Author: Elijah Hopkins

Recycling Spotlight: Flastscreen Televisions

Recycling Spotlight: Flastscreen Televisions

Recycling Spotlight: Flatscreen Televisions

Ever wonder what goes on behind the scenes at PC Pro? We say we recycle your old electronics, but what really happens? Follow us to see what happens to each and every component in the devices you donate. This week, our focus is on the wide variety of televisions that come through our shop, ranging from 19" fluorescent-lamp-powered LCDs to plasma screens and 70" LED displays.

A large, dusty plasma television with the back panel removed
Some plasma televisions can be humongous. This one also had spiders inside.

By and large, most of the televisions that are donated to us simply have broken screens. That means that with a little bit of technical knowledge and the right tools we're able to harvest the remaining usable components (and don't forget the stand the television is on - imagine if yours broke and you needed a replacement). This is how we make money and also helps pay for recycling the raw and hazardous materials these televisions contain. If you're comfortable using both Ebay and a screwdriver, you could do this yourself at home while following basic safety precautions. Of course, if the television is broken for any other reason, it gets the typical PC Pro treatment of a full diagnostic check to identify which parts are still usable and which need to be recycled. If there's a chance a part will break, there's a chance someone is looking for a replacement. Reuse is even better than recycling!

A clean plasma television with the back panel removed
Other plasma televisions are much better to work with, but still more difficult overall.

Most recent flatscreen televisions come in three types: Liquid Crystal Displays (LCDs) using fluorescent bulbs, LCDs using Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs), and plasma displays, which are illuminated by gases trapped inside the display. As you might imagine, there are hazardous materials in just about every television. Fluorescent bulbs contain mercury, plasma and LCD displays contain heavy metals like beryllium, chromium, cadmium and occasionally lead, and many contain toxic flame retardant treatments.

A plasma TV open on a workbench with the internal components stacked on top of each other.
Once all the usable parts are out, you should give the rest to a recycler.

It's easy getting the valuable parts out of a television - you usually just unscrew the back cover to easily access every component. It's much harder to separate the rest of the television for recycling, which is why it is recommended to take the whole display to a recycler and pay a fee to have them process it the rest of the way. We do this separation in house, but we're ultimately left with an LCD screen, fluorescent lamps or a plasma display that we still have to pay a processing facility to take off of our hands. If you go in blind, you are very likely to break a fluorescent bulb or end up with powdered glass all over your skin from a cracked LCD screen. Don't ask us how we know.

A photo montage of a television that has been shot and the bullets recvoered from it
One television owner was mad enough at their TV that they shot it 6 times. Here are the bullets we recovered.

All in all, it can take up to an hour or two and a few cut fingers to completely separate some of these televisions. With a little experience, and a little patience to remove the 20 parts from a plasma television, it gets much easier, faster and safer.

E-Waste Recycling Spotlight: Desktop Computers

E-Waste Recycling Spotlight: Desktop Computers

Recycling Spotlight: Desktop Computers

Every wonder what goes on behind the scenes at PC Pro? We say we recycle your old electronics, but what really happens? Follow us over the coming weeks to see what happens to each and every component in the devices you donate. Last week, we discussed laptop batteries. This week, our focus is on those big, bulky machines gathering dust in your office or garage: desktop computers.

Desktop PCs come in a variety of sizes ranging from just a few square inches to hundred-pound steel behemoths, but they all have similar guts. Major components inside desktop PCs include the motherboard, power supply, memory or RAM, hard drive or solid state drive, and a number of other common or uncommon peripherals. After a comprehensive test to identify any faulty or broken components, a thorough cleaning is typically required before we harvest the working parts to refurbish and sell. We use an antistatic electronics vacuum and electric canned air to get most of the hard work done. Trust us, once you use electronic canned air, you will want to dust everything in your home.

Electrostatic vacuum and electric canned air cleaning out the inside of a computer case
Our antistatic vacuum and electric canned air are must-have tools for a technician

Not all of the working parts are usable right away. In many cases, the computers we receive store personal or professional data that must be properly dealt with. We always offer to return all personal data to the client on an external hard drive or thumb drive. In all cases, whether we find client data or not, we securely wipe the hard drives using industry standard data erasure standards to be sure that no data can be recovered. In some cases, this process can take several hours per device. If the hard drive is unusable, we simply disassemble it and separate the parts for recycling - passing the data platters of the hard drive over a strong magnet (a process caled dagaussing) ensures no client data is recoverable. Throughout this process, we use a dual-bay hard drive dock that you can see in the photo below.

Hard drive dock with Colorado PC Pro
We use an external hard drive dock to recover your data and format your drives

Once all usable and recyclable components are removed, we are still left with a massive steel skeleton. Typically, these leftover computer shells still have some good parts, specifically the power and reset buttons, card readers and other small gadgets built into or onto the case itself. We even keep or sell the front bezel from each computer to limit the amount of plastic entering the waste stream. If a computer part could possibly break, and if someone might possibly want to fix it, we retain the part for our ever-growing inventory and expand our online store, which you can visit here if you're curious.

Colorado PC Pro takes apart a computer case for parts
Now that everything is clean and removed from the case, we can deal with the parts individually.

After all remaining parts and plastic are stripped off the case chassis, it is broken down with a hammer and crowbar, flattened into manageable sizes, and stored until we accumulate nearly a half-ton of scrap metal. Wondering how many computers it would take to yield a thousand pounds of scrap steel? It's anywhere from 50 to 200! We could use your help growing our scrap pile, so if you have a laptop or desktop to donate, no matter what condition it's in, contact us today and ask if we are running any promotions. You may be able to get a $10 Visa gift card or similar reward!

