Can Somebody Get Me a Doctor?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

well..... WELL..... WELL.....

Boy is my face red... not from embarrassment but from anger... ok, a bit of embarrassment too. HOWEVER, my recent tribulations brought forth a topic for a new post. Here's how it went down...

Thinking I'm invulnerable (do NOT ever think that way) due to all the security programs I run, I was researching and trying (downloading) several programs the other day. Then IT happened !!! And by the time I realized what "IT" was, it was too late....

TROJAN !!!!!!!!! Not your average trojan mind you. A NASTY little sucker !!! I guess I don't "do" things half-assed.

This particular piece of shit's name is "Win32/Vundo"... Do NOT get infected by this scum.... it'll render your computer obsolete !!! read on....

It doesn't blow your computer up (or "fry" your hard drive). BUT.... what it does do is rewrite your registry adding up to 100 new entries !!! Yeah, so ????

SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO... what these entries do vary from automatically launching pop-ups (ok, been there done that) to rendering your anti-virus program inoperable (ok, THAT blows) .... and eventually ????

It won't be found by anti-virus or anti-malware utilities. It won't even let you search the internet for these utilities anymore in order to re-install them !!! All that it will let come up in your search results are totally unrelated to what you were searching for (due to the new entries in your registry - ie, if Joe Shmoe searches for "xyz", return "zyx").

How the fuck does it do that ??? Good question... Certainly i researched this bastard (AFTER having locked down my firewall and realized (after HOURS of trying) that I had no solution to this problem). I needed to know WTF was going on...

What I found out is that this is a new threat and one of the most cunning ones out there... it is built to look like a ".dll" (dynamic link library) which is a standard entry or part of any particular program.

HOWEVER, what makes this .dll different is the fact that when it is launched on your system, it tells your system to run .dll files as applications... ERGO, it re-writes the registry adding the entries that are contained within the particular version of this trojan that you have been infected with...

Like I said, it started with the stupid pop-ups and lack of being able to return search results relevant to what I was looking for. It progressed (progression seems to intensify the more you reboot your system - very common trait) to not even allowing my anti-virus program to enter "Scan" mode".

Needless to say I was (am) pissed... but, it did prompt this post to tell you all to be extra cautious about what you download and where you download it from. This sucker "uses advanced defensive and stealth techniques to escape detection and to hinder removal". Like I said, it is disguised as a ".dll" file which is intimately acceptable by any anti-virus utility - EVERY program on your machine is built using .dlls.

NOW WHAT ???? Well, fortunately for me, I'm a pack-rat.... and have acquired and saved several other computer systems (and parts galore) over the years !!! So, I have been working for the past few days bringing my "new" system up to speed.... thank GAWD the 1GB of ram from the infected computer is compatible with this one.

The bulk of the time has been spent installing software applications that I had on the old machine... some I have the disks for, some I don't... um... THAT's another post, though.

What? Huh?... What about my personal files??? Good question. As I posted previously, I have always had 2 separate hard drives... one for the system programs and applications, and one for personal files... music, pictures, videos AND the applications that generate different media files.

As also previously posted, I INTENTIONALLY have never "Raided" my separate hard drives... in layman's terms... The Raid application will make 2 separate hard drives appear as 1 single hard drive to your system... ie, separate 30 GB and 40 GB hard drives will be seen by your system as a single 70 GB hard drive... THANK GOD I do NOT Raid... my main motivation for keeping them separate is that it takes less resources for the system to look through smaller drives than one large drive. In this case, the additional drive isn't subjected to the same registry entries as it is merely being used as a data storage device... NOT a system device.

SOOOOOOOOOOOO... hopefully (crossing fingers) the drive with my multimedia/personal files remained uninfected as I have now transferred it to my "new" system.... IN TACT... so far so good !!!

On another note... at the same time my system crashed, my Firefox browser became inoperable.... it wouldn't even open without crashing... Obviously I assumed it had something to do with the virus...

I was wrong... Part of the process for getting my new system up to speed included installing Firefox as it is my favorite browser application. So I downloaded and installed it... only to experience the same behavior i was having on the infected machine....

OH SHIT !!!!!! Did the virus actually migrate to my second hard drive which is now installed in THIS machine???

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOPE !!! I Googled the info from Firefox's "Crash Reporter" to find that there are a few very common issues that render Firefox useless... 2 of which were causing my machine to not be able to run Firefox.

The first and most "common" issue arises from the installation of Microsoft's .NET Framework version 3.5... If you're a Firefox user... DO NOT EVER INSTALL THIS Microsoft "update". It automatically installs a plug-in in your Firefox browser that will not allow Firefox to run... the .NET Framework 3.5 plug-in... TOTALLY incompatible with the Firefox browser... "funny" how it IS compatible with Internet Explorer... MICRSOFT'S browser... hmmmmmm... I'm feeling hijacked by Microsoft. I had to go into the registry and physically delete this plugin...

