How to safely optimize your solid state drive

When it comes to getting the best performance out of your computer, nothing can beat a Solid State Drive (SSD). Right out-of-the-box they are extremely faster reading / writing data than a Hard Disk Drive (HDD). But there are a few things that you have to do differently with an SSD. Here's how to safely optimize your solid state drive.

The definition of tweak

There are plenty of articles out there that will give you a ton of different tweaks you can use to speed up the SSD access time. From turning off disk indexing to disabling Prefetch and Superfetch. Some may work for you, some may not. Generally speaking, if you're running Windows 7 or higher, the operating system should recognized the SSD and modify its behavior accordingly. The following tweaks are completely safe and will not harm your system in any way.

General SSD maintenance

SSD's operate differently from HDD's and there are a couple of things you should never do to an SSD. Since SSD's have limited read / write cycles, any program that intensively accesses the SSD could shorten the life span of the drive. Running a disk defragment program on an SSD is definitely not recommended. And as far as Check Disk (CHKDSK) is concerned, you'll need to contact the manufacturer of your SSD to find out if they recommend it or not.

Microsoft started building in support for SSD's in Windows 7 / Windows Server 2008 R2 and has expanded on it in Windows 8 / 8.1 & Windows Server 2012. Since low-level operation of SSD's is different from HDD's, the Trim command was introduced to handle deletes / format requests. To verify that Trim is on, you'll need to open an Administrative Command Prompt.

How to open a Command Prompt with Administrator privileges in Windows 7
How to open a Command Prompt with Administrator privileges in Windows 8

You can verify that Trim is enabled by typing the following into an Administrative Command Prompt:

fsutil behavior query DisableDeleteNotify

If the command returns a 0 then Trim is enabled. If it returns a 1, then it is not. To enable Trim, just type the following into the Admin Command Prompt:

fsutil behavior set DisableDeleteNotify 0

SSD free space maintenance

SSD's do have one down side; their capacity is smaller than HDD's, so maintaining an adequate amount of free space is necessary. Now there are two scenarios for setting up computers with SSD's: Single-drive (SSD only) and Multiple drives (SSD + HDD). Laptops are usually single-drive and desktops are almost always multiple-drive. Here's a few ways to maintain free space.

Single-drive (SSD only)

The options here are limited. To free up space you could store your personal files like documents, photos and music to an external drive or to the cloud. Here are a few more ideas.

Turn off Hibernation.
With the speed of an SSD, boot times will be quite faster than with an HDD. You'll find that you can boot your computer just as fast as if you brought it out of hibernation. And since hibernation writes the system memory to disk, you'll free up the same amount of disk space that is equal to the total system memory. And if you have a lot of memory, this can free up a big chunk of space on your SSD.

Disable Windows hibernation and free up disk space

Turn off the virtual memory / pagefile.
Use this with caution! Technically, virtual memory is used when all of the system memory is full. If you have a large amount of system memory (16GB or more) and you don't run memory hog software like Photoshop, you should be alright disabling it. And you'll free up a few GB's of drive space in the process.

Managing Virtual Memory / Pagefile in Windows 7 (same for Windows 8)

Clean up drive on a regular basis.
Temporary files and browser caches are a few items you'll need to keep an eye on. Using a program like Piriform's CCleaner or Disk Cleanup that comes with Windows will take care of these files. Disk Cleanup can also be run as a scheduled task too.

Free up more disk space with Windows 7 Disk Cleanup
Clean up your hard drive in Windows 8 with Disk Cleanup
Clean up and optimize your computer for free with CCleaner

Multiple-drive (SSD + HDD)

This is the optimal setup. Everything under single-drive scenario applies here. Windows and program files need to be on the SSD. Almost anything else that Windows doesn't require for normal operation can go over to the HDD.

Move the virtual memory / pagefile.
Instead of turning it off, just move it to the HDD (see link above).

Move personal files to HDD.
Your documents, photos and music can take up a large amount of space on your drive. Get them off of the SSD and over to the HDD.

Modifying the default locations of user files and library properties in Windows 7 (same for Windows 8)

There are plenty of other tweaks you can do, like moving location of your browser cache and temp folders to the HDD. You can find all of that information and more with a quick search on Google.

Create great graphics with Paint.NET 4.0

One of the things I like to do besides repairing computers is creating graphics. Over the years I have used many different image editing programs, including Photoshop and CorelDraw. Recently, one of my favorite freeware image editing programs, Paint.NET, released a new version. Let's take a look at what's new in Paint.NET 4.0.

The improved user interface inside of Paint.NET 4.0
The improved user interface inside of Paint.NET 4.0

Paint.NET was originally created in 2004 to be a replacement for the Paint program that is included inside Windows, but has evolved into much more since then. It now includes such features as layers, effects, transparency, blending and best of all, plugins. With hundreds of plugins available, you can really expand on the out-of-the-box graphic capabilities of Paint.NET. Since I have a digital camera that will take photos in RAW format, I found a plugin that opens that type of file. I also use Photoshop and have found a plugin to open those files too.

