The IT Troubleshooting Detectives – A Case Study

For many IT issues the old adage of ‘switch it off and then switch it back on again’ seems to IT Detectivework. But every now and then a problem will arise that foxes and frustrates you. When that happens, it’s time to call in the IT detectives.

Here’s a case in point:

The case of the beeping and rebooting PC

It was a normal day in the office. The window perfectly framed the balmy blue sky outside and if we listened really carefully, we could just make out the gentle twitter of the birds.

But then the phone rang and everything changed.

The disembodied voice recounted the story of their PC that constantly rebooted, beeped and then rebooted again. Nothing they’d tried worked and they were losing productivity.

We leapt into action and dashed round to help.

While standing in front of the offending PC, they demonstrated the problem. Sure enough it rebooted, bleeped and rebooted again. We put our client’s mind at rest by informing them that the beep was a good sign: it meant the PC was OK. The issue was to discover what was preventing it from staying up.

Our first move was to unplug all the peripheral equipment, just leaving the monitor, keyboard and mouse plugged in.

The PC started up no problem – had we found the problem?

We reconnected the LAN, but as we did so the whole system failed: black screen, rebooting and bleeping. Back to square one.

Upon starting it up again, it loaded OK, the internet was working, but after plugging in the printer the whole system failed again.

We took a moment to look around their office and noticed that the system was running through an old unlimited power supply unit – could that be the culprit?

After unplugging everything and re-plugging it all into the wall sockets, no system start-up.

So there it was, the culprit was the faulty power supply unit.

After the client had this refitted all the problems vanished.

The result: a happy client and productivity restored.

All in a days work for the IT detectives.

MPM Computer Consultancy provides IT Services, Support and Training to sole traders
and small businesses in Ipswich. Bury St Edmunds and surrounding villages.

Is Customer Service Going to The Dogs?

dogsAs technology develops and, apparently, makes our lives easier, there seems to be a worrying downward trend in the service levels we receive.

Many online retailers seem to be reluctant to make it easy for their customers to get hold of them. Frequently, rather than finding a phone number or postal address, we are faced with anonymous enquiry forms (many of which never generate a response) or merely directed to an FAQ page.

It seems that to speak with a human today, we have to jump through hoops.

One such case in point  was brought to light by an article in PCPro. They reported that Talk Talk customers had, quite rightly, reacted with incredulity over the company’s decision to close its call centre in Waterford because it no longer needed so many support staff.

According to Talk Talk, the loss of 575 jobs came as a result of “call volumes across the whole of our contact centre estate falling by 40% year-on-year”. They also claimed that most of their customers now used web-based support.

In reality, the cuts will result in longer waiting times for support calls to be answered.

In a direct response to the story about the job cuts, one reader commented:

“It took me 35 minutes on hold listening to ‘musak’ when attempting to resolve a broadband issue at a customers’ premises yesterday. The customer used to be with Nildam, who are now Talk Talk. Nildram would answer in 3 rings. Service now…totally shocking!”

The claim that most subscribers now use online contact forms instead of telephone support has also been met with scepticism, with one reader suggesting that:

“Maybe that’s because people don’t want to phone 0845 numbers, which cost too much, only to be held in a seemingly endless queue and then be kept on the phone for 30, 40 or 50 minutes at a time.”

It does seem crazy that in today’s climate, companies are, apparently, cutting back in the areas customers most value – service. After all, what’s the point in signing up to new technological services if you can’t get hold of someone to help you when things go wrong?

Surely, it is far more important to invest in your customer service and be regarded as an outstanding customer-focused company, than cut back and hide behind your website?

If you want your company to stand out in your crowded marketplace, put the needs of your customers and not your shareholders first.

 

MPM Computer Consultancy offers IT services and training to sole traders and small businesses based in Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds and surrounding villages. They won the ‘Exceptional Customer Services Award 2009’ for Best of Bury St Edmunds.

PC Jargon Buster

Do you really understand the inner workings of your PC?

When investing in a new machine, do you really understand all those initials and numbers?

To many, the inner workings of a PC is shrouded in mystery. It’s list of features appears to be written in a strange and archaic language that few understand. But help is at hand.

