Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Computer Hardware Recommendations

One of the most common questions we get relates to the types of PC or laptops we would recommend.  While we would like to simply be able to say that a certain kind is better than another, unfortunately it is a bit more complicated than that.  However, we are happy to provide some insight into what we look for in equipment and this tip should help any computer shoppers.

Before we go any further, we would like to point out that these recommendations are for home users, and not for computers used in a business environment.  If you are looking for recommendations on a computer used in your business, contact your IT provider for specific details.  We welcome any current or future Pointsolve Technology clients to get in touch with our very own Mr. Nick Stevenson for a quote.

For computers used at home, our generic list of recommendations includes three basic items:

1. Intel Core i3 or higher processor.  We recommend third-generation or higher, which you can note from the first digit of the four-digit number after the processor.  For instance, an i3-3120 is a third-generation processor, while an i3-2310 is a second-generation.

2. 4GB of RAM or higher.  Generally, this is easy to find, however some companies attempt to cut corners and cut costs by skimping down to 2GB or 3GB.

3. 7200RPM hard drive.  We find that modern hard drives generally have much more storage space than is necessary, however some laptops especially attempt to save money and preserve battery by using slower 5400RPM hard drives.  The 7200RPM models will read and write much quicker, which means shorter load times for when you start your computer and open your programs.

If you're purchasing a laptop, take note of the weight of the laptop and size of the screen.  These are entirely personal preference as there is no option that is better than the other, but everybody has different needs and desires.  When shopping for Windows 7 or 8, this is again a matter of personal preference - although we will add that if you intend to use your old printer or some old programs with your new computer, you will want to ensure they will run on whichever version of Windows you intend to buy.

As always, if you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact us for answers to your technology needs.  We are happy to provide any advice that can help you make a better purchasing decision!

Monday, August 12, 2013

The End of Windows XP

We have been getting a lot of questions about the end of support for Windows XP, and there is a lot of misconception out there of what this truly means.  What is "end of support" and how does it affect you?  Let's separate some of the myths from reality and then take a look at what we advise doing for those of you still using XP.

For starters, if you don't know which version of Windows you  have, you can right-click on my Computer and choose Properties.  It will say exactly which version you have.  For example, "Windows XP Professional Service Pack 3."

Microsoft has very well publicized its official end of support for Windows XP Service Pack 3 for April of 2014.  Notice we pointed out that it is end of support for the "Service Pack 3" version: that is because Microsoft has already ended support for all prior versions of Windows XP.

Now, when the end of support hits in April, it does not mean that suddenly your copy of Windows XP will stop running.  In May, you may still turn on your computer, it will run, and everything will appear normal.  What it does mean, however, is that Microsoft will stop releasing bug fixes and patching security holes.  This can be relevant in two ways.  First, you may run afoul of business requirements for security; and second, you may become exposed to unnecessary risk.  On an unrelated note, if you're running XP still at this point, it means your computer is likely at least five years old, and you may want to be proactive about replacement before it is too late.  More on that later.

As we noted, when you stop receiving security patches, you may run afoul of business requirements for security.  If you are using XP at home, this is of course not an issue.  However, if you are subject to an organizational requirement to maintain current security standards on your equipment, you may no longer be in compliance.  Especially if you are subject to HIPAA compliance!  If you are unsure whether or not this will affect you, check with your regulatory office and they will tell you if XP will continue to meet their needs.

Additionally, when you stop receiving security patches, you put yourself at risk of attacks from malware.  We always encourage our readers and customers never to underestimate this risk: the Conficker worm, which caused large numbers of infections in November and December of 2008, exploited a weakness with Microsoft had already patched in October of 2008.  That means every single PC which had gotten infected was 100% preventable!  And while a lot of people think that antivirus will protect them, the reality is that antivirus is the last line of defense and will not compensate for a poorly patched PC.  The best way to prevent malware from getting hold of the system is to patch the loopholes in the system, and then you will not have to 'hope' the antivirus catches it.

Lastly, we would like to take a moment to remind our readers that XP came out in 2001.  It was released when I was still in high school.  The national average for a gallon of gas was $1.40.  Tablets and smartphones had not been invented yet, and even the iPod was in its infancy.  It was until 2008 that you could purchase a computer with XP on it, which means that even if you had purchased the last PC with XP, it is still five years old.  This is relevant because, in our experience, five years is about the maximum reliable service life of a computer.  Moving parts break, electrical parts can overheat and fail, and these are factors of risk that increase with age and usage.  In our experience, attempting to replace a PC after it has already had a failure of some sort can be much more expensive and time consuming that replacing a PC that is still running and accessible to us.

Bearing all of that in mind, for one reason or another if you still have a PC running Windows XP, it will be worth having a conversation with your IT provider about it.  If you are subject to security guidelines such as HIPAA or financial product regulations, check with the regulatory body you answer to with regards to compliance.  If you need advice, as always, we are happy to help answer any questions you may have!