New computer recommendations

Updated 11/2/23:

Since you’ll likely be spending the next 5-10 years or more with your next computer, please take a few minutes now to make an informed decision about what to look for in a new computer and accessories – and get the best deal. 

Our recommended minimum new computer specifications are:

  • Intel Core i3/AMD Ryzen 5 processor or better. For an Apple Mac computer we recommend getting Apple’s “M” series processor rather than an Intel processor.
  • 8 GB RAM or more
  • 256GB Solid State Drive (SSD) or larger
  • Please read New Computer Buying Guide for more detailed information.

We don’t recommend trying to save money on a refurbished computer. Typically they won’t last as long as a new computer, and are less secure due to unpatched processor flaws and some cannot be upgraded to more recent secure operating systems.

We’ve seen the best reliability with HP and Dell brands. Keep in mind that cheaper laptops and all-in-ones typically only have a vertical screen resolution of 768 pixels, whereas higher quality and clearer screens are 1080 pixels or higher.

Click on the links below to view recommended computers meeting the minimum recommended specifications noted above at the respective retailer’s website. Some models may be available in-store. If you come across a good deal elsewhere, remember to look for specifications that are a minimum of what’s listed above.

Desktop PCs:

Best Buy – Dell, HP – SSD PC Desktops

Costco – Dell, HP Desktops – make sure hard drive is SSD or HDD+SSD

HP Store – Desktop computer towers with SSD

Dell – Desktop computers & All-in-One PCs with SSD

Laptop/Notebook PCs – regular price differences are due to variances in screen size, processor (speed), screen resolution and 2-in-1 convertibility:

Best Buy – Dell, HP SSD PC Laptops

Costco – Dell, HP – SSD PC Laptops

Apple Mac:

Best Buy – iMac desktop

Best Buy – MacBook laptop

Costco – iMac desktop

Costco – MacBook laptop

Apple – iMac desktop – select Apple M1 or M1 Pro/Max chip

Apple – MacBook laptop – select Apple M1 or M1 Pro/Max chip

We can setup your new computer and transfer data from your old one

Please consider our IN-HOME services to get your new computer set-up quickly and properly, vs. the chain stores offerings, or attempting it yourself:

  • Set-up and connect your new computer to your network, printer and other external hardware. If you buy from a national chain store you’ll likely notice that they don’t specialize in in-home service, or they charge much more for the option. We’ll make sure all of your external devices work with your new computer.
  • Transfer data (documents, pictures, music, etc.) and compatible programs from an old computer. Some tech services just transfer your data to a folder on your desktop – we organize your data and put it in the right folders and programs. 
  • Remove trialware and unnecessary adware. We also setup free security, backup and word processing/spreadsheet software.
  • Customization and explanation of Windows features. We’ll setup the menus, controls and buttons with familiarity of your previous computer.
  • Install initial updates. A new computer out-of-the-box is already several months behind critical operating system updates and computer hardware updates.
  • Consulting about questions you have about your new computer system
  • Recommended storage/disposal/donation of an old unused computer

Custom-built computers

If you need a computer custom-built for gaming or business needs, we recommend contacting our friends at Technology Center.

What you need to know about “credential stuffing”

Credential stuffing is a cyberattack that exploits stolen login credentials. Online accounts with PayPal, NortonLifeLock, 23andMe, and Roku are just some of the companies that have reported recent attacks on customer accounts. Here’s how it works:

  1. Data Breaches: Attackers obtain large databases of usernames and passwords through data breaches on various websites or services.
  2. Automated Login Attempts: They use these stolen credentials in automated programs to attempt logging in to other unrelated websites or services.
  3. Preying on Reuse: The attackers rely on the fact that many people reuse the same login credentials (username and password) across multiple accounts.

Imagine a thief who finds a box of keys stolen from various houses. They try these keys on different houses in the neighborhood, hoping some will unlock doors – that’s similar to credential stuffing.

Why it works:

  • People reuse passwords: As mentioned, credential stuffing works because many people use the same login information on multiple sites.
  • Large-scale attacks: Attackers can attempt logins on thousands of accounts very quickly using automated tools.

