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Strengthen your computer security with EMET 5

Updated January 31, 2021. Microsoft's Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit reached the end of its life on July 31, 2018, and is no longer available for download.

It seems like every day, a new software exploit or vulnerability is found. Software vendors work hard at keeping their software secure, but it can take time to test and deploy patches. So what can you do to protect your computer? The Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit (EMET) from Microsoft does just that.

The main window inside of EMET 5
The main window inside of EMET 5

EMET is designed to prevent attackers from taking control of your system. It works as 'shim' in-between your programs and the operating system. EMET looks for the most common attack techniques and will block and terminate any program it is monitoring. EMET works alongside your favorite anti-virus and anti-malware programs for layered security.

I have been using EMET as part of my layered security for years and have written a few blogs on it. With each version, Microsoft keeps improving it. Some of the improvements in EMET 5 include Attack Surface Reduction (ASR), Export Address Table Filtering Plus (EAF+), and 64-bit ROP mitigations. Here's is the current list of mitigations EMET currently looks for.

  • Structured Exception Handler Overwrite Protection (SEHOP)
  • Data Execution Prevention (DEP)
  • Heapspray allocation
  • Null page allocation
  • Mandatory Address Space Layout Randomization (ASLR)
  • Export Address Table Access Filtering (EAF)
  • Export Address Table Access Filtering Plus (EAF+)
  • Bottom-up randomization
  • Return Oriented Programming (ROP)
  • Attack Surface Reduction (ASR)

There are two (2) different ways to configure EMET, a Graphic User Interface (GUI) and a command-line tool. It is best to configure EMET through the GUI since the command-line tool doesn't allow access to all EMET's features. The built-in configuration wizard will enable you to use either the recommenced settings, keep previous settings (upgrade install), or manually configure EMET (new install).

Easily configure programs to monitor in EMET 5
Easily configure programs to monitor in EMET 5

Once you have EMET installed, it's pretty easy to add programs to monitor. Just open the program you want EMET to watch and then open EMET. On the lower part of the main window, you will see Running Processes. Just find the program you want to monitor in the list, right-click on it, and select Configure Process. You will have to restart any program you have just configured inside of EMET.

How to safely optimize your solid state drive

Updated September 20, 2020

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 significantly 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 recognize the SSD and modify its behavior accordingly. The following tweaks are entirely safe and will not harm your system in any way.

General SSD maintenance

SSDs operate differently from HDDs, and there are a couple of things you should never do to an SSD. Since SSDs have limited read/write cycles, any program that intensively accesses the SSD could shorten the drive's life span. Running a disk defragment program on an SSD is 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 SSDs in Windows 7 / Windows Server 2008 R2 and has expanded on it in Windows 8 / 8.1 & Windows Server 2012. Since the low-level operation of SSDs is different from HDDs, the Trim command was introduced to handle delete/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

How to open a Command Prompt with Administrator privileges in Windows 10

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, type the following into the Admin Command Prompt:

fsutil behavior set DisableDeleteNotify 0

SSD free space maintenance

SSDs do have one downside; their capacity can be smaller than HDDs. The capacity of SSDs is getting closer to HDDs every day, but the price for a 1 to 2TB SSD can be kind of expensive. If you have a smaller capacity SSD, maintaining an adequate amount of free space is necessary.

Now there are two scenarios for setting up computers with SSDs: Single-drive (SSD only) and Multiple drives (SSD + HDD). Laptops are usually single-drive, and desktops are almost always multiple-drive. Here are a few ways to maintain free space.

Single-drive (SSD only)

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

Turn off Hibernation.
With the speed of an SSD, boot times will be relatively 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 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

Managing Virtual Memory / Pagefile in Windows 8

Managing Virtual Memory / Pagefile in Windows 10

Clean up the drive regularly.
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.

Free up more disk space with Windows 7 Disk Cleanup

Clean up your hard drive in Windows 8 with Disk Cleanup

Clean up Windows 10 with Disk Cleanup

Clean up and optimize your computer for free with CCleaner

Multiple-drive (SSD + HDD)

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

Move the virtual memory/pagefile.
Instead of turning it off, 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

Modifying the default locations of user files and library properties in Windows 8

Modifying the default locations of user files and library properties in Windows 10

There are plenty of other tweaks you can do, like moving the 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

Updated September 22, 2020

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. But for free graphics programs, you just cannot beat Paint.NET.

Lately, I have been back through some of my older articles and updating the content. Even though I wrote this article a few years ago, Paint.NET is still one of my favorite graphics programs. And it just keeps getting better all of the time.

The user interface inside of Paint.NET 4
The user interface inside of Paint.NET 4

Paint.NET was initially created to replace the Paint program included in Windows but has evolved in to so much more since then. It includes such features as layers, effects, transparency, blending, and best of all, plugins.

With hundreds of plugins available, you can 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 uses an asynchronous, fully multithreaded rendering engine and supports hardware acceleration via the GPU (Graphics Processing Unit). Selections are anti-aliased, and selected outlines rendered with 'dancing ants' animation, significantly improving the contrast between the sample and image. And the user interface is clean and straightforward to use.

The Settings dialog box inside of Paint.NET 4
The Settings dialog box inside of Paint.NET 4

There are now two (2) versions of the Paint.NET program. The original Windows desktop version and the UWP (Universal Windows Platform). The Windows desktop version is available for download for free from the dotPDN website. The UWP version is available for purchase from the Microsoft Store.

