Getting the best out of your Windows PC

In the 4 years (counting from 2006 when I purchased my first desktop computer) that I’ve been an active PC user, I have encountered the following scenario several times:

  1. User buys a PC because it’s cheap.
  2. User ignores all the how-tos included with PC including crucial information on how to keep the system running optimally.
  3. User keeps ignoring those pesky prompts to install updates or continues to cancel the installation of said updates.
  4. User goes deep into the weeds when infected and does things like installing multiple AV programs on 1 machines, reading & using advice obtained from sketchy forums on the internet.
  5. User’s PC slows to a painful halt and he/she either calls for a friend or has to spend money to fix the problems.

Of course, from time to time, stuff will get borked on your Windows machine and even through no fault of your own sometimes. Those kinds of problems can include having faulty hardware which can be rectified by getting firmware updates or updated drivers for the faulty hardware or . My main theme in my posts about taking care of your computer revolves around proactive user intervention. As a Windows user, you *absolutely* have to take care of your computer or else you *will* see degraded performance over time. If you are completely clueless around computers, look around your neighborhood for free community resources that can help you with your computer. For instance, I currently volunteer with Free IT Athens which is a “non-profit community advocate for free software and open technology” and they’ll be very happy to help with computer issues!

What does being proactive around your computer mean? For me, it entails *all* of the following:

  1. Regularly checking for Windows Updates if you have turned off Automatic Updates
  2. If you’ve got automatic updates turned on, visit the “Windows Updates” page occasionally to verify that the system hasn’t been waiting for your permission to install those updates.
  3. Check your PC manufacturer’s website for product/firmware/software updates
  4. Running your antispyware/antivirus utility weekly or daily (depending on how much on the at-risk scale you fall). Please try to be available when the scan is complete in order for you to be able to weed out false positives. Several AV engines have been known to accidentally mark critical system files as viruses. If you’ve set your AV scanner to run overnight and it detects your critical system files as viruses, you’ll be screwed if the AV ends up deleting such a file. So, my advice will be to start your AV scan early in the day so you don’t do overnight runs.

My list is not exhaustive, but by merely doing these things, I think a lot of issues could be avoided.Several good ways to see if your computer’s components has received any upgrade is to do the following (which is tailored to HP computers because my 2 notebooks are from Hewlett-Packard) include:

  1. Going to your Windows PC’s control panel and setting Automatic Updates to “install automatically” and *also* allowing Windows to check for updates to other products. See the relevant settting:

    These other products will show up as “optional” updates and I’ve found recent driver versions for things like my Nvidia graphics card, Ethernet/Internet, Synaptics touchpad, modem, etc. Case in point: my Realtek NIC driver recently received a driver update via Windows updates. As you’ll see, the HP support page for my notebook still has the old drivers!
    Old Realtek drivers:

    New Realtek drivers:

    My point: besides software updates meant to improve your system, driver and/or firmware updates can be very helpful to your system as well! Bear in mind that your laptop/desktop is composed of several 3rd party components that may have flaws in them. If you never check their website(s) to see if updates for their products (e.g. fingerprint reader driver, HP quicklaunch buttons, touchpad, etc) are available, how will you be able to fix any problems you are currently having with these items?

  2. Run HP Updates: If you’re using an HP computer, HP includes a software tool called HP Update which I highly recommend you run first. In my experience, HP Updates works for critical updates issued by HP.
  3. Go to this website which will take you to HP Support website. You should know your HP model number and that is what you need to search for (select “Downloads and Drivers”). Now, don’t go download-crazy yet. First thing to do is: go to Windows “Add and Remove” programs and see the installed programs and their version numbers. Knowing the version numbers will help you figure out if you are running an old version of your hardware’s drivers. If you can’t find that information via “Add and Remove” programs, I would recommend that you visit the “Device Management” section of your computer. Get to that section by clicking the Windows ‘Start’ button and type “device manager” into the search bar. Then, you can rightclick the product you’re looking to upgrade, check out its properties and verify that the driver is out-of-date. If it is, return to the page of “Downloads and Drivers” and be very sure that you are ONLY downloading the HP software drivers for your exact operating system. In my computer’s case, here’s what the screen looks like:
  4. Install Secunia PSI which is a security tool that lets you know which programs on your computer are ‘insecure’ primarily because they are out-of-date or a newly discovered vulnerability. I run this weekly on my computer to give me a status update (so to speak) on all the programs I’ve got installed on my computer. Secunia PSI is free for personal use and I strongly urge you to install it on your computer. On a side note (related to finding version information), I also use a tool (Belarc Advisor) to give me a nice .html page that contains a listing of all programs installed on my computer, software license information for certain products, and critical information about your computer & connected devices like serial numbers, version numbers, etc. I highly recommend this tool as part of your Windows user arsenal.
  5. Manually checking programs installed on your computer for software updates that could affect the performance of your computer. Sometimes, programs you install aren’t very smart about calling ‘home’ to notify the user of an update. In this case, you have to either go to the software maker’s website to check if there has been an update or look for a “check for updates” button which is usually found under the “Help” section.

