Monday, January 26, 2009

Cost, Convenience or Performance: Which Matters Most to You?

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Vol. 8, #55 - Jan 27, 2009 - Issue #363

 Cost, Convenience or Performance: Which Matters Most to You?

  1. Editor's Corner
    • Cost, Convenience or Performance: Which Matters Most to You?
    • Follow-up: Low Tech Diet
    • Quotes of the Week
  2. Cool Tools
    • Tools We Think You Shouldn't Be Without
  3. News, Hints, Tips and Tricks
    • Are You an XP Holdout?
    • XP still the winner on raw performance?
    • XP netbooks much more popular than Linux versions
  4. How To: Using XP Features
    • How to get more information about your fonts in XP
  5. XP Security News
    • Watch out for malicious sites in Google search results
  6. XP Question Corner
    • Why does my Media Center reboot?
  7. XP Configuration and Troubleshooting
    • How to restore the system/boot drive letter
    • USB device isn't recognized by XP when you attach it after standby/hibernation
  8. Fav Links
    • This Week's Links We Like. Tips, Hints And Fun Stuff
  9. Product of the Week
    • FTP Voyager

VIPRE and AVG Resource Usage Shoot-Out

Many of you asked how VIPRE compares to the popular AVG. Well, we ran the tests and posted the results. The numbers tell the story. VIPRE deep scan time is 3.5 times faster in minutes. VIPRE takes only 38% of the CPU compared to AVG, and AVG takes 1.5 times the the Memory compared to VIPRE. In short: both AVG "Free" and "Paid" use A LOT more resources to do the job, which can slow down your PC dramatically. Here are the details and the graphs:

 Editor's Corner

Cost, Convenience or Performance: Which Matters Most to You?

My dad used to have a philosophy when it came to buying almost anything: "You can get it cheap, you can get it fast, or you can get it done right. If you're lucky, you might get two out of three, but you can never have it all." I've found that to hold true in many areas of life, and technology is no exception, except that I'd revise it slightly to say "Cost, convenience or performance: you'll almost never get more than two out of three."

Last weekend, my son and I were about to go peruse the aisles at Fry's, which is the way we pass the time on many Saturday afternoons. I have friends whose idea of a great day is to spend hours at the mall, trying on the latest designer fashions. To each his or her own. To me, there are few things more boring and unpleasant than shopping for clothes - but put me in an electronics superstore (or a big box home improvement store, but that's a whole other story) and I can happily shop 'til I drop. Luckily my kiddo inherited that gene.

My primary goal for the day (I always discover a few secondary ones when I get there) was to score a one terabyte or larger hard disk to put in our main Media Center PC, with the intent of installing Windows 7 in a dual boot configuration to test its compatibility with the Media Center's hardware. Something I noticed right away was that the area where the internal drives were displayed has shrunken down to only a couple of shelves - but there's an entire aisle full of external drives. So we got into a discussion about buying hard drives. Kris noted that he "would never buy an external hard drive."

I have no such hard and fast rule; We use external IEEE 1394 (FireWire) drives to store more recorded TV programs on that same Media Center PC. I also have a nice 1 TB Ibook (USB hard drive) plugged into the bedroom computer. In both cases, the external drives work great and they were easy: just plug them into a USB or 1394 port, Windows takes a minute to find them and render them ready for use, and you're good to go. External drives are the ultimate in convenience.

But true to that old saying, when you go the external route you usually end up sacrificing performance, paying more, or both. The Seagate internal 1.5 TB SATA drive that I ended up buying was $159. A Seagate USB external with the same capacity and RPM (7200) was $219. And that's not all. The transfer rate for SATA around twice as fast as that of USB 2.0. At twenty-five, Kris is on a tighter budget than I am - and he's also at an age where males, especially, are enamored with speed. To him, the cost and performance factors far outweigh the convenience factor.

I like to think I'm older and wiser, but I'm not sure wisdom is a significant factor in selecting computer hardware. I do know that age sometimes changes our priorities. I'm much more willing to pay a premium for convenience in many areas of my life than I was when I was younger. On the other hand, it's not necessarily about how many years you've been on the earth as it is about your particular circumstances (financial, health, schedule). I have an online friend in his 60s who recently agonized over whether to buy a Linux-based netbook or to spend the extra hundred bucks or so to get one that came with XP. Being on a fixed income, he opted to save the money - but two weeks later, he confessed that he had sent it back and ordered the XP model. He had been using Windows for twenty years and the inconvenience of switching - even if it saved him money and theoretically offered faster performance - just wasn't worth it.

