Apple/Android/Phones

Irwin Electronics Weekly Digest

Apple/Android/Phones

Why we do not service Apple products or Phones

by David Irwin on January 03

Sure, it seems most computer tech’s are happy to service Apple products, Phones, Tablets, etc.. I really can’t speak toward Android much. I use the iPhone myself, and have pretty much since Apple introduced it. Apple was first to market with the Smartphone, and I never found a reason to switch. I’ve played with Android a little, but somehow to me it’s just not as user friendly. Yes, I am an IT guy with nearly 40 years of experience. I know Windows inside and out, backwards and forwards. When it comes to phones and tablets, I know very little!

I do know that Apple has made it very easy to replace broken screens on their newest models. You have two small screws and 3 tiny plugs. The screen and digitizer are sold as one assembly. Sure, I could make a killing replacing broken screens… at the expense of the customer. I refuse to do that. You see, my cost for the part alone is nearly what they charge at the Genius Bar for parts and labor. I would be more expensive, and not provide the Apple Warranty! All these independent IT guys/gals that say they will replace your broken screens are either overcharging you, or using inferior/substandard aftermarket parts, or both and voiding your Apple Warranty! We are a Christian business. We cannot do that. If you have an Apple product with a broken screen, take it to the nearest Genius Bar in your local mall. They can replace it while you wait. They have the parts in stock, they offer a fair price, and will not void your warranty.

What I do know about Android screens is the glass and digitizer are sold separately and are glued together. There are a couple methods the separate the glass from the digitizer. One is heat, the other is chemical. The chemical method is best, but it’s not cheap. Heat simply involves using a heat gun to soften the glue so the pieces of broken glass can be removed. Apply too much heat, or stay a little too long in one spot, and it’s bye bye digitizer. Plus you have the mess of pieces of broken glass to deal with. What if one little tiny piece of glass doesn’t release? It must, or the new glass will not adhere properly to the digitizer. I’m guessing many of these independent shops simply quote you for the glass and then charge you for both if they break it. Again, that’s not something we could do. It would be better to quote you the cost of both and replace them together. However the price would be so much higher than most others are quoting you’d think we’re crazy! When it comes to phone glass, buyer beware. Your best bet is to buy an Otterbox or Lifeproof case before you break the glass. I know, they’re not slim and stylish. Phones are considered as much a fashion accessory today as a utility. Your next best option is to purchase the warranty, and pay the $50 to replace the device if it breaks. For me, I’ll keep my phone in the Otterbox, and never touch it!

Shameless plug for Otterbox: I was jogging with my daughters one day and my phone was not securely clipped into the holster. It popped out just as my foot was on the way up, and landed perfectly for a drop kick. I watched my phone fly through the air, land on the asphalt, flip and skid to a stop. As I caught up to it, I simply picked it up and securely clicked it back into the holster. I have nothing to worry about. Check out the videos on youtube. Guys drop phones from roofs onto concrete below, and they’re fine! I have never broken a screen. Lucky? Perhaps, but I have literally thrown my phone, and it always comes through unscathed. If you want to trust your phone without a case, or use a fancy little silicone skin, you’re just asking for trouble. Why don’t we sell cases? We don’t make money on parts. We have to mark them up as is just to cover our costs. We mark them up only to that point to not overcharge the customer. Your best bet is go to Amazon and order it yourself.

That covers phones, but what about Apple computers? Windows computer manufacturers trust independent shops to repair their devices as long as they’re CompTIA A+ certified. I have that certification. Apple products can only be repaired by Apple personnel. From a hardware standpoint, I would void the warranty. I guess that’s not a problem if there is no warranty. I have had mixed success with OSx issues. The problems I find are either extremely simple, and not worth charging more than $20, or they’re related to people’s Apple accounts. I have tried to help people reset their passwords, but Apple provides this for free! Apple makes a quality product that should last practically forever. They’re operating system is based on Unix. It’s solid, stable, and secure. Sure, we could say we fixed the problem and charge you accordingly. But it goes against everything we stand for. We want to help our customers SAVE money.

