2011 Service History Highlights!


Welcome to PCNS - Affordable PC Service

On Site PC Service for Dallas, Richardson, Allen, and McKinney, for home and small business.  If your small business has 10 or fewer PC's you may be a good fit for my business.  Unlike larger operations who want to sign you up with contracts and commitments, I offer a "pay as you go" service.

Feel free to keep reading, the rest of this page are recent service highlights.  These are technical notes I've documented while encountering various customer issues.



August 31, 2011 - SBS 2003 troubles

Fixing up a small network, the customer of which is using Small Business Server 2003.  They had a double edge sword, first off the previous IT provider was using external DNS server entries on each workstation and the server - 4.4.4.4 and 8.8.8.8.  In a Microsoft Small Business Server 2003 environment (SBS 2003), this is a No-No.   This is because the SBS Server has its own DNS Server that wants to do Name Resolution for local clients and to itself.  Compounding the problem was each workstation had a free version of Comodo Firewall.   This firewall can replace your DNS Settings with IP address of their secure DNS Servers.  Again a good idea, because it can block potential malware and trojan websites, but it cannot replace the DNS entries on a SBS network.  The symptoms?  Slow logon on most workstations, one took almost 10 minutes to sign on as a domain user on the SBS network.  Yikes!  Crank out the uninstallation, get rid of Comodo, go to the Server and fix DNS addresses in DHCP, Network Properties, and fix them on all the workstations, and wow - what a difference.  Combine that with turning off TCP Offload (scroll down for a related story), and wow - the server is much more responsive, and it takes 15 to 30 seconds to logon.

August 12, 2011 - Gateway GT5428 Windows Vista Crawls

This has an Intel OEM motherboard, the d945gcl.  Symptoms include unusually slow performance for Windows Vista, even doing a clean install on a new hard drive - Vista was slow - taking minutes to launch "My Computer". Task Manager showed 0% utilization, no unusual page faults or IRQ activity (with Sysinternals Process Explorer), and no debug errors from Debugvwr.  It seems replacing the short, blue SATA cable has restored this PC to normal operation.  I realize Vista is slow and substandard, but it's not this slow.  I tried a Windows XP install (with a blank hard drive) it appears Windows XP is more sensitive to marginal Sata cables, because the installation failed with some very odd runtime errors, while the Vista installation fought through it and eventually installed, albiet slowly but with no error messages.



July 26, 2011 - You really do get what you pay for

At one business we're seeing first hand the real cost of cheap PC's versus Corporate PC's.  The customer has one "cheap" Microcenter Powerspec 6650, and two Dell Optiplex Desktops.  The Powerspec PC cost less than the Dell Optiplexes, but after 5 years the Powerspec has swelling leaking capacitors, and the PC is headed for retirement.  The Motherboard is FIC (First International Computer), no motherboards are available.   The Optiplex PC's have been in service slightly longer than 5 years, have no leaky capacitors, and are still going strong.  That's not to say Optiplexes don't get Leaky Capacitors - I've seen some that do.  Leaky capacitors were a problem during the "capacitor plague" era, but these two Optiplexes evidently didn't have any defective Caps, because I've been their service provider since these PC's were installed 5 years ago, and they've never had a warranty claim.

So case in point you do get what you pay for.  As a service provider I find that it's a tough sell - why is spending more for the same thing a good idea, most of the time people want the cheapest, but eventually it costs them more in the long run.

July 17, 2011 - Blue Screens caused by Avast Antivirus and Malwarebytes

In case your PC is experiencing blue screens and you have Avast Antivirus AND Malwarebytes Antimalware, (Pro or Free version) there are problems between the two software titles, I saw this on three PC's which had this combination. Avast states their latest software release fixed the problem, however the PC's I worked on already had the latest 6.0.1203 software.

