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My digital toolbox 4

Being a computer technician, I used all sorts of different software during my day. One day I might be removing viruses and malware, the next day, I might be replacing a failed hard drive. So the software I use is always changing, so here is another installment of my digital toolbox.

My digital toolbox 4

Windows 10 media (USB and DVD versions)

Screenshot of Windows 10 media boot menu

One of the best things Microsoft did when it comes to Windows 10 is to make the installation media readily available. With the installation media, you can do all sorts of repairs and maintenance to Windows 10.

You can, of course, install or reinstall Windows 10. You can also perform an in-place upgrade from Windows 7, Windows 8.1, or even Windows 10 itself. And since the drives are bootable, you can even use the Windows 10 installation media to repair Windows 10.

Now I have in my digital toolbox several USB and DVD versions of the Windows 10 media. The Windows 10 USB drives have both 32-bit and 64-bit versions on them. I have separate DVDs for 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows 10.

Believe it or not, but I have the ISO file of every version of Windows 10 that has been released (32-bit and 64-bit). You never know when they might come in handy.

Since the installation media is bootable, I mainly use it for repairing Windows 10. You can access the same recovery tools on the install media as you have when Windows 10 fails to boot correctly.

Here are a few links to articles that illustrate how you can use the Windows 10 media. I have included a link to the Windows 10 Media Creation Tool too.

How to repair Windows 10 by doing an in-place upgrade

How to get a free Windows 10 upgrade for Windows 7 and Windows 8.1

How to perform a clean Windows 10 installation

The Windows 10 feature you hope you never have to use

Windows 10 Media Creation Tool

Space Sniffer

Screenshot of Space Sniffer

There are times when I need to see how the space on a drive is allocated. It is one thing to know the size of a folder or file in numbers, but seeing them graphically represented as blocks is quite different. This is where Space Sniffer comes in handy.

Space Sniffer displays the contents of a drive as blocks in a treemap. The larger the block, the larger folder or file. You can quickly find data that is taking up large amounts of space on a drive.

Now the cool thing about Space Sniffer is that it requires no installation. You can run directly from a USB drive. Just insert the USB drive and start it up.

Case in point; I once had a business that all of the workstations were getting low disk space messages. I ran Space Sniffer from a USB drive on a couple of the workstations and quickly found the problem. It turned out that the network anti-virus client was not deleting previous versions of virus definitions as it was supposed to be doing.

I also like to use Space Sniffer to quickly find Outlook databases, as it has a couple of different locations it stores its files. Microsoft Outlook is notorious for creating large files.

See what your drive contains with Space Sniffer

Synchronized browser data

Screenshot of Firefox sync settings

One of handy features of browsers nowadays is the ability to synchronize data (passwords, favorites, extensions, etc.). All of the major browsers have this feature, including Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Microsoft Edge.

Each browser has a different way of setting up synchronization; Chrome uses a Gmail account, Firefox uses a Firefox account, and Edge uses a Microsoft account.

But no matter what browser you use, you get the same content (passwords, favorites, options, etc.) across all platforms. Be it either Windows Mac, Linux, Android, or iOS. If it is on one device, it is on all devices.

Since I do a lot of research for service calls at my office, I like to save bookmarks in my desktop version of Firefox. Then when I get on-site, I can open those bookmarks in my smartphone version of Firefox.

One of my favorite things is opening a tab on my desktop Firefox from the Firefox in my workshop. That way, I can locate parts for customer's computers in the workshop and then order them in my office.

Any way you look at it, having browser data synchronized between devices is a real asset that should not be overlooked. If you are not syncing your browser data, I recommend you give it a try.

The ultimate guide to buying a new computer

Being a computer technician, there one question that I seem to get asked more than any other "I am looking for a new computer, what do you recommend?". I then spend several minutes (sometimes hours) discussing the various computer configurations. So here is a list of things to look for when buying a new computer.

