Friday, May 30, 2014

Who Crashed my PC? Part-4 Selecting my Future PC.

Part-4 Selecting my Future PC

Before I went home, I took a walk around Best Buy and checked out all of my options in the PC world, including the Apple PCs.

Apple products are price controlled and they cost the same thing everywhere, so I just talked tech talk with the sales guy before I had him demo 3 of his most popular low-cost PCs with the Windows operating system.

Actually, not a lot had changed, there were the same brand names on the shelf as there had been two years ago, and other than there being a few tech spec improvements, the pricing was even the same.

So, I walked out, still undecided, but at least I felt that I was up to date on my options.  I then drove across the street to the Mall where they had an Apple store, replete with trained sales guys to answer my questions.

I took up over two hours of the sales guys time with questions and discussions but they are all trained to be patient with customers.

I finally knew that if I wanted an Apple PC, it was going to be the new Apple Mac Pro with the 13-inch screen, 256 GB of flash drive, and the Retina display.

Here are some of the details I had learned;

First of all Apple doesn't make any CHEAP PCs. Their MAC line is short and all of them are pretty powerful machines in every technical aspect that I could think of. Even if you just pick one up, it feels like a quality piece of equipment.

On the other hand, if you handle some of the PCs made by all of those companies that have popped up over the past few years, you would assume total destruction of the device if you happened to drop it. They are not just cheap, they feel and look cheaply made.

Second, Apple wants you to have a PC with a solid-state flash drive (which is costly but more durable) as compared to the other PC companies wanting you to live with a mechanical hard drive (which is cheap in cost) which is probably the number one physical part to go bad on the PC. And the most catastrophic.

Third, The Apple has their "Retina Display" and the PC has a "HD display?. Both are high resolution displays and the Apple display might be a little "heartier" physically. I do know that the physical package of the MAC is so much sturdier and of course lighter than the other cheap Windows PCs.

Fourth, Battery life of the APPLE Mac PRO is great.  I was looking at is a solid 8-10 hours while that of the best of the cheap PCs was a piddling 3-5 hours.

Fifth, Operating systems. I am not doing a critique of operating systems here. I have used Windows since DOS-1.0 so I am familiar with it and all of the Microsoft software packages. On the other hand, other than my limited use of Apple operating systems via my iPad and iPhone, I have not used a Mac, per se.
I have used Pages, which is their Word, and Numbers which is their Excel.

The biggest problem I have with them is the fact that they are different, not so much in capabilities, just in how you get them to do what you want. In reality both companies have to be competitive so they have to provide the same functions. in their software. With Apple, I will have to put on my "learning hat" more often with Apple than just jumping in with abandon on Windows software.

I actually wrote these differences as well as a number of other small but picky things to compare.

I think it is time for a glass of wine and some serious contemplation.

by Don Bobbitt, 2014

Copyright, Don Bobbitt, 2014

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Who crashed my PC? Part-3 Recovering my Data.

Part-3 Recovering my data.

So, after making what I consider my potential PC purchase options, if my old PC could not be repaired, I now had to make some serious decisions on getting my data back and the possible costs.

OK, I know what needs to be done to recover data from a hard drive. Being a Geek myself, I also know the costs if I do it myself. I will not go into the technical details, but after an hour or so of checking out the different software and hardware tools available on the web and in stores, I was not happy with what I saw.

Oh yeah, I mentioned that I typically bought the low-cost PC's when I purchased one. One way they are sold so cheap was by not having a CD/DVD drive. Because of this you cannot have a recovery disk, Rather, you have to have made your own recovery file and stored it on a USB memory stick.

Anyway, it was going to require an expenditure of just under $100, if I was lucky, or up to $200 if things were "worst case". And I still might not be able to recover my data. My data could all be gone, if the hard drive had really crashed versus having a few bad partitions.

The other option? There is the Squad of Geeks at Best Buy.
OK, they are a well-managed group of technicians who operate under a very structured work/pricing system. But, boy are they expensive!