In this post, we’ll look at the jargon used in the world of computing so you can better understand your PC

Hardware

Getting to grips with your PC’s hardware can seem pretty daunting. But, by the end of this post, you will be able to identify the different components of your PC and understand their function.

This overview will cover the System Unit, Disk Drive and Display Screen – are you ready?

System Unit

image

As the diagram above shows, the System Unit is made up from:

  • Motherboard
  • Microprocessor
  • Memory
  • Expansion slots
  • Power connectors
  • Disk drives

The Motherboard (also known as a system or base board) is a single printed circuit board that holds the microprocessor, memory chips (RAM & ROM), expansion slots and power connectors.

The Microprocessor is the brain of your PC. Also known as the CPU (central processing unit) it carries out commands, controls the timings of each operation and performs arithmetic calculations. The most common microprocessor manufacturers are Intel, Cyrix, AMD and Nexus. The speed of these microprocessors is measured in megahertz – the higher the number, the faster your PC.

When it comes to Memory, your PC has two types – RAM and ROM. RAM is high speed memory that the microprocessor can read from or write to for temporary storage of programs or data while in use. Unlike disk drives, any information in RAM is lost when you switch off your machine. It should therefore be considered as a work space – again, the bigger the desk (number of RAM) the more you can do.

ROM, on the other hand, holds information which was been programmed into your PC during its manufacture and can’t be altered.

Expansion slots give you the opportunity to grow your system by adding new features such as a fax/modem, SCSI interface or sound blaster card.

The Power supply is what converts the 240v AC electricity supply to the 5v (for the circuit boards) and 12v (powers motor driven devices such as hard drives) DC power required by the PC.

Disk Drives

There are two categories of disk drive:

  • High speed hard drives (usually fixed within your PC)
  • Slower, flexible (floppy) disks (removable media)

The Hard Drive is fixed within the system unit and is capable of storing much more data than floppy disks. Therefore, it is essential you constantly back-up your files regularly.

In comparison a floppy disk holds less data and are considerably slower in use than hard disks. Their main advantage is their portability. However, today’s modern PCs, and especially laptops, are moving away from this media in favour of CD/DVD.

Display Screen

The main output device of most PCs is the display screen.

The display adapter or video card is found inside the system unit and can be an integral part of the motherboard or, more commonly, an expansion card.

The display adapter receives image data from the microprocessor and stores the information in video RAM – a special form of RAM usually located on the video card. A special video chip scans this data and converts it to a digital image. This digital image is then converted to a form that can be displayed using the monitor.

So there you go – your PC’s internal workings in a nutshell.

Author: MPM Computer Consultancy provides IT Services, Support and Training to sole traders and small businesses in Ipswich. Bury St Edmunds and surrounding villages.

Browsing–Going Chrome

Google chrome

What’s your browsing preference?

Are you a Firefox devotee or do you prefer the good old fashioned Internet Explorer?

Whichever rocks your world, maybe it’s time to consider a change. What about the (not so) new kid on the block?

Google Chrome

Those of you of a certain age may be forgiven for thinking the image above is of that really annoying but highly addictive Simon electronic game.

But no – welcome to Google Chrome.

When it was first launched, Google Chrome didn’t make huge waves. Yes it was very fast but it didn’t offer the user many features.

Well two and a bit years on and Chrome has come of age. It has added features such as foreign language page translation and web apps – but it hasn’t slowed down so it still out performs Firefox and Explorer.

One of the best features of the latest version (10) is the refinement of Google’s instant search. Now, Chrome predicts what site you want to visit and loads the page as you type the URL. Admittedly that can be a bit freaky the first few times you use it but it really is pretty cool.

But one the best things about Chrome is its apps. There are free and paid ones available and range of simple bookmarks to applications such as Tweetdeck.

If you haven’t dabbled in Chrome yet, have a go. Once you’re used to it you’ll probably never want to go back to your old browser again.

Author: MPM Computer Consultancy provides IT Services, Support and Training to sole traders and small businesses in Ipswich. Bury St Edmunds and surrounding villages.

Livedrive for Business

livedrive

If you’re in business you’ll know how important it is to ensure your files are always backed up.

Through Livedrive you can automatically backup your files safely, easily and securely online.