When it comes to computers, you can get them in hundreds of different configurations. Should you get a laptop or a desktop? Or maybe an all-in-one? These are some of the questions you have to ask yourself when you are looking a getting a new computer.

So I thought I would take the time and share with you what I usually tell my customers. So grab something to drink and a pen and paper to take notes. This might be a long article.

Computer: Should I get a laptop, desktop, or all-in-one?

This question is quickly answered with the Form Follows Function principle. If you need to use your computer in different locations, you will need to get a laptop. If you are going to use your computer in just one place, then a desktop or all-in-one should fill the bill.

Laptops

If you are thinking about getting a laptop computer, there are a few things to keep in mind. If you take a few precautions with your laptop, it can last a long time. I have a netbook that is over ten (10) years old and still looks and runs like its brand new.

Since laptops are portable, they tend to get damaged more often than a desktop or all-in-one computer. The most common damage I see is liquid spills. Once liquid gets into a laptop, it will run where ever gravity will take it.

And no matter how well you dry it out, there will eventually be some damage that appears. And I am just talking about water here as other liquids, such as wine or juice, contain sugars and acids.

I once had a laptop that had wine spilled on it. When I started to disassemble it, I noticed that the flat cables used to connect the different components inside of the laptop had started to deteriorate. The wires were dissolving from the acidity in the wine.

Desktops

Desktop computers have been the mainstay of the computer form for decades, and they are the preferred style of a computer for business use. With external connections for USB devices, monitors, wired networking, and audio, the configurations are kind of endless.

But desktop computers come in different forms, and they are not all created equal. For example, standard ATX, Mini-ATX, and ITX (motherboard form factor) based desktop computers use IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) form standard for computer components.

What this means is that internal components such as power supplies, hard drives, graphic cards, and memory modules are all the same for each of these styles of the desktop computer.

And then there is the SSF (Small Form Factor) desktop computer. These use the same style of memory modules as standard desktop systems but use low-profile expansion cards, like graphics cards.

SSF systems also use smaller, and lower output power supplies, usually explicitly made to the specifications of the manufacturer of the computer. And the lower output power supplies can be an issue when upgrading components.

For example, a customer wanted to upgrade the memory and graphics card in an SSF computer, but it only had a 250-watt power supply. Since everything inside of a computer takes wattage, including memory, I ended up having to find a low-profile graphics card that used under 30 watts of power.

But some desktop computers do have a downside, and that is the size of the case. Gaming computers usually have huge cases so that they can accommodate cooling fans and liquid CPU coolers. High power systems generate a relatively large amount of heat.

And of course, if you are going to have multiple monitors, those will take up a good amount of space too. I built a system for a customer that had six (6) monitors, two rows of three. With the desktop computer, keyboard, and mouse, the whole system ended up being almost eight (8) feet wide.

All-in-one

This style of computer is excellent for people that do not have the room for separate components (a computer and monitor). You can get a pretty good size screen and all of the connections (USB ports, wired network port, and sometimes an external monitor port).

Now all-in-one computers come with and without touch screen function. When it comes to touch screens, you have to remember that you will be extending your arm out to use it.

This can make your shoulder hurt after an extended amount of time using it. You have to ask yourself if it is worth the additional cost to get the touch screen feature.

There is also a little known secret about all-in-one computers that nobody tells you about; they are hybrid systems. Quite simply, they are a combination of laptop and desktop components.

I have worked on quite a few all-in-one computers and have found some will use laptop-style memory & drives, and some will use desktop-style memory and drives and some a combination of both.

And heaven forbid you have to replace the screen in an all-in-one computer. Most of the time, you have to completely disassemble them to get the exact model number of the display.

The last all-in-one computer that I worked on had six (6) different possible model numbers for the replacement display. It depended on what company had supplied the screen for the system when it was built.

Drive(s): HDD, SSHD, or SSD?

