Kindle Fire HD 8.9 Teardown: A Samsung Tablet By Another Name?

Kindle Fire HD 8.9 Teardown: A Samsung Tablet By Another Name?

Jamie Condliffe

With its little brother having already spilled its guts, it was always going to be interesting to see how the new 9-inch Fire compared. Turns out it owes an awful lot to Samsung. More »

Back It Up

Do you store anything on your PC’s hard drive that’s important to you and would be hard to replace? The answer to this can be very subjective and is certainly a matter of personal opinion. But if a disaster should strike, what would your loss be if you couldn’t restore these files or documents?

People are storing more and more vital information on their PCs without the thought of what could happen if this information was lost. If you store any of the following, you need to think of how you can safely retrieve this information in case of an emergency:

  • Bank records or other financial information
  • Digital photographs
  • Music you’ve purchased and downloaded
  • Software purchased online
  • Email history, address books and calendar data
  • Browser bookmarks

You probably don’t need to perform daily backups with offsite storage of the backup medium, but there are alternatives that are easy to implement and can give you some peace of mind.

System vs personal data

A different strategy is used for backing up your Operating System files than for backing up your personal data. If you suffer a system crash, you can reload the OS from the install disks or restore from what is called a disk image and I’ll cover that in another article.

If you’ve followed Microsoft’s suggestions, all of your personal data should be contained within special folders that are designed for your documents. It is a simple matter to determine how much storage the files in these locations use and this will help you decide how you want to back them up.

For the home PC user, there are 3 good choices for performing backups of your personal data:

USB Flash Drives
The low cost of USB flash drives (thumb drives) makes them an ideal choice for backup media. I’ve seen 16GB flash drives for $30 (USD) and there are free utilities that make the backup process easy and reliable. Check for a solution that performs backup and sync functions

External Hard Drives
External hard drives have also reached a price point that make them a good choice if you want to have something even more transparent.

Online Backups
This method that is quickly growing in popularity. Several companies are offering this strategy without charge for the first couple of Gigabytes. Online backups may be good for true archival copies of important documents that you won’t need to modify, since even with a relatively high speed internet connection, it could take you several days to upload just 10 GB of data.

Don’t get caught without a backup if disaster strikes. Reliable backups can be performed cheaply and easily and I’ve only presented three possible methods here. Be Safe!


Why is My New PC So Slow?

Even if you’ve only had your new PC for a couple of months, you could already be experiencing slower performance – from startup to browsing, and even shutdown. How does this happen and what can you do about it. Many people think that they just have to live with it and are prepared to wait until the darned thing stops working before they try and fix it. This article focuses on the causes of reduced performance of relatively new PCs but it could certainly apply to older PCs as well. Older PCs can have many more causes of reduced performance and I will address those issues in a future article.

Your PC may be only a few months old and you’ve taken the time to make sure you have updated antivirus and antispyware programs running. But it still seems to be slowing down. What happened and what can you do about it?

If you rule out Viruses, spyware and other malware, the degradation of a PC’s performance is usually caused by four things:
– Full and/or fragmented Hard Drive
– Errors in the Windows file system (Hard Drive Errors)
– Unnecessary or poorly written background processes
– Registry errors

Full and/or fragmented hard drive

Hard drives can fill up fast. If you have uploaded all your digital photos, as well as your audio and video files, you could be close to capacity. Let’s find out how full your hard drive is. From your Windows Explorer window, right-click on your C drive and then click on properties. You will see a graphical representation of your hard drive as in the image below.

If your hard drive has less than 10Gb of free space available, consider cleaning it up by deleting unused files or moving them to another hard drive. Likewise, if you have a 500Gb hard drive or larger and it is more than 90% full, consider a cleanup. One of the quickest and easiest ways to acquire additional storage space is to purchase an external hard drive. The price for a 500Gb external hard drive has fallen to below $100 (USD) from many online vendors. If you are a little more ambitious and understand the basics of PC maintenance and repair, an additional internal hard drive is another good option.

The fragmentation status of your hard drive has a great effect on data retrieval speed. When a hard drive writes data, it rarely puts the file in one contiguous space. It usually splits the file up into many fragments and has to remember where all the pieces are when it retrieves the file later. This method creates fragmented files. When too many files are so fragmented, the overall performance of the drive is degraded. Fortunately, there is a built-in program to de-fragment your hard drive. The Defrag utilities in the most recent versions of Windows are slightly different, but the end result is the same. In XP, the defrag utility presents itself with a graphical interface that gives you a visual feel for how fragmented your hard drive is. For Vista, Microsoft wanted to make the defrag utility more of a background process, so they stripped the graphical presentation and added the ability to better schedule automated defrag processes. Win7 defrag is similar to Vista except that it gives a little more info about the status of your drive. The image below shows the “Tools” tab of the same window we used above. The Defragmentation section of this window is the entry point for the defrag utility.


