Posts Tagged ‘editorials’

Tech Tuesdays: Getting every bit of performance out of an aging PC


Not an aging computer…but imagine if it was…

As a computer nerd, this is probably the most commonly asked question I get: “Hey, my computer is running really slow.  What can I do to speed it up?”

The absolute best thing you can do is clean your PC.  Unplug it, open the case, and use a dry, soft cloth to wipe the dust out of it.  If you plan on using compressed air, make sure to put a pen or pencil in the fans to keep the blades from spinning.  You can easily burn out the bearings by spinning the fan with compressed air.

Speaking of fans, while you have the case open, give each of the fans a little spin by hand.  It should spin easily and stop quickly with a little bit of spring to the bearings.  If it stops flatly or is difficult to spin, you should replace the fan.  If it’s screaming at you and takes a lot of effort to turn at all, you should have replaced it long ago.  You monster.

If you’re feeling froggy and know what you’re doing (or aren’t afraid of potentially ruining your hardware) you can take your CPU and video fans off and replace the thermal compound.  Oftentimes the manufacturer has trouble putting the right amount of goop on a heat sink.  You either end up with too little, which can eventually burn up the goop (it becomes crusty and doesn’t move heat as well as it should) or too much, which can cause poor heat exchange.  The trick to getting the right amount is to put a pea-sized drop on the heat sink, then spread it around with a piece of cardboard or plastic.  Get it as thin and smooth as you possibly can, then put the heat sink back on the CPU or video card.  *NOTE* For video cards, make sure there’s some goop for each chip touched by the heat sink.  A good rule of thumb there is to put the goop everywhere that had it before.  Again, you don’t want a lot.  Very thin layer.  You literally just need enough to fill the imperfections between the heat sink and CPU, and it shouldn’t be much at all.  If you’re not comfortable doing this yourself, find a reputable mom & pop shop and ask them to do it for you.  It shouldn’t be too expensive.

If you’re running out of memory while gaming, adding more RAM may help speed things up.  If you’re running a 32-bit operating system, you’re limited at 3.2 GB of usable RAM.  To go higher, you have to have a 64-bit CPU and a 64-bit operating system.  8 GB is good for most people.  16 GB is good for someone like me.  32 GB is what I put in servers running several VMs.  16 GB will probably be more than enough for the things anyone reading this article will do.

If your hard drive is getting old (2+ years) it might be starting to have errors you don’t notice.  Modern hard drives have a thing called SMART that helps diagnose and prevent errors.  A run of chkdsk and a defrag should be enough for SMART to get a peek at things on your drive and figure out any bad sectors.  Drives come with some extra space that isn’t used so that a few bad sectors can be handled without reducing your available space.  One day, when you turn on your computer, you may see a SMART warning.  You probably don’t have long when you see that message.  Back up your data and replace the drive immediately.  If you see slow performance copying files from one folder to another, run the chkdsk and defrag.  If it’s still slow after that, you might want to consider replacing the drive.  *NOTE* If you have a SSD hard drive, don’t run defrag.  It doesn’t help on a SSD and can actually reduce the life of the drive.

Ok, so your hardware is purring like a well tuned kitten.  Your temps look good and all your fans are in working order.  Now what?  Well, how old is that Windows install?

Windows is much better about this than it used to be, but you still, over time, get operating system bloat where Windows itself is running slower.  You can clear all of the temporary files, reinstall all of your drivers, clear out your startup items, and everything can still just be dragging.  If you can, a wipe and Windows reinstall will probably do more to speed things up than anything else.  If you can’t for any reason, there’s still a lot you can do to speed things up.  Use msconfig to check your startup programs and disable anything you don’t need.  Some network devices, audio devices, and video devices have programs that startup automatically that you want to keep running.  Some just have a lot of bloatware that slows things down.  Google will be your friend for this part.  Use a tool like CCleaner to clean out temporary files.  Clear those temporary internet files and your profile’s temp folder.  Run a tool like Malwarebytes Antimalware to make sure you don’t have any kind of spyware or adware.  Keep your video drivers up to date.  Use the release drivers, not beta drivers.  Beta drivers may have bugs or strange performance issues.  Finally, uninstall any programs you aren’t actually using.  If you haven’t played something in 6 months and don’t plan to fire it up tonight, go ahead and uninstall it.  The more free HD space you have, the easier it is for the drive to find empty space to write to.

Ok, so you’ve done everything recommended so far.  You’ve cleaned your PC, you upgraded your RAM, you replaced your old hard drive, you reinstalled Windows, updated your drivers, and have plenty of free space, but things are still chugging a bit in your favorite game.  You have to tune your game settings for your hardware.  Not everyone gets to run games on high graphics settings.  This is something where you have to work with the settings to find what works for you.  Most commonly, water and shadow settings tend to be the greatest performance hogs.  If you have an anti-aliasing or ansiotropic filtering option in your game, turning that down or off entirely can greatly improve performance but textures will look worse and you’ll have jagged edges to things.  Play with the settings until you find something that performs well enough for you and looks pretty enough.