How to protect yourself:

  • Unique passwords: Use strong and unique passwords for every single online account you have. Password managers can be helpful for creating and storing strong passwords.
  • Multi-factor authentication (MFA): Enable MFA whenever available. This adds an extra layer of security by requiring a second verification step beyond just your username and password.
  • Beware of phishing attacks: Phishing attacks can trick you into revealing your login credentials on fake websites. Be cautious of suspicious emails or messages.

FTC warning consumers about new tech support scams – Here’s what you need to know

In their “Anatomy of an Imposter Scam” blog series, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) breaks down how to recognize, avoid, and report business and government imposter scams. Scammers are targeting people with pop-up warnings or calls claiming to have detected a virus on their computer. Here’s the rundown:

  • The Scam:
    • You receive a pop-up warning or a phone call claiming a virus has infected your computer, or a fraudulent charge on your account.
    • The scammer offers “tech support” to fix the non-existent problem.
    • They pressure you to give them remote access to your computer or phone.
    • Once in control, they might install malware, steal personal information, or pressure you to transfer large sums of money for fake repairs. They may even offer to transfer your call to the “FTC” or “FBI” so that they can “protect” your money.
  • What NOT to do:
    • Never call a number from a pop-up warning.
    • Don’t give remote access to your device to unknown callers.
    • Never transfer money or share personal information based on unsolicited calls.
  • What TO do:
    • If worried about a computer virus, contact your real bank or investment advisor directly using a phone number you know is correct.
    • Report the scam to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.

Many scammers impersonate more than one organization in a single scam – for example, a fake Amazon employee might transfer you to a fake bank or even a fake FBI or FTC employee for fake help.

Key Takeaway: Be cautious of unsolicited tech support calls or pop-up warnings. Verifying information directly with trusted sources and avoiding remote access to strangers protects your device and your financial security.

In their latest blog post the FTC is warning consumers about a new twist on tech support scams. Source: New tech support scammers want your life savings

If you’ve been a victim of a scam and need your device(s) checked out so that you are confident that they are safe to use, contact Computer Techs.

Charge Smarter, Not Harder: Maximizing Battery Life in Your Devices

Let’s face it, dead batteries are never convenient. Whether you’re on a call, streaming a movie, or crunching deadlines, a depleted battery can throw your tech-powered day into chaos. But fret not, battery-conscious friend! By understanding how and when to charge your devices, you can extend their lifespan and keep them powered up longer.

Debunking the myths:

First, let’s clear the air on some common misconceptions:

  • Myth: Leaving your phone plugged in overnight damages the battery.
  • Fact: Modern devices have safeguards to prevent overcharging. However, it’s better to avoid keeping your battery at 100% constantly.
  • Myth: Letting your battery drain completely before charging is good for it.
  • Fact: Deep discharges stress the battery and can shorten its lifespan. Aim for moderate charge cycles.

The sweet spot for charging:

Here’s the key: most lithium-ion batteries, used in almost all modern devices, thrive in the 20-80% charge range. Aim to keep your battery within this sweet spot as much as possible. Here’s how:

  • Smartphones and tablets:
    • Charge when the battery reaches 20-30%.
    • Unplug at around 80-90%.
    • Avoid full charges and complete drains whenever possible.
  • Laptops:
    • Set battery thresholds in your settings (e.g., stop charging at 80%).
    • Remove the charger when not actively using the laptop.

Beyond the numbers:

Remember, these are general guidelines. Several other factors can impact battery health:

  • Extreme temperatures: Avoid hot environments, which can degrade battery performance.
  • Fast charging: While convenient, it can generate heat and stress the battery. Use it sparingly.
  • Low-quality chargers: Stick to certified chargers to avoid potential damage.

Bonus tips:

  • Optimize settings: Reduce screen brightness, disable background apps, and turn off location services when not needed.
  • Invest in a power bank: For extended journeys, keep a portable charger handy.
  • Monitor battery health: Most devices have built-in battery health indicators. Keep an eye on them.

Laptop-specific tips

While keeping your laptop plugged in all the time won’t cause immediate harm, there are a few reasons why it might not be the best practice for long-term battery health:

Battery stress: Although modern laptops have safeguards against overcharging, keeping them constantly at 100% can put stress on the battery. Batteries have a limited number of charge cycles, and full charges count as one cycle even if you plug and unplug frequently throughout the day. This stress can contribute to a faster decline in battery capacity over time.