Once the entire process is said and done, the only parts left behind are several chunks of plastic. These are broken down into smaller, more manageable pieces and collected for later recycling. It can be very rewarding turning a giant hunk of metal and wires into useful, reusable and recyclable components. Every device donated contributes to a healthier environment and injects a small amount of money into the local economy and small business community.

Donate your broken or used electronics today!
E-Waste Recycling Spotlight: Laptop Batteries

E-Waste Recycling Spotlight: Laptop Batteries

Recycling Spotlight: Laptop Batteries

Ever wonder what goes on behind the scenes at PC Pro? We say we recycle your old electronics, but what really happens? Follow us over the coming weeks to see what happens to each and every component in the devices you donate. This week, our focus is on one of the most likely components to go bad in your laptop: the battery.

Most modern laptop batteries are the rechargeable lithium-ion (Li-ion) type. Inside the black plastic shell of your laptop battery is anywhere from four to twelve individual cells, shaped like your household AA battery but around twice the size. Over their lifespan, these batteries degrade for a number of reasons including overuse, underuse, improper storage or manufacturing flaws. Once one or more of these cells lose their ability to perform properly, your laptop battery as a whole may stop working. Once that happens, the battery is typically replaced and discarded even though most of it is likely still useable.

Bad lithium-ion laptop battery 18650 cell
One of the cells in this laptop battery has leaked electrolyte and failed, causing the whole battery to stop working

That's where we come in. With some simple tools and a bit of knowledge, these laptop batteries can be torn down, separated and tested for safety, capacity, and a number of other characteristics. We use the Zanflare C4 Smart Charger, capable of testing four cells at a time, to test all of our batteries. It's not fast by any means, but it gives us a way to keep hazardous e-waste out of the landfill and make a few bucks every once in a while. In fact, it took us over a month of nonstop testing to test all of the batteries shown in the photos on this page. Hobbyists are always interested in purchasing tested lithium-ion batteries for use in Tesla Powerwalls, vape pens and portable electronics, and we intend to get them into the right hands.

Laptop lithium-ion 18650 batteriy cells
300 individual cells were recovered from donated laptop batteries in March

Caution!

Of course, there are safety concerns. We have to keep fireproof containers on hand to store damaged or dangerous batteries. Additionally, a good portion of the batteries we test fail to meet quality standards. That means we have to store these little sticks of dynamite by the dozen until they can be recycled through a larger facility. Piercing a lithium-ion battery causes a short-lived inferno that is capable of burning a house down. If you plan on recycling these at home, store them insulated from one another to keep the contacts from touching and possibly causing a short. Tape works to cover the ends of bad batteries, but you can buy storage trays for batteries you plan on keeping.

Lithium Ion battery exploding outside
This is what one exploding battery looks like. Stay safe if you're storing hundreds. Photo credit: FliteTest; https://youtu.be/0nrsoMsEMNU

Donate Now

Do you have electronics to donate for reuse or recycling? Call us at (719)345-2345 or e-mail coloradopcpro@gmail.com. We provide free in-home and in-business pickups and will arrange transportation for larger donations. Rest assured, we erase your data securely and can even give it back to you on an external hard drive or thumb drive upon request.

13 Windows Shortcuts You Never Thought You Needed to Know

13 Windows Shortcuts You Never Thought You Needed to Know

13 Windows Shortcuts You Never Thought You Needed to Know

Ever find yourself wondering if there is a better way to navigate around Windows? Well, neither did I, and that's why you never thought you needed to know these Windows keyboard shortcuts. With a bit of practice, you could make everyday tasks take no time at all and whiz through online forms like a veritable finger ninja. To start, we'll explore a few shortcuts that everyone should know.

Colorado PC Pro Keyboard Shortcuts for WIndows

The Basics

[CTRL] + scroll your mouse, or [CTRL] + [+] or [-]: Zoom. In most applications and in Windows itself, you can hold the [CTRL] key on your keyboard and scroll your mouse wheel up or down to zoom in or out. If you can't read text on a certain web site, quickly zoom in with this shortcut and it won't affect any other open windows or tabs. If your mouse doesn't have a scroll wheel, you can press the plus or minus keys instead.

[PRT SC], [WIN] + [PRT SC]: Take a screenshot. If you press the [PRT SC] button, also called 'print screen', a screenshot of everything on your monitor will be saved to your clipboard. That means that you still have to 'paste' your screenshot into a photo editing application like Paint or GIMP to see it. If you hold the Windows Logo key (in the lower left of your keyboard) before pressing [PRT SC], the screenshot will automatically be saved to your 'Pictures' folder in a folder named 'Screenshots'.

[CTRL] + [C] and [V]: Copy and paste. It's easy to remember that 'C means copy'. You can remember where the 'Paste' button is because it is right next to the 'Copy' button. Copying will copy any selected text or file and save it until you 'Paste' it somewhere else, without removing the text from the original source. If you want to 'Cut' your text out of the original source, you can use [CTRL] + [X], which is 'Cut'. Just remember that the [X] looks like a pair of scissors.

[CTRL] + [A]: Many people have problems precisely selecting text using their mouse. Instead of using your mouse at all, you can press [CTRL] + [A] to automatically select everything in a field, or all the files in a folder. You can also double-click your mouse to select a single word, or triple-click your mouse to select an entire sentence.

[TAB]: Advance the cursor. When navigating an online form, you can press the [TAB] key to move your mouse pointer from one field to the next. This is really convenient when you have to type in a lot of small bits of information because you no longer have to move your hands back and forth between the mouse and keyboard.

