Permalink 11:09:00 am by Eugene Gardner, Categories: Articles

For years I have been advising people buying a new computer to shun all off-the-shelf outlets in favour of specialist online only retailers.  See 

I am comforted to read support for this position in this month's edition of PC Pro magazine issue 263.  They sent 'blind buy' shoppers in to PC World and John Lewes branches and were left with the following conclusions

  • They were not subjected to pressurised upselling although suggestions for additional purchases were made
  • The assistants' degree of knowledge was very variable at best and considerable bluffing was apparent. My favourite quote is "GeForce was equivalent to an AMD" and a GTX was the best choice instead.  [GeForce is a brand of Nvidia, AMD are chip manufacturers, and GTX is a type of motor car]  OMG.
  • the cost of hardware was more than equivalent computers bought at online specialists

Their conclusion is that "computing remains an immensely complicated world" ... "Stick to the specialists". "In all you get much less for your money [with a branded product]".


Permalink 11:18:00 am by Eugene Gardner, Categories: General, Articles

Occasionally an internet connection drops periodically,  this is normal and usually not noticed.  But sometimes it drops frequently or regularly (or both).  When this happens we can often diagnose it as being external factors that the internet service provider (ISP) will get sorted out for you.

Sometimes though the ISP reports that there is no loss of connection from their end.  Now we have to look closer to home and by connecting to the master socket, thereby disconnecting the internal wiring asnd other appliances, it is often possible to confirm the location of the fault.

But if there is no fault seen after the above checks, and (usually) the problem is with wireless but not wired connections, then the possibility of Repetitive Electrical Impulse Noise (REIN) or Single High level Impulse Noise Event (SHINE) must be investigated.  

There are very thorough descriptions of these events elsewhere (see rererences below) so here I shall limit myself to saying that interference can be caused by electrical items emitting a disruptive signal that can cause poor broadband performance.  Not only dropped connections, it may be the ISP will automatically lower the speed as it prioritises stability over performance so the issue can manifest in different ways.

The solution is to make sure that your router is connected to the master socket and at least a metre away from all other electrical devices.  This applies to the wires close by the router too as they can act as antenae that broadcast the interferance.

The test for this is to get a mediium wave band radio and tune it in to the frequency that causes the disruption: 612 KHz.  Move the radio arond the router and you should hear the white noise much louder when close by the router and fade to nothing as you move a few inches away.  

Examples of causes of REIN include:

  • Faulty power adapters.
  • Timed devices, such as central heating.
  • Christmas tree lights (especially on ?flash? setting).
  • lighting.
  • Roadworks.
  • Faulty set-top boxes, televisions and other appliances.
  • Power cables running close to telephone wiring in the home.

More info from: http://www.kitz.co.uk/adsl/rein.htm 


Permalink 08:58:00 pm by Eugene Gardner, Categories: General

Just 18 days remain before anyone wanting to upgrade to Windows 10 will have to spend £100 on a license.

Should you ?  Almost certainly yes.  The facts are that the interface is much the same if done properly so there's nothing to be scared of in that department.  The advantages are in the indefinate support, the enhanced security, and greater functionality (which is only apparent if you go looking for it).

Three things to remember though.  Always take a backup before any change - ideally an image of the entire disk.  Also check that printing and virus protection are intact after the upgrade: they are sometimes left in need of repair.

Make sure you leave several hours for an upgrade, perhaps two to six depending on the speed of computer and internet connection.

You can have your cake and eat it by upgrading to Windows 10 so that Microsoft records your activation.  Then use the image you took in step zero to restore the computer to the previous old version, like nothing happened.  Now when you are ready to move to Windows 10 you can just install it without any license cost as the key will have been recorded already and will be supplied by the central server.


Permalink 09:13:00 pm by Eugene Gardner, Categories: General, Articles

Anyone using any of the Microsoft domains for email (Live, Outlook, MSN, Hotmail) will need to make a change if they are using Windows Live Mail at the end of this month.  The options are to

  • Switch to the webmail interface.  You can try this out now by opening a browser and visiting Outlook.com  Some people find this restrictive in that there is less scope for formatting emails; also this is only available if you have an active internet connection.  However, it is available on all browsers on all computers so access while away from home may be easier.
  • Change to a different mail client. 
    • Outlook is one contender but it costs money ? either as a one-time purchase usually bundled in the Home and Business edition of MS Office which retails at about £130 for the latest version or cheaper for perfectly functioning older versions, or as an annual subscription to Office 365 which costs around £50 - £80 depending on how many computers are to share the use (although they are currently offering the first year free as a sweatener).

