It’s the New Year! Time to Form Some Good Tech Habits

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What with the multitude of devices and accounts we are all constantly juggling, it can be easy to slip into less than secure habits with personal accounts, information, and data. That’s why it’s a great idea at the new year to make good resolutions for our technological lives. Here are a few suggestions for you to choose from!

Weak Passwords

It’s a temptation for us all: reuse the same password on every single site we visit. Sure, it’s easier to remember, but it also leaves every single account open to the same hacker. We recommend using a password manager. Some of the best are paid, but even Google offers strong password suggestions and will save them for you. Just sign out of your browser if you choose this option

 Otherwise, someone who accesses your device can simply use autofill to log into your accounts. 

Leaving Your Devices Unlocked

As a logical extension of the previous point, instituting locks on your phones, tablets, and laptops can also be a great new habit for the new year. Yeah, it’s a bit more trouble to check Facebook if your phone needs a PIN or face recognition, but it also means that if you accidentally leave your phone behind, no one can get in to snoop around. 

Sharing User Accounts

On that note, no sense suffering if your family or friends forget to implement the above advice! For personal devices that you may share with others, like laptops and PCs, make sure that any guests get their own accounts. Secondary accounts on operating systems are easy to set up and ensure that other users can’t make any mistakes with your files or access administrator privileges, and all your information and data remains secure. 

Forgetting to Update Software

Sometimes it can seem like software companies want us to constantly update and download software, and use more space on our drives for operating systems, etc. However, some of those software updates are actually meant to keep users safe from potential security issues, not to mention these updates also fix bugs, add new features, and improve performance. Yeah, it can mean being forced to shut your device down periodically to install updates, but we recommend taking a coffee break during the fifteen-minute maximum an operating system might need to update, and then enjoying a smoother, safer user experience with your device. 

Failing to Back Up Data

We’ve all had it happen: you are working hard on a project, something goes wrong with a device, and suddenly everything is gone and you have to start over. To avoid the frustration, take a minute to go through your programs to turn on the auto-save feature, and then a few more minutes to connect your data to a cloud service. Even just Google Drive or iCloud can be sufficient and save you from big headaches when the inevitable tech glitches come. 

Sometimes, though, no matter what good habits you develop around passwords, data, and software, a device shuts down without warning or the hardware goes haywire. In those situations, give ComputerCare a call. We are always here to help!

Your Phone’s Lifespan is Five Years – Here’s How to Keep it Going!

        

Due to the lifespan of cellphone data contracts (generally two years), many people replace their phone every two years. However, if one of your New Year’s resolutions for 2020 is to take better care of the environment, one good step to take is to keep your cellphone for its entire lifespan. In 2015, research found that the average smartphone lasts almost five years (4.7, to be exact), but we all know that in reality the battery slows down, the screen cracks, the accessories disappear. So, if you are determined to keep your cellphone going for four years or beyond, read on.

Keep it Clean

As long as our phones still have buttons and internal hardware, they are in danger of getting pretty gummed up, especially as they live inside of our purses and pockets – not to mention our hands. For the surface, you can use a microfiber cloth and cotton swabs to get off some of the accumulated grime. If really necessary, a little isopropyl alcohol can also help, but be sure to keep it away from the various ports that lead to the inner workings. If you want to keep an eye on those parts, please swing by one of our shops, since we can easily open up your phone and make sure everything is clean and dry inside.

Baby Your Battery

Another challenge of keeping your phone alive for five whole years (basically eternity, in the case of tech devices!) is the issue of battery life. All device batteries are designed with a lifespan of a certain number of charges (somewhere between 300 and 500). That means if you constantly recharge your battery to 100%, you could be dramatically decreasing the battery’s overall longevity. Even if you do kill your battery accidentally, though, you can always get inside the phone and replace it, or if that makes you nervous, you can bring the phone to us for expert service.

Think about the Accessories

One part of keeping your phone alive is keeping track of charging cords, headphones, and even cases. The older your phone gets, the harder it is to replace these things. If you lose the charging cord for a three-year old phone, you might not be able to replace it if newer devices have a different charging port. Then it’s time to say goodbye to a perfectly good phone. However, a good phone repair store has access to more hardware than even the internet does, so you can also call us if you need a replacement accessory to see what we can do.

