Friday, August 24, 2012

It's been a while...

It has been a while since my last blog post and I apologize to the few that have commented to me on such.  I started the blog to share some information about computers and hopefully explain some things that people may have had questions on.  After I wrote about most of a computers components, I hit a road block and couldn't really think of much else to write about.

I've decide to revisit this blog simply because I love talking about computers and technology in general.  I also enjoy staying up-to-date on the latest and greatest technology and while there are other blogs out there that talk about the same thing, they don't do it exactly the way I would.  So here I am.

Hence forth.  This blog will talk about a multitude of all things tech.  From computer tech to gaming to science.  I'll make a point to contribute a meaningful blog post twice a month and hope you all enjoy it.  Thanks for reading and following.


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Are free antivirus programs any good?

Short answer...yes! 

Antivirus programs, sadly, have become a necessity on your computer today.  Notice I said computer and not just Windows users.  You Mac people need protection as well. 

These antivirus programs have had to evolve to keep up with the viruses they chase.  As viruses have found new ways to infect your computer, antivirus programs have had to change the ways in which they scan your computer and files.  Many antivirus programs today are focused more on preventing the installation of virus riddled programs while still maintaining the ability to do a full system scan of your computer if the user feels infected.

Many antivirus programs today offer e-mail scanning, web browsing protection, and some even offer sandboxing (think of it as a safe way to test run the program to make sure it's not going to ruin your computer with a virus).  Let's take a look at some of my favorite freebies and some of the protection they offer.

1. Avast:  Avast is the "worlds most popular antivirus software with 159,619,632 registrations and growing" of which probably 2,000 are me putting them on customers computers as well as my own.  Avast is a full featured antivirus program that out performs many paid antivirus programs.  Avast was the first to offer for free, the sandboxing mentioned earlier.   Avast is free, the only ask that you register with them and it will prompt you to reregister annually.   Avast has won a numerous awards over the years and many other antivirus programs actually use Avast's virus engine (what they use to determine a virus is a virus) in their programs.  Avast has the fastest scanning speeds I've seen as well.  All of this makes Avast my #1 choice.

1b. AVG:  During the past decade, AVG was my main antivirus solution.  AVG continues to put out a high quality product with great features.  Both Avast and AVG are similar in their offerings.  The only reason I bumped AVG down to 1b is due to the fact that their update servers seem to have trouble staying up all the time.  When have it scheduled to update once a day at a certain time and the servers are down at that time, you could go a few days before getting an update which could put your system at risk to the latest virus.

3. Microsoft Security Essentials:  The last one I'll toss on here is an offering by Microsoft.  While fairly new to the antivirus game, their simple to use antivirus software will cover your bases on the virus protection front.  I ususally install this on very basic users computers because if the color is green you're in the clear.  Very easy to use and with a name like Microsoft it has to be good.....right? :)

 Even with all these safety precautions it is still possible to get a virus installed on your computer if you aren't careful.  The business of antivirus programming is largly reactionary and as such, the lastest and badest new virus can infiltrate your system if you're not careful.  Beware while surfing out there.  A lot of the newest web browswers offer services to protect you while browsing.  We'll take a look at the browser war next time.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

iPhone 4...Shame on Apple

Well the iPhone 4 was released back in June, and since then it has caused an uproar in the smart phone community.  Why?  Well if you haven't heard it has a bit of antenna issue with it's new design.  Antenna issue = signal loss.

At first, the culprit seemed to be AT&T's network that was causing the issue.  However, extensive testing finally revealed that it was in fact the phone antenna that was causing the problem.  The phone would lose signal when it was held in the wrong way (well what Apple deems the wrong way).  The problem with holding like the picture on the left, is that the user was actually gripping the antenna band.  By doing so, the user would inadvertently disrupt the signal to and from the phone, causing dropped calls and very slow speeds.

To remedy this issue Apple had a great idea to give out free cases to everyone who purchased an iPhone 4.  Since the case would fix the issue everyone was happy, similar to how Nintendo gave out free rubber sleeves for their controllers. The problem is that Apple has now decided to stop giving away free cases on September 30th.  So anyone that buys an iPhone after the 30th is boned.  Apple claims that the number of phones that are actually having an issue is far lower than they thought previously.  After hearing this from Apple, I couldn't help but think of the scene in Fight Club, where Edward Norton is talking about how he works for a large car company and explains their recall procedure.

