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Your Questions Answered

My Drive is making a “clicking” sound. What should I do?

Unplug your computer immediately.  The “clicking” sound is the Hard Drive head assembly bouncing off the ‘stop’ as a result of a fatal hardware failure.  The more times it clicks, the less the chances of successfully retrieving your data.  Your hard drive needs to be evaluated by a Data Recovery professional when this happens.  The odds of getting your data back without sending it to a Clean Room facility is roughly 15-20% under these conditions.  Anyone who tells you anything different is selling you something wrapped in a fairy tale story.  Don’t believe it.

I need a new hard drive.  They’re all the same, right?

Actually, no.

Aside from a couple of different connector systems (IDE and SATA) which really shouldn’t be an issue if your computer is less than 5 years old, there are many different manufacturers of hard drives.  In our experience, recovering data (or attempting to) from every brand in existence over the last six or seven years,  some brands just have better reliability and failure rates than others.

Our recommendation is always Western Digital.  They make the best hard drives, Period.  That being said, the plastic-enclosed full-size MyBook series is not something we are particularly fond of.  Around here, we build our own backup and storage drives using the Western Digital Green or Blue series of 3.5″ SATA drives, which we install in Vantec USB enclosures.  If we need performance, we use the Acomdata enclosures that have USB 2.0, Firewire 400 + Firewire 800 connections.  They come with all the interface cables and a large, heavy enclosure that breathes better than all the other enclosures we’ve used.  Performance is amazing with the Firewire 800 connection!

And do NOT leave external drives plugged in all the time.  Power them down when they are not needed.  Hard drives run hotter in external enclosures, due to less air flow, so their lifespan decreases considerably.

And have two of everything.

Windows reports I am low on Virtual Memory. Should I add more RAM?

No.  This is a misnomer.  Windows has a limited vocabulary and, whenever it has a major problem, searches through it’s dictionary for something that sounds good and throws it on the screen for you to read.  This message refers not to “memory” but to “resources”.  This message means, essentially, there are rogue applications, or too many applications, running and using up the limited resources of Windows. This problem should temporarily resolve itself when you reboot the computer, but adding RAM will not fix a resource issue.

Additionally, we do not recommend you add or replace your own memory, as RAM modules are comprised of CMOS memory modules which are extremely sensitive to static electicity discharges.  A minor static shock that you cannot even feel will render your new memory useless – and possibly damage your mainboard in the process.  We have seen dozens of computers come in non-operational (or symptomatic of lockups and spontaneous shut-downs) after customers upgraded their own ram.  In-depth diagnostics routinely show bad memory that was just installed.  This is almost always due to electrical damage.

We work in a completely anti-static environment to assure this never happens in our shop.

How often should I defrag my drive?

How about never? Is never good for you?  OK, that’s an exaggeration.  How about almost never?  Once a year is about all you need unless you have recently deleted a LOT of data or programs and created “hole” in your data structure.  THEN you need to defrag to fill in the “holes” and keep future data written to the drive from being fragmented.  All you do by regularly defragging your computer is to wear out your hard drive prematurely.

How often should I run Disk Cleanup?

Never.  That’s how often you should run Disk Cleanup.  For reasons we don’t fully understand, this little Microsoft utility frequently causes computers to NOT BOOT after it is run and the computer rebooted.  We don’t trust the auto cleanup utilities and neither should you.

What registry tools do you recommend?

None.  We don’t use them and neither should you.  We frequently find computers in our shop with performance problems and instability – and with an assortment of registry tools, performance boosters and cleanup utilities galore.  NONE of these are a good idea.  Any decent Windows XP machine requires nearly zero maintenance other than going through the tools menu in Internet Explorer and deleting the temp files and cookies occasionally.

My computer locks up fairly often, but I reboot it and it’s OK for awhile.  How often should this happen?

Never.  A healthy Windows 7 machine should never lock up / hang or reboot.  This is never normal and is a sign of serious problems.  A professional tech should look at this computer immediately – before you lose critical data you cannot replace – and before your computer becomes unbootable as a result of being rebooted while it’s writing critical data to the system files on your drive.