Treasure Your Screen

Of course the most fragile part of any phone is the touchscreen. While you can replace broken screens, in many cases phone insurance companies simply exchange the whole phone for a replacement, which defeats the purpose of keeping your phone alive to avoid e-waste. We recommend always using a case to safeguard against those times when your phone seems more slippery than a bar of soap. We also recommend taking a broken screen to a qualified phone repair service (like ours!), as we may be able to help you actually replace it, instead of the whole device.

In short, while it’s not completely simple to preserve your phone’s life for four-plus years, it’s also not impossible. And hey, who doesn’t like a good challenge! Help the planet and rock your phone from 2016 in 2020. If you need any help keeping it up to speed, just open a service ticket with us, and we can help you out!

My Computer Is Slow Like a Glacier. Here Are Some Reasons Why

my computer is slow
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One of the best feelings in the world of tech is getting a new laptop, booting it up, setting up your preferred environment on the device, and then enjoying its lightning fast speeds. Every program runs like a dream. No task takes more than a few seconds.

Fast forward a few years, though, and suddenly every task is laborious. Your computer is slow as molasses. Programs get stuck mid-process. You find yourself ending tasks a lot and losing work just so you can get unstuck and make progress again. This is the least enjoyable part of being tech-dependent, as we all know. What exactly makes it happen?

Overloaded Hard Drive

Before you bring your computer to a service like ComputerCare to ask why it has suddenly transformed into an electronic turtle, one thing to check is the number of programs installed on your device. Every program takes up a certain amount of space in your hard drive, so every time you add one, it leaves less room for your computer to perform other functions. By opening the list of installed programs on your computer and carefully reviewing it to see what is needed and what is not, you can clear up considerable space on your hard drive to allow it to operate more smoothly.

Insufficient RAM

While a program is actively running on your computer, it is constantly writing information to your random access memory (RAM) for quick and easy access. However, some programs may overwhelm your particular device’s memory capacity, especially if the program is newer and the computer is older. When there isn’t enough storage in the computer’s RAM, the program starts accessing the hard drive directly, attempting to write information there. This causes the hard drive to work overtime, which both wears it out faster and repurposes for fast access, which it is not optimized for. If you bring your device to a computer repair service to be checked, before assuming the problem is with your hard drive, you can ask your computer repair service if you are simply running out of RAM.

Old Age is Old Age, Even for Computers

In the end, though, if you’re asking yourself, ‘Why is my computer slow,’ it could just be old age. This is somewhat less applicable to Solid State Drives (SSD), which do not have moving components, but for computers that work with Hard Drive Discs (HDD), the constant spinning of the components inevitably creates some wear and tear. The physical pieces and parts don’t run as smoothly, thanks to their age and constant use, so they start to slow down.

Often, though, a device’s lifetime can be considerably extended by replacing the hard drive with either a larger HDD or an SSD. If you are concerned about your computer’s slowness and want to chat with some experts, start a service ticket here at ComputerCare, so we can chat about the best options for improving your current device’s longevity, or else upgrading to something more suitable to your needs.

When a Hardware Manufacturer Stops Supporting Your Hardware…

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We’ve all had the experience: a favorite device is chugging along, getting a little slower with new updates, maybe getting a little glitchy, but still largely reliable and familiar. We keep putting off getting a replacement, because we’re managing just fine, but then all of a sudden – the device’s manufacturer decides not to support maintenance for it anymore. This effectively means it has reached end of life (EOL). 

Doubtless this provokes a certain tendency to shake our fists and feel persecuted, but in reality, it’s a perfectly reasonable decision on the manufacturers’ parts. After all, they’ve got plenty of new devices they’ve since released; continuing to provide maintenance, updates, and trouble-shooting for older models becomes increasingly expensive when most customers have upgraded to the newer ones. 

