PC Buyer Beware! is a comprehensive PC guide covering desktop and laptop/notebook PCs that provides the knowledge required to make sensible buying, building, upgrading, networking, broadband, recovering, repairing and computer-security decisions, helping users to solve hardware and software problems - PC Problems & Solutions - via articles and questions and answers (Q&As) grouped in categories. The quickest way to find the solutions to a particular computer problem is to enter a short and accurate description of it, such as pc freezes or program freezes, both of them very common problems, in the Search pcbuyerbeware.co.uk feature provided at the top of each page. A list of pages containing those or your own keywords will be presented.
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All of the major internal PC components, such as hard disk drives, graphics cards, processors, motherboards, etc., and the external peripheral components, such as monitors, networking equipment, mice, keyboard and printers, have their own section devoted to them. There are separate sections devoted to computer security, software and all of the versions of Windows currently in use – XP, Vista and Windows 7 and Windows 8.
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April 26, 2016. - As everyone must have noticed, most software, including operating systems (Windows, Apple's OS X for desktops and iOS for mobile devices, distributions of Linux, etc), and the device drivers that they use, are updated regularly. I hate to think of how much time I have wasted while waiting for Windows Update to update Windows. The updates are necessary to patch bugs, security holes and can add new features and improvements. The Adobe Flash Player that most websites use to provide video content is full of holes and gets patched several times a month.
The Adobe Flash Player control panel is placed in the Windows Control Panel. It has default settings that allow websites to store information on your computer (under Storage), make use of your connection bandwidth (the peer-assisted networking option under Playback) and even use your computer's camera and microphone (under Camera and Mic). I disable all of those invasive settings without having any problems. I use the online Flash Player's Global Settings Manager to set it instead of its control panel in the Windows Control Panel. I have noticed that the settings can be re-enabled after updates have been installed or by websites that want them enabled, so check the settings regularly if you don't want your bandwidth stolen or your privacy invaded or your use of the web tracked.
Global Security Settings panel -
Web browsers, such as Firefox, prevent online videos from playing if the Flash Player is out of date. Malware scanners have to be updated on a daily basis in order to remain effective. Other free software provides frequent updates, mostly in order to advertise the fact that they have a more effective paid-for version.
The best way to update device drivers and software is to visit the device manufacturer's support website for drivers and BIOS/UEFI updates and the software developers' sites for application updates. (Note that it is not advisable to update the BIOS/UEFI unless there is a good reason for doing so, such as making it possible to use new hardware, such as a new processor not supported by the existing BIOS.) Most software has an automatic update feature that can be disabled and/or provides a manual option, usually placed under its Help or Tools menu, called "Check for updates now". The Firefox web browser used to have a manual update option but now only updates automatically.
Component manufacturers will only provide drivers for supported operating systems. It is April 2016 and I have just visited the motherboard and computer manufacturer's website, msi.com, to find out which drivers are provided for versions of Windows for one of its latest motherboards. Windows Vista/win7/Win8.1/10 are available, but soon after Microsoft ends the extended support for Vista in November 2017, the drivers for new MSI motherboards will be dropped.
It is possible to get an old desktop or laptop PC that is running Windows XP running Windows 7, 8.1 or 10 if the computer has the minimum system specifications - 1GHz or faster processor. 1GB RAM (32-bit version of Win10 Home or Pro), 2GB (64-bit version of Win10 Home or Pro), 16 GB graphics card with with WDDM driver - but a clean installation is required for the XP and Vista upgrades. The free upgrade to Windows 10, ending on July 28, 2016, is not available to WinXP and Vista users, so Win10 has to be purchased. Use a web-search term such as: Upgrade a windows [XP, Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8.1] to windows 10 - to find and read articles on those upgrade paths.
Software-updating sites are available that provide tools that scan a PC for updates and either take you to the relevant websites for updates or download them for the user.
Secunia PSI security software is probably the most well know of them. It detects and updates software that it determines is insecure. Secunia has been acquired by Flexera, but still provides the Personal Software Inspector (PSI) free of charge.
"Personal Software Inspector is a free computer security solution that identifies vulnerabilities in applications on your private PC. Vulnerable programs can leave your PC open to attacks, against which your antivirus solution may not be effective. Simply put, it scans software on your system and identifies programs in need of security updates to safeguard your PC against cybercriminals. It then supplies your computer with the necessary software security updates to keep it safe."