Another, less strenuous issue I had with Firefox was with the interactive media plug-in that was automatically installed... "Move Player".. not really sure where it came from (this IS a used machine) but apparently Firefox doesn't like it being there.. this was easy enough to delete from my Firefox application settings. after a bit of research....

Anyway, that's what I'VE been up to lately... I'm back up and running... and actually faster than ever before... hopefully your experiences have been less stressful... just be careful out there !!!!!!!!

The Doctor is..... OUT !!!!!

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Trojan Man

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I was going to assume that everyone has computer protection, but unfortunately I ran across someone a few months ago that didn't... THEY DO NOW !!!! So this post goes out to those of you that don't or that may want to take a closer look at the one you do have.

Now, I'm not just talking anti-virus as surely we all have some form of that. But with popularity of the internet and the sadistic minds of people that have nothing better to than to ruin someone's machine OR their life, it is critical to be sure you have full protection in order to practice safe.... SURFING.

Online Security Suite - You want to make sure that you have installed some type of complete online security suite - or at least the various components that make one up. I'll plead ignorance about the different suites out there as I never had to research them. Comcast offers the McAfee Security Suite free to it's subscribers, so that's what I have. It keeps all the components easily accessible within a user-friendly main console.

As you can see in the screenshot of my security dashboard, Comcast breaks down McAfee's protection categories into 4 main modules:
  1. Computer and Files: Obviously it's critical to be sure you have virus protection to keep your computer from becoming infected or destroyed - and windows will warn you if you don't. Equally important is spyware (potentially unwanted programs) protection as more and more "friends" are incorporating "bots" into downloads and websites that when launched on your system can wreak havoc or possibly allow personal info leakage - and they can be harder to eliminate than viruses. This module also protects the computer from potentially unwanted changes being made to my system (registry), it scans scripts (used in building websites and programs) to protect against malicious content built into them, and helps prevent accidentally losing files and folders.
  2. Internet & Network: This module offers firewall and identity protection keeping intruders from accessing your machine and keeping personal information stored on your machine from being able to be transmitted over the internet
  3. Email & IM: In the age of electronic communications, this module is critical as it scans emails and Instant Messages for viruses and spyware to keep these threats from being transmitted that way.
  4. Parental Controls: Obviously this is a must for parents will children that access the internet as you can filter the content that is allowed to be displayed by either specific website addresses or by keywords. McAfee allows for different profiles to be created for each Windows User Account on your machine. So, if your child logs on to your computer under YOUR user account, you may want to create a separate account for them so that you can customize the protection to suit different user needs.
Now, realize that as with every program, security suites are built to install using default user settings. Unless your name is "default", it is highly recommended to go through the tutorials and help sections to be sure you understand what each and every component of the package does. The suite should be highly customizable with regard to the levels of security and the amount of user interactivity including which threats you want to be warned about before allowing or disallowing them. AND ABOVE ALL - BE SURE TO KEEP IT UP TO DATE !!!! Even you if select manual settings for every function of the suite, choosing "Automatic Updates" could save your computer's life !!! One missed update of virus definitions could cause a disaster.

Also keep in mind that in the day and age of more and more WiFi Hot Spots, you just may want to create a different security profile when using your computer abroad and tighten the reigns on your security level... or at least be sure your firewall is configured for HIGH security... just a thought.

Ok, so I know that email and instant messaging services, ISPs and browsers offer varying levels of security by scanning messages, offering parental controls and scanning downloads... the world has just come to that. And certainly there are alternatives with regard to spyware protection. So, isn't this over-kill?????

I'd like to think not as the basic protectors may only offer functionality and levels of security specific to their particular service. And, realize that hackers work 24/7 finding ways around these protection systems. Also, if you realize that no two programs are written the same, thus may detect different threats.... THE MORE THE MERRIER !!! I personally run the McAfee anti-spy module, Comcast Anti-spy AND Windows Defender... Ok, THAT may be overkill !!!! But no ONE is perfect and neither is any one program.

That brings me to another benefit of acquiring a complete protection suite. Along with computer protection, Comcast/McAfee also incorporate useful system utilities. If you look at the left hand menu in the screenshot above, also at your fingertips is a back-up utility, a system maintenance utility and a network manager, which allows additional security settings for your personal home network (a future post), to name a few.

Also look at this screen shot of the "Tools" menu to see additional utilities that are made readily available from this one main dashboard:

I won't go into specifics about the different utilities incorporated into my suite as I'm sure different security packages incorporate different utilities, needless to say some of these are very useful. The mindset is that online protection suites offer more than just security and there are definitely advantages to owning one.

So if for some unknown reason, you don't already own one, you may want to invest in one. If you already do own one, you may just want to familiarize yourself with what it actually does and decide if you need it to do more... and be sure to keep it updated !!!!!

The "Doctor" is.... OUT !!!!

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"Wipe" (format) the Hard Drive?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

I had my first "customer" today. A friend asked my for some tips on wiping her hard drive and re-stalling the operating system. I asked why she wanted to do that and she told me that the machine was an "old" Dell, had been used for gaming for many years and was now VERY slow and asked "Should I just junk it"?