July 2, 2011 - HP Officejet 4500 USB Problems

Customer called to report none of her Flash drives would be recognized by her Dell Dimension 2400 PC.   Windows XP would state that the device is not recognized.  We narrowed it down to her new HP Officejet 4500, which was usb connected.  After removing the USB Connection to the OfficeJet and rebooting the Dell all of her flash drives would start working.  The prescribed Microsoft "Fix it For Me" fix did not work.   We then uninstalled the driver and converted to an Ethernet connection, as her 2Wire router was next to the Officejet.  Invariably it got better, all but one of her USB Flash Drives worked as expected.   The remaining flash drive, ironically an HP 4 gig flash drive, refused to work.

June 30, 2011 - June wrap-up

Needless to say there were half a dozen other Malware infection jobs to clean up, all erasing the Start Menu contents and desktop icons, and hiding everything on the hard drive, variations on the Hdd Plus them that has been going so strong over the past few months.  It's almost getting routine to clean things up.  I thought I would pass along a few tips in other matters:

(a) On a windows 2008 R2 Dell Server, we had the heart attack moment.  This is wherein after applying Windows Updates, the Server is rebooted and it says "Preparing your Computer, Stage 3 of 3, do not turn off your computer", and it hangs there - in our case for over an hour.  If your Server gets stuck at this screen, try this - press Control-Alt-Delete.  On the PowerEdge T310, the logon screen pops back in as expected.  A sort of screen refresh issue - it was going through a KVM switch.  Thanks to Clark Williams from Dell for a great find.

(b) On a Dell Optiplex 960 with Internet Explorer 7 we had a browser hang on startup.  Other unusual activity - Windows Installer could not contact the Server error messages when Adobe Update launched by clicking the update Icon in the task bar.  Attempting to start the Services snap-in (Start, Run, Services.msc) resulted in a MMC.EXE runtime error with ieframe.dll. It seems reinstalling Windows Installer 4.5, and allowing a Windows Update (IE7 update) replaced ieframe.dll.mui and it worked normally after that.  Ieframe.dll.mui must have been corrupted.

After a fresh install of Windows XP Sp3, there's nearly 100 Security patches and hotfixes which download.  Microsoft has no plans for a Windows XP Service Pack 4, but they ought to build one so it can be slipstreamed into CD's.  Even Dell still sells Windows XP Professional.  You'd think Microsoft could save themselves a ton of bandwidth whenever someone purchases a new PC, or when a customer reinstalls Windows XP.

June 20, 2011 - Velociraptor 300 Gig Hard Drive, Newegg Customer Award Winner, Really?

One of my customers with a Dell Optiplex 755, having nearly exhausted all his 80 Gig drive space on his Dell OEM Western Digital Raptor 80 Gig hard drive purchased a new 300 Gig Velociraptor.  The drive lasted less than three weeks before requiring RMA.  Western Digital diagnostics revealed a huge cluster fault on the platter, so severe the hard drive sputtered and stopped.  A second 300 Gig Velociraptor from Microcenter, bought in the retail box failed less than one week after service.  Reason: iastor.sys timeout errors, and eventually redirected clusters.  

Upon insertion of our third Velociraptor I called Western Digital support.  They had trepidations over using the hard drive in this 3 year old Quad Core Optiplex.  The technician suggested I slow down the drive from Sata 2 (3.0 gbs) to Sata 1 (1.5 gbs) by jumpering Pins 5 and 6.  This is interesting, because on their Website, Western Digital states for the WD3000HLFS the jumper pins serve no function, and are reserved for factory use.  Also the pins are not identified so it's hard to tell from which end does pin 1 start. I noticed no diference in performance by jumpering pins 5 and 6.  Thus far, the third drive has lasted about three weeks, so I'm cautiously optimistic.  

