Tag Archives: microsoft

The Hard Drive Bottleneck and how to make it better.

In todays computers everything has gotten so much faster, even hard drives are faster, but not as much as most other things.  SSD is a great solution if you have the money to spend on it and you are willing to deal with small sized prime drives.

I have been noticing recently that after a boot up my HDD is busy 100% of the time for up to an hour, this is a huge amount.  It is not really reading or writing data that much, just checking small things.   For my home computer the bottleneck is the Hard Drive BY FAR.  I only get a 5.9 HDD rating while all of my other stats are in the mid 7 range when I use the Windows Experience Index.

I know that the HDD is the bottleneck in my system and I do have 2 hard drives so first I moved the page file to the G drive.  Also made sure torrent folders were on the G drive.  This makes all of these commonly accessed files not detract from the drive that the OS is on.  Even with this booting up was super slow.  So I cleaned up the startup.  I usually do this once every few months but the problem was still there.   The best tool to clean up the start up is Autoruns, it gives you a list of the various programs and files that are loaded on startup, you uncheck them and they are gone instantly.  Very cool.  After getting rid of many things my system was still slow.  

Many companies like to pass the blame and make their program seem faster by loading their program when you turn on your computer, so when you want to use their program it is already loaded.  I don’t mind this IF I have enough RAM and IF they wait to load until your system is idle.  BUT almost no programs do that so they bog down your system and load tons of data that is not even currently needed.  What is worse is that they all do it at once, and your hard drive is bogged down at 100% for a long time.  I especially hate the programs that check for updates or ask to install updates at boot time.   When your computer takes 5 minutes to load people blame Microsoft, they don’t blame the real programs that are causing it.  A few year ago Microsoft tried to crack down on this activity but it did not take too long for companies to figure it out.    In my years of fixing computers some of the WORST programs that do this are: Any Adobe Product, Java Updater, Most HP software, Most Apple Products (Then Apple shows people how slow windows is).   Then there are other programs that you want to run some time near startup, you just need to watch them.  This includes: Printer Applications (For heavens sake if you get rid of the printer get rid of its software), Side Bar, Messenger Software.  These programs you would want to simply delay by a minute or two so that you are free to use your system sooner.  A good tool for this is LaunchLater.

So I loaded up another awesome free tool called Process Explorer, this tool lets you see what is going on with every program running on your computer.  I added columns for I/O Reads and I/O Writes, these are the ones that show you the number of actions that programs do on your hard drives.  After only having booted up the system 10 minutes before I was shocked that Steam had done 70,000 reads and over 270,000 writes.   This was about 60% of all the reads that my entire system did and about 80% of all of the writes.  It was not doing updates or anything, it just always did this I guess.  I told to not run on startup and then I fully exited the program, and instantly my system was fast again, rebooted and the speed was back.

I did notice that Google Chrome was also doing a lot of reads and writes but only after I loaded it.  The other program doing a lot of reads was Mesh, but this program is awesome and I will be writing a full blog on it in a few days.

If your computer is going slow then follow these steps.   This is the heart of the “Tune-up” that we do at Emerald Computers, we do these many times per week and charge $75 most of the time.  A Tune-up has a few other things in it also, I will save that for later.

My take on windows 7….

Today I got my hands on Windows 7.  I have used it a few times in the past just to do a task and it always worked just like Vista.  Today I had the chance to install it on a computer that I own.  Here are my impressions.  

The install was almost exactly like Vista, many of the screens were exactly the same except a different background.  It seems to have taken about the same amount of time as Vista to install.  The installed size was 6GB smaller than when I install Vista.  When it came up it looked almost like vista, except the icons on the QuickLaunch were larger.  But then after more examination I noticed that it is a hybrid sort of QuickLaunch, putting programs that are running and those that are not on the same bar.  Basically you see the icon and when the program is running it draws a box around the icon.  If you run more than one it draws more boxes out to the right.  If a program is running and you click the icon again it minimizes the application.  You can right click and select the program name again to launch a second copy.  If more than one is running and you click on the icon it will show you a thumbnail of each copy that is running.  Not a bad way to do things, but will take some getting used to that is for sure.  I am not sure that I really like this idea, and there is no option to do it the old way.

