Thursday, April 26, 2012

How to Upgrade Your Graphics Card

Have you ever thought about improving your PC? Maybe get a bit more performance? As far as improvements to an old PC go upgrading your graphics card is one of the most obvious and most cost effective ways to achieve more performance.

How do you choose a graphics card?

We first need to determine whether your computer uses a PCI, PCI Express or the older AGP interface. This can easily be identified by color. PCI and PCI Express is white while AGP is brown.

Once you know the interface then it is onto who makes them. Well there are two types of graphics card producers - nVidia and ATI. Both do similar graphics cards and the difference in price is marginal. My advice is to set a budget, take a look at their products and then choose which card offers the performance you are looking for.

Before you install your new shiny graphics card you will need to uninstall the software for your existing card, and in most cases remove the existing card from inside the case. On a windows machine use:

Control Panel - Add/Remove Programs or Control Panel - Programs and Features.

         On a Linux machine use the package manager which came with your distribution or the uninstall instructions which came with the source code.

           Next we have to physically install the card. First thing is to unplug the computers power cable. Then you need to discharge your static electricity by either wearing an anti static wristband or by touching a piece of metal prior to touching ANYTHING inside the case. Failure to do so could result in damage to components inside the case. Open up the case locate the graphics card and switch it for your new one.

             All that is left is to install the drivers. The graphics card should come with windows drivers on a CD. Just insert it and follow the instructions. On a linux system you will probably have to go to the venders website and download the drivers as source code. This brings me to a good point. To get the most out of your graphics card you should go to your venders website (will probably be either ATI or nVidia) look for the support or download section of the site and follow the links to the latest software for your card. Then you just download and install.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Get Familiar With These 7 Serious Computer Security Tips

         We have security systems in our homes and alarms in our cars. Why would we not be as cautious about our computers - places where we store tons of personal information - as we are about every other aspect of our lives? Using a computer can leave you exposed to a number of security concerns. Here are some things you can do to ensure your data is never compromised.

Install and Update an Antivirus Program

Antivirus programs play a huge role in your ability to protect your computer. They'll block spyware, malware, adware, and any other virus aimed at stealing your information and causing damage to your PC. The trick is to make sure you are updating your antivirus program on a regular basis. Many will update automatically to ensure you are protected from the latest virus releases.

Monitor Your Email

Take special care when opening your email each day. Don't open attachments from senders you aren't familiar with or from anyone who is sending an attachment you didn't expect to receive. Doing so could put you at risk of setting a virus loose on your computer. Don't click on links from strangers, either.

Avoiding the Hype

Have you ever heard of the Koobface virus? People on Facebook talk about it all the time. The truth of the matter is that the virus isn't actually spread by Facebook. It's spread by fear. Individuals who hear about the virus will go online and search for a "removal" program. Unknown programs that promise to remove certain unknown viruses are the targets - things hackers hope you'll download so that they can access your real information.

Change Your Passwords Regularly

We all do the same thing - we set our passwords and then we forget about them, operating on auto-pilot each time we have to type it in. Make sure you are updating your passwords on a regular basis. Despite being a pain in the rear, doing so will ensure that anyone who does access your information doesn't have it for long.

Install a Firewall

Firewalls are great tools and can often be purchased a part of an internet security suite - packages that offer antivirus programs and other pieces designed to protect you from online threats. Firewalls act as barriers, preventing internet threats from breaking through your virtual door to access your computer.

Don't Ignore Security Patches

Windows and other programs and operating systems are constantly identifying holes in their systems - places in which hackers or viruses have entered and which may pose a security threat. As such, these companies regularly release "patches" that you should be downloading in order to ensure your computer is safe from harm. The patches are free and easy to download. Ignoring them can be detrimental to the health of your PC.

Choose the Right Internet Browser

Many people think that Internet Explorer will leave their computers open to harm. The truth is that hackers and those who want to compromise your computer aren't only targeting IE - they're targeting all browsers. The best thing you can do is choose a browser that functions the way you like and then turn off your JavaScript capabilities. Doing so will leave you less susceptible to intrusions.

The internet is a vast and sometimes overwhelming place but you can keep your home computer as safe as anything else in your life. Take some time to take a few precautionary measures and you'll be able to continue enjoying your computer without having to call a computer repair tech.

Speeding Up A Windows 7 Computer

          Everyone wants a fast Windows 7 computer. This is especially true of people who play games. So the question is what makes a Windows 7 computer fast? How can you speed up your Windows 7 computer without paying an arm and a leg to increase the speed.

      Several things make a computer fast. The most important is keeping it clean. A new Windows 7 computer is like my 2 car garage in 1985. At that time it help 2 cars no problem. Today is holds no cars. There is no room because other stuff has been stored there.

       The same is true of most computers today. When they were purchased they were fast because they were empty of software. Over time software accumulated in the computer. The most egregious software is memory resident software. Often we use programs for a short time and then never again. However, these programs often have memory resident components that slow down the computer. A clean computer is a fast computer. How to clean is computer is the focus of another article.

        In this article the focus is on what makes Windows 7 fast. So the first step is to measure Windows 7 speed. There are benchmarks and diagnostic programs that measure performance and speed. While they do a good job, they are not the measure on what a computer user considers fast. To me fast is responsive. Windows 7 has a responsive measurement tool called the Windows Experience Index. It is a measurement scale ranging from 1.0 to 7.9 currently. Newly purchased computers typically score in the range of 3.4 to 4.5.