Long story short, I asked 3 questions.....
  1. How old is the machine? "Purchased in 2002" - um, newer than mine
  2. What is the processor? "Pentium P4 running at 3.0 gHz" um, better than mine
  3. How much RAM is installed? "512 MB" - ok, I had her THERE !!!
My immediate reaction was this system is definitely worth "saving" (or donated to ME!!!), especially since my experience leads me to like the processors that Dell builds there machines with, often using models with a fast FSB and high levels of L2 cache... ok, I HAD to get technical there. What that means is that not all P4 3.0 gHz processors are the same and I've been happy with the performance of the Dell processors I have had.

Now, obviously I first directed her to my earlier post as her machine sounded like a prime candidate for a complete optimization. I chose this option first, based on not knowing much about her model (but WILL be doing some research) and assuming that there may be files on her system that she didn't necessarily want to lose by "wiping" the hard drive. Plus not having my hands on the... uh MACHINE, makes it difficult to consult - especially through IMs.

However, should you have a machine that you feel needs wiped , understand that you may have options here, but wiping WILL delete any personal files, at the very least, so I recommend using my optimization tips first, in order retain personal files.

System (Disk) Recovery - NOT System Restore - Should your heart be set on formatting your hard drive, the first and best option MAY be System Recovery. Older machines included CDs to facilitate this, but just because those CDs aren't supplied (or if you lost them), does NOT mean your particular system doesn't include the utility. Oh, this utility will restore your system to the original "out of the box" configuration, yes INCLUDING pre-installed software applications.

If you don't have the disk and it isn't readily obvious if your system includes the utility, here's a simple way to tell....
  • Right click "My Computer"
  • Select "Manage"
  • Select "Disk Management" from the left hand menu
OBVIOUSLY my system doesn't include this partition !!!

That will bring up a list of the drives on your machine. IF your "Main Drive" is comprised of multiple "partitions" (segments) and one of those partitions is at least 4 GB, then most likely your system includes the System Recovery utility and the original "out of the box" configuration of it is contained on that partition. So, you CAN restore the machine to it's original condition... but be sure to continue to maintain it from now on.

Wipe The Hard Drive (re-install Windows) - I personally would never COMPLETELY wipe my hard drive... doing so could also wipe that System Recovery partition, if it is included on your system, or any other info that is located on separate partitions.

If your machine does not include the System Recovery utility but you "need"to re-install the operating system, it could get a bit tricky. And understand at this point that ALL of your personal files AND software applications will be gone forever. Also gone will be the drivers that run the hardware and programs of your system.

So, if you don't have copies of the "System Utilities" and software applications disks, it could get REALLY complicated. Either way, In order to return your operating system to it's original state or install it on another drive, here's the link to Microsoft's way of doing so. Note that it is much easier than it sounds, but will take about an hour (mostly unattended).... basically insert the CD, reboot and "boot to CD" then follow the on-screen instructions, which include formatting (wiping) the partition which you will be installing the OS to.

Now you have reformatted only the partition that the new OS is installed on. Next you will have to re-install the drivers for your particular system, if XP doesn't include a generic driver. Again, if you have the disk, GREAT. If not, you may be able to purchase the "System Utilities" CD from the manufacturer... and as a last resort, you may be able to download them. Just be sure to install the most updated drivers.

You will also need to update your XP Service Pack but that's it... install your software applications and you have a brand new system !!!!!!

**Note: if your machine has 2 hard drives, applications and files may be able to be copied over to the second drive in order to be saved.

The "doctor" has left the building...

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The "Net" - part 2

While researching independent speed tests on the different different browsers I stumbled upon a couple of sites that I found useful, both for my research and for me as a blogger. In personally testing different browsers I experienced the truth in the fact that different browsers interpret the scripts that my blog page is written in... um DIFFERENTLY !!! But taking a screen shot using each browser honestly didn't occur to me.
Then I found this free site called Although most likely an invaluable tool for web designers as there is a section to submit your own personal site designs to share and also a very sophisticated color matching tool, I'm sure that I (and other bloggers?) could definitely find use for this service. I already signed up for a FREE account, and may just try submitting my page for shits and giggles.

But for this post I used it's service that takes screenshots of any website that you supply the URL for, using any or all of the 80 or so different browsers and versions they offer. Unfortunately Google Chrome wasn't in the list.

I was pleased to see that I wasn't going crazy (well...) thinking that my page viewed differently using different browsers. To demonstrate, here are a couple of the shots taken:

What YOU see isn't always what THEY get.... As you can see, even with this very simple page design(I use Firefox, so I see it that way), if you compare the headers which I circled in red, Internet Explorer reads the formatting totally different. Finally I had proof that different browsers read the language differently but this was also a bit upsetting to me, now knowing that my page actually could look like shit depending on which browser views it. But, just one of those things we're stuck with.

