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My four favorite free programs I always recommend

Being a computer repair technician, I get asked allot of questions. Quite a few of them are about what software do I recommend. And since I am frugal, I will usually suggest ones that are free. So here are my four (4) favorite free programs I always recommend.

My 4 favorite free programs I always recommend

Free graphic programs

When it comes to graphics, everyone knows about Photoshop. And you have probably heard the phrase 'photoshopped' before. Photoshop has become the leading image editor.

But what if you cannot afford Photoshop? Well, there are other alternatives for image editing. And it just so happens that they are free too.

Paint.NET

The user interface inside of Paint.NET 4.0

Paint.NET started out as a free replacement for the Paint program that comes with Windows. But it has grown to be a top-line graphics editor that compares to Photoshop for all of its useful features.

Paint.NET has quite the intuitive interface and includes support for layers, special effects and hundreds of plugins. Paint.NET runs only on the Windows platform and does require the latest version of the .NET framework.

Click here for more information on Paint.NET

GIMP

The GIMP user interface

GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is another alternative image editor to Photoshop. It too has a full set of editing tools including layers, channels and over 100 plugins.

GIMP is part of the GNU Project, which is open-source, so you are encouraged to participate in its development. GIMP will run on Windows, OS X and GNU/Linux operating systems.

Click here for more information on GIMP

Free productivity programs

OpenOffice

The main screen inside of OpenOffice 4

When it comes to productivity software, there is one question I constantly get, "Is there an alternative to Microsoft Office?". I always respond with "Yes, Apache OpenOffice. And it is free.".

Apache OpenOffice is another open-source project that is comparable and compatible with Microsoft Office. In fact, you can open, edit and save all Microsoft Office file formats with OpenOffice.

It has Writer, a word processor equivalent to Microsoft Word, Calc, a spreadsheet program equivalent to Microsoft Excel and Impress, a multi-media slide-show presentation program equivalent to Microsoft PowerPoint.

It also includes Draw, a graphic program equivalent to Microsoft Paint and Base, a database program equivalent to Microsoft Access. There are versions of OpenOffice for Windows, OS 10 and Linux operating systems.

Click here for more information on OpenOffice

Free anti-spam program

MailWasher Free

E-mail is the most popular way right now for hackers to attack your computer. All they have to do is get you to open a bogus e-mail in a web browser or e-mail client.

But with MailWasher Free, you can check your mail securely. MailWasher Free downloads nothing but the text of your e-mail. No attachments are downloaded and no HTML is rendered.

Now, you cannot use MailWasher Free as e-mail client, since it does not have an e-mail editor. It is just for deleting unwanted mail on your mail server. That way the unwanted mail never makes its way into your browser or mail program.

Now MailWasher Free is supported by ads that appear inside the program itself. If you have more than one e-mail address or want to avoid the ads, you may want to think about purchasing MailWasher Pro.

Click here for more information on MailWasher free

My digital toolbox 3

When it comes to repairing computers, every technician has what I call a digital toolbox. It is software that they use for specific tasks, like finding information on hardware or cloning drives. So here is another installment of my digital toolbox.

My digital toolbox 3

CPU-Z

Screenshot of CPU-Z

When it comes to finding the specifications of your motherboard, processor, etc., you could open your computers case and disassemble the components to get that information. Or you could just download and run CPU-Z.

CPU-Z will display the all of the information on your CPU (Central Processing Unit), motherboard, memory and GPU (Graphics Processing Unit). It can even benchmark your existing processor against preloaded reference CPU's.

I recently needed to find out what specific memory a laptop was running. Instead of tearing it down to look at the memory modules, I just ran CPU-Z. If you need to know the specifications of your computer's hardware, CPU-Z is a great way to do it.

Click here for more information on CPU-Z

Samsung Data Migration

Screenshot of Samsung Data Migration

Now upgrading your HDD (Hard Disk Drive) to an SSD (Solid State Drive) can be tricky. But if you purchase certain Samsung SSD's, you can utilize their free cloning software, Samsung SSD Data Migration.

I have used this software before and it does work pretty flawlessly. All you have to do is download and install the Samsung Data Migration software on your computer. The only thing you will need is a drive adapter or docking station to attach the Samsung SSD to your computer.

Once you have the Samsung Data Migration software installed, you attach your new Samsung SSD via an adapter or docking station and then start up the Samsung Data Migration software.

Now you have to keep in mind that you want to have a Samsung SSD that is relatively the same size (in gigabytes) or larger than you existing HDD. That way you don't have any issues with shrinking any of the partitions. Expanding them is easy, shrinking them can cause problems.

