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Recommendations For
Keeping Your Computer
Happy and Healthy

For both Macs & Windows

Last Update to Page: 5-18-2017
(Each article has its own update date, as well)

Jim Stamm • 231-882-5673

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Below are recommendations for maintaining your computer, using it online safely, and keeping it healthy and happy – which should have a positive effect on you, as well. You'll likely want to print out this entire page and review it at your convenience. This list is certainly not all one can and should do, but it covers the major concerns of which everyone should be aware and practicing regularly to prevent future problems.

Where applicable, each section below has specifics for Macintosh and Windows computers.

If you have any questions regarding any of this information, or any comments, ideas, or improvements, please contact me. Suggestions are always welcome!

A grateful THANK YOU! to many folks who contributed to the content on this page.


Table of Contents
I. Back Up Your Data / Hard Disk
II. Security
  A. Run Antivirus Software
  B. Run Antispyware Software
  C. Run Firewall Software
  D. Security Suites
  E. Use A Junk Mail (Spam) Filter
III. Safe Practices
  A. Safe Computer and Online
Practices
  B. Safe Practices and Cautions
When Using Email
IV. Power and Equipment Related
  A. Should I Turn Off My Computer
When Not in Use?
  B. Use a UPS (Uninterruptable
Power Supply / Battery Backup)
  C. Use a Surge Protector
  D. Protect Your Modem and Router
  E. Unplug All Equipment for
Lightning Protection
V. File System and Software
Maintenance
A. Repair Disk Permissions (Mac OS) /
Tune up the Registry (Windows)
B. Run Disk Repair Utility Software
C. Defragment and Optimize Your
Hard Disk
  D. Create Restore Points (Windows)
  E. Create Repair and Recovery Disks
  F. Remove Unneeded Software
  G. Remove Unneeded Data and Files
VI. General Tips
A. Monitor Your Internet
Connection Speed
B. Install As Much Memory (RAM)
As Possible
C. Upgrading the Operating System
(Mac OS and Windows)
D. Is Your Computer's Clock Battery
Going Bad?
E. Maintain A Log for Each Computer
VII. General Information
A. Understanding and Working with
Computer Images



I. Back Up Your Data / Hard Disk, 8-2016

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The most important aspect of maintaining your computer is performing a "back-up," that is, creating a back-up copy to other media of all that is important to you on your computer. It is the only insurance you have if something goes wrong.

And there are many things that can go wrong, such as the computer's hardware getting damaged or failing, software gets damaged (due to crashes, viruses, incompatibilities), or if your files become damaged or deleted.

If a file becomes corrupted, accidentally deleted, or infected by a virus, and you don't have an copy of it – it's gone forever!. You'll have to find another copy, or recreate it from scratch. Having a back-up copy easily solves that problem. Just copy the deleted items from the latest back-up to your computer.

If a hard disk becomes corrupted, infected by a virus, damaged by spyware, or otherwise unreadable or usable, and you have a recent back-up of the entire disk — you can rest easy, that back-up can be used to restore all that was on the disk.

It's recommended to back-up of your entire hard disk. It allows you to recover any file, folder, or software that got deleted or damaged. But at a bare minimum, you should back up any information you would be devastated to lose.

And for all back-ups, do so regularly. A back-up cannot help if it's not done or way out-of-date.

Storage Devices and Media

As of late 2010, common media for backing up are: writeable CDs, writeable DVDs, USB flash drives, external hard drives, and back-ups via online services (in the "cloud") – stored on server computer via the Internet

One option is to divide the disk into two partitions. Make one the same size as the hard disk capacity on your computer. Use this for system images (Windows) or a clone (Macs). Use the other partition for multiple back-up copies of your personal data (save each in its own dated folder).

Keep the external hard drive off and unplugged from the power when not in use — then it cannot be accidentally corrupted, infected by a virus, or affected by power problems or lightning. If you need to recover from a back-up, you certainly want to make sure it's not damaged!

And choose a DESKTOP external hard drive over a PORTABLE one. Desktop hard drives are more robust, are AC powered, and are designed to be left on one's desk at the home or office. So they are not being jostled around in one's laptop case and seeing warmer and colder temperatures. So for several reasons desktop hard drives are much less likely to fail.

PORTABLE hard drives, are small, convenient but MORE likely to fail. If you REALLY need to do back-up "on the road," OK, but get two of these and alternate between them when backing up. Yet consider having a DESKTOP external hard drive back at your home or office, as well – then you'll have your important data on at least two back-up devices.

Whatever external hard drive you buy, be sure to get one with a three-year warranty. Many come with just a one-year warranty – you don't want those!

Develop Back-up Plans

You'll likely want to have a multi-phase strategiy and on more that one device – like daily back-ups to a USB flash drive (or better yet and alternateing set of flash drives), and weekly back-ups to a external hard drive. Determine what's best for you based on how you work and what you need to back-up. How often the information on your hard disk changes and its importance determines how often you should back it up and how many backup sets to make.

If you're a regular computer user, try to back-up at least once a week.

If you have the space on the media you're using, create more than one back-up set — this can make all the difference if you accidentally deleted something several back-ups ago. Having three back-up sets is recommended.

Consider also storing some back-up sets off-site — yet another level of protection if something drastic happens at your location.

Before Performing a Major Backup

It's recommended to do the following before any large back-up. (You should be doing these things regularly, anyway!)

  1. Update and scan with any anti-virus and anti-spyware software you have.

  2. Remove any software no longer needed.

  3. Remove any extraneous files, if you know of any and where they reside. Don't fill up your backup sets with unnecessary clutter. Remove old email and faxes, go through those files and folders you've meaning to clean out, then empty the Trash/Recycle Bin.

  4. Archive to CD or DVD any photos, movies, music, and other data that want to keep but no longer need to be on your computer

  5. Run any disk repair utilities you have.

The Essential Backup

If you do nothing else, make a copy of any files that you would be devastated to lose, such as precious photos, financial records, and important documents, and do so on a regular basis.

Better yet is to copy ALL your personal files. This can include: documents, photos, movies, music, etc. as well as data that might be stored in special locations, such as: financial records, greeting card /business card type projects, databases, bookmarks and favorites, email, contacts / address books, iTunes data, smart phone sync files, etc. One issue is to make sure you have enough room on your back-up media for all of that, especially photos, movies, music – those can take significant file space.

In this scenario, you do not back-up:

In this scenario, if your hard drive goes "belly up," at least you've saved your personal data, the most important stuff. You will, however have to reinstall everything else, such as the OS, all your applications, utilities, Internet software, peripheral software and drivers, third-party software, etc. All your preferences are lost. And expect to lose some software for which you did not have originals. This is the risk you take by not doing a full back-up (see the next section).

The Full Back-up


The ideal, however, is to backup your entire hard disk. This is by far the best thing to do. If any file, folder, program, etc. goes bad, gets infected or deleted — you're covered. If your hard drive dies or the disk goes bad, and you have to reformat or get a new one — you're covered. It's a very simple way to avoid a major headache down the road.

NOTE: Although this back-up includes your OS and applications, it's still important to make sure you have the disks for these — in some cases they need to be reinstalled to get up and running again.

MACs

Simple Back-ups

For simple back-ups, go ahead and manually back-up all your own data, or even a COPY of the hard disk. Just drag to a dated folder on your back-up media all information that you want to save.

Note about making just a simple COPY of your hard disk — you can drag your hard disk icon onto your back-up media, and this will back up MOST files on your hard disk. But it will not copy over everything, such as hidden files needed by the operation system (OS) to do its job and that allow it to boot (start up) from the back-up location. But, this method will copy over everything else, programs, utilities, preferences, and data for all users, like documents, music, pictures, videos, email, etc.

Or you can use a back-up utility program to create back-ups for you. Sometimes these take less time because they do can do incremental back-ups. But they have to configured and run properly – so sometimes it's easier to do simple back-ups by hand.

To recover a file(s) or folder(s) from a back-up copy, in most cases you can simply drag them from the back-up location to your main hard disk. If you used software to make the back-up and it uses a special format in which to store back-ups, you'll need to run the software to restore files / folders.

Clone Bootable Back-ups

But to obtain a full back-up that's also bootable, you want to create what's called a CLONE. This creates a back up of your entire hard disk that DOES copy over hidden files needed by the OS to boot. Most better back-up programs can create a clone. With a clone, you know you have a complete copy of everything on your hard drive, the OS included, and you can boot from the clone's back-up location. Also, if your main hard disk goes bad, once it's replaced, you can do a restore from the clone to your new hard disk, and you're quickly up and running again. A clone takes over the entire hard disk, or if the drive is partitioned, the entire partition being used.

To recover specific file(s) or folder(s) from a clone, simply drag them from the back-up location to your main hard disk.

To do a complete restore from a cloned copy of your hard disk, use the same software that created the clone, and make a "clone of the clone" going FROM the back-up location TO your main hard disk.

Back-up Utility Programs

A few recommended back-up programs for Mac, both of which can back-up your whole hard drive to another hard drive, writeable CDs, writeable DVDs, and more, are:

Here are some other back-up utilities:

And there are likely several other back-up utilities available.

Time Machine Back-ups

With Apple's built-in Time Machine (in OS 10.5 and later), you can have it automatically back-up everything on your Mac to an external hard drive. It then checks every hour for any changes made, and backs those up. Time Machine keeps track of all versions of your data based on the date. To restore, just go to a the specific date, find your data, and drag it to your computer.

WINDOWS PCs

Simple Back-ups

For simple back-ups, go ahead and manually back-up all your own data. Just drag to a dated folder on your back-up media all information that you want to save. We recommend doing this once a week.

Or you can use a back-up utility program to do run back-ups for you. Sometimes these take less time because they can do incremental back-ups. But they have to configured and run properly – so sometimes it's easier to do simple back-ups by hand.

To recover a file(s) or folder(s) from a back-up copy, in most cases you can simply drag them from the back-up location to your main hard disk. If you used software to make the back-up and it uses a special format in which to store back-ups, you'll need to run the software to restore files / folders.

System Image Back-ups

To make a complete copy of everything (Windows, programs, personal data, etc.) on your hard disk, create a System Image (a feature of Windows Backup). We recommend doing this once a month to an external hard drive. Multiple System Images can be stored on a single hard disk. And once the disk is full, Windows deletes the oldest System Image.

When you restore from a System Image, it replaces whatever is on your computer with all that is on the System Image.

Back-up Utility Programs

There are many back-up utilities available. Two good examples are the free, built-in Windows Backup and the third-party Norton Ghost. Both can back-up individual files and folders, or your whole hard drive, to many different types of media..


II. SECURITY

Return to TABLE OF CONTENTS



A. Run Antivirus Software, 8-18-2016

Return to TABLE OF CONTENTS

For Windows computers, there are now well over 500,000 (some say over a million) viruses, adware and spyware programs, Trojan horses, worms, keyloggers, and other types for "malware" out there attacking them.

