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Pittsburgh Tech Guy

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Frequent Questions - Short Answers

These are some of the most frequent questions that I get concerning computers.  Any sound familiar?

I'm installing Windows 7, should I use the 32 bit or 64 bit version?

If possible, 64 bit, although most users will not see any noticable difference between the two.  The biggest advantage is that your computer will be able to utilize more than 4GB of RAM with a 64 bit version (32 bit is limited to seeing and utilizing only 4GB of RAM).  If you have an older system, you may be limited to only 32 bit because of the CPU, but if you have a more modern system, 64 bit is the way to go.  For a more detailed explanation as to why, check out this article from

My hard drive keeps making loud noises (or squeals), is this normal?

No, when in use, slight noise is not unusual from a hard drive, but any loud crunching or high pitch squeals is typically a sign of a failing hard drive.  In these circumstances, you should back up whatever data is on it immediately and look at getting the drive replaced.

Which anti-virus program is the best.  Are paid programs better than free ones?

 There really are not definitive best Anti-virus programs out there.  They all do the same job with relative degrees of success.  Free solutions tend to work as well, if not better than the paid programs.  You should not consider an anti-virus program as the end all of protecting your computer.  An anti-virus program is important, but not as important as your online behavior.  If you engage in dangerous online activities, it doesnt matter what anti-virus program you have installed, you will get infected.  Anti-virus software is not the first and only line of defense, just one of them. 

Now that I am infected, what do I do about it?

  If you have an Anti-virus and Anti-Malware software installed, you can try running it to see if they can rid your computer of the problem.  This may or may work for several reasons.  One, unfortunately, not everyone keeps those programs up to date.  Your best chance at success is if those programs are up to date.  If they are not, it may not have the updates necessary to fix the problem.  Many malware infections intentional block those programs from updating, so updating after the infection may not be possible.

Two, if you can identify the malware infection by name, you can often Google it to find instructions on how to remove it.  Simply google "'name of malware' removal" and you will often come across web pages or blogs talking about it.

Understand that the nature of malware is that it does not want to be removed and will often do whatever it can to hide from you and removal software.  The only way to completely remove a malware infection with 100% certainty is to wipe/erase your hard drive and re-install the operating system from a known good source (ie. the operating system restore disc or Windows install DVD).  Anyone telling you otherwise may have good intentions, but is not telling you the truth.  It is possible to clean the system without reinstalling, but it cannot be guaranteed with 100% certainty to have been successful.

Is satellite Internet service a good deal?

Unless you live in rural america or are in a position where you have no alternative, no.  Due to the nature of satellite Internet service, you are paying a premium price for essentially dial-up speed.  Typically, your bandwidth is capped to a certain limit each day (the ISP is the one who determines what your cap is).  Once they determine that you are at that limit, your already slow connection slows even more.

Should I still be paying AOL or Earthlink for Internet service?

No, AOL pretty much got out of providing internet service years ago.  This has been primarily been due to local providers providing faster service at a cheaper cost.  Unfortunately, there are a lot of people out there who think that in order to continue using their AOL or Earthlink email, they must continue subscribing to AOL or Earthlink Internet Service.  AOL and Earthlink mail is now free, has been for years.  They still sell Internet Access because so many people are naive and do not know that there are better alternatives available.  I have encountered at least a half a dozen users who pay for AOL and/or Earthlink under the mistaken belief that they had to in order to keep their email address.   Check out this video for more information:


What is the difference between wireless keyboards and mice and wired ones?

Although the difference seesms obvious, I frequently have to tell customers, please use Alkaline (preferably Duracell or Energizer) batteries in your wireless mice and keyboards.  Wireless Keyboards and mice will destroy regular batteries in weeks.  When the battery starts to die, the keyboards and mice react in weird ways.  Often people think that their computers are freezing and call me.  Often, it is just weak batteries in your devices.  When weak, they can give a novice computer user the impression that their computer is the problem.  Oh, the answer, is there is no difference between the two other than the wires!

What is a better value, inkjet or laser printers?

Many people shy away from laser printers because of the initial higher cost of the printer.  Good lower end laser printers can cost around $150.  However, they are the better deal.  Your typical inkjet printer can cost well under $100, so we run to that.  The catch is in the cartridges.  A set of cartridges can cost anywhere between $25 to $70.  They typically last a couple hundred pages.  A laser printer toner costs anywhere between $40-$100, but they can last up to 5,000 pages.  Do the math and you will see that in the long run, the laser printer is the better value.  Also consider that an average inkjet printer will last 2-3 years at the most and that a laser printer can last upwards to 8-10 years, the decision is much easier.


What is the difference between Firefox, Chrome & Internet Explorer?

Besides personal preference, not much.  All are browsers we use to view web pages on the Internet.  It is just different choices we have to use.  Use whatever you like best.

