Wednesday, April 1, 2009

This Old Computer: Move, Remodel or Custom Build?

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Vol. 2, # 65 - Apr 2, 2009 - Issue # 74 
 This Old Computer: Move, Remodel or Custom Build?

  1. Editor's Corner
    • This Old Computer: Move, Remodel or Custom Build?
    • Follow-up: 7 on 7
    • Quotes of the Week
  2. Cool Tools
  3. News, Hints, Tips and Tricks
    • Vista SP1 incorrectly reports i7 processor errors
    • So Long and thanks for all the fish - er, articles
    • Latest Microsoft ad hits a nerve with Mac fans
    • The "Other" 7
  4. How to: Using the New Vista Features
    • How to use natural language search in Vista
  5. Vista Security
    • Tips for making IE more secure
  6. Vista Question Corner
    • Windows Mail Problem
  7. Vista Configuration and Troubleshooting
    • You can only see four wireless networks with USB wi-fi adapter
    • "Connection Terminated" message when using Xbox 360 as Media Center Extender
  8. Windows 7 Preview Corner
    • Windows 7 "Snack"
    • So you want to be a beta tester ...
  9. Fav Links
    • This Week's Links We Like. Tips, Hints And Fun Stuff
  10. Product of the Week
    • ClipMate - One of the Most Useful Windows Programs of all Time!

My Antivirus Is Killing My Netbook - Now What?

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Editor's Corner

This Old Computer: Move, Remodel or Custom Build?

These days, I often relax by watching Home and Garden Television on cable. The focus on building, repairing, redecorating and making things beautiful is a nice switch from the news channels, where there's a constant stream of gloom and doom and anger and despair. Over on HGTV, a common dilemma for those whose homes have become too small or outdated is whether to move or remodel. A third option is to tear it down and build a whole new one in its place. There are programs devoted to each of these choices (e.g., House Hunters, My Big Amazing Renovation, Dream House).

Computer users face a similar choice when they find that their systems are getting a little long in the tooth. Do you pass the old computer down to one of the kids or up to your mom and go out and buy a nice new one, or would it be better to just do a little upgrading - maybe add some RAM, put in a new high capacity hard drive, swap out the old video card for a better one? And of course, a third option is to go all the way and build a new computer completely from scratch.

The decision a homeowner makes depends on a number of factors. Cost is a big one, and that in turn is dependent on your own skills. If you can do a lot of the manual labor yourself, you may be able to remodel your current home for much less than buying a new one. On the other hand, if you have to hire a general contractor and subcontractors to do the work, you may get more for your money by selling and buying new. Likewise, if you're comfortable opening up the case and switching out parts and pieces, you may be able to save money by upgrading your current system as a DIY project, but if you have to take it to a computer shop and have it done, the cost of upgrading goes up.

I have a friend who has never opened the case of her computer and never will. She gets nervous about "installing" a USB device. She paid Dell extra to have them come out and set up her system when she bought it. On the other hand, she has no qualms about laying a tile floor or doing a faux finish paint job on her living room wall. We all have different skill sets and that's something we have to take into account when we calculate the costs of our "move, remodel or build new" decisions.

Sometimes a homeowner loves the location but an effective remodel just isn't possible. Maybe you need an extra 1500 square feet but the lot is too small to build out and the city building code won't allow you to go up. There may just not be any way to get the space you need in the location you've got. Some computers are more expandable than others, too. Maybe you need more RAM, but all the slots are full and the motherboard doesn't support higher capacity DIMMs. Maybe your processor is too slow but it's the fastest model your board can take.

On the other hand, sometimes we overlook potential extra living space. Maybe you have a basement, attic or garage that could be converted. And if your only real problem with your computer is that you've run out of disk storage, even if you don't have any extra drive bays in which you can install an internal one, you could plug in a USB or IEEE 1394 external drive. Or if you don't mind starting fresh with a new operating system (which you'll probably have to do anyway if you buy a whole new system), you could take out the existing small capacity internal drive and replace it with a new, bigger one.

Before you start house-hunting, it pays to determine just exactly what it is that's wrong with your current home, and what your criteria are for a new one. Maybe you think at first that it's just a matter of more space, but then the real estate agent takes you to see a 4000 square foot house listed at a fantastic price but it only has one bathroom and the back yard is tiny. Oops - that wasn't what you wanted.

When you start looking at new computers, you'll certainly want to look at the "big three" specs - processor speed, amount of RAM, hard drive capacity - but you'll want to look beyond that, too. A PC designed to function as a server will support speedy multiple processors and huge amounts of RAM, but it doesn't make a very good gaming machine because servers usually have a bare basics video card and no sound card. Sure, you could add those things but you may increase your cost significantly.