Paint.NET 4.0 now has a brand-new rendering engine (asynchronous and fully multi-threaded) and supports hardware acceleration via the GPU (Graphics Processing Unit). Selections are now anti-aliased and selected outlines are rendered with 'dancing ants' animation, greatly improving the contrast between selection and image. And the user interface has also been revamped to include a Settings dialog box for easier configuration.

The new Settings dialog box inside of Paint.NET 4.0
The new Settings dialog box inside of Paint.NET 4.0

Now the only down side to Paint.NET 4.0 is the system requirements. Since this version of Paint.NET is built with the .NET Framework 4.5, it will only run on Windows 7 SP1, Windows 8 or Windows 8.1. It does not run on Windows Vista or Windows RT. Here are the complete system requirements:

  • Windows 7 SP1 or newer is now required.
  • .NET Framework 4.5 is now required, and will be installed if needed.
  • A dual-core (or more!) processor is highly recommended.
  • Hardware acceleration (GPU) via Direct2D is now supported.

For more information on Paint.NET, just follow the links below:

Get Paint 4.0
What's new in Paint.NET 4.0

How to move from Windows XP to Windows 7, Windows 8 or Windows 8.1

The end of life for Windows XP has been and still is a major headache for consumers. You've got your old computer set up just the way you like it and its running fine. But there comes a time when you need to move to a newer and more secure operating system. Here's a couple of ways to move from Windows XP to Windows 7, Windows 8 or Windows 8.1.

A screen shot of the website AmIRunningXP.com
A screen shot of the website AmIRunningXP.com

Upgrade the operating system on your existing computer

The biggest problem with this scenario is that there is no way to do an in-place upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 7 or Windows 8 / 8.1. First is the different partition, folder and file architecture. Second is that the majority of Windows XP installations in-use are 32-bit. All most all versions of Windows 7 and Windows 8 / 8.1 in use are 64-bit. You can still get 32-bit versions of them, but with the 4GB memory limit, they are not very popular. If your computer was built within the last 5-7 years, it may be compatible with Windows 7 or Windows 8 / 8.1.

Windows 7 / Windows 8 / Windows 8.1 hardware requirements:

  • Processor: 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster
  • RAM: 1 gigabyte (GB) (32-bit) or 2 GB (64-bit)
  • Free hard drive space: 16 GB (32-bit) or 20 GB (64-bit)
  • Graphics card: Microsoft DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM driver

How to upgrade your existing computer from Windows XP to Windows 7, Windows 8 or Windows 8.1

  1. Download the Windows Upgrade Assistant to check to see if the hardware in your existing system meets the minimum hardware requirements.
    Windows Upgrade Assistant
  2. Check to see if your existing software will run on Windows 7 or Windows 8 / 8.1. Some software may not run on Windows 7 or Windows 8 / 8.1, so checking now may prevent some frustration later down the road.
    Windows Compatibility Center
  3. Check your existing hard drive for errors.
    Detecting and repairing disk errors in Windows XP
  4. Defragment your existing hard drive.
    Using Disk Defragmenter in Windows XP
  5. Do a complete backup of your existing computer to an external hard drive or network drive.
    Using Backup in Windows XP
  6. Download and install PCmover Express for Windows XP or the latest version (Windows 7) of Windows Easy Transfer. Transfer all of the users' documents and settings to an external hard drive or network drive.
    PCmover Express for Windows XP
    Windows Easy Transfer
  7. Perform a clean installation of Windows 7, Windows 8 or Windows 8.1, erasing the existing partition(s)
  8. Set up your new user account(s) with the same name(s) as your old user account(s).
  9. Attach your hardware (printers, scanners, etc.). To get the full functionality of your devices, you may have to install the manufacturer's software.
  10. Install all of the programs you had installed on your previous version of Windows. This way when you transfer your documents and settings the file associations for your documents will be already set up.
  11. Download and install PCmover Express for Windows XP or run Windows Easy Transfer built-in to your new version of Windows.
    PCmover Express for Windows XP

Migrate from your old computer to a new computer

This, by far, is the easiest way to go. Only problem might be if your existing programs are not compatible with the version of Windows on your new computer. If you find that a program won't run right out of the box, you may be able to run it in 'Compatibility Mode' for another version of Windows.