On the second drive which went bad, Western Digital diagnostics initially failed the drive but it evidently revived it and said it was good to go.  Immediately thereafter I ran a check-disk (called chkdsk /f /r) and ran a surface test, where it found bad clusters.  Over the period of several days running 24x7 it weeded out more bad clusters, until it came up to about 48 kilobytes of bad clusters.  If bad clusters are a way of life with 10,000 rpm Velociraptors I think I'll skip on this one for my personal use.   From what Western Digital describes, if the drive is upright (horizontal, label side up) and you look at the rear SATA signal and power connections, pin one is towards the left, so that would make pins 5 and 6 the third set of pins vertically from the left.  The WD tech revealed they can make up to 50,000 of these drives an hour, so I suppose it's possible a bad batch could go out, however owing that drives were purchased from Newegg.com and Microcenter it's possible they would have come from differt production batches.  The 80 gig version of the WD Raptor was in fact a 1.5 GB Sata-1 hard drive - maybe they were on to something.  Although the Optiplex 755 motherboard is Sata-2 capable the Velociraptor was the first 3gb/sec hard drive that motherboard has seen.  We updated to the latest Dell Bios and also installed a new high performance 6gb Sata-3 Cable, all to no avail.

Velociraptor 1.5 gb jumper setting claimed by WD Tech Support The supposed 1.5 gb jumper setting, undocumented on WD's Site, but confirmed by a Western Digital Support Technician.


June 4, 2011 - The infected volsnap.sys malware continues Strong

Had two more PC's infected with Volsnap.sys, I find that sometimes it infects the MBR on some PC's, on other PC's it does not.  Since the malware writers can write all the way down to the MBR, just give it time, if you can flash bios on a Dell PC, for example (in Windows), imagine these malware writers infecting the PC's bios, like the CIH virus from years ago.  After a cursory search of modern Socket 775 and 1155 motherboards from Asus, Microstar, and ECS, I have yet to find one that has a motherboard jumper for write protecting the PC's bios.  Now one manufacturer, Gigabyte, on some of their mainboards has a feature called Dual Bios, so in case something goes awry it will overwrite the corrupted bios with the clean bios, so this could be a step in the right direction.  But this doesn't protect laptop pc's or existing owners of computers.

I think one procedure for cleaning malware should involve clearing CMOS from the motherboard - if you can, since there's a past history of bios infecting viruses - CIH, remember that?   It seems history repeats itself.  Sadly, fewer and fewer motherboards are implementing Bios write protect switches, though Gigabyte on some of their motherboards have a "dual bios" system which may be effective.


May 24, 2011 - Consumer Reports June 2011 Security Software Ratings

Consumer Reports rated Bit Defender Internet Security 2011 and Eset Smart Security 4 as their #1 and #2 rated Internet Security Suites.  Among the free suites, Avira Free Edition and AVG 2011 Free Editions rated #1 and #2.  Among some surprises was McAfee Internet Security placed 13th out of 14th place, Norton Internet Security 2011 rated #4.  You should always research multiple test and user reviews, because the Consumer Reports article "breezed" over the ratings - the entire issue is dedicated to Online Security, and they did not go into great depth (at least with the Print article) on their testing methodologies. Remember Consumer Reports tests cars, washing machines, lawn mowers, and food like canned Tuna, so I would carefully consider the results of this test versus specialized publications that test only computer software. A good starting place I like is Consumer Search, which reports on the test results from multiple test sources, including Cnet, PCMag.com, PC World, AV-Comparatives.org, Av-Test.org, and user reviews from Download.com and Amazon.com.  

http://www.consumersearch.com/antivirus-software


May 21, 2011 - Malware Attacks! - Update

Yet another malware attack, this one a Dell Laptop/Windows XP.  While every effort is made to clean the PC and make it usable it is often necessary to reinstall Windows after a malware attack, in this case because the problem (a TDSS Master Boot Record {mbr} Rootkit) was compounded by a failing hard drive.  According to estimates from Consumer Reports (June 2011) consumers replaced 1.3 million PC's last year because of malicious software.

May 15, 2011 - Malware Attacks! - Update

Another late night call, the user with the Windows Recovery malware.  User didn't know where it came from, except that it was sudden and unexpected, and it hid all files and folders on his hard drive.  His Home page was set to MSN.COM.   This flavor of Windows Recovery malware, had infected driver, volsnap.sys file.  With this infected device driver running Kaspersky's TDSSKiller would not start, nor would MalwareBytes Pro active protection would start, it had an error 1068.  In addition, iexplore.exe process would randomly launch and pick up a streaming feed from an on line television channel, which could be heard through the customer's Computer Speakers, but there was no visible Internet Explorer window.