And do you really need a system that has two processor slots and is able to hold 192 GB of RAM, anyway? Do you run applications that can take advantage of multiple processors? Would you ever fill up all those RAM slots? Could you afford to? Something that many folks don't seem to realize is that a big house doesn't just cost more up front - it also costs a lot more to maintain. One gripe I have with HGTV is their annual "dream home" giveaway. When a person with an average income wins one of these million dollar plus homes, he or she almost always ends up having to sell it. The contest is framed as if the winner would be living in the house, but often the property taxes alone would take most of the winner's annual income - not to mention $2000/month homeowner association fees, electric bills that are far higher than the winner is used to paying, upkeep for the pool and other amenities. And that's if the winner somehow manages to come up with the half a million dollars in income tax that you immediately owe if you win a $1.5 million house. A super duper computer doesn't put quite that much of a strain on your bank account, but it does cost more to run it and to upgrade it than for a less powerful one. It'll probably use a more expensive type of RAM, for instance, and it will probably use more electricity than a smaller system.

Savvy homebuyers know that it's usually not smart to buy the biggest house on the block. You get more value for your money when you invest in a smaller one in the same neighborhood. Likewise, computer buyers who must have the very latest, top of the line components usually pay a big premium for them. The fastest processor speed in a vendor's lineup will usually cost many hundreds of dollars more than the one that's second in line, for only a small gain in speed and power.

What about that third option? Building a custom home is the one way to get everything exactly the way you want it. You can control the design and layout, you pick the flooring, the cabinets, the bathroom fixtures - everything. You also know the quality of all the materials that are used and can inspect the workmanship as the house goes up. The tradeoff is that it's much more of a hassle than purchasing an existing house. It takes longer and involves doing research and making many more decisions. Another unfortunate side effect is that your original estimated cost can creep up, as you decide to go with the more exotic granite for the countertops or the commercial quality cooktop instead of the consumer grade one.

The same thing can happen when you're building your dream computer. It's awfully tempting to add a slightly bigger hard disk than originally planned or get that Blu-ray drive instead of DVD. Of course, this price creep isn't limited to those who build from scratch. It also happens when you buy a "semi custom" home from a developer while it's the construction stage, or when you buy a customizable computer from Dell or HP that can end up well above the advertised base price by the time you've finished clicking through all the options.

When it comes down to it, there is no "one size fits all" answer for everybody. Some people want to stay where they are and turn their existing houses into their dream homes. Others are happy with a reasonably-priced cookie cutter house in a subdivision. Still others must have one-of-a-kind mini-mansions that fit their own styles and lifestyles. Then there are those we haven't even talked about: the ones who don't need much space and have more limited budgets so they go for townhomes or condos (or low-cost netbooks), and the ones who move around a lot so they prefer to rent an apartment (or lease a computer). And of course, with both houses and computers, your preferences and what your budget dictates may be two different things.

Tell us what you plan to do when your current computer no longer meets all your needs. Will you hang onto it as long as you can, throw in more RAM, plug in a new hard drive and use it for another year or two? Will you dump it and go out and buy a new one off the shelf? Go the semi-custom route and order one from a vendor who lets you pick and choose (within a limited range of options)? Build brand new? And if the latter, will you do it all yourself or have it made by a custom shop? Is your answer based more on cost, control or other factors? Let us know what you think at

Follow-up: 7 on 7

In last week's editorial, I wrote about the killer combination of the Windows 7 operating system running on Intel's Nehalem-based desktop processor (Core i7). That stirred up more commentary than I expected.

Pat D. said, "I'm with you in that I've always been a hardware nut. I wasn't lusting after a Core i7 system until I read this but now I have it on my list. That list may have to wait a year or so to put away some money for that purpose."

Many of our readers are already planning 7 on 7 systems of their own. Bill B. wrote, "I don't know about lusting, but I am in the process of building a 7 & 7 system which should be complete about the time that Windows 7 is available in production. I'm not going with the top-of-the-line i7 but I want it to be relevant for at least the next 5 years. I do audio/video editing and will really appreciate the performance capabilities."

Phillipe G. had this to say: "My current PC, worth almost $4000, isn't cutting it anymore. Even though it is only 1 1/2 years old. I am getting a new Core i7 PC this Spring, maxing everything out. Core i7 965, 2 GTX 295's, 24 GB DDR3 RAM, etc. I also run Windows 7 as my main OS and can't wait to see it fly on the new PC. It's exciting to see basically 'personal super computers' available for purchase."

Others like the sound of 7 on 7 but can't justify the cost at this time. Bob R. wrote, "Much as I would love the Bugatti I would probably lose my license for speeding. As I'm not a gamer I don't have a need for top end speed but sometime wish I could be a bit quicker with some video editing but I don't do enough to justify top dollar. I temper my desires to allow my pension to go further, but I still dream."

