May 8, 2012

TuneUp Utilities 2012 Review

TuneUp Utilities 2012 is the latest version of one of the most popular Windows system optimization and tweaking program. Every year it is getting perfected with new unique features added to the program. TuneUp Utilities 2012 features all the functions that were present in the earlier version, viz, TuneUp Utilities 2011 (which we have reviewed earlier). Along with all those features, two notable features added to the latest version are TuneUp Economy Mode and TuneUp Program Deactivator.

TuneUp Economy Mode will extend the battery life of notebook, netbook and tablet computers by shutting off processes and hardware components that aren’t required or in use. TuneUp Economy Mode is the new introduced feature of 2012 while TuneUp Program Deactivator, introduced in 2011 version, has gone through major overhauling in 2012 edition. Both TuneUp Economy Mode and TuneUp Program Deactivator, when used in combination can boost the energy efficiency of Windows 7 systems by up to 30 percent, when compared with the Windows 7 built-in energy savings mode.

With today’s increasing computing power, multi-core processors and gigabytes of RAM, many users will argue if they need a system optimization program? But, many users will agree with us that even with so much of computation power in hand, Windows tends to become sluggish after usage. Microsoft promises to change this scenario with its upcoming Windows 8 operating system but until than we are left with trusted system optimization utilities like TuneUp Utilities.

Since we have already reviewed TuneUp Utilities 2011 and most of the tools, although improved, have remained same in TuneUp Utilities 2012, in this review we will concentrate only on the most notable two features (discussed above). You can go through the thorough review of TuneUp Utilities 2011 here to know in-depth about what it offers.

At the end of this review (after break), you will find a giveaway contest, through which you can win a free license of TuneUp Utilities 2012 worth $49.95. 5 licenses are up for the giveaway, so the total licenses worth approx $250 (exactly $249.75). More on that later. :)

A quick walk-through…

TuneUp Utilities 2012 User Interface

The installation was very straight forward, after which, TuneUp Utilities immediately launched its 1-Click Maintenance tool. The tool quickly checks for Windows Registry errors, broken shortcuts, temporary files (but Recycle Bin), Windows startup and shutdown problems, disk fragmentation and so on. A report of everything found, is provided after the analysis and you can then fix the issues with a single click.

As we have seen earlier with 2011, the tools are divided into five tabs:

  • Status & recommendations: shows you an overview of the current condition of your system and gives you recommendations on how you can improve the system’s health.
  • Optimize system: disable or uninstall unwanted programs and clean up your system and your data.
  • Gain disk space: you can delete unnecessary data systematically from your system.
  • Fix problems: you will find simple solutions for any problems that might occur.
  • Customize Windows: you can configure how your Windows should look and function, thereby personalizing your computer.

For advance users or for quickly finding a tool, you can click on “Overview of all functions” option. This option gives you a list of all functions that TuneUp Utilities offers. If you click on the wrench icon next to a tool, it opens the settings for that tool.

TuneUp Program Deactivator

Many Windows programs like Microsoft Office adds services, startup programs and other tasks which slows down the system and hampers performance, even though we don’t need those services or programs to start with Windows. If uninstalling the program is not an option than the revamped version of Program Deactivator might be able to help you.

Simply launch Program Deactivator and a list of installed programs is displayed along with its performance impact on your PC. We have already seen earlier in TuneUp Utilities 2011, that it really works and improves performance of the system.

What’s new in TuneUp Utilities 2012 edition of Program Deactivator is the TuneUp Programs-on-Demand Technology, in layman terms the “Automatic” function. Simply keep the function on, and if you launch a “deactivated” program then TuneUp Utilities 2012 will automatically disable this again once you’ve closed it down. Thus it keeps your system in top performance always.

Even though your mileage may vary when using this tool. But if your system is packed up with programs (like ours), TuneUp Program Deactivator will surely help you gain performance.

TuneUp Economy Mode

Windows 7 is optimized to conserve power but it is still not fully optimized. As the number of background process, service or scheduled task increases, the impact on the power can also be felt. This prevents devices from entering low-power (or idle) modes. TuneUp Economy Mode prevents PC hardware components from delivering too much power when it’s not really needed. Once TuneUp Economy Mode is active, all non-essential background processes and services are disabled to reduce power usage. The settings are very easy to configure. In our tests, we have seen an increase in battery life.

