A different “Slow Performance” issue

April 17th, 2009

Yesterday I had a user that was experiencing degraded system performance. I started out by looking at the Temp files, running a a disk defrag and then I made the mistake of running a chkdsk. The chkdsk was run outside of the windows environment and started out fine, until it hit step 4!

Step 4 took the remainder of the day to scan, luckily this client was using a spare computer set up for them in the meantime. Today I started the machine up and it took a good 3 minutes to get past the Windows XP splash screen. I finally wised up and looked at the event log.

The system event log was full of ATAPI and Disk errors (Event ID 7, 9, 11 and 51). After checking out Microsoft knowledge base for suggestions, I determined that  the safest step to take first would be to uninstall the disk controllersthrough device manager. Once I did this, I restarted the PC and everything worked beautifully after that.

I suppose the moral of this story is to check the Event logs first.


Website and ad filtering

April 14th, 2009

Let me first start out by saying that if you are looking for a good freeware Web filter for parental controls then I highly suggest checking out Best free Parental Filters. However, if you are looking to do some simple webpage and ad blocking yourself, then read on.

 

If you are running Windows 2000 and higher, navigate to your windows directory. From there go to System32\Drivers\ETC. This is the location of a file called hosts. The hosts file can be opened using Notepad.

 

So, what is the Hosts file anyway? The hosts file is first file by default that your computer looks to for name resolution. Name resolution is what tells us that Xtremediy.net belongs to a certain IP address. For example, lets say Xtremediy.net has an address of 192.168.153.229. Name resolution basically translates the 192.168.153.229 to Xtremediy.net so that we don’t have to remember that number to type into the web address.

 

I’m not going any further in depth with name resolution at this time. Lets focus on the Hosts file now. The hosts file can do name resolution for you as stated above. You can put in some of your favorite sites, and allow them to come up slightly faster because they don’t have to query internet resolution servers. Of course if the website ever has a change in IP address, you won’t be able to access it.

 

So what does a host file entry look like? Well, lets go back to my example of the Xtremediy.net IP address. If I put that address into the hosts file, then it wouldn’t have to query the internet DNS servers to find Xtremediy.net. Please note, that the IP address used in these examples is not the actual address to Xtremediy.net.

Below is the entry example:

192.168.153.229     xtremediy.net

 

That’s it! Enter the web address, press spacebar or tab, enter in the website name then press enter. On the next line you can continue with another address if you want.

 

So how can I use this to block websites and ads? The answer is already stated above. If the incorrect IP is entered for a site you will not get to that site. You will be directed to a different site. That information is more for a practical joke I suppose. So what about just blocking sites and ads? Well, you do this by using the IP address of 127.0.0.1, also known as the loopback address. This address points right back to your computer, so any sites you have pointing to the loopback won’t go anywhere.

 

The downside to the hosts file blocking method is that it does not allow wildcards.

 For example:

If I want to block my child from going to www.myspace.com I would enter the following into my hosts file.

127.0.0.1     www.myspace.com

 

If my child went to profile.myspace.com then they could bypass the filter.

 

If you intend to block sites from your children, I really suggest checking out the link at the beginning of the article. For more information about the hosts file, check out http://www.mvps.org/winhelp2002/hosts.htm.

File Optimization

April 14th, 2009

Fragmentation occurs every time you create new files, install programs and delete files and programs from your system.  When your files are fragmented, it takes your system longer to find all the data for the associated program or file being requested. This is because pieces of the requested file(s) are scattered all over the hard drive instead of being group together in succession.

To combat fragmentation you use a Defragmentation program. The Windows OS comes with a defrag program, but I honestly prefer the http://auslogics.com/en/software/disk-defrag/download. You can also check out http://www.techsupportalert.com/dr/best-free-disk-de-fragmenter.htm  for alternative defrag solutions.  No matter which solution you go with, you will come out ahead. I recommend defragmenting your system at least once per month, I actually run mine once per week. The added benefit to defragmenting your drive on a regular basis is that you will increase the overall life of your drive as it will not have to work as hard to find requested data.

Now, let’s talk about temporary files! I have seen people with temporary folders exceeding 1GB of data! Their machine was beyond slow at that point. Here’s the deal, Windows does not clean Temporary files for you automatically by default. So, files accumulate there over time if not removed. These files include parts of auto saves, program setups and other files.  A simple way to check what you have in your temp folder is by clicking your start button, click Run, type in %temp% and hit enter.

You could just select everything in there and hit delete, but there are downsides to this. For one, some files are in use and will cancel out your delete command once that file is hit. Another possible downside is that older versions of Internet Explorer kept system folder in the temp directory. The last possible downside is potential for program to exist there that you don’t want deleted. There are 2 ways that the last one happens. Either you placed files there on purpose for storage, or a setup program that leaves files there and does not finish the install until you restart the PC. If you delete the files before your PC restarts and the installer still needs those files, then the installer will deliver an error and be unable to finish.

What I have done for personal use, and many computers in the work place is create a batch file that I place in startup to delete temp files. The only downside to this, is trying to remember to disable this item in startup when installing certain programs.  The bonus to this method though, is that you can catch a lot of files before they go into use with the system. An example of a batch file is as follows.

