Dependent on Your Computer for Remote Work? Keep It in Tip-Top Shape

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During the work-from-home trend accelerated by the pandemic situation, having a working laptop or desktop computer has become all the more important. That’s why ComputerCare has prioritized multiple solutions for device repairs. At the same time, though, sometimes the best solution is not to have a problem in the first place. Here are some preventative care tips to help you keep your computer running at its best.

Keep It Clean

Besides the importance of sterilizing surfaces as protection against COVID-19, it’s also a good idea to remove dust regularly so as to prevent damage to the many moving parts inside a computer/keyboard. Compressed air is a good tool for keeping things working smoothly. If you’ve got time and feel confident in your skills, you can also (carefully) open your tower or laptop to clean out the dust from fans, heatsinks, and other places where collected dust can cause increased heat and therefore a shortened device lifespan. A soft microfiber cloth is also handy to keep around for cleaning screens without scratching them. 

Back It Up

Maybe you’re the sort of dutiful employee who is always busy with other tasks and forgets to have a system in place for backing up files. If you’re working from home, though, having all files and information safely duplicated can be a lifesaver in case something does go wrong with your device. A cloud storage solution usually means you can at least access your documents on your phone, which can be a good way to tide you over if you have an unexpected computer crash.

Organize the Wires

Out of sight, out of mind is the usual state of the many wires that seem to erupt from the back of desktop computers. With a bit of extra time on your hand while you’re working from home, consider using zip-ties or other fasteners to keep everything in place. That way, there’s no danger of getting a foot tangled in a wire and accidentally pulling out an important cord in the middle of a crucial job. 

Give It an Upgrade

Hardware drivers need updates too. If you have downtime while waiting for a remote meeting, check your device drivers to see if any of them have newer versions that can be downloaded and installed.

Now that we’ve realized how dependent most of us are on our devices for our livelihoods, it only makes sense to take time to give them some TLC. Use the tips above to get started, but if something crazy happens, have no fear. ComputerCare can help you out with contact-free repair options that safeguard both your and your device’s safety and security. 

Working from Home for the Foreseeable Future?

        

Here are Some Tech Suggestions

Working remotely was already a trend before the pandemic arrived, but now that it’s here, entire industrial sectors have moved to a remote structure. That change is here to stay for at least the next few months (and maybe forever, in the case of a few companies). However, very few of us have our homes set up to double as high-tech business offices, so the transition hasn’t exactly been smooth or easy for the new work-from-home warriors. Here at ComputerCare we’ve done our best to provide support with COVID-safe services, but we also wanted to give some tips on helpful hardware choices.

Laptop Choices

We’re not just saying this because we’re an authorized Apple service provider, and a Lenovo partner, but we believe that you can get your best results in the work-from-home environment with a powerful, work-optimized laptop. The 2020 MacBook Air gives you the option of working with a quad-core Core I5 processor, which can handle multiple tasks and heavy-duty applications at the same time, while still giving a small, lightweight device you can move around the house with you. Lenovo’s ThinkBook 14S gives you the same advantages for a much lower price, if your budget is tight during these challenging times, but also sacrifices some screen resolution quality in the process. Bonus: ComputerCare can help you with repairs and service for either device if problems arise!

Standing Desk

Sitting down all day and then sitting down all night when you’re stuck at home can be a real bummer (and not great at your health). Investigate companies like Autonomous and Fully Jarvis for various price points and options for desks that convert from sitting to standing depending on your needs on any given day.

Monitors for Better Work Flow

Even if your primary computer is a laptop, sometimes being able to hook it up to a secondary monitor so you can establish a better workflow or look at documents while simultaneously working in a different program makes all the difference in the world to your quality-of-life at work. We suggest a reasonably priced HP model to get you started. That way we can also support you in case of any difficulties that arise with the hardware.

Don’t Sacrifice Video Quality

Now that almost all our jobs rely heavily on video calls, it might be a good idea to upgrade from the webcam integrated into your laptop. Logitech tends to be a highly recommended brand, but is maybe just a teensy bit hard to get a hold of right now! You can check out this article for some other good quality suggestions.

These are strange times, and we know that working at home isn’t exactly everyone’s cup of tea. We hope these suggestions may help you upgrade your experience and handle your workload more easily. And as always, we’re just a few clicks away from providing support for any hardware issues you may have.

Keep Your Phone Clean and Your Health Protected

Cleaning Apple Devices
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If the last few months of COVID-19 developments have taught us anything, it’s that hygiene is way more important than we thought (and we already thought it was important!). In the interest of keeping ourselves and others safe now and in the future, we felt it was a good time to review how we should all be cleaning our devices. We’ve talked about this before, but this time we wanted to focus on Apple products specifically, since we are an Authorized Service Provider, and since Apple products come with their own ins and outs that are a bit different than PC or android devices. 

General Cleaning Dos

For cleaning your Apple devices, you want to use only a soft, lint-free cloth. Avoid abrasive fabrics (e.g., terry cloth washcloths), towels, paper towels, or similar items. Prioritize cleaning with cloths dampened slightly with water only, since there’s no danger of water damaging the finish of the product (although if you are disinfecting, see the steps below). While cleaning avoid excessive wiping or scrubbing, which might cause damage. 

Also, be sure to unplug all external power sources, devices, and cables, so as not to break anything or damage electrical connections while cleaning. On the same note, you want to keep liquids away from the product.

General Cleaning Don’ts

In general, cleaning your Apple devices is fairly easy thanks to their smooth surfaces and high quality materials. You do not need to use strong bleach-based or abrasive cleaners. You also do not need to spray any kind of aerosol or other cleaner directly onto your device, as these may get into the ports and cause damage. Please note that damage from liquids is generally not covered by Apple warranty. 

Disinfect Your Device and Other Accessories

The most important thing here is to turn off and unplug your device before attempting to disinfect anything. Since this process uses a damp cloth, you don’t want to get moisture in any electrical connections. If your device is wireless, remove the battery to avoid any danger of electrocution or damage. Next, take a damp disinfectant wipe (Lysol or Clorox are good brands) that does not contain bleach and gently wipe down the hard, non-porous surface of your device, keyboard, mouse, etc. Follow up with a damp, soft, lint-free cloth, and finally with a dry, soft cloth to make sure the surface is completely dry. If your disinfectant wipe happens to be very wet, make sure to squeeze or wring out the extra moisture. If visible moisture pools on the device, be sure to wipe it up as quickly as possible. 

If you have any questions about the best procedure for cleaning your Apple device (or any other) feel free to call our office for advice. We all want to boost our hygiene practices, but we also don’t want to ruin our electronics in the process!

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.