[SHIFT] + [TAB]: Retreat the cursor. This shortcut does exactly what pressing [TAB] does, only in reverse. If you notice you accidentally misspelled something in the last text field, you can [SHIFT] + [TAB] your way back without having to reach for the mouse.

[ALT] + [TAB]: Cycle through open windows. Holding [ALT] and pressing [TAB] will cycle through all open applications or windows, once for each press of the [TAB] key. This is useful if you have many applications open simultaneously and your task bar gets too cluttered.

Colorado PC Pro Keyboard Shortcuts for WIndows

The Function Keys

It's very likely a majority of readers have never had a use for the function keys that seem to be leftover from the MS-DOS days. I'm talking about that extraneous row of keys labeled [F1] through [F12] right above the number keys. While they may seem useless, many laptops have secondary functions such as brightness or volume control built into these keys.

[F2]: Rename. Have you ever had to rename a ton of files? Moving your hands back and forth between clicking and typing takes up a lot more time than you think. Simply press the [F2] button with a file selected (bonus points for selecting a file using the arrow keys) and start typing a new name.

[ALT] + [F4]: Close window. When you're done with one window or application, you can simply hold [ALT] and press [F4] to get it out of the way. This is especially useful if you just need to get back to the window under the one you're using.

[F5]: Refresh. This works for windows and web browser tabs as well. Pressing the [F5] key will refresh the web site you are currently viewing. Handy!

frequently asked questions

The Windows Button

Many advanced shortcuts are available by pressing the WIndows Logo button (we call it [WIN]) in combination with other keys. Feel free to skip this section if advanced shortcuts aren't something that sound exciting to you.

[WIN] + [X]: Power user menu. Our favorite shortcut here at PC Pro, this combines many useful tools into one convenient menu; for example, pressing [WIN] + [X] gives you one-click access to the Control Panel, Power Options, Event Viewer, Disk Management and more.

[WIN] + [P]: Projector modes. Holding down the [WIN] key and pressing [P] will cycle through projector modes for each press of the [P] key. Many display problems can be solved by simply trying this shortcut after accidentally switching a setting.

[WIN] + [D]: Desktop. Need to get back to your desktop quick? Pressing [WIN] and [D] at the same time will minimize everything you're working on and take you there. Press the keys again and all of your windows will return to their original position.

We hope you enjoyed this post and learned even one new shortcut. Feel free to comment below with your thoughts, or share your favorite shortcut with everyone else! Give us a call at (719) 345-2345 to schedule an in-home computer service or repair today, or e-mail us at ColoradoPCPro@Gmail.com. Thanks!

What is Bitcoin and Why Should Everyone Care?

What is Bitcoin and Why Should Everyone Care?

Bitcoin has received much attention from mainstream media outlets this year, and for good reason: since January 2017, it has risen in price from around $800 to almost $20,000. Many speculators consider the current Bitcoin boom to be a bubble, but others hold onto hope that Bitcoin may rise to $100,000 or even $1M in years to come. For such a young currency, Bitcoin has made significant waves in the financial industry; however, it is still widely misunderstood by the public at large.

What is Bitcoin?

Bitcoin is a currency, much like the U.S. Dollar. What separates it from any normal currency is that it is decentralized, meaning no institution or organization centrally manages transactions, nor could they even if they wanted to. Instead, Bitcoin operates on a peer-to-peer basis; that is, transactions are recorded publicly and distributed throughout the Bitcoin network at regular intervals of roughly every 10 minutes. This running trail of transactions is called the Blockchain, and serves as the 'central bank' for Bitcoin. Discrepancies in the transaction logs are reconciled on the basis of popular vote, so double-spending and fraud are virtually eliminated. If that sounds confusing, don't worry, because it is! Essentially, money is transferred by publicly announcing the transfer from sender to recipient. Everyone on the blockchain receives these notices. If someone attempts to spend the same Bitcoin twice, their second transaction will be denied by the Bitcoin network because the first transaction will have already posted to the blockchain.

Bitcoin security and Colorado PC Pro
Bitcoin is secure enough that some nations hold a portfolio

Should You Trust Bitcoin?

Part of what makes the Bitcoin network successful is it's transparency. The complete inner workings of the Bitcoin network are open source, meaning any developer can view the very code that runs the platform. This transparency helps researchers and developers evaluate the security and effectiveness of the math behind the movement, and so far, everything checks out. The biggest threat to the network is actually the inability of many users to adequately protect their holdings. Any hacker who manages to locate the private Bitcoin key on your computer effectively owns your Bitcoin, and humans are notoriously bad at managing their own security. A simple virus, or even a hard drive crash, could cause someone to lose the key to their wallet and their Bitcoin forever - if this sounds intimidating to you, contact an expert (like Colorado PC Pro) prior to investing in Bitcoin.

Bitcoin miners and Colorado PC Pro
Specialized computers are used to mine Bitcoin.

What is Mining?

Easy answer: Mining is the way new Bitcoins are generated. Millions of computers (miners) contribute their processing power to solve difficult math problems which effectively balance the Bitcoin checkbook and earn them a small reward of Bitcoins.

Complicated answer: A 'Bitcoin miner' is simply a number-crunching computer on the Bitcoin network. Bitcoin mining forms the backbone of the blockchain. Again, the blockchain is essentially just the ledger of all Bitcoin transactions ever made and is shared among all users of the Bitcoin network. When I said that transaction logs on the blockchain are reconciled by popular vote, I didn't mean that you or me get to decide - that is left up to Bitcoin miners. During those 10 minute transaction cycles I mentioned earlier, Bitcoin miners turn pending transactions into mathematic puzzles and race to be the first to solve them.