May 10, 2011 - Malware on the Attack

MSN Logo with red slash Naivety is dangerous: Here's a twist - not the usual rogue antivirus or anti-spyware, this malware informed the customer that there were errors with shortcuts, files, and folders, and that the customer's hard drive needed defragging.  Only thing is, this malware caused the problems.

Regrettably the customer purchased the $80 product with a debit card (using a Debit card is a very bad idea on line).  Unlike a Credit Card, which is a loan, and you're using the bank's money, a debit card uses your funds, and if your card gets misused, the card could be used repeatedly and get your checking account overdrawn.  A credit card company will be more diligent in stopping fradulent charges because you're using their money.  This malware was purchased from a payment gateway edsclear.com, and by the time the TDS Rootkit was removed, the software had hidden much of the file system in C:\Windows and C:\Program Files, it disabled all desktop icons and the ability to right click on the desktop, and it had deleted all the start menu shortcuts under the Start Menu/All Programs section.  The user is certain he clicked a story at MSN.COM when this phoney alert came up.   This is especially troubling, since many pc's have their home page set to some landing page MSN.COM.

The next day I encountered another malware removal job from another user who clicked a story from MSN.COM.   MSN Ad Center has a history of selling advertising to companies which invariably introduce malware.   On yet another malware removal job, this one modified the EXE file associations on a 64 bit Windows 7 PC.   Evidently it's possible to destroy EXE file associations in Windows 7.  It's sad that the NT Model hasn't been hardened to disallow this malicious activity. The best resource I've found, so far, for Windows 7 file association restoration is at

http://www.sevenforums.com/tutorials/19449-default-file-type-associations-restore.html

MSN Ad Center Serving Malware Adverts

One thing one customer mentioned - she would stop visiting MSN, and she is seriouly considering going back to the Dallas Morning News paper edition, citing it's just getting too risky to do anything on the web.  So you newspaper print editions - print more interesting fluff stories like MSN and Yahoo, and who knows, your readers could come back!

Apr 22, 2011: TCP Offload and RSS Problems

So far I agree with Nick Whittome, a Microsoft MVPS - he thinks TCP Offload and RSS (Receive Slide Scaling) should be killed.  I have noted significant performance improvements in SQL Server Client Server (Sql Server 2008 R2 on W2k8 R2 Server) requester environments after disabling these supposed "performance features."  This was also the recommendation of Dell Complex Systems Technical Support with a recent Dell Poweredge Server.  Nick's rant is located here I have noticed further improvement is possible by adjusting these settings on the workstation in tandem with the server settings.  I have seen these offload features on some Intel 100mb adapters, and Realtek 1gb adapters.  Sidenote: On a server which is primarily a Sql application Server research the disabling of the Hyperthreading feature of your Quad Core CPU, also using the Netsh command to disable Broadcom's Chimney and RSS features.

Apr 4, 2011: Sql Injection Attacks affect millions of Websites

Unfortunately if you visit a website that has been "poisoned" there's a strong possiblity your PC will become infected with Malware (called Windows Stability Center). This is coined the "Lizamoon" mass-injection.  It doesn't appear to be due to a problem with a bug with Microsoft SQL Server, rather it is a function of input validation and software coding - programmer's code, in this case.  If you engage in speculative searching for information on the Web I strongly recommend using Firefox Browser along with the NoScript addin.

It is important to install the NoScript add-in because you are redirected with JavaScript coding, which is supported by all browsers.  The NoScript Add-on disables all javascript on a per website basis. The NoScript Add-in works only with Mozilla Firefox.

See the April 4 headline on the left of this page, "What is a SQL Injection Attack, and should I be concerned."   Update from Websense: http://community.websense.com/blogs/securitylabs/archive/2011/03/31/update-on-lizamoon-mass-injection.aspx

Removal Guide: http://www.bleepingcomputer.com/virus-removal/remove-windows-stability-center

Apr 22, 2011: The PDF File is damaged and cannot be Restored

A somewhat common problem - a user clicks on a PDF in Internet Explorer, which happens to be rather large, and Internet Explorer pops up an error box, "The PDF File is damaged and cannot be restored."