Conclusion

In our tests on a laptop running Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) on Core i5, 4GB RAM, 640GB HDD, boot time fell by around 10 percent, RAM usage fell from 40 percent to 35 percent. Overall, system performance was improved and we actually found our applications launching faster.

You can test TuneUp Utilities 2012 for yourself and see the system performance improvements yourself. The software is available for Windows XP, Vista and 7 (32-bit and 64-bit editions) and can be downloaded from TuneUp Utilities official website for free.

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July 3, 2011

How To Recover Data From a Dead Computer

“….Whether using one of the Internet based cloud services or a separate external hard drive – if you make it a habit of backing up regularly, chances are good that you’ll keep the loss of such a failure to a minimum if a computer fails.”

One of the most dreadful feelings that you can have is having a pc computer or laptop die that hadn’t been backed up recently; especially if you have valuable pictures, music, videos, documents or other files on it.

In this Tech Tip we’ll take a look at how to recover your valuable pictures from a dead computer.

Where to start

Recovering Data From A Dead Hard Drive – Geeks.com

Computers are complex machines and when they work right, they are fun to use – but when something goes drastically wrong, it can feel as if your world crashed down around you. If your hard drive is still in working order, there is a very good chance that you’ll be able to recover your pictures, music, videos and valuable documents (and other data) simply with another computer; a specialized cable, a screwdriver; and a little time.

Recovering Data From A Dead Hard Drive – Geeks.com

To start off, your best bet it to get a specialized USB cable that can plug directly into your hard drive that you’ll recover from the dead computer. There are several types, and I’d recommend getting one that can handle both PATA (IDE) and SATA hard drives (the two most common used in consumer computers) as well as 2.5” (laptop) and 3.5” (desktop) hard drives (Geeks.com sells several that run in the $13-16 range). You can also use a hard drive dock or external drive cases as well – but personally I find the specialized USB cable to be the easiest and most flexible option.

Recovering Data From A Dead Hard Drive – Geeks.com

Next, remove the hard drive from the dead computer. On desktops it is usually held in with four Philips screwdrivers and on laptops it is usually under an access panel on the bottom of the computer. Remove any cables and caddies that the drive may have – all you need is the bare drive. Then plug in the USB cable into the hard drive (and a power cable if it is a desktop drive – also provided with the USB cable kit) and then plug the other end of the USB cable into a working computer. The computer will then set up the drive ad an external storage device and voilà! you’ll now have access to the files on that drive (provided that the drive is not encrypted or using some type of security feature).

Where to look

Recovering Data From A Dead Hard Drive – Geeks.com

OK, so the drive is now plugged into your computer and seen as an external drive, now what? You have several options. One option is to simply look for the files on the drive from the dead computer that you plugged into the USB port and copy them onto the working computer. This is my preferred method personally. I like to “brute force” my way through the drive with Windows Explorer (or a similar file browsing tool) and manually copy/paste the data from one computer to the other. Another option is to follow a Windows dialog box (that usually pops up when you plug in an external drive) and have it help you copy your data from one computer to the other. If you are manually choosing to “brute force it” personal data is usually stored by default in the computers operating systems “home directory” for users.

Common Locations

for home directories (where <root> takes the place of the drive letter):

  1. Microsoft Windows 95-Me <root>\My Documents
  2. Microsoft Windows 2000/XP/2003 <root>\Documents and Settings\<username>
  3. Microsoft Windows Vista / Windows 7 <root>\Users\<username>

Other “What ifs”

Recovering Data From A Dead Hard Drive – Geeks.com

What if the files on the drives are erased? If they are, you can use a free recovery program such as Piriform’s Recuva to look for and (hopefully) restore the files. This simple, easy-to-use tool is terrific for recovering pictures from a camera’s memory card that have accidentally been erased as well!