Heat generation: Plugged-in laptops often generate more heat, especially if the charger or surrounding area is poorly ventilated. This additional heat can shorten the lifespan of other components inside your laptop, like the processor and motherboard.

Reduced mobility: Being tethered to a power outlet limits your laptop’s portability, defeating the purpose of having a “lap”top you can easily carry around.

Risk of power surges: While rare, sudden power surges or fluctuations can damage your laptop, even if it’s plugged in. Unplugging it minimizes this risk.

Reduced lifespan of the charging adapter: Keeping the charger plugged in constantly puts stress on its components, potentially leading to earlier wear and tear.

Energy usage: Even when not actively charging, plugged-in laptops still draw a small amount of power. If you’re environmentally conscious, unplugging it when not in use can help conserve energy.

However, there are also some scenarios where keeping your laptop plugged in might be beneficial:

  • You use your laptop primarily at a desk and rarely unplug it.
  • You frequently use applications that demand high performance, requiring constant charging.
  • You have a faulty battery that drains quickly.

Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to keep your laptop plugged in depends on your individual usage patterns and priorities. If you’re concerned about maximizing battery life and ensuring optimal performance, it’s generally recommended to follow the 20-80% charging rule and unplug your laptop when you don’t need it.

By following these tips and being mindful of your charging habits, you can significantly extend the lifespan of your phone, tablet, and laptop batteries. Remember, a little awareness goes a long way in keeping your devices powered up and ready to go!

Remember that Computer Techs can help you understand the complexities with desktop and laptop computers, tablets, smartphones, and “dumb-phones”. We even help with smart/internet connected devices around your home such as smart speakers and assistants, and streaming media players that connect to your television. Contact us for more information.

How Seniors and Less-Tech-Savvy People Can Use Artificial Intelligence

AI in 2024: Your Friendly, Tech-Savvy Sidekick

Artificial intelligence (AI) might conjure images of robots taking over the world, but the reality is far more down-to-earth. In 2024, AI is not here to replace us, but to assist us, and that includes everyone, regardless of age or tech skills.

Whether you’re a senior citizen looking for a helping hand or someone who finds technology intimidating, AI can be your friendly sidekick, making daily life easier and more enjoyable. Here are some ways AI can benefit you, along with free services like Gemini and Copilot that you can start using today:

Free and Friendly AI Helpers:

Free services that can make your AI journey even smoother:

  • Gemini: Google’s large language model trained to be informative and comprehensive. It can answer your questions in an engaging way, even on complex topics. Think of it as your friendly AI librarian!
  • Copilot: Microsoft’s AI writing assistant can help you write emails, letters, social media posts, and even creative content. Stuck on what to say? Copilot can provide suggestions and help you overcome writer’s block.

Helping Around the House:

  • Smart Assistants: Smart speakers and displays can control your lights, thermostat, and other devices with simple voice commands. No more struggling to reach the thermostat on a cold day – just tell your AI assistant to turn up the heat!
  • Reminders and Organization: Stay on top of appointments, medications, and tasks with reminder apps that can even learn your routines and anticipate your needs. Imagine never forgetting to take your medication again!

Exploring New Hobbies and Interests:

  • Creative Tools: AI-powered art generators and writing assistants can spark your creativity, even if you’re not a professional artist or writer. Imagine creating a beautiful painting or writing a heartfelt poem with just a few prompts!
  • Learning and Entertainment: Language learning apps with AI tutors can help you pick up a new language at your own pace, while educational platforms can tailor learning experiences to your interests. Imagine learning French or delving into the history of ancient Rome, all from the comfort of your home!

Staying Connected and Informed:

  • News and Information: Services like Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa can answer your questions, read you the news, or even play audiobooks. Imagine relaxing in your favorite chair while listening to the latest headlines or an engaging story.
  • Social Connection: Feeling isolated? AI-powered chatbots can keep you company and engage in conversation. Additionally, video chat platforms with features like facial recognition can help you connect with loved ones face-to-face, even if they’re miles away.

Remember, AI is a tool, and like any tool, it’s most useful when you know how to use it. Don’t be afraid to experiment, ask questions, and have fun exploring what AI can do for you. With a little guidance and these free resources, you can harness the power of AI to make your life easier, more enjoyable, and full of new possibilities.

If you need help getting started with AI, Computer Techs provides In-Home training and setup of your computer, mobile devices and smart devices around your home. Contact us for more information, or to set an appointment.

