Understanding Your Computer’s Internal Hardware

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Here at ComputerCare it’s our job to think about the physical pieces and parts that make up your computer’s 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: What to Do Next?

        

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 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

Keep Your Data Safe

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Internet privacy is a big topic these days. As more and more companies and services conduct business exclusively online, the more we expose our personal data to the web. Protecting your data can be a daunting task, but here are some tips to get you started down the path of digital safety.

1. Passwords, passwords, passwords
One of the best ways to keep your data safe is to protect it with strong passwords. Make passwords at least 12 characters long. The longer the password the harder for data thieves to get access. And make sure to include numbers, capital letters, and symbols. Don’t use common phrases or number sequences or anything that can be easily guessed. And don’t use the same password for every account. Does remembering multiple passwords that fit this criteria sound like a daunting task? Consider using a password manager. Many use bank-level security to keep your account passwords organized and secure, and many will generate strong passwords for you.

You should also password protect your devices as well. As more and more people rely on phones and laptops for all of their sensitive data, they become an easy way to access that data. Make sure to keep devices locked with a password, or better yet, fingerprint recognition.

2. Utilize a privacy-focused web browser
There is big money in online advertisements. We’ve all seen those banner ads that follow us from site to site, showing us products that we may have searched for in the past. That’s because many websites use tools to track user information. Much of the time, it’s used for innocuous reasons, like targeted advertisements, but it can also be used for nefarious reasons. (If you’re curious about what a browser can find out about you, try a tool like this to see what your browser is sharing about you. Some browsers are set up to be more private, or have tools to adjust what you share, and with whom you share it with. Something to keep in mind: limiting the amount of cookies your browser uses or turning off javascript will allow for more privacy, but it may also affect the way in which you interact with the web (logins and passwords won’t be stored and some sites will not work, for example), but if security is more important to you than ease of use, it might be something to consider.

3. Be careful what you share online
Always be mindful of the information your share with websites. If entering information on a website, like your social security number or payment information, make sure the site is legitimate and encrypted (an encrypted site will show a “https” at the beginning of the URL). Don’t click on unfamiliar links, especially from your email, and especially if they are asking you to confirm information. They may be phishing scams. If there is ever a question of legitimacy, call the company using a phone number from their website and ask for confirmation.

Another way thieves and data mining companies can access your information is with social media accounts. Things like a questionnaire your friend shares on Facebook may seem fun, but it’s also a way for people to glean personal information that can be used to collect personal data or worse, gain access to your accounts. Make sure to check your social media privacy settings to see who can see your information, and never provide answers to common security questions like your mother’s maiden name or the street you grew up on.

4. Keep your computer and devices up-to-date
Out-of-date software and hardware can create ways for people to access your data. When a developer stops supporting an older version of an app or operating system, it gives thieves a chance to exploit potential security holes. Make sure you keep your devices as up to date as possible.

5. Use secure Wi-Fi
It may be tempting to use that free wi-fi at your favorite coffee shop, but public networks pose a variety of risks. When using public networks, make sure to use secure networks whenever possible. If using a public network, even if it is secure, avoid accessing sites that store sensitive data, like bank accounts. Your credentials are at risk of being captured. Also, avoid making purchases. Passing sensitive information to an online retailer leaves it at risk as well.

Many of our devices are set up to automatically connect to the nearest available wi-fi. This setting is meant to help users limit mobile data use, but it also opens your device up to connecting to unfamiliar, and potentially dangerous networks. Protect your device by turning this setting off, especially if you plan on traveling to new or unfamiliar places.

Taking care of your personal data can seem overwhelming, but taking the time to set privacy settings and avoiding convenience for the sake of skepticism can save you a headache in the future. Be safe out there on the webs!

It Loves Me. It Loves Me Not: Or Why I Hate Technology But Need It In My Life

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For many of us, technology is a necessary evil. Something we love and hate in equal measure. We realise its importance in our lives, but find it a chore to use and hate the reliance we have on it.

But why do we love and hate technology?

This may seem like a difficult question to answer, but when you think about it, our relationship with technology plays on our two most fundamental mindsets of fear and love.