DEL %temp%\*.* /F /S /Q

To create the batch file open notepad, paste in the above line of code then select save as, change save type from text to all files then save your file as deletetemp.bat. To place this in your startup right click on the start button, select open, select programs, select startup and paste the deletetemp.bat file in that location.

The last item I’m going to talk about is the Page file. The Page File is also referred to as Virtual Memory. That is because it is a space on your Hard Drive that acts as available Memory (RAM) in tight situations. Basically, when you don’t have enough RAM, you are going to be using the Page File as a substitute. The problem with this is that hard drive access is a lot slower than RAM access. So when your machine has to use Virtual Memory, than it is running slower.  The absolute best solution is to install more RAM in your system, but it’s not always a solution.

A 32 bit OS like Windows 9x through Vista 32 bit editions (which most people run) can only address up to around 3.5Gb of memory. So if you are your maximum memory already it’s not a solution, of course with that much memory today, you shouldn’t have many problems, unless you run some very power hungry applications.  For most users, let’s just focus on what you can do for free. The one free thing you can do with the page file is to set it manually. The recommended maximum size of the page file should be 2.5x the amount of RAM you have in your system. With a brand new system, I always make the minimum and maximum size the same to avoid fragmentation in the page file.

One solution that may cost you money involves the use of a second hard drive. If you already have a second drive lying around then costs avoided! Simply setting your page file up on a separate drive from the drive running your OS will increase performance.  I have to warn you of a downside to setting your page file up on a separate drive, if the second drive crashes; you run the risk of your machine not starting up. If you 3 hard drives in addition to your OS drive then you could set up a RAID 5, but most people don’t have that option.

Before I end this segment, I should mention that using File Cleaners will help you out as well. I have used CCleaner with good results. You can find CCleaner and other file cleaners on http://www.techsupportalert.com/dr/best-free-file-cleaner.htm.

Optimizing your system’s Registry

April 14th, 2009

Think of the Registry as a database that Windows refers to for just about everything. The Registry is constantly growing to keep up to date all your preferences, software installations and more. As with any database, the larger it is, the longer it takes to query the database. So, the conclusion here is that a registry filled with old information that is no longer relevant, decreases the performance of your computer.

So, how do we purge the Registry of outdated records? Well, you could go in manually using regedit or regedt32 from the run command. I have a feeling that most people won’t know what to look for once inside the Registry Editor though. Even the experienced user wouldn’t spend countless hours going through entries to clean up junk. So, we use Registry Cleaner Programs. These programs automate the cleanup process and can search through the records far faster than a human can.

The one downside to a Registry cleaner is that on rare occasions you may get something deleted in the registry that should not have been deleted.  I recommend you perform a system back up or create a backup of your registry before using a Registry cleaner. Just in case.

So, as with many of the programs I run on my computers, I don’t often buy software when there are so many open source programs or free programs that are in most cases just as good if not better.  So, I have a few links to Registry Cleaners that you can try.

http://www.techsupportalert.com/dr/best-free-registry-cleaner.htm

I have used Easy Cleaner and have not yet had any complaints.  Another Registry Cleaner I used is http://fileforum.betanews.com/detail/RegSeeker/1035382760/1 which I find to run just as well for me as Easy Cleaner honestly.

One item that is not often discussed about the Registry is Defragmenting the Registry.  It only stands to reason that file defragmentation improves performance on your computer, so Registry Defragmentation should help as well.  The following link is a free program that defrags the registry and gives a brief description on how the program works.  http://www.auslogics.com/en/software/registry-defrag. This is program combined with one of the Registry cleaners are run once a week on my own computers. So far, I have no complaints about the speed of my computers.

Keep an eye out for future articles on performance optimization.

Can you beat my Brute in a Fight?

April 9th, 2009

MyBrute is kind of a fun 5 minute time killing flash game. Check out the following links and see if you can beat any of my Brutes.

zenithian.mybrute.com

megadeth4168.mybrute.com

dragon4168.mybrute.com

homeslicejr.mybrute.com

Ironically, my goofy character, Homeslicejr, is probably my strongest.

CCNA

March 9th, 2009

Well, I’m finally a CCNA! It only took 9 years! Seriously, I took a 4 semester Cisco Networking Academy back in high school but didn’t pursue it much after that. See, I took the CCNA exam 9 years ago and just barely missed passing. The problem is, I didn’t pay enough attention in high school, so I didn’t get all that I needed to out of that great oppurtunity.

Right after high school, I started working for a local government IT department, this job has grown into what is now my career. I love the job and I have learned so much more on the job than I ever did in any classroom. My job, doesn’t really require me to pass any certifications but, about 3 years ago, I started really getting into self study mode.  I ended up learning so many valuable things from my self study that I didn’t know from on-the job experience. The MCSE studying especially, help me.