The first miner to solve the problem, which is most likely actually a large pool of smaller miners, receives 25 Bitcoins (roughly half a million dollars at the time of this writing) and shares the solution with all the other miners currently working on the problem. Once all miners are in agreement that the solution has been found, these transactions are written to the end of the blockchain and distributed across the Bitcoin network. The financial reward for solving the problem provides the motivation for becoming a Bitcoin miner, preventing any one group from monopolizing all of the mining power and writing false transactions to the ledger. Essentially, everyday people like you and me can contribute our computer power toward Bitcoin mining and receive a very small payout in return. Many companies exist that will use your computing power to contribute to a larger mining pool and pay you a fraction of each successful mining cycle based on your participation.

Bitcoin wallet and Colorado PC Pro
Bitcoin can be stored in digital or physical wallets.

How Do You Store Bitcoin?

Easy answer: most users can simply download a popular Bitcoin wallet application, like Electrum, to store their Bitcoins much like PayPal can store their dollars. You access this application with a password and can send and receive money from the visual interface. You can also use an online Bitcoin wallet, which is considered less secure but can be more accessible.

Complicated answer: This is where Bitcoin gets the name 'cryptocurrency' from. A Bitcoin 'wallet' is simply a random string of numbers and letters that tell people where to send money (My Bitcoin address is 1BvtEfQGcY3fxsoBwL7nKMLBSjx4g2Poy5). This random string is generated from a private key (a much longer string of numbers and letters) that you can keep digitally or on paper. Keeping this private key totally private is absolutely essential to retain ownership of your Bitcoins. Think of it this way: your private key can be used to easily generate your Bitcoin wallet's address, but your bitcoin wallet's address cannot be used to reverse-calculate your private key: reversing the calculation is mathematically infeasible using current technology.

This public/private key infrastructure is the basis of Bitcoin cryptography and also how the modern Internet works. You need your private key, which proves you are who you say you are, to send money, which includes sending it to an exchange to convert it into physical currency like U.S. dollars. If someone else takes possession of your private key, they effectively become the new owners of your Bitcoins. In this case, possession is ten tenths of the law.

 

How To Buy Your First Bitcoin

Before you buy your very first fraction of a Bitcoin, you need to choose a wallet where it will be stored. You can compare wallets and wallet types at Bitcoin.org. Once you've chosen your wallet, set it up and received your Bitcoin address, you can choose an exchange to purchase your first Bitcoin. As described on the Exchanges page on Bitcoin.org, "exchanges provide highly varying degrees of safety, security, privacy and control over your funds and information", so choose wisely from a list of reputable vendors. Once you've purchased your Bitcoins, you should find it in your wallet near-instantly - there are no wait times for transactions like you normally experience with centralized banks. Keep in mind, you do not need to buy a whole Bitcoin. As prices increase, one Bitcoin is quickly becoming out of reach for normal investors. Millionths of a Bitcoin are called Bits, and there are other denominations called mBTC and Satoshi out there, as well.

Bitcoin altcoin and Colorado PC Pro
Tons of 'altcoins' are available to choose from

What Are These Other 'Coins' On The News?

Bitcoins started a revolution of digital, anonymous, cryptography-based currency that is booming today. In fact, there are well over a thousand variations of cryptocurrency, each practicing their own method of blockchain transactions and mathematic cleverness. Some of the names of these 'altcoins' are Ethereum, Ripple, Bitcoin Cash, Litecoin, or Dash. You could think of many of these as the penny stocks of digital currency, but some of them approach the field in truly novel ways in an attempt to perfect what Bitcoin started. Once you're comfortable with Bitcoin, you could think about moving into the altcoin market as a speculator or day-trader. Keep in mind, however, that many of these altcoins exist only to scam people out of their hard-earned money.

Should You Invest?

The ultimate question of whether or not you should invest is entirely dependent on your investment strategy. Bitcoin is not a 'get rich quick' scheme, nor is it a new technology. In fact, it is among the most volatile currencies publicly available to trade. If you decide Bitcoin is for you, ensure you have a thorough understanding of the market and the risks involved. Although it should go without saying, I am not a financial advisor and this blog post is only meant to provide information to those curious enough to seek it. Nothing I've described in this post should be interpreted as financial advice and, in fact, you should seek the assistance of a financial advisor if you decide to invest in Bitcoin or any other cryptocurrency.

What Computer is Best for Senior Citizens?

What Computer is Best for Senior Citizens?

What computer is best for senior citizens?

Many of my clients look at me in shock when I tell them we don't recommend any computers for the elderly. Yes, you read that right. We just don't do it. Why? Because we don't think simply being a senior citizen places you in a separate category as a technology consumer. Here at PC Pro, we aim to find a solution to any problem that comes through the door - and often that solution is to educate and empower our clientele to take control of the technology in their lives. You shouldn't struggle to find a computer that can fit your lifestyle or navigation method, and with PC Pro, you won't. Here's a hint: it's because we can make them all fit your lifestyle!

What I think people really mean to say, when they ask me that question, is one of two things:

  1. How can I save the most money by eliminating features I won't ever use anyway?
  2. What computer has the accessibility, ease of access and navigation features I need now that I don't see, hear, or move around all that well?