For Macintoshes (and other computers not running Windows) not too long ago, there were very few viruses or spyware programs, and most were relatively rare. But there is now a growing number of Mac viruses and malware, and a few are rather insideous. So the day has come — there's now a definite need for anti-virus software on Macs, because of the Mac viruses and trojan horses out there, as well as cross-platform viruses (that can attack via documents created with Microsoft Office products, such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint)

Many of today's viruses are now so widespread, and/or can do such serious damage, that having up-to-date anti-virus software is an absolute must. Up-to-date anti-virus software means that the version of the software is regularly upgraded (to the latest version), as well as updated with the latest virus definition information. At least for Windows users, anti-virus software is probably the most important program you can have on your computer.

If you ever:

(which is basically everyone) your computer is vulnerable to viruses. Fortunately, the solution is simple and relatively inexpensive — prevent the viruses from infecting your system in the first place by installing and regularly updating the best anti-virus software you can find.

The better anti-virus software will automatically scan your computer as well as your computer activity looking for viruses and/or virus-like behavior.

New viruses are created often, so it is imperative that your anti-virus software be updated regularly to counteract all new viruses. We recommend updating at least once a week. The better anti-virus software will automatically update if you're connected to the Internet, but it helps to update manually as well, just to be safe (and make sure the updates are happening).

Users of any Microsoft products, such as: Windows, Microsoft email software, Microsoft Internet Explorer, and Microsoft Office software (such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint) are infinitely more vulnerable to attack. Conversely, using non-Microsoft products makes you much less vulnerable.

If your one who performs manual updates and scans with your anti-virus software, after you have done an update you should immediately scan your entire computer for viruses.

It is also very important to run anti-virus software before backing up your hard disk. You sure don't want to backup a virus!

You should also regularly update your Internet software (Web browser, email program, etc.), as the vendors of this software are constantly updating them to fix security and virus problems, and other bugs. You also want to watch for and install updates to your OS (operating system, like Windows or Mac OS) as they become available. (See the Windows Update or Mac OS Software Update feature on your computer.) Updates to other software like Adobe Reader, Flash Player, and Java should also be installed when prompted.

These days, using a computer with Windows on the Internet exposes your computer to the worst the computing world has to offer. According to Symantec, Windows users can expect to be attacked in well under a minute once connected to the Internet. Using an OS (operating system) like Linux or the Mac OS is infinitely safer. This is mostly because those that write viruses and other "malware" target the Windows operating system and other Microsoft software presumably because these products are on a large portion of the world's computers .

When selected an antivirus program, you for sure want one that:

    1. regular and automatically updates itself
    2. regular and automatically scans the whole computer for spyware
    3. has resident real-time protection to stop viruses from installing

And if you have two or more antivirus programs, you want only one program with real-time protection. Having two or more of these running at the same time can cause a conflict. So any additional antivirus software should have the real-time protection turned off (if it has that feature).

Preventative Measures:

Here are just a few of many preventative measures you should take to help avoid viruses (and/or related problems):

MACs

Here are some anti-virus program choices for Macs:

WINDOWS PCs

Here are some Windows anti-virus programs and other related items:


B. Run Antispyware Software, 2-03-2016

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Much of today freeware, shareware, cookies, media players, interactive content, and file sharing may contain code that allows their authors to collect and spread information about those using those items. Known as spyware, it can track your Internet using habits, share that data with a third party, hijack your browser start page, alter important system files, and can do so without your knowledge or permission. In fact, just Web browsing innocently, spyware can install itself on your machine and do its dirty work

For Windows users, the number of threats in the adware / spyware / malware arena seems to be growing much faster than for viruses. The need to anti-adware / anti-spyware / anti-malware software is now of very critical importance. Over a short period of time, all Windows users can expect to acquire, without their knowledge, some form of adware and / or spyware.

For Mac users at present, this issue is almost non-existent. But that may change as Macs become more popular.

Learn more about it:

Be aware of any pop-up ad claiming you have LOTS of viruses on your computer and then tries to sell you anti-virus, anti-adware, or anti-spyware software. Or, that claims it is some form of anti-spyware – it is very like adware/ spyware itself! Here is a list of some known rogue anti-spyware:

MACs

At this time, very few spyware programs are written for Macintosh. Nonetheless, here are a few Mac anti-spyware programs and resources:

WINDOWS PCs

Most Antivirus Software and Internet Security Suites are adding anti-spyware to their feature set. So if you have a recent antivirus program or Internet security suite, it's likely you have some anti-spyware capability in your arsenal. Like antivirus software, you for sure want one program with anti-spyware capability that:

      1. regular and automatically updates itself
      2. regular and automatically scans the whole computer for spyware
      3. has resident real-time protection to stop spyware from installing

But also like antivirus software, you want only one program with real-time protection. Having two or more of these running at the same time can cause a conflict. So any additional anti-spyware should have the real-time protection turned off (if it has that feature).

Anti-spyware programs are continually evolving in features and effectiveness. For a while one program will shine, then fall behind a new version of it's competitor. So it's difficult at any time to say which program is the best. And it's not the function of this page to rate the software -- there are plenty of other places that do that on a regular basis.

Offered below is a list of stand-alone anti-spyware (or antivirus & antispyware) programs. They can be used as your primary anti-spyware solution if you do not have one already, and if they meet the three requirements mentioned above. Or they can be used as secondary anti-spyware programs, again as long as their real-time protection turned off (if it has that feature).

Using anti-spyware programs

It's highly recommended to have several anti-spyware programs, as no one program is 100% effective. Update and scan with any anti-spyware software you have at least twice a month, and more often if you are a heavy Internet user and/or experiencing any issues.. Some experts say if a given anti-spyware program finds an issue, to run it again, restart your computer, and run the program a third time — to be sure everything that needs to is removed. You can also (or may need to) run these programs again while in Safe Mode to be completely thorough.

After running your arsenal of anti-spyware, it's recommend to run a good Registry repair program, see our Rebuild Windows Registry section. (The Windows Registry stores core information about all the software on your hard disk. Spyware modifies the Registry, as does anti-spyware when it removes the spyware. Cleaning the Registry is a good thing to do regularly, anyway.)

Stand-alone antispyware programs

Other spyware removers / tools include:

Free online spyware scanners:

General spyware related sites:

Rootkit Removers:

Among the most difficult of all "malware" to detect and remove are rootkits. From the AVG Web site:

"A rootkit is an application (or set of applications) that hides its presence or presence of another application (virus, spyware, etc.) on the computer and uses some of the lower layers of the operating system (API function redirection, using of undocumented OS functions, etc.) which makes them almost undetectable by common anti-malware software.

Please note that rootkits can be either correct or malicious. Correct rootkits may be installed as a part of legitimate application. Because of that, it is necessary to pay close attention to the any anti-rootkit results.

Rootkits can get to a computer using various ways. The most common way is through some Trojan horse or some suspicious e-mail attachment. Also surfing the Web may result in installation of a rootkit, for example when "special" plug-in (pretending to be legitimate) is needed to correctly view some Web page, to launch some file, etc."

From the Panda Web site:

"Rootkits are programs designed to hide processes, files or Windows Registry entries. This type of software is used by hackers to hide their tracks or to insert threats surreptitiously on compromised computers. There are types of malware that use rootkits to hide themselves on a computer. Rootkits use sophisticated techniques to avoid being detected by antivirus solutions."

Sometimes the only symptoms you will get from rootkits is an increase in network traffic, or a decrease in performance, and maybe an unknown process running. Most of the anti-virus vendors have integrated anti-rootkit technology into their more recent products, so make sure your anti-virus software has anti-rootkit capabilities.

From the Gizmos Freeware Reviews Web site:

"When your computer gets a virus, that virus tries to spread, and eventually it will damage the host making it much easier to detect. A rootkit on the other hand is designed to hide certain elements such as files, processes, registry entries, or network connections, from the user and other programs thus making it very difficult to detect. This technology can be used for good as well as malicious purposes so it is important to be familiar with your computer to avoid deleting these legitimate objects. Within Windows rootkits are used to hide malware so that their execution goes unnoticed by your security applications. So imagine that a rootkit has been installed on your computer and that its purpose is to hide a virus, thus giving the malware time to complete its goal, steal your data, and damage your system all the while going undetected. Unfortunately, rootkits are extremely effective. at this, which means that even though you may believe your PC to be totally clean, some of you could be infected right now.

Most of the anti-virus vendors have integrated anti-rootkit technology into their more recent products. However, this is not a fool proof solution against rootkits because just as the anti-virus companies improve their products detection abilities, so the malware creators find new ways to avoid detection. So as security conscious users we must rely on third party tools to help us, and there are several free applications which specialize in the detection and removal of rootkits. Keep in mind that none of these products will detect every single problem, so it is always a good idea to keep more than one of them to hand."

Below are some tools to help. There are a lot of anti-rootkit programs available, some of them are covered in this article:

But much of this software is very advanced and is therefore recommend only to those very experienced and technically-minded who are familiar with computers and operating systems.

  • Avast Anti-Rootkit (AKA aswMBR) - a rootkit scanner that scans for TDL4/3, MBRoot (Sinowal), Whistler and other rootkits. Detects most rootkits, easy to use.

  • Dr.Web CureIt! - free anti-virus and anti-spyware scanner and removal tool that is also effective at removing rootkits.

  • GMER (free) - detects and removes rootkits. Considered class leading technology. Not suitable for average users.

  • Kaspersky TDSSKiller - Considered easy to use GUI, high detection rate, removed all infected files in tests and is 64 bit compatible. Cons: Some False Positives, crashed a few times on Windows 7 Ultimate.

  • Malwarebytes Anti-Malware Free — a recommended product. Has a rootkit detecter option in the settings.

  • RootRepeal - Can remove even the most advanced rootkits. Very advanced, not recommended for average users.

  • Sophos Anti-Rootkit Tool


C. Run Firewall Software, 12-2011

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Being connected to the Internet (a global network of vast array of smaller smaller networks) allows the potential for others to access to your computer if it's not properly protected. With today's new threats of "malware" — worms, Trojans horses, viruses, spyware, adware, keyloggers, rootkits, and so on — and "always on" high-speed Internet connections — there is a great likelihood that those will malicious intent will attempt to access your computer "without permission" and all the information on it. They can potentially view, change, or delete any information or software on your computer. They can also run any program of their choice on your computer. Some hackers may not actually look at or disturb your data, but instead use your computer (as well as thousands of others) to access other more major computers on the Internet (such as those running Web sites) with malicious intent. And there is not enough real security by Internet service providers or Internet content providers to properly contain the many and constant threats out there on the Internet.

Implementing one or more forms of firewall is therefore essential for every Internet user. A firewall allows you access the Internet, but attempts to disallow undesired Internet activity to and from your computer — essentially playing "traffic cop" with all Internet traffic on your computer.

A Note about Hardware Firewalls

As mentioned in the 8/3/2004 issue of PC Magazine, page 86, or see this Web page, "even if you only have one computer connected to a broadband Internet connection, you should deploy a router." This is because most routers today protect your computer safely behind what's called a NAT Firewall, one for of hardware firewall. And although now a bit old, this article provided many good router configuration tips.

In addition to a hardware type of firewall, it is also recommended that each and every Internet user install or maintain some form of software firewall of their own.

