Monday, May 26, 2008

Building your own PC

There are many reasons that someone would want to build their own pc. Among those reasons are saving money, and putting together a pc that contains exactly what you want.

If you are willing to put your own pc together, then you could save quite a bit of money. Not only on the initial purchase, but also in the long run when it comes to the warranties. Most computer resellers offer a one-year warrantee on the entire pc. However, when purchasing your pc in component form, each individual component will have different lengths of guarantee. An example is your hard disk drive that usually comes with a five-year guarantee, and your memory may give you a lifetime guarantee. Each individual brand may give you different warrantees as well so it helps to shop around. Some resellers may use the cheapest parts they can find to build your pc so that they can maximize their profits.

The second reason mentioned allows you to research each individual part that you are considering putting into your new pc and putting in the best that you can find. This allows you to get the best combination of components so that you can put together that killer pc that you have always wanted.

The bonus of choosing your own components is that you will know whether a certain component is compatible with the other components and you will get good brand name components which have a good driver support from the manufacturer.

Talking about support, you may find that getting your pc working may be a bit difficult if you have never built your own pc before, (This would be the main downside to building your own pc), however there are several helpful websites where everyday people just like you are building their own computers and offer help and advice to anyone willing to listen. Check at the end of this article for a few ideas of helpful websites.

A really big benefit of building your own pc is that when one of your components get old you could possibly replace or upgrade just that one part. Pre-built resellers will generally not recommend upgrading parts as they make more profit on selling you an entire new system. Several of the pre-build computers are built in a proprietary fashion as well which means that newer technology might not be compatible with your current pc.

So what do you need in a computer to make it work?

Well there are many things that you can add to a computer but let’s cover only enough to get your computer from an empty space on your desk to something you can write letters with.

Here is a list of items you require to have a functional pc:

1. A pc monitor
2. A mouse
3. A keyboard
4. A computer case
5. A main board or motherboard
6. A CPU (Central Processing Unit)
7. Memory
8. An optical drive, like a CD-ROM or DVD
9. A Hard Disk Drive
10. A screen card (If it is not included on the motherboard)

All this is called your hardware, and with these ten things you will have a computer. However you will not be able to write letters yet, to do that you will need to get some software to add to the above hardware. The most important software you need is an Operating system. This controls the whole computer and without it your new creation will simply sit there looking pretty. The most popular operating system on the market today is probably Microsoft Windows. The only other real option you have for an operating system is one of the Linux flavors. These will save you money but will require some learning curve if you are used to using Windows.

Once you have all these things then building your new pc is as easy as plugging everything together, doing some basic configuration and then installing the operating system.

How to do all this is covered by plenty of information out on the internet already, but hopefully this article whet your appetite and persuaded you that you should be building your next computer yourself.

Some handy web resources:

Step by step on how to build
Reviews and benchmarks on components
Building how to with help forums
Building a computer video
Some tips and techniques

Protecting Your Computer Online and Off

Increasingly sophisticated software, faster networks and online communication have brought many technological advances and benefits. However, with it have come increased security risks including many previously unknown ones as the bad guys harness this very same technology to further their evil ends.

Some of the more common threats and ways of overcoming them are:

Viruses - These are malicious software codes that cause undesirable effects on your computer. A virus is designed to spread itself without the knowledge of the computer user. A computer may become infected through downloads from the internet using CD's or disks with infected programs or from other computers on the network. Another extremely common way viruses spread is through infected email attachments. Given the many modes of transmission viruses are clearly a threat online as well as offline. The old adage "Prevention is better than the cure" is particularly true in the case of computer viruses. You can save yourself a whole heap of trouble and countless hours of misery by avoiding infection in the first place rather than trying to repair the effects of viral infection. Some simple rules can help you achieve this:

1. Install a reliable and reputable anti virus software and run regular scans. Preferably have the scan run on boot up.

2. New computer viruses are created everyday. Ensure that your anti-virus software is kept up to date with the latest virus definitions.

3. Do not download software from questionable or unknown sources. Always scan software using your anti-virus software before executing or installing on your computer.

4. Do not open email attachments from unknown senders. It is best to use an anti-virus software that automatically scans your email and can warn you if any threats are detected.

Worms - These are a type of virus which replicates itself and takes control of computer resources. The main distinction between a worm and other viruses is that a worm does not necessarily have to live within a host program and can run itself.