When you are shopping for a new computer, a lot of times, the description you get from the seller lacks some specific details. Sure they will tell you how much storage the machine has, but do they tell you what kind of drive the storage is?

For low priced computers, sellers will usually just say something like 'XXXGB's of storage can hold a gazillion photos'. It is only when you get into the mid to upper price range do sellers start to tell you what kind of storage a computer has (HDD, SSD, etc.). So the first thing I want to do is explain the different types of drives.

HDD (Hard Disk Drive)

HDD's offer larger capacity at a lower cost, but have a slower read/write speed. HDD's are perfect for the average computer user that just wants to surf the web, check e-mail, and store some photos from their phone. They come in two (2) different forms, 2.5" and 3.5", and connect to the computer using a SATA (Serial AT Attachment) interface, which determines the input/output speed. The upside to HDD's is that when they start to fail, you usually get some type of warning and have time to transfer/recover data from them.

SSHD (Solid State Hybrid Drive)

SSHD's offer the capacity of HDD's with faster read / write speed. As the name implies, these drives are hybrid, which means they are a combination of spinning disk(s) and flash memory. The memory acts as a cache for the data stored on the disk(s). As you use these drives, they learn where the most frequently used data is stored and can access it more quickly than a standard HDD. SSHD's also come in two (2) different forms, 2.5" and 3.5", and connect to the computer using a SATA interface. The down-side of SSHD's is that when they fail, it is usually the memory portion of the drive that dies. This makes transferring/recovering the data stored on it a little harder, but not impossible.

SSD (Solid State Drive)

SSD's offer extremely fast read/write speeds but can be on the expensive side for larger capacities. SSD's are a collection of flash memory chips and make no noise when running. They are also more resistant to shock and are a better choice for laptop computers. SSD's also come in multiple different forms and interfaces. When it comes to SSD's, the most important thing to look for is the interface it uses. It is the interface that determines the read/write speed. SATA interfaces can have a transfer rate of 6GB per second. M.2 interfaces can have a transfer rate of 32GB per second. The down-side of SSD's is when they fail; it is tough to recover the data stored on them. So if the computer you are looking at buying has an SSD, perform a regular backup of it.

A good rule of thumb for when trying to determine what type of drive a computer might have is to remember that if the size is under 500GB, it probably is an SSD. Drive manufacturers no longer make HDD's or SSHD's smaller than 500GB. Now that we have covered the types of drives let us take a quick look at how they can be used and configured.

Single drive computers - All-in-one computers and low priced desktop and laptops usually have only one drive. Also. Ultra-thin laptops will often have either one thin profile HDD, SSHD (7MM SATA), or SSD (7MM SATA or M.2) drive.

Multiple drive computers - Mid to high priced desktop and laptops computers can come with numerous drives. You usually see gaming computers with multiple drives that have a smaller, 500GB to 1TB SSD (usually an M.2) for the operating system/programs and a larger HDD, 2TB or larger, for data storage.

I have seen some gaming computers that have had two (2) SSD's set up in a RAID (Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks) 0/1 configuration. But these are kind of rare, but they are on the market. So keep your eye out for them.

While we are on the subject of multiple drive configurations, we need to talk about Intel Optane. You may see Intel Optane listed as part of the storage specification on a new computer.

Now Intel Optane is similar to the flash memory inside of SSHD drives. It can cache the most frequently used files and programs on a drive that it is paired with and speed up reading and writing to that drive. Intel Optane uses an M.2 interface and works best when paired up with a drive, either an HDD or SSD, that uses a SATA interface.

Intel Optane will not improve the performance of drives that use an M.2 interface. I had a customer that had me set up an Intel Optane device paired with an M.2 SSD. Believe it or not, but the read and write performance went down. Definitely not a good choice.

Processor: What brand and type should I get?

There are two main CPU (Central Processing Unit) manufacturers out there, AMD and Intel, and both have their pros and cons. Intel CPU's usually are a little bit more expensive, and AMD CPU's are infamous for being able to be over-clocked.