Do you need to pay for antivirus?

Windows Security vs. Paid Antivirus

For years, we’ve been bombarded with warnings about lurking online threats, prompting many to invest in pricey antivirus software. But with Windows Security, a robust built-in security solution on modern supported versions of Windows, is paying for additional protection really necessary?

Windows Defender: A Force to Be Reckoned With

Windows Defender is the core antivirus and anti-malware protection included in Windows Security. Contrary to its earlier reputation, Windows Defender has evolved into a capable security solution. Independent testing labs like AV-TEST consistently award it high marks for malware detection, real-time protection, and performance. In fact, some recent tests show it performing on par with several popular paid antivirus programs.

Advantages of Windows Defender:

  • Cost-effective: It’s completely free and comes pre-installed with Windows, eliminating the need for additional purchases and subscriptions.
  • Seamless integration: It’s deeply integrated with the Windows system, offering smooth background protection without resource-intensive scans or pop-ups.
  • Automatic updates: Microsoft constantly updates Windows Defender with the latest threat signatures, ensuring you’re always protected against the newest malware.
  • Low system impact: Unlike some resource-heavy antivirus programs, Windows Defender runs efficiently, minimizing its impact on your system’s performance.

Is Paid Antivirus Still Worth It?

While Windows Defender provides solid protection for most users, some situations might warrant additional security measures:

[Read more…]

How to save money on internet, phone and TV service in 2024

Saving money on internet, phone, TV, and cell service can be a game of strategy! Here are some tactics to consider:

General Strategies:

  • Negotiate your current bills: Call your providers and politely but firmly negotiate a lower rate or better deal. Mention competitors’ offers or threaten to cancel. Be prepared to walk away.
  • Bundle services: Consider bundling multiple services with the same provider. For example, Spectrum and AT&T both offer considerable discounts on wireless phone service when you bundle with their home internet service. But it may not make sense to bundle ALL of your services.
  • Downsize your plan: Analyze your usage for internet and cell phone data. If you’re not using all the features or amount of internet speed/data in your current plan, downgrade to a cheaper one.
  • Shop around: Compare prices and deals from different providers in your area. You might find a better offer than your current one.
  • Look for discounts: Many providers offer discounts for seniors, students, low-income families, and military personnel. See if you qualify for any.
  • Utilize free options: Explore free alternatives for TV, like streaming services with free trials or using a library card for free access to movies and audiobooks.

Specific Strategies:

  • Internet:
  • Home Phone:
    • Switch providers: AT&T’s home phone service is typically much costlier than Spectrum Voice.
    • Considering cancelling home phone service altogether: If you’re like others, you probably get mostly telemarketing and scam calls on your home phone line. If you cancel your home phone service and just use your cell phone, you can save a lot. But consider the redundancy of having two methods of being able to communicate.
    • Switch to a VoIP provider: If you still want to maintain a second phone line, consider switching to an inexpensive VoIP provider. We can assist with options and setup.
  • TV:
  • Cell Service:
    • Switch to prepaid: Prepaid plans can be cheaper than postpaid plans, especially if you don’t use a lot of data or talk minutes.
    • Consider MVNOs: Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) use the networks of major carriers but offer cheaper plans.
    • Look for promotions: Carriers often offer discounts and promotions, especially for new customers.
    • Share a family plan: Consider sharing a family plan with multiple lines.
    • Read: How to save money on your wireless cell phone service – use an MVNO

Remember:

  • Do your research: Before making any changes, research your options and compare prices.
  • Read the fine print: Watch out for hidden fees and surcharges when comparing plans.
  • Be patient: It may take some time to find the best deal, so be patient and don’t give up.

By implementing some of these strategies, you can significantly reduce your spending on internet, phone, TV, and cell service. Don’t hesitate to get creative and explore different options to find the perfect fit for your needs and budget! There are lots of options to consider which may seem overwhelming. Fortunately Computer Techs stays on top of the latest offerings to help you decide the best methods to save you money on your telecommunications services. Contact Mark for a consultation today!

FBI warning: Cyber criminals impersonating brands using search engine advertisement services to defraud users

Cybercriminals are Targeting People with Malvertising and Imitation Ads

In recent months, there has been a surge in cybercriminal activity using a variety of techniques, including malvertising and imitation ads, to trick people into revealing personal and financial information or downloading malware.

