Recycling your old Equipment

Most businesses cycle their computers every 3-5 years; however, that is not always possible for all of the computers in the office. Purchases are often staggered for budgeting purposes. In many cases, that means that odd computers and technology often gather and before you know it, half a closet is filled with old equipment.

The question of what should be done with your old computer can be troublesome. Computers and old CRT monitors can contain hazardous materials and you cannot dispose of them in your regular trash. Still, you do have a few options. You can either recycle or donate the hardware for reuse. There are many non-profit organizations that will take old computers and either re-purpose them or recycle the physical pieces, and the proceeds often benefit charities. One such organization is RecycleComputers4Cancer. Their proceeds go to funding cancer research and providing technology for cancer patients. The donations are tax deductible and they may even pick up the equipment (this depends on the condition of the equipment). They also take many other items that you may have around the office collecting dust, such as server and network racks, PDAs, phones, mobile devices, printers, and many more.

There are also other ways to recoup some value out of older hardware. There are many online resources for sites which will buy the old equipment and often refurbish it and then sell them online. These sites are much stricter about the age and condition of the computer however, as they are looking for some return on their investment.

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If those are not an option for your business, most local communities often have an electronics store that sells computers or you can contact your local municipality. Most of these organizations will take the equipment for a nominal fee.

Before donating the computer you should leave the system intact and have a technician clean all of the personal information from the hard drive. Drive wiping software can easily do this but can take a few hours to finish. This way you can have the peace of mind knowing that any private data is securely wiped from the drive.

If you need help finding a recycling center to recycle your hardware or a qualified computer company that refurbishes the hardware as a tax deductible donation please ask an M&H technician by calling us at 866-9MH-TECH or email us at support@mhconsults.com

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Understanding Cloud Options: SaaS vs. Iaas

Wikipedia defines Cloud Computing as “the use of computing resources (hardware and software) that are delivered as a service over a network (typically the Internet).” These days the term is thrown around constantly, and while many people have a basic idea of what the cloud is, they may not fully understand the different types of cloud services that are available, and most importantly, the different benefits they can provide.

There are two main types of cloud services that can make sense for small businesses, which we will discuss here: “Software/Storage as a Service” (SaaS/STaaS) and “Infrastructure/Desktop as a Service” (IaaS/DaaS). The primary difference between these two approaches to working in the cloud lies in the scope of what they are used for. Saas/SaaS tends to focus on meeting specific needs and replacing only certain elements of the local work environment. IaaS/DaaS, on the other hand, is intended to completely replace the local working environment by offering desktops and servers that exist in the cloud. There are advantages to both of these approaches, which we will discuss.

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SaaS and STaaS typically are cloud services that are implemented to replace some program and/or data storage that was previously hosted locally. Some examples include using a webbased database program to manage inventory & sales, or to manage customer information (like Salesforce.com); using an Internet-based office productivity suite (like Google Docs or Microsoft’s Office 365); and using a hosted Exchange server for email (like Apptix or 123Together). In all of these examples, both software and storage are being provided as a single service. The primary advantage of using SaaS/STaaS services is that businesses can access and collaborate on certain programs & data, from anywhere, at a fairly low cost. This may be an attractive option for businesses that have only one or two primary programs in use, and that do not mind having a cloud environment that is not fully integrated into the rest of their work environment. Businesses that rely on SaaS will still need to make significant ongoing capital investments in their local IT infrastructure (computers, servers, etc.) because these are usually still needed. Additionally, database and file sharing performance may suffer in some cases because all data must travel between the local computers and the cloud-based servers that are used.

IaaS and Daas are cloud services that are typically implemented to replace the entire working environment for users. Cloud providers (such as CloudConnect) offer hosted desktops and servers, which enable businesses to move their entire infrastructure into the cloud. With a cloud-based desktop, users can log in to their desktop from anywhere, including from mobile devices, and access their full desktop with all shortcuts, programs, & files. The user’s desktop looks and functions the same way whether they’re working in the office, at home, or on the road. Database and file sharing performance is usually excellent because the hosted desktops and servers are located together on the cloud provider’s system. Since the desktops and servers are all hosted in the cloud, businesses using IaaS/DaaS no longer need to purchase new desktop PCs or servers. The primary disadvantage of IaaS/DaaS is the cost, as it is much higher than SaaS/STaaS; however, much of this cost can be offset over time by increasing users’ productivity and eliminating the need for purchasing new computers.

If you have questions about the cloud, or about how cloud services could benefit your business, contact us anytime at 866-9MBTECH or email us at support@mhconsults.com.

