Disinfecting a Laptop: Do It without Ruining It!

Disinfecting a Laptop
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Last month we talked about caring for your Apple products, so as to keep them from becoming viral hotbeds. This month we want to make sure to cover the procedure for those of us who use hardware from other companies, especially including Toshiba, HP, Asus, and Lenovo, as they have authorized us here at ComputerCare to help customers with their devices. Doubtless after weeks of working from home, too, our laptops are all a bit dirtier than they used to be. Let’s talk about getting them clean.

First Step: Don’t Cause Damage in the Name of Cleanliness

Even though hygiene is important, we also have to draw a line when cleaning and disinfecting a laptop. Windex or Lysol might seem powerful, but they’re actually overkill and can damage the display or finish on your laptop, especially if an oleophobic coating is involved.

What You Can Use

Isopropyl alcohol is probably your best bet. It is less harsh, even though it still has people divided (and who knows when we will be able to get it again, anyway, given how many people hoarded it two months ago!). A best practice to make sure to safeguard your device is to make a solution of half 70% alcohol and half water (preferably distilled to prevent stains) and then use a microfiber cloth to apply that – very gently!

Never spray any cleaning solutions directly onto your laptop. By applying with a microfiber cloth, you avoid the danger of having excess liquid run through cracks into the internal hardware and wiring. Start with the keyboard, since it’s usually the dirtiest, and then move on from there so that you don’t spread grime from your keyboard onto already clean surfaces. Compressed air will also help you clean the connectors, ports, and other openings. Even if coronavirus is hiding inside, no one’s putting their face against their computer’s ports, so it’s probably safe!

Final Tip

Before doing any of the above procedures, be sure to power off your laptop and unplug its AC adapter. As always, when working with electronics and liquids in any form, it’s best to avoid the risk of electrocution to yourself or the device.

Questions or concerns? Not sure your device is having problems because it’s dirty or because it’s hardware is faulty? Contact us today. We have easy, COVID-safe procedures that allow you to drop off and pick up repaired devices with confidence, so you can send your laptop our way for both repairs and a complete sanitation!

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!

Is There Any Hope If My Computer Won’t Boot?

My Computer Won't Boot
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It’s always a major shock these days if you press your computer’s power button and…nothing happens. Since one of the most common at-home solutions to computer problems is to restart the computer, if you can’t even get it on in the first place, there seems to be little hope of recovery! However, it’s not always a totally lost cause, and even when the computer won’t turn on, a reputable computer repair service like ours can usually still intervene to save the day. Before you bring your device to us, though, here are a few things to investigate.

Power Supply

If your computer or laptop won’t turn on, the problem could always be as simple as a loose plug in an electrical socket or a drained battery. Always check your cord to make sure it’s seated correctly, both in the wall and in your devices power receiver, and if you have a battery-powered device, to give it a little time to charge before trying to turn it on again. If a desktop if plugged in correctly, also check the power-supply switch on the back of the tower to make sure it’s flipped to ‘on.’ If none of these fix the problem and you happen to know you’ve been doing work inside your laptop or computer tower case, it may also be worth checking your internal power cable to make sure it is correctly connected. However, if none of these tricks solve the problem, very likely there is a serious issue with the power supply itself, in which case it’s time to talk to us about a repair

Disk Error

If you can power on the computer but only get an error message about the bootable device, then the problem is a bit more complicated. Either your computer is failing to boot from the harddrive where your operating system is installed, or that harddrive has failed entirely and needs to be replaced. If you are comfortable with accessing the BIOS or Open Firmware of your device to look at the boot order, you can check these problems yourself. On the other hand, if that kind of trouble-shooting feels a bit beyond your paygrade, feel free to contact us for a diagnosis. 

Crash during Boot 

This problem could be caused by either your software or your hardware. We recommend rebooting in Recovery for Macs or running Startup Repair for Windows. This should accurately diagnose any software issues, but if the recovery and repair process fails, then quite likely the problem is rooted in your hardware and you will need expert help like ours to address the difficulty. 

Of course, if you don’t want to deal with any of this, because life is busy or computers are intimidating, we will be happy to help you with any of these concerns for our low diagnostic fee of $49. If a problem does emerge, we waive that fee if you decide to use our services for repairs, so the whole process can be painless and inexpensive for you. Don’t forget to contact us next time your computer won’t boot, as we can always help. 

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.

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!

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