It constantly monitors your computer for new files and changes, plus you can restore old files (even deleted ones) quickly and easily. By offering a wealth of features, Livedrive offers its business users the ideal tool to maintain their data.

Safe backup

With automatic online backup you’ll never have to worry about backing up your data again. By backing files up as soon as they’re saved you’ll never be in danger of losing important files.

Livedrive allows you to:

  • Easily restore files
  • Use unlimited storage
  • Relax as it’s 100% secure
  • Keep up to 30 versions of any file
  • Use it on either Windows or Mac

Sync files between your computers

When you use Livedrive you get a new drive on your computer – your Livedrive Briefcase, which allows you to:

  • Sync between all your PCs or Macs
  • Send photos straight from your Livedrive Briefcase to your favourite social media sites – no need to upload your files to each individual site
  • Your Briefcase can be stored on or off line
  • Email files to your Livedrive Briefcase to automatically store them online and keep  them synced between your computers
  • Make super fast transfers

Access your files anywhere

Provided you have an internet connection, you can access and backup your files from any computer anywhere in the world. This online flexibility means you can:

  • View your documents online
  • Play your music anywhere
  • Stream your videos
  • Share files with one click
  • Edit files online

With prices starting at under £66 per year (backup only), there is a Livedrive product suitable for all businesses just ask your local IT Support company for more information.

Problems with Windows 7 SP1 Installation?

image

Windows updates – don’t you just love them? If you own a PC they are a constant source of annoyance popping up at the most inconvenient times.

Mind you, having said that, more often than not they download without incident.

But Windows 7 SP1 has just been released this week (available for download now) and seems to be causing a few problems.

It doesn’t actually offer any new features but does include all the previous updates which were delivered through Windows update. And so the problems start. If you regularly update Windows 7 and there are no problems with you PC’s performance you don’t need to install Windows 7 SP1.

If you’ve never updated your PC (shame on you) there is a chance you may encounter a problem or two (actually there are 7 potential issues) – here goes:

Problem 1:

Installation error 0x800FOA12 (Windows 7 SP1 or Windows Server 2008 R2) means the installer can’t access the system partition of your computer’s hard disk to update the files (click here for Microsoft’s solution).

Solution

This partition is usually accessible to Windows (but can’t be browsed in Windows Explorer). In some cases access to it may be blocked after Windows has started. For example:

  • The system partition isn’t automatically mounted, or made accessible to Windows, during start-up
  • A hard disk containing the system partition was removed prior to beginning SP1 installation
  • Windows is running on a storage area network (SAN) and access to the system partition has been disabled
  • A disk management tool from another software manufacturer was used to copy (or clone) the disk partition on which you’re trying to install SP1

Problem 2:

You may get an “Installation was not successful” error message due to your Antivirus, Anti-Spyware programs and inconsistency in the Windows Servicing Store.

Solution:

Try the System Update Readiness Tool which may be able to help fix problems that might prevent Windows updates and service packs from installing.

Problem 3:

If you try to install SP1 with Microsoft Security Essentials or Microsoft Forefront Client Security already installed on your computer, your security program might prevent the successful installation of the service pack.

Solution:

Uninstall both and re-install later.

Problem 4:

If you get the “Windows has detected unsupported languages files” error message, opt for the standard Languages in W7 and start the installation

Solution:

SP1 can only be installed on a computer that is running a German, Spanish, French, English, or Japanese version of Windows 7 or Windows Server 2008 R2.

Problem 5:

Samsung Galaxy S phone drivers, Chrome 10 and 11, EVGA Precision Utility 2.0.2, and Third Party firewalls may cause the installation error in Windows 7 SP1.

Solution:

Uninstall these if they are present before you start SP1 installation

Problem 6:

If you get Windows 7 Update error code FFFFFFFE it may be caused by a virus infection.

Solution:

To solve this problem, reinstall Windows 7 using the Custom installation option and format the hard disk.

Problem 7:

If you see Windows 7 Update error is 84C40007 (for Windows Server 2008), it means an update to SQL Server 2008 can’t be installed because of a problem with a .NET Framework installation.

Solution:

To solve this problem, you need to install the full Microsoft .NET Framework 4 package.