It seems that more and more of us are opting for convenience these days. You can get a good ergonomic wired USB keyboard for around twenty dollars, but I see many of my friends buying wireless models that cost twice as much (or more). For a long time, I didn't see a big advantage of wireless for the workstation environment, although of course it's almost essential for the "10 foot experience" of a Media Center PC on a widescreen TV. Recently, though, I switched over to wireless on my desktop - not because I had a particular urge to do so but because Tom bought a wireless keyboard that he decided not to use, and I thought I might as well try it rather than let it go to waste.

I discovered that I loved it. The freedom from wires, even in the fixed, relatively small space of my workstation, really made a difference. And that wasn't the only element of the convenience factor that justified its sixty dollar price tag. It has about a million keys, some of them dedicated to common tasks like opening a new mail window, saving a file or spell-checking a document, and others that are programmable so I can set them to open my most often used programs. Not having to switch to the mouse/trackball so often really speeds up my typing. It's convenience that I'm happy to pay for. To read the whole story about my new keyboard and see photos, you can check out my blog post at

Sometimes, though, performance trumps convenience. I have a USB DVD writer but I rarely use it because it's slow compared with my internal one. And performance, in this context, doesn't necessarily refer just to speed. I also use the word to mean whether a device performs exactly the way you want it to. That can encompass such factors as reliability or security. Using various "cloud computing" services such as Google apps is extremely convenient and it's cheap/free, but it doesn't (at least at this time) offer the reliability and security that I want for creating and storing my documents.

Often cost takes precedence over performance, at least at some point. Solid state drives are all the rage right now, because they're faster than traditional platter-based hard disks. But the price for solid state storage is considerably higher: I got that 1.5 TB drive for about ten cents per GB, and you can buy an 80 GB traditional drive for under $35. A Kingston 80 GB SATA solid state drive will set you back a whopping $499:

I love high performance, as well as the high reliability that comes with no moving parts, but that's a price difference that's just too steep for me.

What about you? Which do you most often put first when it comes to buying technology products: price, performance, convenience or some other factor that I've left out? Do you go for the cheapest alternative every time? Do you always have to have the very best, regardless of the price tag? Do you value your time (and thus convenience) above all? Or does it vary depending on the circumstances? When was the last time you had to make a hard choice between the three-way tradeoff, and which way did you ultimate go? Let us know about your experiences and opinions at

Follow-up: Low Tech Diet

In last week's editorial, I addressed the theory that our technology, by doing so much of the physical work for us and tying us to the chair all day and the sofa all night, is contributing to the growing problem of obesity in the U.S. and elsewhere. Quite a few of you wrote to comment on the subject. In answer to my question that formed the title of the article ("Is technology making you fat?"), a number of you simply wrote: "Yes."

Hugh B. went into a little more detail: "My career has been in IT - for 29 years. I sit all day and then go home tired. It is very difficult to find the time and the initial energy to exercise. Technology has certainly helped to make me fat."

Kevin P. offered this opinion: "I really think it comes down to the lack of MOVEMENT. My wife's grandparents lived to 96 and 102 and ate southern cooking for all those years, never a small meal, always cake/pies around...and...they live to 96 and102 in pretty good shape. Because...they were in the garden every day, taking a walk when they still could... grandma dipped snuff, he took a snort every day out at the barn, but they moved around ALL day. So that's what I'm doing now, beginning this week. Moving around."

Paul R. thinks there's more to it than that: "I think that it's a combination of factors. To be sure, exercise is a factor, but I think the switch to packaged foods is another big factor, along with soda / pop consumption. Reading labels, it's amazing how many products had sugar added, even things you wouldn't expect to have sugar added. We've always had desk jobs, and we've had TV for a long time. It's only been in recent years that it has become a bigger (hah!) issue with weight."

Steve H. spreads the blame around a little more: "By the way, it's not the computers that started this trend. It started when air conditioning became affordable to homeowners. Who wants to sit on the front porch anymore and see you neighbors when it's 100 degrees outside? And don't forget marriage. Marrying a good cook helped add a few pounds over the years, too."

And Wayne S. said, "Massive amount of Hi-cal Fastfood options, abundance of video watching options, with the coupling of reduced physical exercise is the killer reason for our burgeoning waistlines. Schools now do not make Physical Education mandatory, because it is too demeaning for fat kids to run and jiggle .. It is an unfixable mess, barring a major disaster that forces us back to an agrarian society. Computers are on the list, but not near the top."

And Brian K. puts forth another theory: "One possible explanation for more people getting fat (or high cholesterol, etc.) is that the government keeps changing the definitions of obese (or high cholesterol), possibly because they didn't get it right the first time around, or maybe to make more people eligible for benefits or prescriptions..."

And Rick C., along with several other readers, opined that "Sorry, It's not tech that is making us fat. High Fructose Corn Syrup is causing this. Since we have had this in our diet, cancer, heart disease, and diabetes have increased tremendously."