Yet, if you can right click the PDF, do Save As, and save it say to the Desktop or your Documents Folder, open "My Computer" and launch by association (or File, Open in Adobe Reader or Acrobat) it opens fine.

Go to Internet Explorer Properties, under the General Tab, find Browsing History, and click the Settings Button.  If you get the message box "The amount of Disk Space currently set aside to store Temporary Internet Files is above the size limit. (see the screen shot below), click OK.

IE Browser Cache Size Warning Box


 If you didn't get this message, click the size text box, and change it to 1024.  Click OK, then clear your browser cache. You should be good to go.

Mar 15, 2011: IPhone not getting all your email?

Had a customer with this issue, his iPhone was not receiving every email.  The main problem - the customer had over 30,000 messages in his inbox.  This was a Microsoft Exchange Mail Server.   Microsoft recommends you keep no more than 30,000 messages in your inbox.  Now there is more supporting evidence that you should keep that inbox trimmed; having more than 30,000 email messages in your inbox can cause the iPhone to time out when it probes your MS Exchange account for new messages.   While it has plenty of memory capacity, it's just not fast enough or powerful enough of a device to parse 30,000+ messages in your INBOX on a regular basis.  Case closed.

Mar 5, 2011: Adobe Reader X lock ups

Hopefully this isn't a trend - had a user opening up a 34 page service manual located on his C: drive, (Windows XP Pro sp3) only for Adobe X to deadlock while trying to open this file.   Opening the same PDF in Foxit Software's free PDF Reader and it would open fine.  Adobe Reader X BUG, anyone?

Mar 4, 2011: Hard drive failures this week.

Both SATA, one of them required a Windows reinstallation, while the other limped along long enough to get all the files off them.   One was a Western Digital Sata 160 in a Pentium 4 3.0 Ghz PC, the other a Seagate SATA 160 Gig in a Pentium-D Dell Optiplex, so technically the Western Digital hard drive was older, and we weren't able to clone the contents to a new drive, while the Seagate ran long enough for us to clone the hard drive and restore the system without reinstalling.   Gone are the days when hard drive lasts 8 years, try 18 months to 4 years - if you're lucky.  Reference my last article on this same subject.

Mar 1, 2011: Bad Caps alive and well (still)

Dell Optiplex bad caps Bad Caps - at least in older PC's.  Surprisingly many older business class desktop PC's I still see in service.  Eventually, though, all good things must come to an end.  Users with older desktop PC's should periodically pop the cover of their Computers and look for things like this, especially around the CPU (Processor) area.  The brown crusty deposit on top of the aluminum cans is leaching electrolyte.  Your PC will start operating oddly and start doing some very strange things.  Not all problems are due to Viruses and Malware.

History of Capacitor Plague.


Feb 28, 2011: Making an Ipad work with a Customer's Wifi

Had a customer with three wireless access points - two Pakedge WAP-C3G in ceiling access points, and a ATT 2Wire 2701HG-B DSL Home Gateway.  Not everything Apple says in their technical notes worked exactly, but here's what worked consistently:  Prior to the iPad, the customer's wireless laptops (Dell's) and HP wireless Photosmart printer had no difficulties with the wireless network.  Pakedge #1:  It was left unencrypted to be a guest network for company. It's located upstairs and at slightly reduced power so it cannot be easily picked up outside for hackers, plus it's on an isolated subnet.  The Ipad had no problems joining this network and consistently used this connection throughout the house, even though the second Pakedge was much closer to the TV room, and by all intents, the IPad should be joining this network. But it never would. So PakEdge in the Living room, we made the following changes:

PakEdge #2:
1. Change from WEP encryption to WPA Encryption. IPad immediately joined this Access Point for the first time, but was skiddish.
2. Change from autohopping channels to single channel.  This helped even more.
3. Reduce wireless signal from 2Wire, in this case perhaps some overlapping RF signals were causing problems for the iPad.  Connectivity showed improvement.  Do not get too carried away on access points.  I have another customer in Frisco*, who constantly complains of wireless - it was a DIY job, in which case he thought it appropriate to place an access point in every room that had a wireless device.  Bad idea - too many wireless access points.  Over saturation does not equate to more consistent connectivity or better performance.
4. IPAD: Turn off Auto Brightness Feature, as recommended by Apple Technote.  This caused the unit to lock on for good to the Living Room AP, and from that point on it never wandered off the Living Room AP as it previously did.  Airplane mode was confirmed off, the iPad was never hard reset nor was the unit rebooted.