That’s not to say all our services are cheap. Windows virus removal can get a little pricey. But we put a lot of work into it to do it right. Yes, we provide some tools for the customer to do it themselves, but that’s not always an option. Some infections take many hours to remediate, and remediation is only half the battle. Once the virus is COMPLETELY removed, the damage to Windows must be repaired. This is not a do it yourself task. Windows Virus Removal often requires a professional with the tools, knowledge, and experience to do the job right. You could easily put your computer back to factory defaults, but what about your data and software? Do you have recent backups of everything? Do you have the disks or installers for every program installed? Not many people can say yes to that. I’m not even sure I could. Yes, I have my data. Installers for every program? I highly doubt that. Yes, I do have bare metal backups. Are they up to date? No!

If Apple computers are so great, why don’t you use them? For one, They’re quite expensive! Most of the computers I use are junk PCs customers gave to me for recycling. They’re quite a few years old, and have had various hardware and software issues. Rather than spend the money to keep old equipment going, many customers would rather invest in new equipment. Sometimes that makes the most sense. For me, the labor is free. I can replace the hard drive with a small, inexpensive, solid state drive for about $30. Once I install Linux, which is free, I have a system that compares nicely with Apple for next to nothing. Memory is also a very inexpensive upgrade. Before I take any PC to the recycling plant, I remove any hardware I may be able to use in the future. I have a box of old RAM for older hardware. It costs nothing for me to upgrade. So why would I buy an expensive PC? At Irwin Electronics, we make old computers run like new. Yes, those old computers just might run circles around anything you can buy new. Why turn them into scrap metal if they have many years of serviceable life left in them? At Irwin Electronics, we do practice what we preach. Why not resell them? Sometimes we do! We have also donated computers. If they’re worth repairing, we will repair them. If the labor is too much for resale, we donate them. What we take for recycling is truly worth only the value of the metal.

READ MORE ON OUR WEBSITE

Irwin Electronics, LLC

Intel or AMD

Irwin Electronics Weekly Digest

Intel or AMD?

What should I look for in a new PC?

by David Irwin on September 04

In the 90’s Intel and AMD would leapfrog one another. Each new chip would surpass the competition’s best processor. That changed in 2007 when Intel released their first Dual Core processor. AMD tried hard to keep up, but for the most part, could never surpass Intel’s performance. Although AMD came close, they became known as a budget processor. The majority of the computers Irwin Electronics builds are based on AMD. You get performance close to that of an Intel chip for a lot less. There are certain rare cases where AMD does surpass Intel. The majority of tasks processed during day to day work are single threaded. This means the task will use only one core of your multi-core processor. In this scenario, Intel’s latest processors outperform anything AMD could deliver. However, in multithreaded tasks where multiple cores are engaged to process a task, AMD can give you a slight edge. One example is transcoding HD video. There is another catch to this scenario as well. Like Intel, AMD has multiple lines of processors. This scenario applies to AMD’s FX series processors. These more closely align with Intel’s Core i3, i5, and i7 series processors. We typically use the FX series processors in our desktop builds.

For years, Intel has included graphics processing in their CPUs. When buying AMD, however, a separate graphics card would be required. That’s a lot of money AMD was losing to ATI or Nvidia. To combat this, AMD purchased ATI. This enabled AMD to produce their A series processors. The good part is you get powerful ATI graphics processing on the chip. Although there is a major downside. AMD used a larger die process than Intel, This limits the maximum number of transistors in their chip. Most of the transistors were used for the graphics, leaving little for the primary central processing! An AMD A4 chip, for example, has plenty of graphics processing power, but it makes a very slow CPU which means a very slow computer. The chip was very popular in laptops because it was inexpensive. To this day we find a lot of customers using AMD A4 based laptops. They all have the same complaint, it’s slow, and ask us to speed it up. Tuning Windows helps a little, but not enough to make an appreciable difference. Things continue to improve with their A8 through A10 processors. They are still no match for Intel, but they’re cheap. If you’re on a tight budget, these may make a decent choice. Just beware, you’re buying a PC that will always underperform.