Whichever version of Windows you have, running defrag on a regular basis is one of the best ways to maintain good hard drive performance. After you set up an automated schedule, you may never have to deal with it again.

Before we move on, take another look at the first image above and notice the “Disk Cleanup” button next to the disk space pie chart. Clicking on this will cause your PC to analyze how much disk space can be recovered by deleting unnecessary files that have built up. These files include temporary internet files, recycle bin files, downloaded files, etc. After the PC has analyzed the potential files, it then displays them to you and asks if you want to delete them. You can check or uncheck the boxes next to the file types and continue, or cancel the whole process. This little cleanup utility is another easy way to perform maintenance on your hard drive.

Errors in the Windows file system (Hard Drive Errors)

Usually, hard drive errors won’t cause sluggish performance, but will cause your system to crash or not start up at all. Occasionally, errors on your hard drive can slow down your PC as it tries to read the data repeatedly. Hard drive errors can be caused by a defective hard drive or loss of power or power surge during the time the hard drive is writing data to the disk.

All versions of Windows have a utility to check the hard drive for errors. Look at the image above that shows the “Tools” tab. you will see a button for error checking labeled as “Check now…”. Clicking on this will bring up a dialog box that asks if you want to automatically fix errors and/or scan for bad sectors. Make sure that the first check box is checked and click the Start button. Windows won’t let you do an immediate scan of the system drive because it has many open files, so it will ask you if you want to schedule a scan to occur the next time you reboot. Click on the Schedule button, and then restart your system. During the startup process, your PC will take a slight detour and perform a scan of your hard drive. If there are few or no errors, it may only take 5 – 10 minutes, but if there are many errors, it could take 30 minutes or longer. If the scan found a few errors and successfully fixed them, you can safely use your PC, but run another scan in a few days to make sure that there are no further errors. If you find that you continually get errors during these scans, I would suspect the hard drive itself is defective.

Unnecessary or poorly written background processes

Background processes are programs that are running without any visual evidence, they are usually processes that handle print chores, antivirus monitoring and other important tasks, but can also be useless “helpers” that sit and wait for a certain event to take place such as opening a .pdf file or monitoring if a certain application has an updated version. Over time, even a relatively short period, especially if you download and install many applications, the number of the unnecessary background processes can grow to be a problem.

Fortunately, you can take control of the situation and stop these unwanted processes from loading. However, you have to be able to separate the good processes from the not-so-good. Let’s start by looking at the processes that are running on your PC.

The application we are going to use is what is known as a Windows Task Manager. Task Manager is an application that displays the processes and programs that are currently running. It also displays performance statistics based on the activity of the processes. As usual in Windows, there are several ways to start Task Manager. The easiest is to right click on any unused area of the task bar and select “Start Task Manager”. You can also use the “CTRL+ALT+DEL” keyboard combination to bring up a menu that has the Task Manager selection. Either way, you will then be presented with a window that is similar to this one:

Select the “Processes” tab and make sure that you are showing processes from all users by checking the box at the bottom left (this checkbox may be a button when you first open Task Manager.) You are now seeing a “real-time” representation of what your PC is doing. The processes are contained in the “Image Name” column. The next column shows who or what “owns” the process. The CPU column displays a number that is the current percentage of CPU time that the process is getting. The next column shows the amount of memory that the process is using, and the last column is a description of the process. If you click on the column heading name, the table will perform a sort based on that column. Click it again and the sort will reverse. Since we are dealing with how much CPU time each process is getting, we need to sort by the CPU column. The first time you click on it, it will perform a sort from least to most usage. You will need to click on it again to sort from most to least. This will result in the process with the most CPU usage on the top.

Remember that the Task Manager is a real-time representation of what your PC is doing, so the data in the list is constantly changing. A “normally” running PC should have at the top of the list a process titled “System Idle Process.” It shows how much idle time the CPU has and its normal CPU percentage can vary between 90%-99%. Lots of idle time is good, so if it stays below 90% for more than several seconds or more, you have processes that are consuming large amounts of CPU time. Since we sorted the list by CPU, you can see the processes that are consuming the most CPU time at the top. Don’t bother looking at processes that continually show 0% CPU time, but make a note of the processes that are consuming lots of CPU time. Are they good or bad?