The major thing I noticed is that it was almost exactly like vista.  Almost every menu is exactly the same.  The Gadgets that come with the OS are all the same, except they added a launcher for Media Center, and you can zoom some gadgets to make them bigger and provide more info.  The games that come with the OS are the exact same group that comes with Vista, and the screen saver list is even shorter.  I was really looking for a really nice new screensaver or game idea, but alas there is not one.

Some really nice things I noticed about the OS is that is DOES seem to be quite a bit faster.  AVG installed much faster.  Also when it connected to a network it automatically started to set up sharing.  No more having to turn on sharing in 5 different places in Vista to get it to share something.  Also it has a really cool feature where it changes the background every few minutes, really making it seem alive, and it was very easy to download themes online.  There also was a large amount of great sound themes installed from the get go, much nicer than vista.

Another feature that I have been wishing that windows had for many years is the ability to simply make EVERYTHING bigger.  Before windows 7 if you wanted to make everything bigger the only real way to do it was to use a lower resolution, but this was so bad, especially on LCD monitors, it would make things blurry and such due to not having a 1 to 1 ratio between the resolution and the native pixels on the screen.  If you wanted to make things bigger you had to do things in many different location.  And vista and xp considered the resolution part of the hardware, so if one user changed it, it would be changed for all users.  Now with this zoom you can and should simply set your monitor to the highest resolution that it supports and then zoom for each user that needs it.  I did notice that some legacy gadgets that I installed did not scale, but everything else did.

Wireless was also easier to connect.  In vista you have to right click on the wireless, and choose to open the connection window, and there you can connect.  Now when you right click it shows a list of wireless networks and a connect button next to each one, so easy.  I also liked how all of the buttons were only white…I am not sure if I will still like that in a few days.  There are also many other minor changed that I have seen.  One thing it does by default now, something that I have been telling people to do for years, is that it puts all of the music, videos, public photos and such in a “Library” a place that all users have access to and it sets it up automatically for network shares, and such.  Very nice that it finally is automatic.  And to make it even better it even installed some modern codecs so that the videos actually play.

After installing a few progams I also noticed that there are many less confirmation dialog boxes, also the put all of those taskbar notifications together so that they bother you less.  3rd party notification are also put all in one area with no more annoying balloons.  I am sure many of the people I help will really like this.

Conclusion. This OS is basically the same as vista with a few nice and useful enhancements.  If you are installing an OS on a new computer I would go for Windows 7 for sure, there is no real down side at all.  But if I had a computer that was working great with Vista and I had to pay to upgrade I would really think twice, that the benefits are not enough for all the trouble.  All and all it is a good and stable OS, because it basically vista with a new interface, so no one should be afraid to upgrade like they were with vista.  If you still use XP, then WHAT ARE  YOU WAITING FOR, get windows 7, it should run on your computer and it MUCH better.

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Computer Entry: How to select a laptop.

This article is part of my Computer series, click here for the list of other entries.

Today there are so many features on laptops. For most businesses they simple need a good laptop that works for a long period of time and at a great low price. So when they look at laptops they see units that are almost exactly the same with huge price differences. Many upgrades and things in the laptop world simply are not logical and not needed. I will talk about many of them and tell you the secret to finding the best prices.

For example 250 GB hard drives are fairly new, and 320GB laptop hard drives are still very rare. The standard is a 160GB hard drive. The larger hard drive, can ad 100-200 dollars to the price of the laptop, for just a bit more space. The average business customer uses less than 40GB of space so it is crazy to pay extra for this space.

One thing that you should know about laptops is that all laptops sold are really only made by 7 companies, and all of these companies are Chinese. Every brand you see is really a laptop from one of these companies branded with the company logo. Dell uses 5 of these 7 companies. Because of this you will notice laptops from different brands that look exactly the same, you will also notice laptops from the same brands that look totally different. The only one of these makers that sells laptops direct is Acer, but their laptops are usually very low quality and it is usually better to pay a bit more for better quality.