Another thing to keep in mind is if your cloning a 3.5" desktop HDD to a 2.5" Samsung SSD and your computer case does not have a 2.5" mounting bracket you will need to have a 2.5" to 3.5" adapter bracket.

As I mentioned before, Samsung Data Migration software works with specific Samsung SSD's, so check the user manual first for the list of supported Samsung drives.

Click here for more information on Samsung Data Migration

Acronis True Image WD Edition Software

Screenshot of Acronis True Image WD Edition Software

Now when it comes to free drive cloning software, nobody can beat Western Digital. They offer a stripped-down version of Acronis True Image for use with any Western Digital HDD or Sandisk SSD.

The nice thing about this software is that besides drive cloning it will also backup the entire system, individual partitions or just folder / files. You just have to have a qualifying drive (Western Digital or Sandisk).

Now this software will clone to either a physically installed drive or one that is attached via a drive adapter or docking station. It actually has its own boot loader in which it boots to when cloning a drive.

Just remember that when using any drive cloning software, you will need to turn the computer off after the cloning process is done and change the new cloned drive out for the old existing drive.

Click here for more information on Acronis True Image WD Edition

How to tell if your desktop computer power supply has failed

There may be a time when your desktop computer does not start up. There could be a few reasons why it does not start. The first thing that comes to mind is a failed power supply. Here's how to test your desktop power supply.

How to tell if your desktop computer power supply has failed

Living in Phoenix, we have one thing that really takes a toll on a desktop computer. No, it is not the heat, it is the dust. Since our environment here is so dry, we get a lot of dust.

How to clean the dust out of your computer

And since dust does conduct electricity, power supplies have a tendency to fail. Even if you routinely clean your desktop computer, they still only have a life span of around 3 to 5 years.

So, if when you press the power button your desktop computer does not start and there are no lights that light up, then you may have a failed power supply.

Now if you do not feel comfortable working around electricity or inside of your desktop computer, please contact a local computer technician.

How to test your desktop computer power supply

  1. Disconnect the power cord that comes from the outlet to the power supply.
  2. After you have disconnected the power cord, open up the case and touch any metal part of the power supply or case to discharge any remaining energy.
  3. Make a note or take pictures of all of the connections that lead from the power supply to the different devices. Once you have documented all of the power leads, then remove all of connections (SATA, Molex, PCI-e, ATX, MB, etc.) to all of the different devices and motherboard.
  4. Create a jumper from a piece of thin gauge wire or paper clip.
  5. Plug the power cord back in to the jack on the back of the power supply.
  6. Using the jumper you created, connect Pin 16 to either Pin 17 or Pin 18.
    Motherboard power supply connectior
    If the power supply fan starts to run, the power supply has output voltage and is good. If the power supply fan does not spin, it is time to replace it.

If your power supply has failed, make note of what type and how many connectors your existing power supply has.
Common desktop power supply connections
Also check the stated output of your existing power supply from the label on the side.

I also recommend that you use tape measure or ruler is measure the dimensions of the power supply, (Width x Height x Depth) as you will want to get as close as possible to these for the replacement power supply.

How to get to and use the Run dialog box in Windows

There may be a time when you need to run a program in Windows that does not have a shortcut to it. Usually it is a program that is not used that often. So here is how start a program using the Run dialog box.

How to get to and use the Run dialog box in Windows

The Run dialog box is meant to run programs that you don't necessarily use that often and you do not have a shortcut to. It may be a system application or a downloaded installation program.

There are two (2) ways to use the Run dialog box. If you know the name of the application you want to start, you can usually just type the name into the Run dialog box and click OK.

For example, if you have Microsoft Word installed on your computer, you can just type Winword (the actual name of Microsoft Word) in the Run dialog box and click OK. Microsoft Word will then start up. That is because the program directory is in the Path (it is an environmental variable). The Windows system directory is in the Path by default.

If your program is not in the Path, then you will have to click on Browse... and manually find the program you want to start. Once you have the name of the program you want to start in the Run dialog box, just click on OK.

Now bringing up the Run dialog box is fairly simple. The way you go about getting to it is kind of different in each version of Windows, but there is one keyboard shortcut that works for all versions.

Windows Logo key Windows logo key + R

Here are all of the ways to access the Run dialog box in the different versions of Windows.

How to bring up the Run dialog box in Windows 7

The Run dialog box in Windows 7
The Run dialog box in Windows 7

  1. Left-click on the Start menu.
  2. Navigate to All Programs > Accessories.
  3. Left-click on Run.

Or

  1. Left-click on the Start menu.
  2. Type Run in the search box right above the Taskbar.
  3. Left-click on Run in the search results.