Here's some advice from Mark N. for keeping the pounds off: "I don't snack and I don't need food when watching TV, and the kids are prohibited from watching TV while eating, which means the TV goes off at meal times. So, no technology while eating. All eating, including snacks must be eaten at the dining table .. So, you eat then all tech is off. If doing tech, you are not to eat. So, no one is a couch potato since the couch is not in the dining room and there is no TV nor a computer in the dining room."

Welmoed J., from the Netherlands, offered this interesting observation: "My kids are both grown-ups now and one used to sport actively, the other didn't. The sports guy now is about 30 pounds overweight and the other is at his normal weight." He also noted that "Getting fatter when growing older may come with the comfort territory. So does however eating in between meals or only eating what you like, as much as you like. However making a daily walk (forced march speed) of about half an hour keeps me in shape and both obesity and diabetes away (the latter usually is the result of the first."

There were a few readers who took a somewhat holier-than-thou attitude. You know the type: "I've never been overweight and if you are, it's because you eat too much and that's not the fault of technology, it's your own fault." Well, yes, but ... people's metabolisms differ and the same amount of exercise and number of calories don't always add up to the same on different bodies. Metabolisms can also slow down with age or due to other medical factors, so it might be interesting if the thirty-something reader who exhibited a total lack of sympathy for anyone with a weight problem finds that things change when she gets closer to the half-century mark.

John G. reasoned: "I don't think technology has made me gain weight or become less fit, because that would be blaming the technology; it is essentially neutral. However, I certainly move less, and technology has helped that! ... I have no kids, but I certainly agree with you that the current pae-paranoia is a large part of th reason for their lack of exercise - plus, technology is more interesting than (gran)dad's pastimes."

And Donald H. provided this astute analysis: "As we've expanded our technology, we've become lazy as a nation, and we've acquired a warped sense of entitlement that leaves us standing with our hand out for what we are due, and complaining if we are forced to wait more than a few moments. I suspect this same cultural shift has left us with the misguided impression that we should somehow be able to press this button, subscribe to this online plan, or join this club, and then within 14 days our health will be restored and we'll have the body we've dreamed of."

Many of you have decided to turn the tables and use technology to help you get healthier. Susan J. wrote: " A note on the WII fit. I've lost over 40 pounds using a combination of diet, recumbent bike, and yes, the WII fit. It works great for toning and is low impact. Plus, it's fun!! You have your own 'personal trainer' in the privacy of your home. I highly recommend it."

And Dave R. said, "A high blood pressure reading scared me into "spending an extra dime" on an elliptical machine. I now exercise on that for an hour each morning, 7 days a week. It's a boring exercise but I use technology to overcome the boring. I watch Sportscenter and other useless junk recorded on my DVR. My brain is turning to mush but I lost 60 pounds and I'm in great shape because along with the hour I do 240 pushups and 600 stomach crunches a day (3 sets in the morning and 3 sets at night). If it wasn't for the DVR, I'd have given up long ago."

Finally, Justin H. provided a link to this free diet journal and calorie counter web site:

We got far more mail on this topic than we can print, but I thank you all for the interesting, insightful, and often passionate comments that the article stirred up.

'Til next week,
Deb Shinder, Editor

PS: Did you know this newsletter has a sister publication called VistaNews? You can subscribe here, and tell your friends:

And for IT pros, there's our "big sister," WServer News, at

Quotes of the Week

The first time I see a jogger smiling, I'll give it a try. Joan Rivers (thanks to William C.)

If it weren't for the fact that the TV set and the refrigerator are so far apart, some of us wouldn't get any exercise at all. - Joey Adams

The only exercise some people get is jumping to conclusions, running down their friends, side-stepping responsibility, and pushing their luck. - Author Unknown

Keep The Bad Guys Out With The Sunbelt Personal Firewall

Why do I need a firewall? Together with antivirus and antispyware, a firewall is a "must" to protect your PC. PC Magazine gave the Sunbelt Personal Firewall a "Very Good" rating with 4 Stars and a conclusion of "good protection". Check out the Reviews on the site and it will be clear why you need the Sunbelt Personal Firewall to protect your PC. One good example; Unlike the Windows XP and Vista Firewall, The Sunbelt Personal Firewall looks carefully at the data leaving your computer, so that sensitive information like your credit card numbers, email address, phone numbers, and social security number do not get stolen by hackers!

 Cool Tools

Tools We Think You Shouldn't Be Without


Rip DVDs for your iPod/iPhone or Apple TV. Bundle includes video converter too! Try it free!

It doesn't take much to bog down Vista. Advanced Vista Optimizer will tweak Vista for Max performance.

Backups? We don't need no stinking backups! Synchronization is easier, faster and much more current than backups!

Spotmau PowerSuite Professional 2008: Fantastic! All the tools necessary to fix most common computer problems. Clone and backup too!