In the world of computers the price of something is more about how many of them are being sold and NOT about how good or complex the item is. The main cost in any item is the designing of the item and the equipment to make the item. For a CPU for example it costs up to a billion dollars to design a new chip and may cost less than $10 to actually make the chip. So if you make 20 million of these chips the cost is $60 per chip, but if you make 500 million of them your cost is $11 per chip. You even get more savings that that when you build a lot of the same item. Because of this many newer, better and faster things are much cheaper. Many CPUs are much higher in level than what you are buying but the maker just takes the higher ones and disables some higher features and sells them as a lower unit because it is cheaper to do this than make the lower unit any longer. RAM is also the same way, DDR2 is much better and faster than DDR but because it is made in much larger amounts it is cheaper. This is called “Economy of Scale” and it hold true from everything from your TV to you Car.

In the world of laptops this idea works all over the place. In my opinion HP and Toshiba make great laptops and because they sell so many they are actually better and more updated than laptops made for the same price by other companies. Because Sony is so much more money they sell less, and have a higher cost, a bad situation to be in. By far most laptops that are sold have a 15.4 inch screen, so laptops with this size are also the lowest priced of all laptops. Touchpads are by far the most popular and their price has plummeted so they now have the lowest price and are now the only choice most companies offer. DVD burners do everything you would want an optical drive to do, and because they are built in such number now they are cheaper than all of the lower types to put in, thus every laptop you will see has a DVD burner, because it is cheaper and has a larger perceived value to the customer.

The choice of CPU, Hard Drive, Optical Drive and many of the other parts of a laptop, and computers in general are based on this idea. Now to get the best deal you need to look at many different laptops and notice the trends. A laptop that floods the market may be $100 less than the others and yet be much better. This is why people hire my company to find their next laptop, we know the trends and we have a very small markup. They can pay us and still end up with a faster and better laptop and pay LESS money than if they went to wherever they normally go for laptops.

What Exactly to look for in a business laptop.

When you look for your laptop simply compare the specs from one laptop to another, but it pays to have a huge source and look at large lists of laptops because you will often find a better deal on that list.

Balance: When you look for any computer look for balance, too much CPU power at the cost of everything else will result in a slower computer. Also think about what you want to use the laptop for. If you want to play high end games then insist on a laptop with a higher end video card, it may cost $100 or more extra but will do what you want. With computers running vista you really need at least 2GB of RAM to do things efficiently. If you find a great deal on a laptop with only 1GB, buy it then upgrade the RAM later, it may be much cheaper. Don’t spend the extra money getting a much larger hard drive, first 90% of all users never use the space, second if you need more space you can get an external hard drive later, but mostly that extra bit of space really costs a lot of money in most cases. Almost every laptop comes with Vista Home Premium. This is ok for about 90% of the people out there, but if you expect to join a domain be sure to get the business version. Also if you really need XP you are looking for a older out of production laptop, these would have been sold at a much higher price to the seller and they will be asking more for them, and you get less new features than a Vista laptop.

Battery Life: Also think about battery life, for the road warrior out there it is important to have that computer last a long time. So this is what you should look for, first you need to have a processor that can scale back and use less power when you don’t need full power, but can scale up as when you do need the power. The AMD Turion is the best AMD chip at this job, but Intel really dominates this concept with their Core 2 Duo and their entire Centrino line.  Companies have spent a lot of time and money focusing on power saving, so newer technology chips are much better at this than older ones.  For any laptop the MAIN use of power is for the screen, usually it is hard to find the power consumption of the screen, but again newer technology is better.  To get all this best technology be willing to pay for it.

Size: For many people, the size of the laptop is very important, they want a smaller, thinner and more portable laptop. Because of economy of scale there is a common size that most makers make, small enough to sell in huge number and large enough to not be too much money to make. When you want to go smaller you fight economy of scale and also the fact that smaller parts cost more. Because of this smaller, thinner laptops cost much more. Every now and then a company will make a really small laptop in a large quantity and if you find that you can get a great deal on a laptop just the way you want. Don’t get the smaller laptop unless you really have figured out how much you are really paying for that option.