"A new car built by my company leaves somewhere traveling at 60 mph. The rear differential locks up. The car crashes and burns with everyone trapped inside. Now, should we initiate a recall? Take the number of vehicles in the field, A, multiply by the probable rate of failure, B, multiply by the average out-of-court settlement, C. A times B times C equals X. If X is less than the cost of a recall, we don't do one."

The whole process just reeks of shadiness.  If you make a foul product Apple, and any other company out there, do the right thing and correct it...for free!

So, if you were one of the ones that bought the iPhone4 and have been putting off getting that free case they were offering, you had best get on it because getting one easily is going out the window soon.  Too be fair to Apple, they are still offering the program to get a free case but you are going to have to jump through quite a few hoops to get it.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Best Budget Gaming PC 09/2010

A budget gaming rig is the most common PC that I find myself putting together for customers.  I want to point out that this PC is also a great everyday use computer, as the major difference between the two is a quality graphics card.  So without further adieu, let's begin.

Case:  Antec Three Hundred 

Antec Three Hundred Gaming Case External 3 X 5.25; Internal 6 X 3.5 2*Usb2.0
Antec combines size, quality, features and low price to deliver the ultimate gaming case. The smallest of Antec’s “Hundred” series designed for the Do-It-Yourself gamer, it is equipped to deal with the increased heat output of high-performance systems as well as providing a flexible design to best suit your needs. Its overall matt-black finish shows that you – and your system – mean business.

The front panel includes a pair of USB 2.0 inputs as well as jacks for a headphone and microphone. The front bezel is perforated for maximum air intake and it has a washable filter to reduce dust within the system. Inside, are a total of nine drive bays – six 3.5” internal HDD’s and a trio of 5.25” external drives. Seven expansion card slots let you load up on graphic and other options up to – and including – a full height ATX motherboard. A rear-mounted 120mm TriCool fan as well as a top-mounted 140mm TriCool fan – both with 3-speed switch control – draw air through the case.

In addition, there's space for an additional pair of 120mm fans behind the front bezel to cool the HDD’s as well as the option to mount a third 120mm fan on the side of the case to cool the GPU.

MSI 880GM-E43 - Motherboard - micro ATX - AMD 880G - Socket AM3 - UDMA133, SATA-300 (RAID), eSATA - Gigabit Ethernet - video - HD Audio (8-channel)Get affordable computing performance with MSI's 880GM-E43 motherboard. Based on AMD 880G chipset, this micro-ATX form-factor board is designed to support the latest AM3 Phenom II including X6, Athlon II and Sempron 100 Series processors. With MSI’s OC Genie and Unlock CPU Core technology, you can easily dig the most potential out of your CPU for extra performance.

Dominate your applications and games with up to 16GB of DDR3 memory fitting into four 240-pin slots with dual channel support and overclock up to 1600MHz for increased performance. The integrated ATI Radeon HD 4250 GPU provides adequate 3D and video playback capabilities and if that is not enough for you, simply update your display subsystem with one PCI Express 2.0 x16 graphics card. Onboard lossless 24 bit/192kHz HD audio chipset offers top-level audio quality of extra high fidelity.

Five SATA 3Gb/s connectors give you the ability to store massive amounts of data locally with several RAID configurations possible for extra security and high-speed performance. Count on the reliability and stability offered by MSI's 880GM-E43.

AMD Athlon II X4 620 95W AM3 2MB 2600MHz RetailSave time and accomplish more with multi-core processing that makes multitasking quick and simple. The Athlon II X4 features the next-generation AMD Direct Connect Architecture for a fast, responsive PC. This processor is also optimized to take advantage of the power management features in Windows 7 using AMD PowerNow! 3.0 Technology.
Energy efficiency is important to AMD, allowing you to enjoy a cool, quiet PC while saving energy and reducing heat, noise and the effect of your computer on the environment. Energy efficiency innovations include Cool’n’Quiet, AMD CoolCore and AMD Smart fetch. These technologies reduce power consumption and processor activity. You’ll experience up to 50% energy efficiency over previous AMD Athlon II processors.