How to Find Out What Is Using Your Drive Space

Every time you download a file, save a file or install a program on your computer, you are using space on the hard drive. If your hard drive is getting full, you may want to see how much space various files and installed programs use on the hard drive. You can do this by viewing the size of installed programs from the Control Panel. You can also use a program, such as TreeSize, to see the amount of space used for all of the files and folders on your system.

Instructions

Add and Remove Programs List
1. Click on the “Start” menu and then go to the “Control Panel.”
2. Double click the “Add or Remove Programs” icon.
3. Wait for the Currently Installed Programs list to load.
4. Scroll down through the list to see the amount of space each installed program takes up on the hard drive. It will be marked “size.”

Tree Size
1. Download and install the TreeSize program to your system. Save the file to your desktop and then double click the downloaded file to install the program.
2. Double click the TreeSize icon on the desktop to open the program.
3. Wait while the program analyzes your hard drive and displays the amount of space used by files and folders.
4. Click on the plus sign next to each folder to see the contents of the folder.

Tips & Warnings
• You can free space on your hard drive by deleting files or removing programs that you no longer need.
• There is very little you can do to modify or change the amount of hard drive space used by the Windows operating system.
• The size listed under “Add or Remove Programs” may not always be correct.
• If you are unsure of a file or folder ask a professional IT consultant before removing it.

Web Browsers: The Who’s Who of our Web-Surfing World

Most people know that to view information on the internet, you need to use a web browser; but which one? There are 3 main players in this arena: Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Chrome. While they will all allow us to surf the web, there are definitely some pros and cons for each one. Internet Explorer (IE) is considered the industry standard business-oriented web browser. This means that all business-oriented websites, such as those used by-commerce websites, CRM interfaces, etc. have all been tested and approved to work with IE. Most websites will work with other browsers as well, since those browsers will adhere to the standards used when developing websites, however there can be display formatting issues since there are so many different sets of standards. It also comes preinstalled with most PC computers and updates as part of Windows Update, which can help in making sure it has the latest security updates. On the negative side, it is slightly slower than Firefox and Chrome, lacking in many of the optional add-in modules the other two offer, and has no sync option for backing up and keeping in sync with other computers (such as your laptop and desktop, or office and home office).

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Firefox is number two of the Big Three in terms of performance, and has gained support and compatibility with more complex and powerful websites (such as online databases and financial portals) since it has risen in popularity over the years. One feature shared with Chrome is synchronization. This is an incredibly useful tool and potentially a huge time saver. Many people have lots of different websites that they refer to on a daily basis, and if those bookmarks were to be lost, they would definitely feel the impact. With this feature, you sign up for an account and it then can keep your bookmarks, saved website passwords, your preferences and options, history, and installed add-ons out in the ‘cloud’. It can even do this for smartphones. If they are lost due to a computer crash or some other circumstance, they are easily recoverable. Firefox also has a plethora of add-ons for customizing the browser and is able to be re-skinned to customize its appearance. One rather large drawback is the way it handles tabs – they are all considered one ‘process’ -meaning that if something goes wrong in one, it goes wrong in all of them. This is not the case with IE or Chrome. It is good about recovering the other open tabs but this is not always going to work – if there are 5 tabs open and a video crashes in one, there is the potential that the other 4 crash and can’t be recovered, which can range from a minor inconvenience to a severe drop in productivity.

The new kid on the block is Chrome. Initially considered the browser of choice for the younger generation and techsavvy, it is quickly taking market share from its two competitors-mainly due to its reported performance. In testing done it does tend to rank the fastest of the Big Three, being generally 1.5-2x faster than IE and beating out Fire fox by less of a margin. It shares Firefox’s ability to sync and while it does not have as many add-ons as Firefox, it certainly has its fair share – and that share is growing quite rapidly. However, part of being the new kid is that not everyone knows who you are – in this case, it has the least amount of support from business oriented websites (and by least amount I mean that if 100% of all websites worked in IE, 95% work in Firefox and 85% work in Chrome).

There are certainly other browsers out there, but they do not have nearly the amount of use as the three listed above. We recommend using IE or Firefox at work since they are the most widely supported, and kept up to date during most maintenance cycles. Chrome and Fire fox are certainly options to use at home,as they provide much more customizability but are not quite so widely supported.

If you have any questions what browser is right for you contact us at info@mhconsults.com or call us at 866-964-8324.

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Email for Your Business: Hosted vs. Local

Technology is constantly changing from day to day. Due to these updates there are often changes in pricing and offerings for particular services. One of those services is handling email. There are two options to choose from in most businesses in order to handle email. The first is managing email in-house using software such as Exchange on a Windows server. Then there is the option to use a 3rd party hosted email solution. In the past the pricing for a hosted email solution was not cost effective and did not include several benefits that an in house solution offered. Some things have changed over the past few years to make hosted email a more viable solution. For one the mailbox sizes for the hosted Exchange accounts have increased drastically, mainly due to disk space costs decreasing over time.