Trojans - these are malicious programs that masquerade as something useful thereby enticing the computer user to execute them and unleash their nasty payload.

Spyware - these are programs usually installed secretly along with other software whose purpose is to capture information about the computer user, the computer installation and other sensitive information about computer usage. This information may then be transmitted to a third party either by email or through the software "calling home" to transmit information to a remote website. Depending on the nature of information collected and transmitted this could pose a serious security risk.

Adware - propagated in a manner similar to spyware, these programs serve to pop up advertisements on the user's internet browser or desktop. These programs too may capture information about the user's browsing or purchasing habits so that advertisements may be tailored to suit.

Keyloggers - These are programs that record keystrokes entered through the keyboard and then secretly transmit this information to a third party. Naturally this can expose passwords, credit card details and other important information.

Control of worms, trojans, keyloggers, spyware and adware is achieved using similar strategies to those adopted for viruses, namely using appropriate anti-virus software including spyware and adware scanners and avoiding executing programs obtained from unknown sources.

Hackers accessing and taking control of a computer is another serious risk especially today with the widespread use of "always on" broadband internet. Hackers may exploit vulnerabilities in legitimate software or use trojans or viruses they have implanted to gain control of a computer which they can then use for sending unsolicited commercial emails (spam) or for other illegal activities. The idea here is to shield the perpetrator from detection as the illegal activity appears to originate from the computer they have taken control of.

In order to minimize risk of hacking attacks it is important to ensure that software used including the operating system is kept up to date by installing all vendor supplied updates and upgrades especially critical and security related updates. An effective firewall is another vital defence against unauthorized access by third parties. A firewall could be installed on the modem used to connect to the internet or as a software program that runs on the computer. The firewall serves to control who and what programs are allowed to accept or make connections with the internet. A firewall can also be useful in detecting and controlling programs like keyloggers which attempt to call home.

Phishing is another security phenomenon that has seen an alarming increase in recent years. Criminals are employing increasingly convincing and sophisticated means of sending emails which appear to originate from legitimate websites. However, links in these emails actually lead to websites controlled by them where they can capture valuable personal information such as logins and passwords. This is commonly used to cheat unsuspecting users by tricking them into revealing online bank login details etc. The golden rule in dealing with phishing attempts is to treat all emails which request personal information with at least skepticism if not suspicion. Never click a link in an email and enter login information or other personal information as the ultimate destination of that link may be cleverly concealed. When logging into online banking sites for instance always type the address in the browsers address bar. It is also important to pay attention to security features on webpages where sensitive information is input. A webpage address that starts with https: and shows a padlock symbol is secure. This means that any information transmitted from that website is encrypted and is therefore not at risk if intercepted.

There are offline risks to your computer as well. For instance it is important to select strong passwords which cannot easily be guessed. Ideally they should be at least 8 characters long and not consist of a regular word or name and comprise a combination of numeric and non-numeric characters. The strongest password would serve no purpose however, if a hacker is able to get you to disclose it to him. It is important to always be on the look out for social engineering attempts which aim to get you to unknowingly or knowingly reveal sensitive information such as passwords.

Needless to say physical security of your computer is also vital. The best antivirus software and firewall will not protect a laptop left in full view in an unlocked car! Maintenance and adequate care of hardware should not be neglected either. Regular backups stored in a location away from your principal computer and uninterruptable power supplies are good ideas to protect the integrity of your hardware and data stored thereon.

Perhaps the only way that comes close to completely eliminating every possible risk to your computer is to never turn it on and store it in a locked vault! However, even that may not work one hundred percent of the time. Nevertheless, it is possible to minimize your risk to an acceptable level by following common sense and adopting some of the simple rules discussed above.

Monday, February 18, 2008

A Comparison of Windows vs. LINUX

Many of you who are reading this article are using Windows as most of the other internet users do. There is a huge difference between the number of users of LINUX and Windows. Some say Windows is much better than LINUX because it gives you an easy handling of the hardware and software. Some say LINUX is much better because it started as Open Source software and that’s why it is much more flexible than Windows. Then why there is a huge market difference between these operating systems?

The answer to this question is quite easy. Since 1985, computer users and programmers became so accustomed to using Windows, even for the changing capabilities and the appearances of the graphical interface of the versions, therefore it always stayed as the product of Microsoft. On the other hand, LINUX has so many different versions from a variety of companies some of which are namely Lycoris, Red Hat, SuSE, Mandrake, Knoppix, Slackware, Lindows. These companies release their own versions of the operating systems with slight changes, and yet always with the same kernel. This variety and the fact that none of these companies are even close to competing with Windows, mostly causes the difference in the market. Nevertheless, this reality might drastically change after Novell’s purchase of SuSE.