Apple Technote says to check router firmware, which we have yet to do.  The PakEdge website does not have a download section for Firmware, so I will have to ask the company who installed the unit, Dallas Extreme (dallasextreme.com).

Leaving the basement 2Wire Home Portal in WEP mode was the only way to connect the iPad successfully to this access point, which was contrary to Apple technotes.  Doing the Apple and PCMag recommendations (using one encryption standard only), the iPad refused to connect to the 2wire if it was set to WPA encryption, and with a fixed wireless channel, and with G Mode only set in the AP.  Keep in mind in many aspects WEP encryption is much less secure and can be easily broken.

*Keep in mind PCNS no longer services the Frisco area, due to fuel costs and traffic delays.

Article Citations
PC Magazine Article on Wifi Connection Difficulties with Ipad:
http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2362319,00.asp

Apple Tech Note
http://support.apple.com/kb/ts3304

iPad Hits a Bump: Wifi Woes Point to Apple Bug
http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/ipad_hits_a_bump_wi-fi_woes_point_to_apple_bug.php

Feb 17, 2011: Office 2010 and buying it with a Dell

The last few purchased in which I've made recommendations for customers, I've noticed that with Dell Latitude laptops and Optiplex desktops that while you can order Microsoft Office 2010 Home and Business you do not have the ability to order the oem CD.  So should it be necessary to reinstall the product for any reason - software troubleshooting, or suppose your PC gets hit by a malware attack, you do not receive the software DVD.  This is troubling, with some of my larger clients, I find over the lifetime of the PC it's become necessary on at least 20% of the PC to have to completely reinstall Windows to solve catastrophic PC problems.  This is not like the "key card" Microsoft Office in retail stores, where you can download the product.  There doesn't appear to be anywhere where you can download the software, at least not indicated in the Dell Website.  I am in contact with Christian Brashear at Dell, when I receive an update I'll post it.

February 14, 2011 - Adventures with AVG 2011

One of my customers made the switch from AVG to Vipre Antivirus.  NOTE: PCNS is a channel partner with Vipre Antivirus (aka Sunbelt Software).  They had paid versions of versions 8.5, 9, and 2011.  8.5 and 9 uninstalled without any difficulties, 2011 was another story.  The main reason we switched was due to performance reasons, detection abilities, and cost.  AVG 2011 simply would not uninstall.  It was necessary to download the AVG 2011 removal tool, and even then it took several passes running this program, to get rid of it, because Vipre Antivirus detected some trace of it when we tried to install Vipre.  The scary moment was after using the AVG Removal tool and restarting the PC we would get the familiar "Windows is Starting Up" message, only it hung - on one PC for as long as 10 minutes.  For a while there I thought we were hosed.  That's very bad, owing this is a Point of Sale PC.  I don't know what's going on with AVG, but I think I'll pass on AVG for my own home PC's.  

Update: Later in the week, I went to their third store to upgrade to Vipre.  One PC uninstalled fine, the second - version 9.0, was stubborn and would not uninstal.  I had to use the AVG Removal Tool.   AVG over its installed life, had missed several File Sharing Tools (Kazaa was one of them) that was installed on the PC since 2008.  While technically not a virus or malware, I appreciate Vipre detecting this as a possible "unwanted program."


Feb 11, 2011: What does backup mean?

Backup is the process by which you make a second (or third or fourth) copy of your important files, email, photos, and music, onto an alternate medium - such as a DVD Disk or hard drive.   The idea is to copy the data, to make a second copy.  Many users I see use a USB hard drive as a primary means to store data, moving files from a hard drive in a computer to the USB drive, so there's only one copy of the file or folder.  This is not wise, because a USB Hard drive is just as crash prone as the primary hard drive. It may be more crash prone, because devices tethered to long cords tend to get kicked, knocked over, or lost.