Paint.NET system requirements

  • Windows 10, Windows 8.1, or Windows 7 SP1 with platform update
  • .NET Framework 4.7.2
  • 1 GHz processor (dual-core recommended)
  • 1 GB of RAM

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

Get Paint 4
What's new in Paint.NET

How to upgrade your computers hard disk drive to a solid state drive

Updated September 24, 2020

Most computers (laptop & desktop) nowadays come with a Hard Disk Drive (HDD) as standard equipment with a Solid State Drive (SSD) as an option. Each drive type has its pros and cons: HDD's are cheaper and have more storage, but SSD's are extremely fast (especially when connected to an M.2 slot). So if your existing computer has an HDD, odds are you could replace it with an SSD. Here's how to upgrade your computer hard disk drive to solid-state drive.

How to upgrade your computer's hard disk drive to a solid state drive

I wrote an article not long ago on how to upgrade the hard drive in your computer and refer back to it often. It describes how to clone a smaller drive to a larger one of the same type. Since SSD's typically have less storage than HDD's, this time I'll have to shrink the existing HDD (80 GB) partition(s) down below the capacity of the target SSD (64 GB) before I can clone it.

As in the article mentioned above, the first thing to do is a Checkdisk of the existing HDD. Doing this will ensure there are no errors that may prohibit the cloning of the drive.

Running Checkdisk in Windows Vista / Windows 7

Running Checkdisk in Windows 8

Running Checkdisk in Windows 10

Now we have to start cleaning up the drive. Windows has a built-in tool called Disk Cleanup (cleanmgr.exe) that works pretty well at getting out the clutter. Try using it from an admin command prompt; that way, you'll get more options.

Disk Cleanup Windows 7 / Vista

Disk Cleanup Windows 8

Disk Cleanup Windows 10

Since we are trying to get the maximum amount of free space we can, we will have to delete some files, including documents, photos, videos, etc. Doing a backup right now will ensure we have a copy of all of the files if we need to recover some later.

Windows Vista / Windows 7 Backup

Windows 8 Backup

Windows 10 Backup

The next thing I have to do is find out what is taking up space on the existing HDD. For this, I'll use a copy of Space Sniffer. After a quick view, I see I can free up several gigabytes of space by permanently removing the hibernation file and temporarily deleting the swap file. Windows will warn you about having no swap file, but we will be recreating the swap file once the drive cloning is complete.

Disable Windows hibernation

Managing Virtual Memory / Pagefile in Windows Vista

Managing Virtual Memory / Pagefile in Windows 7

Managing Virtual Memory / Pagefile in Windows 8

Managing Virtual Memory / Pagefile in Windows 10

The next thing we need to do to the drive is to defragment it. I'll use Defraggler from Piriform for this task. Once the drive is defragged, it's time to shrink it. To do this, open Computer Management, expand the Storage section in the left column, and select Disk Management. In the right column, right-click on the partition marked as Boot (usually C:) and select Shrink. Remember to take the size down at least 10-15% below the capacity of the new SSD.

Shrinking a partition down in Windows 7
Shrinking a partition down in Windows 7

Once the partition has been resized, it's time to clone the drive. The following article has details on how to clone your hard drive, including links to the cloning software.

How to upgrade the hard drive in your computer

Note: An issue not addressed in the article above is the form factor; the existing SATA HDD is 3.5" form factor, and SATA SSD's are 2.5" form factor.
A desktop hdd and an ssd with adapter brackets
This can easily be resolved by using a pair of 2.5" to 3.5" adapter brackets.

Once the drive cloning is complete, and the system is running again, we need to expand the boot partition to use any free space available. Open Computer Management, expand the Storage section in the left column, and select Disk Management. In the right column, right-click on the partition mark as Boot (usually C:) and select Expand. Once the boot partition has been resized, you can now enable the Windows swap file.

For more information on upgrading computer drives. click on the following links.

How to clone the drive in your Windows computer

How to upgrade the hard drive in your computer

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 it's 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 screenshot of the website AmIRunningXP.com
A screenshot 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. The second is that the majority of Windows XP installations in-use are 32-bit. Almost 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 might 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 your existing hard drive for errors.
    Detecting and repairing disk errors in Windows XP
  3. Defragment your existing hard drive.
    Using Disk Defragmenter in Windows XP
  4. Do a complete backup of your existing computer to an external hard drive or network drive.
    Using Backup in Windows XP
  5. Download and install PCmover Express. Transfer all of the users' documents and settings to an external hard drive or network drive.
    PCmover Express
  6. Perform a clean installation of Windows 7, Windows 8, or Windows 8.1, erasing the existing partition(s)
  7. Set up your new user account(s) with the same name(s) as your old user account(s).
  8. Attach your hardware (printers, scanners, etc.). To get the full functionality of your devices, you may have to install the manufacturer's software.
  9. 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.
  10. Download and install PCmover Express to your new version of Windows.
    PCmover Express

Migrate from your old computer to a new computer

This, by far, is the easiest way to go. The 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. Do a complete backup of your existing computer to an external hard drive or network drive.
    Using Backup in Windows XP
  3. Download and install PCmover Express. Transfer all of the users' documents and settings to an external hard drive or network drive.
    PCmover Express
  4. Set up your new user account(s) with the same name(s) as your old user account(s).
  5. Attach your hardware (printers, scanners, etc.). To get the full functionality of your devices, you may have to install the manufacturer's software.
  6. 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.
  7. Download and install PCmover Express to your new version of Windows.
    PCmover Express

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)

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