I called a couple of local shops who "worked on PCs" but I came away with feelings of distrust for some and for others a feeling of being insulted by their answers to my questions. So, I eliminated them as an option. Besides, their projected pricing was close (75%-150%) to the Squad of Geeks.

Now, again, I know how to recover my data, but the problem was just how much time (and money) did I really want to spend getting my data back.

After much teeth gnashing over the costs, I packed my crashed PC up and went to the Geeks, for one important reason. I knew that they were; 1-honest, and 2-efficient. I knew I would get my data quickly, if it could be recovered at all, and it would be done by professionals.

Again, I hate their pricing, but I went to them anyway. I loved their pricing ad. It said that they charged $199 for a 1-year service contract on a PC. Or, if you would like, they charged $199 to repair your PC software and recover your data. If it could be recovered at all. Don't you just love having options.

Anyway, I went to them and talked up my own "Geekness" with the counter guy and he gave me a little better price.

They were able to tell me immediately that I had 51GB of personal data to recover, and it would only cost me $156 to recover it, seeing as I had brought my own external USB hard drive to store it on. But, I would have to come back the next day to pick it up.

We spoke Geek for a few more minutes, and I finally paid them and left.

So, the next day I got my Hard Drive, with my data, along with my still crashed PC back in my hands.
Oh, and the tech said that it looked like I had Malware which had attacked my MS Windows software and specifically my 8.1 operating system.

But I also had several bad partitions on the PCs hard drive, so it was just a matter of time before I had even bigger problems.

I asked whether it looked like I could have the hard drive replaced and start over by reinstalling everything; the operating system, my office package, my photo editing software and all of my other specialized software that I used.

He looked me in the eye ad said; "Well, you could spend several days reinstalling your stuff, in this 2-year old PC, or you can go ahead and purchase a new one and get another solid two years before it starts to act up itself. Your choice."

His comment stopped me in my tracks.
I suddenly realized that PCs today are just not going to last much longer than a couple of years, and I had to accept that fact for the future in my decision making process.
Oh, for the average user, you know, the guy who checks the email a couple of times a week, and shops for something once a week, my PC would probably last for 4-5 years, or even longer. But, I am a geek, and a writer, so i am banging on my keyboard 4-6 hours a day.

Frowning, I took my stuff, and walked out of the store with this new information to use in making my now confirmed purchasing decisiondecision.

by Don Bobbitt, 2014

Copyright, Don Bobbitt, 2014

Friday, May 23, 2014

Who Crashed my PC? Part-2 What do I actually use my PC for, anyway?

Part-2, What do I use my PC for, anyway?

So, after several hours of futile attempts to get my PC to essentially, heal itself, I had to accept the inevitable. It was seriously crashed and I needed to get my data off of it, or get it repaired.

Being a regular user of the web, I realized that I had evolved over the past five years into more than just a PC user, I and my wife had really changed how our PC's and access the web. Let me explain.

We are RVers who have used campers for years and we travel quite a bit around the US. In order for us to travel like we do and still have access to the web, we expanded our requirements from just being your average PC users. We had turned into multiple device users who required not only access, but access with multiple tools.

for example, we both have Smartphones (iPhones) that we use for communication with our families and friends as well as for fast access to information that we need as we we travel. Information like traffic warnings, hotel and campground confirmations, even fuel stops and restaurants and rest areas.

In addition to our iPhones, we both have iPad tablets. Having these allows us to take them (they are so light and easily carried almost anywhere) with us as we see the sights or just walk along a lake and are inspired to take a picture or write a short poem or a storyline for a future blog post.

We also, have our iPhones and iPads linked to each other via the iCloud and this give us access to our important data with either our iPad or iPhone anytime, anywhere.

As to my PC, I have always kept my PC as my preferred device for working on the web, while my wife is content to use her iPad. But, I do sync and back up our Apple devices onto my PC for another level of security.

