker who skip the hassle of writing code and go straight for the weakest link in your security defenses – your employees.  A phone call, a cheap disguise or casual email may be all it takes to gain access, despite having solid tech protections in place.

Here are just a few examples of how social engineers work:

Email: Pretending to be a co-worker or customer who ‘just quickly’ needs a certain piece of information. It could be a shipping address, login, contact or personal detail that they pretend they already know, but simply don’t have in front of them. The email may even tell you where to get the data from. The hacker may also create a sense of urgency or indicate fear that they’ll get in trouble without this information.  Your employee is naturally inclined to help and quickly sends a reply.

Phone:  Posing as IT support, government official or customer, the hacker quickly manipulates your employee into changing a password or giving out information. These attacks are harder to identify and the hacker can be very persuasive, even using background sound effects like a crying baby or call-center noise to trigger empathy or trust.

In person: A delivery man uniform gets past most people without question, as does a repairman. The social engineer can quickly then move into sensitive areas of your business. Once inside, they essentially become invisible, free to install network listening devices, read a Post-it note with a password on it, or tamper with your business in other ways.

It’s impossible to predict when and where (or how) a social engineer will strike. The above attacks aren’t particularly sophisticated, but they are extremely effective. Your staff have been trained to be helpful, but this can also be a weakness. So what can you do to protect your business?

First, recognize that not all of your employees have the same level of interaction with people, the front desk clerk taking calls all day would be at higher risk than the factory worker, for example.
I recommend cyber-security training for each level of risk identified, focusing on responding to the types of scenarios they might find themselves in. Social engineering is too dangerous to take lightly, and far too common for comfort.

Talk to us about your cyber security options today. Call me at (828) 290-8237.