Feb 10, 2011: Increasing Solar Activity.

What brought the Dallas area it's Winter Superstorm during Superbowl week was due to a hole in the Earth's Magnetosphere (quote from weatheraction.com's Piers Corbyn). He uses a different forecast model, it is based on the Solar activities, including magnetic influences from the Sun, Moon, and Earth. His firm accurately predicted the Midwest Superstorm several weeks ago, and it started wreaking havoc within 24 hours of his prediction.

Even Nasa predicts increased solar activity in the next few years. So it's a good time to review your backup plan, having both an Onsite and Offsite backup plan.

Feb 9, 2011: Why not more than one PC?  

I am finding the trend of the break-fix business is this - a user - home or home business user is in a dire need of PC Service. Few, if any service providers can provide instant on-site service.  Often I ask if they have a second computer, so they can continue doing their work, and I am frequently met by the response, "I don't have another PC."  PC's are as ubiquitous as TV's and quite often people have more than one television.   With deals on computers (refurbished Dell and HP Computers at Microcenter in Dallas for under $200) there's no excuse not to have a 2nd PC in the event disaster strikes.  PCNS strongly recommends you get yourself a second PC if you only have one.

Feb 7, 2011: Is there no hope in preventing malware attacks?

So far the best results I've seen to prevent Malware is PrevX 3.0 CSI. However PrevX has been acquired by Webroot. Many times, software in these corporate takeover days is diminished, diluted, (or completely discontinued), so it remains to be seen the future of PrevX. For now, however, the paid version proves to be instrumental in stopping many forms of malware attack. I've all but given up on free solutions, such as Comodo. Comodo's simply just too dumb. Comodo's sandboxing feature blocks too many legitimate programs, and its Defense blocks or limits too many good programs, popping up with the most cryptic alerts only a software developer would understand. Of course there's excellent products, such as Malwarebytes, Dr. Web, and HitmanPro, but I consider free editions reactive products. About a year ago I installed a paid version of Malwarebytes Bytes, which included malware prevention capability. However it has been largely ineffective with unknown malware attacks.

May 2011 Update: Malwarebytes Pro has improved significantly in its Malware prevention capabilities, compared to their product a year ago.

Sandboxing or virtual PC seems to be good options - but neither solution is free.

Sandboxie does a fairly good job of insulating the user from technical complexities, however occassional nerd messages pop up and users have to realize the special precautions to take when saving a file - how to save the file so that when you close the browser you don't lose it.  That's what sandboxing is - everything is isolated so if malware attacks it doesn't take your whole computing system down. 64 bit Windows 7 attracts less malware, but I still see infected 64 bit computers.

I've setup virtual machines for customers.  A virtual machine is like an Operating System inside an Operating System. If it gets infected, it doesn't whack out the whole pc, only the virtual machine.  You eliminate the malware by shutting down the virtual machine WITHOUT saving changes.  This means anything you download or install to the virtual machine is lost, so you wouldn't want to be creating and manipulating Excel or Word docs, or running Microsoft Outlook inside your virtual PC, because you'll lose your work (or your email messages). Many people use virtual PC just for high risk web surfing.  It takes a long time to build and setup, plus you have to buy another copy of Windows (thanks Bill Gates).

For the extremely disenchanted, many people either buy a Mac or they convert to Linux.  Both will be pretty dramatic shifts in cultural change, especially Linux, which many Windows users think is a crude, somewhat hard to use, and in many cases just not capable of doing certain things.  Linux has made some milestones, but a very long road ahead of it remains.  It's going to take a major player (such as Google - Google?  Desktop OS anytime in my lifetime? - Anyone?) to put some serious backbone into Linux to sway Microsoft's powerful pull.

Mac's of course are buying a whole new computer, and new mac osx software, including Microsoft Office, Intuit, to name a few, so it's a high price to pay for peace from malware.

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