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Technical FAQ Purpose: To help answer and diagnose simple technical issues you may run across and not yet know how to fix or understand. Always remember to be careful and cautious when doing any work with a computer or system, physically or logically. I/We are not responsible or liable for any issues/damage/problems/data loss that arise as a result of the use of this guide or comments therein. Any software or companies suggested as a utility or helpful resource are done so based on personal opinion and as a helpful starting point for making your own decisions regarding use. Above all, if you are really unsure of something do not attempt it without proper research and/or asking someone who does know what they are doing. Secondly before any major system work ALWAYS perform a backup. Any loss of data or content as a result of not properly creating a backup of some kind is your responsibility. System Image Backup: With the above said a couple of options for creating a system image or backup are; http://www.macrium.com/reflectfree.aspx Very stable and consistent backup utility that is free for use. It does not do incremental backups, but otherwise is a very easy to use application and can be largely automated. Previous personal use with it was fine, and it was very easy to use. http://www.paragon-software.com/home/br-free/index.html Very stable with more backup options (differential/incremental, etc) but not quite as universally compatible, still a great option for simple backups. It is important to get into the habit of creating backups regularly. Even if you have never had an issue or lost data, it only takes one time before you realize the error and wish you had. With the cost of storage these days there is really no reason not to. Once you have a backup seriously consider getting some extra DVDs, or a portable HDD used only for image burning. If you do not want to create a system image, windows restore points or the windows backup utility are also decent options (restore being a much softer backup). At least a weekly backup is preferable to no backup, at worst you lose a week, instead of weeks/months/years/decades of work. Fresh Windows install common application loader, and start button/menu re-addition to windows 8: http://ninite.com This is an invaluable website for a clean install, or as the need arises. The premise is simple, select the applications or components you want or need to install on your computer (everything from Chrome to the latest Java to Steam, AVG and Notepad++ along with much much more). Once selected click on get installer and it auto installs all of the programs for you. The only downside is non customized installations but can save you a lot of time installing all of these applications. The installers will remember the software selection as well, so you can save it for use later, or as a template installer. For windows 8 Start button/menu install the Classic Start utility. You will now have a customizable start button/menu again and it auto sets to load to the desktop cutting out charms. Windows 8 PC Refresh/Re-Install: Windows 8 provides the option to ‘refresh’ the PC by bringing the computer back to an almost fresh install state. The benefit here is that you will retain all of the files and downloads pictures etc you have, while reverting to default windows files and setup. Note that this WILL require you to reinstall programs, but you wont lose specific data files as just mentioned. Start-Up / Boot cleanup: A lot of programs like to insert items into startup, a lot of them are extra drains on resources for things like version checking or updates. To disable these items pull up the start button and in the search box type in msconfig.exe then hit enter. MSConfig gives you a lot of different options for your system. This can be a very helpful little utility, but also very dangerous if you play around in the wrong areas. The only 2 places you should really bother with are the Boot and Startup tabs. Boot Tab, controls multi boot loading (EG if you dual boot windowsXP and 7 for instance) and you can control things like time to select, default OS, etc. Also, and sometimes more importantly, the ability to turn on safe boot, with options (eg minimal, networking) and boot logs which can help very much in identifying problems with an unstable system. Just remember to turn off safe mode when you are finished! Startup Tab, basically exactly what it sounds like. Lists the items that are launched on startup and gives you the ability to disable them (uncheck the checkbox) Another good option is to periodically go through your installed programs list and remove anything you no longer use or was not what you thought it might be. Firewall / Antivirus: Over the years firewall and anti-virus apps have come a long way, and there are quite a few great free options. Here are some of the offerings you may come across, most of these are combo these days (both firewall and AV rolled into one) though typically