AMD Athlon II processors also offer support for Virtualization Technology. You can run virtual environments on one system with ease, allowing you to use legacy programs on a separate operating system. Also providing 64-bit support, this processor can handle the most demanding programs with ease.

RAM:  G.SKILL Ripjaws Series 4GB DDR3 1600 
G.Skill Ripjaws F3-12800CL7D-4GBRM - Memory - 4 GB : 2 x 2 GB - DIMM 240-pin - DDR3 - 1600 MHz / PC3-12800 - CL7 - 1.6 V - unbuffered - non-ECCEliminate data bottlenecks by taking advantage of multi-channel technology and multiplying your memory bandwidth. Ripjaws Series memory is designed specifically to complement Core i7 processors, the P55 Express Chipset and AMD AM3 platform. Optimized for speed, low latency and high stability, Ripjaws Series memory is the perfect solution to faster programs and quicker load times.
Heat management is always important for any PC builder and enthusiast. G.SKILL understands this concern, which is why each Ripjaws Series DIMM comes with a stylish comb-like design heat-spreader, which dissipates heat by exposing it to cool air over a greater surface area and will look great in any case. These DIMMs also operate at a cool 1.5V for better internal temperatures and overclocking versatility.

ATI Radeon HD 5700 Series graphics processors. Loaded with advanced technology, these GPUs have the power and premium features you need for fully immersive gameplay. Expand your visual real estate across up to three displays and get lost in the action with revolutionary ATI Eyefinity Technology.
LG Electronics GH22NS50 22X SATA Super Multi DVD+/-RW Internal Drive - Bulk with Software (Black)

Corsair CMPSU-650TX 650-Watt TX Series 80 Plus Certified Power Supply compatible with Intel Core i7 and Core i5 Okay, it's a power supply. Not much excitement there unless it starts smoking, right? But this one is so cool, it's smokin'! Like the 52 Ampere +12V rail (and there's just the one +12V rail, so you don't have to balance your power needs by hand.). How about the ability to auto-sense your input voltage from 90Vac to 264Vac, 50/60Hz? No more voltage selector switches!

Runs cooler, too, because it can be up to 80% efficient (tested at 20%, 50% and full load), meaning less waste heat from the supply. Compatible with both ATX 2.0 and ATX 2.2 systems, it includes long cables for even full-sized tower installations. Nvidia SLI support. It includes power connections for eight SATA drives. A 120mm variable speed fan with double bearings gives good airflow with minimal noise. Active power factor correction helps deal with inductive loads (drive and fan motors, mostly).

Recap:  Total: $622.00

So this is the build that as of 09/10/10, I like to suggest for people looking for a decent gaming PC.  While a cheaper gaming computer could be built, I don't like to build computers that will be obsolete in a year.   All of the compenents in this build also have great overclocking ability which will also help extend the life of the computer.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

LCD vs Plasma

Well since this is a tech blog, I feel like I need to include other things here besides computers.  That being said, expect the majority of the posts on this blog to be focused on computers simply because that's where my passion lies.  But I've had a couple of friends requesting a post describing the difference between LCD and Plasma TVs and which one I suggested.  In addition, TVs make excellent PC displays if you have one available to use.

Samsung PN50C550 50-Inch 1080p Plasma HDTV (Black)Samsung UN46C6300 46-Inch 1080p 120 Hz LED HDTV (Black)

To answer the question of which I prefer, simply put, it would be neither.  I like them both.  Both Plasma and LCD TVs are great products being offered right now and now that production of both has increased so much, the prices on both have dropped drastically since they were first released.  To start with, let's take a look at how each TV actually works.

Plasmas displays are made up of a bunch of small "plasma" cells that are filled with different gases.  These cells are squished between two glass plates, given an electric charge, some magic (science way above my head involving photons and differing energy levels) happens and you have your picture.