All modern CPUs have multiple processing units called cores. The more cores a CPU has, the more data it can process at one time. Then you have the frequency (speed) that the CPU processes the data.

But since most CPU's run at a frequency between 3 GHz and 5 GHz, the amount of time you gain using a 5 GHz CPU over a 3 GHz CPU is kind of irrelevant. So it comes down to how many cores do you need.

Using Intel CPU's as an example, the basic Intel i3 processor has two cores and works well for running one program at a time, like e-mail, writing documents and surfing the Internet. But it does not work very well when you try multi-tasking with Adobe Photoshop and Autodesk Revit.

On the other end of the Intel CPU's, you have the Intel i9 processor line, which can have up to 10 cores. These processors can handle running multiple programs at one time and are the preferred CPU for doing 3D rendering. But remember, the more cores a processor has, the more money it costs.

Memory: How much should I get?

When it comes to the amount of memory you should get in a new computer, it just comes down to the question, "What are you going to use your computer for?".

The first thing you have to take into consideration is the operating system. Every computer nowadays has a 64-bit processor, and the operating system uses a portion of the memory just for itself.

For example, a 64-bit version of Windows 10 requires 2 Gigabytes of memory just for itself. That doesn't include any other programs. If your computer does not have a separate GPU (Graphic Processor Unit), then the onboard IGPU (Integrated Graphics Processing Unit) would also use some of the system memory.

The bare minimum amount of memory I recommend is 8 Gigabytes, but 16 or 32 Gigabytes is more of a standard amount. 64 gigabytes and higher is nice, but it will add more to the cost of the computer.

Video/graphics card: What should I look for?

Here again, it is all about what you are going to use your computer for. Each type of computer (laptop. desktop and all-in-one) has its pros and cons when it comes to graphics.

All-in-one systems are meant for everyday computing, spreadsheets, e-mail, and surfing the Internet. They usually just have an onboard IGPU that uses the system memory.

Laptop and desktop computers usually come standard with an on-board IGPU and can also include a separate GPU that has its own separate memory. If you are looking for a computer for gaming or 3D rendering, you will want a separate GPU.

Now features available for separate GPU's will differ from laptop to desktop computers. You will find that you get a better selection of GPU's with desktop computers than laptops. The reason is desktops use PCI-e expansion slots for adding in separate GPUs.

For more about expansion cards, check out the following article.

How to add an expansion card to your desktop computer

Either way, if you are looking for a computer with a high-performance GPU, check the requirements of the software you want to run. That will give you the guidance for what GPU features you need.

On a side note, I have had to troubleshoot display issues with laptops that have an IGPU and GPU. With these types of laptops, the IGPU and the GPU run simultaneously and switch between the two depending on the demands of the programs running.

Sometimes these types of laptops will experience crashing when switching between intense graphic programs like games and standard applications like web browsers. The easy fix is to set the GPU as the default graphic processor for all programs.

Monitor: Single or multiple?

I usually tell customers to get the largest size that space will allow. With the display resolutions always increasing, having a monitor that can handle them is essential. You will more than likely own this monitor for over a decade, so you might as well look towards any future use.

When shopping for a monitor, you have to keep in mind how it is going to connect to your computer. You will need to check the available video connections on your computer and get the same type on the monitor. Here is a link to an article with images of the most popular video connectors.

The most common computer video display connectors

Now two types of video connectors also include audio, HDMI, and DisplayPort. So if you plan on using one of these video types to connect your new monitor, make sure that the monitor you purchase has built-in speakers.

If you are going to use an HDMI connection, you can also look at using a television as a monitor. The resolution may not be as high as a regular monitor, but you could use it as a television too. I built a computer with an HDMI graphics card just for my home entertainment system.

Keep in mind that any monitor you buy may not come with the correct video cable to connect it to your computer. Getting a cable at the same time you buy the monitor could save you a lot of frustration when it comes to setting up the new computer.