What if the hard drive is the reason that the computer died (actual hardware failure)? If the hard drive is the part that caused the computer failure, then you may be out of luck. Yes, there are specialty recovery services that will pull apart the drives data platters and attempt to recover data (and they are usually successful – such services were used, for example, to recover data from the hard drives that were used on computers from the space shuttle Columbia after it broke apart in 2003) but such services are usually very expensive.

A word to the wise

Recovering Data From A Dead Hard Drive – Geeks.com

Backup, backup, backup! Whether using one of the Internet based cloud services or a separate external hard drive – if you make it a habit of backing up regularly, chances are good that you’ll keep the loss of such a failure to a minimum if a computer fails. Of course one of the benefits of using cloud-based backup services is that you can have access to your pictures anywhere you have Internet access.

Summing it up

A computer that dies can be a loss – but don’t lose hope that your valuable pictures (and other stuff) are gone forever. With a little work, you can retrieve your data off the hard drives from a dead computer!

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June 8, 2011

How to Install or Replace an Optical Drive.

Has your desktop pc stopped reading CDs and DVDs and you want to replace it? Do you want to add Blu-ray disc support to your PC? These types of drives, known collectively as optical drives, are extremely easy to upgrade or install. As far as PC components go and depending on functionality, they can be very inexpensive as well.

In this TechTip, I’ll show you how to install or replace an optical drive.

What you need:
● Optical drive (The CD/DVD drive or Blu-ray drive you want to install)
● A Philips-head screwdriver
● An available Serial ATA or IDE cable connection (depending on your drive’s interface type)
● An available 5.25-inch drive bay
● Antistatic wrist strap (optional)

How to Install an Optical Drive, How to Replace an Optical Drive

The first thing you want to do is unplug your pc computer tower completely. You especially do not want the power cord plugged in during this or any time you open the case. Remove both side panels, since you’ll need to access the left and right sides of the case. If your drive bay has a plastic insert or a metal punch-out panel, go ahead and remove both of those to make room for the new optical drive.

If you’re removing an existing drive, unplug the cables connected to the back of the drive. There should be one interface cable (IDE ribbon or SATA cable) and one power connector leading from the case power supply . Once disconnected, you can remove the screws on the side of the drive, or if you have a screwless case, go ahead and unfasten those, too. Slide the drive out of the front of the case and set it aside.

How to Install an Optical Drive, How to Replace an Optical Drive

With your drive bay empty and your new drive in hand, slide it into the bay with the front panel facing outward. Push it all the way in until it becomes flush with the front bezel of your case. It should also line up with the eyelets already punched in. If the holes don’t match up, just slide it in or out to line up the drive’s screw holes with the eyelets and insert one screw and screw it in only partially to hold the drive in place for the next step. Now you want to try connecting your interface and power connectors to make sure they will reach your drive.

More than once I’ve screwed a drive all the way in before realizing my cables will not reach, leaving me to start all over again.

How to Install an Optical Drive, How to Replace an Optical Drive

Both types of interface connectors and power connectors are keyed to prevent improper insertion, so if it’s not sliding in place easily, check the orientation of the connector to be sure it’s supposed to go there. Remember, Serial ATA or IDE, even if your drive has two power connectors, only connect one to the drive. Once you are sure your interface and power connectors reach, screw in the rest of the screws (or make sure whatever knobs, buttons, or levers in your screwless case are fastened). Reattach your side panels and plug everything back in.

A side note for IDE users: If you are using an IDE cable that already has a hard drive attached to it, make sure the jumpers for the hard drive are set to primary and it’s connected to the primary IDE connector. You always want the optical drive to be a slave in these situations since you use it much less than a hard drive and it generally operates with lower data transfer rates. If there are no other drives on the IDE cable, this step is not required.

Another tip: if there is a red stripe on your IDE cable, it should be on the right side of the cable when it’s plugged in.

Once your case is all sealed up and you have everything plugged back in, turn your PC on and, if applicable, insert any included CD/DVD disc(s) into the drive once you’ve booted all the way up so you can install any included software that came with the drive. Once your software is installed (or you didn’t install any), you’re all set. Your new drive should be ready to go.