I'll address these questions individually. Keep in mind, both of these considerations may be something you care about.

colorado pc pro business card on a table with succulents

The Penny Pincher

If your primary concern is not overspending on a machine that you won't be able to use to its full potential, then you're in luck. The entry-level computer market is booming and shows no sign of slowing down. Even better, Black Friday and Cyber Monday are right around the corner and promise to deliver the deepest discounts yet on sites like NewEgg and TigerDirect. So, what should you buy? Your cheapest option will be a stationary desktop computer, which allows for easy upgrades and cheaper repairs. More expensive are laptops, which provide portability in exchange for repairability and power. Whatever you need, you should look for the following minimum specifications:

Processor: Intel Core i3 or better
Memory/RAM: 4GB (Gigabytes) or more of DDR3 or DDR4 RAM
Hard Drive: 320GB or more, depending on media storage needs
Operating System: Windows 10 Home 64-bit
Graphics: Any NVidia or AMD graphics card

If your computer usage is limited entirely to browsing the Internet and other very basic functions, you could also save a ton of money and hassle by purchasing a special type of laptop called an 'Ultrabook' or 'Chromebook'. These very lightweight laptops are actually so stripped down they don't even have a Windows operating system - they run entirely off of web-based (Google Chrome) apps and utilize the Cloud for file storage and processing. You can pick them up for far less money than traditional laptops, if you don't need all the traditional bells and whistles.

Expect to pay anywhere from $300 to $500 for a quality computer in this category.

A computer on a technician's desk

The Voice Activator

Now, if your primary concern is accessibility, ease of access or special navigation features - think voice control, on-screen keyboards, text-to-speech screen readers, and more, the answer is not much more complicated. Modern operating systems, specifically Windows 10, now come with amazing and powerful built-in features. Cortana allows you to do tons of things just by asking for them out loud, or you could dictate entire e-mails using Google Chrome extensions in Gmail. The ease of access center, far evolved from the Windows XP days, is robust and easy to use. With that in mind, we would recommend investing in a slightly better processor or memory/RAM setup if you plan on using a few of these features. You should look for the following minimum specifications:

Processor: Intel Core i5 or better
Memory/RAM: 6GB (Gigabytes) or more of DDR3 or DDR4 RAM
Hard Drive: 320GB or more, depending on media storage needs
Operating System: Windows 10 Home 64-bit
Graphics: Any NVidia or AMD graphics card

Expect to pay anywhere from $400 to $700 for a quality computer in this category.

Colorado PC Pro business card on a coffee table in a workshop

Too Much to Take in?

If you are interested in purchasing a new system but don't want to invest the time or energy, or even if you simply don't want to deal with it, give us a call at (719) 345-2345 to schedule an appointment today. We carry refurbished desktops, laptops and Apple Mac computers that can be tailored to your needs and installed in less than an hour at your home or office. Best of all, the price is significantly lower than buying from a retail store - most of our computers are under $200, even with the monitor included!

Nine Things You Should Disable in Windows 10

Nine Things You Should Disable in Windows 10

What to Disable (Windows 10)

Installing Windows 10 on an old or inexpensive computer can lead to speed issues, as many of our customers in Colorado Springs have recently discovered. While Windows 10 solves many of the gripes users had with older versions, like the 'Metro' layout of Windows 8, it introduces a host of new problems with tracking and prediction services that are always on by default.

Follow this guide to reclaim your computer's lost processing power and enjoy a more streamlined experience immediately.

Superfetch (Prefetch)

Superfetch, known as Prefetch in older versions of Windows, is a service that predicts what resources you will need while you are working on your PC. Superfetch then caches these resources, or loads them before you ask for it for quicker access once they are needed. Unfortunately, this can cause problems with certain types of programs or for users that leave many applications open at once. Superfetch is especially a problem for gamers.

To disable Superfetch in Windows 10, navigate to your start menu (or press the 'Windows' button on your keyboard) and type 'services.msc' in the search box.Press enter to launch the services Window, then:

  • Locate 'Superfetch' in the resulting list.
  • Right-click 'Superfetch' and select 'Properties'.
  • Select the 'Stop' button to stop the service.
  • Optionally, select 'Disabled' in the 'Startup type' dropdown box to prevent it from opening again in the future.
  • Press 'Apply' then 'OK' to save your changes.
9 things to disable windows 10 superfetch
Find 'Superfetch' in the list of services

Cortana

Cortana is the voice-enabled digital assistant bundled with all versions of Windows 10. If you don't plan on using Cortana as a productivity tool, disabling it may improve your PC's performance by freeing up valuable resources. To disable Cortana, click the Cortana icon in the taskbar, select the 'Settings' icon in the resulting window (it looks like a cog wheel on the left side of the window), and set all of the settings to 'Off'.

9 things to disable windows 10 cortana
Your Cortana settings may vary slightly from this image

Into the Settings

The next several tips will all be found in the Windows 10 'Settings' menu, which can be accessed by selecting 'Settings' from the Start Menu, or by typing 'Settings' into the start menu search bar.

Notifications

First, we'll get those pesky desktop notifications under control so that you can stay focused on your work and leave your computer ready to process more important things. From the 'Settings' menu, select 'System, then 'Notifications & actions' from the navigation bar on the left side of the window. We suggest disabling everything except for 'Show app notifications', and then selectively allowing only your preferred applications to deliver those notifications. You can select which applications you want to hear from on the same window, under the main settings.

9 things to disable windows 10 notifications

Windows Store Apps

Starting with Windows 10, Microsoft includes applications in your start menu that you didn't put there. These are 'Apps' that are available on the Windows Store, and since you didn't ask for them to be there, they are essentially advertisements. To prevent these apps from cluttering up your start menu, navigate back to the 'Home' tab of your 'Settings' window and select 'Personalization'. From there, select 'Start' on the left side of the screen and disable the slider labeled 'Occasionally show suggestions in Start'.