Also potentially valuable is that I had browsershots take screenshots on another of my blog pages, The "J" Files, which loads slower due to the embedded playlist. Theses proved at the very least that Internet Explorer is the SLOWEST browser, but again, the shots aren't all taken by the same computer so system resources could effect the results. Assuming that the amount of time this service allows for a page to load before taking the screenshot is consistent, here are the shots from the "Big 3":

As you can see, in the Safari shot, the entire page loaded... the Firefox shot was about halfway loaded.... the Internet Explorer shot didn't even get the playlist loaded, further proving my findings about browser speeds. This may be useful to bloggers as obviously multimedia-rich pages take longer to load.
Along those same lines, I also came across this site called when I was researching ping testing. More than just another ping service, pingdom also offers a page load test. Again, input any URL and the service will ping the site and report how fast the page loads. But more than that, it produces a detailed report that shows how long it takes for each ELEMENT of the page to load:
Again, potentially more valuable to bloggers and web designers but it was interesting to see which elements take the longest to load. I will certainly keep it in mind when posting and/or building another blog page.

There's a bit more on my browser testing. This will be the last post that I post on all 3 of my blogs, trying to keep the subject matter of each consistent with each respective theme... PLUS, I've been neglecting the others !!!

Anyway, please bookmark or subscribe to The Doctor Is In to stay up to date.... THANKS !!!

The "doctor" has left the building

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The "Net" - Browsers

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

All browsers are created equal.. OH CONTRARE !!!!!!

First, let me preface this post by assuming that everyone is already running some soft of protection suite that includes anti-virus, anti-malware, firewall, and identity protection at the very least. And in the age of email and instant messaging, it is important to be sure these utilities also protect those applications. Knowing what ASSuming means, I already have a topic for my next post.

Now that you all have your computer systems and Internet optimized, you're ready to tackle the Internet. So, today I'll share some of my knowledge and experience that I have gained through necessity and testing.

As a point of reference, I will share my bandwidth (speed) test results while using several different browsers. Then I will share my thoughts on them. Understand that in order to be as accurate as possible all the tests were performed at the same site ( and under the same conditions... immediately after optimizing my computer AND my browsers as described in previous posts, in "private browsing" and with the test site being the only tab open. This is what I got:

Internet Explorer 8..

Firefox 3.5.4............

Safari 4....................

Avant Browser .........

Netscape Navigator 9

Opera 10....................

Google Chrome...........

Well, well, well... looks like a no-brainer as to which browser is faster right ??? Note that these are strictly POTENTIAL data transfer rates and depend on your ISP, system configuration, optimizations etc. But, they are a good place to start at least - or are they ???

Transfer rates aside, there are many technical factors that are involved in how web sites are built and how a particular browser performs, like how they read and interpret the different versions of the "language" used to build pages (** BE SURE TO KEEP JAVA UPDATED !!!), how they compress the data being transferred and the system resources required to do so (hence, the importance of optimizing your computer), to name a few.

I did a LOT of research on browser comparisons. Although Google Chrome has been advertised as the FASTEST browser going, according to my personal data transfer rate (above), that just isn't so. But all the comparison tests point to this being true..... or is it???

I was going to include some tester's personal results but truth be told, their results don't compare to how these browsers worked in conjunction with my personal system and ISP. So, your experiences may differ too. Here's some personal observations. And just to note, all the statistics aside, two personal "tests" are simply how quickly I can scroll a web-page once I have my browser load it - particularly Facebook - and how smoothly videos buffer on Youtube.... maybe archaic but....

Internet Explorer - Internet Explorer is undoubtedly the grand-daddy of browsers, the only test result I could find that rated it number 1 (most rate it SLOWEST - I agree) was from Microsoft... go figure. True that the data transfer rates are among the best, OBVIOUSLY some of the other factors involved need to be visited by IE developers. NOT to mention there seems to be compatibility issues with Blogger... the host of this blog. IE is definitely not near the top of the list of browsers, according to my testing.

Avant Browser - Definitely a fast browser - pages load fast, videos streams fast and data transfer rates amongst the best, definitely high on the speed list. BUT, I personally experienced incompatibility with some sites, including Blogger.

Safari - Honestly probably the fastest browser out there. I wasn't aware that they made a Windows version until recently, but once I did, Safari was definitely my default browser (due to issues with Firefox). One drawback I found was that my Comcast toolbar wasn't compatible with this browser. AND I also found that certain functions in Blogger weren't able to be used.

Google Chrome - Chrome is also a VERY fast browser, despite it's apparent data transfer rate result. Google makes this happen by making it a stripped down version of an IE based browser, but THAT makes it absent of some of the user-friendly features available to users of the "bigger" browsers. Like others, a major drawback to me was the lack of ability to use some features on Blogger... a bit odd as Google owns Blogger. Another drawback was it lacked in it's ability to stream videos, lagging throughout.

Opera - Again a very fast browser, despite it's apparent data transfer rate... pages load fast, videos stream fast and play smoothly. Personal drawbacks include lack of compatibility with particular web-sites, not limited to Texas Hold 'Em poker and once again, Blogger.