Hopefully that should help you solve any problems you may be having with the Windows 7 SP1 download.

Author: MPM Computer Consultancy provides IT Services, Support and Training to sole traders and small businesses in Ipswich. Bury St Edmunds and surrounding villages.

Welcome To The World of Databases

The Benefits of Databases

database

Every business gathers information which needs to be organised, easily accessible and secure.

The humble database is a business’s best friend. It’s there to organise, process and manage information in a structured and controlled manner.

This is the first of 3 posts that will look at databases, how to choose the right one for you and potential drawbacks.

What is a database?

Let’s get back to basics. A database is a collection of data that’s been organised so your computer can quickly select desired items. It could be a customer mailing list or stock codes for example.

In the good old days companies relied on manual filing systems which tended to be unreliable, unwieldy to use and very slow. Plus they can be used to cross-reference information held in different files. A relational database management system uses common ‘keys’ to tie related information together (e.g. a customer ID number can be used to identify an individual customer or link a customer to an order for specific goods).

Database benefits

The more you know about your customers, suppliers and competitors the better so if you can store your information in a structured way you’ll gain a great advantage.

Gathering and processing information is time consuming but it’s also the best way to keep track of how your business is performing.

A sophisticated relational database management system will help you with this. By constantly adding data you can gain a historical perspective on how particular products are performing and help you identify trends.

The use of this type of database technology will help you:

  • Reduce time spent managing data
  • Analyse data in a number of ways
  • Promote a disciplined approach to data management
  • Turn disparate information into a valuable resource
  • Improve the quality and consistency of your information

So as you can see databases can really give your business the edge. The next post in this series on databases will look at types of database systems and deciding which one is right for you.

Author: MPM Computer Consultancy provides IT Services, Support and Training to sole traders and small businesses in Ipswich. Bury St Edmunds and surrounding villages.

Solving Wireless Connection Problems

transmit

Going wireless doesn’t always turn our as easy as you would expect.

There are times when you just can’t get wireless devices to connect to your computer or you can’t get your computer to connect to the internet.

All if this can lead to frustration and sudden outbursts of despair. But before you throw your coffee mug across the room, sit down and have a look through this guide.

We’ve put this together to help you identify where your wireless connection problems are and how to fix them.

Instructions to get started

OK, the basics first. If you want to use wireless devices you’ll need:

  • Computer running Windows XP or higher
  • Wireless router or wireless modem/router

Right, let’s get started and take a look at a few of the issues that you might come across.

1. Dropped connection

Wireless or Wi-Fi networks allow you to use your computers anywhere within the range of the wireless device offering a far more flexible working environment. It’s unusual for your connection to drop once set up but if that does occur look out for a weak wireless signal, intermittent signal, or total disconnection.

2. Greater support

If you’re a Windows XP user you’ll need to download service pack 2 (SP2) or higher before adding wireless devices like a wireless router. This is because SP2 provides better support and troubleshooting tools for wireless networks.

3. Ethernet

When buying a wireless router always check to make sure it has plugs for Ethernet or network cables. If you do have a wireless problem this will be the only back you’ll have. You can use the wired connection to make sure the computer can connect to your network. 

4. Re-boot

If in doubt, switch it off and then on again. Yes, we’ve been doing that for years with our computers so it’s always worth a try with your wireless router. Performing this type of restart usually resets all your settings back to normal and clears the problem. 

5. Talking the same language

Wireless devices use a radio signal, normally at a frequency of 2.4 GHz. Problems can arise though because many household items use the same frequency (e.g. cordless phones, baby monitors, and radio controlled toys). If you encounter problems with disruption move the potential problem devices around until  they no longer clash.

6. Blocking your way

The radio waves from your wireless router could be blocked by the presence of metal. If you suspect your signal is being impeded you could either move the computer to another part of the room or, if that’s not an option, buy a wireless repeater to put in between the computer and wireless router. This amplifies the signal to help the computer pick up the router’s radio waves.

7. Nosy neighbours

If your computer tries to pick up your neighbour’s wireless network signal, go to the tool that views other wireless networks and select your network from the list. 