How to migrate from Windows XP to Windows 7, Windows 8 or Windows 8.1

  1. Download the Windows Upgrade Assistant to check to see if the hardware attached to your existing system meets the minimum hardware requirements.
    Windows Upgrade Assistant
  2. Check to see if your existing software will run on Windows 7 or Windows 8 / 8.1. Some software may not run on Windows 7 or Windows 8 / 8.1. Checking now may prevent some frustration later down the road.
    Windows Compatibility Center
  3. Do a complete backup of your existing computer to an external hard drive or network drive.
    Using Backup in Windows XP
  4. Download and install PCmover Express for Windows XP or the latest version (Windows 7) of Windows Easy Transfer. Transfer all of the users' documents and settings to an external hard drive or network drive.
    PCmover Express for Windows XP
    Windows Easy Transfer
  5. Set up your new user account(s) with the same name(s) as your old user account(s).
  6. Attach your hardware (printers, scanners, etc.). To get the full functionality of your devices, you may have to install the manufacturer's software.
  7. In install all of the programs you had installed on your previous version of Windows. This way when you transfer your documents and settings, the file associations for your documents will be already set up.
  8. Download and install PCmover Express for Windows XP or run Windows Easy Transfer built-in to your new version of Windows.
    PCmover Express for Windows XP

Also, here's a series of articles I wrote a few years ago on my personal experience upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7.

Upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7 (Part 1)
Upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7 (Part 2 - Drive Imaging)
Upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7 (Part 3 - Hardware / Software Inventory)
Upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7 (Part 4 - Windows 7 Installation)
Upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7 (Part 5 - Applications and Settings)
Upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7 (Part 6 - Epilogue)

Share your computer's Internet connection with Virtual Wifi Hotspot

Quite a few smartphones nowadays have the ability to share their Internet connections by creating a wifi hot spot. This can come in handy when you have only one Internet connection and multiple devices requiring it. But did you know can do the same thing with your Windows 7 or Windows 8 computer using Virtual Wifi Hotspot.

Virtual Wifi Hotspot (Virtual Router Plus 2.6) main screen
Virtual Wifi Hotspot (Virtual Router Plus 2.6) main screen

Using Virtual Wifi Hotspot, you can connect multiple wifi enabled devices to the Internet connection on one computer. It is extremely helpful if you have to pay for an Internet connection, like at an airport or hotel. For example, when I travel and stay in a hotel, I like to utilize the hotel's Internet connection (wired (preferred) or wifi). I can connect my Netbook to the Internet and then share that connection my wifi devices (smartphone, tablet). I've even thought about bringing a Roku with me next time I travel. Just start Virtual Wifi Hotspot, enter a network name, password, select the connection you want to share and click on Start Virtual Router Plus.

Virtual Wifi Hotspot is a Codeplex open source project and is built with the Virtual Router project. This explains the difference between the project name (Virtual Wifi Hotspot) and the application name (Virtual Router Plus). Here's a quote from the project's website:

Virtual Wifi Hotspot is a free, open source software based router for PCs running Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows Server 2012. Using Virtual Wifi Hotspot, users can wirelessly share any Internet connection (Wifi, LAN, Cable Modem, Dial-up, Cellular, etc.) with any Wifi device (Laptop, Smart Phone, iPod Touch, iPhone, Android Phone, Zune, Netbook, wireless printer, etc.) These devices connect to Virtual Wifi Hotspot just like any other access point, and the connection is completely secured using WPA2 (the most secure wireless encryption.)

For more information on Virtual Wifi Hotspot, just follow the link below.

Virtual Wifi Hotspot for Windows 7 & 8

How to use layered security to protect your computer

It seems whenever I tell someone that I repair computers for a living, I almost always get asked the question "What do you recommend for anti-virus software?". I tell them that I use a layered approach to security, not relying on just one program for protection. I personally don't like to use all-in-one security suites. It's not that I don't trust any particular software; I just don't like having just one piece of software protecting my computer. Here's how to use layered security to protect your computer.

Protecting your computer with layered security
Protecting your computer with layered security

Software firewall

Windows has had a pretty good firewall built-in since Windows Vista and it's turned on by default. It comes pre-installed inside of Windows and is ready to go. There are also some great stand-alone programs like ZoneAlarm. This is also one of those additional features of all-in-one security software. It's your choice.

Anti-virus software

This one is a no brainer. There are plenty of free and retail anti-virus programs on the market, and I have used quite few different ones over the years. Some internet service providers like Cox Communications even offer free security suite software. The only thing to keep in mind when picking an anti-virus program is the performance of the system you're installing it on. I would not install a full-blown security suite like Norton or McAfee on a tablet or netbook.

Anti-malware / anti-spyware software

Anti-virus software normally looks for, you guessed it, viruses. I've cleaned out quite a few pieces of ransomware that anti-virus programs missed because it wasn't a virus. Quite a few of anti-malware programs are meant to be run side-by-side with anti-virus software. But there are a couple of exceptions to this rule: McAfee software doesn't like to work with Malwarebytes Anti-malware, but it can. And never install Microsoft Security Essentials along with SuperAnti-Spyware, as they are completely incompatible. It's a long story, but basically they are the same program.

Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit (EMET)

EMET actuality works as a shim between programs and the operating system. It looks for known patterns of attack and can prevent programs from getting access to the operating system. It can prevent a hacker from using security holes in programs until the developer issues an update. Just configure EMET to monitor any program that can access the Internet. I've seen it work first hand (rouge flash inside of browser) and it does what it's meant to do.

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