And keep the receipt for any cables handy, just in case the new monitor does include the correct one. I would rather have to return a cable at my leisure than have to run out to get one to finish the setup. As the old saying goes, 'An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure'.

What if the computer you are looking at buying can support more than one monitor? If you are going to go with multiple monitors, I recommend getting the same make and model for each one and, if possible, buy them at the same time. That way, you get monitors that were manufactured around the same time as each other.

Once you get your new computer setup, there are a few things you should do first. Here is an article that discusses those things in detail.

Five things you should do first when you get a new computer

How to use all of the Clipboard features in Windows 10

The Clipboard is probably one of the most widely used features inside of Windows. It used to be just for copying a small amount of text, but not anymore. Let's take a look at all of the Clipboard features inside of Windows 10.

How to use all of the Clipboard features in Windows 10

In the early days of computing, users were able to store small amounts of data in the computer's RAM (Random Access Memory), and it was called the Paste Buffer. You could only save one piece of data at a time, and every time you copied a new piece of data, the last piece was erased.

But over the decades, the Paste Buffer, now known as the Clipboard, has evolved into a useful and essential tool for productivity. The Clipboard in Windows 10 can hold multiple pieces of text and images. And how you access the Clipboard has changed over the years.

Before you can take advantage of the full capability of the Windows 10 Clipboard, you have to do a couple of things. The first thing you need to do is to make sure that the Clipboard history feature is turned on.

With Clipboard history turn on, you can view and paste all of the different items you have copied to the Clipboard. You will need to go to the Windows Settings to make sure that this feature is activated.

There are three (3) ways to bring up the Windows Settings in Windows 10:

  • Left-click on the Start button, which will bring up the Start menu. On the Start menu left-click on the gear icon (Settings)
  • Right-click on the Start button, which will bring up the Power User menu. On the Power User menu left-click on Settings
  • Press the Windows logo key Windows logo key + I

Once you have the Windows Settings on-screen, left-click on System, then scroll down the left-hand column and left-click on Clipboard.
The Clipboard history switch inside of Windows 10 Settings
Make sure that the Clipboard history is turned on. You can clear all of the items on the Clipboard from here too.

Now copying text to the Clipboard has always been pretty straightforward, but there may be times you want to copy images to it. The second thing to do is to make sure you have all the programs you can use to capture images.

Now the Snipping Tool has been in Windows since Windows 7, and it works well for capturing anything on-screen (if you can see it, you can capture it).
The Snipping Tool inside of Windows 10
And it automatically copies whatever you snip to the Clipboard. But it does prompt you to save your snip to a file when you close it.

But Microsoft is going to depreciate it eventually and has a new program to replace it called Snip & Sketch.
The Snip & Sketch inside of Windows 10
Snip & Sketch is not installed by default, but you can easily install it from the Microsoft Store.

Just open the Microsoft Store, do a search for Snip & Sketch and then click Install. It also automatically copies its snips to the Clipboard. The beautiful thing about Snip & Sketch is that it does not prompt you to save your snips when you close it.

And then there is a third way of capturing screen snips, the Snipping Bar.
The Snipping Bar inside of Windows 10
Microsoft included it in Windows 10 Version 1809, and not too many people know about it. That's because you have to use a combination of three (3) keys on the keyboard to bring it up (Windows logo key Windows logo key + Shift + S).

The downside of the Snipping Bar is that it only captures one snip at a time. Every time you want to capture a screen snip, you have to press the Windows logo key Windows logo key + Shift + S. The Snipping Tool and Snip & Sketch will capture as many snips as you like until you close them.

We are now all set to start copying items to the Clipboard. Remember that you can paste text from the Clipboard into almost any program, but you can only paste images into programs that can display images.

For example, you can paste text from the Clipboard into Notepad but not images. But can paste both text and images from the Clipboard into Paint or Wordpad.