After all these years though, I had never thought about attempting Cisco again… I didn’t have much I had to do with any Cisco devices at work, so it never really played that much of a role in my job anyway. Well, last year, I finally decided that I wanted to take another crack at it. This time, I wouldn’t be relying on a classrom environment, but rather self-study. I soon found that I really enjoyed studying for Cisco exams… They are a lot more hands on then MS exams and they are not as dry (yet).

Last October, I finished the ICND1, but I unfortunately fizzled out… A small break turning into a couple months! I finally picked up the books, and fired up the Cisco equipment again, the first week of February! Today, I passed the ICND2, making me a CCNA. I passed with a fairly high score and felt a confidence going in, that I never felt 9 years ago. I knew, the I knew the material. I spent hours upon hours doing and redoing labs.

I think now, I might lay low on IT certs for a while and finally go back to college, maybe I’ll do the project+ first though… Not sure yet.

If anyone is interested in what I used for study material, Here is a list.

Sybex CCNA book! IMO a very good book!

CCIE lab guide(McGraw Hill) by Stephen Hutnik and Michael Satterlee
-borrowed from my father-in-law! Very awesome lab book, starts from that easiest lab setups and works it’s way up.

Ciscokits.com Lab book
-It has a few typos and a couple small errors, but overall it was very helpful to have.

Packet Tracer 5.1
I used this tool a lot when I wasn’t near any real equipment. Very hand sim to have.

Lab:
3 x 2600 series routers
1 1710 router
1 2950 switch
1 3550xl switch

Healthier Life

January 6th, 2009

My wife and I discovered that many products that we use everyday or that claim to be safe are really dangerous. Everyday, people are taking supplements that may be hazardous to their health, all the time thinking that they are doing something to lead a healthier lifestyle.

Some supplements are synthetic, use dyes, preservatives or use other unnatural ingredients that some research has shown to be harmful in some cases. The research that I’m referring to is a study done by UC Berkeley. The following link is a published article in a reputable peer review.

http://www.nutritionj.com/content/pdf/1475-2891-6-30.pdf

The following couple sites have easy to view tables to show exactly what I’m talking about.

http://www.healthylife-healthyplanet.com/nutritional-supplement-study.html

http://angieupnorth.wordpress.com/2007/10/27/uc-berkeley-landmark-study-published-cnn-and-others-to-air/

In the spirit of the New Year, and the desire to help people meet the possible resolution of leading healthier lives, my wife and I set out to inform people of the benefits of using all natural products. If you or someone you know might be interested  the please check out our site.

Acha’s Health

Windows XP Service Pack 3 Blank Device Manager

December 21st, 2008

I had a client yesterday that was trying to install SP3 but was unsuccessful. So, I spent some time on it. I had run UBCD4Win to check for malware but nothing was found. I had forced Windows XP to boot into a  clean boot mode. Which gave me a the same access denied error as running the SP3 update. In the end, the problem ended up being Webroot Spy Sweeper. I uninstalled it and the Update worked perfectly.

Here is where things got interesting… Apparently the client said that they could not connect online, so after some quick over the phone help I told them to go into device manager and….It was blank!  I found a great list of common fixes for this issue at http://www.annoyances.org/exec/forum/winxp/1134095035. I talked the user through most of these but once I hit the Apropos Rootkit solution on the list I told the user to bring the computer back…. They live 2 houses down, so it’s not too much of an inconveinance for free IT work.

I ran the aproposfix tool in safe mode and removed some more entries in the registry associated with contextplus but that was of no help. Upon searching for the fix online, I ran across this arcticle on MS knowledgbase. After running fixccs.exe in safemode everything worked fine.

The MS article suggests the following “This problem may occur when an antivirus application is running during the installation of Windows XP SP3.” Well, this user didn’t have an AV client installed (I told them to try Avira Antivir, my personal favorite.) My theroy about this is that the Rootkit may have interferred during the SP3 update.

Hopefully this post will be useful to anyone else running into a simialr issue.

New certification! CCENT!

September 24th, 2008

Today I passed the Cisco exam 640-822! Due to the NDA, I can’t really say anything about the exam. I can say that I studied for a couple months. I used the Sybex CCENT book, Cisco Press and hands labs with 3 2600 series routers, 1 1710 router and a 3500 series switch.

I should point out that I did have a 4 semester Cisco class in high school, but that was 8 years ago. It is amazing how much I remember from those classes. I know it helped me.

Fantastic Contraption – Addicting Game

August 28th, 2008

So, lately I’ve been studying for my Cisco ICND 1 exam, which I will be taking next month. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to borrow some equipment to set up practice labs. So I have been busy reading, and setting up labs. I’ve been doing Microsoft exams for so long, so the change of material is nice right now. Anyway, in my spare time, I’ve been camping, spending time with my family and playing games here and there. Mario Kart Wii, is fun, and recently on the Virtual Console we downloaded Ys… It’s rather additive. However I thought I would share another fun addicting game that I ran across.

Fantastic Contraption 

I’ll share a few of my design, though they pale in comparrison to some of the design I’ve seen online.

http://FantasticContraption.com/?designId=952256

http://FantasticContraption.com/?designId=956297

http://FantasticContraption.com/?designId=956995

http://FantasticContraption.com/?designId=993314