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Welcome to the PC-Advice Newsletter

In this Issue

Welcome to the PC-Advice Newsletter

Welcome to the first of the monthly newsletters from PC-Advice.net. Our aim is to provide independent simple advice and information about the changing state of technology in easy to understand language. If you have any suggestion for topics you would like covered, or specific questions then please email editor@pc-advice.net

If you wish to unsubscribe then simply click here and enter you email address.

Buying a new Computer

If you are thinking of buying a new computer before Christmas this year then you will be aware that there is lots of confusing information out there as to what to buy. The most important advice I can give you is to decide, in advance, how much you are planning on spending to ensure you get what you need.

If you are buying a second machine, for a member of the family, then you might want to consider a simple system with few extras. If it is a first PC for a family then you might want to look at a full package with extras, such as printers and a scanner or a digital camera. The important thing is to break the purchase down into the items you need, and the extras that you might buy or upgrade later.

The only think I would strongly advise against is walking into a shop with a pocket full of cash and buying the first system recommended to you.  By all means get a quote, but then take it away and get a different quote from another shop. Then compare the systems and take a look in one of the computing magazines at your local newsagents. Make your decision based on the features of the system, the length of warranty and the software bundled with it.

Also remember that it an offer looks too good to be true then it usually is. A simple system can be had for as little as 500, but you can also spend 2-3000 for a system with the best of everything. Make sure you ask lots of questions in the shop and ask if there are any of the specifications that you do not understand.

System Maintenance

There is lots of software available which claims to improve the speed of you computer, but in reality there are very few packages that will increase the speed of your system beyond it's speed when you first turned your machine on. As you get used to your machine and use it for a few months (or years) it will no longer seem as fast, as well as some tasks actually taking longer due to 'clutter' on the system.

This clutter can and should be treated on a regular basis to ensure that your system is kept at its optimum, after all you get your car serviced at least once a year? Most of the tools required to keep your machine at this level come with your machine, it's just a matter of finding and remembering to run these tools. Two of the most fundamental tools are Scandisk and the disk Defragmenter and in order to understand how they work we need to look at how information is stored on the computer.

Files on the computer are laid down on the hard disk drive as they are generated, but when a file changes, or is updated, the extra bits have to go somewhere, usually some distance from the first part of a file. As you can imagine after a file has been modified a few times it can be in a few pieces and as such the system will have to fetch the file by making multiple attempts to read the file. This will slow down the system and increase the risk of information getting damaged.

To protect your system's performance and speed you can run the Scandisk utility which checks that all the files on the hard disk drive are physically where the system expects them to be, and if not it then does it's best to find them. This is all automatic, so you can just watch the tool do it's stuff. You can then use the Defragmenter to remove excess file fragments and put all of the data into single groups for efficient access by the system.

Virus Protection

A question I often get asked is 'Is my computer safe from viruses?' and the answer very rarely satisfactory. It is important to know about the different types of virus and to know that you have taken steps to prevent them from accessing you computer. The main types of viruses grouped by how they work and how they spread, they include Trojan Horses and Worms.

What is a Virus?

"A software virus is a parasitic program written intentionally to alter the way your computer operates without your permission or knowledge. A virus attaches copies of itself to other files and, when activated, may damage files, cause erratic system behaviour, or display messages.

Computer viruses infect system files and documents created by programs with macro capabilities. Some system viruses are programmed specifically to corrupt programs, delete files, or erase your disk." - Symantec Norton 2003 Help

Viruses spread either by tagging themselves onto emails, finding other machines to infect on your network, or by attaching to a file which is transferred on a floppy or CD. If these means of distribution can be prevented then the infection can be contained and treated.

As the world of viruses changes on a regular basis the software needed to protect you machine needs to be updated on a regular basis. To achieve this the anti-virus software manufacturers provide their software in two parts, an engine and a set of definitions. The anti-virus engine is the software which scans you machine, checks emails as the come in and out, and cleans infected files. The definitions enable the engine to spot the latest viruses and to deal with them.

When you buy an Anti-Virus package (Like Norton, McAfee, Panda, AVG and others) you are buying the engine and a subscription to the definitions for a number of months. Some computers come with a subscription for a few months, while others come with a years updates. It is important that your definitions are up-to-date and that the engine is current.

Every year new versions of the software packages come out and rather than buying the new version you can simply re-subscribe to the definitions. The problem is that the old engine might not keep up with newer virus infections. If for example you are using Norton 2000 with the latest definitions then you machine will be protected, but not as well if you were to update the engine. When Norton 2000 came out Windows XP did not exist, neither did Messaging services or as many web based exploits for viruses. Version 2003 is much more sophisticated and easier to use, and as such should be considered a must-have upgrade for those using a version that is more than 2 years old.

The same applies to all manufacturers and the upgrade process is quite straightforward. If you upgrade every year or two then you can usually get a discount of up to 40% on the cost of the new software, plus it you have a broadband connection you can pay online and download the new version

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The contents of this newsletter are for information only. The views expressed are those of the editor on the date of publication and reflect the current state of technology at that date.

This document may not be distributed without the permission of the editor unless it is complete and without alterations of any kind.


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Updated: 07 Oct 2003

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