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May 22, 2011

How-To: Install a New Hard Drive

Installing a New Hard Drive – Geeks.com

The more you use your desktop computer, the more stuff you’re going to be saving to the computers hard drive. Your photos, music, software, and all of your other critical data are stuck on that thing and unless you’re being extra careful, chances are you’re going to fill it to capacity. When this happens, instead of going on a deletion spree, why not just install another drive? If you’re installing a brand new one, this guide will be for you, but if you’re replacing a drive, you should find this helpful as well. In either case, installing a hard drive is very easy and an important skill to have in your arsenal. I’ll explain how to install a new hard drive to a desktop system and prepare it for a fresh operating system installation. If you’re a notebook computer or cheaper netbook user, the same principles will apply, but the connections and the sizes will differ. For the purpose of this guide, I’ll be referencing disk-based hard drives instead of solid-state drives, but the same principles apply for those as well.

What You’ll Need:

“…Before you start touching stuff, make sure you’ve grounded yourself to prevent any electrostatic discharge.”

A hard drive (IDE or Serial ATA) A screwdriver (usually a Phillips head) Four screws (usually included with the drive if purchased new) An available data connection (the cable, plugged into an available port on the motherboard) An available power connector (4-pin large “Molex” for IDE or 15-pin flat “wafer” for Serial ATA) An available drive bay (usually labeled in your case) Operating System Low-static environment or a place to ground yourself

Steps:

  1. Screw in the drive
  2. Connect the data cable
  3. Connect the power cable
  4. Partition and format

Note for IDE hard drives

Installing a New Hard Drive – Geeks.com

Since the cables they use can accommodate two drives per channel, the drive is equipped with jumpers that set its priority on the cable. The settings are Master, Slave, and Cable Select. When using two drives, Cable Select will allow the motherboard to select which drive gets priority on the cable. Otherwise, the Master drive gets the priority and the Slave must wait for the Master’s operations to complete before its own are allowed to go. Since Serial ATA drives are only one drive per channel, they do not require jumper settings. When using a dual head IDE cable and two drives, connect the Master to the middle connection and the Slave to the end. When using optical drives on the same channel as your hard drive, which I do not recommend for performance reasons, set the optical drive to the Slave and your hard drive to the Master setting. Most devices are labeled with the settings for each mode, but in any case, you can check your devices manufacturer’s website for the correct jumper settings.

Screw in the drive

Before you start touching stuff, make sure you’ve grounded yourself to prevent any electrostatic discharge. When you’ve chosen the drive bay you’re installing to, hold the drive in place with the label facing up and partially screw in two of the screws to the side facing you, but only enough to hold the drive steady. From here, check the power and data cables to make sure you have the length. Too many times I’ve screwed the whole thing in to find my one of my cables doesn't reach, enough times that I would be remiss to not pass it along to you. Once you’re confident your power and data cables will reach, you can begin screwing in the drive. Tighten each screw until it’s about three quarters of the way in, then tighten the opposite corners completely. This will help mount the drive securely in the bay and help prevent vibration during use.

Connect the data cable

For Serial ATA hard drives, the connection is very straight-forward. The L-shape design prevents you from inserting it incorrectly. For IDE connections, the red line on the cable goes to the right. Usually the cables are keyed to prevent improper insertion, but I’ve noticed through the years that this is not always the case, so just remember this rule of thumb: red to the right.

Connect the power cable

Installing a New Hard Drive – Geeks.com

Your drive isn’t going to be sending or receiving any data without getting any power. Serial ATA power cables are also L-shaped to prevent improper insertion, but much wider than their data-carrying counterparts. IDE drives use the large 4-pin Molex connectors; you probably have at least three or four of these hanging about in your case. The top corners of these connectors are slanted and the bottom corners form right angles to prevent improper insertion as well.

Partition and format

Installing a New Hard Drive – Geeks.com

Before you can use the drive, you need to create partitions and format them so they can be read and written to. There are a variety of ways to accomplish this, the easiest being just inserting your operating system into your optical drive, booting up your system, and starting the setup process. From here, the software should take you through the rest of the setup and prepare the drive for use. If for some reason it doesn’t, have your “pocket tech support” ready. From there, you’ll be able to prepare the drive for nearly any operating system.