There are several different ways to copy and paste from the Clipboard. Here are a few of the most common ways to do it.

Ways to copy to text to the Clipboard

Highlight the text you want to copy and then:

  • Press Ctrl + C on the keyboard
    Copying text to the Clipboard using the context menu inside of Windows 10
  • Right-click on the highlighted text and select Copy from the context menu

Ways to copy to graphics to the Clipboard

Highlight the image you want to copy and then:

  • Press Ctrl + C on the keyboard

If you can not highlight the image then:

    Copying an image to the Clipboard using the context menu inside of Windows 10
  • Right-click on it and select Copy
  • Use the Snipping Tool, Snip & Sketch or the Snipping Bar to capture a snip of it

Ways to paste from the Clipboard

Select where you want to place the graphic or text in the program of your choice then:

  • To paste the last item copied to the Clipboard press Ctrl + V on the keyboard.
  • To select an item on the Clipboard, press the Windows logo key Windows logo key + V to display the Clipboard history.
    Pasting an item from the Clipboard using Clipboard history in Windows 10
    Then use your mouse or keyboard arrows to scroll through the clips. When you find the one you want to use, left-click on it (mouse) or press enter (keyboard).

For more information on the keyboard shortcuts discussed in this article, just follow the links below.

Windows logo key shortcuts for Windows 10
General keyboard shortcuts

Check out the following video for examples of copying to and pasting from the Clipboard inside of Windows 10.

Five things to look at to protect your computer when working from home

With more and more people working from home, keeping your personal computer safe and secure is essential. There is always somebody out there that will want to get your information and data. So here are five (5) things to look at to protect your computer when working from home.

Five things to look at to protect your computer when working from home

It is hard not to be paranoid when it comes to the security of your computer at home. You hear about all the ways that the bad guys can get access to your data. But with a few simple changes, you can harden the security of your personal computer.

E-mail

Protect your computer from malicious email when working from home

E-mail is the most popular way for the bad guys to get access to you. They will try and infect your computer with a malicious attachment or get you to go to a compromised website to get your information. Sometimes they just want you to respond to their e-mail with your personal information.

Either way, e-mail is currently the largest source of attacks and scams. But there are some simple things you can do to protect yourself. The first thing you want to look at is how you view your e-mail.

Now e-mail can be written using two (2) different formats: plain text (like in a .TXT file) or HTML (like the code used for websites). Plain text e-mail cannot have any special formatting, but HTML e-mail can.

Just like malicious websites can have hidden code that can download and install malware, adware, and viruses, so can malicious HTML formatted e-mail. There is no difference between the two.

So, just like if you went to a malicious website and viewed an infected web page that had a malware payload inside of it, displaying a malicious HTML formatted e-mail has the same effect.

The best way to avoid downloading the contains of an HTML formatted e-mail is by not using the preview feature in your mail program. Most of them, like Outlook and Thunderbird, can turn off the preview pane. If the HTML formatted e-mail can not be rendered, it cannot execute the code inside.

One thing to remember is that if you do not know or recognize the person or company that sent you a questionable e-mail, just delete it. It is not worth the trouble a malicious e-mail can cause just to see what is in the e-mail.

While on the subject of malicious e-mail, knowing how to spot a piece of junk mail is essential. I go into more detail on how to do it in the following article I wrote a little while back.

How to spot a piece of spam e-mail

There is another option when it comes to e-mail security, and that is using an anti-spam program. Since I get hundreds of e-mail a day, I started using the anti-spam program MailWasher almost two decades ago. It is perfect for getting rid of junk mail.

For more information on MailWasher, check out this article I wrote a couple of years ago. They have a paid version and a free version.

Eliminate spam from your inbox with MailWasher 7.5

Tech scams

Protect your computer from a tech scam when working from home

Tech scams have seemed to lose there popularly with bad guys. I guess is it because consumers are getting smarter and not falling for them anymore. But you still get them from time to time, so here is a link to an article I wrote about avoiding them.