The Home PC Firewall Guide is and excellent firewall reference site. Here you can learn how to protect home computers from Internet outlaws by using firewall software plus a wireless router with firewall features. Also: details and links to reviews of many software and hardware solutions.

MACs

Turn on your Mac's built in firewall (Apple has this turned off by default). Below are the basics, but see this site for more details: In Mac OS X, how do I enable or disable the firewall?

OS 10.4, (Tiger) – In the Sharing System Preference, select the Firewall tab.

Click the Start button to turn on the firewall. This blocks all incoming connections.

OS 10.5 (Leopard) – In the Security System Preference, select the Firewall tab.

Click Start to enable the firewall.

Most people should choose "Set access for specific services and applications" which will block most incoming connections, but allow you to make exceptions for trusted services and applications.

OS 10.6 (Snow Leopard) – In the Security System Preference, select the Firewall tab.

Click Start to enable the firewall.

Choose "Automatically allow signed software to receive incoming connections" to allow digitally signed applications access to your network without prompting.

OS 10.7 (Lion) – In the Security & Privacy System Preference, select the Firewall tab.

Click Start to enable the firewall.

Choose "Automatically allow signed software to receive incoming connections" to allow digitally signed applications access to your network without prompting.

If you feel you need it, you can also install third-party personal firewall software, which may do a more thorough job than Apple's built-in firewall. Most of today's security suites include a firewall. And there are a few stand-alone firewall programs available:

WINDOWS PCs

Since Windows XP, there has been firewall software built in to the operating system. Here is how to turn on the built-in Windows firewall:

Windows users who install an third-party firewall software should disable the built-in Windows, as multiple software firewalls can cause conflicts. The firewall software may do this for you.

It's also recommended that unless you absolutely need ti, to turn File Sharing and Printer Sharing OFF, as this is yet another avenue through which those with malicious intent can get around and access computers on a network.

Most of today's security suites include a firewall. And there are a few stand-alone firewall programs available. I've not have perfect success with standalone firewall programs, but perhaps you will. Nonetheless, as you should do with any software you're not 100% sure about, be sure to create a restore point before installing it, in the event anything does not work correctly after installing the software.


D. Security Suites, 01-2012

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Security suites are convenient, as they combine many of the essential security aspects and features you need into one program. This usually includes: anti-virus, anti-spyware, and a two-way firewall, and likely includes anti-spam, parental control, privacy control and more. But note, some standalone programs may be much better at specific types of protection.

MACs

Mac Internet security suites

WINDOWS PCs

Likely good first choices for Windows Internet security suites

Other choices — more of the MANY Windows Internet Security suite products out there:


E. Use A Junk Mail (Spam) Filter, 05-2017

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Once upon a time, filtering junk mail was the duty of your Internet Provider, but that is no longer the case. At one time, most junk mail was merely trying to sell you soemthing. These days, however, the need for a good spam/junk mail filter is now essential with the increase of messages containing viruses, malware, phishing schemes, and links to poison Web sites of those with malicious intent attempting to acquire critical information about you, such as your passwords, credit card numbers, bank accounts, and identity-related details, or install viruses or malware. Spam represents 70% of all email according to one 2014 report.

Fortunately, today's email software and Web-based email carriers (Gmail, Yahoo, etc.) include some form of junk / spam filter, although they may vary in their effectiveness.

You'll often see or hear the nickname of "spam" for junk mail – they are effectively the same thing. Spam can apply to more that junk mail, however, here's a complete description.

Be sure to see the Safe Practices and Cautions When Using Email section for tips to help prevent bad, incorrect, hoax, junk, and virus email in the future.

Train Your Junk/Spam Filter

The junk / spam filter's effectiveness greatly depends on you to train it what's good and bad. The recommend procedure is:

Every time you check your mail:

    1. Look at your junk mail / spam for any GOOD mail. If you find any, teach your filter that those messages are Not Junk / Not Spam. Then delete the rest of the junk mail. (If this is done at least every day, it's easy because there will not be much junk mail to look through.)
    2. Look for any junk mail in your normal mail (that not been filtered). If you find any, teach your filter that those messages ARE Junk / Spam.

Over time as you do this, the effectiveness of the filter should greatly improve.

Junk/Spam Filter Software

With Web-based email (Gmail, Yahoo, etc..) you must rely on whatever junk/spam mail filter they offer.

But for "on-board" email software like Windows Live Mail, Windows Mail, Outlook, Apple Mail, Thunderbird, Eudora and the like, additional choices are available beyond any built-in junk mail filter. One choice is an antispam feature that's often found as part of a Security Suite. But there are also several stand-alone anti-spam programs available that you install and run on your computer.

MACs

Some Macintosh spam filter programs are:

WINDOWS PCs

Some Windows spam filter programs are:


III. SAFE PRACTICES

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A. Safe Computer and Online Practices, 10-27-2016

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Even if you followed all of the recommendations on this page and everything on the Computer Check-up page, there are many practices that are up to YOU to follow to keep your computer, your data, and information about you, safe. Listing them all would be impossible, and the list is continually growing. In addition to all the recommnedations covered on this Web page, below are several computer and online safety practices to get started.

General

Passwords

Software

Email

Using the Web

Portable Devices

Built-in cameras

Public Computers

Wireless Networks / Routers

Additional Resources


B. Safe Practices and Cautions When Using Email, 5-18-2017

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Many of the biggest dangers are delivered direct through email, so being aware of safe email practices is vital. And please share these tips with others. If everyone practices these, it will do a lot to prevent bad, incorrect, hoax, junk, and virus-laden email in the future.

General

Email Attachments

Many viruses that spread via email come in the form of attachments (files attached to the email message), therefore...

About Web-based email and computer-based email, and don't forget to back up your email and addresses / contacts, too

We've already covered how important is is to Back Up Your Data / Hard Disk on a regular basis. But do not forget to back up your email message and contacts / address book as well. Often this contains information that is important to you.

Web-based email

Many of you have Web-based email like Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, and so. And there are many advantages to this type of email:

  • You access your mail from a Web browser, and it can easily viewed from any computer or device in the world that has Internet access.
  • It's very convenient, no matter where you are or what device you are on, there is all your email: received, sent, saved, etc., as well as all your contacts.
  • It's free — you just have to put up with ads all over the screen as "payment" for the email account.
  • You don't have to worry about updating any software, it's done for you at the email Web site.
  • This type of email system can be safer as mail and any attachments are stored on some server somewhere, and not on your computer.
  • Attachments have to be consciously downloaded to be viewed, and they (usually) go through some form of anit-virus / anti-malware check before being downloaded.

And Web-based email has several disadvantages, too. Some of these are:

  • You MUST have Internet access so see any of your email, or do anything with it, even just reading it or organizing it. On a laptop but not at a Wireless hotspot? Sorry, no email access for you. Yahoo email servers on the blink for a while? Sorry no email.
  • Often they are much more difficult to manage and organize email on accounts with a lot of email in them. And the interface is more difficult to use.
  • You are at the mercy of the email provider — the interface, if the system is available, if your account gets hacked (very common with the big free email providers), if your email gets lost, and your email is more easily stored and monitored (by any number of agencies).
  • In February of 2011, 150,000 Gmail users had all of their email lost and their accounts disable. Think about what that would mean to your life / business if that happened!

Being at the mercy of the email provider is a big concner. "Usually" all works fine, but when something goes wring, it quickly becomes a huge issue for thousand of users.

So making a back-up of your Web based email is important, and a lot of extra work, but imperative. Fortunately there is software that can help, such as:

Computer-based email

On the other hand, most standard POP3 email programs (such as Outlook, Windows Live, Mail, and Thunderbird) can be configured to connect to Web-based email accounts. Some advantages to PC-based email are:

  • You are not at the mercy of the email provider every moment of every day to access your email.
  • Your email and addresses are stored on your computer, and you have access to it anytime you like, even without Internet access.
  • If the email provider has issues (lost email, hacked accounts, down),, most of your mail and all of your contacts are still safely stored on your comaputer.
  • It's often much easier too manage and organize email on accounts with a lot of email in them. And the interface is much easier to use.
  • The software is free and there are no ads!
  • Backing up your email and contacts is much easier with PC-based email. How that's done depends on your specific email software. Backing up contacts is usually no harder (and often easier) than doing a simple export and saving that file with your back up.

And PC-based email has a few disadvantages, some of these are:

  • Most of your email is stored on your computer (using a POP3 set-up), so when viewing mail on another computer from the Web-based system for your email account, you only see new mail, not all your stored mail. This is not an issue for many who do not travel much, and/or take their laptop with them when they travel.
  • One may need to be slightly more cautious when opening attachments, and make sure you have a good and up-to-date anti-virus and anti-spyware software (which you should have on your computer, anyway).
  • Updates are usually done by the user with easy prompts from the program.

So we do not recommend Web-based email, try to use PC-based email instead. And don't forget to back up its data with your other regular back-up!

Do Not Unsubscribe

One should NEVER click on the Unsubscribe link at the bottom of spam email (unless you knowingly signed up for a legitimate mailing list or email newsletter, and you recognize the sender of the message.) Spammers (those that send junk email) are not always honest and are very happy when you click on the Unsubscribe link because it lets them know this is a real, live email address. They will very likely NOT stop sending to that email address but, in fact, just the opposite – they may send you more. And they may sell the address to other spammers. So, clicking on an Unsubscribe link may greatly increase the amount of junk mail one receives.

Two Email Accounts

Consider having two email accounts. Keep your main email address as a personal one that you give out only to selected family, friends, and co-workers. Remind them to never give out this address, and always use BCC when sending to more that one person so the address is not shared with others. Then get a second email account and use it for online ordering and any other time an email address is requested online. Ideally, only the second account will get junk email. If that address becomes overwhelmed with junk email, delete it, and get a new secondary account.

In Outlook Express:

Cautions When Sending Email:

1. Verify Before Sending

Before sending out an email to others about something you were emailed claiming to be true, PLEASE, PLEASE check it out on the Internet BEFORE sending these out. Many emailings being passed around these days are hoaxes, urban legends, myths, rumors, or have the facts wrong. (These can be claims about viruses, cancer, lost kids, Neiman Marcus cookies... there are 1000's of them!)

I recommend going to Google and putting in a few keywords from the emailing and the word: hoax You'll be surprised how many are hoaxes, or have bad information in them. Other places to check include www.snopes.com and urbanlegends.about.com.

If you find out something was a hoax, please respond to the person that sent you the hoax and let them know, and remind them to tell all the people to which they sent the original message.

2. Use BCC (Blind Carbon Copy)

When sending email to a list of recipients, never use TO or CC, instead always use BCC (blind carbon copy). This is true even if the recipients know each other and especially true if anyone on the list does not want their email address shared with the rest of the world (and forever) -- which you should assume is all of your intended recipients.

Failing to use BCC incurs the following issues --

  • Your email message will be used by viruses to send themselves to EVERYONE in the email, and done so in the background by the virus, without the user's involvement. You would feel terrible knowing that even though your computer has good anti-virus protection, your message was the cause for the computers of many of your fiends, family, and others you know to become infected. Viruses may also use any name and address on the list to FORGE an email address in their mass mailings.