So… you’ve done everything and it’s still not enough?  It’s time for an upgrade!  I’ll cover that down the road soon.

Tech Tuesdays: Password Security

522845_45560434There’s a security sin that we’re probably all guilty of…
Using the same password on multiple games/websites.

Databases get compromised in different ways.  The method of attack doesn’t matter.  The important thing is that the attacker has what’s called a hash of your password for that account.

What is a hash?  A hash is the result when your password was put through an encryption algorithm.  When you login somewhere, your password isn’t stored on their server after you send it.  Every time you login, the server takes the password you provide and runs it through this algorithm, then compares it to what’s stored in the database.  If they match, you’re in.

But wait, what if two passwords make the same hash?  This happens!  It’s known as a collision, and you could enter either password and still login.  Fortunately, because of a part of the algorithm called the salt (which SHOULD be unique for every service) a collision on one server isn’t necessarily a collision on another.

Without the salt, it’s really hard for someone to come up with your password just from the hash.  Unfortunately, if they were in a position to steal the user database, chances are they compromised the web server as well and have the salt.

“Well so-and-so on the news said that it would take thousands of hours of computer time to break an 8-character password!”  This is true.  Running through every possible iteration of an 8-character alphanumeric (and symbolic) password would take a really long time.  That’s why hackers broke it up into chunks and had a lot of computers going to town on it and saving the results.  These are known as Rainbow Tables.  An unsalted MD5 hash is already solved.  All a hacker has to do is take the hash and look it up in this table.  Fortunately, modern websites salt their hashes.

Unfortunately, this just means once a hacker has a hash and the salt used to make it, they can use a botnet to have tons of computers chewing on it until they solve it.  They only have to make the table once to solve everyone’s password from that website.

So, let’s say I’m a hacker.  I stole a password from a forum you visit.  I do the stuff I talked about above and get your actual password.  If you used that password on your email that you used to register at the forum, I now have access to your email.  I look in your email and see you play a lot of online games.  Oh, you used the same password for all of those, too, and you don’t use an authenticator.  I’m going to sell your accounts on PlayerAuctions.  I login to Facebook as you since you used the same password there, too.  Oh, you’re going on vacation for the next week?  Great, time enough for the money to clear before you recover your accounts and I disappear into the ether.

Now, not only can I do that, I can automate it so the thousands of people on that forum all have the same thing happening to them.  My script can build a table showing me what it was able to login to using your credentials.  If your bank sends you any emails, well…

So what’s our overall lesson here?  DO NOT REUSE PASSWORDS.  Use a password manager like LastPass or Keepass.  Create a unique password for each site and use the password manager to login to it.  Use authenticators.  Long passwords are better and take longer to break.  U7#21szD is less secure than ILikeToMoveItMoveIt.  Want a really secure password?  Pick a sentence from your favorite book.  “Shereturnedashysmile.” is good enough for most Active Directory security measures.  For the ridiculous ones that make you include a number, either replace a letter with a number (“Sh3returnedashysmile.”) or tack it on somewhere. (“Shereturned0ashysmile.)  Will it take you a bit longer to login?  Yes.  Depending on your typing speed, 5 extra seconds when logging in can save you days of stress and frustration down the road.  Use a different sentence for each account.

Please, take care of your online accounts.


Tech Tuesdays are editorial pieces of advice to help you with your gaming rigs/consoles. These are intended to be weekly articles and may be written by any of our staff writers.

Tech Tuesdays: Stop Using Internet Explorer


Today’s advice: Stop using Internet Explorer.

Why?  IE is notoriously insecure, although it has gotten better recently.  It is still obnoxiously slow, especially if you have a website that uses Javascript.

So what should you use instead?  My go-to answer for that is Chrome.

Why Chrome?  It’s fast, tabs and windows are all separate processes, it’s fast, extensions let you prevent things that infect your PC, it’s fast, and did I mention it’s FAST?

Important extensions:  #1 most important extension is Adblock Plus.  Lots of malware comes from infected advertisements on otherwise clean webpages.  You could even be browsing a major site like CNN or and get infected by a piece of drive-by malware.  Adblock plus makes it so you don’t have to worry about this, and as a bonus, you don’t have to deal with obnoxious ads.  Now, most websites exist solely because of their ads, so please whitelist the sites that use ads properly and don’t use shady ad companies.  The ones that want to use annoying video ads that play sound?  Not so much.

Tech Tuesdays are editorial pieces of advice to help you with your gaming rigs/consoles.  These are intended to be weekly articles and may be written by any of our staff writers.


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