How to handle a tech scam

The bottom line is, don't give them any information and, whatever you do, do not provide them with access to your computer!

Software updates

Protect your computer with software updates when working from home

Allot of people don't apply updates to Windows and other programs because they are afraid that the upgrades will break the software. Yes, it does happen occasionally, but not regularly.

Sure, I have had my fair share of repairing computers that have experienced a failed update. But more often than not, updates install flawlessly. With all of the testing that software manufacturers do to updates, a failed upgrade is kind of rare.

But recovering from a virus or malware infection that could have been prevented by applying software updates can be expensive. And kind of embarrassing too.

Then there is using an operating system, like Windows XP, Windows Vista, or Windows 7 that has reached its end-of-life and no longer gets security updates. I get the "I just like the way it works" or "My software won't run on the latest version of Windows" arguments.

I have found solutions to those arguments, and many like them. When there is a will, there is a way. But running unpatched software is just way too dangerous. Bite the bullet and apply updates or upgrade your software.

Anti-virus software

Protect your computer with anti-virus software when working from home

This is another piece of software you have to keep an eye on. The biggest problem I encounter is expired anti-virus licenses. A customer will get a new computer with anti-virus software preloaded that has a 30 or 60-day trial license.

When the trial license expires, they just ignore the pop-ups telling them about the expired license. Luckily, Windows 10 has a highly rated anti-virus program (Windows Security) built-in. It will usually take over when a trial anti-virus license expires.

Typically when I set up a new computer for a customer, I ask them what they want to do about anti-virus software. The majority of them tell me to remove the pre-loaded trial version of anti-virus software.

If they don't have a preference for a particular anti-virus program, I have them go to an independent, third-party website like AV Test and check the ratings for the different anti-virus software.

A lot of people are surprised that Microsoft's Windows Defender / Windows Security is rated so high. Microsoft has worked hard over the years to improve its anti-virus software.

Now the cool thing is even if you have installed another companies anti-virus software on Windows 10, Windows Security will see it and set it as the default. But you can still have Windows Security do periodic scans.

Routers

Protect your computer with your router when working from home

This security tip may or may not affect you. If you lease your router from your Internet Service Provider (ISP), then this topic is not relevant to you. If you own your router, then this will be of interest to you.

Home Internet routers have always been a target for the bad guys. There are two reasons for that: First is the fact that home users don't usually change the default administrative passwords. Luckily, a few years ago, router manufacturers started to install complicated default passwords.

The second reason is that once people set up their routers, they have a tendency not to think about them anymore until something goes wrong. Its as I like to call it, the set it and forget it syndrome.

Just like I discussed updating software earlier in this article, your router also has software that gets updated. It is called firmware, and it is the operating system for your router. Think of it as what Windows is to your computer; the firmware is to your router.

Now the problem is that the firmware in your router does not get automatically updated. You have to do this manually. And sometimes it can be kind of hard to determine what version of firmware your router is running, if there is an updated version of firmware for your router and how to go about upgrading the firmware of your router.

The first place to start is to log into your router and find out what version of firmware it is running. It is usually listed right on the first screen. From there, you go to the manufacturer's website and find the product page for your router. What you are going to need is the manual for your router.

An effortless way to find it is by just searching on Google. Just search for manufacturer model manual, and the product page for your router should be in the top three (3) results. Once you have the manual, you can search it for Firmware Update, and it should explain where to go inside of your router to look for and upload a new version of the firmware.

Now that we have looked at the firmware of the router, let's take a look at the security of your router. The bad guys regularly scan an ISP's range of IP (Internet Protocol) addresses looking for open ports to attack. An IP address is a unique string of numbers that identifies each device on the Internet.

We now want to check and see if your router has any open ports that can be used by the bad guys to gain access to your router or any of the devices inside your network. For this, we want to do an unintrusive scan of all of the service ports on your router.