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Another shift that has indirectly changed things is that Blackberry has fallen out of favor with most companies due to the rise of Androids devices and iPhones. This is dropping the pricing of hosted solutions as support for these newer devices is a bit cheaper than Blackberry devices. The prices do vary, but most hosted providers charge an access fee of $10/month per device for a Blackberry and only charge $3/month for other phones such as the iPhone or Android. Each solution does have their own pros and cons, so let’s take a peek at them.

Local Exchange:

  • Pro – No monthly fees for Exchange
  • Pro – No cost to receive email on phones
  • Pro – No mailbox limits
  • Pro – Intra-Office email is faster
  • Con – Exchange must be purchased upfront as well as user licenses
  • Con – A server is needed to run Exchange
  • Con – A third party subscription for spam filtering is needed
  • Con – Owner is responsible for maintaining the Exchange server

Hosted Exchange:

  • Pro – No need to buy Exchange or licenses
  • Pro – Spam filtering service is included
  • Pro – No need for a local server for Exchange
  • Pro – If local network is down you can still get email outside your office
  • Con – Cost ranges from $5-$20/month per user
  • Con – Phone access is an extra charge monthly (free to use IMAP or POP though)
  • Con – Mailbox limits (although they usually start at 5GB now)
  • Con – Downloading large emails takes longer

It is important to mention that not all hosted email providers are the same and one should compare each email provider as they may offer very different services and support. There are email providers out there that will provide email services that are much cheaper but at the sacrifice of features. We typically will recommend going with a provider that uses Microsoft Exchange over an account that just provides IMAP or POP3.

If you have any questions about email solutions for your company or any other IT topic that you may have, please contact us at info@rnhconsults.corn or 866-964-8324.

How to Improve My Phone’s Battery Life

Mobile phones have grown incredibly sophisticated, with a growing number performing many of the functions of a full-size computer, as well as some things a desktop computer can’t do, such as navigating with GPS or starting a car. A 2011 Pew Internet Project survey found that 25 percent of smartphone owners do most of their Internet browsing on their phones. The dilemma is that the more you depend on your phone, the faster you’re going to drain its battery. While screen, processor and storage technology has advanced significantly, lithium-ion batteries haven’t changed much in 15 years. Incremental improvements in battery efficiency have been far outpaced by processing power and screen size and brightness, as well as 3G and 4G radios, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth antennas, HD cameras, GPS and a variety of other hardware, all of which require power. To conserve battery life on your phone, turn off what you don’t need, optimize what you do and perform a few tasks manually instead of automating them. You can both increase the time between charges and add to your battery’s usable life.

1. Dim your screen to significantly improve your battery’s life. Your phone’s screen is the largest power draw on the device, and the brighter it is, the more power it draws. Dim it as much as you feel comfortable with. The phone’s automatic brightness setting, which dims the screen in low-light conditions, isn’t as effective as reducing the brightness manually.

2. Set a short screen timeout interval to black out the screen when you’re not using it. If the timeout is very short, you may have to periodically touch the screen to keep it from timing out while you read content. However, if you mostly use the phone for short tasks like checking email or sending SMS messages –battery- consuming tasks when you do them frequently– you’ll see significant battery savings when you have a shorter timeout interval.

3. Reduce the frequency of application updates and syncs. For example, set your social-media applications to update manually instead of automatically, so they aren’t constantly running in the background, or while you’re not using your phone at all.

4. Eliminate unnecessary widgets and animations. On many phones, the bells and whistles on the home screen may use significant resources, especially if they’re updating news or weather frequently, or using animations where a static image would suffice.

5. Disable Bluetooth, WiFi and GPS when you don’t use them. Each receiver or transmitter on your phone uses juice even when it isn’t connecting, and both Bluetooth and WiFi periodically search for devices in the background, using up even more battery charge. Some smartphones include a widget that allows you to enable or disable these antennas when they’re not needed. When you’re in an area without 3G or 4G service, consider disabling them as well, to spare your phone the battery-hungry effort of searching for service that isn’t there.

6. Use the Battery Saver or Power Saver mode if your phone’s operating system has one. These features help you to control the functions that sap your battery’s power, including background apps, widgets, animations and screen brightness. Third-party apps like JuiceDefender or Battery Saver for Android may help you conserve even more power.

eMachines Class-Action Lawsuit

Have you owned an eMachines computer anytime in the last 16 years? If that computer had a floppy drive in it, you may be eligible to receive benefits from a settlement being reached in a class action suit.