Do you need to spend a lot of money on computer speakers?

If you listen to a lot of music on your computer and sound quality matters a lot to you, then yes, otherwise, no.  If no, just go out and pay around $15-20 for some average speakers.

Why are almost LCD monitors widescreen?

The industry assumes that you will be watching a lot of movies on your computer.  Since most movies are primarily shot in widescreen format, we are stuck with widescreen monitors.  The same holds true for why laptops are typically equipped with widescreen displays. 


What is typically the most inexpensive way to increase the speed of my computer?

More memory (RAM).  You will see the biggest speed improvement with more memory.  RAM prices vary, but generally are in the price range of $40-60.  Of note, it is expected with the situation in Japan, memory and memory prices will be negatively impacted for the immediate future.  Most of the silicon used for memory is made in Japan.


Why can't I copy a DVD movie that I purchased in the store with my DVD burning software?

The MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) thinks you are a thief.  Since you are a thief in their eyes, the include copy-protection on the DVD.  What this does is tell your computer that the DVD is not allowed to be copied, so the computer doesn't do it.  Now your computer is completely capable of copying it, but it needs software to tell it how to do it.  There are many programs (almost all made outside of the United States) that will enable you to copy your own DVD, so it is possible.  It is ironic, because the Digital Millennium Act states that an individual is legally allowed to make a copy of any disc that they purchased for backup purposes, but American software companies are so afraid of being sued that nobody makes software that will allow you to make that copy.  Everyone assumes that instead of making a legal backup, you will make 100 copies and sell it out your trunk on the corner.  Yes, this happens, despite the MPAA's efforts.  Bootleggers and Pirates are always ahead of the industry.

How do I change my screen resolution?

In XP, Go to Control Panel - Display and the last tab will be "Settings".  Click on that tab and you will see a slider for screen resolution.  Slide it to the right to increase the resolution (makes the icons smaller), slide it to the left to decrease the resolution.   In Windows 7, place your mouse cursor on an empty portion of your desktop, right click and you will see screen resolution.  The next screen is easy to follow to change it.

Is it alright to run two anti-virus programs together?

No, each will see each other and play havoc with your computer.  It is alright to run multiple anti-malware programs such as Ad-Aware, Malwarebytes, spybot, etc.  These programs have no problem with each other on your system.  On the contrary, never install two anti-virus programs.  If you want to switch from one to another, you should uninstall the first, then install the second.

Should I install each update that Windows Update notifies me of?

Yes, a windows update is essentially Microsoft updating something about windows that is a vulnerability, or threat to your computer.   You should update it promptly.  If you have a program on your computer and it notifies you that there is an update (Java is a popular one), do the same.  Be wary if you are asked to update a program on your computer that you do not have installed, it could be malware trying to trick you.  If you are unsure of what programs you have installed, go to Add/Remove Programs, it will list every program installed on your system. 

If I accidentally empty the trash, is it possible to recover the files?

Yes, the way a computer works is that when you delete a file, it is not actually deleted.  The instructions that the computer uses to locate it are.  The file is still there, just that the computer has been told that it is not.  The first thing to do when you realize that you erased a file you want to recover, is to stop doing anything that may write information to the hard drive.  The more you write to the hard drive, the increased likelihood that you may overwrite the file you are trying to recover.  You can use a program like Recuva, to find the files.  Likewise if you accidentally erase a picture on a memory card, the first thing to do is to stop taking more pictures.  The one you erased is still there, but taking more pictures will increase the likelihood that it will be gone.  Recuva works on memory cards too.  There are many paid programs out there that claim to recover files.  Most work, but so does Recuva, and it's free.

Should I leave my computer on or off when not in use?

For years, the answer was that it was alright to leave it on.  It was traditionally thought that the most stressful time for a computer was at boot, so it was better to leave it on to avoid the stress.  However, advances in hardware has made that a moot point.  The stress level on a computer is minimal at boot, so it is alright to shut it down often.  Another advantage is that those moving parts in your computer will last longer.  When not in use, the internal fans are still running.  Over time, that wear and tear, although minimal at times, does wear down the parts.  So the new recommendation is to shut it down when not in extended use.  Also, Windows does benefit from the occasional re-boot.  Clears the cobwebs, so to speak.

Why do new computers come with so much unneccessary software and how do I get rid of it?

All that "crapware" as we like to call it is there for a reason.  It helps reduce the cost of the computer.  Those software makers pay your computer manufacturer to have those programs there and they use it to reduce the cost of the computer.  Pricing is competitive, so HP, Dell, Gateway and the like do all they can to keep pricing competitive, thus crapware.  To remove it, simply go to the Add/Remove section of your Control Panel (Programs in Windows 7) and uninstall.  There is also a program called PC Decrapifier that you can use to rid yourself of it.  It was developed by a person who asked the same question and came up with a solution.