Or

  1. Press the Windows Logo key Windows logo key + R.

How to bring up the Run dialog box in Windows 8.1

The Run dialog box in Windows 8.1
The Run dialog box in Windows 8.1

  1. Left-click on the Start button.
  2. When the Start screen appears, just type Run. It will automatically bring up the Search dialog box with Run in the search field and the results will appear below it.
  3. Left-click on Run.

Or

  1. Right-click on the Start button to bring up the Power User menu.
  2. Left-click on Run.

Or

  1. Press the Windows Logo key Windows logo key + X to bring up the Power User menu
  2. Press the R key.

Or

  1. Press the Windows Logo key Windows logo key + R.

How to bring up the Run dialog box in Windows 10

The Run dialog box in Windows 10
The Run dialog box in Windows 10

  1. Type Run in the Search box (Cortana) on the right side of the Start button.
  2. Left-click on Run in the search results.

Or

  1. Left-click on the Start menu.
  2. Scroll down the list of programs until you come to the Windows System folder.
  3. Left-click on the Windows System folder to expand it.
  4. Left-click on Run.

Or

  1. Right-click on the Start menu to bring up the Power User menu.
  2. Left-click on Run.

Or

  1. Press the Windows Logo key Windows logo key + X to bring up the Power User menu
  2. Press the R key.

Or

  1. Press the Windows Logo key Windows logo key + R.

Things to keep in mind when building a custom-built computer

So, you are thinking about building your own computer. There are allot of things you have to decide on. So here are a few things to keep in mind when building your own custom-built computer.

Things to keep in mind when building a custom-built computer

Building your own system can be quite satisfying, like being able to say "I built it myself". And you can also perform any service on it, since you know where everything is located.

But if you do not plan it out, it can be a nightmare. Like having to return components that are not right. It can be a real headache if you order them online and have to ship them back.

So, let's take a look at some of the considerations you have to think about before you purchase the components for your custom-built computer.

Form vs Function

It is an age-old problem: Form vs. Function. Do you want a system that is really cool looking or takes up very little space (form)? Or maybe a system that can run graphic intense games or can hold ton of components (function)?

Over the years I have built both types of computers for my personal use. My first few were built purely for function, playing games and a ton of storage using a RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks).

They were big and not very pretty to look at, but they served the purpose. But systems like that have one big issue: cooling. Trying to keep all of the components cool was tough.

Now a few years ago I decided that I was tired of having to leave the side panel of my computer case off and have fan blowing air in to it. It just didn't look good to me or others that I might have come into my office.

I wasn't playing the games anymore and the size of hard drives had increased, so I did not need to have a RAID any more. So, I decided to start using a case that was more appealing to the eyes.

A custom-built computer based on Form

If you are thinking about building your custom-built computer based on form, then the first thing you have to decide on is the case. They come in all sorts of sizes, ranging from the ultra-small mini-ITX to an ATX bench case.

You can go with a conventional looking case or something unique, like clear Plexiglass. You can get them with a ton of LED's or just plain.
A computer case with a custom finish
You can find them in all sorts of colors or you can apply your own finish.

Custom cases: Faux Stone and Chalkboard
Custom cases: Back in Black
Custom Cases: The Antec Skeleton

Or you can go with something completely open like an Antec Skeleton.
An orginal Antec Skeleton case
It is whatever you want your custom-built computer to look like. Once you have decided on a case, the case will dictate what components you can put inside (motherboard, graphics card, power supply, etc.).

If the case you want to use can hold a micro-ATX or standard ATX motherboard, you can follow the Function factor instructions below. If the case you want to use can hold a mini-ITX or mini-ATX motherboard, finding a motherboard is the next step.

Since mini-ITX and mini-ATX cases are small, the motherboards for them will have limited options for what CPU's (Central Processing Unit) they can use. Remember that the faster the CPU runs, the more heat it will make.

And with smaller mini-ITX and mini-ATX cases, CPU cooling options may be limited to just air cooled heatsinks. It just depends on how much space inside of the case you have available.

When it comes to GPU's (Graphics Processing Unit), you may or may not have room for one. But if you are not going to be using your system for graphic intensive programs like Photoshop, you can easily use the on-board graphics built-in to the motherboard.

In some mini-ITX and mini-ATX cases, you can use a GPU if you use a riser board that comes up off of the motherboard. But keep in mind that some cases can use full-height expansion cards and some can use only half-height expansion cards, so double check the specifications for the case.

When it comes to drives, you will probably have to go with a 2.5" drive, either a (Solid State Drive (SSD)) or (Hard Disk Drive (HDD)). Of course, it all depends on what the case has been designed to hold. The same holds true for a CD / DVD / BD optical drive.

