What to make of this Black Friday’s sub-$200 laptops

It’s still a couple of weeks off, but we already know two retailers will be offering sub-$200 laptops on the day the United States gorges itself on bargains.

The question is, what do you get for your $200 on these minimalist laptops? I’ll answer those questions, then you can decide whether they’re worth $200 and braving the crowds, the weird hours, and likely the cold. (Yes, there are costs beyond the money you spend.) Read more

Things I wish everyone knew about home computer security

I’m a security professional by trade, with two certifications. I’m not responsible for defending your computer networks, but I want your networks to be secure. There’s a really simple reason for that. If your computer and your network is secure, then it isn’t attacking mine. Or anyone else’s.

Several fellow subscribers to a train-related interest group that I like got hacked recently, and have been sending out spam messages. They’ve received a lot of advice in the hours since. Some of it has been good, and some not as good. So I tried to think of some things that people could do in about 30 minutes to keep the crooks at bay.

Incidentally, the computer crooks won’t be going away. Computer crime happens because the criminals can make more money doing that than doing something legal. The only way to make it stop is to make it too hard, so that getting a real job becomes more profitable. You won’t solve that problem in 30 minutes, but if we all take that single step down that road, we’ll make the world that much safer. So, with that, let’s roll up our sleeves. Read more

New Microsoft Security Essentials

Microsoft tried to quietly release a new version of Security Essentials yesterday, then everyone started talking about it. The new version 4.0 claims to be faster and catch more viruses. Of course, that’s everything we want in virus scanning–besides being free.

The most recent data I read stated the old MSE was about 93% effective, so there was some room for improvement there. Read more

What’s going on with Macintosh security?

The latest figures I’ve read say there are perhaps a half-million infected Macintoshes still floating around out there, an improvement from the high of 600,000 that I was seeing a few weeks ago, but probably not what Apple had hoped after releasing its most recent fix.

I argued three weeks ago that the end of the innocence was either here or very near. I’ll argue now that it’s gone: There are now 250 known Macintosh OS X viruses in existence. In 2003 there were none. Read more

Acer Aspire One 722 review

I set up an Acer Aspire One 722 netbook this week. This is my Acer Aspire One 722 review. I imagine the return rates on these things is horrendous, because the out-of-box experience is pathetic.

This one won’t be going back though. Tune it up, and it’s an adequate performer. It’s still a netbook–all that talk of the AMD C-50 and C-60 chips delivering Celeron-like performance was just rumor–but it can match an Atom’s CPU performance and delivers better graphics performance than Intel. Read more

Living with a past-its-prime computer

I’m playing catch-up a bit. This weekend, Lifehacker ran a guide about living with a computer that’s past its prime.

I’ve made a career of that. One of my desktop PCs at work (arguably the more important one) is old enough that I ought to be preparing to send it off to second grade. And for a few years I administered a server farm that was in a similar state. They finally started upgrading the hardware as I was walking out the door. (I might have stayed longer if they’d done that sooner.) And at home, I ran with out-of-date computer equipment for about a decade, just this summer buying something current. Buying something current is very nice, but not always practical.

So of course I’ll comment on a few of Lifehacker’s points.

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Two commands to fix Internet connectivity

I can think of two times someone has asked me to fix their computer when it has suddenly lost the ability to connect to the Internet. Assuming there’s nothing wrong with the modem or the network card, the problem usually comes down to something messing with either the TCP/IP stack or the Winsock. Security software frequently does this, as does malware. A few years ago, I briefly worked for an ISP that provided a security suite based on F-Secure, and that program was notorious for breaking the Winsock.

Here’s the simple fix.
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What I would do to fix Dr. A’s computer

I left my conversation with Dr. A nearly convinced he doesn’t really need a new computer. The local store is pitching him a new $700 Dell Inspiron with a 1 TB hard drive and 6 GB of RAM and a 17-inch screen. But he could upgrade to a 1 TB hard drive for less than $125. If he doesn’t want to switch to Windows 7, his current Windows XP Professional will only use 4 GB of RAM anyway. Upgrading to 4 GB of RAM will cost less than $40. And looking at the new system, I don’t know that its CPU is all that much more powerful than what he already has.

To me, the clincher was this. I asked myself the question whether, if I were offered a machine exactly like his for $200 or $300, would I buy it. And it was an easy answer. I would.

I haven’t done a thorough analysis of the machine, but I’ve seen enough to have an idea what it needs. Much of it will seem familiar, if you’ve been reading me a long time.
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