Netscape Navigator - Honestly I didn't even know this browser was still functional - actually, it isn't. Although I was able to perform 1 speed test, once I closed it, it wouldn't open again, so further testing wasn't possible - probably a good thing.

Firefox - That leaves Firefox... Firefox is probably one of the few browsers out there that are totally independent of an IE structure - and THAT's a good thing. Although the precipitous for researching other browser options was the fact that Firefox 3.5 had EXTREME issues with crashing, Mozilla has corrected that and I personally have experienced a great surprise in Firefox's newfound stability in version 3.5.4. (**note, I am currently running the Beta version of version 3.6, which was just released).

No, I am not an authority on web browsers, and can only share my personal experiences. That being said, despite the "apparent" low data transfer rate, Firefox obviously has a good handle on data compression. Firefox still appears to me to be the best (and SAFEST) web browser there is.... videos stream fast, pages load fast, ALL aspects of Blogger are compatible... hell, even Facebook pages reload without lag.

These are just my personal experiences based on the browsers I've tried and my own surfing activity. Obviously everyone's own system and activity could result in a different experience. but for MY "money", I'm sticking with Firefox, as long as they can continue to address the past crashing issues...

This is simply a sharing of personal experience. Everyone's activity and system will play a factor in their personal results. But, even if you're happy with the way your browser responds, just know that there ARE other options out there that just may surprise you.

Online (and system) security will be a future post but my next post will "reveal" some helpful information that I have stumbled across for bloggers.... either way, keep reading... PLEASE ?!?!?!?

The "doctor" has left the building
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The "Net" - Optimization

Monday, November 2, 2009

Yesterday I shared some simple tips to help keep your computer running more efficiently.... REMEMBER THE OPTIMIZER !!!

Today, I'll take it another step to share some tips to try to help your internet experience be a more pleasant one. Again, I'm keeping in mind the K.I.S.S. (keep it simple stupid) mentality, mainly because that works best for me !!! So, I will keep it simple while still offering some tips that may help to improve your online time.

The reason for describing SYSTEM optimizing tips first IS simple, the more resources your computer uses to run, the less resources that are available to help your internet connection run smooth, right?

There are many factors that determine how "satisfied" you are with your internet experience - and although many are beyond your control, there are definitely some things to consider to help when you are surfing.

The "Bad" - I'll start with some things that we just have to live with. Unfortunately we are all somewhat at the mercy of others. It can get pretty technical but we have no control over site traffic, server capabilities, "flash" applications, "mime", javascript etc. Suffice to say, the more interactive or "fancy" a particular site is, the more resources needed in order to display it properly.

Websites are built using code known as HTML.. and more recently, XHTML (XML). Although the theory of this language is universal, there are many variations derived from the basic concept, much like English in the USA is spoken differently in different parts of the country - and THAT causes problems.

Facebook users know this all too well and a big part of the problems encountered there are because Facebook developers have created their own version of HTML which isn't always compatible with the versions that all the third party applications use - never mind the compatibility issues between HTML and XML in general. So, we're left to "deal with it".

Our hands are also tied (don't shoot me fellow bloggers) by sites that host multiple pages, streaming audio (guilty), video, multiple pictures, advertisements, "pop-up" clouds, multiple hyperlinks, etc as these all put additional strain on our own system resources.

That's not to say that there aren't things that you can to do to help ease the strain. Again, yesterday's tips for optimizing your system will help. Obviously the very beginning depends on how many programs, browser windows and tabs you are trying to run simultaneously... LESS IS BEST !!!!

And now I'll get into the "good", and help explain some other simple "fixes" that will help you enjoy the internet more. First some points of reference....

Bandwidth (Data Transfer Rate, uh....speed) - The key to your internet experience is the POTENTIAL speed that your ISP (internet service provider - ie, Comcast, AT&T, Charter) provides you with. Basically what this is is the amount of data capable of being transmitted per second. Yesterday I gave you a snapshot of my system, today I will tell you that I have Comcast Internet's 3rd tier - download speeds up to 15 megabits (mb)/second normal, up to 30mb/second with "powerboost" (LOVE THAT). Ok, ok, ok so WTF does THAT mean ?!?! Well, if you understand that 15mb = 1.75 MB (30mb - 3.5MB) and a typical mp3 song is 4-5 MB, it means.... ISP (Comcast) provides me with the potential to download files as indicated above.

First, if you don't know what your speed is SUPPOSED to be, then find out from your provider. But understand that what they tell you is the MAXIMUM you will experience. There are other factors involved but you should experience at least 80% of the maximum... ie, if you are rated for 6mbps (AT&T's maximum), expect around 5...

If you're interested (and HIGHLY recommended) you can test your own speed at and although there are many, these are the 2 main test sites used by technicians. Note that when you run speed tests you should run a minimum of 3 tests (and take the average)... I usually run at least 5...