  • Your email message will be used by junk emailers to harvest the email address of EVERYONE in that email, thus allowing the spread of those addresses to junk emailers worldwide, who often sell them to other junk emailers. And junk mailers may also use any name and address on the list to FORGE an email address in their mass mailings.

  • Everyone that sees that email can also see everyone else's email address. Not using BCC greatly violates the privacy of all the recipients. Over the years, I've seen MANY email addresses I probably was not supposed to or others that did not want their address shared this way.

  • If the list is large, if forces your recipients to scroll through sometimes many screens of email addresses before they finally get to the main message of the email. And since these messages tend to get passed around a lot, that list can become very, very long.

  • If the message is forwarded on to any others, ALL those others now also know the email addresses for all your recipients. And if the message is forwarded a lot, your recipients' addresses can quickly be shared with many 1000's of people! And that can go on forever as the message gets passed around over and over again.

This also GREATLY improves the ability of a virus to spread, and the likelihood that junk emailers will find all these addresses.

(Junk email and viruses send their email often forging it to be from addressees of real people. Email that does not BCC in a vital source of addresses for them.)

This is yet another reason why when you forward a message, it's imperative that you remove ALL the previous recipients. If the message is worth sending, it's worth cleaning up. If you're not going to clean up a message, please do not send it.

If you do not know how to use BCC in your email program, please find out how — consult the email program's manual or help system, or Web site, do a Google search, ask other computer users, friends, family members, teachers, coworkesr, computer techs, even any "kid" who knows how to use a computer, etc..

3. Remove email addresses when forwarding

For the same reasons as using BCC, when forwarding mail, be sure to strip out all the previous email addresses. If you cannot do this, or do not now how, copy the part of the forwarded message you want to send, and paste it into a new email message.

Do your best to clean up poorly formatted message. If a message is worth sending and sharing with others, it's worth cleaning up.

4. Use plain text formatting

Due to the growing number of email filters that are rejecting email based on the HTML content – due to the possibility of a virus embedded in the code or being spam (junk mail) – it's recommended that you not use any HTML formatting in your messages. Instead, switch to plain text messages. And this will help ensure all recipients will be able to receive and read your mail.

5. Do not sign email petitions

Email petition states a position and asks you to add your name and address and to forward it on to many people. This type of ail can collect thousands of names and email addresses. A FACT: The completed petition is actually worth money to professional spammers because of the large number of valid names and email addresses.

DO NOT put your email address on any petition. If you want to support the petition, send it as your own personal letter to the intended recipient. Your position may carry more weight as a personal letter than a laundry list of names and email address on a petition.

6. Be courteous to your recipients

Do your best to clean up poorly formatted message. If a message is worth sending and sharing with others, it's worth cleaning up. Remove any extraneous content, and send only the pertinent part of the message.

Be aware of if your recipients have a high or low speed Internet connection – can they (or do they want to) receive emails with large attachments?

If sending a video, see if you can send just the Web address (like from YouTube) instead of sending the huge video file. Go to
www.YouTube.com and enter a few keywords, like the subject of the video, or the type of video (Norwegian airline ad, for example) to see if it's there. Also, try searching for it at Google. Popular videos will be "all over" the Web.

For emails that you want to forward that contain many popular photographs, also search Google (or other good search engine) to see if you can find a Web page with the photos. Then send just the Web page address, not the photos themselves.

7. Treat all email as confidential.

Since the birth of email, one rule became clear — "never say what your mother would not be proud of!" Because you never know what your recipients will do with the message — and it could be passed on to anyone, forever! (Not to mention that your email is stored somewhere, perhaps several places, and can be reviewed at any time by many different types of people.)

Some companies and organizations use Confidentiality Notices in all their email messages, such as:

CONFIDENTIALITY NOTICE: This electronic message is intended to be viewed only by the individual or entity to whom it is addressed. It may contain information that is personal, privileged, confidential, and exempt from disclosure under applicable law. Any dissemination, distribution or copying of this communication is strictly prohibited without our prior permission.

All email users should assume that notice is on EVERY email message they receive. This will make sure senders of email will:

  • Stop before forwarding anything that someone else said. Most things people say in email they did not intend or expect to get forwarded. They intended the message for the initial recipients' ears only.
  • Obtain permission from the author before sending anything that someone else said.

This applies to all email, business and personal.


IV. POWER and EQUIPMENT RELATED

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A. Should I Turn Off My Computer When Not in Use?, 12-2011

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Many folks ask, should I turn my computer off or leave it on all the time? The answer depends on where and how it's used.

Home users –

If for some reason you choose to not to follow the advice above but instead leave your computer ON, you MUST do the following:

At work and/or part of a non-home network –

Talk to your IT folks / system administrator for the best answer.

A Note About Turning Your Computer Off

If you do not have a modem/router that needs to be on all the time to provide Internet access for other devices in your home, then plug your computer, monitor, printer, modem, router into a UPS, surge protector, or power strip. Then when you turn off the computer, also turn off the UPS, surge protector, or power strip as well. Why:

Ventilation

"By the way, one thing that impacts your computer's lifespan more than power cycling is ventilation. Make sure that your computer has good airflow through and around it, and make sure that dust doesn't accumulate on or it or in it. Excessive heat is more of a danger than the number of times you turn the computer off and on." (From: this site.)

Some of the reasons behind the recommendations…

A few quotes:

“Hardware is very reliable – software is a whole different story, and there is a lot to be said for rebooting every day.” (From this site.)

"Excessive heat is more of a danger than the number of times you turn the computer off and on." (From: this site.)

“The devices are, themselves, built for, and choosing to, power cycle fairly frequently. And in almost all cases, the devices are lasting longer than we need them.” (From: this site.)



B. Use a UPS (Uninterruptable Power Supply / Battery Backup), 12-2011

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If you ever have power outages where you live, or have electrical voltage dips, brownouts, spikes, surges, and/or any other type of transients in your electric service – and I don't know anyone that doesn't – I highly recommend purchasing a UPS (Uninterruptable Power Supply). also called a battery backup. These use a battery to provide power for a few minutes (usually 5 to 20 depending on the UPS and equipment connected to it) – which is more than enough time for you to realize there's a power outage, save all your work, and properly shutdown your computer and other equipment. UPSs also have built-in surge protection.

Most computer equipment cannot handle much of a change in voltage, they merely shut off. And none can handle a power outage. When one occurs, all unsaved work is LOST FOREVER, and your equipment can be damaged. Power outages also often have power spikes that occur with them, adding to the potential for damage. And if you happen to be writing to the hard disk during that time, it could spell big problems with access to your hard disk. It's possible that the file catalog and/or hard disk driver can become corrupt if a power outage occurs when the hard disk is being written to.

This helps point out the need for maintaining regular backups of at least your most critical data, and having good disk repair software avaialble.

UPSs are very reasonably priced, and start at around $40. Good ones are typically from APC, CyberPower, Tripp Lite. UPSs often come with an equipment coverage policy, in case it's the fault of the UPS for damage to your equipment (if it was properly connected to the UPS).

If you do not have this feature already in your surge protector, consider a UPS with surge protection for your phone line, DSL phone line, cable TV and cable Internet lines, and satellite cables.

Buy one that has jacks for a phone line, too – to help protect the modem, and all the equipment attached to it.

Also see Protect Your Modem and Router below.


WARNING – Regardless of any electrical protection you have, in the event of lightning, there is only ONE sure solution, and that is to Unplug Equipment for Lightning Protection.


C. Use a Surge Protector, 12-01-2016

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If you don't Use a UPS, at the bare minimum, get the best surge protector available (such as those from Tripp Lite and APC). These cost a bit more (perhaps $50), but are real protectors, not like "dime-store" variety power strips that claim some suppression. Better protectors also offer an equipment coverage policy in case it's their fault your equipment is damaged.

Phone Line – Be sure to buy a surge protector that has jacks for a phone line, too – to help protect any of the equipment attached to the phone line, such as phones, FAX machines, answering machines, DSL modems (and therefore your computer), etc.. Damage through phone lines is just as likely as through electric power lines, and some experts claim is more likely.

DSL Line – If you have DSL (high-speed Internet through the phone line), run the phone line through a surge protector, then go through a DSL splitter to your DSL equipment and phone equipment. (But if you notice a large change in DSL speed after running your phone line through a surge protector, it may be adding unwanted noise on the line. See if removing the surge protector from the picture fixes that.)

Coax Cable – If you use cable or satellite Internet service, buy a surge protector that includes protection for coax cable.

Ethernet Cable – Some better surge protectors include protection for Ethernet cable, commonly used with DSL, cable, and satellite modems to connect to your computer. But this puts the protection downstream from your modem and does not protect the modem. It's not as good as protection upstream (before) the modem (as mentioned above, by running your DSL phone line, or cable or satellite Internet service coax cable through the surge protector).

This page should be helpful: Tripp Lite's Surge Protector Buying Guide

If you want to go "whole hog," consider buying a surge protector for your whole house (available from your power company, local electrician, even Amazon). These are installed in or near the electric service box, cover all your appliances and electronics, and carry an equipment coverage policy in case the protector fails or a surge occurs that's too strong for it to handle. Two that were recommneded to me are the Homeline SurgeBreaker (takes two slots in you box) and the Home Electronics Protective Device (mounts outside of the service box). Check with your power company or local electrician for the best advice.

Also see Protect Your Modem and Router below.


Some notes about surge protectors:

WARNING – Surge protectors DO NOT protect against surges any stronger that what they are rated for, such as LIGHTNING, especially a direct strike at your home or office, or nearby. Therefore, regardless of any electrical protection you have, in the event of lightning, there is only ONE sure solution – Unplug All Equipment for Lightning Protection.


D. Protect Your Modem and Router, 01-2012

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Modems (built-in or external, dial-up, cable, DSL, satellite) and routers, (and combination modem/routers, sometimes called gateways) are very sensitive to electrical fluctuations such as spikes, surges, voltage dips, and brownouts (not to mention lightning strikes!). If you are not using a UPS or line conditioner, and even if they are plugged into a surge protector, it's ideal if you can keep your modem and router off and unplugged (both power and phone line/coax cable) when not in use – to ensure they are not disturbed by any electrical oddities. Of course, this is not possible with a built-in modem, and can be inconvenient for a cable, DSL, or satellite modem if they have no on-off switch, and if the Internet is used by many people and/or for many devices.

Nonetheless, it's very important for the safely of your equipment, that if conditions are such that electrically odd behavior may occur — such as heavy wind, rain, ice, snow, or stormy conditions, or peak times in the summer — or you are already experiencing your lights dimming and/or brightening, or other electrical odd behavior, that you:


WARNING – Regardless of any electrical protection you may (such as a UPS, line conditioner, or surge protector), you should always Unplug All Equipment for Lightning Protection, as covered below.


E. Unplug All Equipment for Lightning Protection, 01-2012

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The makers of the better surge protectors (like TrippLite and APC ) offer some models that claim to handle lightning strikes and have an equipment coverage policy if it's their fault for any damage. However, these very likely will not be able to handle all cases of lightning strikes, especially direct strikes to your home or business.