This is not an exhaustive list, but I’d also like to list several pitfalls that can occur with well intentions:

  1. Running programs like DriverMax, DriverCure, etc and accepting all “updated” drivers blindly. Please, if you are unfamiliar with rolling back your system with system restore or “if it ain’t broke”, don’t go there. I’ve used DriverMax and DriverCure. They both always found outdated drivers. *HOWEVER* the driver matching algorithm is clearly not 100% foolproof. PC manufacturers’ have a good reason for wanting you to use their packaged executables for installing any driver updates. That said, there’s nothing wrong with using those programs to see what drivers are potentially out-of-date. Then, I strongly recommend that you go to the source to download said updates yourself. For instance, through DriverCure by Paretologic, I was found out that were updates to my Realtek HD audio drivers, Realtek NIC controller drivers and Intel wireless drivers! Windows Update didn’t detect these updates and the HP support site’s drivers had not been updated. Now, if “it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” If your PC’s running just fine with the old driver versions, then sit tight. If you’re obsessed with running the latest & greatest drivers for your devices, be aware that you will cause things to stop functioning at some point. Of course, I had nothing to do with that. You’re on your own in implementing any tips given on this website, m’kay?

    As I always stress, PLEASE for the love of data, create a system restore point, manually copy precious files over a removable USB drive, create a whole system image, create a backup of your files, just save your work BEFORE attempting a driver upgrade. True story: I’ve had to pave a PC after a botched driver installation. So, I’m a little paranoid when it comes to having several copies of the same data. 🙂

Getting blocked from Amazon and their disconnected customer service

See the latest developments at the bottom. As I write, it’s been close to 48 hrs since I got an email from Amazon that alerted me to “suspicious activity” they had detected on my account. Thus, they helpfully suspended my account. According to that same email, the account suspension was reversible following their receipt of a follow-up email from me telling them whether or not their detection was in error. The following account is a recounting of Amazon’s epic failure in the basic rules of engagement in customer service.

Here’s what happened: I signed up for Blippy which is a new service that pulls your purchases from accounts like Amazon, iTunes, bank accounts and allows you to broadcast (or keep private) your transactions. I added my Amazon account to my Blippy account and next thing I know, I got this email from (cc’ed to at about 6am on 01/13/2009:

Given the seriousness of the situation i.e. (i) I couldn’t log into my account to review my purchases (ii) I couldn’t log into my Amazon Sellers account (iii) I couldn’t log into Amazon related services like the Amazon Mechanical Turk (don’t judge me, a girl’s gotta eat. lol), Amazon Associates, etc because my account had been suspended, I expected that there would be an expeditious resolution of the matter. I sent them an email response at ~ 8:40am on the same day as shown in this pic below:

In that email, I let them know exactly what I did i.e. I signed up for Blippy and added my account credentials. According to their first email, I assumed (wrongly) that this issue would rank highly on their to-do list. When nothing happened after ~ 3hrs, I sent another email to and After placing 2 calls to Amazon’s customer service number, I was given an E.T.A. of 24 – 48hrs and I let the matter lie until today (01/14/2009). After about 35hrs and counting, I have yet to have my account reactivated. No one from Amazon has initiated a phone call to me to keep me abreast of any issues that they may be facing. To be clear, up till now, I’ve never had an upsetting experience with I’ve spent a lot of my money through their website and I have an Amazon Seller’s account there as well. My point: I have a long history with and a bit appalled at how they appear to be dragging their feet on this serious issue.

Today (01/14/2009), I placed no less than 3 calls today to Amazon’s customer service and all the customer service representatives could do was make and send notes to the Investigation team. I called the Amazon Seller’s hotline number and the person I spoke with at ~ 3pm today let me know I was essential Shit-Outta-Luck (SOL) with them as this email shows (His reason: my case had been reassigned to the mysterious folk and his unit (sellers’ accounts) could not continue handling my case):

At this point, it appears I’m at Amazon’s mercy because according to the last person I spoke with, reopening a new account (which is NOT a desirable option) would not be smart because their systems would detect and automagically associate the new account with the blocked account and THEN block the new account! Confusing, eh? I don’t know what else to do but pray to the Gods-that-be at Amazon to PLEASE get their shit together. Blocking a customer’s account for over 48 hrs despite said customer doing all the right things is NOT cool.

I mean, even my bank gives me the courtesy of a call to let me know there is suspected unauthorized activity and lets me talk with an automated machine to verify any recent transactions! I guess I needed a wake up call. I *have* been spending too much money at Amazon anyway so thanks!