Final Notes

Creating or deleting partitions as well as formatting a drive will delete all files stored on the drive. If you’re not using a brand new drive and you’re concerned about any data on the drive, you’ll need to copy that data to another place first. I personally recommend replacing hard drives every three years or so. A drive’s lifespan should be longer than that on average, but losing important data is a truly heartbreaking experience and erring on the side of caution is my suggestion.

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May 3, 2011

Essentials to Carry in Your Laptop Bag.

For the Geek on the go, there are essentials that you need! Last year Tech Tips covered some of these essentials with “Must-Have Tech Gear To Maximize Productivity Outside The Office”. In this week’s Tech Tip, we are going to cover some of the essentials to carry in your laptop bag as well as offering some guidance for picking the right laptop bag for your life on the go.

The most basic essential

Laptop Bag EssentialsChoosing just the right laptop carrying case could be called getting the most basic essential accessory for your laptop. While there is a wide array to choose from, you can narrow down your search by thinking about how you’ll use your bag. If you a student, then perhaps a laptop backpack would be your style. Is it essential to protect your laptop from unforeseen accidents, then maybe an aluminum notebook case would be your style. Do you just need your laptop lightly protected but easy to carry? Then look at one of the sleeve options. There is also the basic laptop bag – inexpensive, easy to carry and stow away, but that gives your laptop good protection. These come in a variety of materials, from simple nylon to nicely appointed leather. For the traveling set, there are upgraded luggage type bags – complete with wheels and travel handle as well as TSA approved bags for the jet setting Geek.

Laptop Bag Essentials

Whatever bag you get, be sure that it fits your needs. Is it large enough for your laptop (or perhaps too big?). Will it fit all the extra goodies that you want to bring along? If you have an eBook reader or tablet, does it have a special compartment that can easily accommodate and protect this device as well? Does it include accessories such as a shoulder strap, or it is lockable? All these need to be considered for getting “just the right bag.”

Some more obvious essentials

Some of the more obvious essentials to have include three mentioned in the Must-Have Tech Tip as well as a few others:

In addition to those essentials, some others would be:

  1. Laptop Bag EssentialsPresentation pointer (some mice, such as HP Bluetooth credit card mouse, have a built in presenter).
  2. Mini Bluetooth module (if your laptop doesn’t already have Bluetooth).
  3. 3G or 4G modem (if your laptop doesn’t have built in 3G) or in lieu of that:
  4. A cell phone device that acts as a Wi-Fi hotspot (such as Verizon’s MiFi service). This is a great service to have on long road trips where there may be multiple devices that can connect to the Internet.

Some less obvious essentials Less obvious essentials to have in your laptop bag are:

  1. Identification (like a business card) in case your bag is lost.
  2. Some kind of tracking software on your laptop (much like BlackBerry’s Protect or Apple’s Location services for iPhone/iPad). There are software options that can be used to help locate a misplaced or stolen laptop (such as Lojack for Laptops).
  3. Spare battery (but not if you are planning to fly).
  4. Laptop Bag EssentialsAutomobile cigarette lighter DC power cable for laptops or automobile power inverter (also great for long trips).
  5. Laptop travel mat – some kind of surface that allows the laptop to stay put but keep the fans clear and the heat away from you.
  6. Essential cables. Think how you are going to use your laptop – are you going to need a cable to connect to a projector or HDTV. Will you need a cable to connect your camcorder or cell phone? Will you be staying at a hotel that only offers wired Internet, and need an Ethernet cable? All things to think about when looking for items to include in your case.
  7. Cleaning cloth for the screen (even if it is not a touchscreen). Be sure that you get one that is safe for LCD screens.

In conclusion

There are a myriad of essentials and must-haves that you can get for your laptop bag. With this Tech Tip we have looked at the bag itself, some of the must-have essentials to the not so obvious essentials. We encourage you to plan ahead when traveling with it and we hope that this Tech Tip helps gives you some good ideas on what essentials you’d most like to have in your laptop bag

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