I have Norton, McAfee, Spyware Doctor and Verizon Security software all installed to be sure I’m protected.  Is there anything else I should use?

Yes.  A hammer to complete the abuse to your computer.  Or how about taking out half the memory and driving a nail through the hard drive to properly slow it down?  More than one security product is a BAD idea, as each of these products, due to the highly invasive nature of their design, slows your computer down.  Install enough of them and your computer will be so slow it is unusable.  Also, having more than one security product installed virtually guarantees your computer will be infected when both security tools start fighting over whatever infection they find, allowing other infections free reign of your system.

See our Good Things / Bad Things page for recommendations on Windows Security products.

I work during the day. Can I get an evening appointment?Certainly… As long as you’re willing to pay the obscene amount of money we charge for After Hours Service – a little over 150% of our regular rate.  We work all day just like you do.  We don’t really want to work after hours or weekends.  We want our techs to be able to spend some time with their families – just like everyone else.  You know how you need to be home if you want your washing machine repaired?  Same thing for us.

I work all week. Can I get a weekend appointment?

Certainly… As long as you’re willing to pay the obscene amount of money we charge for Weekend Service – Again, a little over 150% of our regular rate.  We work all week just like you do.  We don’t really want to work weekends.  We want our techs to be able to spend some time with their families – just like everyone else.  So if you REALLY MUST HAVE us come out on the weekend, be prepared to pay around $750.00 up front for the privilege.  Otherwise… call us on Monday – it’s a LOT less expensive…

I want to upgrade the memory in my computer.  That’s easy to do, isn’t it?

For us, sure.  For you, maybe not.  We have lost track of the number of unbootable computers brought into our shop after the owner added memory.  More cases where the computer just locks up occasionally or crashes – and diagnostics show bad ram.

We work in a completely anti-static environment.  Memory chips are comprised of CMOS circuits that are extremely sensitive to electrostatic discharge.  The smallest amount of static electricity (too minute for you to feel) can permanently damage your new ram.  The damage may not manifest itself for weeks or even months, but sooner or later you will start to have problems.  Sitting on your shag carpet with the computer cracked open and replacing your memory is a sure way to wind up in someone’s computer repair shop.

I don’t really need a backup do I?  You guys can always get my data back, right?

Maybe.  And maybe not.  Frequently the cost of Data Recovery exceeds the amount the end user thinks it’s worth and as a result, they just give up on getting their precious photos, critical documents or tax information back and decide to completely recreate as much as possible from memory and live without the rest.  It is entirely possible for your data to be UN-Recoverable by any means, regardless of the amount of money you throw at it.

This is why we recommend at Least one type of backup and preferably TWO – stored in different locations.  We like external USB hard drives for backup.  The Western Digital Passport series of drives are great and reasonably priced.  We like BackBlaze and resell this product.

In addition we recommend BackBlaze, which is an Internet-based backup solution.  This is a Set-It-And-Forget-It approach to backup where your data is encrypted and stored in redundant web-based servers where you can access it any time, 24 hours a day in the event of a catastrophic failure.

Not having a recent backup is like driving without insurance – (stupid is the word that comes to mind)


What to you think of Carbonite?

We’ve been asked this question a lot of times over the last year or so and now we have an answer:

This is about the LEAST friendly product I have ever dealt with.  We resell products like Carbonite and this being my first experience with their product, I am NOT impressed.  The user interface seems pretty intuitive and friendly in terms of backing up data.  That’s useful.  However… The REAL reason people want a product like this is to RESTORE data in the event of a catastrophe.  On that count it sucks.

I spent the better part of two hours trying to restore some files to a client’s computer, which included the following fun and games:  It seemed apparent Carbonite’s installation was corrupt.  There were 38 files queued up to restore and I could not cancel the operation.  The “Cancel” button simply did not respond.  Rebooting the computer, killing the processes, etc., made no difference.