Update (01/19/2010): I sent this carefully worded email to and copied all the parties that I had been in touch with (,, and legal@amazon for good measure).

Here’s the full text of the email:

To whom it may concern:

On January 13, 2010: I received an email from and it was cc’d to This email informed me that my logon credentials (specifically) had been used to access, but that no purchases were made. I wrote back ~ 3 hrs after receipt of this email (which was ~ 8.30am EST) that I had indeed used my Amazon logon credentials elsewhere i.e. on the website In my opinion, doing that was no more risky than sites like Facebook that ask for email credentials in order to access one’s contact lists. That was on the 13th. Since then, I have been in touch with Amazon customer service representatives by phone and have been given the runaround. No one seems to be able to get in touch with anyone at Account Services. The Amazon sellers’ team has passed the buck to Account Services (see Case xxxxxxxx). The Investigation Team (according to my email records) did not find

This is not acceptable particularly because I am an Amazon Seller in addition to patronizing Amazon rather frequently. I have been unable to do anything related to my dealings (Amazon Associates, Amazon Payments, Sellers, etc). I had read about’s atrocious handling of security issues and thought it would never happen to me. Well, here I am: 6 days into my account being “blocked” for “security purposes”. What is indulging in is security theater because *surely* my previous 2 emails to and should have alleviated your fears about an account intrusion.

Pray tell, what exactly is taking 6 days and counting to “investigate”?

I am rather disappointed in and will think twice about giving Amazon my business. I keep very close tabs on my financial accounts and would have been the first to alert of a breach. I have assumed my account-lockout was instigated by my giving access to my account in order to pull my purchase history. This was bolstered by the fact that the initial email to me said: “We believe it may have been accessed and used by a third-party to make purchases without your permission, but it appears they did not use your credit card to make these purchases.”

If this is not about’s authorized access to my account, what caused the lockout? At the very least, don’t I have a right to know why my account has been locked for 6 days and counting? I have invested my time and money in and to be treated so shabbily is disheartening.

I am not in violation of any ‘password’ security policies so I need an official response ( or phone: xxxxxxxxxx) from about the following matters by 5:00PM EST today (01/19/2010):
1) What unauthorized activity was detected
2) What steps has Amazon taken to secure my account
3) When does anticipate unlocking my account, if that is their decision.

Yours sincerely,
Jane Ullah

Update: Please note that my account access has since been re-established.

My laptop from Swoopo has arrived

So, as you might’ve guessed, I got “lucky” on and won a kickass HP dv7-3080us laptop (which is being used in the making of this post). Here is the Windows experience index (WEI) score of this bad girl out-of-the-bot (OOB):

Look at that thing! The slowest feature on the laptop is the 7200rpm hard disk drive which is an upgrade from my previous laptop’s 5400rpm hard disk drive.

Hearing stories of wins like this is almost guaranteed to make you want to start placing bids on Swoopo. Well, don’t try this at home. Winning a bounty like this is atypical and I cannot explain how I managed to outbid the hordes to win this sucker. Bidding on Swoopo is terribly addictive so unless you have beginner’s luck on yourside, you’re *almost* guaranteed to bid fruitlessly.

Call me superstitious, but my first bid on Swoopo was for this laptop and was completely on a lark because I didn’t think anything would come of it! I was in shock when I won and am still in shock. Being human, I shared the good news with all and sundry (twitter, facebook and in person). My father-in-law and husband were as gobsmacked as I am and despite my reluctance to get sucked into the hype, I got carried away so guess what I did?

Instead of carrying my money (and win) & running as far from Swoopo as I could, I decided I would let lightning strike me twice. Guess who lost money (~ $100 worth of bids), yours truly. I was rather hard on myself, but I’ve decided to make things easier to swallow by saying I purchased this laptop for ~ $220. And anyway you slice it, that is a heck of a deal. No, really. Google (or Bing!) it. So, overall, I’m still in the *green* but given the way Swoopo works, a fool and her/his money are soon parted.

Much love and a hefty dose of luck to you should you choose to ignore my advice and bid on Swoopo. They’re definitely a legitimate service and showed me good faith in sending my laptop to me in less than a week after winning it! They could do a much better job of communicating with users on the status of wins, but I generally like companies who shut up and sing (i.e. proof of the pudding is in the eating which in this case, they got my laptop to me in record time!).

So thanks to Swoopo for sending the laptop to me. It’s a brand new HP dv7-3080us that I’ve promptly registered on HP’s website. I was a little concerned earlier because the listing just had the laptop, but thankfully the laptop shipped with its peripherals like charger and mobile remote. The laptop is a considerable upgrade from my former dv9700t CTO notebook. I’ll post a semi-detailed review as time goes on.