However, that still leaves us with the question of what to do with our obsolete hardware. Since many electronics contain heavy metals and other hazardous materials, they can’t just be tossed in the trash can, but there are a few options for EOL disposal that are friendly both to your wallet and to the planet

Donate

Even if your device is dead as a door nail as far as the manufacturer is concerned, it could still be absolutely perfect in a school or at a library or other community organization. Parts can be recycled for tech classes or custom-builds, or the devices can help children or underprivileged adults learn valuable computer skills. Check in your community to see if any local organizations are in need of old hardware. As an added bonus, such donations are tax deductible.

Sell

Companies who work with electronics (especially older machines) are always in need of parts. Even if the main components in your device are no longer viable, computer repair people might need other things like fans, graphics cards, monitors, cords, etc., to help other clients keep their devices up and running. You probably won’t make a big payday here, but you might be able to resell your old hardware for at least a small return on your original investment in the device.

Recycle

While apparently not all e-recyclers are to be trusted for their environmentally safe practices, if you do a bit of research, you can find certified e-stewards who will accept your devices and dispose of them according to BAN guidelines (BAN being an international electronics recycling watchdog organization). If nothing else, you can always take all your old phones and cords and computers to Staples, which is one such certified e-waste recycler. Can’t get much easier than that! 

However, even with the existence of Staples, ComputerCare knows that figuring out the best option for your device’s EOL disposal, based on its age, condition, and components, can seem complicated. That’s why we partner with several e-waste companies so that we can offer our customers a one-stop solution for EOL asset management. We can help with erasing data and helping you find the best destination for your retired devices (donation, sale, etc.). Contact us today if a manufacturer has announced EOL for one or more of your devices, or you have old phones gathering dust in a drawer. We are here to help you out!

Everyone Has a Smartphone…Should Everyone Have Smartphone Insurance?

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We all know the feeling: standing in a cell phone store with a silver-tongued salesperson wondering if we really do need an insurance plan for our devices. A wave of uncertainty washes over us as we envision drowned phones, lost purses, cracked screens, and other disasters. Maybe we should pay the extra $7-$15 a month for safety…

The real answer is that it all depends. 

Here are some factors to consider, so you can answer that salesperson with confidence.

 

  • Are you ready and able to pay the full cost to replace a top-of-the-line device?

If you lose or damage a phone without insurance, most likely you’ll be obliged to replace it at full cost. The price-point for a device purchased as part of a contract-renewal is much lower than the full cost. Where you paid $150 for a phone under contract, you might pay around $650 for the same device at full-price, and if you happen to have a Samsung Galaxy X9+ or an iPhone X, you might be asked for as much or more than $1000 out-of-pocket

If you can handle the payment, though, don’t bother with insurance. The cost of the plane and the deductible for repair/replacement can be as much as $400, depending on the service needed, so you aren’t saving much in the long run.

 

  • The best insurance is called a cell-phone case.

Sure, a case can’t save you from everything (theft or loss, for instance), but a good one like an Otterbox can protect from almost any kind of damage. Even a cheap plastic case can be enough to soften the blow when your phone inevitably slips out of your hand without warning. 

 

  • Are you okay with a refurbished replacement?

Imagine you use a top-of-the-line device and accidentally crack the screen. You’re signed up for Asurion insurance through your Verizon plan, so you contact them to ask for a covered screen repair. There’s no one in your area who can provide that service, so instead they offer to replace your phone for the cost of the screen damage deductible (~$20-$50). The deal sounds great, but when the replacement device arrives it’s a lower-end refurbished model because Asurion has limited stock of refurbished devices to send to customers. If you’re okay with such accidental downgrades, insurance can be a great choice for you. If you really need the best quality in your devices for business or personal reasons, though, insurance may not be reliable enough. 

 

  • Some renter/homeowner insurance policies cover cellphone replacement.

It’s worth checking to see if your insurance already covers cellphone replacement for loss/theft/damage. Most likely it won’t cover minor accidents, but a combination of a good case and a robust renter/homeowner insurance can provide excellent protection for your device.

And of course, another form of insurance that we highly recommend is making friends with your friendly, local computer and phone repair technicians. Here at ComputerCare we are always happy to chat with you about damage to your devices to see if it’s something we can fix for a reasonable fee, rather than forcing you to pay your deductible for insurance-covered repair or replacement. Contact us today if you have questions about repairing a device.