"Ping" - Now, WHEN you got to you'll notice a link to another site, GO THERE TOO !!!! This site will allow you to run a "ping" test, which basically will tell you the amount of time it takes to transfer a packet of data and how much data is "lost" in that transfer... basically it tells you the condition of YOUR line to the server... results look like this...

I recommend that you run these tests BEFORE and AFTER making any changes so that you know how the changes affect your own performance...

Ok, testing done, and whether or not you're happy with your surfing speed, there are things that you can do/change to improve internet performance...

Toolbars , Add-ons, Gadgets.... BAD BAD BAD.... Web browsers and websites offer these wonderful "shortcut" utilities to make browsing "faster". Toolbars are just that, provided by services mainly to keep their names in your face... Yahoo has one, AIM has one, Facebook has one, Twitter has one, etc... Add-ons and gadgets are extensions of your toolbar offered by other services... basically "quick" links to THEIR page or service, or even live feeds from a particular site.... GET RID OF THEM !!!! or at the very least HIDE THEM.... Along with offering a bit of convenience, these "services" suck up bandwidth and resources... ESPECIALLY the animated and "ticker" ones. Bye Bye Bye... I will admit that along with the standard Firefox or Internet Explorer toolbar, I also have the Comcast Toolbar running as it provides me a link to their ant-spy utility.

Private Browsing - Some browsers... Internet Explore, Firefox and Safari, at least, offer "Private Browsing"... USE IT !!!! Although there are "drawbacks" to private browsing as.....

"In a Private Browsing session, [the browser] won't keep any browser history, search history, download history, web form history, cookies, or temporary internet files. "

..the saved bandwidth will make a dramatic difference in performance... if you REALLY need to search your history to find a page you visited, my suggestion is to "bookmark" it next time. Not to mention this way of browsing is safer.

History, Cookies, Temporary Internet Files - DUMP, DUMP, DUMP !!! Even when I do on occasion browse in a non-private mode, I have my browser set to delete all of the above when I close it. All these things do is waste bandwidth... and cookies and Temp Files are actually saved on your hard drive.... GRRRRRR.

Suspend the Interactivity of Websites - I've never actually done this and as a blogger... I'll probably get shot !!! (forgive me fellow bloggers) BUT.... some browsers offer the option to disable audio, video, ads etc from loading on websites. Obviously this is a way to greatly reduce the bandwidth so the pages load faster... but it's also a way to miss out on a lot of great content...

TCP (Internet) Optimization - CRITICAL !!!!!!!!!!! Just as optimizing your system has the most profound impact on the performance of your computer, optimizing your web browser(s) has the greatest POSITIVE impact on your internet experience. This is something too few people realize... When you install a browser, it's default settings are optimized for a dial-up connection speed. I don't know about you but I haven't used dial-up in ages - if you ARE still on dial-up, ignore this. There are definite tweaks that can/should be done to OPTIMIZE your browsers for your particular connection.

Although they can be done manually, I take the easy way out. Many of the Windows Optimizer Utilities described yesterday incorporate an Internet Optimizer integrated into their suite... DONE !!!

If you don't have one of those suites YET... then there are also utilities that can be found on the web. Comcast, for example, offers a TCP Optimizer that appears to be free to anyone as I didn't have to sign into my account to access the download. It can be found here at but you MUST be using Internet Explorer in order to download it.

However, the "standard" TCP Optimizers appear to only be compatible with Internet Explorer and IE-based browsers. BUT, have no fear Firefox users !!!!! I found one for you (and me) too called SpeedyFox. You can download it here. It's a very simple download and a 1-click optimization process... and I gained 15% more speed immediately after doing so. And have no worries, I scanned the file before opening it, so it's clean.

I was going to continue but frankly I'm tired... and this may be a lot for some to absorb. So I'll save the rest for tomorrow, where I will discuss specifics about some different browsers that I tested and my personal conclusions. I hope this helps and if I think of anything else I'll be sure to post it.

Before leaving I will share with you my speed tests performed at speakeasy, before and after cleaning my machine and optimizing Internet Explorer..... you be the judge...

Note, my download speed went from 21.6mbps to 30.8mbps.... hmmmmm... I'll take THAT !!!!

Just for the record, I had a tech come check my lines one day... when he ran the tests, he was getting 30mbps, while I was getting around 18. His answer to why his was so much faster was, "Better processor". THAT'S why I did some research. Who's pulling 30 NOW !?!?!?!?

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My PC is so slow !!!

I'm going to write a different post today... a bit off topic but this is my forum so... some of it may sound simplistic, but I'm writing it that way on purpose for those that are not as inclined as others. But even for a total novice, there are many ways to improve your computer's performance. I will do a more technical one later.

If you're still with me, I'm going to write about some computer maintenance and performance topics. I have always maintained my own computers (with mixed success, HA !!!) but I do have the determination to research issues thoroughly and have been pretty happy with my personal results.... and note that the topic here is PC, I don't own a Mac (never will) and would be able to offer no solutions there.