The landscape for AMD is changing. They do not want to be known as a budget processor company. AMD has been losing money and is on the brink of bankruptcy. Their new Ryzen series processors claim to beat Intel. Initial tests in the real world showed performance still lagging behind Intel. AMD claimed the problem was in the benchmarking tools used to test CPUs and offered a patch. The patch did indeed show improvement in the Ryzen but also shows improvement in Intel. AMD is making improvements in their Ryzen chipsets, firmware, and software. While things are looking promising for Ryzen, the cost is higher than that of Intel, and so far the performance is not much faster if any. We recently built a desktop specifically for Virtual Reality Gaming. For this build, we used Intel’s latest i7 CPU. The cost was not much more than a comparable FX series build, but the performance is amazing! Our custom built desktops always outperform anything off the shelf, but this one really surprised us.

So what’s the best computer to buy? Custom is always the best option. Intel’s i5 or i7 based are solid options. AMD Ryzen is promising if it’s in your budget. AMD A series are very inexpensive, but we do not recommend them. Older Intel Core2 Duo or AMD Athlon processors can still hold their own today, depending on your needs. They may be better budget options.

READ MORE ON OUR WEBSITE

Irwin Electronics, LLC

Virus Removal

We say we specialize in virus and malware removal. What history do we have in this field? What do we do differently from any other computer repair company? What is malware?

In this article, I will attempt to answer these, and many other questions you may have. I will also give you some advice on tools you can run yourself that may prevent the need to call a professional. Now, why would I give away the keys to the kingdom? While it is true that virus removal is where I earn the majority of my income, I also believe in treating the customer right. I know that by taking care of my customers, they’ll be more willing to refer me. The tools that I mention here are fine for small, benign, infections. The trouble is, once you get one, it will open the floodgates and you’ll be inundated within days. You see, a computer virus is almost like a life form. It replicates and spreads. It tries to protect itself. One of the first things it will do is attempt to disable anything that may kill it. It will attack your antivirus, and attempt to disable it. Many will also attack the Windows Updates. Presumably, because they take advantage of recently discovered vulnerabilities to do their work. Once Microsoft patches these, they will effectively neuter the virus. The Windows Firewall is another early protection system that may hamper the virus’ ability to work. Being Windows, the firewall has it’s share of vulnerabilities and can be taken down relatively easily. Your router does act as a hardware firewall, but it primarily only protects against incoming traffic. Once your PC is infected, the virus will phone home. Since the traffic originated from your PC, the router will route any replies right back to your PC. The virus can hide itself, and thwart your antivirus scanning efforts. It will basically tell your antivirus there is nothing to see here, move along. To which the antivirus software will dutifully do so.

Booting your PC into Safe Mode can help to prevent some of a virus’ protection mechanisms from running, so your antivirus has a better chance of identifying and removing the virus. Better yet, most antivirus companies have a rescue CD available for download. Creating the rescue CD, and booting from it, typically boots your PC into Linux, where the virus cannot run. HitmanPro is another great option to remove viruses. HitmanPro is a second opinion scanner that uses multiple antivirus engines to scan your files. While your regular antivirus (we recommend Bitdefender), and a second opinion scanner like Hitman are great at detecting and removing viruses, they will not remove all malware. What is Malware? It’s an all-encompassing term including viruses, adware, spyware, potentially unwanted programs, etc. Malwarebytes is one of the best tools currently on the market to detect and remove other types of malware. It’s pretty good with virus removal too. Unfortunately, there is no single tool that detects and removes all malware. Most tools do not completely remove all registry entries either. One registry entry remaining could download and re-install the malware!