Print Screen Deluxe is the realistic upgrade of the Windows version. You can crop - before the capture! Very quick!

One password gives automatic, secure access to all my online passwords and usernames. The autofill feature is a major time-saver! Not a widget.

 News, Hints, Tips and Tricks

Are You an XP Holdout?

Now that the public beta is out and more people are getting a taste of Microsoft's next operating system, the tech industry is excited about Windows 7. But some analysts say it's you - loyal Windows XP users - who represent the biggest obstacle to Win 7's success. Are you a die-hard holdout? Will they take XP away from you only when they pry it from your cold, dead hands? Then you might be one of the folks this article is talking about:

XP still the winner on raw performance?

Some folks at Infoweek are reporting that their testing shows Windows XP is still champion when it comes to raw performance, in comparison to both Vista and Windows 7. This might be true at the moment, but it's important to remember that 7 is still just a beta, and this article points out that because of the way multi-core processing is handled, as processors with more cores become commonplace, XP is likely to lose its performance advantage. Read more here:

XP netbooks much more popular than Linux versions

The first netbooks - low cost, low powered computers designed primarily for web surfing, email and other online activities - came with various incarnations of Linux. That's because the open source OS helped keep the cost down, and was able to run on fewer resources than Microsoft's current client OS (Vista). However, it turns out Linux is not what most customers want. In fact, netbook vendor MSI says the return rate for the Linux-based netbooks is at least four times higher than for netbooks running XP:

In fact, some are speculating that XP has killed or is killing the whole Linux netbook movement:

 How To: Using XP Features

How to get more information about your fonts in XP

Want to find out more about the fonts that are installed on your XP system? By default, right clicking a font file and selecting Properties will display some basic information about the font. You can increase the number of tabs on this dialog box (and the resulting amount of info) from two to eleven by installing the Font Properties extension, v. 2.30, from Microsoft's Typography web site:

Here are the steps:
  1. Download the file setup.exe.
  2. Select the download location.
  3. Choose "save" to save the file to your local drive and install it later, or choose "run" to install it now.
  4. After it's installed, right click on a TrueType or OpenType font and choose Properties. Now you can view detailed descriptions, ownership and copyright information, licensing info, and technical information about the font.

 XP Security News

Watch out for malicious sites in Google search results

It was reported last week that spammers have been manipulating the Google Adwords program to have web sites containing malicious code put at the top of the "paid search" results in the right column. If you click those links, you'll be taken to web sites that can infect your computer, and many of them are able to avoid detection by antivirus programs. Read more here:

 XP Question Corner

Why does my Media Center reboot?

I have a Windows XP Media Center Edition PC that's made in "living room style" with the case that looks like a home theater component. We've had it for four years and it works well but it sometimes reboots for no reason, in the middle of doing something. Seems like lately this is getting more frequent. Do I need to reinstall Windows or is it a hardware problem or ...? Thanks! - Raul J.

There can be several different things, both software and hardware related, that can cause random reboots. Sometimes it can be caused by conflict with a program that's installed or a bad device driver. Another possibility is a defective or dying power supply. I'm going to guess, though - based on personal experience - that your computer may be overheating. That's a common cause of random reboots and it's especially common with the small form factor Media Center PCs because there isn't enough room in the case for proper air circulation. If the fan dies, you can burn up the processor in a hurry. That's what happened to our HP XP Media Center after several years of faithful service. I'm sorry there isn't one definitive answer but I hope this gives you a place to start troubleshooting. If the case gets very hot when you run the computer, heat is probably the culprit and you should probably replace the fan and make sure there is plenty of room around the case for ventilation (i.e., don't put it in an enclosed entertainment center with glass door or stack other audio/video components on top of it).

 XP Configuration and Troubleshooting

How to restore the system/boot drive letter

Sometimes when you change the configuration of your hard disks, Windows may get confused and mix up your drive letters. If the drive letter for your system/boot drive (where Windows is installed) gets changed, you may not be able to boot into the operating system when you restart. To restore the old drive letter(s), you can follow the procedure in KB article 223188, which involves editing the registry. As always, be sure to back up the registry before making changes to it.

USB device isn't recognized by XP when you attach it after standby/hibernation

If you plug a USB device into your Windows XP computer right after the computer comes out of standby or hibernation mode, you may find that the USB device isn't recognized. Instead, you get a message telling you that an "unrecognized device" has been found. What's up with that? Most likely, you've attached the device during the time that the USB driver is suspended. Find out more about this in KB article 871233 at

 Fav Links

This Week's Links We Like. Tips, Hints And Fun Stuff

Disclaimer: WXPNews does not assume and cannot be responsible for any liability related to you clicking any of these linked Web sites.

 Product of the Week

FTP Voyager

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 About WXPnews

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