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Article after the break:

So many digital devices… so many complications. What’s a user to do?

By Brenda Moretto, Canadian Consumer Sales Manager, McAfee Canada

We live in a hyper-connected world where people enjoy the benefits of diverse devices sharing multiple networks and other connections. In fact, a recent study by security technology company McAfee® showed that fully 60 per cent of households worldwide own at least three Internet-connected devices; and the ability to connect virtually anytime, anywhere fosters huge and growing use as 41 per cent of people worldwide spend more than 20 hours per week using a personal digital device!1

In Canada, we use our notebooks, smartphones, PCs, tablets and other devices so much and so often that we value our digital assets (music, photos, contacts and other data that live on these devices) at more than $48,000, compared to the global average of $37,438.2

But there’s a problem. What do we do when a digital device stops responding to our commands, seems to develop a mind of its own, slows down to a crawl or simply stops working altogether?

We’ve all experienced the unforgettable feeling of despair and panic when our computer seemingly freaks out (usually at the worst possible time) and we have no idea why. Or when our smartphone won’t do what we want it to, or doesn’t do the things our friends’ do.

So how do we deal with issues like the dreaded ‘blue screen of death’ or a notebook that is suddenly moving at a snail’s pace? Or when our smartphone suddenly won’t download e-mail? Most of us aren’t tech-savvy enough to troubleshoot our way through the mess. In this guide, we’ve compiled some of the most common and aggravating technology crises and useful tips to help you get back up and running quickly and safely.

Notebook or PC running slowly
Virtually every PC or notebook computer eventually starts to slow down, sometimes to the point where it is truly frustrating to use. There are many possible reasons for slow-downs such as a full hard drive, fragmented or corrupt files, insufficient or bad memory, lack of Windows updates, outdated drivers, overheating and more. Here are some things to look for and tips for quick fixes:

  • Missing updates and outdated drivers – Updates to your operating system and other software are both useful and critical to keep your computer running at peak performance. These updates patch security vulnerabilities, fix any major issues such as software errors, add new or improved features, update drivers and other files and address minor bugs. Lack of critical software or driver updates can cause any PC or notebook to run slowly.
  • Fragmented or leftover files – It is inevitable that computer files become fragmented, and sometimes orphan files are left behind after uninstalling a program. These contribute to unnecessary clutter on a hard drive, which slows hard drive read/write times and impedes programs from running efficiently. The best way to get rid of fragmented or leftover files and speed up your computer is to use utilities that come with your operating system. For example, Windows’ Disk Defragmenter and Disk Cleanup are useful tools for identifying problem files and hard drive issues and correcting them simply and easily. Many third-party software applications are also available, but use them with care to ensure you do not accidently delete important system or program files.
  • Overheating – Unusually heavy use of your computer or obstacles to the exhaust fan can cause computers to overheat and operate slowly. Lack of attention to the situation can even cause hard drive or memory problems, or the dreaded ‘blue screen of death’. If your computer feels hot to the touch, it’s usually easy to correct. Check to make sure the exhaust fan is working and the air outlet is not blocked. If that is not the problem, be sure to check with a professional because using an overheating computer can cause severe damage.
  • Bloatware – So you got a brand new notebook, yet it doesn’t seem to respond as fast as you think it should. The reason could be simple – software pre-installed by the computer manufacturer, which often loads automatically when you start the computer. In other words, bloatware. While some of this software may be useful and valuable, it is often unnecessary, contributes to slow startup times and may even include adware (advertising pop-ups). Simply uninstalling unnecessary bloatware will help your computer run faster and more efficiently, and free up hard drive space.
  • Insufficient or bad memory – Lack of RAM memory is a very common cause of slow computer performance. Typically, the problem is a result of faulty memory modules or simply running more memory-intensive applications than the amount of memory is capable of handling effectively. Often, the best solution is to simply add more memory. But if you have sufficient memory installed you could check it with the Memory Diagnostic Tool that came on your computer, to make sure it is working correctly. Here are some other simple solutions to try:
    • Limit the number of programs that boot when you start your computer. In Windows, run ‘msconfig.exe’ and un-check any unnecessary startup programs or services.
    • Reduce your display requirements. In the Windows Control Panel, select System then Advanced System Settings. Under the Performance tab click Settings. Search for Visual Effects and select Adjust for Best Performance.
    • ‘When in doubt … Reboot!’ Often, simply rebooting a computer corrects slow performance by eliminating hung programs and closing unnecessary programs running in the background. If the problem persists after a reboot, try cutting all power to the computer (both electrical plug and battery) for 2 minutes, then re-connect and boot up. When power is removed, unwanted or unnecessary files will be cleared from RAM memory and computer performance is often returned to normal.

Smartphone suddenly seems not so smart
Most of us have come to understand how a computer works and what most of the settings mean. But when it comes to today’s smartphones and tablets, the whole landscape changes. What works on your notebook is totally different on your smartphone, which brings about questions… Why can’t I connect to the wireless network at work? How do I move and sync files between my computer and phone? How do I connect to my company e-mail account?

Most of the answers to our smartphone questions are easy to come by. Click the Help icon on the phone, or check the User Guide that came on a CD with the phone or is easily available online. And don’t be afraid to call your cellular service provider’s tech support, or a professional expert like McAfee TechMaster.

Malware infection
As the number of digital devices grows and the amount of time users spend on the Internet increases, it is unfortunately inevitable that computers will be exposed to malware that threatens the security of digital assets such as photos, music and personal information. According to a recent study commissioned by McAfee Canada, an overwhelming 83 per cent of Canadians have at least some security concerns with surfing the Web3. Moreover, McAfee recently discovered that Canada is the 6th least protected country in the world with 17.9% of online users surfing without security protection4.

But as easy as it is to become infected with malware or viruses, it is just as easy to protect your computer and even your smartphone. Simply installing a cross-device security solution like McAfee All Access provides worry-free protection at any connection point for a very affordable price. To check for the presence of malware on your computer and provide basic security protection, you can use free software like McAfee Security Scan Plus.

If you think you’re infected, the first thing to do is make sure your antivirus software is up-to-date, then scan your computer. If the scan uncovers an infection, the antivirus software will provide recommendations on how to remedy the issue.

Problem after installing new software
Occasionally, installing new software causes a conflict with other software, or the new software fails to operate properly. Try uninstalling the software and then checking to see if the problem persists. If it does, there may be a bigger issue that requires the help of a trained professional. If the problem is gone, install the software again and be sure to check for program updates or new versions (which can be found on the program developer’s website).

HELP !!!
Simple solutions like these often solve the most common problems with computers and smartphones. But many of us simply don’t have the expertise to troubleshoot or fix every problem with our digital devices. So what if you need professional help? Twenty-four (24) per cent of Canadians have used professional tech support for consumer technology devices, 31 per cent have hired professional help with PC boot-up issues, and almost half (47 per cent) of Canadians would consider professional tech support in the event of a hard drive problem/failure5. One great alternative for tech support is McAfee TechMaster — comprehensive, remote technical support for your PC, Mac, smartphone, tablet, printer, router or even digital camera. TechMaster experts help with device setup and configuration, troubleshooting and repair 24/7, without the need to sit at home waiting for a repairman to arrive.

1 McAfee: Digital Assets Survey, September 2011.
2 Ibid
3 Leger Marketing, April 2012
4 McAfee: Global Unprotected Security Rates, March 2012.
5 Op cit.