you need to pay for a bundle. Firewall: Zone alarm, very popular free firewall with a lot of options and active scanning. Supports WinXP/vista/7/8 http://www.zonealarm.com/security/en-us/zonealarm-pc-security-free-firewall.htm Windows built in firewall. This used to be much worse than it currently is. These days its fairly robust but pretty straight forward. It is a good option provided you spend a little time to get to know it and its limitations. It is adequate for most home use, especially if you don’t know a whole lot about firewalls and ports. Comodo Personal Firewall, great firewall with active scanning and known good/bad program lists. http://personalfirewall.comodo.com/free-download.html Online Armor, has some cool features, like setting programs to effectively ‘run as’ a user with lower permissions. http://www.online-armor.com/products-online-armor-free.php Anti Virus: AVG antivirus, very popular and good anti virus http://free.avg.com/us-en/free-antivirus-download Avast, another very popular free option: http://www.avast.com/en-us/index Ad-Aware, very popular system http://www.lavasoft.com/products/ad_aware.php It is really important to make sure you have protection installed early and updated often. Much like backups it pays to not have an issue or lose data, or have your identity or credit cards compromised. Weird windows problems or crashing: A useful tool to record problems or crashes is actually one built into windows, psr.exe To open it, go to the start -> search and type in psr.exe click on the record button and perform the steps that lead to the problem. When you are done it will ask where to save the zip file, choose a location. Inside the zip file is an mht file, which opens in internet explorer. It will give you a screen by screen recap of what you did, where you clicked, and what happened along with some information about the OS, the program being used, and versions therein. This can be a great help when diagnosing a problem, or trying to figure out what is happening. A lot of issues can crop up from bad/missing/corrupt windows files or protected items, luckily there is a built in application to help find and fix these. Open a command prompt and type in sfc /SCANNOW This will scan protected and core files to ensure integrity and operation. If any are missing it will attempt to repair them. (Can take a while to perform) Some issues arise from newer drivers or application packages, you can try to use older versions which sometimes can be difficult to find. A couple useful websites to use in this instance: http://www.oldapps.com/category/drivers http://www.driverguide.com/ With that said though, just as many, if not more issues can be caused by OLD drivers, so be sure that you regularly check for updates to your system drivers. I would caution against downloading .dll files by themselves, if you have a missing or corrupt dll file. There are a lot of websites with dll downloads, but it is best if you perform a re-install of the application which uses/installed the dll in the first place. If you absolutely need to do it you will likely need to register the dll, or may need to un-register and re-register the new one. To do so open the start button and type in cmd, right click on the cmd.exe that appears and select run as administrator. In the new window to register a dll (tell the OS that the dll exists, in a specific location, for application use) type the following: regsvr32 “path\to\dll\nameof.dll” eg regsvr32 “c:\users\myuser\dekstop\abc.dll” To unregister a dll (forget it): regsvr32 /u nameof.dll Some useful websites with vast technical knowledge and help: http://www.tomshardware.com/ reviews, troubleshooting help and tech tips http://www.hardwareheaven.com/ much like tom’s hardware http://www.avsforum.com/ centering more predominantly on audio and home theaters http://www.head-fi.org/ great audiophile and headphone community Don’t be afraid to use google, it has saved me many times and can be an excellent resource for finding information on bugs or error codes you come across. Hardware: Hardware issues can be difficult to diagnose, especially with little or no experience dealing with it. If you are really unsure or timid ask for help! Provide as much detail as possible, and be friendly, people will help you out! A key thing to keep in mind, or plan, is a good power supply. The power supply is the most important non glamorous piece of equipment in your machine. If it is poorly built, or weak, or provides uneven power you can easily blow your system, or cause intermittent and nearly impossible to troubleshoot problems. DO NOT SKIMP on the power supply. This doesn't mean you need a lot of power, it means you need quality power. Stick to good name brands (OCZ, CoolerMaster, Corsair, Antec, EVGA, etc) If in doubt, do some research! Also you want to, these days, find one with an 80 PLUS rating. This on a very basic level means that you get more bang for your buck. In the conversion of power, and loss of power as heat (any heat generated