FBI Warns of Imitation Ads in Paid Search Results

The FBI has warned of an increase in imitation ads that are appearing in paid search results. These ads are designed to look like ads from legitimate companies, but they actually lead to fake websites that are designed to steal personal information or install malware. Some of the ads lead to fake security warnings designed to get people to call and pay for unnecessary tech support services.

Malvertising Campaign Targets Seniors via Fake Weebly Sites

One recent example of how cybercriminals are targeting seniors is a malvertising campaign that is using fake Weebly sites to host decoy content that is designed to fool search engines and crawlers. When victims click on a link to one of these sites, they are redirected to a fake computer alert that warns them that their computer is infected with malware. The fake alert then prompts victims to call a tech support number, where they are scammed into paying for unnecessary repairs or services.

How to Protect Yourself

There are a number of things that people can do to protect themselves from these scams, including:

  • Be suspicious of unexpected pop-ups or alerts. If you see a pop-up or alert that warns you that your computer is infected with malware, do not click on any links or call any phone numbers. Instead, close the pop-up or alert and/or restart your computer.
  • Be careful about what you click on. Do not click on links in emails or text messages from unknown senders. Even if the sender appears to be a legitimate company, it is always best to hover your mouse over the link to see the real URL before you click on it.
  • Don’t respond to an invoice for something you never ordered. Scammers are using fake invoices to get you to call them to supposedly cancel an invoice or charge. When in doubt, contact your financial institution about unrecognized invoices or charges.
  • Go to the address directly when possible. Rather than search for a business or financial institution, type the business’s website address into an internet browser’s address bar to access the official website directly. For example, rather than searching for “Amazon”, type “amazon.com” into the address bar of your browser.
  • Double-check the website address. After clicking a link in a search result or typing in a website address, double-check the website address in the address bar for spelling errors to make sure that you’re on the website that you intended to be on. A malicious domain name may be similar to the intended URL but with typos or a misplaced letter.
  • Use an ad blocking extension when performing internet searches. Most internet browsers allow a user to add extensions, including extensions that block advertisements. These ad blockers can be turned on and off within a browser to permit advertisements on certain websites while blocking advertisements on others. But be careful to pick a reputable ad blocker with millions of favorable reviews. A free ad blocker we like is AdblockPlus. You do not need to pay for a good, reputable ad blocker.

By following these tips, you can help to protect yourself from the growing number of cyber scams that are targeting people of all ages.

Passkeys slowly replacing passwords for account logins

  • Passkeys are a new secure way of logging into websites and apps without the need for a username and password. Google just made passkeys the default method for sign-in unless you opt-out.
  • As of fall 2023, few websites support the use of passkeys for sign-in.
  • Usernames and passwords will continue to exist for many years due to the slow and voluntary adoption of passkeys. Therefore we still recommend the use of a password manager to store passwords, passkeys and secure information.

Passkeys are a new type of login credential that allow you to log in to websites and apps more easily and securely. After enabling passkeys on a specific account, instead of having to type in a username and password on a website, you’ll simply click a “Sign in with passkey” button or link.

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The pros and cons of Google Chrome’s new Ad Privacy settings

Google Chrome’s new Ad Privacy settings are part of its initiative to phase out the use of third-party cookies for tracking and advertising purposes. According to Google, these settings are designed to enhance user privacy while still allowing relevant and personalized ads. However, some critics and users are skeptical about Google’s claims and prefer to opt out of these settings.

Here are some of the pros and cons of Google Chrome’s new Ad Privacy settings, gathered from 2 different AI Chatbots – Google Bard and Microsoft Bing:

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How to save money on your wireless cell phone service – use an MVNO

If you’re paying too much for wireless cell phone service, consider switching to using a MVNO instead. A wireless MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) is a company that does not own its own cellular network but instead leases network capacity from a major carrier. This allows MVNOs to offer lower prices than the major carriers, as they do not have to invest in building and maintaining their own networks.

AT&T, Dish Wireless, T-Mobile and Verizon are the 4 local wireless carriers that build and maintain the cell tower network and infrastructure, but dozens of MVNOs resell service on those networks for often a cheaper price.

Some of the more popular MVNOs, and the network(s) that they use

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