And assuming you can prove it was the fault of the surge protector, you still have a fried computer and other equipment. Do you really want to go through the many hassles involved of buying new equipment and setting it up, and trying to restore and/or reinstall all your software and all your data (assuming you even have a recent back up)? A much simpler and cheaper "insurance policy" is available...

All you need do is unplug a few things any time you are aware that lightning is occurring, about or likely to occur, and when you leave your home or business for very long:

Make it convenient, or you won't do it. Set up so you only need to unplug one or two plugs to cover all the electrical connections to your whole computer system, and one phone line, cable TV line, or satellite line. Make unplugging a regular habit. You will be glad you did should anything nasty ever happen.


V. FILE SYSTEM and SOFTWARE MAINTENANCE

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A. Repair Disk Permissions (Mac OS) / Tune up the Registry (Windows), 03-2016

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MACs

Macintosh computers do not require much regular maintenance, but one thing that does help to do about once a month is to Repair Disk Permissions. This applies to Mac OS 10.0 (Cheetah) through 10.10 (Yosemite).

To repair the disk permissions:

NOTE: With 10.11 (El Capitan), repairing the disk permissions is, for the most part, no longer needed, because of the new System Integrity Protection (SIP) feature. (By preventing write access to system directories, the system file and directory permissions are maintained automatically during Apple software updates, and the Repair Disk Permissions feautire is not even available in the Disk Utility program.)

WINDOWS PCs

As you use your computer and add and delete software (and as malware infects and is removed from your computer), you'll likely notice your computer slowing down. One reason for this is because the Windows Registry, which stores core information and instructions about all the software on your hard disk) can become somewhat corrupted or filled with old/unneeded information. So keeping your computer free of any unneeded software (see Remove Unneeded Software) and regularly cleaning the Registry can help improve your computer's speed and/or help it run more efficiently.

Clean the Windows Registry

To clean the registry, it is recommended to repair it with a good and trusted registry repair program. (There are many registry repair programs out there that should not be trusted.)

It's essential that you backup the registry before using a registry cleaner. For most users the easiest way to do this is to create a system Restore Point (see Create Restore Points), which you should be creating regularly, anyway. (Even better is to use a drive-imaging program to create a snapshot "image" of Windows, which you can use for system recovery if needed.) Fortunately, many registry cleaners offer a way to back-up the registry before making any repairs.

A few of many Windows registry cleaners:

Completely Rebuild the Windows Registry.

As mentioned, the registry stores core information about all the software on your hard disk and can become corrupted or filled with a lot of unneeded information. If it's damaged badly enough, the best (and perhaps only) way to fix it is to completely rebuild the registry is with a "fresh" installation of Windows. This involves completely erasing your hard disk and reinstalling EVERYTHING, a BIG job! The basic steps are:

This rewrites all the disk catalog and registry information, and removes all unneeded files left over from programs no longer on the computer. This clears a lot of problems and speeds up the computer. However, this is a big operation, and should be only done if recommended by a computer technician or other expert. And it should only be done or assisted by an expert.


B. Run Disk Repair Utility Software, 2-2016

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A very important part of maintaining your computer is regularly running a good disk repair utility.

It's recommended to run this software once a week, and more often if you have issues like a computer that crashes a lot. Ideally it should be run after any type of a software crash (where the software would not stop nicely on its own when requested).

If this is not done, after a while, problems can develop that cause additional crashing of the computer software, render your hard disk unreadable or unrecognizable, keep your computer from starting up properly, and/or other strange behavior. Critical information on the hard disk can become so "corrupted" that the entire disk will need to erased and reformatted.

MACs

Macs come with Disk Utility (in Applications/Utilities folder and it's also on your System Install disk.

Quit all programs. Run Disk Utility,

Note that Disk Utility cannot repair the disk as much or as well as the third-party products mentioned below, but if nothing else, it can alert you to problems that need to be fixed. (And it's possible that Disk Utility might fix some things the other programs cannot.)

Two popular and very good third-party products
:

Disk Warrior from AlSoft is an excellent product creating a new optimized disk directory (catalog). Instead of attempting to repair a disk's directory (as some products can only do), Disk Warrior builds a new (and optimized) directory. It is recommended to run Disk Warrior regularly as preventative medicine.

Another good choice is Techtool Pro from MicroMat whose basic features are:

  • create a new optimized disk directory (catalog) like Disk Warrior. This is crucial capability, and an excellent preventative measure.
  • disk repair utilities
  • disk optimization
  • scan the hard disk media for bad sectors or blocks
  • a whole slew of other test and fix utilities


WINDOWS PCs

Windows PC's come with a disk repair utility called Error Checking (and internally as CHKDSK). (In earlier versions of Windows it was called ScanDisk.)

Check a drive for errors in Windows XP

Check a drive for errors in Windows Vista

Check a drive for errors in Windows 7

Details about using Error Checking:

Third-party utilities are also available, such as Norton Utilities from Symantec, which usually offer more features and capabilities.



C. Defragment and Optimize Your Hard Disk, 2-04-2012

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As you add and remove files on the hard disk, the files get fragmented (split into pieces) and scattered around on various locations on the hard disk. This is transparent to you, the user, thanks to the operation system. But it's a good idea to occasionally (like every three months) defragment and optimize the files on your hard disk. Defragmentation rewrites each file in one continuous group of disk sectors. Optimization relocates the files to the optimum location on the disk based on file type. Both of these operations improve the speed of your hard disk and help to minimize certain types of freezes and crashes, and other odd behavior.

Some claim because of the huge size and speed of hard disks today the need for defragmentation is much less. But it cannot hurt and will only help, so it's still recommended.

Before you perform defragmentation and optimization operations on your hard disk, you likely need to temporarily disable any type of hard disk encryption (including FileVault on Mac) or password protection software. Ideally, you should also:

Defragmentation and optimization processes move all or most of the files on the hard disk, so if there's any problem, you will need a complete backup from which to recover. (Of course, you are already performing a regular back up, anyway, right...?)

By the way, before you defragment your disk, now is a good time to remove any unneeded software, and clean up other files you no longer need.

Be sure to read beforehand any documentation that comes with the defragmentation and optimization program you are using for other important considerations. Most programs claim to be pretty safe – like if there's a power outage during the process...!

And make sure you have no other programs running while performing the defragmentation and optimization processes. Windows users may want to start up in Safe Mode first. (See Starting your computer in Safe mode.)

A Note About Solid-State Drives (SSDs)

A nice as solid-state drives appear to be with no moving parts and faster speed (compared to traditional hard disk drives), besides being much more expensive, they have one other big drawback: they have a limited write cycle. You cannot write data to the drive a nearly infinite number of times like you can with a traditional hard disk drive; doing so severly shortens the drive's life span. In an attempt to partially compensate for this shortcoming, many techniques are employed to spread the writing of data over the entire capacity of the drive. The experts also recommend to never defragment a solid-state drive, as doing so severely shortens the life span of the drive.

This is a concern for Windows users, as the built-in Disk Defragmenter may run automatically like as once a week. Be sure to turn that off! Open up the Disk Defragmenter program, click the Configure Schedule button and in there you can turn off the scheduled running.

MACs

Apple says with Mac OS X, "there is little benefit to defragmenting," as mentioned on this Web page. Apple adds,

"If you think you might need to defragment, try restarting first. It might help, and it's easy to do. But, If your disks are almost full, and you often modify or create large files (such as editing video), there's a chance the disk could be fragmented. In this case, you might benefit from defragmentation, which can be performed with some third-party disk utilities."

This Web page, "Do You Need to Defragment a Mac's Hard Drive?" also explains why defragmenting a Mac OS X hard disk is likely never needed:

"Mac OS X [hard disks] rarely, if ever, need to have their disk space defragmented. The only real exception to this is when your hard disk has less than 10 percent free space. At that point, OS X is unable to perform its automatic defragmentation routines, and you should consider either removing files or expanding your disk storage size."

If you feel you need to, here are few of the more popular defragmentation / optimization programs available:

Remember, if you have a solid-state drive, never defragment a solid-state drive, as doing so severely shortens the life span of the drive.

WINDOWS PCs

Windows PC's come with a built-in defragmentation / optimization utility called Disk Defragmenter available in the Start / (All) Programs / Accessories / System Tools. Third-party utilities are also available, such as Norton Utilities from Symantec, which usually offer more features and capabilities.

In Windows 7, Disk Defragmenter may run automatically at scheduled times. Open up the program to verify that this is happning and when.

Remember, if you have a solid-state drive, never defragment a solid-state drive, as doing so severely shortens the life span of the drive. So be sure to turn off the automatic running of Disk Defragmenter. Open up the program, click the Configure Schedule button and in there you can turn off the scheduled running.


D. Create Restore Points (Windows), 01-2012

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Windows ME, XP, Vista, and Windows 7 have a neat feature called System Restore. It takes "snapshots" of your system automatically every so often to which you can return, should your computer's behavior become unruly, perhaps due to spyware, a virus, a bad program that was installed, etc.. (The automatic System Restore feature can be turned off if desired.) You can also create your own snapshots, called restore points. It is recommended to do this before you install any software, or make any major change, so that you can return your computer's software to its previous state should the new software prove unreliable, or otherwise foul things up.

The procedure to create a restore point varies with each version of Windows. Here is one way to do so in Windows 7, according to Microsoft: Create a Windows 7 restore point

To return your system to a specific restore point, run System Restore by going to Start / (All) Programs / Accessories / System Tools / System Restore. None of your personal data is affected, only installed software and the operating system.


E. Create Repair and Recovery Disks, 01-2012

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Do you have CDs or DVDs from which you can boot your computer should you ever need to repair or recover your operating system and/or other software that came on your computer?

MACs

These are the Mac OS disks that came with your computer. You can boot from these and perform a Repair Disk operation or do complete restore of the operation system. If you do not have these, see your Apple dealer.

For those with Mac OS X 10. 7 (Lion) use the Lion Recovery Disk Assistant Tool (or see Apple Lion Recovery Disk Assistant page for more details and a download link) to create an external bootable recovery drive. This page will help: Lion Recovery Disk Assistant Tool Makes External Lion Boot Recovery Drives. Here is more about Lion Recovery.

WINDOWS PCs

Manufacturers used to provide the disks to repair or reinstall Windows, the hardware drivers, and the factory-installed applications. They now "save a buck" and make you create these. So, you need to create your own System Repair and System Recovery disks whenever you first get a computer. If you have not already done so, please, do so now!



F. Remove Unneeded Software, 01-2012

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It's easy to accumulate software programs we no longer need or use. But it's important to remove those programs, for not only do they take up unnecessary storage space, they may also have processes running in the "background" slowing down the computer, and adding to the mix of software with which everything else on the computer has to be compatible.

First, identify any and all programs you no longer need. If you possess the CD or DVD the software came on, if you remove a program now, you can reinstall it later should you need it again. And if you downloaded the software from the Internet, you can download it again later (and likely get a newer version) should you need it again.

Warning – be careful, however, to NEVER remove any program or software you don't recognize — it may very well be an important part of your computer!