LCDs are a very different technology.  In an LCD, liquid crystals are squished between two polarized panels, light is shone through the panels and crystals and BAM, you have your picture.  The light is usually generated by a cold cathode fluorescent lamp.  LED TVs that you see out now are actually LCD TV just with a different light source.  Changing from a fluorescent lamp to LEDs.

Instead of typing out my own thoughts on here, I'm going to refer you to an excellent article written by an excellent TV reviewer.  I pretty much agree with all of his thoughts, however, I think the quality between the two is even much closer than he thinks.  Follow the rabbit here.  Or here is the link to copy and paste:

To sum up what Phil says, both technologies have gotten much closer in the quality picture they offer.  However, Phil still gives the edge to plasma tvs.  Phil states the picture quality, contrast ratios, color accuracy, viewing angles, fast moving action, and value is all better with a plasma TV, especially with larger screen sizes.

My take on this is the average viewer will not be dissatisfied with either LCD or Plasma.  My advice, shop around, find the best deal, and get the best TV you can find for your budget.  You won't be disappointed with either and as time goes on, the quality of each is becoming closer and closer.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Keep It Cool: Laptop Cooling

I was focusing on desktop PCs with the last cooling post (and most of the posts so far) but on this last post about cooling, I received a number of requests for information on laptop cooling.  As one to not disappoint my readers, lets take a brief look at laptop cooling.

Laptops, like desktops, generate a lot of heat.  The problem with laptops is that due to their nature of being smaller than a desktop, everything is packed in so much tighter.  The smaller the case the less room for air to move.  The less room for air to move, the hotter the computer runs.  But fear not!  There are ways to cool your laptop as well.

Syba SY-NBK68002 Silent Giant 7-Inch Fan Laptop / Notebook Cooling PadIf you've ever sat with a laptop on your lap, you've noticed that it gets very...very warm.  That's because all of the components of the computer are located in that section that's sitting right on your lap.  So why not just have a fan blow directly on that?  Why not indeed!  The pad to the left is perfect for keeping your laptop a bit cooler.  The large fan in the pad helps pull all that hot air away from your laptop.  And because the fan is so large, it doesn't have to run at a very high RPM to move the air, which means it won't be too loud to use.  If you don't want to spring for a pad with a fan in it, having a laptop stand without a fan is another alternative.  Just having the laptop off a flat surface allows air to move more freely under the laptop which in turn helps keep it cooler.

Logitech Comfort LapdeskOne thing to note, if you do have a high powered gaming laptop, chances are it already has a built in bottom exhaust built into the chassis. Using the laptop cooler with the fan may hamper this from working properly so it would be best to just stick with a laptop stand in those instances.

There are also fans that fit into a PCMCIA slot on laptops if you have them.  These will also help draw out hot air from the laptop.  The only problem is if you are already using that slot, you'll obviously not have room for the fan.

Aside from these, there aren't too many other options available for keeping your laptop cooled that are within reason.  You could only use your laptop inside a walk-in freezer.  Me, I'll buy a fan. 

Monday, August 23, 2010

Keep it Cool!

Real photo of a PC exploding
It just got into the 90's in my house again this week.  Being a *cough* larger fellow myself, I find these temperatures less than ideal.  About this time each year, I find myself ready to say goodbye to the summer heat and hello to the cooler fall weather.  So sitting here, sweating bullets, I figured I'd write an article on cooling your computer.  How it's done and why it's important. We all know what happens when your car overheats.  Your computer acts the same way.  Too much heat and KABOOM!  Well won't blow up on you (disclaimer:If your computer has or is going to blow up on you, I'm sorry, and let me know right away and I'll edit this) but your computer could shut down repeatedly, or worse yet, fry something.  So cooling in a computer is crucial to say the least.

As with most electronics, computers generate heat.  A lot of heat.  If you've ever been in a computer lab, filled with 50+ computers as well as a class equal in size, you would have certainly noticed the temperature in the classroom slowly rising.  So how do we combat this heat generated by computer components?  By using the many options available to us to keep it cool inside our computer cases.