Laptops also change really fast. Think about how they are made. The design of the laptop, and making the first one is over half the cost of the entire run. So companies will make the really hard analysis to decide how many of a laptop design to order from the places that make them. Once the production run is over that laptop is usually never made again. Because it takes so long to build a container of laptops, maybe 2 weeks, then 2 more weeks to ship them it these companies have to predict upfront how many may sell. Usually the production run is less than a few full shipping containers. So the company, lets use HP, designs a laptop, orders 10,000 of them. They are made and shipped, they arrive in the US and are quickly sent to wholesale warehouses and retail stores all over the US. Amazon buys some, Wal-Mart buys some. Before the container even lands in the US HP will try to have it all sold. If it is all sold they may order another production run of 10,000. Almost every week a new, better chipset or CPU or something comes out, and often for a better price. So the designers are always looking to go to the next thing. And that brand new, popular design is now put out of production, never to be made again. Most designs are already put out of production before the first customer even gets one. It is a harsh business with huge risks and huge investments. This is also why only a few companies are really players in this business.

Every now and then a design is produced in a larger amount than that which can be quickly sold off. When this happens they slash the price and dump it on the wholesale market. Sometimes they just sold this computer for $700 to Wal-Mart and have only 500 units left and the design is no longer made so they dump it for $500 or less. Most wholesale companies only mark up parts 10% or less because there is huge competition. Only computer companies can usually buy from these wholesale places, this is exactly what we do here at Emerald Computers. We look for the best of these wholesale deals, select them and we post an online flyer and send email updates to our customers. If you are not getting our email you really are missing some great deals.

So what would I do it I was going to buy a laptop today? You choice for a laptop or any computer is based on what you plan to use the computer for and your personal habits.  Here is the logic that I use, if you need help choosing a laptop then email me your phone number and I will call you and help you with the process.  Lets make it fair and give me a budget of under $1000.  First I would budget in a Microsoft Wireless Laser Optical Laptop Mouse.  They are really a must have for me for long usage, and at under $25 they are a bargain.  Next I would look for a Turion based laptop unless I could find a special on a Intel based one.  The Turion ones are usually at least $100 less for the same speed.  I almost never go a long time on battery power so for me personally batter life is not much of a concern.  What is a concern is a high resolution screen.  I would stick to a 15.4″ size simply because it is just the right size for me, 17″ it is a bit to big, but I try to get at least the 1440×900 resolution, maybe the 1680×1050 (WSXGA+).  I would not get the very common 1280×800 because for me and my eyes I can see much better than that and I need the space.  I don’t game on my laptop so an average video card is good for me.  And I have a few external hard drives, and most of my data will stay on my main computer so a 160GB drive is ok for me.  I like to multitask so I would need 2GB of RAM, I would not get more than 2GB because it takes extra power to run that extra ram, and I almost never go over 2GB, also I like to hibernate my computer and more RAM makes that much slower. When a new OS comes out I may upgrade the RAM.  I would still look at computers with 1GB because I know can upgrade the RAM very cheap on my own.  I do watch DVD movies and I like to have good sound so I would look for a computer with a nice DVD drive and good speakers.  I would also look at a picture of the laptop first, different makers have much different styles and I only like some of them.  I also like black better than silver, but that will not kill the deal.  I found a laptop just like this for only a bit over the budget.  You need to look for one based on your needs.

So when you are ready for your next laptop you now have much more information, you will probably have more than the employee selling the products. I wish you good luck, and if you ever need help feel free to email or call my company, we will be happy to help you.


Safari on windows!

Wow, for once I am shocked and impressed by something in this industry. Mac just released Safari for Windows today. (Click here to get it) I was not keeping track and did not know it was coming, but shortly after midnight it came on saying that I could get it. I quickly installed it, and tested it out on my PC. The graphics look about the same but slightly better. I think they up the color setting on everything, and I like it. It seems to load as fast or faster. I will have to learn how to make some changes to it that I like to have but I will give it a good try.