    • The Mail app that is built in with Windows 10 is free and likely to be supported into the long term.  It is currently lightly featured and some may not like the sparce interface it provides.

    • Thunderbird is a mail client produced by the organisation that create the FireFox browser.  It is not widely used but is free and fully featured.  If you?re up for learning a slightly different interface this is a definite possibility.

  • Switch to a different mail repository.  Gmail is the obvious alternative as it is so widely used, is a superior product to all other free options, and offers greater storage space.  Although there are others such as Yahoo etc.

    • This itself can be set up to automatically scoop up messages sent to the Microsoft repository and send as if from that address.  This takes a little bit of configuring initially and there is a small additional delay in receiving messages, but it would allow the old email address to be retained while you keep the current Windows Live Mail as your client.

    • Switching your email address to Gmail or indeed another of the free options is a possibility.  There is no guarantee how long these other repositories will work with Windows Live Mail but the indications are that there are no changes planned in the short or medium term.  As above, email sent to the old address can be forwarded on so you don?t lose messages


Permalink 07:09:00 pm by Eugene Gardner, Categories: General, Articles

Adblockers are software interfaces that strip out adverts from web pages.  Detractors suggest that by blocking advertisements the publishers will have to turn to other less palatable methods of realising income e.g. subscriptions.  Also, they are an additional layer of software to potentially fail, and they may block adverts you actually want to see.  Also, they often block trackers that enable the most relevant advertisements to be placed before potential customers. 

However their use is steadily rising as advertisements become more intrusive. For those on limited bandwidth blocking advertisements can double the speed with which pages load.  They are mostly used by younger viewers who do not want the audio or visual interruption annoying them.  By reducing the speed sapping graphics to a minimum, pages do display faster. This is probably most significant on mobiles where the data transmitted eats into a tight budget.

The biggest name in the field is Adblock-Plus which is free and available as an add-in for all main browsers. As well as blocking ads it can discourage tracking and block known malware servers.  For those seeking alternatives uBlock Origin is a common choice too.


Permalink 09:18:00 am by Eugene Gardner, Categories: General, Articles

For any who succumbed to Microsoft's tempting offer of using OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive) for online storage that can be linked and several devices, know that the rug is about to be pulled from your feet.  On 27th July the amount of free storage that comes with OneDrive will change from 15 GB to 5 GB. They are also discontinuing the 15 GB camera roll bonus.  More details on their website

This leaves Google Drive as the clear leader in the field as they continue to offer 15GB free space that can be shared with several devices.  

  • This is very handy for sharing files that are too large for email attachments.  
  • Also good for editing documents collaboratively and concurrently.  
  • Good too for storing documents you want access to when away from your own devices - on holiday at a Greek taverna perhaps.
  • Excellent as a repository for documents you want automated versioning backup for 30 days to supplement your regular backup and be part of your disaster recovery plan.
  • Finally, this is a saviour for those who want to use File History to backup a few files when offline backup is not wanted.  Note though that a network drive has to be established to point to a location on the same disk that is being backed up.


Permalink 08:46:00 pm by Eugene Gardner, Categories: General, Articles

Windows 10 is now stable enough to enable me to suggest that most people should be upgrading their computer now.  There are occasionally problems with sound and virus protection but these can be easily resolved.  Nevertheless, I still recommend a validated image backup before you change anything.

  1. Which brings me neatly on to the first tip.  If you're not already using File History ditch your current backup program and make the switch.  There just aint nothing better.
  2. Similarly, move all your documents to OneDrive (assuming you sign in with a Microsoft account) so that you get a short term immediate backup and all your documents are available on another device. 
  3. Also, make sure you use an account with your favourite browser so that bookmarks and other settings are synchronized with other computers - even the loan one I give you when yours fails :-) 
  4. It's always wise to have a second account on your computer so that when the main one gets a corrupted profile or locked out with password problems you can recover.  The easy way to do this is from an elevated command prompt
    net user administrator /active:yes 
  5. If you prefer File Explorer the way Windows Explorer used to be (displying My PC on the opening screen) then click View > Options > Change folder and search options.
  6. Make the cursor jump to the default button when a new window appears by Settings > Personalization > Themes > Mouse pointer settings > Pointer options > Snap To.
  7. Set performance to be prioritised above electrical frugality by going to Settings > System > Power > Additional power settings > High Performance.
  8. Change the size of text in all windows to make it easier on old eyes with Settings > System > Display then move the slider to the right.
  9. Restore Documents, Music, Pictures etc. to the Start menu for easy access.  Settings > Personalization > Start > Choose which folders appear on Start.
  10. Check out the new features by running the Get Started app.

If you have a tip of your own (Windows 10 related please) just make a comment below.

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