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Common Computer Falsehoods

Have you heard someone telling you something about your computer that doesn’t sound quite right or that sounds a bit odd? Don’t feel alone. This is the birth of computer misconceptions. It is also your clue that the information isn’t correct.

In over fifteen years as a computer technical engineer, I’ve often come across misconceptions that people have about computers, many of them unfortunately started or strengthened by technicians, perhaps due to lack of training. There are literally hundreds, if not thousands of these misconceptions out there, so writing about all of them would make an article that was difficult to read and far too long. So we will address just a few of the more common things heard.

MYTH: Restarting my computer will cause damage and/or wear it out.

Truth: Not only will restarts not harm the computer, they will actually help it. As you use the computer, information is put in temp files as well as in a location known as the Swap file, where it can more easily be retrieved for use by the applications. Closing those applications does not release all of this information, so eventually the computer will no longer run efficiently, and may even freeze. With standard use, a computer should be restarted at least once or twice a day.

Also, if you have a device or program that stops functioning correctly, one of the first trouble shooting steps should be to restart the computer. It is astounding, the number of support calls for assistance are resolved by having the user simply do a restart.

MYTH: The speed of a computer is determined by the System Resources.

Truth: Low resources can cause a computer to run slower, but the speed of the system is not determined by the amount of System resources. Many things determine the speed, but the most important are the speed and type of processor (e.g.; a Pentium 4 will move faster than a 486), the amount of memory, speed, and type of RAM, the speed and size of the hard drive, and the size of the level two cache all have an effect. Some of these can also affect System Resources, though that is a symptom only. For instance, if a person only has 32 MB of RAM and they are playing games or running memory extensive applications such as Microsoft Word, Outlook, or a web browser, the system resources will usually be very low. It isn’t the resources, though, that would cause the system to be slow, but rather the low amount of RAM that was installed.

MYTH: I don’t need an antivirus program because I’m using a firewall.

Truth: AV software and firewall software are two different things, designed for different purposes. A firewall is designed to help prevent unauthorized entry into your computer from the Internet. It is not designed to prevent virus infection, nor is it able to determine if there is a virus nor to remove one.

Always use a quality antivirus application on our system. This is protection for you, but it is also protection for the people you are in contact with.

MYTH: I use freeware all the time, but never have adware on my computer.

Truth: Software manufacturers are in business to make money, and the development, maintenance, and production of software is expensive. For this reason, over 85% of free software. according to the FCC, is funded by advertising, hence, ‘adware’. The advertising may be unobtrusive or it may be “in your face” advertising. However, the chances are excellent that if you are using a lot of freeware and use it often, you do have adware installed. The exception to this is some promotional programs, those that are extremely basic, or those that use other gimmicks to get a user to purchase a paid version.

By law, adware must have an End User Licensing Agreement that clearly indicates that ads will be served. This is one reason the EULA should be read before installing any software. By installing it, you are accepting the terms of the EULA.

MYTH: I use a free anti-virus program, so I don’t need to pay for one.

Truth: See the above, and ask yourself; how does this company make money? It costs even more to track the hundreds of new viruses that are produced each week and to put forth the research necessary to find a way to remove them. The best that free software can hope for is to identify and remove the major threats, but ignore the minor ones. AV software that is purchased, however, will have revenue to research the new viruses and produce software and updates capable of addressing them. Free AV software is better than nothing, but thirty dollars a year is not a great deal to pay to protect your computer, if you have anything on it of value.

Major computer and Internet companies don’t use paid anti-virus programs because they have more money to spend. They use them because they do a better job of finding and removing the viruses, if they are found.

MYTH: A power strip is just as good as a surge protector, and it is cheaper.

Truth: Please see the article on the differences between power strips and surge protectors. A power strip is often much less expensive than a surge protector in initial cost, but they are not the same thing and don’t do the same job. It may be helpful to think of a power strip as a glorified extension cord, while the surge protector actually gives some protection to the computer.

If a power surge comes through a surge protector, it is designed to trip the power, much like a circuit breaker, before the excess power reaches the computer. Losing what you were working on is preferable to working with a fried computer. Note that most surge protectors will not protect against sudden massive surges, such as by a lightning strike.

MYTH: Restarting the computer is the same as shutting it down completely then powering it back up.

Truth: Shutting a computer off completely and waiting at least 30 seconds before powering it up again allows electrical current that is still in the wiring and boards to seep out. Restarting doesn’t do this; current is maintained. Turning a computer off periodically is a very good idea.

MYTH: Monitors wear out faster if you turn them off when they are not in use.

Truth: Powering down the monitor isn’t much different than turning off the TV. The chances are that there will be many things that wear out a lot faster than the on/off switch. Turning of the monitor saves money as well as wear and tear on other internal components. A monitor left on will usually wear out far faster than one that is turned off when it isn’t in use.

Computer misconceptions abound. Having some working knowledge of the difference between the truth and the myth will give you an edge. This can even save substantial amounts of money you might normally pay to a repairman or computer shop. Perhaps the best advice of all is to not be afraid to ask someone who knows what they are talking about, if you have computer questions.

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