is lost power, eg lost dollars) a unit with an 80 PLUS rating (with various sub tiers) means the unit will pure convert at least 80% of the power drawn to usable system power. The better the tier ( going from Bronze to Gold for instance) the better the conversion and the less power lost. YMMV on actual cost savings but on bigger rigs, or multiple run 24/7 it can add up over time. Make sure that you regularly clean your system out as well (once every month or 3). You can use something like a can of air to do it and its pretty fast. If you do not, dust buildup can create 2 problems. The first being insulation. As dust accumulates it insulates the areas it is in contact with, and this is bad news for a computer. It will begin to increase the temperature of those components and create extra wear and tear on them, shortening lifespan or creating heat related crashes or hangs, and general slowdowns. The second issue, while less likely these days, is creating a short between components. Due to newer technology and shielding this is less likely, but still something to keep in mind. Two components with voltage that normally should never interact could become linked in the right circumstances, and fry some components. As a side note, NEVER EVER blow on your components (ala old NES cartridges) or into a connection slot. While you may get rid of some dust, you are also sending a wave of watery saliva into the components which at the least can cause corrosion if nothing else. Whenever you install, remove, or troubleshoot a component be sure that you unplug the system before hand and use an anti static strap (you can find them all over the place – officemax staples, online, etc). Never remove or install components into a live (on/plugged in) system. While the board itself may not carry a charge, if there is dust buildup it can hold a slight static charge and create a short/arc and ruin that shiny new GPU. If you have problems with your system booting, or crashing and it seems to be hardware related be smart. Start with a bare system (cpu/ram/video card and no HDDs/accessories) and work your way up installing one component at a time until you get a failure. If the issue is present with nothing but the 3 previously mentioned bare components, it is likely one of those three, start with a different video card (if possible) and ram. Make sure all fans on the case or components are spinning, and clean them of any blockages (using something like the can of air and perhaps some Q-Tips). Never clean your system with any form of liquid or a vacuum or anything like that. Audio/Video: These days there are a lot of people with HD capable monitors/TVs and decent AV receivers. If you have these but are perplexed as to how to get the best picture and audio its not that hard. To get true DD/DTS audio from media files (not games) you will need to have an optical or coaxial digital audio connection or HDMI output from your computer (either onboard, or sound card based) to a device that likewise has these connections (receiver). It’s quite easy these days to simply just pass your audio through your video card to your listening/watching device (provided it uses hdmi). My normal media viewing setup passes my video and audio through HDMI out of my videocard to my receiver. I get my movies (DVDs/BluRays/Rips Ive collected) in DD/DTS and have excellent picture. (GTX 460) This is where the ‘fun’ begins. Configuring for true DD/DTS pass-through is a walkthrough in itself but in the end is not terribly hard. There are two main, great, guides/walkthroughs on how to do this: http://myanimelist.net/forum/?topicid=516729 This one is a bit more easy to follow but I find it lacks a few things from the second guide. Overall quite a good guide, in particular some great tips on madVR setup. http://www.avsforum.com/t/1357375/advanced-mpc-hc-setup-guide Very thorough guide bit more complex, but still easy enough to follow, based a bit more on best possible audio. These days most TVs have HDMI input, and further can easily handle the way a computer outputs video, so hook it up and have a blast! One interesting thing to note, if you have get a DVI to HDMI conversion cable, most newer video cards can output audio from the video card to a TV/etc from this connection. (YMMV) For DD/DTS in video games, you will need a sound card capable of using something like Dolby Digital Live!/DTS Connect. To decode this. An example of these are: http://us.store.creative.com/Creative-Sound-Blaster-Z-PCIe-Sound/M/B009ISU33E.htm http://us.store.creative.com/Creative-Sound-Blaster-Recon3D-PCIe-Sound/M/B00654PUPA.htm http://www.auzentech.com/site/products/x-fi_hometheater_hd.php http://www.auzentech.com/site/products/x-fi_forte.php That concludes the FAQ for the time being. Many thanks to the originator of the first FAQ version, and the various sites and forums listed in this guide for all of the help over the years. Attached is the XP version of this FAQ WinXPFAQ.pdf - Many Thanks to Metadigital who wrote the original (XP) version!