This is a good idea that was a decade in the making. When you use it you feel like you are using a mac. I am a PC guy but I do see how this will get many new customers for Mac. I already see their market share increasing due to the tragic and predictable failure of Microsoft Vista. (Click here to see a survey of how big a failure vista really is)

I also downloaded FireFox on the day it came out, it was not so great at first but as IE got worse FireFox got better. For most of 2007 I used Ubuntu as my OS but I finally had to break down and go back to Windows on my main computer, but I did not go back to IE. I miss many things about Ubuntu, it is a much better OS but there are a few programs I need that simply don’t exist yet in the Linux world.

Thanks mac for raising the bar. I hope Microsoft either steps up or fades away soon.

The key to commercial success for Linux

You use a computer, and read blogs so you probably know a bit about computer and you probably know about Linux. Linux is great, robust and free OS. It runs almost all web servers and websites. Including google, wordpress and billions of others. Linux is very secure, robust, fast and hack proof. It makes great servers because servers are ran by experts. Without Linux the web would not exist as we know it.

Well for over a decade now they have been trying to make it popular for your desktop computer that you use every day as well. One of the best parts about Linux is that anyone with knowledge is free to change and customize it exactly how they see fit, and they have. Almost everything in Linux has at least 3 different programs that do the same thing, but they do it in different ways. People then pick and choose the different parts of Linux and combine them into a complete Operating System. They call this a distribution or distro. There are now 100’s of up to date distros, all with different ways of doing things and different followings. This has helped Linux in the past but in the world of mass merchandising it also has hurt Linux.

The problem is that when a company writes software to work on Linux they must assume things about how the computer is set up. Because there are 100’s of different ways to do this, and only a few million Linux users, they simply don’t bother. Companies that make drivers and hardware also don’t bother. The Linux people thus have to do all of it themselves. And, if they do it for one distro of Linux it probably will not work on many others. So the game makers, and the people who make the huge programs we need to function usually don’t bother making a Linux version. There is no Photoshop, QuickBooks, MSN or Yahoo chat with webcam, or robust video editing software in Linux because these are very complex and would usually be distro specific, and the userbase does not justify the cost.

The strength of Microsoft Windows was the fact that it was closed and controlled. People could not change the OS, all the rules from computer to computer were exactly the same. Because of this people could code for just ONE OS, that they knew would be supported and work for at least a decade. This is exactly what they did, 1000’s of companies started writing. Hardware makers could design one driver to work with the OS and everything was easy, because it was a standard platform, that was predictable. Windows was not the coolest, and it sure was not the most secure or robust, and they charged a huge price for it, but all of this was worth it because it was STANDARD. Nothing is more important than something being standard when it comes to business, and all the geeks need to learn this. McDonalds does not made the best burgers, but I have ate them in 5 different nations and they are all the same. When it is the same it is predictable, and you need that to get investors and make money flow. This is the main reason the Linux world still has less than 1% of desktop computers.

So now what? Well in a dream world someone with great power and clout would take all the best parts of Linux, get a ton of people behind him and release the ultimate distro of Linux. He would promise to not change it for at least 6 months and also promise that anything written for it will work for years on the newer versions. By creating a standard and unifying the Linux world programmers would start making software work on Linux and soon it would gain marketshare. It will be better and be free than windows, and soon takeover the world from the grasp of Microsoft.

Someone else, a tech billionaire named Mark Shuttleworth thought EXACTLY the same way, and he used his power and clout to do it. He calls it Ubuntu. He only release every 6 months, and he has static versions that are supported for two years or more. He then went much farther, he made a community around it. They have great free tech support with forums and chat. As well has many other great features and designs.  My good friend Matthew Helmke is one of the leading Ubuntu experts and forum leaders and inspired me to try it out.

This OS has the chance to become huge. For over a year now Linux has been the top distro, and it growing faster than the rest of the Linux world put together. The standard it presents has already encouraged many companies to start writing software for Linux. Many large games are not tested on Ubuntu. If you use Linux, switch to Ubuntu, for the sake of the Linux world. Raising a unified standard is the only hope that Linux has at commercial success.

I hope this explanation of a very tech thing from a business perspective educated both the techs and the business people who usually don’t understand each other.

I will offer much more of this sort of knowledge in the future so be sure to subscribe to this blog!.

Jason Dragon.