9 things to disable windows 10 windows store apps

Privacy

The release of Windows 10 marked a dark day for digital privacy. While there are many things you can do to reclaim a bit of your digital identity, it is essentially surrendered to Microsoft as they move to a more open, advertiser-friendly and subscription-based operating system model. To do what you can for your privacy while slightly speeding up your computer, select 'Privacy' and then 'General' from the navigation bar. Unless you specifically need these services, you should turn the following off:

  • 'Let apps use my advertising ID for experiences across apps'
  • 'Send Microsoft info about how I write to help us improve typing and writing in the future.'
  • 'Let apps on my other devices open apps and continue experiences on this device.'
  • 'Let apps on my other devices use Bluetooth to open apps and continue experiences on this device.'

Once you've completed the previous step, navigate to 'Speech, inking & typing', still located under the 'Privacy' tab, and select 'Stop getting to know me' to end some additional data collection.

9 things to disable windows 10 privacy

Background Applications

Many apps run in the background of Windows 10 by default, even if you have never and will never use them. As expected, these apps are mostly Windows Store apps and are unrelated to your actual browsing habits. Having these apps run in the background is a massive resource drain for your computer. To selectively disable apps you don't plan on using, navigate to 'Background apps' in the 'Privacy' menu and review the list. Don't worry about disabling something important, since you can still voluntarily open programs that aren't on this list.

9 things to disable windows 10 backgruond applications
Choose your background applications according to your needs

Settings Sync

Unless you specifically enjoy having your settings sync between all of your Windows devices, you should protect your privacy and speed up your device by disabling the feature altogether. To change this setting, navigate to the 'Home' tab of the 'Settings' window, then select 'Accounts' and 'Sync your settings' from the navigation menu on the left side of the window. Move the slider to 'Off' to seal the deal.

9 things to disable windows 10 settings sync

Power Options

If you are using a laptop, you may benefit from tweaking your computer to use more resources when you are receiving power from a wall outlet. These settings exist mainly as a way to conserve battery power on-the-go, but can also be used in the exact opposite manner. To view your power plan, right-click the battery indicator icon in the icon tray at the bottom-right corner of your screen. From there, select 'Power options' to access the necessary menu. On this window, you can select the 'High performance' power plan for an instant speed boost. If the 'High performance' plan is not available, expand the space under 'Show additional plans' by clicking the arrow located next to it. Feel free to explore the wide variety of options available to you to meet your individual needs.

9 things to disable windows 10 power options
'High Performance' was hidden under the other two power plans

Visual Effects

To reduce the load on your graphics card and reduce input lag, it may also be useful to limit the amount of visual effects Windows can use. These effects change how the mouse pointer, menus and other Windows frames appear and animate themselves, so you won't lose much functionality by disabling some of the settings. Changing visual effects would most benefit graphic designers, video editors or multimedia enthusiasts.

To access the visual effects settings, type 'sysdm.cpl' into the Windows search box and press enter. In the System Properties window, select the 'Advanced' tab and then the 'Settings' button under 'Performance'. In the Performance Options window, you can adjust your visual settings for best appearance, best performance, or a balance of the two by selecting the appropriate radio button.

9 things to disable windows 10 visual effects
Experiment with different settings to find your combination.
13 Virus and Malware Terms You Need to Know

13 Virus and Malware Terms You Need to Know

This primer is meant to serve as a reference guide to malware so that our clients can better understand the issues going on around them and in the news. A certain level of technical acumen is typically expected by reporters and news outlets, and this article contains more than enough information to satisfy those expectations. If you are experiencing problems related to malware or viruses, call us at (719) 345-2345 for a free consultation and quote.

MALWARE TERMS

MALWARE | Malware is a general term used to describe any program or software that causes an unwanted modification to your computer, operating system or browser. Malware can be defined to include viruses, but typically describes less severe programs, addons and extensions like spyware, adware, and unwanted programs. When you hear 'malware' in the news, it could refer to almost anything in this blog post.

SPYWARE | Spyware is a subset of malware designed to secretly collect personal data from its victims. It is often disguised as a beneficial program or bundled with free software without the users knowledge. Data collected by spyware ranges from advertising information like browsing history and demographic information to usernames, passwords and full files, including personal files.

ADWARE | Adware, like spyware, is a subset of malware. While it can similarly be disguised as or bundled with free software, it is also commonly found as browser toolbars and extensions. Regardless of its form, adware exists to bombard you with relentless popups, pop-unders and banner ads, slowing down your computer and Internet. It can usually be uninstalled easily but often finds its way back onto target computers, eventually.

RANSOMWARE | The most severe form of malware currently being distributed. Ransomware encrypts all or a portion of your hard drive and holds your personal files hostage. You can read our full blog post about ransomware and it's many variations here. Typically, the ransom is 1 'Bitcoin', a digital currency worth around $500. Paying the fine rewards you with a decryption key for your data, while failure to pay the ransom results in permanent, unbreakable, encryption of your files. Most recently, a ransomware program named 'WannaCry' crippled the UK and European health care systems before being broken by security expert Marcus Hutchins.

POTENTIALLY UNWANTED PROGRAM (PUP) | A PUP, while not typically malware, is a program that is usually bundled with other programs or distributed in less-than-honest ways. Due to these poor distribution methods, these programs are often downloaded by accident, even if the programs serve a useful purpose, causing them to be viewed as a nuisance. Most antivirus programs allow you to decide if these programs are wanted or not, rather than automatically quarantining or removing them.