This is where an experienced professional like Irwin Electronics comes in. We use about 10 different tools to remediate your system. Half of them are automated, like the tools mentioned above that you could run yourself. The others simply list everything installed and running on the system. We’ve been doing this for many years. We know what to look for, what’s okay, questionable (requires more research), and definitely bad. Cleaning an infected system takes a MINIMUM of two hours. We frequently find damage to Windows caused by a virus attempting to protect itself. One of the latest tricks is creating a hidden Proxy. PC’s installed in an enterprise environment are on the local enterprise network and must go through a proxy server to access the Internet. This is not necessary on a home PC as you have direct Internet access. The malware writers create a hidden proxy to direct all your traffic through their server. This is an attempt to steal your identity. Once we run the automated tools, we find we no longer have Internet access, and the tools remove the virus and leave the network stack broken. I wrote a script that completely restores the network stack in just a few seconds. We have the Microsoft Fix-It tools to repair damage to Windows Updates and the Windows firewall. While these work 80% of the time, some systems are still damages after the repair. We have a few scripts we can run that will repair about 90% of the remaining damaged systems. Others require us to manually rebuild registry entries, create accounts, and reset permissions. This is rare, but it does happen. Occasionally we find systems that are so heavily damaged, we have no choice but to re-install Windows. We have spent sixteen or more hours actively recovering systems from virus damage! We understand you have software installed that you rely on for your day to day activities, and may not have the installers to re-install all your software. We will do our best to recover everything and return your computer exactly as it was prior to the infection.

Beware of a company that charges forty dollars and declares your system clean. That indicates they ran one or two tools that you could run yourself, and they did NOT remove all traces. Chances are, something left behind will cause the infection to re-install. Some companies offer a one year, or lifetime guarantee… for a monthly fee. You will be calling them frequently for ongoing maintenance. This may be a good deal if the company is reputable AND your time is worthless.

Irwin Electronics offers a thirty-day guarantee in writing, but we do not hold that hard and fast. If you call us on day 31, we’re not going to say sorry your warranty has expired. We do not charge for diagnostics. We will happily run our diagnostic software and see exactly what’s going on. If we missed something, we will make it right. If this is something new, we will work with you to remediate the problem. It is highly unlikely you would be charged full price again within a short period of time. We take these on a case by case basis, and are always willing to work with you on a solution we both agree is fair.

I am the owner of the company. I take pride and ownership in my work. I firmly believe I do more for every dollar than anyone else in this business. I rely on your referrals to stay in business and put food on my table. I will NEVER charge you for something you don’t need. I am a Christan man, this is a Christian company. We must answer to a higher power. Everything we do is for HIS glory. We stand behind our work and fully honor our guarantees. If you are ever not happy for any reason, please call us and let us make it right. We have never received anything less than a full five-star review on any site. Our customers are always highly satisfied with our work and our prices. We are not the cheapest, but we are also not the most expensive. We try to remain competitive. Although our years of experience, certifications, reviews, and best service awards say we could, and should be the most expensive. We do not believe in overcharging for anything. That’s not a good way to earn your business and referrals. I also have a policy that says if we can’t fix it, you don’t pay! Others in this business say I am crazy. They say I give too much away, work too hard, and don’t charge enough. That’s fine with me. I will continue to treat my customers right and earn their business, while you gouge them for a one time service. Admittedly, I am NOT a good businessman. But I and any other techs I hire are undoubtedly the best in the business! That’s what Irwin Electronics does differently from any other IT company we know of! We have the tools, the knowledge, the experience, and the certifications to do the job right, and we won’t settle for anything less! We want to be your IT company for life. We’re counting on it.

I hope you found this informative, and helpful. Please feel free to share and comment.

 

You need a password manager!

Do you have sticky notes all over your desk with ID’s and passwords? Perhaps you have a notebook with passwords scribbled out and rewritten. Or you went the other direction and have nothing!