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The lawsuit, known as Stroud v. eMachines, Inc., claimed that the defendants sold computers with a defective part that could possibly cause the loss or corruption of data. Both parties have agreed to a settlement in order to avoid further litigation, with a final approval hearing scheduled for March 25, 2013.

Class members will have the option to receive a redemption certificate worth $365 which can be used to purchase a replacement computer from Acer, Gateway, or eMachines. The other options for Class Members are receiving a sum of $62.50 in cash and/or accessories.

The models included were sold on or after December 31, 1997, and are as follows:

eTower Models:
266, 300c, 300K, 333c, 333cs, 333k, 366c, 366i, 366id, 366is, 366i2, 400i, 400i2, 400ix, 400id, 400idx, 400i3, 433i, 466i, 466id, 466is, 466ix, 500i, 500idx, 500is, 500ix, 500ix2, 533i, 533id, 533ir, 533id2, 566i, 566i2, 566ir, 566irx, 600ix, 600id, 600is, 633id, 633irx, 633ids, 667ix, 667ir, 700, 700irs, 700irx, 700id, 700ir, 700ix, 700k, 733i, 766, 766id, 800.

eMonster Models:
500A, 500, 500a, 550, 550r, 600, 700K, 800, 1000, 1000B.

T Models:
1090, 1096, 1100, 1105, 1106, 1110, 1801, 1855, 1905, 3100.

As with any Class Action Lawsuit, time is of the essence. Below are the important dates and deadlines.

Deadline for filing a claim: Post-marked by July 15, 2013.
You must complete and submit a Claim Form by July 15, 2013.

You must also provide documents such as Proof of Purchase and all of the information the Claim Form requires.

For more infor-mation on Claim Forms and your rights in the eMachines Class Action Lawsuit Settlement, please visit: www.eMachinesFloppyDiskSettlement.com.

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If you want to retain the right to sue the Defendants about this issue, and you do not want the benefits provided in the Proposed Nationwide Settlement, you must exclude yourself from it. To do this, you must send a letter by mail requesting exclusion from the Class Action. Detailed instructions for doing so are listed at the website shown above.

If you have questions about this or need help determining whether you might be eligible to receive benefits, contact us today at 866-9MH-TECH, or email us at support@mhconsulting.com

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Maintaining Your Computer

Do you experience slowness with your computer? Frequent error messages when opening or working with files? Low hard drive space or memory problems? Antivirus problems or messages? The average computer user does not often think about the importance
of maintaining their computer, but regular maintenance is necessary to keep your machine running smoothly and efficiently. Just as it is important to maintain your car or home.

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Without regular maintenance, any computer’s performance will deteriorate over time. Computer hard drives become full of unnecessary system files and become fragmented, which slows responsiveness as it takes longer to find all the different parts of a document. Additionally, potential problems that could have been recognized and avoided during maintenance can easily go undetected until a major issue occurs such as a failing hard drive or excessive build up of dust inside a computer case.

Some other examples of this is an outdated or expired antivirus program or there could even be a problem where it stops working all together. While most antivirus programs on the market are reasonably effective, they can sometimes experience problems like any other program; and can stop working correctly. In order to protect your computer, your antivirus program must be constantly updated with virus definitions. Without updates, an antivirus program loses its value very quickly. If some change on your computer interrupts your antivirus virus definitions updates, you may not notice this issue until a virus has infected your computer. A virus can take several hours for a technician to remove, depending on many factors, and often could have been prevented with 15 minutes of maintenance.

At M&H, our “Tech for a Day” maintenance service is comprehensive and includes everything from cleaning out and optimizing the performance of your hard drive; to checking the status of your antivirus software and scanning for malicious software/ spyware; check your system for important software updates; as well as the physical state of the hard drive. We also check the backups of your data to ensure there is a viable backup in the event of a catastrophic failure of the computer. We also check the general health of your machine and make recommendations in order to help you avoid pitfalls and keep your systems running smoothly.

If you have any questions about computer maintenance, or about our “Tech for a Day” service, call us anytime at (866)9-MHTECH, or email us at support@mhconsults.com.

 

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Deciding on a Screen Size: Weigh Your Options

The screen is the primary point of focus on a computer. Replacing the arrays of blinking status lights on early computers, monitors now provide a rich multimedia viewing experience, but the name has endured. A Council for Research Excellence study found that American adults spend an average of 8 1/2 hours looking at screens, while in a scientifically conducted telephone poll by Poll Position, 64 percent of respondents said that they spent four to more than 10 hours a day looking at a screen. According to a 2001 Educational Testing Service research report on the effects of screen size and resolution on test results, several studies also found that larger, higher-resolution screens positively affected user performance, particularly on reading. The screen you purchase should be appropriately sized for your daily tasks, but you don’t want to spend more than you have to. Larger monitors are typically more expensive than smaller monitors with the same features, but size is only one factor of monitor price.