The download was still free in April 1016.
There are several websites that provide software and driver update tools. Here is a review of six of them:
6 software and driver update utilities compared [March 2013] -
Note well that device-driver update sites can be a waste of time and money. Read the following article for more information on why that can be the case:
Never Download a Driver-Updating Utility; They’re Worse Than Useless -
April 16, 2016. - Windows Update will upgrade Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 PCs to Windows 10 automatically if it finds no reason(s) not to do so. The most common reason the free upgrade to Windows 10 doesn't take place is that there is no Windows 10 device driver for the graphics card or motherboard graphics chip. I upgraded a Windows XP PC all the way up to Windows 8.1, but Windows Update refused the upgrade to Win10 because it didn't have a device driver for the ten-year-old ATI Radeon Xpress 200 motherboard graphics chip that Windows 8.1 must have had.
There are two good and free tools that can do the work for you - permanently - or reverse the choice if you want the upgrade to go ahead at a later date. Remember that the Windows 10 Upgrade is only free until July 28, 2016. Here they are:
Never 10 from Gibson Research Corporation -
Never 10 installs no software, you just run the downloaded app called never10.exe. Version 1.3 (and higher versions if the tool is updated) provides a click option to delete 6.5GB of Windows 10 files that may have been downloaded by Windows Update.
The information under the four images of the tool is worth reading.
GWX Control Panel -
Microsoft has produced a support article called "How to manage Windows 10 notification and upgrade options" -
The temporary fix involves changing two entries in the Windows Registry. It's temporary because another update could cancel those edits.
April 7, 2016. - All versions of Windows, from WinXP to Win10, can service a printer by providing a range of options that tend to increase the more recent or advanced the printer is. These options can print a test page or fix problems such as dirty cartridges by cleaning them, the cartridges not aligned properly by aligning them, clean dirty rollers or paper-feed tray, etc. Dirty rollers or feed tray can make the paper not feed properly. To view the options in Windows 7/10, click Start => Devices and printers => Printing Preferences => Services.
The settings for the printer (set as the default printer) are the default ones set by Windows. If you have one printer installed, Windows treats it as the default printer. You can have several printers installed. They will all be listed under Start => Devices and Printers. You can have a virtual software printer installed, which is software that runs the printer that you have set it to use, such as CleverPrint, which adds additional printing features, such as printing several pages to a single page and deleting unwanted pages. If there is more than one printer installed, you have to choose which one the software uses. But you can only have one real or software printer set as the default printer – the one that Windows uses when required to print. You set the default printer under Start => Devices and Printers in Win7/10. You may need to change the default setting to undertake different printing tasks, such as use portrait or landscape paper settings, different fonts, font sizes and paper types, duplex printing on both sides of the paper, etc. The following video shows how to do that.
Understanding and Configuring Default Printer Settings | Windows 10 / 8 / 7 Tutorial / Training –
Windows 7/8.1/10 all provide a Printer Troubleshooter that can be found and then run most easily by entering the words Printer Troubleshooter or troubleshooting in the Start => Search box. The link called Troubleshooting – Control Panel is provided above the Search box. Or open Troubleshooting in the Start => Control Panel set as View by: Icons.
Windows 7/8.1/10 provides several troubleshooters in its Control Panel. Note that you can run all of the options and still not fix a problem.
In Windows 7 & 10 the default view of the Control Panel (View by: Category) has a System and Security section. You click on the "Find and fix problems" link to open the page that provides the troubleshooters, which, when activated, run to fix problems automatically. You merely have to follow the click requirements. The most useful troubleshooters are under the following headings:
Hardware and Sound – Troubleshoot audio recording – Troubleshoot audio playback – Use a printer
Network and Internet – Internet connections – Shared folders – HomeGroup – Network adapter – Incoming Connections
System and Security – Fix problems with Windows Update – Run maintenance tasks – Check for performance issue
There are also some good troubleshooting pages on Microsoft’s site such as this one for printer problems:
Diagnose and fix printer and printing problems automatically – Includes a FixIt button that runs an automatic troubleshooter and fixer. –
Solutions are provided for a number of the problems that occur with inkjet, laser and dot matrix printers on this “Printer troubleshooting guide” – http://kb.iu.edu/data/acbl.html
Locate other troubleshooting guides for Windows XP/WindowsVista/Windows 7/8.1/10 by using a suitable search query in a web search engine.