8. Device manager

If you’ve tried everything else and your computer still can’t connect to wireless, go to the Start Button, and do a Right Click on My Computer. Select Manage and in the Computer Management window, select Device Manager. Have a look to see of the green network adapter icon is missing. If it is, the driver for the wireless card or adapter needs to be installed. If however the network adapter icon has a red “X” or a yellow triangle and exclamation mark, you should remove the driver and reinstall it.

There you go – 8 ways to troubleshoot temperamental wireless connections. If you still have problems contact your local IT troubleshooting specialist who’ll be able to help you.  

Author: MPM Computer Consultancy provides IT Services, Support and Training to sole traders and small businesses in Ipswich. Bury St Edmunds and surrounding villages.

Think Posture When Using Your Laptop

postureBack in November we featured a blog post which commented on the dangers of laptops.

OK, technically speaking a laptop isn’t actually going to kill you or cause you serious harm intentionally – after all it’s just an inanimate lump of plastic, circuitry and metal. But the post did comment on Adrian Lee’s article in The Daily Express which advised how the increased use of laptops was being blamed for a large rise in neck and back problems because they encourage bad posture.

But all is not lost. You can safely use your laptop without risking life and limb simply by taking reasonable precautions and employing a modicum of common sense.

Think posture

You can use your laptop in blissful safety if you adopt a few good habits. These easy to follow suggestions will ensure you can work at your favourite laptop without running the risk of injury.

  • Always use a separate keyboard and mouse so your laptop can be put on a stand with the screen open at eye level.
  • Make sure your laptop is placed on a stable base which will provide support for your arms.
  • Take regular breaks (including short micro breaks). The movement will prevent the build up of stress on your muscles and joints.
  • Posture is everything. Adopts a good sitting position with lower back support and make sure all your other desk equipment is within reach.
  • Sit right back in your chair with your feet flat on the ground. Also make sure you don’t cross your legs or ankles.
  • Align your keyboard to your body by making sure the B key is in line with your belly button.

By making these simple suggestion good habits, you can prevent (or at least minimise) any aches, pains and discomfort.

Author: MPM Computer Consultancy provides IT Services, Support and Training to sole traders and small businesses in Ipswich. Bury St Edmunds and surrounding villages.

Can You Run Windows 7?

windows7

Are you fed up with your OS?

Do you battle daily with Vista or an aged version of XP? Perhaps it’s time to give your computer an early Christmas present and treat it to a nice new shiny Windows 7 upgrade.

Before you leap up from your desk, grab your car keys and dash off to your nearest software outlet are you sure your computer’s up for the challenge?

Here is a quick run down of the system requirements you will need to run Windows 7 on your machine.

To run Windows 7 this is what it takes:

  • 1 GHz or faster 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) processor
  • 1 GB RAM (32-bit) or 2 GB RAM (64-bit)
  • 16 GB available hard disk space (32-bit) or 20 GB (64-bit)
  • DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM 1.0 or higher driver

Additional requirements:

  • Internet access (fees may apply)
  • Depending on resolution, video playback may require additional memory and advanced graphics hardware
  • Some games and programmes might need a graphics card compatible with DirectX 10 or higher for optimal performance
  • For some Windows Media Centre functionality a TV tuner and additional hardware may be required
  • Windows, Touch and Tablet PCs require specific hardware
  • HomeGroup requires a network and PCs running Windows 7
  • DVD/CD authoring requires a compatible optical drive
  • BitLocker requires Trusted Platform Module (TPM) 1.2
  • BitLocker To Go requires a USB flash drive
  • Windows XP Mode requires an additional 1 GB of RAM and an additional 15 GB of available hard disk space
  • Music and sound require output

If you run a PC with multi-core processors you’re in luck as Windows 7 was designed to work with today’s multi-core processors. All 32-bit versions of Windows 7 can support up to 32 processor cores, while 64-bit versions can support up to 256 processor cores.

If you run a PC with multiple processors (CPUs) such as a commercial server, workstation and other high-end PCs, Windows 7 Professional, Enterprise and Ultimate allow for 2 physical processors to provide the best performance on these computers. Windows & Starter, Home Basic, and Home Premium will recognise only one physical processor.

If you are in doubt the best option is to contact your local IT Support company who will guide you through the upgrade process.