MACs

Removing software from Macs is not as important, for they tend to not burden the system as much as on Windows machines. But some programs do consume system resources and so if removed may improve your Mac's performance.

There are several ways to uninstall unneeded programs. For programs put in place with an installer, run the installer and then look for the "uninstall" feature. If the program created an Installer Log file, it lists the files installed, and their location – just remove these, and restart. And for some programs it's as simple as dragging the program from the Applications folder to the Trash.

See also: Uninstalling Applications in Mac OS X

There are also third-party programs available to help you cleanly remove unwanted software.

WINDOWS PCs

Removing programs from a Windows computer can go from incredibly easy to virtually impossible. All of the better and "nicer" software offer uninstallers. If done properly all the program's files and its entries from the Windows Registry are removed. Here are the recommended methods:

If you do not use a program's uninstaller, but try to remove the program manually, you are likely asking for trouble. You are not removing all the files and processes it put on your computer, as well as all the changes it made to system files and the registry.

There are also third-party programs available to help you cleanly remove unwanted software.


G. Remove Unneeded Data and Files, 2-10-2016

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Are you doing all you can to remove unneeded and unwanted files and other gunk from your computer?

Your Data

Of course it's up to you to maintain your data: all your documents, spreadsheets, photos, music, videos, favorites, bookmarks, email, address book, desktop, folders, etc.. Get rid of things no longer needed (or archive them to a CD or DVD) and keep things organized. Otherwise your stuff can grow into a nearly unmanageable mess.

Unwanted Files and Other Gunk

Also important is to get rid of the myriad of unwanted files on the computer, things like temporary files and caches, most of which are out of the user's sight but often continually building.

MACs

Run a program like Onyx or YASU (both are free) that clean out many unneeded files and caches and perform other helpful chores. The free CCleaner for Mac is also a good choice.

WINDOWS PCs

Run Disk Cleanup (Start Menu / (All) Programs) / Accessories / System Tools) and/or the free CCleaner that clean out many unneeded files and caches and other gunk.


VI. GENERAL TIPS

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A. Monitor Your Internet Connection Speed, 3-23-2015

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Do you know what speed you are paying for? Do you have any idea what speed you're actually getting? It helps to verify and monitor your Internet connection speed. It's not uncommon that the speed you're paying for is different from what you're actually receiving.

Most Internet service provides (ISPs) offer various levels of service that have a specific maximum speed at which you are connected to the Internet. Use the Web sites below to test the speed of your connection. It should consistently be 80% or better of your ISP's promised speed. For example, if you have signed up for 12 mbps (megabits per second) service, you should see at least 9.6 mbps at the test site. At any given test site, test your speed a few times and at different times of day, and over several days. If you are not consistently getting the speed of service you signed up for, call your ISP. And monitor your speed regularly to see that it does not "degrade" over time.

The location of the server being used to do a speed test makes a lot of difference. In general, the closer a server is to your location the higher the speed you'll see. The further a server is from you, the more you're testing Internet's network speed, and less the speed of the connection through your ISP, so expect slower speeds. So, to look for consistent results, use the same speed test each time you do a test and test to the same servers — find a test site that provides a server that's fairly close to your location.

The performance of your Internet connection relies on many factors. For the most consistent results when running a speed test:

Section 1.

The Test Sites...

The following test sites do not seem to accurately or consistently measure the speed of the connection to your ISP, and/or do not so for both older and newer software and hardware. But your results may be different, and you may, at least, be able to use these test sites to measure how fast your computer can load data from a specific Web site or server. See section 2 below for speed test sites that more accurately and consistently measure the connection speed to your ISP.

The Results...

Where one set of numbers are given, they are the combined results from both an older machine and an older Web browser with those of a fairly new machine and a newer Web browser, as the results were similar.

Where two sets of numbers are given, the first is from an older machine and an older Web browser, and the second is from a fairly new machine and a newer Web browser.

Results in bold are within the range of what Charter says is a 30 mbps download and a 4 mbps upload connection.

The results shown are specific to my situation and location in Michigan. They are from several tests starting on 10/09/2013 and were repeated at various times of the day for a few weeks after that.. You should not expect the same results. But may be able to use these as a rough guide of what to expect for your situation.

Results

Test Site

Download

Upload

  Server(s) Used (and other comments)

ATT Speed Test

7 - 10

13 - 17

3.9 - 4.3

4.3 - 4.5

  No choice of server, and server unknown. Also reports latency and jitter. This site uses Ookla speed test technology.

Broadband
Checker

11 - 14

30 - 34

2.3 - 3.3

3.6 - 5.1

  It says it chooses the "nearest" of 8 servers in the US, but sometimes it does not choose wisely, and at times it even chooses locations outside the US. So be sure to watch which server it chooses, as often it chooses a different server each time, giving you inconsistent results. Results should only be compared with tests done to the same server.

Beware of all the ads!

PC Pitstop
Bandwidth

18 - 26

3.8 - 4.2

  You choose closest server, but from only three in the US and one in London. So the results will likely be less, as you cannot choose a very close server. Be sure to choose the same server for eash test for consistency. This site uses Ookla speed test technology.

((Server chosen: Washington DC))

Ping Test

8- 12

31- 34

1.5 - 3

4.3 - 4.9

  Tests for latency (averaged between small and large packets) and Internet speed.

Speed of Me

15 - 19

18 - 33

4.1 - 4.2

1.3 - 4.6

  "An HTML5 Internet speed test. No Flash or Java needed." Offers a graph showing the live results. Seems weak in the upload speed, but it says it's showing real-world download and upload results.

Does not work well on older browsers or older machines.

But can test for speeds up to 100 mbps.

Speed Test.net

Test did
not run

27 - 37

Test did
not run

4.2

  It chooses the nearest server but you can choose others.

It takes a while to load, especially on older browsers and/or older machines, and when is did load, in some cases did not work. It looks like they are not set up to handle the capacity of all their visitors, as well as older software and hardware.

This site uses Ookla speed test technology.

Beware of the ads!

((Server chosen: Allendale, MI))

Test My Speed.com

7 - 19

20 - 34

1.4 - 3.7

2.2 - 4.6

  It chooses a server, at various locations in the US, and sometimes in the UK — leading to varying results. A server closer to your location will provide more accurate
results, so we wish it would always choose the closest server, or let you choose.

Xfinity Comcast
 Speed Test

12 - 18

32 - 36

3.5 - 4.3

3.5 - 4.4

  You choose from several servers in the US. (This site uses Ookla speed test technology but for some reason gets inconsistent results.)

((Server chosen: Chicago))



Section 2.

The Test Sites...

On the other hand (compared to section 1), the following test sites appear to more accurately measure the connection speed to your ISP. Note that this is not the speed you should expect when connecting to just any Web server on the Internet. (All of these use Ookla speed test technology, but connect to servers in different cities) All of these provide more reliable and consistent results for both older and newer software and hardware.

The Results...

These are the combined results from both an older machine and an older Web browser with those of a fairly new machine and a newer Web browser, as the results were similar.

Results in bold are within the range of what Charter says is a 30 mbps download and a 4 mbps upload connection.

The results shown are specific to my situation and location in Michigan. They are from several tests starting on 10/09/2013 and were repeated at various times of the day for a few weeks after that.. You should not expect the same results. But may be able to use these as a rough guide of what to expect for your situation.

 

Results

   
Test Site

Download

Upload

  Server(s) Used (and other comments)

CenturyLink
Speed Test

31 - 40

4.1 - 4.3

  You choose closest server from 8 in the US. It says the test is optimized for speeds up to 100 mbps download and 50 mbps upload.

((Server chosen: Chicago))

Charter
Speed Test

27 - 41

4.0 - 4.3

  It chooses the nearest server to your location on Charter's network, so if you're a Charter customer, you're likely to get higher numbers (and more accurate results).

((Server chosen: Allendale, MI))

Speakeasy
Speed Test

25 - 36

3.9 - 4.3

  You choose closest server from 8 in the US.

((Server chosen: Chicago))

Verizon
Speed Test

27 - 35

4.2 - 4.3

  Appears to choose the closest server to your location based on several in the US. It can measure connection speeds up to 500 mbps. But it says it is "accurate (only) up to 100 mbps. Results for speeds above that may not be reliable."

Note that sometimes the page is very slow to load, and sometimes it does not load at all. It looks like they are not set up to handle the capacity of all their visitors.

((Server chosen: Chicago))

Also...



B. Install As Much Memory (RAM) As Possible, 01-2012

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RAM (Random Access Memory) is not the same as hard disk space. Though both are measured in similar units, such as megabytes (mB) or gigabytes (gB), hard disk space is permanent storage for all the software and data installed on your computer. RAM is temporary storage for a program (and its data) being "run" on your computer. When you open a document, the computer runs the program that created it, and both the document and the program are read from the hard disk into RAM. When you save a document, a copy of that is read from RAM and written to the hard disk. Opening larger and/or many documents at once requires more RAM. Opening many programs at the same time requires more RAM.

The operating system and every program need a minimum amount of RAM to run efficiently. If that amount is not available, the computer or the program will run very slowly (if at all). On the other hand, adding more memory makes your computer "happy!" It gives the operating system more "breathing room," and your computer is much less likely to freeze or crash. Additional memory makes all programs "happier," too, having more that enough room in which to run. Having more RAM also allows you to run more programs efficiently at once.

Adding RAM is relatively cheap and an easy way to speed up and improve your system. And in general the price of RAM per GB continues to decline. Of course, the need for RAM continues to grow with each new version of software, operating system, and computer, so it's a good thing the cost of RAM continues its downward trend.

Having lots of memory increases the resale value of your computer when you move up to a new one. And adding more now is a good idea should the price of memory go up in the future.

So, install as much RAM as you can afford. Go beyond the minimum RAM requirements for your particular OS (see below), at least double. Power users definitely need several times more than the minimum amount of RAM. Having more RAM helps now and will especially help in the future as RAM needs increase. Expect RAM requirements to double with each new version of the Mac OS or Windows.

MACs

Adding more RAM can noticeably speed up your Mac, help all programs run better, and allow you to run many programs at the same time more efficiently. The minimum RAM requirements for the Mac OS are:

Two to four times the minimum RAM requirement is highly recommended.

WINDOWS PCs

Adding more RAM on a Windows PC usually speeds it up significantly. helps all programs run better, and allows you to run many programs at the same time more efficiently. The minimum RAM requirements for Windows are:

Four times the minimum RAM requirement is recommended.



C. Upgrading the Operating System (Mac OS and Windows), 01-2016

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Special note about Windows 10, 01-2016

For the past several months, those with Windows 7 and Windows 8 are being badgered by Microsoft with pop-ups, a system tray icon, and other items to upgrade to Windows 10 for free. This is quite unfortunate, causing people grief, and we have to teach them to avoid it, because:

  • Windows 10 is "too new" and still has bugs and is causing problems
  • it does not install properly on all computers
  • it will not run properly on all computers
  • it might not be compatible will all the software you may have
  • it may cause your machine to slow down
  • it has a different interface that many will not like, and there is a leaning curve to figuring out how to use it
  • one should do specific types "system scans" and full system back-up anytime before upgrading an operating system, and for sure before installing a brand new version

Avoid it for AT LEAST 6 months to a year until it can be studied by users and experts (and then hopefully fixed and updated by Microsoft).