Linux and Windows differ in many aspects. First of all, the Linux GUI is optional while the Windows GUI is an integral component of the OS; speed, efficiency and reliability are all increased by running a server instance of Linux without a GUI, something that server versions of Windows can not do. The detached nature of the Linux GUI makes remote control and remote administration of a Linux computer simpler and more natural than a Windows computer.

Secondly the command prompts of these operating systems are quite different. In general, the command interpreters in the Windows 9x series are very similar to each other and the NT class versions of Windows (NT, 2000, XP) also have similar command interpreters. There are, however differences between a Windows 9x command interpreter and one in an NT class flavor of Windows. Linux, like all versions of UNIX, supports multiple command interpreters, but it usually uses one called BASH (Bourne Again Shell). Others are the Korn shell, the Bourne shell, ash and the C shell (pun, no doubt, intended).

The costs are amazingly different. While you have to pay some hundred dollars for a new version of Windows, you can simply go and download Linux. As it comes from the nature of Linux, there are no manuals or simple installers for the free version, however. You really have to know what you are doing while using this free package. There are also some easy automated packages of Linux for low prices, as well.

The security issues with Windows, as most of you already know, are the biggest cons of Microsoft. Most of the malicious files, spyware, adware programs deal with Windows. You generally do not deal with these kinds of unwanted circumstances unless you are working with Windows. The user-id and password protection for Windows can also be easily bypassed, whereas Linux offers a strong protection.

The only area that Windows beats Linux in this “competition” is the software availability. As it was mentioned above, most of the software releases are configured for Windows. If you are using Linux, you have to emulate Windows with a special software and then you can use your windows based programs. Another option can be to install Windows as a subsystem to Linux which takes all administrative abilities of Windows and gives them to Linux.

After mentioning some of the different aspects of these operating systems, it can be said that all Linux needs to compete with Windows is some user friendly interface and a strong company support which can provide the users with technical information and user manuals.

Is Vista Worth The Hype?

We have had some time now to get accustomed to Microsoft's latest incarnation of Windows with its release of Vista. And it seems the general consensus is....PASS!

If you are considering a new computer, understand the hardware has not caught up to the physical demands set forth by Microsoft and it's newly born cash cow.

The most important upgrade you could buy to make your computer experience worthwhile is more memory. In other words, the hardware needs to catch up to the software.

Running 512k memory is useless so don't even bother to buy one with this amount of memory. You have to get AT LEAST 1 gig of memory to even consider running Vista.

But here is a point to consider, why should you have to go out and spend more money on more memory just to be able to run a spreadsheet and watch the latest episode of 30 Rock? Why should any new machine slog along as if it has been subjected to year’s worth of unprotected malware attacks?

Sure there are some great security features built into Vista that pretty much prevent you from doing anything to your machine, but what is the cost? The user experience really has taken a hit with this release.

Why? Vista takes at least 350k of memory for it just to run. WOW! Nothing like streamlining your software Bill since you have only delayed the launch four times.

People have been buying computers for twenty years now and at no time was your new machine worse than the old one! It seems as if Microsoft and the hardware people need to get together and come up with a decent performance standard that would be acceptable for everyone.

Companies like CompUSA and Best Buy are charging consumers $150-$200 to UNISTALL Vista! That's right, up to $200 to take the software off of your machine. Seems like we really have taken a step back with this upgrade.

The new UI (user interface) is clean and rounded and bubbly and smooth and looks nice. There is a bit of a learning curve with some of the functionality so you want to spend some time going over the built in "what’s new" function.

Microsoft seems to be taking user feedback and using it to eliminate or bury unused features. For example, in previous incarnations of Windows you would get to the "Run" feature (used primarily when your DVD or CD that was supposed to autorun decides not to run) by going to Start>Run.

Vista hides Run - here is your trick. Start>Acessories>Run, not too big a deal, but it is if you can't find it where you have been looking for it for the last four years.

In short, if you are in the market for a new machine, put your arms around the fact that you are getting Vista no matter what. Just make sure you save a few bucks to upgrade your memory or your user experience is not going to be what you want it to be.