       To find the Windows Experience Index, click on START, then point to COMPUTER, click the right mouse button (the other mouse button), and use the normal mouse click to open PROPERTIES from the bottom of the menu. the overall rating is displayed smack dab in the middle of the display. A click on the Windows Experience Index to the right of the overall rating number should reveal the rating for each of the Windows Experience Index categories.

       The Windows Experience Index measures Processor speed, Memory speed, Graphics card desktop performance speed, graphics card 3D gaming and business performance, and hard disk transfer rate. It rates the overall performance of the computer as the lowest score in any of these categories.

       Many computers today have quad-core processors running at 2.5 to 3.2 GHz with DDR3 memory. Such systems typically score in the 6.9 to 7.2 range for CPU and memory speed. Generally, CPU and Memory are not a major consideration in making a Windows 7 computer fast. My laptop running an Inter i3 dual core 2.13 Ghz CPU and memory performs in the 5.9 to 6.1 range.

       Disk drives in computers are Serial AT Attachment (SATA) drives. They rotate at 7,200 rpm. This is typically twice the 3,000 rpm at which automobile engines cruse. Laptop drives may run at 5,400 rpm. High performance drives operate at 10,000 rpm. So why the focus on rpm speed. A large part of disk performance is the time it mechanically takes to move the disks read/write mechanism. Part of that mechanical performance is the rotational speed of the drive. So 5,400 rpm drives are slower than 7,200 rpm drives. Most SATA drives have a Windows Experience Index of from 5.6 to 5.9.

        What remains is the graphics card performance. That is the area which makes the Windows experience index run in the 3.4 to 4.5 range.

       How do we make our Windows 7 computer more responsive? Changing processor and memory are costly. They are likely the fastest components already. Changes there make no sense. With Windows XP, increasing the computer's memory size from 256 MB or 512 MB to 3 GB or 4 GB noticeably improves performance. Most Windows 7 computers today come with 3 GB to 6 GB of memory. Windows 7 64-bit Edition can use more than 6 GB. My computer has 16 GB of memory. However, application programs mostly are written to use no more than 4 GB or memory. So most of the 16 GB memory is unused. Right now my computer seems to be using 10 GB of memory. Increasing memory size in a Windows 7 computer is not likely to result in a noticeable improvement in responsiveness.

         It is possible to improve responsiveness with a faster disk drive. This requires disk drive replacement. Two drives can improve performance: 1. Solid State Drives (no moving parts) and 2. High RPM drives (10,000 rpm). Both types of drives are expensive with Solid State Drives (SSD) being the most expensive. Solid State Drives also wear out over time (several years) depending upon use. The smaller the SSD, the quicker it wears out. SSD are the fastest drives because there are no mechanical parts.

          One disk drive strategy is to get a small 128 MB SSD that only holds Windows 7 and the application programs and place the remaining data on another larger SATA drive. The Windows supports the Windows paging files and temporary file area. These areas are constantly used by Windows to store and retrieve data while you are working on the computer. Making that storage and retrieval process faster makes Windows more responsive. Word, Excel, Pictures and Music files stored on another slower drive do not make the Windows 7 computer less responsive because we expect some delay every time we retrieve one of those files. My computer uses a 128 GB SSD for Windows. It has a Windows experience Index of 6.8. All my data is stored on 1TB SATA drives with a Windows Experience of 5.9. I have not tested 10,000 rpm drives as yet to determine their Windows Experience Index. The Windows Experience Index is not published for any drives because it depends in part on the motherboard and CPU to which the drive is attached.

         The last area is the graphics cards. Because their Windows Experience Index score is low they offer the greatest potential for improvement. Graphics cards are advertised with high performance chips (chip sets) from ATI or Nvidia typically. They have graphics memory on the card. Fast graphics chips and more memory on the card can speed up and make games more responsive. They should make the 3D business and gaming graphics Windows Experience Index higher.

        In contrast a card with a high 3D performance and a low desktop performance our computer may not make our computer as responsive as we hope. Also how we use our computer can be important. In my case I run four (4) monitors each with 1920 by 1200 resolution. So having two Digital Video Interface (DVI) connectors on a graphics card is important because I need two graphics cards to support the four monitors. Configuring the cards for responsive performance requires that the motherboard of the computer have graphics card slots (Peripheral Connect Interface Express - PCI Express connectors) that run at the highest PCI Express speed (16X speed) from both slots simultaneously.

         The final consideration is the graphics card memory interface. The interface can be 64-bit, 128-bit, 256-bit or higher. Here the larger number is better. If you are a gamer and get the best performing chips (chip set) on a graphics card that only has a 64-bit interface you could find the gaming performance less than expected. Not being a game player (except for Solitaire) I may be incorrect here. In the case of four monitors, a $100 card that has a 256-bit memory interface produces a Windows Experience Index rating of 6.8 for both Windows Desktop and 3D Graphics performance. Finding a good performing and moderately priced graphics card requires a look a the specifications and specifically the memory interface. Cards with a 320-bit memory interface or higher can be very expensive. Actually, some cost more than my motherboard, CPU and 16 GB of memory.