April 3, 2016. - If you use USB flash drives to store backups, you might have discovered that Windows 7/8.1/10 can assign a different drive letter to a particular drive used at different times. For example, when you stored the backup, Windows assigned the drive letter F: to the drive, but when you used the same USB port, the drive was called the E: drive, consequently Windows produces an error message and backing up to it fails.
This happens because Windows doesn’t assign a permanent drive letter to a particular USB port, it assigns drive letters according to the mix of drives attached to the computer at a particular time. For example, you may have added or removed another USB drive. If the drive letter of a USB drive was F: and then changed to E: using the same USB port, no doubt you removed a USB drive from another USB port, which forced Windows to drop a letter. It would not matter which USB port the flash drive was inserted into, because, in alphabetical order, Windows assigns the next available letter to it. In this example, Windows had probably made the main hard disk drive the C: drive and the CD/DVD drive the D: drive. There were no other drives installed, so when you inserted the flash drive it was made into the E: drive. If you inserted another USB drive, it would be made into the F: drive. That has to happen because Windows does not assign drive letters to USB ports.
Note that in dual-boot and multi-boot systems of different operating systems, which could be versions of Windows or other operating systems, such as distributions of Linux, Windows always makes the boot drive the C: drive so that when you create backups the different operating systems are always backed up so that they always have the same drive letters. For example, you might have Windows 7 installed on the C: drive and then you installed Windows 10 and it installed itself on the D: drive, making the CD/DVD drive the E: drive. If you boot into Windows 10 at startup, it assigns itself the C: drive and makes Windows 7 use the D: drive. Windows 7 will use the C: drive if you choose to boot with it and Windows 10 will use the D: drive. The CD/DVD will remain using the E: drive. A USB drive inserted into that mix will be made the F: drive. The next available drive letters will be G: and H:, etc.
If you create a backup that assumes that the target USB drive will always be the F: drive, but Windows changes the drive configuration, making the backup drive the E: drive, the next backup to that drive fails because there is no F: drive.
The easiest way to fix the problem is to have the same drives installed when a particular backup was created. In this case, remove the drive assigned the letter E, insert another USB drive in any USB port, which will be made the E: drive and then insert the backup drive that will be made the F: drive.
It is also possible to force Windows to assign a particular drive a particular drive letter. Remember that you can find any part of Windows 7/8.1/10 – apps, programs, Device Manager, Disk Management, etc. – by typing its name in the Search… box and then clicking the link to it provided above the Search box.
In the example used here, insert the backup USB drive, type diskmgmt.msc in Windows Start… box – or in a MS DOS Command Prompt window that brings up the Disk Management window. Identify the E: backup drive, right-click on its entry and click on the Change Drive Letters and Paths option. Use the Change option to reassign the backup drive its original F: drive letter. Note that if you format the drive – using the Format option provided when you right-click on the drive in Disk Management or Computer – and assign it the letter Z and then create your backups to it, the drive letter will not be changed by Windows because there is no higher drive letter and Y will never be used.
Windows tries to remember every USB drive that you have used, which could be part of the problem if you have allowed many drives to be used over the life of the computer. Doing the following fixes most USB problems by rebuilding the USB system and should get rid of any problem. Drives that were once used will no longer be remembered.
Detach all of the USB devices – printer(s), hub, external hard drive, USB network dongle, flash drive(s), etc. If you have non-USB keyboard and mouse use them instead. Enter the Device Manager – in the Control Panel in Windows 7/8.1/10 – scroll down to the Universal Serial Bus controllers (USB controllers) entry, open all of the entries, right-click on each of them and choose the Uninstall option. Next, re-attach the USB devices in the order of their importance – keyboard, mouse, printer, external drive, flash drives, USB dongles, etc., making a note of where they are attached. Then reboot the system, which makes Windows rebuild the USB system. Alternatively, in the Device Manager, after you have uninstalled the devices and re-attached them to the system, click on Action => Scan for hardware changes, the doing of which rebuilds the USB system without rebooting.
March 27, 2016. - The strongest passwords that have 8 characters (or less) using every type of character - upper case and lower case letters, numbers and all of the other characters provided on a keyboard - have a finite number of combinations, measured in quadrillions, have been cracked by an array of servers running the Linux operating system on five computer servers, an array of 25 graphics cards and password-cracking software, trying every possible combination, working at an astonishing 350 billion guesses a second, in around 5.5 hours, depending, of course, on how lucky the software is or how weak the password is. If the password is weak, such as a word in a dictionary, it will be cracked in seconds or minutes as the software tool uses a dictionary of every word ever used, probably starting with eight-letter words and working backwards to seven-letter words, six-letter words, etc.