Fortunately there is a resource that will help determine the “good” processes from the “bad.” Head on over to and you can research each of your processes and determine its value. If you can’t find it on this list, just do a google search on the process name. Your research will lead to your determination of the value of the processes so that you can make a decision as to whether you want to terminate them or not.

Your next step is to actually stop the process from running, but before you proceed, make sure that anything you are working on is saved because you may have to reboot your PC. At the bottom right of the Task Manager window is a button labeled “End Process” that allows us to terminate processes. Highliting a process and clicking on this button will cause the PC to attempt to terminate the process. Most of the time the process will end, but some system processes are so critical to the core of the OS that they won’t terminate. You will use trial and error to determine the results of terminating these processes. After you terminate a process, use your PC for a bit to see if there was any change in performance. Terminate one process at a time until there are no more processes that are consuming CPU time. If at any time your PC locks up, you may have to press the reset button or the power button to restart it.

We’re not done yet, because these processes will start right back up when you reboot your PC. Don’t despair, we have a solution for that. But first, when you were doing your research on the processes, did you find that the processes were related to a program that you recently installed? If so, you can decide to simply uninstall the program. Otherwise, Microsoft has a System Configuration utility known as MSCONFIG that allows you to pick and choose which processes can run at startup. I’ll be writing a separate article soon with instructions on MSCONFIG, so until then, there is an excellent, detailed article here:

Registry errors

The Windows registry is a system database that stores settings and options for the operating system. It contains information that establishes and defines operating parameters for hardware, software and user specific settings. The registry contains thousands of these settings and can be difficult to comprehend. Extreme caution needs to be taken when attempting to modify the data because one mistake can corrupt your Windows installation.

When errors appear in the registry, they can cause slow startup and sluggish performance. Errors can even cause a system to not work at all. Errors can appear in the registry from many sources such as poorly written applications and uninstall scripts or loss of power during registry updates.

Although it is possible to modify the registry manually, there are many software utilities that do the hard work for you. These utilities, known as Registry Cleaners, search out errors in the registry and make appropriate modifications which can result in marked inprovement in performance. Of the many Registry Cleaners available, I have found that “WinASO Registry Optimizer” does a good job and is easy to use.


After following the steps outlined in this article, your PC should show signs of improvement. The four reasons for sluggish performance are the main reasons, but not all of them. Other reasons for a slow PC can be faulty hardware, bad device drivers or defective memory. Additionally, the operating system could have become corrupt, but this condition is difficult to diagnose.

If your PC is still sluggishly slow, your next step will probably have to be a complete re-install of the operating system. This is fairly easy to do, but I will cover it completely in another article. Also, a future article will discuss the necessary steps in troubleshooting older PCs.


Keeping Up with Technology

For many of us the first exposure to new technology is during the Holiday advertising blitz. Whether it’s some new game console, PC device or household appliance, the first time we hear about this technological achievement is when the product comes to market. The technologies behind these new products are really not new, and in some cases, have been in development for years, and there’s really no trick to staying on top of them.

It used to be that you had to subscribe to many trade publications to keep current, but now you can use technology to stay abreast of technology. By using a relatively simple method, you can have the latest articles and opinions delivered to you for free. The method I’m referring to is called RSS which stands for Real Simple Syndication. In its basic form, RSS allows a user to subscribe to a website’s “feed” which makes the content available to a RSS reader. Many national news sites, mainstream online journals and most Blogs have RSS feeds available that anyone can subscribe to. The hardest part for you is to pick a reader and the feeds you want.

I have tried all of them. I use Google Reader because it is very simple and integrates into my other Google online applications. When I fire up my browser, it automatically loads in a tab as part of my Home Page Tab settings in Internet Explorer 8, so all I have to do is click on the tab and I have new content ready to read.

The best technology-related feeds are:

Once you get up and running with a RSS reader, you can search out feeds in your other interest area. You will be surprised at how much content is available.


Keyboard Shortcuts

Keyboard shortcuts provide a quick and convenient ways to use keystrokes to perform tasks or commands that otherwise would require you to access a menu with your pointing device.

Keyboard shortcuts are usually entered as a combination of 2 or more keys that, when pressed simultaneously, perform some action. 