First a bit on my machine for reference:

Processor - Intel Celeron (not the greatest by Intel) running at 2.4 gigahertz
RAM - 1 gigabyte installed (2 x 512 megabyte); 2 gigabyte maximum
Operating system - Windows XP Pro; service pack 3
Hard Drive(s) - I have 2 (which aren't "raided" - by choice), 1 is 30 gig and I added a 40 gig which I basically use for multimedia applications and downloads to keep them off the drive that contains my operating system.

"MY COMPUTER IS SO SLOW !!!" How many times have I said and heard THAT?? There are many factors that determine how fast your PC performs.

First and foremost is the hardware, most especially the processor and the amount of physical RAM you have. Most of us are bound by the processor that came with our computers, and although upgrading may be an option, it isn't necessarily a feasible one. Today's computers offer dual processor models which obviously can do twice as much simultaneously. Not all of us are lucky enough to be able to afford that option.

Obviously the processor is the "brain", and not all processors work the same way. Although 2 processors may operate at the same speed of say, 3.0 gigahertz, there are other factors that determine how fast and how much information it processes, like front side BUS and cache... but again, we have what we have.

That takes us to the RAM (Random Access Memory)... Ah memory, obviously the more you have the better. As programs become more sophisticated, the amount of resources needed to run them properly (and simultaneously) becomes greater - increasing the burden on the processor and the memory. As a point of reference, I believe Windows XP requires 256 megabytes of RAM to operate - so if that's all you have, don't even try to run anything else.

You can tell what your computer has by clicking "Start".... then right clicking "My Computer".... then clicking on "properties" (if your "My Computer" is on your desktop, right click on it there)- there are other ways to get here... That will bring up the "System Properties" window.... which hopefully you've all seen before as there are several tabs that include information and utilities about your system.

.... which shows you your processor, RAM and operating system.

RAM is relatively inexpensive these days - at least for older machines (like mine). And if you're running Windows XP, the minimum you should have is 512 megabytes - more if you're running Vista... and probably even more for Windows 7. But before you go out and buy a "bunch" of memory, be sure you understand what your mainboard is capable of supporting, or else it won't read it at all - leaving you helpless.

Although increasing your amount of "Virtual Memory" will help, THAT allocates a portion of your hard drive to be used as "RAM" - virtual memory helps but it also requires use of your processor, leaving less of it's resources available to work for you... there is nothing better than good old fashioned PHYSICAL RAM.

Now, should you not be capable of upgrading your processor and/or RAM, all is not lost. There are several things you could and should do to help the performance and stability of your computer in general... True that there are tweaks in "System Properties" app that can be applied, but the defaults are set to optimize performance - plus those require some level of technical ability and I am technically challenged !!! - although I did increase my Virtual Memory setting... Instead I will explain some extremely simple "fixes" that should prove valuable.

Minimize the number of items on your desktop - This may sound odd (dumb) and I am the worst offender when it comes to a cluttered desktop - call it laziness. However, the more items (icons) that you have on your desktop, the more system resources wasted. If you feel the need to keep a large number of files on your desktop so they are more easily accessible, you should, at the very least, group them in categories and create folders for the categories to store them in. It may take and extra "click-click" to access them but will help eliminate wasting system resources. Ever wonder why Microsoft included the "Unused Desktop Items" utility with "XP" ?

Do NOT install custom desktop themes, wallpapers screen-savers or backgrounds- True they may be "pretty" or "cool" but... Aside from the risks involved in downloading a program from an unknown source, many of these themes (especially animated ones) require more system resources than you should be allocating to making your desktop look pretty.

Minimize the Number of Start-up Programs - Whether you know it (or like it) or not, every time you start your computer, dozens of processes and programs automatically launch and run "in the background". Many of these are not necessary for the operation of your computer but cause your machine to start slower and use resources unnecessarily. Task Manager (ctrl/alt/del) will show you a list of processes that are currently running and allow you to end non-system processes manually. However, if you determine that many of the processes that launch automatically aren't necessary, then you should stop them from doing so. To do this, click "Start"..., then "Run"... in the search box that pops up type "msconfig" and hit "Enter"... that will bring up this utility....

Some third party utility programs offer this also, but I'll get into that more later. As you can see, there are a few default start-up profiles, most likely yours is set on "Normal Startup" - mine is set to "Selective Startup" as I have stopped several processes from launching on startup. "SYSTEM.INI", "WIN.INI" AND "BOOT.INI" are vital to system operation and not knowing enough, I have left them at there default settings. The "Services" tab will show all the processes that are currently running and will allow you to stop them from doing so (to free up resources). The "Startup" tab shows you all the processes that start running when you start your computer. THIS is where you can stop processes to save resources and help your machine boot faster.

Uninstall all unwanted or unneeded programs - Leaving unnecessary programs on your hard drive only wastes system resources by either taking up valuable space on your hard drive OR by your system including them in it's list of start-up processes and having them startup and run automatically.