I run into this all the time. A customer’s hard drive fails and I load Windows or Linux from scratch. When I deliver the computer, they want to be sure they can access their email, Facebook, on-line games, etc.. They are shocked to find that it does not automatically log in. I often end up spending 2 hours helping customers reset their passwords.

Both Chrome and Firefox have the ability to store this information on-line. That works fine to store the information for that browser. However, once that browser is configured I have to open the other browsers and import the settings. The data between the various browsers will never be synchronized. “Oh, but I never save my passwords in a browser because it’s not safe, and on-line is even worse!”

There is a lot of truth to that. So why would you ever trust a password manager to automatically gather your ID’s and Passwords and save them on-line? One word, encryption. You must remember ONE password that is used to encrypt/decrypt your data. All information is encrypted on your PC before ever being sent across the Internet. “No, I’m afraid someone would crack it.” If the Federal Government trusts AES encryption to keep their secrets safe from China, you can certainly trust it! AES Encryption is very secure when properly implemented. The encryption itself cannot be broken. What can be cracked is your password. Did you know that ANY 8 character password, no matter how complex, can be cracked instantly? Today’s crack utilities employ the graphics card in your computer to do the number crunching. Graphics cards can process numbers far better than any Microprocessor and math co-processor combination. Here’s a little test for you: howsecureismypassword.net. Don’t worry, this does not send your passwords. It runs a little Java program on your computer.

But my computer is managed by my company, I can’t install software. Most password managers have enterprise versions available, that are managed by your administrator. If you work in a health-care or financial industry, password managers help maintain HIPAA, FIPS, and Sarbanes-Oxley compliance. The password manager can generate random passwords that meet your company’s requirements, check the age of your password, and in some cases, even change your passwords for you automatically! If your company is not interested in this, many password managers have plug-ins that run in the Firefox and Chrome browsers. This may be a way around your company’s software restriction. Not that I am asking you to bypass their restrictions. Please verify with your administrator first.

This sounds interesting, but how much will it cost? Some are free, with certain limitations. For example, LastPass is free if you want to use it only on your computer. You can upgrade to premium for $2 per month that will allow you to use it on your smart phone as well.

Edit: The free LastPass account now works across multiple devices and is likely all you need!

RoboForm is the same, with a free option, and $19.95 per year for RoboForm Everywhere. Dashlane is another option. They have the same free personal option, and $3.33 per month billed annually for use on all your devices.

PC Magazine has reviews of several other managers here: https://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2407168,00.asp

Interesting to note, I have both RoboForm and LastPass. I have used them for many years. Neither received an Editors Choice from PC Mag. They recommend Dashlane, Keeper, LogMeOnce, and Sticky. The last two I have never heard of until just now. It just goes to show you how rapidly the digital landscape changes. Even the experts have trouble keeping up. That’s not to say LastPass and RoboForm are not good. I’ve been very happy with them. Why do I have two? Because RoboForm did not work properly on Linux. I filed a bug report with them and it took months for a proper fix. I now rely heavily on these and being without RoboForm was not an option, so I switched to LastPass. However, LastPass did not properly import everything from RoboForm, so I kept it too. Now all my new stuff is in LastPass, so I have both. Perhaps one of these new programs will import everything, and I can migrate back to just one. I won’t include them in this article because it may take a few months for me to test all the features before migrating completely. You see I also use them on my iPhone for my business. They log me in to my invoicing site so I can create invoices for my customers when I work on their computers. They each hold hundreds of ID’s and passwords for the various sites I use, include private notes for things like my EIN number, my spouse’s social security number, etc. If my wallet were ever lost or stolen, all my credit/debit card information is in them. I could easily contact my banks to cancel the cards. I rarely allow websites to store my card information because the password manager will automatically fill this for me. The same goes for all those website forms that need your address, phone numbers, etc.. The password manager will fill these automatically for me. I have a pretty good understanding of encryption, and am quite familiar with Rijndael’s cypher. AES stands for Advanced Encryption Standard. Many people competed to win this title from the NIST to replace the aging and compromised Data Encryption Standard. Serpent, Blowfish, and Twofish are other contenders that in some cases provide even better encryption, but are not as easy to implement, or could not provide the performance. Rijndael was the winner. But data encryption is another discussion topic. Suffice it to say that AES encryption is very secure, and the weakness is the password. My weakest passwords will still take billions of years to crack via brute force attack. Some of my more secure passwords are in the quadrillion or septillion years range. Yes, I trust these password managers to store my information much more so than paper. And if anything is ever lost, I can log on to their website and get it all back. Everyone NEEDS a password manager! They’re inexpensive, easy to set up, and indispensable. I can’t imagine not having one. If you need a little more help, give us a call at 480-382-4761. We’d love to help you. Irwin Electronics makes old computers run like new, and so much more.