Understanding Computer Hardware

Computer Hardware
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Here at ComputerCare it’s our job to think about the physical pieces and parts that make up computer hardware. We talk in terms of RAM and cards and drives, but even while we’re spouting that jargon, we do realize that not everyone is quite as well versed in the anatomy of computers. That’s why we’re providing this handy guide to the main components so you can understand what we’re looking at when we diagnose your device. 

Motherboard

A computer is a complex connection of parts which all must communicate with each other in order to accomplish user commands. The component which allows for this crucial communication is the motherboard. Every physical piece of your device connects to the motherboard, which is why damage overheating in this critical component can lead to damage of other parts as well. You may also hear a technician refer to the logic board, which is the equivalent to a motherboard in smaller devices like phones and tablets.

Central Processing Unit (CPU)

Any device that processes information needs a brain, and in computers, this is the central processing unit. Other hardware and software in the computer send their commands and input to the CPU so it can interpret and execute them. Thus a CPU’s speed and number of cores are crucial in allowing your computer to multitask effectively. Due to how central the CPU is, bugs and flaws in its operation can cause system-wide problems that may require CPU-replacement.

Random Access Memory (RAM)

Continuing our brain metaphor, Random Access Memory is the hardware piece in your computer that works like human short-term memory. Any information or data that’s being actively used and created by programs on your device is stored for easy access in the RAM component. This allows for smooth, fast operation of your computer’s tasks. For this reason, if anything goes wrong with your RAM, you may find that your programs no longer work quickly, since they have to access information from the Hard Drive instead. This also causes unnecessary wear-and-tear on the Hard Drive, so we always recommend replacing faulty RAM immediately.

Power Supply

This part of your computer receives AC current from external electrical sources and converts it to DC current (a continuous power supply) so that all the other hardware components can function without interruption. The power supply also regulates heat for your device, preventing overheating. A faulty power supply, therefore, can cause heat-based, mechanical problems for the rest of your computer’s internal parts.

Hard Drive (HDD) or Solid-State Drive (SSD)

The hard drive and solid state drive are two options in computer components which act as long-term memory storage for information and data. Whichever your computer uses, these drives serve as the main and largest storage device for your operating system, software, and files. Since the information is stored in a physical component, your computer can always access it, unlike RAM, which empties itself when not actively functioning. In the case of a hard drive, which is composed of moving parts, since the computer is constantly writing and reading information on it, it can wear out and start causing problems for program function. On the other hand, since a solid-state drive has no moving parts but performs the same function, it can offer greater stability and longevity for your device but costs considerably more.

Video Card

So that you can see what’s happening inside your computer, you need a dedicated card that sends graphical information to your monitor (or other screen). This video card attaches to the motherboard. Use of graphics-heavy programs or software (games, design programs, etc.) can overload the video card, causing problems with overheating or RAM access. 

If you’re seeing any problems with the above hardware components, you may want to talk to a computer service about upgrades, repairs, or other customizations. Contact ComputerCare today for helpful troubleshooting and advice!

When Rebooting Isn’t Enough: Issues to Take to the Experts

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Admit it: your heart sinks a little bit every time you see it—the legendary blue screen of death. After all, it involves the word ‘death,’ which is never reassuring. The most pressing question in the moment, however, is not what funeral arrangements are called for, but what you should do with your device. Rebooting always seems like a good call, but when faced with the specter of technological mortality, can that possibly be enough?

Luckily, we are here to help you determine whether your computer problem (blue screen of death or other) is worthy of expert assistance.

Blue Screen of Death (BSOD)

When you see one of these in a PC (or the gray screen/kernel panic equivalent in a Mac), it means that your system encountered such a serious issue, usually involving hardware or drivers, that it had to stop forcefully . If you have the presence of mind, you can note down the STOP code that will appear on the screen so you can look up the cause of the BSOD. If, however, you are lacking the superhuman calmness that would allow you to record this code, it’s always a good idea to bring your computer to a technician who can run diagnostics on your device to determine the exact cause of the BSOD.