Chuck J. is doing one 7 at a time: "Not sure that I have the inclination or the bucks to go the "7 on 7" route, but I am definitely going for Windows 7. I installed the beta of Windows 7 in my "home-brewed' Core 2 desktop machine on a separate hard drive alongside my existing XP Pro installation. (I use my main board's BIOS to "dual boot" between boot drives at Post.) Wow! I've never looked back! Except for sometimes booting to XP when I need an app that I hadn't installed in Windows 7 yet, I've been using W7 as my main OS for about three weeks. It's GREAT! Even with all the "eye candy" running, it's quicker, more responsive and more stable than XP Pro...even in its beta form."

Some of you are satisfied with what you have now. Byron T. said, "No lust for the i7 series here, and I'm a pretty hard-core video editing and gaming junkie. I already have 3 powerful, yet inexpensive X2 and Core 2 quad systems that split the work very nicely and leave me wondering what would I do with an i7 at this point. Today's systems are so unbelievably fast already that they sit idle for probably 99% of the time but the dichotomy of computer use is that when laboring with processor-limited tasks, its never fast enough."

Just as I anticipated, I made some AMD fans angry. Rob wrote, "I knew you were a Microsoft shill but I guess you're an Intel shill too. What a disappointment. Be objective and don't just side with the 'big guys' every time and you'll have more credibility."

Not all of the AMD fans were that accusatory. Joe J. wrote, ", I know the i7 is fast, but I'm running a QuadCore Phenom Black Edition. Since I did quite a bit of testing on the Nehalem chips, as well as the chip I'm using, I think I can speak fairly well about both.

The difference in a few milliseconds just isn't worth the price. Both are much faster than previous iterations but both were quite a bit slower before those of us testing them got the bugs worked out of the software. It really doesn't matter about the hardware until the software is right ...."

And Egil L. made an excellent point: "AMD is playing catch up but so was Intel not so long ago. If it was not for the two CPU producers we would probably still be in a single core world, at least for PC use." I totally agree that competition is good for the consumer and having AMD in the game has made Intel's products better, as well as giving us more options.

Thanks to all of you who wrote this week!

'Til next week,
Deb Shinder, Editor

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

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Quotes of the Week

He who builds a better mousetrap these days runs into material shortages, patent-infringement suits, work stoppages, collusive bidding, discount discrimination and taxes. - H. E. Martz

Today's scientists have substituted mathematics for experiments, and they wander off through equation after equation, and eventually build a structure which has no relation to reality. - Nikola Tesla (1857 - 1943)

Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance. - Kurt Vonnegut (1922 - 2007)

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 computer. 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, you can tell the Sunbelt Personal Firewall to look carefully at the data leaving your browser, so that sensitive information like your credit card numbers, email address, bank account, social security number and PIN code do not get stolen by hackers!

Cool Tools


Ever use a download manager? You might not know what your missing, try this one!

Rip DVDs for your iPhone, iPod touch, Apple TV, or iPod Video Nano. Bundle includes video converter too! Free Trial:

Advanced Vista Optimizer does a great job tweaking Vista for Max performance.

Eliminate your online traces with CyberScrub. Privacy equals security.

GoodSync is an easy and fast way to backup and synchronize your emails, photos, iTunes, MP3s, and other important files.

Your Uninstaller! 2008 takes the place of the clunky Windows Control Panel "Add/Remove Programs" and offers many other useful functions

Kill the background tasks belonging to (legitimate) software that run all day. Why? To get your speed back!

I need a real program for autofilling my passwords, shipping info not a toolbar widget. Roboform is the real deal!

News, Hints, Tips and Tricks

Vista SP1 incorrectly reports i7 processor errors

If you happen to be one of those readers who's already invested in a Core i7 system but you're running Vista with SP1 on it rather than Windows 7, you might see some processor errors recorded in the event log that really aren't related to the processor at all. Vista SP1 systems that have Windows Hardware Error Architecture (WHEA) enabled are misreporting memory errors as being processor errors. There's a hotfix for the problem. Find out more at

So Long and thanks for all the fish - er, articles

Microsoft's Encarta encyclopedia program has been around for a long time - sixteen years, to be exact. I still remember buying a copy of the first version back in the early 90s. But now it's time to say goodbye; who wants to pay for electronic encyclopedia software when you can look it up on Wikipedia for free? And if you're not comfortable with the veracity of the info on the Wiki site, there's always Encyclopedia Britannica Online, where you can access basic articles at no charge or subscribe to the premium service for $70/year. Still, it seems a little sad to see Encarta go. Read more here:

Latest Microsoft ad hits a nerve with Mac fans

For all those PC users who sat through Apple's anti-Vista ads and wondered when Microsoft was going to strike back, your wait is over. The company finally takes on the Mac head-on with the latest phase of its ad campaign, which shows "Lauren," a perky redhead, trying to find a laptop for under $1000 and discovering that the Apple store has exactly one choice in that price range and it has a tiny 13 inch screen and specs that are less than impressive. Read more about the controversy this has stirred up in Ed Bott's blog post here:

The "Other" 7

There has been a lot of focus lately on Windows 7, the next desktop operating system from Microsoft - but there is another "7" in the works in Redmond: Windows Mobile 7. Many smart phone users are anxiously awaiting the next version of Windows Mobile (I'm one of them). It's still early, but some (alleged) screenshots of the new mobile OS are beginning to emerge. You can have a look at:

How to: Using the New Vista Features

How to use natural language search in Vista

What's the most natural way to ask your computer to find something? By talking to it as if it were a person, right? First you need to be sure the feature is enabled. Here's how:
  1. Click Start and then double click Computer.
  2. In the Computer window, click Organize in the top menu and select Folder and Search Options.
  3. In the Folder Options dialog box, click the Search tab.
  4. In the section labeled "How to Search," make sure the box "Use natural language search" is checked and click OK.
  5. For screenshots of this step-by-step and tips on the syntax for using natural search queries, see

Vista Security

Tips for making IE more secure

Microsoft has made great strides in tightening up security in the IE web browser, but there will always be a conflict between security and functionality in a piece of software that's expected to do all the things that today's browsers have to do. Although this article cops a bit of an attitude toward IE that's unjustified, it does contain some good tips for configuring settings to make the browser as secure as it can be:

Vista Question Corner

Windows Mail Problem

I'm a latecomer to Vista. I got a new computer several months ago that has it and although I heard a lot of things that made me nervous, I find that I like it. Except for one thing. The Windows Mail program that's in there instead of Outlook Express doesn't seem to work with my Hotmail. I used to be able to do this once with Outlook Express. Am I doing something wrong? Thanks. - Joy S.

It's not you - Windows Mail that comes built into Vista doesn't support web mail accounts (HTTP email) such as Hotmail. The solution is to use Windows Live Mail, which you can download free at the Windows Live web site:

Windows Live Mail lets you access not just your Hotmail account but also other web-based email accounts such as Gmail and Yahoo! Mail. If you have a POP3 mail account from your ISP or an IMAP account with an Exchange server, you can also set Windows Live Mail up to get your mail from those accounts.

Vista Configuration and Troubleshooting

You can only see four wireless networks with USB wi-fi adapter

If you're using a USB-based wireless network adapter on your Vista computer, you might discover that only four wireless networks are displayed in the Wireless Network Connection dialog box, even though you know there are more wireless networks available. You can fix the problem by installing SP1 or a hotfix that specifically addresses the problem. Find out more in KB article 927546 at

"Connection Terminated" message when using Xbox 360 as Media Center Extender

If you try to use your Xbox 360 as a Media Center Extender, but you get a "Connection Terminated" error message each time you try to connect, there are several possible causes. The first and most obvious is that Vista hasn't been activated, but if you know it has, take a look at KB article 932157 for other possible culprits and the solutions.

Windows 7 Preview Corner

Windows 7 "Snack"

For those of you who haven't quite gathered up the nerve to install Windows 7 yet, but are curious about what's in store with the new OS, here's a 26 minute video from Microsoft designed to whet your appetite. You'll need Silverlight to watch it:

So you want to be a beta tester ...

But do you really? Or do you just want to get the new software early? Are you annoyed because your bug report didn't result in an immediate change to the OS? Maybe you ought to read Ed Bott's "Five Things Every Windows 7 Beta Tester Should Know:

Fav Links

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

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

Product of the Week

ClipMate - One of the Most Useful Windows Programs of all Time!

ClipMate is the essential award winning ultimate Clipboard Extender that saves time and makes you more productive by adding clipboard functions that the Windows clipboard leaves out, such as holding thousands of "clips", instead of just one at a time. ClipMate has functions to combine, edit, and manage your clipboard data. It can also print, re-format, and even spell-check. It also has a multi-monitor screen capture, and has features for sharing clips among multiple PCs. Do you have frequently used text that you type over and over again? ClipMate makes it simple to paste signatures, Logos, taglines, disclaimers etc, into any application by pressing easy key combinations. ClipMate can hold thousands of clips ready when you need them. Download the free fully functional thirty day trial and try it before you buy it. Clipmate offers a single user two computer license. WXPNews users who register within thirty day you are eligible for a $5.00 instant rebate.

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