For instance, technology used to be expensive and only for the elite, not the masses. This exclusivity plays with our innate nature to long for, or love, something that is out of reach. When we finally attain that all important goal and have the device in our hands, we feel special. We have achieved our heart’s desire. That is until everyone else has one, too. And theirs are better, newer, and sexier. That’s when the hate kicks in as we look at our own devices with derision. Somehow the device we loved only days, weeks, months earlier now seems clunky, slow, ugly — it’s no longer sexy or attractive to us anymore.

This love is further watered down when you think about how many technological devices there are in our lives. If the device you are using is no longer attractive to you then there are plenty more fish in the sea. You can go find a new one and fall in love all over again. It’s like technological Tinder. If your laptop isn’t doing it for you, swipe left and the next device will appear in no time at all.

Then there’s the social aspect. I hate it when my kid is on his phone and he clearly loves using it more than he does me at that moment in time. But on the other hand, I love that I can call or text him at any time I want. Or that I can Facetime him when he is away on a school trip. I hate that he is distant because he is using a device, but love that when we are apart the devices bring us together.

Our homes, cars, and pockets are full of gadgets made to enhance our lives and allow us to be more productive. Yet, because of this ease, we have shorter attention spans, lower retention capacities, and a greater likelihood to allow gadgets to do our thinking for us. The ease of access to technology makes it difficult to accept when that technology fails or doesn’t do what we want it to do quickly enough. We hate it when it slows down or breaks, but we feel that longing that only love can give when it is absent.

This conflict is at the very core of our relationship with technology. We love the things it gives us, but only appreciate it when they are taken away.

If your love for your devices is waning due to damage or performance issues, we’re here to help. Yes, we’re a computer repair store, but this Valentine’s Day, think of us as your technological marriage counselor. We’re here to get things back on track for you and the technology you love. <3

Your devices are probably filthy. Here’s how to clean them.

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They’re in our hands, day after day: our smartphones, laptops, and tablets. They’ve become vital parts of our lives, but do you take the time to clean them like you do with your kitchen, bathroom, or car? Probably not. Here are some tips and tricks to get those devices sparkling like new again.

One important thing to always remember when cleaning your device: Never, ever, ever put liquid directly on the device. Only ever put it on the cloth you’re using to clean.

Laptops

  1. Before you get started, check the manufacturer’s recommendations for cleaning your device. Some manufacturers have different recommendations for different surfaces and materials.
  2. Use condensed air to blow the dust, crumbs, and pet hair out of your keyboard. Before you get started, turn off your laptop and unconnect the power cord. Using a can of air (make sure you follow the instructions on the can), blow out the space around the keys, the various outlets, and those other cracks and crevices. Use short bursts of air to avoid creating condensation. Also, remember to invert and angle the laptop itself, not the can of air. Keeping the can of air upright will also keep from creating condensation.
  3. Clean the outside and inside case. Use a microfiber cloth, or cotton ball or swab, and dip it in water or isopropyl alcohol (90% is best), but make sure to check your make and model’s recommended cleaning materials (Apple recommends against using anything but water). Wring out the excess liquid (and again, never put a cleaning liquid straight on the device!) and use it to clean the hard surfaces of your laptop. It may take some extra work to get all the grime, depending on the condition.
  4. Clean the screen and bezel with a dry microfiber cloth. Don’t be tempted to use a harsh cleaner like window or surface cleaner. It’s not good for your screen! You should be able to clean the screen with a dry microfiber cloth. If you need a little more cleaning power, use a slightly damp microfiber cloth (but make sure you check your make and model for the recommended cleaning materials. Here are Apple’s recommendations.).

Mobile Phones and Tablets

  1. If you use a case, remove it first and clean it. There’s no use cleaning your device only to put it back in a dirty case. Don’t use anything to clean your case that you wouldn’t use to clean your phone. Remaining residue could get on your device and ruin the screen or other surfaces.
  2. Using a soft, slightly damp, lint-free cloth, clean the surfaces of your device with water.
  3. Don’t use condensed air on your phone. Instead, use a dry cotton swab to clean those smaller openings that are harder to reach.

If your hardware is in need of a tune-up, we can help! Visit our local services page to see all the services we offer to get that device working just as well on the inside as it looks on the outside.

Ringing in the New Year: A Tech Checklist for 2019

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Can you believe we’re almost to the end of 2018? For a lot of people, the start of the new year signals the chance to make a fresh start. Maybe that means making a resolution or getting to a task you put off the previous year. Either way, here is a start of the year tech checklist to kick off the new year right.