The kind of computer setup that can crack the strongest eight-character password in 5.5 hours and most of the eight-character passwords that users employ in minutes is impressive and expensive but affordable to computer hackers and cyber criminals who have stolen huge amounts of money from the bank accounts of people who have been persuaded or tricked by phishing emails to give them their login information.
There are websites that require logging into that only require eight-character passwords consisting of only upper and lower case letters and numbers that refuse the use of the other keyboard characters. These sites should be avoided due to the ease with which they can be hacked. The longer and more diverse the password is in characters, the harder it is to crack. A diverse fifteen- or sixteen-character password would take years to crack by the same computer equipment that takes 5.5 hours to crack any eight-character password. The higher and the more diverse the number of characters, the more possible combinations and the longer it would take for a computer setup to try every possible combination until it finds the password being used.
Always remember to use a unique password for every website.There are many websites that create strong passwords. To find them online just use a web-search query such as "strong password generator".
I use sixteen-character passwords and use a password-manager. The web-search "best password managers" finds them. It is just not possible to memorise long, strong passwords. You could write them down in a notebook, but I would not advise it, because you will probably make a mistake writing them down or entering them at a website.
The link below takes you to the information page of a good well-known free password manager called RoboForm, which can also generate strong passwords for you. You just have to make a note of or remember a single master password that encrypts all of passwords it remembers. It creates a drop-down menu on your web-browser's taskbar containing the names of the sites the passwords of which you have made it remember. Read the user reviews.
RoboForm - how it works -
Should your computer pack in irrecoverably, you can always use the "Forgot password?" link which every site provides allowing you to reset your password by sending an email to your registered email address.
March 17, 2016. - Most laptop owners will take their machines to a service-and-repair shop for hardware faults. Many laptops are designed to be worked on easily, but others, such as the very thin ultra-portable models, are so complex that only trained technicians know how to open them up and effect hardware repairs or upgrades.
Here is a good long video on what can be upgraded or repaired on the typical laptop. The HP laptop that the technician uses dates back to that 90s - it has a single 128MB RAM memory module and only one SODIMM memory slot - but can still be used to illustrate what is available on up-to-date machines. If you have the service manual that most of the big manufacturers, such as Dell and HP, supply as a download, you can replace components like the Wi-Fi card and graphics card, if it uses one instead of graphics integrated on the motherboard or processor.
Laptop Hardware Repair -
All of the versions of Windows provide several inbuilt useful diagnostic tools. Probably the best of them to date is the hidden Reliability Monitor, an excellent diagnostic tool that is part of the Reliability & Performance Monitor, which is part of the Microsoft Management Console (MMC), built into all versions of Windows since Windows Vista.
There are several ways of accessing this tool. The easiest way is to type perfmon /rel, exactly as is, in the Start => Search… box and then click on the link that appears above it. The image below shows the main window that presents itself.
Information is provided on a daily dated basis. Click on the date column of a specific event to be provided with information about it.
Critical events are indicated by a red circular icon with a white cross in it, warnings by a yellow triangle with a black exclamation mark in it and informational events by a blue icon with a white i in it. All three types of events are shown in the image above.
Note that a critical event doesn’t have to be a real one, so you have to use your judgement to determine the seriousness of each one. For example if you use Skype and you disable it, if any other program tries to access it, a critical event will be registered that can safely be ignored.
There is plenty of information on the web about the Reliability Monitor for each of the version of Windows that provide it – Vista, 7, 8.1 and 10. Here is an article about the tool in Windows 10:
How to use Windows 10’s Reliability Monitor to fix and fine-tune your PC -
February 25, 2016. - Many TVs now provide built-in access to Internet services – BBC iPlayer, YouTube, Facebook, etc. – A media streamer (MS), also known as a streaming multimedia receiver, can add that kind of service to a TV that doesn’t have built-in access to them.
It is possible to buy dedicated audio streamers, which are also dealt with. Read more here:
Media Steamers (also known as Streaming Multimedia Receivers) and Audio Streamers/Audio-Steaming Devices -
February 13, 2016. - There are many networking problems that simply can't be solved, even by experts, due to the complexity of Windows networking.