I located a setup.exe file in their Program Files folder and launched it in an attempt to reinstall.  The install failed when it could not access Carbonite’s servers.  I verified the firewall was off and that I could connect to other sites with no problem.  After this, their setup.exe file vanished.  Just disappeared completely after being launched one time.  Another 10 minutes or so spent researching Carbonite’s website for any option to download their program and resolve the issue led to the only option being to login to the user account and reinstall from there.

So… I logged into my client’s account to try a reinstall and found I had to update all his security settings (Mother’s maiden name, schools attended, favorite pet, shoe size, date of last haircut, etc…) before I could proceed.

Are you kidding?  How about just allowing a paying, licensed client to download a new version of your buggy software so they can restore their data?  Is this asking so #@$%^&* much?  Apparently so.

It seems Carbonite wants to penalize their customers when Carbonite’s system fails.  Also, their tech support hours are (marginally) OK if you’re on the Eastern Seaboard, but if you are in any other time zone, you’d better get your phone call in pretty early — or wait until the next business day.

Their product may be cheap, but in my opinion, based on this experience, it is worth a LOT less than it’s purchase price when it comes to actually using it for what it was designed for – recovering from a disaster.

What a pile of Craponite.

What’s wrong with Windows 10?

Let’s start with “everything”

We have had more computers than I can count rendered useless by the Anniversary Update.  Lately we have been ripping Windows 10 out and replacing it with Windows 7, which yields a faster, more reliable, stable computer.  It is well worth the cost.
What do you recommend for a backup?

OK, to sort out fact from fiction:

All writable optical disks will eventually fail.  We tell everyone to assume a 1.5-3 year lifespan.  If you keep them in a fireproof safe, they will last longer.  This will NOT protect them in a fire!  Period.

Tape is the best long-term storage. Good for 30 years and it’s not continually spinning and wearing itself out like a hard drive. Very inconvenient and expensive to implement – and slow to operate – even slower to Recover.

External hard drives are your best bet from a convenience and cost standpoint.  Have at least TWO – if not THREE backups of everything and in different buildings – preferably different Cities.  Assume all your backups will fail and you will at least be prepared.

Only turn on your hard drives when you are using them. Power them completely off the rest of the time to dramatically improve their life span. We use special enclosures that spin down the drives after a short period of not being accessed.

Web-based backup is incredibly convenient, and has become very affordable.  I personally backup 5 Terabytes of data on a cloud-based system that only costs me $50 a year.  If you are interested in the same system, contact me and I will set up an account for you.  Yes, we resell this service.

There is a a difference in quality in hard drives. Not all drives are created equal.  I use nothing but Western Digital drives.  Best reliability and failure rate in the industry. Seagate is historically the WORST.  Period.  I have had to recover lost data from more damaged Seagate drives than any other brand. Second is IBM.

I’ve heard there’s a specific way to reset my router. How do I do this?

It’s simple, really:

  1. Disconnect the power to both your modem and router.
  2. Wait 2 minutes
  3. Plug in the power to your modem
  4. Wait at least 3 minutes or until all the lights stabilize
  5. Plug in the router
  6. Wait until all the lights stabilize
  7. Check your connectivity
  8. You may have to reboot your computer(s) to establish a wireless connection.

I took my laptop apart to fix the (whatever). Now it doesn’t work. Can you fix it?

No.

Why?  This is why:

  1. We will not touch a laptop computer you have already taken apart for any reason.
  2. You are not a professional technician or you would not be contacting us.
  3. You clearly created new problems or you would not be contacting us.
  4. It is entirely possible parts are missing or components are incorrectly assembled as a  result of your repair attempt.
  5. Something else may have broken during the disassembly / assembly.
  6. You may have caused electrical damage to components by mis-handling.
  7. You may have damaged connectors or cables by working on your laptop without the expertise and experience that goes along with years of being a computer technician.

We will NOT be responsible for any computer that comes in as a basket case.  We will do our best to recover your data, though.

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