Clean (and Defragment) your machine !!! - Along with uninstalling unnecessary programs it is important to clean your machine REGULARLY (and especially AFTER uninstallingsomething) in order to keep it performing well... uninstalling and deleting files will leave file fragments and "gaps" on your hard drive, which will definitely slow your machine down - trying to read a fragment or empty space confuses your processor. Too often I ask someone when the last time they cleaned their hard drive was only to be answered by silence.

Running "Disk Cleanup" will eliminate fragments, temporary files and other "dead" files that just take up space and slow your machine down. Again, third party utility programs offer different versions - and different programs are written differently and "see" junk files differently, SO, I often run 3 different cleanup programs in succession. The "default" that comes with Windows can be accessed by clicking "Start"... "All Programs"... "Accessories"... "System Tools"... "Disk Cleanup"...

DEFRAG !!! As files and programs are written to your hard drive and removed, PC's are NOT built to automatically utilize hard drive space effectively. In other words, when you delete a file or remove a program, that space on your hard drive remains empty (fragmented). Even when you create new files, they will NOT fill in the empty spaces. Obviously, the more files you delete, the the more fragments your hard drive will have. It is critical to remove these gaps in your hard drive as empty space is the kiss of death for a processor - it takes MUCH more time for it to search a black hole for a file...

As with "cleanup" there are third party applications here but the Windows defrag utility is in the same folder as "Cleanup"... "Start"... "All Programs"... "Accessories"... "System Tools"... "DiskDefragmenter"... although, I don't care for it because it takes forever.

It is imperative for the performance of your computer to run these utilities on a regular basis - at least once a week... and ALWAYS after uninstalling a program or deleting a great number of files. I actually ALSO have my defrag set to run every night at 3 am, just to keep my hard drive optimized.

Anti-malware (spyware, adware) - ANOTHER critical utility for all PC owners. I'm sure everyone has some anti-virus utility to protect against viruses- I have the McAfee suite throughComcast, which, by the way, has it's own cleanup program integrated into it (one of the 3 I use). BUT, it is also crucial to have an anti-malware (anti-malicious software) program running too, IF it isn't integrated with your anti-virus utility - hell, even if it is (As mine is with McAfee), the more the merrier !!!

You can thank the "wonderful" computer gurus of the world for developing and incorporatingmalware into programs and/or websites that when downloaded to your machine can (and WILL) wreak havoc.

Although spyware and adware won't destroy your computer like a virus, certainly spyware can destroy your life, allowing a portal with which personal information on your computer can be accessed. Adware (ASSware) is more just a pain in the butt, causing ads to pop up at random related to whatever website or program infected you... been there done THAT.

I currently have 2 utilities installed dedicated to preventing malware. One is also supplied byComcast and is distributed by CA (Computer Associates). Feeling the need to again triple up here, I also have Windows Defender which is a totally free program, although I'm sure there are others - the point being... BE SURE YOU HAVE ONE !!!

My preference is Defender over the CA version and I have it running continuously in the background (seems to take less resources over CA), although I do have the CA anti-spy program run nightly at 2 am.. just to be sure. Along with the anti-malware utility, Defender also integrates a "Software Explorer" which is a more user friendly way of controlling currently running and/or startup processes as described above. It also includes a software removal tool. And it notifies you if a program is trying to make a change to your system, giving you the opportunity to not allow the change.

Ok, "I've done EVERYTHING above but my PC is still too slow"....

Windows optimizer program - All THAT being said, the most critical utility to have for maintaining PC performance is one of the many optimizer programs available. I haven't seen a free one (although, you CAN download a free trial) but $40 or $50 is well worth the investment. Certainly there are the means described above to help computer performance, but cleaning your hard drive simply isn't enough.... it's all about the registry !!! Explaining the function of the registry is a post in itself, but if you don't clean out and defrag your registry REGULARLY, all the efforts above could go for not. If you don't have at least registry optimizing utility.... GET ONE !!!! And adding and removing programs will fragment your registry, so not a bad idea to incorporate a registry scan into your uninstall process.

Again, there are many optimizing suites out there. Also again, different programs offer different levels of functionality. I currently use a suite by Uniblue, which includes a disk cleanup utility, a disk defrag utility, a registry cleanup/defrag utility, and a driver updating tool as it is also important that you are running your hardware using the most current drivers.

Within each of the modules there are also many options for optimizing specific applications like Windows and WEB BROWSERS, as well as optimizing your processor, physical memory, startupprograms etc.

BUT, the most important part of the suite is the registry optimizer...

and if you don't believe me, download a trial version of one and try it. Although the trial versions are set to only fix a certain amount or percentage of the errors it finds, you'll be amazed at the resulting performance of your computer.

That's it for now. I stress once again... the REGISTRY... and seriously, if you think I'm kidding I tested my internet speed before doing a scan and after... and gained up to 25% !!! But THAT will be lesson 2. I hope this helps.... if you have questions or would like me to research something for ya, just SCREAM at me.....

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