Gibson Research Corporation has a fantastic tool for doing this called ShieldsUp!. Just go over to the website, and under the Services pull-down, you will find ShieldsUp.

Once you get to the ShieldsUp! page click on the Proceed button. From there, you can select from several different types of scans. I recommend the All Service Ports scan.

Once the scan is complete, the webpage will display the scan results. If you score a perfect rating, you are good to go. If any ports that require attention, the webpage will tell what you need to do.

How to remotely access your personal computers with TeamViewer

Do you have two personal computers and would like to remotely access one from the other? Looking for an effortless way to do it? You can do just that for free with the personal version of TeamViewer.

How to remotely access your personal computers with TeamViewer

Remotely accessing a computer is pretty commonplace nowadays. It used to be pretty technically involved to set up remote connections between two computers. But with software like TeamViewer, setting up remote access between computers is pretty straightforward.

So what would be the main reason for using remote access software? First, it would be to access the software installed on another computer. Second, it would be to use that software to access files on that computer or the network it is on. It comes down to being able to work on your computer without having to be sitting in front of it.

We here at Geeks in Phoenix have been using commercial, pay-per-seat remote access software for years now. In researching this article, I wanted to find remote access software that could be used for personal use for free.

I have worked with TeamViewer over the years, as some of our customers use it regularly. For personal use, the free version works quite well. Sure, it doesn't have all of the bells and whistles of the paid version, like remote printing or tech support, but for remote access and file sharing, it works well.

Setting up TeamViewer on two computers for personal use is pretty simple. The installation process consists of installing the software on both systems and creating a TeamViewer account that links the computers together.

The first thing you do is download and install the TeamViewer software on one of the two computers you want to link together. During the installation, you will come to a screen that asks you how you would like to set up TeamViewer.

TeamViewer setup options screen with Personal Non-commercial use highlighted

When prompted for the type of installation, I recommend using the default setup. When you get prompted for how you want to use TeamViewer, select Personal / Non-commercial use since you are just using it to connect two of your personal computers.

Once the installation is done on the first computer, the TeamViewer program will appear. In the left-hand column, you will see a menu with several categories: Remote Control, Remote Management, Meeting, Computer & Contacts, Chat, and Augmented Reality.

The Remote Control category should be highlighted, and in the center column, you will find a section labeled Unattended Access.
TeamViewer Remote Control category with the Unattended Access options highlighted
Select Start TeamViewer with Windows and Grant easy access.

When you select Grant easy access, the Assign to account form will pop-up asking you for an e-mail address and password.
TeamViewer Assign to account screen with Create account highlighted
This is where you are going to create a TeamViewer account.

Click on Create Account, and then the Create TeamViewer account form will appear.
Create TeamViewer account screen
Just fill in the required information and go through the steps to verify your e-mail address.

You now have a TeamViewer account. Go back to the TeamViewer screen and make sure that Grant easy access is selected under Remote Control. If it is not, then select it and put in your TeamViewer account details.

Now download and install TeamViewer on your second computer. Use the same options you used for the installation on your first computer. When the installation is complete, the TeamViewer's main screen will appear.

Just like with the first computer you installed TeamViewer on, the Remote Control category should be highlighted. Under Unattended access, select Start TeamViewer with Windows and Grant easy access. When the Assign to account form appears, just type in your e-mail address and password associated with your TeamViewer account.

Once you have both of your computers linked to your TeamViewer account, you should see both of them listed under the Computers & Contacts category on both computers.
TeamViewer Computer and Contacts category with the computers associated with your account listed
You can double-click on the name of the computer you want to access remotely, and a separate screen for that computer will appear. For more options, you can also right-click on the computer name
Connection options context menu for TeamViewer computers
and a context menu will appear with all of the options available. For more information on TeamViewer, just click on the link to their website below.

TeamViewer

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