Blank Monitors, Jumbled Graphics

Another set of heart-stopping issues you may encounter involve your device’s display. If you turn on a desktop or laptop, only to discover that the monitor remains blank or fills with jumbled graphics, you may have a problem on your hands. Experts recommend connecting your computer to another monitor to see if the problem persists. If the new display remains dark or jumbled, you know the problem is with the computer itself; if it lights up just fine, then you know your problem is with the monitor or screen of your device. Armed with this information, you can take your computer to an expert to ask for advice and support on repairs. 

Eternal Troubleshooting

Not every hardware problem is easy to pinpoint. Hardware problems with the motherboard or power supply may only manifest through odd quirks in other components. Sure you can spend hours switching out different components in an attempt to determine which one is faulty, but not everyone has boxes of spare components sitting around and purchasing new ones can get pricey. That’s why the best solution can be to bring your device to an expert service provide like ComputerCare. Computer repair technicians do have the necessary tools and components to diagnose the exact problem with your computer and replace hardware as necessary. Save yourself the headache of figuring it out by contacting ComputerCare today.

It’s true that plenty of computer problems can be solved with a judicious combination of persistence and Google searches, but sometimes you really do need an expert. If that’s the case, feel free to submit a service ticket to ComputerCare. We’re always here to conduct BSOD post-mortems and even perform a little wizardry to bring your computer back to life. 

So You Broke Your Phone Screen: How to Repair It

        

Need Screen Repair?Touch screen devices like phones and tablets are much tougher than they used to be. Phone screens are more durable, cases are more advanced, and there are many products you can use to add protection to your screens.

But the worst still happens: you drop your phone just right and crunch! Your screen cracks. What do you do next?

Assess the Damage

Is it a small crack, or totally smashed? Are you at risk for cuts if you try and use the screen? Assess the extent of the damage before trying to use your device. If it’s a minor crack, and the phone functions fine despite the damage, you may be able to get by until your contract runs out or you can get it repaired. If it’s serious, and your ability to use your phone is compromised, it’s time to figure out your next steps.

Back-up Your Data

It’s always a good idea to back your phone up regularly. We don’t get to plan when our phones are going to break, so being prepared is always the best option. But if the worst happens, and it’s been a while since your last back-up, try to complete one. If your screen is non-responsive, try completing a back-up with a computer.

Check Your Coverage

Does your protection plan cover accidental damage to your screen? If so, great! You should be able to get your phone repaired with low to no out of pocket cost. If screen damage is not covered, get a quote for the repair. Which brings us to the next question.

Repair or Replace?

Are you close to your next upgrade? Is the cost of screen repair more than the cost of replacing the phone? If your device is new enough, fixing the screen might make the most sense, but for older devices, or more extensive damage, replacing the entire device might be the better option.

No one likes dealing with a broken phone, but we’re here to help! If you’re in the Santa Clara or Seattle areas, ComputerCare handles warranty and non-warranty repairs. And all diagnostic fees are waived for Apple devices! Contact us to get started.

Ways to Waterproof Your Devices (and some pros and cons)

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As the weather warms up, and people emerge from their Netflix-bingeing hibernations, it’s time to go outside! That means your devices will be going outside as well, exposing them to a variety of potential hazards, including water. Whether it’s rain, the ocean, your favorite fishing hole, or that cold beer you’re enjoying on a patio, keeping your device from exposure to liquid is a must.

Here are some ways to waterproof your device (and some pros and cons to go along with them).

Waterproof Cases

Waterproof cases are very similar is size, shape, and function of a normal phone case, but provide waterproof capabilities.

Pros: Waterproof cases allow you to use your phone like you normally would: they provide you access to all the functions a normal case does. In addition to protecting your device from water, waterproof cases can also protect from dirt, sand, snow, food – you name it. Most waterproof cases are rated to a certain depth and a certain amount of time. In most cases of accidental submersion, a waterproof case will protect your phone (though it’s always good to check your case’s specific uses and limitations. Some brands don’t guarantee waterproofness, so make sure this is the case before buying).