NOTE: If you are tired of being continually pestered by Microsft by the notifications and pop-ups to get Windows 10, the free GWX Control Panel software removes all of that.

An upgrade to the operating system (OS) is a major change in versions, like from Mac OS 10.6 to 10.7, or from Windows 7 to Windows 8. (An update is a minor change to the OS version, like from Mac OS 10.7.1 to 10.7.2, or from Windows 7 Service Pack 1 to Windows 7 Service Pack 2.)

Upgrades of the OS are released every few years, roughly 2-3 years for the Mac OS, and 4-6 years for Windows. During the life of your computer it's likely you'll see the release of at least one OS upgrade. (Updates to the OS happen much more frequently.)

A common question is, "should I upgrade to a newer or the latest version of the operating system?" It's recommended to be very cautious about upgrading to a new OS. (Updates, by the way, are fine and recommended.)

First, will your hardware meet the system requirements for the new OS? It's typical that to jump 3 versions of the Mac OS and 2 versions of Windows requires a new computer to adequately run that new OS. And an upgrade to any new OS requires more memory (RAM) and may run slower (on your machine) than previous versions.

Also, much of the time when upgrading to a new OS you will need to upgrade many aspects of the other software on your computer, such as:

Some specific items may not be upgradable, or have an upgrade available, so you may lose its capability. And some software or hardware may not even run under the new OS.

Finding out which software needs to be upgraded can be a big chore. You may find out only after several crashes and resolving several conflicts what software is the cause.

You may have specific software or hardware needs which require you to move to the new OS. At other times, you may have to upgrade your computer when you move to a new OS. So it can be a never-ending circle! (Of course hardware and software vendors love it – they sell more stuff!)

Some people stay with a particular OS for years! That's okay, IF you never want to communicate or share data with the rest of the world, or use the latest software or hardware.

If all is working well with your current OS, usually there is not a compelling reason to upgrade to the new OS. There may be a few new bells and whistles, but often not a major difference in capabilities. On the other hand, sometimes there are major bug fixes in a new OS. If you are having lots of problems with your current OS, it may be that upgrading to a more stable OS is just what's needed. But any new OS can introduce its own NEW bugs, as well, especially early versions of the OS. It is recommended to not be an early adopter. In fact doing so can be dangerous. Wait a while after the initial release of the OS, like for the first update to occur – that's where many bugs are fixed in the new OS.

Before you upgrade, seek out lists of known problems and incompatibilities with the OS your are considering so you will know beforehand of what to expect and what software (and possibly some hardware) you'll need to upgrade. These links may be helpful:

ALWAYS, before you do a update to Windows, or an upgrade of the Mac OS or Windows, perform a complete clone-style back-up of your entire hard disk before proceeding. It's a critical safety measure in case anything goes wrong, which is too often the case.

Many users find it easiest to just buy a new computer every 3rd upgrade of the Mac OS, and every other upgrade of Windows. There are many advantages to this, such as you are guaranteed the new machine is compatible with the latest OS, the OS is already installed, and your old machine is likely nearing the end of its useful life.


D. Is Your Computer's Clock Battery Going Bad?, 01-2012

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A computer's clock battery maintains the date and time and other system configuration information when the computer is off, even when disconnected from a power source. They do not last forever, a typical lifespan for a clock battery is between 3 to 8 years. One of the first indications that the clock battery is failing is if the date and time are running slow, are way off, or have reverted back to one of the computer's initialization dates. Check the time zone, clean your computer of any malware, then reset the date and time. If they continue to be off, it's likely you need to replace the clock battery.

MACs

Most Macintosh computers have a clock battery (which Apple calls a backup battery) to maintain system settings, such as the date and time, when the computer is turned off . The battery should five years (or more), but this varies based on the battery's shelf life and usage patterns of the computer. Apple says "If your computer is plugged into a power strip, turning off the strip will drain the internal battery and shorten battery life." If your computer does not retain parameter RAM (PRAM) settings (such as date and time) when it is turned off, this generally indicates that the battery needs to be replaced. In some Macintosh models if the battery is going bad, the computer may display a black screen when you turn it on or have intermittent problems at start up.

Replacing the battery may cause some settings on your computer, such as date and time, to revert to the factory default settings. You may also have to restore modem settings in any communications programs you are using.

WINDOWS PCs

Windows Desktop Computers

The clock battery is also called the CMOS battery. According to this page,"Three Reasons Why Your Windows Computer Clock Loses Its Time" —

The CMOS battery provides power to the CMOS chip which stores information about the system configuration, including the date and time. This battery allows the chip to store this data while the computer is off and not connected to a power source. If the battery goes bad, the chip can lose information and one of the symptoms is that your computer no longer maintains the proper date and time. If your CMOS battery dies, your computer will act like it has Alzheimer's and you have to introduce it to its hardware components (via the BIOS) every time it boots.

Also, if you're seeing boot errors like "CMOS checksum error - load defaults" that is usually due to a dead or dying CMOS battery.

The typical lifespan of the CMOS battery is said to be around five years, so many experts suggest replacing the battery before it fails to avoid boot errors and losing critical avoid CMOS settings.

If you suspect a bad clock battery, open the case, identify it, then purchase and install a replacement. Consult your local computer professional for help, if necessary. These links may help:

Windows Laptop Computers

These may or may not use a CMOS battery or other types of batteries (resume battery, real time clock (RTC) battery, etc..). Consult your computer's manual, the manufacturer, or a computer professional should you experience an issue with the date and time and/or suspect a failing clock battery.



E. Maintain A Log for Each Computer, 01-2012

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It's often difficult to remember all the details of who did what and when to maintain a computer. This is especially true if there is more than one computer in the home or office. So, it's recommended to keep a log for each computer of what was done, when, by whom, and why. Include any version numbers of software involved, any companies talked to, phone numbers, and the technician's name at those companies. Log any problem and its resolution. This is not unlike a medical history, but for each computer.

In fact, consider keeping a log for all your vehicles, appliances, or anything that needs a lot of attention or maintenance.


VII. GENERAL INFORMATION

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A. Understanding and Working with Computer Images, 01-2012

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Section I. Computer Images – The Short Version

Situation – You have an image (such as a photograph) on your computer, and you want to print it out, or send it to others to view or print. But what exactly you want to do with the image, combined with the image's dimensions, determines how you should handle the image.

A few things you need to know, first…

Computer images have no physical size. Images are stored on the computer as collection of dots (squares, actually) called pixels. They can be displayed on a computer monitor very large. very small, and everywhere in between. So do not be fooled by what you see on the screen, the image is only being displayed at a particular "size."

Also, an image that appears very large on the screen is very likely one with large dimensions (in pixels, explained below) and just being displayed at its "full size" — is can easily be displayed much smaller.

Image dimensions (in pixels ) – Sometimes confusingly (and incorrectly) referred to as resolution, this is the size of an image in pixels, such as 640 x 480 for an image that's 640 pixels wide by 480 pixels tall. Typically, a larger dimension image will be of higher quality, showing much more detail and be sharper than an smaller dimension image. Most photo editing or photo album programs will tell you the image's dimensions (in pixels) – you'll need to know this before you can do more with the image.

Image density (resolution) – Sometimes also referred to as resolution, this is the number of pixels per inch (ppi) at which the image was created, such as on a scanner. (Sometimes the units for density may incorrectly be referred to as dots per inch (dpi).) For example, a typical setting on a scanner is 150 dpi, which scans the image at 150 pixels per inch. This information is stored in the image file and most photo editing or photo album programs will tell you the density of an image. The density is important when scanning an image and determines the image's dimensions, but then can be ignored for the most part. What's more important is to be aware of is the image's dimensions as defined above.

What's Going To Be Done With The Image?

If the image is to be printed (by you or someone to whom you are sending it), the larger the image's dimensions, the better. Therefore, for images to be printed, normally you should never lessen the image's dimensions. (Note that the "larger the image's dimensions, the better" is true only up to a certain point. Beyond that point, the computer file size of the image will be unnecessarily large, will take much longer to send, and will not improve the quality of the printed result (for a given printed size).)

Hopefully the dimensions of the image are large enough to achieve a a "photo-quality" result for the physical size at which the image is to be printed. If the image dimension are too small and/or it's printed out too large, the result will look blurry, grainy, pixelated, or jagged. Fortunately, it's well known what image dimensions are best to receive a "photo-quality" result for a given printed size — this it covered in see Printing Images below in Section II.

If you are sending a large dimension image via email, be aware that:

If you are going to send the image to someone (such as via email) and you wish to give them a version of the image that is only just good enough for viewing (but not for a high quality print-out), you will help them out by first decreasing the image's dimensions, as that makes the file size of the image smaller and is therefore sent and received much faster. This is especially important when dealing with slow Internet connections. And a smaller dimension image will also display smaller (at a more reasonable size) in some programs, like the old Outlook Express. (Note, however, if printed, a smaller dimension image will not be near the quality of a larger dimension image.)

Crop the image – Before decreasing the image's dimensions, you'll want to crop the image to remove any unnecessary subject matter. First make copy of the desired image and make the changes on it – you never want to change the original. Then using a photo editing program, crop the image as desired. This lowers the file size of the image, as well.

Decrease the dimensions – To decrease the dimensions of an image, you have to work with it in a photo editing program. If you have not already done so, make copy of the desired image and make the changes on it — you never want to change the original. Most photo editing programs have some method for decreasing the image's dimensions. See Choose the dimensions below. Some programs even decrease the dimensions as part of sending the image via email – this is very convenient. The smaller the image's dimensions, the smaller the file size of the image, so it will send faster in email. But don't go too small or the image will be displayed too small on the screen, and/or appear blurry.

Choose the dimensions – A dimension of 800 by 600 pixels is a good starting point. In programs (like the old Outlook Express) that display the image at full size, an image this size appears fairly big without being larger than the screen. Another choice is 640 x 480 which will display much smaller than the full screen. Experiment a few times to find the dimensions you like and make a note of this for the future.

For more details about this topic, please read the next section.



Section II. Computer Images – The Detailed Version

What is an image file?

An image stored in the computer is only an organized collection of colored small squares, called pixels. Pixels are usually too small to see and have no physical size. An image can be displayed at any “size” you like on a computer. You can zoom in and out on the image, but you are changing only what's being displayed on the screen; the image file on the computer is not affected in any way. (By the way, if you zoom in far enough, you can see the individual pixels.)

Computer images have no physical size

A common misunderstanding on computers is the “size” of an image stored on the computer. People will receive or take a digital photo image and then ask, or try to determine, its physical size, in inches.

But as will be explained below, an image stored on the computer has no physical size. The same is true of any data on the computer.

Do not be fooled by what you see on the screen; the image is only being displayed at a particular "size" (and that is a combination of many factors, such as the zoom level in the program you're using and your monitor's resolution). An image that appears very large is likely one with large dimension in pixels (explained below) being displayed at its "full size" – that image can easily be displayed much smaller.