We'll take a look at a couple of different cooling methods in this article but I want to stress one thing right off the bat; keep your case clean.  Now I'm not talking about breaking out the soap and water here, but a good blow out of all the dust, twice a year, would be a good thing.  Even more if you have your case sitting directly on the ground.  Dust in a case can act as insulation on your components and trap heat in close to them.  Enough of a build up of dust can also restrict air flow throughout the case.  I've seen so much dust in some computers that it has actually clogged the fans in the case and stopped them from moving.   Yuck!  You wouldn't let your house get that dirty, so for the sake of your computer, don't let your case get that dirty.

Cooler Master 120mm Case Fan - (R4-C2R-20AC-GP)
120mm Case fan
This brings us to our first and most popular method of cooling, fans!  Ah good old air cooling.  Air cooling is by far the most common method of cooling that is found in computers today.  You have fans for your CPU.  Fans for your GPU.  Fans for your RAM.  Even fans for your hard drives.  Fans can be found strewn throughout many cases and in most instances, do an outstanding job of keeping all the computer parts cool. 

Fans in a computer are measured in millimeters (mm) and can range in size from 25mm to 250mm; with the most common sizes being 80mm and 120mm case fans.   Case fans are designed to pull cool air from outside the case in, and blow all the hot air out.  

Cables Unlimited Evercool FAN-P4-S478-3 Pentium 4 Socket 478 CPU Cooler
CPU fan with heatsink
There are also fans designed specifically for your CPU and GPU as well.  These fans usually work in conjunction with some sort of heatsink made out of copper of aluminum to dissipate heat from the component it's attached to.

Similarly, hard drive and RAM fans are positioned near each component and pull hot air from them.  These two are usually reserved for enthusiasts that are looking to overclock (make it run faster/hotter to increase performance) their computer.

While air cooling is perfect for, I'll say, 98% of the population out there, there are other options available for cooling.  These next two are aimed at the person that will probably be overclocking (we'll have a post on this later as well so don't worry), and as such are a bit more expensive but certainly do a great job of cooling a computer system.

Water cooling is a favorite method of cooling among PC enthusiasts and those wanting to supercharge their computers.  Water cooling in a computer is almost exactly the same as the water cooling in a vehicle, except on a smaller scale.  You have a water pump, a radiator, coolant, a reservoir, and piping to run the coolant to and from computer components and back to the radiator.

OCZ OCZTHYDF HydroFlow HF-MK1 CPU Waterblock
CPU waterblock
Liquid cooling can be used to cool many different components of a computer, with the most popular being the CPU and the GPU. The coolant runs through the pipes to a waterblock that is attached to the CPU or the GPU.  The constant flow of cool water over the waterblock, removes the heat from the component very quickly.  Liquid cooling, on average, can lower temperatures of a component around 20 degrees Celsius compared to a standard air cooled system. 

Modern CPUs have a max heat threshold of around 100C.  Under normal use, a CPU being air cooled will run around 50C-70C.  Toss a waterblock on there with a good liquid cooling system, and you're looking at knocking near 20C off that temperature.  Once you have that temperature lowered, you can overclock your components drastically without fear.

The last type of cooling I'm going to touch on briefly is phase cooling.  Phase cooling is pretty much what is going on inside of your refrigerator.  You have a compressor in the computer that compresses gases into a liquid form.  That liquid is this pumped to the CPU/GPU and while there it evaporates and absorbs the heat from the component as it passes by.  It then returns to the compressor again where it is cooled back to a liquid form.  Temperatures using phase cooling can reach anywhere from -10C to -100C, depending on the setup.

So let's recap by looking at the pros and cons of each type of cooling we talked about.

Air Cooling: 

  -Cheap, effective or normal machines, easy to setup and install
  -Can be loud, highest temperatures out of the 3

Liquid Cooling:

  -Can be quieter than air cooling, achieve very good cooling temps for overclocking
  -More expensive that air cooling, can leak, can be tricky setting up

Phase Cooling:

  -Lowest temperatures out of the 3 discussed by far!
  -Very loud, very expensive!

So that sums up some basics of cooling.  I hope the one thing you take away from this article is that it is very important to keep your computer cool.  If all that you do after reading this is think about blowing out your computer that has been tucked away in your desk for the past 2 years, then I've succeeded.  :)  Again if you have any questions, feel free to send me a message.  Stay uber my friends!