Cons: While waterproof cases do let you use your phone like you normally would, they do have to fully cover your device. Because of this, they can make some of the finer gestures of a smartphone harder to recognize, and can make your voice harder to hear. Waterproof cases also don’t last forever. As they wear out, the waterproof capabilities of the case may fail over time, so it’s always good to check for cracks and leaks.

Waterproof pouches and dry bags

Waterproof pouches and dry bags are exactly what they sound like. They don’t enclose a device like a case, but are instead a waterproof bag you can keep your phone or device. Think a more sophisticated Ziploc bag.

Pros: If you prefer to go case-free most days, or don’t expose your device to water very often, you can protect your phone in and around water with a waterproof pouch or dry bag. Compared to a waterproof case (which can run you $40 to $100), they are much more affordable. Many pouches and dry bags float, and are rated for depths deeper than many waterproof cases, making them great for people who enjoy watersports.

Cons: Waterproof pouches and dry bags don’t come with the same drop or shock protection as a case, and they can be much bulkier. While many allow for you to use the touchscreen while in use, they aren’t as seamless as a case might be. Make sure you check for the submersion depth/time the bag or pouch is rated for – some products don’t disclose this information.

Waterproof and Water-Resistant Devices

Are you accident-prone? Do you drop your device all the time? Have you tried to save your soggy device in a bowl of rice more than once? Maybe it’s a good idea to switch to a waterproof or water-resistant device.

Many new phones and devices are much more water resistant that they used to be. The newest line of iPhones, for example, can survive submersion in 3 to 5 feet of water (depending on the model) for up to 30 minutes. These devices will come with a rating: IP67 or IP68. This rating will tell you how long and how deep the device can survive in the water.

Pros: No case necessary, so devices function like normal. You can apply one of the above methods for extra waterproofing.

Cons: While water-resistant, many devices can’t survive long in the water. Also, keep your water-resistant device away from the ocean. Many of the coatings used to achieve water protection don’t do as well with saltwater. These coatings are meant for accidental water contact, so use under water isn’t recommended (using buttons, for example, expose your device to damage).

And what happens if your device loses the battle with water? That’s why we’re here! If all else fails, we can help you fix that water-logged device. Learn more about our local services.

Please, Get a Password Manager Already!

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These days everyone should have a healthy fear of having their identity hacked, their credit ruined, and subsequently, becoming the object of shame from the technically-proficient in their lives. To avoid the heartache and ridicule, tech experts have been doling out the same advice for years now: “Get a password manager already!”

If you’re not one of the 3% of Americans that use a password manager as your primary method of storing passwords, you should be. Aside from avoiding the emotional duress of being hacked, here’s some other very functional reasons why a password manager is a great idea. Perhaps these will convince you.

1. You can store more than passwords.

Password managers can also keep your credit card info secure. Instead of allowing dozens of sites all over the web to remember your info to make your online shopping easy (and super vulnerable to all kinds of hackers), tell them no! Allow your password manager to make that process easier and more secure.

2. Manage Shared Accounts

Do you have a house NetFlix account? Share a credit card with your spouse? Use a smart home security system? What happens when one of you forgets a password? Do you reset it for everybody? How about at work? Do you manage accounts for clients? Password managers allow you to securely share logins and access without passing the Post-Its around.

3. Stop Caring

This one is huge. The mental overhead taken up by accessing and navigating our digital lives can be a real burden. How many times have you gotten a suspicious email from a friend or relative only to hear later that they had to change accounts because the couldn’t log back into their account? How embarrassing! With a password manager, you’ve got one simple thing to remember instead of dozens upon dozens. Take some stress out of your life!

4. Cultivate an Air of Technical Superiority

This one is perhaps the best. Everyone’s been telling you to use a password manager for years. Now YOU can be the one dispensing sage-like advice and turning up a scornful nose at your less proficient peers. Revel in your new found security and look down on the less secure with the enthusiastic disdain of a recently minted non-smoker. 🙂

If you’re considering a password manager finally, see PC Magazine’s review of the top ones here:
https://www.pcmag.com/roundup/300318/the-best-password-managers