Image dimension (in pixels)

An image's dimension is the number of pixels of its width times the number of pixels of its height, such as 640 x 480. This is sometimes confusingly and incorrectly referred to as resolution, but resolution really only applies when talking about the image's "density" – i.e. so many pixels per inch or ppi (this is covered below).

You cannot change the size of an image, as it has no physical size. But you can affect its dimensions. Typically, a larger dimension image will be of higher quality, showing much more detail and be sharper than an smaller dimension image.

For example, if you have two identical photos of the same subject but of different dimensions (say, one at 640 x 480 pixels and another that's 1600 x 1280), and print them both at the same physical size (for example, 4” x 6”), the smaller dimension image will look much worse (blurrier, grainier, pixelated) than the larger dimension one. That's because the larger dimension one is being printed with many more pixels per inch of paper (ppi) and the subject is broken into many more and smaller pieces of information — so it comes out sharper. For more about printing, see Printing Images below.

Your photo editing or photo album program will tell you the image's dimensions. You'll need to know this before you can do more with the image.

By the way, although the sharpness of an image is greatly influenced by an image's dimensions (the size of an image in pixels), this should not be mistaken with JPG quality (sometimes called JPG compression) which you'll see in some photo editing programs. JPG quality is a totally different aspect of an image, and is related to the lossy (where data is lost) compression adjustment, a characteristic specific to JPG images. Adjusting the JPG quality affects the appearance of the image and greatly affects the image's file size on the computer. When saving in the JPG format, to maintain the highest image quality, always save at the highest JPG quality level.

Scanners and “original size”

When you scan an item such as a photo, some scanners will measure and record the physical size of the original item and embed that as part of the image file. This allows some photo editing programs to talk about the “original size” of a photo, meaning the physical size of the original photographic print. If you choose to print the image at the original size, the program will adjust the size of the image so that it's printed at the same physical size as the original print.

Image density (resolution)

Sometimes also referred to as resolution, or original resolution, this is the number of pixels per inch (ppi) at which the image was created, such as on a scanner.( Sometimes the units for density may incorrectly be referred to as dots per inch (dpi).) For example, a typical setting on a scanner is 150 dpi, which scans the image at 150 pixels per inch. This information is stored in the image file and most photo editing or photo album programs will tell you the density of an image. The density is important when scanning an image and determines the image's dimensions, but then can be ignored for the most part. What's more important is to know the image's dimensions (defined above).

There is also the printed resolution of printed image – this is how many pixels per inch (ppi) you're asking the printer to use to print the image. To determine the printed resolution, divide the image's dimensions by the size in inches of the desired printed image. For example, if you print a 900 x 900 size image at 3" x 3", the printed resolution is 900/3 = 300. To receive "photo-quality" results when printing, a minimum printed resolution is required, at least 200 ppi; see Printing Images below for details.

About resolution:

Viewing images

Most computers have several programs that can view image files, such as:

What can be confusing is that each program may display the image differently.

For example, Outlook Express, an email program from the Windows XP era and earlier, often shows images at a ratio of one image pixel per monitor dot (sometimes also and confusingly called pixels). Since monitors have a pretty low resolution (in this case the number of screen dots per inch or dpi) of around 72 to 96 dpi, a large dimension image will be displayed very large and extend way off the screen. The programmers of Outlook Express could have chosen to display the image differently, such as to display the whole image on the screen. This would have avoided a lot of confusion, and made the image much more convenient to view.

Thankfully, many programs these days, and almost all photo editing programs, initially display the image at size the fits the window (thus having to interpolate the image and display it at a ratio of several image pixels per screen dot). So, the same image that looked so large in Outlook Express is displayed much smaller. In photo editing programs, you can zoom in and out, doing so changes only the size of what's displayed (and not image computer file in any way). Usually an option to view the image at “full size” (showing the image at a ratio of one image pixel per screen dot) is offered. And if so, just like in Outlook Express, a large dimension image will appear very large, perhaps many times larger than your screen.

Images in email

When you send an image via email, you need to decide ahead of time the dimensions of the image you're going to send. Again, you do not determine the physical size; there is no size associated with a computer image. All you can affect is the dimensions of the image. If you send a large dimension image, the file size will be larger than that of a smaller dimension image. It will take longer for you to send and longer for the recipients of your email to receive. So if your recipients have a slow Internet connection, you're doing them a favor by sending a smaller dimension image. However, as you'll see below, if you want your recipients to be able to print a high quality version of what you're sending them, you'll want to send a large dimension version of the image.

When your recipients receive your image, they can save it to their computer and do with it as they wish. In most programs when viewing the image, they can zoom in and out on it, letting them go from seeing the complete image to viewing detailed parts of it. If they want a good quality printout, they'll be glad you sent them a large dimension image. If they don't care about printing the image and just want to see a quick snapshot of the image, a medium or smaller dimension image will do, such as 800 x 600, or 640 x 480.

Printing images

When you print an image, you usually indicate the physical size you would like the image to be printed on the paper. The image's dimensions (in pixels) divided by the physical size you specify is called printed resolution in ppi (pixels per inch). This resolution directly affects the clarity and quality of the printed image — the higher the printed resolution, the better the result. (Note, this is true but only up to a certain point. Beyond that, no discernible improvement in quality is gained (for a given printed size), and the computer file size of the image will be unnecessarily large.) Also:

The printed resolution (ppi) represents the amount of pixels that will be printed per inch on the paper. This should not be confused with the printer's dpi setting, which controls the number of dots of ink per inch that the printer will print. Dots are not the same as pixels. Dots are individual colors dithered together to create a precise color of a given pixel. You can print a 200 ppi printed resolution image at many different dots per inch (dpi) values, like 360 dpi, 720 dpi, 1440 dpi or 2880 dpi. The way the printer software interprets the printed resolution involves some complex calculations and both the printed resolution and the printer's dpi are factors which impact the quality of printout..

When you print an image, for a "good" photo-like quality printout, you want a printed image resolution of at least 200 pixels per inch (ppi). Be very mindful of this when you choose image dimensions and the physical size at which you wish to print. You must also use photo paper and the printer's highest quality image settings (such as dpi and others). To use a printed resolution of 200 ppi means:

Printed resolution: 200 ppi

For a print-out
of this size:

 

Start with an image
that's at least:

 

Megapixels
of image:

11” x 14”

 

2200 x 2800 pixels

 

6.2 MP

8.5” x 11"

 

1700 x 2200 pixels

 

3.74 MP

8” x 10”

 

1600 x 2000 pixels

 

3.2 MP

5” x 7”

 

1000 x 1400 pixels

 

1.4 MP

4” x 6”

 

800 x 1200 pixels

 

0.96 MP

3” x 5”

 

600 x 1000 pixels

 

0.60 MP

So to get a good borderless 8.5” x 11" print, we'll need a 4 MP camera (at least), and must use its highest image quality settings, of course. Some claim a printed resolution of 230 ppi is required. To see what this means, see the next section.

Image dimensions, digital cameras, and printing

It may help to point out how image dimensions and print size relate to digital cameras. If we take the recommended (from the section above) 1600 x 2000 pixels for an 8” x 10” printout and determine the total number of pixels for that image by multiplying 1600 times 2000, we get 3,200,000 pixels, or 3.2 mega pixels (MP). You can see why 3 MP cameras were standard for a while.

Later, 4 MP cameras became the most popular. This came about because borderless 8.5” x 11” printouts were desired, and to get those, you need start with an image that's at least 1700 x 2200 pixels. Multiplying 1700 times 2200 is 3,740,000 pixels, or 3.74 MP.

Around 2008 it was said that a 5 MP image was needed for the finest photographic quality 8.5” x 11” printouts on photo paper. That requires an image that's 2000 x 2500 pixels, or exactly 5 MP. This works out to a new printed resolution value of about 230 pixels per inch to achieve the best photo-quality printouts, versus 200 ppi mentioned above. To use a printed resolution of 230 ppi value means:

Printed resolution: 230 ppi

For a print-out
of this size:

 

Start with an image
that's at least:

 

Megapixels
of image:

16” x 22”

 

3680 x 5060 pixels

 

18.6 MP

12” x 16”

 

2760 x 3680 pixels

 

10.2 MP

11” x 14”

 

2530 x 3220 pixels

 

8.1 MP

8.5” x 11"

 

1955 x 2530 pixels

 

5.0 MP

8” x 10”

 

1840 x 2300 pixels

 

4.2 MP

6.7” x 9”

 

1549 x 2066 pixels

 

3.2 MP

5” x 7”

 

1150 x 1610 pixels

 

1.9 MP

4” x 6”

 

920 x 1380 pixels

 

1.3 MP

3” x 5”

 

690 x 1150 pixels

 

0.8 MP

Here we see, for example, that to get really good photo-quality for an 11" x 14" print we'll need an 8.1 MP camera. Or that printing a 920 x 1380 pixel image at 8" x 10" is likely to not be of photographic quality.

Notice also, if you are never going to print larger than 5" x 7" that a 2 MP camera will do just fine (and likewise for another print sizes). But if you do a lot of cropping of photos, you'll want to start with a larger dimension photo, so the resulting image is large enough for printing based on the values in the table above.



Some pros, like Ken Rockwell, say, "Ideally you'd like to print at 300 PPI to (get a) look (that's) super-sharp even when viewed too close with a magnifier." This is likely overkill for all but the pros. To use a printed resolution of 300 ppi value means:

Printed resolution: 300 ppi

For a print-out
of this size:

 

Start with an image
that's at least:

 

Megapixels
of image:

16” x 22”

 

4800 x 6600 pixels

 

31.7 MP

12” x 16”

 

3600 x 4800 pixels

 

17.3 MP

11” x 14”

 

3300 x 4200 pixels

 

13.9 MP

8.5” x 11"

 

2550 x 3300 pixels

 

8.4 MP

8” x 10”

 

2400 x 3000 pixels

 

7.2 MP

6.7” x 9”

 

1549 x 2700 pixels

 

5.4 MP

5” x 7”

 

1500 x 2100 pixels

 

3.2 MP

4” x 6”

 

1200 x 1800 pixels

 

2.2 MP

3” x 5”

 

900 x 1500 pixels

 

1.35 MP

The megapixel myth and sensor size

There are other factors besides the megapixel size of the camera that affect the camera's image qualtiy. Ken Rockwell says, "Image clarity is more dependent on how you shot the photo than the number of megapixels. A clean shot from a 3MP camera is much better than a slightly out-of focus shot from a $5,000 12 MP camera." See these articles, for example:

As mentioned at this Web page, your camera's sensor size is also a factor.

"The sensor size is of digital SLRs are typically 40% to 100% of the surface of 35mm film. Digital compact cameras have substantially smaller sensors offering a similar number of pixels. As a consequence, the pixels are much smaller, which is a key reason for the much lower image quality, especially in terms of noise and dynamic range."

A few articles about sensor size:

Further study

This site covers much of the above in even more detail:

Image Size and Resolution


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If you have any questions regarding any of this information,
please contact me (see
contact info at the top of page).