About Computers for Newbies & Everyone Else

October 15, 2013

Get Help, Problem Steps Recorder

I have had people tell me many times that sometimes their computer will give them a problem.  No surprise there. But then when they talk to a geek or go to have it fixed they either cannot explain it to the geek clearly enough, they may forget exactly what happened or they cannot get the problem to duplicate itself at that time.  They then feel hopelessly lost.

Never fear, Microsoft thought of you with Windows 7 and continued it in Windows 8 (if you are one of the unfortunates using it) and hopefully from that point on.  The application is called, "Problem Steps Recorder" and is really a miracle of the technology age.

It is very simple to use and will give your computer geek more than enough, maybe even too much information regarding what is going on with your computer.

To get to PSR you can either click on your Start Orb and type Problem Steps Recorder and click the link that reads, "Record steps to reproduce a problem" or just type "PSR", see "psr.exe" and click it to start.  

PSR Start ScreenA rectangular window will pop up on your monitor that is label in-kind.  At that point you have only three options.  First you could close it with the "X" on the upper right.  Next, you can get help by clicking the question mark SNAGHTML3c02deunder the close "X."  Lastly, click on "Start Record."  With the last one you will be recording your screenshots anytime you click your mouse or type.  Each thing you do is recorded along with exactly what page you were on, the X and Y coordinates of the mouse location, exactly what you enter into areas, etc.

While recording, you can also add a comment by clicking the appropriate button on the controller for PSR.  It will open a text box in the recording area and you can type notes or thoughts with regard to the process. They will appear when you play the file back later.

Once you have finished stepping through your process click the "Stop Recording" button and you may then save it.  It will automatically create a "zipped" file to make it easier to email or take to another person for help.  If you would like to experiment try it now.  Save the file, (best to your desktop) and once it completes unzip the file and run the video to be amazed.

This is an excellent help tool and really easy to use.

December 18, 2012

Backing Up

I have mentioned the importance of backing up your important electronic files before.  It really is important if you intend to use those files in the future.  Whether it is your previous tax returns, (done on your computer or the scanned version of your paper copies) emails or documents of any type you need to keep an extra copy.  Today two of the most talked about file types are music and of course all those digital Christmas photos.

The reason to keep copies may be obvious to many of us, but not to others.  The biggest reason you may need a backup is to guarantee that one day, sooner or later, your hard drive will fail.  Hopefully it will survive long enough to grab your files but many times they are totally trashed; nada.  Occasionally you may be able to spend hundreds to thousands of dollars and send your hard drive to professionals to restore some or all of your files.  However, for individuals like you and me it will be very cost prohibitive. 

Recently I received an email from Alicia.  She asked, "I have a new 1 TB external drive.  Do I use the backup software that comes with the drive, or the Windows back up application?"  That is a great question and highlights one great alternative for backing up files.

What can a 1 TB drive hold?  Toshiba, one of my favorite companies, says approximately 17,000 hours of music which is just less than two years of music, non-stop 24 hours a day, 320,000 HD digital photos or about 457 holiday’s worth of photos, 1,000 hours/41 days of home videos (again without sleep) or 250 DVDs of about two hours each.

The price of external drives, like all other electronics is always coming down.  I found an external 1 TB drive for $80 and then a 2 TB drive for less than $120 so the cost is not horrible if you are serious about backups.

Now, let’s go back to Alicia’s question.  I would always use the software that comes with the drive.  It has been tested and proven with the drive you have.  It is most likely made to do just that one thing and do it well, so I say stick with it.  If you prefer the Windows application or any other you are used to, feel free to use that one.  However, it could invalidate your warranty on the drive so you need to check that out first. 

Keep in mind that there are also some great "cloud" storage applications out there.  I heartily recommend Dropbox (, Google Drive (, SkyDrive (, Carbonite ( and many others.  I feel that DropBox and Carbonite are the best to use for automatic backups; however, DropBox has a free version. 

Make sure you backup no matter where you choose to do it. Just do it!

December 13, 2011

What about SSD vs. HDD?

I recently received an email from a reader asking about SSD compared to HDD.  What the heck are those initials…new government agencies?  Not quite.   They stand for "Solid State Disk" (or Solid State Drive or Solid State Disk drive) and "Hard Disc Drive" respectively.

Opened HDD for viewingThe HDD is the hard drive you are most likely using on your computer.  It is generally made up of platters of metal disks stacked on top of each other.  Information is stored on both sides of the platters magnetically.  There is aHDD stacked Platters slight space between each disk with room for a "head" or magnetic reader on an arm which moves back and forth on both sides of each platter to read and write the magnetic info.  If you are old enough, just picture an old record player and a spindle stacked with records with tone arms between each record.  The major differences are size and the fact that an HDD spins at 7,200 rpm instead of 72 rpm. 

Example SSDBut what about the SSDs?  They are more advanced yet much simpler to explain.  SSD is basically another form of device used to store and retrieve data. Instead of metal platters it uses a solid state memory to hold the information.  A big plus is that there are no moving parts, meaning less battery drain and absolutely no noise.

The reader asked if they should switch to SSD and trash their old HDD.  I say not yet, for several reasons. Let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of SSDs.

Advantages of SSD:  Applications run through SSD will run much faster.  SSD devices require less power and no heat is produced.  SSD runs silently because it only uses computer chips, not moving parts. Access speed for reading is faster because it doesn’t have a moving part to run around disks looking for places to read or write data.  Mechanical reliability inside the SSD will be higher – mechanical failure wouldn’t happen as often, if ever.  SSD is shock resistant with no moving parts to break when dropped.  It can operate up to a temperature of about 160°F. HDDs are good up to about 110°F.  SDDs are much lighter in weight and smaller in size than HDDs.

Disadvantages of SSD:  Storage space is tiny compared to HDDs.  There is has been research to design and make a 1 Terabyte SSD, but it is not available yet.  1TB HDDs are readily available.  The write/erase cycle for SSD will not last as long. SSDs can supposedly go for a maximum of 100,000 cycles; whereas a regular HD can go for maybe 1-5 million write cycles.  This means performance of the SSD will decrease over time.  The big issue for me is that the price of SSDs is much higher.  The 1TB drive mentioned above is about $150.  However, a 128GB (about 1/8 the storage size of 1TB) SSD costs a little over $200.

I believe in the future all computers will be using SSDs to replace conventional hard drives.  But first prices and storage sizes have to get closer to the current HDD stats in order to be viable.  If you want to see what the future of SSDs will look like, search online for "Ultrabook."

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