For example, you could have a home network based around an ADSL modem router sharing a broadband Internet account that uses PCs running Windows 7 Home, Professional and Ultimate editions and then you add a desktop or laptop PC that runs Windows 10 Home or Pro edition. You might find that no matter what you do, you can't access Microsoft cloud accounts or enable password-protected sharing to the Win10 PC. Moreover, there is no help provided on the web about the problem.
Unfortunately, the user interfaces for networking settings in all of the versions of Windows suffer from a serious shortcoming: not all of the settings can be accessed from a single source. Indeed, some of the deep settings can't be reached via the Windows inbuilt networking troubleshooters and wizards, which can make sorting some problems out a futile exercise.
The best and perhaps only way out of an intractable networking problem is to make Windows forget the entire network setup. Windows will then rebuild the network from scratch and this way, most of the time, any problems will be no more. It is not a very difficult feat to accomplish. Here is how to achieve that outcome.
1. - In all of the PCs in the network, go into the Windows Device Manager. In Win10, right-click on the Start button and choose it from the menu. Find and open the "Network adapters" heading and right-click on all of the enabled network adapters and click on the Uninstall option. Note that in the "Confirm Device Driver Uninstall" dialog box, the option called "Delete the driver software for this device" must NOT be enabled (checked). Do not reboot any of the PCs because doing that makes Windows reinstall the network adapters' device drivers.
2. - Start with the PC that is running the newest version of Windows - e.g., Windows 10. If more than one PC is running Win10, choose the one that you want to be the main PC. Reboot that PC only so that Windows reinstalls its network adapters' drivers. Make sure that it is connected to the router by opening a Command Prompt by entering the cmd command in the Search box, Click on the Command Prompt link to open its window and enter the ipconfig command at the > prompt. The router's IP address - the Default Gateway - will be provided if Windows is connected to it. You should now be able to go online.
Only in Windows 8 or 10, if you are using a local account - Windows password - to log into the main PC, log on to Windows using a Microsoft account. Web search query: how to create a microsoft account. Microsoft: "You can use any email address as the user name for your new Microsoft account, including addresses from Outlook.com, Yahoo! or Gmail. If you already sign in to a Windows PC, tablet, or phone, Xbox Live, Outlook.com, or OneDrive, use that account to sign in." You can revert to using a local account logon at any time.
How to Revert Your Windows 10 Account to a Local One (After the Windows Store Hijacks It) -
3. - On the main PC, follow the following click path and enable "Network discovery" - Start => Control Panel => Network & Internet => Network and Sharing Center => Advanced sharing.
4. - On the main PC set up a HomeGroup network, by launching its applet called HomeGroup in the Control Panel.
How to Set Up a HomeGroup Network in Windows 10 -
5. - Now the network adapter device drivers must be reinstalled on all of the other PCs on the network, one by one. Then bring them online and make sure that the "Network discovery" setting is enable on each of them. Each time, try connecting the PC you are working on to the HomeGroup created on the main PC.
Note that you must NOT use a local account's username and password when accessing a Windows 8.1 or 10 PC. Sign in with a Microsoft account ([email protected]) and password.
6. - If you fail to base the network around a HomeGroup, go through the same process of making Windows forget the network, but don't use a HomeGroup - use the classic Windows networking based around a workgroup on all of the PCs. The following webpage provides information on how easy it is to get rid of a HomeGroup and revert to using a workgroup.
Simple change in settings pumps up Win7 networks -
Remember to use a Microsoft username/password, not those of a local account when signing in to a Windows 8.1 or 10 PC.
In the advanced network settings of all of the PCs, make sure that all of them are using the same encryption level - 128, 56 or 40 bits. The higher the common level, the more difficult the network is to hack into.
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The image below shows how dogs for slaughter are treated in China. They are tortured before being killed to enhance the taste of their meat.
“Some amount of surveillance for law enforcement and intelligence, properly designed, is valuable to keep us safe. But when it’s too broad, it violates the privacy rights of millions of innocent people, and can even undermine our security.” — Chris Riley, Head of Public Policy, Mozilla
Government surveillance explained - Get smart on the web -
The hardware and software problems dealt with on this website are in the order of their popularity. When applicable, the order will change to match the popularity recorded by this website's web logs in the previous month.
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