Malware terms infographic in colorado springs

VIRUS TERMS

VIRUS | We are all familiar with viruses. Technically, they are computer programs or scripts designed to perform a malicious function after being triggered by the victim. This means they do not actively seek out new victims and are always the result of an action taken by a user -- think clicking a malicious link in an e-mail or downloading an infected file. Viruses serve many purposes such as sniffing, keylogging or simply causing damage to a target system.

WORM | A worm is simply a virus that can copy itself and propagate over a network without human intervention. Worms seek out new targets and mindlessly infect target systems until there are no more left. Worms are good for creating botnets or infecting offline systems, like factory and industrial controls; for example, Stuxnet was a worm designed by the US and Israeli military to target nuclear equipment in Iran and is commonly known as the first digital weapon.

TROJAN | A trojan, like the Trojan Horse, is a virus or piece of malware in disguise, either bundled with or masquerading as legitimate software. Trojans convince victims to download an inactive virus that only activates after certain events; for instance, a trojan may activate at a certain date and time, when you visit a certain website, or only if you have an outdated version of Windows. It is also possible to be infected with a trojan that never activates.

ROOTKIT | Rootkits are the worst of the worst viruses. They install themselves so deep in your operating system, or even beyond it, that they go undetected by antivirus scans. In order to accomplish such a task, they exploit very serious vulnerabilities and therefore prey mostly on old or unpatched computers. Since such powerful viruses are necessarily rare, they can also be used as weapons by hackers and governments.

malware terms and computer code example in colorado springs

WHAT MALWARE CAN DO

KEYLOGGER | Keyloggers are malicious programs that record every key you press on your keyboard. This data is sent over the Internet to a hacker who can then reconstruct your activities to determine your usernames, passwords, financial information and more. Keyloggers can be installed by or be part of viruses, worms, trojans, rootkits, or other malware. Keyloggers can also be easily built from basic electronics and physically plugged into a target system.

SNIFFER | A sniffer is similar to a keylogger, only it records all of the information passing over your network. This means that it can't record your keystrokes, but it can see the sites you've visited, the e-mails you've sent and, to an extent, collect enough data about you that a hacker can steal your digital identity in certain situations, such as during a bank transaction.

BACKDOOR | Backdoors are a metaphor for their real-life counterparts. Many viruses, worms and other malware 'leave the back door open' when they are done with their task, giving future malware a way back in should the need arise. Backdoors are sometimes installed on purpose by software developers who need a convenient way to configure or test software, often from a remote location. This is widely considered to be a poor security practice.

BOTNET | When a computer is infected by a virus or other malware, it can sometimes be put to work for the hacker who planted it there. In Denial of Service (DoS) attacks, a botnet, or 'network of bots' made up of thousands or millions of infected computers is instructed to send data traffic to a target over the Internet. The combined power of all these 'bots' sending small amounts of data can be enough to overwhelm a target, forcing it to shut down for the duration of the attack. Many botnet victims remain unaware that their computer is infected -- the sheer number of infected systems in a botnet can be large enough that only a very small contribution, likely to go unnoticed by the average computer user, is needed from each system.

malware terms and botnet layout in colorado springs
Gallery: Failed Hard Drive and Data Recovery

Gallery: Failed Hard Drive and Data Recovery

FAILED HARD DRIVE

We finished a service call yesterday that was initially scheduled as a virus removal and speedup. Before we could get there, the hard drive stopped working altogether. We arrived to find that the hard drive had failed, and that we were in for more than we expected. Our client was advised to order a replacement hard drive, or even an upgrade, and have the files either cloned or recovered onto the new drive.

Unfortunately, with a failing hard drive, you can never know what data recovery methods will work until you try.

DATA RECOVERY

Replacement hard drive in hand, we set about attempting to recover the data. This can be very stressful for both client and technician as years of family photos and important documents are often on the line. In this clients case, the hard drive was still physically functional and only beginning to fail, leading to corrupted sectors preventing the computer from properly booting.

Cloning the hard drive with two different utilities failed to work, so we had to resort to installing a fresh version of Windows 10 on the new drive and moving important files over manually. In case anyone was wondering, 50,000 photographs take several hours to transfer from a failing hard drive.

In the end, the client received a shiny new version of Windows 10 with all of their personal files intact. Unfortunately, they will have to spend some time downloading all of their favorite programs, but they still have what's most important after nearly losing it all.

Tech Support Scams and PUPs

Tech Support Scams and PUPs

TECH SUPPORT SCAMS AND POTENTIALLY UNWANTED PROGRAMS

"Some scammers call and claim to be computer techs associates with well-known companies like Microsoft or Apple. Other scammers send pop-up messages that warn about computer problems. They say they've detected viruses or other malware on your computer. They claim to be 'tech support' and will ask you to give them remote access to your computer. Eventually, they'll diagnose a non-existent problem and ask you to pay for unnecessary -- or even harmful -- services."

This is what the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) describes as a 'tech support scam'. In this blog post, we'll explore a number of similar scams that fall under the same umbrella; that is, scammers and hackers pretending to be tech support in order to access your computer or data, whether it occurs over the phone, online chat, in-person or through a malicious, unwanted program installed on your computer. Follow along with us as we explore the various methods of these con artists and how to thwart them before you become a victim.

Fake Tech Support Scam Colorado Springs PC Pro
Beware PC repair websites that advertise remote support. This one is a scam!