Windows Key shortcuts press and hold the key with the Windows logo on it and then press the following key:
F : Opens the search dialog
R : Opens the Run dialog
U : Opens Utility Manager (screen reader etc) dialog
E : Opens the My Computer Window
D : Displays the Desktop (minimises all open windows)
L : Switches user to the logon screen – Useful if you use a password and want to quickly lock your machine.
B : Displays the start menu bar
M : Minimises all windows to display the desktop

Windows system shortcuts.  Most Windows-based applications use these.
F1 : Help
CTRL + ESC : Open Start menu
ALT + TAB : Switch between open programs
ALT + F4 : Quit program
SHIFT + DELETE : Delete item permanently
CTRL + C : Copy
CTRL + X : Cut
CTRL + V : Paste
CTRL + Z : Undo
CTRL + B : Bold
CTRL + U : Underline
CTRL + I : Italic

Mouse click/keyboard modifier combinations for shell objects
SHIFT + right click : Displays a shortcut menu containing alternative commands
SHIFT + double click : Runs the alternate default command (the second item on the menu)
ALT + double click : Displays properties
SHIFT + DELETE : Deletes an item immediately without placing it in the Recycle Bin

General keyboard-only commands
F1 : Starts Windows Help
F10 : Activates menu bar options
SHIFT + F10 : Opens a shortcut menu for the selected item (this is the same as right-clicking an object
CTRL + ESC : Opens the Start menu (use the ARROW keys to select an item)
CTRL + ESC or ESC: Selects the Start button (press TAB to select the taskbar, or press SHIFT+F10 for a context menu)
CTRL + SHIFT + ESC : Opens Windows Task Manager
ALT + DOWN ARROW : Opens a drop-down list box
ALT + TAB : Switch to another running program (hold down the ALT key and then press the TAB key to view the task-switching window)
SHIFT : Press and hold down the SHIFT key while you insert a CD-ROM to bypass the automatic-run feature
ALT + SPACE : Displays the main window’s System menu (from the System menu, you can restore, move, resize, minimize, maximize, or close the window)
ALT + – (ALT+hyphen) : Displays the Multiple Document Interface (MDI) child window’s System menu (from the MDI child window’s System menu, you can restore, move, resize, minimize, maximize, or close the child window)
CTRL + TAB : Switch to the next child window of a Multiple Document Interface (MDI) program
ALT + underlined letter in menu: Opens the menu
ALT + F4 : Closes the current window
CTRL + F4 : Closes the current Multiple Document Interface (MDI) window
ALT + F6 : Switch between multiple windows in the same program (for example, when the Notepad Find dialog box is displayed, ALT + F6 switches between the Find dialog box and the main Notepad window)

General folder/Windows Explorer shortcuts
F2 : Rename object
F3 : Find all files
F4 : Selects the Go To A Different Folder box and moves down the entries in the box (if the toolbar is active in Windows Explorer)
F5 : Refreshes the current window.
F6 : Moves among panes in Windows Explorer
CTRL + X : Cut
CTRL + C : Copy
CTRL + V : Paste
CTRL + G : Opens the Go To Folder tool (in Windows 95 Windows Explorer only)
CTRL + Z : Undo the last command
CTRL + A : Select all the items in the current window
SHIFT + DELETE : Delete selection immediately, without moving the item to the Recycle Bin
ALT + ENTER : Open the properties for the selected object

Windows Explorer tree control
Numeric Keypad + * : Expands everything under the current selection
Numeric Keypad + + : Expands the current selection
Numeric Keypad + – : Collapses the current selection.
RIGHT ARROW : Expands the current selection if it is not expanded, otherwise goes to the first child
LEFT ARROW : Collapses the current selection if it is expanded, otherwise goes to the parent

New Windows 7 Keyboard shortcuts
Win + Space : operates as a keyboard shortcut for Aero Peek which hides all application windows so that you can see the desktop
Win + Up and Win + Down : are new shortcuts for Maximize and Restore/Minimize.
Win + Shift + Up : vertically maximises the current window
Win + Left and Win + Right : snap the current window to the left or right half of the current display; successive keypresses will move the window to other monitors in a multi-monitor configuration.
Win + Left and Win + Right : move the current window to the left or right display.
Win + + and Win + – (minus sign) : zoom the desktop in and out.
Win + Home : operates as a keyboard shortcut for Aero Shake.
Win + P : shows an “external display options” selector that gives the user the choice of showing the desktop on only the computer’s screen, only the external display, on both at the same time (mirroring), or on both displays with independent desktops (extending).

Windows 7 Taskbar
Shift + Click, or Middle click : starts a new instance of the application, regardless of whether it’s already running.
Ctrl + Shift + Click : starts a new instance with Administrator privileges; by default, a User Account Control prompt will be displayed.
Shift + Right-click : shows the classic Window menu (Restore / Minimize / Move / etc); right-clicking on the application’s thumbnail image will also show this menu. If the icon being clicked on is a grouped icon, the classic menu with Restore All / Minimize All / Close All menu is shown.
Ctrl + Click on a grouped icon : cycles between the windows (or tabs) in the group.