Primary Monitor: For the display you use every day, consider the tasks you most often perform on your computer. If this monitor is for a family entertainment computer, then go for the displays between 24 and 30 inches, such as the Samsung Class 300 at 27 inches. At this size, everyone can sit farther away from the
screen without losing display quality. Newer screens designed for entertainment are more likely to support multi-touch, preparing you for touch-enabled desktop apps and operating systems, such as Windows 8. If you’re a digital artist or photographer, you want a display like the NEC MultiSync PA241W, sized at 24 inches so you can see life-size wide-gamut color images while still sitting close enough to work at a desk. Try a screen around 20 to 22 inches, such as the business-oriented Lenovo ThinkVision L2250P, for frequent document editing.

Aspect Ratio: The 4:3 ratio of the Asus VB195T is closest to Letter size, making visualizing documents for print simpler than on a wider screen. For heavy document editing, consider a pivoting screen. You can rotate them while working so that they are taller than they are wide. The HP DS245V, with a ratio of 16-to-10, is closest to Legal paper size. A 16:10 ratio monitor has the highest pixel counts, also a plus for artists. For multimedia viewing and gaming, a widescreen aspect ratio of 16:9, the same format as HDTV, eliminates black bars or distorted picture. This aspect ratio is the most common one sold.

Considerations for Laptops: Laptop screen size affects both battery life and portability. The larger your screen, the larger the laptop frame, which increases the weight of the computer. For a laptop, a small screen is 13 inches and a large screen is around 18 inches. The larger screens can also be hard to hold or use in smaller spaces, such as trains or airplanes — a concern if you travel frequently. Comparing the 14 inch Dell XPS 14z with the Dell XPS 15z at 15 inches, the extra inch of screen gains you 1.18 pounds and 1.6 inches of width. Larger screens need more power to function too, so to maximize your battery life, you should minimize your screen size.

My PC is infected again?

At M&H Consulting, we have noticed an increasing trend of virus infections that, after removal, come back and re-infect the computer after a time of normal use. In the past this has certainly been possible, however it was much less common than it is in the present. What should one expect in a situation like this?

A little background in how the more common viruses operate might shed a little light on the subject. Most viruses come into the computer using what is called a Trojan horse. As the term implies, it is a small program that when running opens a backdoor into your computer for a hacker or their automated program to remotely be able to compromise the system. This can mean controlling the computer, stealing critical system information, and being able to download and run programs. The longer a Trojan horse is active on a computer, the larger the infection tends to be, which translates to more virus and malware files and programs running. This also makes it more difficult to remove the malware from the computer, if it is even possible in a reasonable amount of time.

A typical scenario where this might apply would be when a user unknowingly gets infected with a virus. This could come from an infected e-mail attachment, an infected website, even from an infected add-on from a secure website- those adds are typically outsourced to third party vendors who may or may not be constantly vigilant on their content. They now may get pop-ups when going to websites, pop-up windows that might look innocent but are in fact infecting the computer with additional rogue programs (such as Antivirus 2012 or Malware 2012 -and want to charge you to remove the software they loaded in the first place!) They will often get false readings in these pop up windows that say their system is infected with thousands of virus and malware files when in fact they are not, and by following the prompts get infected.

We have seen that typically a virus removal can take 2-3 hours (sometimes less, sometimes more, depending on the severity of the infection). Industry respected removal tools are typically used and one can be reasonably certain the infection will not come back; however, this cannot be guaranteed. The people who write these viruses and Trojan horses are quite crafty- they have developed ways of embedding their programs into the actual operating system so that anything short of a full format and reinstallation of windows will not work. Also, we find that for serious infections, it makes more sense to just format and re-install after spending a little time removing the virus. It does not make economic sense to spend 5 to 6 hours removing an infection that is not guaranteed to be completely clean when we can spend a little less time (and our client’s money) to fully re-install windows and transfer any data back onto the computer, and guarantee removal.

A good practice for any individual is to periodically update and run anti malware utilities. M&H Consulting does this every visit for clients who are enrolled in our Tech for a Day maintenance program, as part of proactively detecting and preventing malware infections.Users are encouraged to do this with their home computers as well.

For any further information or questions, please do not hesitate to contact us at 866-964-8324, or e-mail us at support@mhconsults. com.