You will also need a power supply that fits the case size. Some cases come with them, so do not. And be prepared to pay a little more the smaller form factor, mini-ITX and mini-ATX, power supplies than micro-ATX or standard ATX ones.

You also need to make sure the power supply has enough of the proper connectors (ATX12V, SATA, PCIe, Molex) for all of the different components. If you are going to use a GPU, make sure you have enough PCI-e (8-pin and/or 6-pin) power connectors.

And lastly, you are going to need some memory modules. Just check the motherboard specifications to find out what type of memory and how many it can handle. You can usually just install one memory module, but I always recommend installing them in pairs (2, 4, 6, 8, etc.). You can get a better price on memory modules if you buy them in twin-packs and quad-packs.

A custom-built computer based on Function

If you are thinking about building your custom-built computer based on its Function, then the first thing you have to decided is what CPU (Central Processing Unit) are you going to use (AMD or Intel).

As strange as it may sound, the CPU will dictate everything else in your computer. For example, let's say you want to build a high-end gaming or 3d rendering machine and you want to run an Intel Xeon or Intel I9 processor.

First, you will need to find a motherboard that has all of the features, like PCI-e slots, you want and the correct socket type for the processor you have chosen to use. Always check the specifications for the motherboard to make sure that the processor you want to use is supported.

Remember, that even if a motherboard has the correct socket type, the BIOS (Basic Input/Output System) may not support the CPU you have selected. I always go to the manufacturers website and double check the supported CPU's.

Now that you have the CPU and motherboard selected, how are you going to cool the CPU? Air or liquid? Air cooled heatsinks sit on top of the CPU and can get kind of large (tall), so you will have to have a case that has enough room for it.

Same thing holds true for liquid coolers, but they utilize radiators than need to be mounted inside of the case, either on the rear or top. I preferred the top mounted liquid CPU coolers, as the radiators have far more surface area for cooling the liquid than ones that mount in the rear of the case.

And if you are thinking about over-clocking your CPU, then go with a large, top mounted liquid CPU cooler. But remember that over-clocking will in some cases void the CPU manufacturer's warranty, so be careful and keep it cool.

Next thing to think about is the GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) / graphics card(s). Most high-end GPU's require more space inside of the case and if you want to use multiple GPU's then you will need a case that is large enough to hold them all.

By now you have a good idea on what size of computer case you will need. You are probably looking a mid-size or full-size tower. Keep in mind that good air flow inside the case is essential. So, having at least one fan in the front and rear of the case is recommended.

Next thing to look at is the power supply. Since you are looking at a mid to full size case, a standard ATX type power supply is what you are going to need. You just need to know how many watts all of the components you want to use will require. A 600 to 700 watt power supply should be sufficient.

You will also need to make sure the power supply has enough of the proper connectors (ATX12V, SATA, PCIe, Molex) for the motherboard and components you want to use. Keep in mind what additional power the GPU (8-pin and/or 6-pin PCI-e) might require. Each PCI-e connection for the GPU is roughly 75 watts.

And of course, you are going to need some memory modules. Just check the motherboard specifications to find out what type of memory and how many it can handle. You can usually just install one memory module, but I always recommend installing them in pairs (2, 4, 6, 8, etc.). You can get a better price on memory modules if you buy them in twin-packs and quad-packs.

As far as drives are concerned, you can usually go with either 2.5" (Solid State Drive (SSD)) or 3.5" (Hard Disk Drive (HDD)) drives. If you are building a high-end system, you will want to go with one of each (an SSD as the first (boot) drive with an HDD for storage as the second drive). A CD / DVD / BD optical drive is completely optional.

With all of that said, you should be ready to assemble your custom-built computer. And if you feel kind of overwhelmed with it all, go ahead and contact a local computer technician for assistance.

Customer service is #1

Here at Geeks in Phoenix, we take pride in providing excellent customer service. From computer repair, virus removal and data recovery, we aim to give the highest quality of service.

Bring your computer to us and save

Our in-shop computer repair service  is based on the time we work on your computer, not the time it takes your computer to work!

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Geeks in Phoenix
4722 East Monte Vista Road
Phoenix, Arizona 85008
(602) 795-1111

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Geeks in Phoenix is an IT consulting company specializing in all aspects of Computer Repair / PC Repair / Laptop Repair. Since 2008, our expert computer repair technicians have been providing outstanding Computer Repair, Virus Removal, Data Recovery, Photo Manipulation and Website Support.

Geeks in Phoenix have the best computer repair technicians providing computer repair and service in Phoenix, Scottsdale and Tempe Arizona. We offer In-Shop, On-Site and Remote (with stable Internet connection) computer repair service.

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