Update: Since writing this article I had the opportunity to try Keeper. Overall it’s a fine password manager, but it’s form fill is limited. It successfully imported my logins from LastPass and Roboform, but not my Identities, credit cards, or Safe Notes. Their support advised only logins are supported. I also had a problem with the Chrome extension on one PC. Their support advised this is a known issue.

These forced me to take a deeper look at PC Magazines reviews. The reason LastPass did not receive an Editors Choice award is because everything you need is now included in the FREE version. There is no need to upgrade to premium. The Free version IS an Editors Choice. Therefore, I will stick with LastPass, and whole-heartedly recommend it to everyone! Even though the free version now includes the necessities, I will continue using my paid version. $24 per year is a small price to pay for continued development. While PC Magazine may feel the cost just not justify the features, they do not see the big picture. If everyone uses the free version, the company could not support itself and we all loose.

For those of you that are super paranoid, Keeper does focus more on security, privacy, and anonymity. They only use 256 bit AES encryption, and are all about Zero-Knowledge. Nothing identifiable is ever stored unencrypted on their servers, not even briefly. And if that still isn’t good enough for you, Sticky Password has a Wi-Fi only sync option that syncs information across your devices only on your Wi-Fi connection. Your data never leaves your network! Of course this means you can’t access your data from a website, but that’s exactly what you would want.

KeePass is another option for the uber secure. It stores your data (encrypted of course) on a USB key, locally, or anywhere you choose. KeePass has a portable app that runs from your flash drive without installation. They have clients for Windows, Mac OSx, Linux, Apple iOS, and Android. Another great benefit of KeePass is it’s entirely Open Source! That fact alone make it one of the most secure options in this group. KeePass is also completely free. I plan to test this further. You know how much I love and support Open Source! And yes, I do donate! It’s our way of giving back to the community.

Update: I had an opportunity to try KeePass briefly. The installer gives a desktop application and database to store your ID’s and passwords, and not much else. Browser plugins to auto fill are available from 3rd parties, and seem to be hit or miss. There is no option to import from other password managers, but this may be available from 3rd parties as well. If you’re looking for something to replace your pen and paper, do not trust encryption to keep your data safe online, and don’t mind a little work, KeePass could be a great option. Personally, I have hundreds of logins stored in LastPass, so migrating to KeePass would not be simple. Nor do I see any real advantage over LastPass other than the fact it’s open source,

Now that I’ve had a chance to try a few more of these, LastPass is the clear winner. The free account my be all you need. It has more features than you could likely ever use. It’s the easiest of all I’ve tried, both in setup and daily use. I have never needed to contact their support. If you do decide to purchase the paid version, even at $24 per year, it’s still priced competitively. They do have a family plan available for up to six users at $48 per year. Each user has their own account, and you can set up shared folders. LastPass also makes it easy to share a login with anyone, without giving away your password. You can also set up emergency access so that someone can access your accounts in the event you cannot. The team at LastPass has done and outstanding job on their password manager. Everyone NEEDS LastPass!