Updates and Back-ups

Have you, like so many of us, been clicking that “remind me later” button every time your phone or computer nudges you to install an update? Maybe now’s the time to go ahead and catch up on that backlog of updates.

Keeping your devices up-to-date keeps everything running smoothly, so when a problem does arise with an app or piece of software, it can be easier to diagnose.

But before you do those updates, make sure you schedule back-ups of your data. Using this time to make sure you don’t lose a whole year (or two) of photos, videos, and documents is worth it.

Digital Clean-Up

You know that amazing feeling of having an empty email inbox? Yeah, me neither.

Start your year off by trying to get down to inbox zero. It may seem daunting, depending on how full your inbox is, but the end of the year is a great time to wrangle those emails. Plus, it gives you a chance to look back at your year and see what tasks are still outstanding.

Another digital area to tackle is photos. Did you take a selfie with your dog that resulted in 20 outtakes? Deleting old, unneeded photos clears up space on your device, and makes finding those must-keep shots easier to find.

Lastly, delete old apps. Like cleaning old clothes out of your closet, look for apps you haven’t used in over a year. Operating systems like iOS even have tools available to automatically remove unused apps for you.

Change Your Passwords

Still using the same password for all of your apps and accounts that you used in college? Maybe it’s time to switch things up. Changing your passwords frequently can keep your data safe. If you have trouble remembering passwords, there’s an app for that! There are many great password managers available for computers and mobile devices.

Consider a Tech-Related Resolution

Speaking of apps, the great thing about technology is there are apps available to help you use technology less. Maybe your resolution this year is to use social media less, or stop using your phone after a certain time at night. Apps like the new Screen Time app available on iOS 12 have tools to help make those resolutions a reality.

No matter your New Years’ Resolution, we hope you have a great holiday season and start to 2019. And if you need any hardware repair, we’ll be here to help.

Warranty School Part 3: Put Your Warranty to Work

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Many people buy items with warranties, extended warranties, or service plans, and luckily, never need to use them, but in case the day comes when you need to use your warranty, make sure you get the best possible service.

The best way to use your warranty is to make sure you’re covered in the first place. New purchases often come with a stack of warranty information documents in the box—hold on to these! File them (or scan them), with your proof of purchase, in case you need to refer to them later.

Product registration is another way to keep track of your warranty options, and sometimes, in doing so, you may get added benefits from the manufacturer, like priority support, future discounts, and recall notices.

Even though it may be a chore, make sure to read through those warranty documents to make sure you know what is—and what is not—covered. Knowing what to expect if and when you need warranty services may inform your decision, depending on how you use your device, of whether or not to buy additional warranty protection or a service plan. And when the time comes to use those warranties, knowing what is covered will help manage your expectations and ensure you’re getting the best possible service through your plan.

Be prepared to prove your device or machine is still covered by its warranty, extended warranty, or service plan when seeking out service. This will most likely involve providing documentation, such as receipts, a service contract, or product registration (see—we told you to keep that stuff 🙂 ).

Make sure you know who to contact. Depending on the warranty or service plan, you may need to contact the store where you made your purchase, the manufacturer, or a third-party service provider. Some providers—like ComputerCare—cover warranty repairs on certain brands, and can be more convenient than reaching out to the original manufacturer. (You can see what warranty repairs we perform here.)

So what do you do if you’re out of your warranty period, or the damage isn’t covered?

It can be very frustrating to find out your damaged device is no longer covered by its warranty. If this is the case, you can still get it repaired, but it may cost labor and parts to do so.

Do your research. Will the cost to repair your device be more or less than replacing the item? Before you make any decisions, find a service provider who can offer an estimate before repairs are completed.At ComputerCare, we charge a flat diagnostic fee to determine what is wrong with your device (Apple devices are diagnosed free of charge!)—but if you choose to use us to do your repairs, the fee is waived. And before any work is done, we provide you with an estimate, so you’ll know if it will be more cost effective to fix or replace. We charge a flat labor fee, and give you the option to stick to your machine’s brand for parts, or to use a third party.

Whether you’re in or out of your warranty period, we’re here to help! Learn more about our hardware repair services here.