So, I realized that I was hanging on to my Windows PC and software out of some form of loyalty (or fear of change?).
For instance, I like WORD and EXCEL and I am what I would call an "expert" at using them.
But, I was now using Apples PAGES and NUMBERS when I was on my iPad, which was most of the time I was mobile. Of course, the commands used to operate  Pages and Numbers are so different from Word and Excel that it is a pretty big mountain to climb for me to change over.

The other consideration is cost. Of course, my iPhone and iPad are relatively expensive devices, but I have found that they are not nearly as fragile as some of the other manufacturers Smartphones and Tablets.

And the PC's? Wow! What a difference.

I can buy a decent Windows PC for a price of anywhere from $300 to $3000. So I have a lot of options. They have the standard hard drives which are mechanical devices that are susceptible to crashes, as I was experiencing, and have an inherent short life expectancy. They are clunky and heavier. with a short battery up time. I know PC's like the back of my hand along with their software packages.

On the other hand, Apples PC are expensive. They start at just over $1000 and go up from there. They have "Flash" drives which have no mechanical moving parts so they have a much longer life expectancy. They are light weight and have very long battery up time which is great for enyone. But, I will need to learn their PC operating command system and each of their software packages, which will really suck up a lot of my time.

So, I spent the next couple of days agonizing over my problem.
I finally came up with a plan which you can read in the next post; Who crashed my PC? Part-3 Recovering my Data.

by Don Bobbitt, 2014
Copyright, Don Bobbitt, 2014

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Who Crashed my PC? This time! Part-1 It happened again!

My old Notebook PC

I'm back!
and operating on my Blogs and web site again.

OK, some of you never missed me, but I do try to provide useful information for my readers and for those of you that do read my Blogs, I want you to know that I was taken down by a combination of insidious problems that are all susceptible to.

I was taken down, this time, by Malware and a cheap PC hard drive.

I decided to write several Blogs that explain what happened and what I ended up doing to protect myself in the future. So, I hope this information is useful to at least a few of you.


First off, I am a retired Engineer, and I used to be a programmer for a number of years in my career. So, I know how a PC operates and I know the web and and how it operates.

I started out, too many years ago I admit, using a PC with a Microsoft operating system and the associated software packages that ran on them. I was never an "Apple Guy".

So, let's leap forward to today and my personal PC. I decided that i no longer needed the fastest PC in the world anymore. For my personal needs, as a retiree, I decided to back of to something up to date but a lot cheaper.

Two years ago, when my previous PC died (hard drive and keyboard problems), I purchased a nice 15-inch notebook PC (ASUS) at Best Buy. It was less than $300, had a nice HD screen, used the latest Microsoft operating system, and I could load my existing Microsoft Office and Photoshop Elements packages (plus a few others) onto it for free.

And I was happy. I wrote my blogs, did my drawing, edited my photography. I was happy.

Then, two weeks ago, it crashed.

It was a normal day. I had my cup of coffee beside me, my laptop in, well, my lap, and was waiting for it to grab my WIFI and connect me to the world wide web.

But, as I sipped, i realized that the opening screen of Windows 8.1 would start, and then it would disappear, and then it would try to start again. This was happening over and over.

I immediately knew what it was! Something had taken over my PC.
Being an old hand at PC's and their weakness' this wasn't my first crash.

I do my due diligence. I back up my personal data on my PC onto a separate hard drive. And, being a lazy person, I only do this once a month, but, I do back up my stuff.

I won't bother you with too much technical stuff, but let me say that after I had tried all of the PC tricks I knew, I realized that I had either a new Virus, a Malware attack, or a hard drive crash.

Now, I do run my anti-virus software (the free version of Avast) every 2-3 days, whenever my PC is sitting dormant, so to speak. And, I run the free Microsoft Malware software a couple of times a month. And, as i said, I back up my personal data onto an external hard drive monthly.

But, they got me!

So, what did I do to get my "stuff" back? Well, I decided that it was time for me to sit back and re-evaluate my PC needs at this stage of my life and that is what I will describe in Who Crashed my PC? Part-2 What do I actually use my PC for, anyway?

by Don Bobbitt, 2014
Copyright Don Bobbitt, 2014