To counter the tech support scam threat, it is important to understand exactly what these criminals are after. It may not seem like much to you, but your data is actually extremely valuable to hackers. Even if you place a low value on your photos, documents and videos, hackers can often piece together small bits of data found across many files to create the 'big picture', your identity. Think about what you have saved on your computer: tax documents, scans of your drivers license, birth certificate or social security card, receipts for large purchases, your address, account names and passwords stored in your web browser and bank information. Even if hackers don't plan on using this data themselves, it is remarkably easy to offer identities up for sale on the dark web, often in large lots from multiple compromised computers.

SO WHAT CAN YOU DO?

Now that you understand the value of your data and why it needs protecting, let's discuss what you can do to spot scammers and stop them in their tracks. First of all, you must be suspicious of everyone and everything asking for access to your computer. If you didn't initiate contact with a tech support agent, it is almost guaranteed that being contacted unsolicited is a scam. These con-artists take advantage of the complicated nature of computers to convince less tech-saavy users to simply give up control, but you know better than that! If you receive a call claiming to be tech support that you didn't schedule or arrange, it is a scam, even if the caller ID data appears legitimate. It is common for criminals to 'spoof', or fake caller ID names to appear legitimate (enough) to complete the scam. Similarly, unexpected popups often use the logos and branding of major corporations to convince you that they are legitimate. When in doubt, it is a good idea to close the popup by clicking the 'x' in the corner of the window. If you are overly suspicious or the popup seems legitimate, look up the phone number for the company using your favorite search engine and call that number from your phone to confirm. Do not call the number provided by the popup!

Fake Tech Support Scam Colorado Springs PC Pro
This Norton Antivirus lookalike is also a scam - beware!

You may even be subjected to high-pressure sales tactics if you become a target of these scammers. Fake tech support agents may use lots of technical terms, or jargon, to frame themselves as an expert and prevent you from properly participating in the conversation. In their minds, they want you to be as scared and confused as possible so that you agree to their proposed 'solution', which is usually asking for remote access into your computer. They may even try to get you to buy into their scheme by guiding you through some simple processes on your computer, like checking files or typing commands into the command prompt, to convince you that you have a problem by being polite and helpful -- just like a real technician. Don't fall for it! The last step they ask for will always involve gaining remote access to your computer or getting you to pay for something. With remote access, the scammers will have permanent access to your computer, day and night, and can do anything they choose with it, like viewing video through your webcam or using your computer as part of a Botnet to hack bigger targets.

POTENTIALLY UNWANTED PROGRAMS

To change gears a little, most scams we have seen, particularly in Southern Colorado and Colorado Springs, do not actually involve a phone call. They are conducted entirely online via program downloads and are often welcomed by the victims who believe they need the scam program for one reason or another. It is also common to bundle unwanted programs with legitimate free software without properly disclosing this to the user. This method involves preying on victims searching for computer help. For example, if you search for 'remote computer repair', you are bombarded with similar-looking websites offering to help. What can you do to figure out if 'LogOnfixIt' or 'OnlineComputerRepair' are legitimate? Simply put, don't trust anything you haven't already heard of. If you really need something an unknown site is offering, run an additional search specifically about the company with the word 'scam' in the query; for example, 'LogOnFixIt scam'. This will show you if any consumers have been scammed by the company and if you can expect the level of service you deserve from them. Searching for a company on the Better Business Bureau (BBB) is also usually helpful.

Fake Tech Support Scam Colorado Springs PC Pro
Both the blue screen and the popup are scams disguised as Windows warnings.

Many of these sites will install a program on your computer that is not necessarily malicious, but rather unwanted. We've all seen them: the programs that start up as soon as your computer loads, bug you over and over to upgrade to the paid version and frequently cause you to stop what you're doing to pay attention to them. These programs are best uninstalled using a powerful uninstall tool, like IOBit Uninstaller, which removes all remnants of uninstalled programs to make sure they don't come back to haunt you, as they often do. A short list of programs that fall under this criteria, also known as Potentially Unwanted Programs (PUPs):

  • BrowserDefender
  • BrowserManager
  • Web Assistant
  • MyPcBackup
  • PCSpeedUp
  • Safe Search
  • 1ClickDownload
  • CouponDropDown
  • Superfish
  • Yahoo/Ask/Google Toolbar(s)

As you can see, not all of these programs have names that sound malicious. A program called 'PCSpeedUp' sounds useful if your computer is slow, and it will appear that way when you run it. Your inability to close, delete or uninstall the program is what makes the program dangerous. Combine this with the fact that the program is most likely also collecting your personal information for the private gain of others and you have a recipe for disaster. Remember, you only want well-established, high-quality programs on your computer. If you don't know where a program came from, call us at (719) 345-2345 to determine if it is harmful or not. We care about your security and privacy at PC Pro.

Fake Tech Support Scam Colorado Springs PC Pro
Another blue screen scam, masquerading as a standard Windows error screen.

Not sure if you've been infected? Most modern anti-malware and anti-virus programs are capable of notifying you. Here at PC Pro, we recommend using MalwareBytes Antimalware, BitDefender antivirus, or Avira antivirus to stay safe both on- and offline. Of course, Windows Defender and Firewall should always be enabled and running simultaneously with your antivirus program. Since some PUPs may actually be beneficial or wanted, like programs by IOBit or McAfee, these malware scanning programs will only alert you to their presence and let you decide if they should be removed or not.

If you still have doubts after reading this article, or if your computer is simply not running like it used to or you are experiencing unwanted popups and advertisements, you should call PC Pro today to schedule a free consultation and PUP removal.