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Data Doctors Advice Columns

Computer Advice and Answers to Reader Questions


Which hard drives are the most reliable?

Thu, 15 Mar 2018 00:00:00 +0700

(image) Before I get into brand comparisons, it’s important to understand various aspects that contribute to overall reliability, but let’s start with ‘there are only two kinds of hard drives; those that have failed and those that are going to fail’.

Mechanical failure or data loss can occur in a drive whether it’s brand new or been in service for years and generally with little to no warning.

Traditionally, the industry uses something called a ‘bathtub curve’ to represent the expected failure rate of hard drives – there’s a higher than average number of failures in both the early stages of use and as the device ages.

Infant Mortality

Early failures are generally a reflection of factory defects that show up only after the drive is put under real-world stresses in use. Organizations that use a large quantity of drives will often use new hard drives in non-critical systems for a period of time before committing them to mission-critical use to help weed out defective drives.

The notion that a device is new, therefore it shouldn’t fail, is incorrect – new devices do fail, so plan accordingly.


The type of storage device you choose also plays a role in both the reliability and longevity.

Traditional Hard Disk Drives (HDDs) use a spinning magnetic platter and a read/write arm that floats over the platter (kind of like a record player) and have various mechanical components that can fail.

Solid State Drives (SSDs) have no mechanical parts because they store data on memory chips, much like the flash drive you’ve likely used to transfer files between computers.

While the lack of any mechanical components in SSDs would lead to the conclusion that it should be more reliable, that’s not necessarily the case.

While it’s true that mechanical failure isn’t an issue, SSDs have a finite number of times that each memory bank can be written to and erased. Studies have also suggested that the age, regardless of usage will also contribute to deteriorating performance in SSDs over time.

Disaster Recovery

From a data recovery standpoint, the success rate for recovering data from failed HDDs is significantly higher than SSDs.  SSDs are also known to lose data by developing bad blocks at a higher rate then HDDs, so it’s even more important to have a good backup system when using SSDs.

Brand Comparisons

In number of units shipped, 3 brands dominate the industry: Western Digital, Seagate and Toshiba in that order.

There have been a variety of studies done over the years that chart failure rates of hard drives and one of the more interesting recurring reports comes from an online backup company called Backblaze:

Our data recovery lab statics for 2017, as a percentage of the total number of recoveries we performed shows that Seagate represented 38%, Western Digital 28% and Toshiba 8%.

If you were to ask the guys in our data recovery labs their preference, they’d suggest Western Digital or Toshiba over Seagate based on overall performance and reliability.

I'm fed up with Apple and ready to switch to an Android phone, but before I do, what do I need to know?

Thu, 8 Mar 2018 00:00:00 +0700

(image) Our smartphones have become such a vital part of our daily lives, which can makes switching platforms a bit of a challenge.

Simple differences in how certain functions are displayed or accessed can be disorienting at first, so make sure you are up for the challenge.

The good news is that the learning curve going from iOS to Android is not nearly as dramatic as switching from Mac to Windows or vice versa.

Before You Switch

The more time you spend preparing for the transition before you take the plunge, the fewer ‘surprises’ you’ll likely encounter.

The first thing you need to do is review your critical apps in two ways: are they available on the Android platform and will I have to repurchase any of them.

If you’ve amassed a large collection of apps that you paid for in the Apple App Store, you’ll either need to go without them or budget for the cost of repurchasing them in Google’s Play Store.

Deactivate iMessage

iPhone users can text each other without having a cell signal, because Apple’s iMessage works over Wi-Fi; you won’t have this capability when you switch to an Android phone.

As a precaution, you should let Apple’s servers know that you are no longer able to receive iMessages so you don’t miss messages from your friends with iPhones:

Back Up To Google Drive

Since your ‘eco system’ will change, you’ll want to transfer your contacts, calendars, photos and videos to Google’s platform using Google Drive before you get rid of your iPhone:

If you are already using Gmail or other Google services, the transition will be very simple, as you’ll just need to sign into your Google account when you get your new Android phone.

Some Android manufacturers also offer apps to help with the transition, such as Samsung’s Smart Switch (, Sony’s Xperia Transfer ( or Google Pixel’s direct connect (

Email Challenges

If your email address doesn’t end with, or, the transition to either Gmail or the built-in mail app on your Android phone should be pretty simple.

If you want to continue to use an Apple email account on your Android device, then you’ll need to configure one of the Android mail apps to continue to retrieve your mail from Apple’s servers:

Apple Music & iTunes Music

If you’re a subscriber of the Apple Music streaming service and want to continue using it, there’s an Android app for that:

Your downloaded music should transfer over fine, unless your music collection includes really old songs. Older music you downloaded through iTunes (pre 2009 Protected AAC audio files) won’t play until you remove the copy protection on them:

Possible Pain Points

You’re not going to see a numeric badge for unread messages unless you dig through various 3rd party mail apps that are less than desirable, visual voice mail requires you to download your carriers voicemail app and those alert ‘sounds’ that you’re used to are going to be different, so be prepared to change!

I'm trying to send regular email to my customers from Outlook using a Cox connection and have to break them up into many groups. Can you suggest a more efficient way to do this?

Thu, 1 Mar 2018 00:00:00 +0700

(image) Sending a single message to a large number of people can be problematic because of the anti-spam tools and rules that your ISP or mail service has in place.

They’re constantly trying to determine if a mass email message is legitimate or the work of a hacker who has compromised your email account.

Since they aren’t using humans to review each mass email message, they create internal rules – often unpublished to their users – that will automatically decide whether a message can be sent or not.

The Cox website posts: To combat spam, Cox places various limits on email, including limiting the maximum number of recipients per message and maximum number of messages per server connection. Specific limits are not published because they vary from time to time depending on a variety of factors…


In addition to your ISP’s rules, you want to make sure to steer clear of violating the laws governing spam messages (, as doing so could result in a fine of $11,000 for each violation – that’s potentially $11,000 for each email address on your list!

If you’re sending promotional or sales related email messages of any kind, you need to be aware of the fundamental mistakes that could get you into trouble:

  • Not providing a clear way for recipients to opt-out of future mailings
  • Not including a valid physical postal address in the message
  • Using deceptive subject lines
  • Using deceptive “From”, “To”, and “Reply-To” names or addresses or deceptive headers

Testing For Spam Scores

How you construct your messages could be raising red flags with spam filters as well.  You can test your marketing messages at:

Email Marketing Services

For a variety of reasons, it’s best to find an email marketing platform that keeps you safe from violations and avoids the limits your ISP has in place because the messages will no longer be sent via your Cox account.

These services allow you to import your existing list of email addresses and then easily manage your subscribers; some will provide you with your ‘spam score’ as you’re constructing your message, so you can learn what you’re doing to create red flags before you send out the message.

Most of the popular options also provide templates for creating professional looking campaigns and they’ll  tell you how many people actually opened the message, clicked on any links included in your message or unsubscribed.

Another advantage of using these services is that you are no longer beholden to your computer that has Outlook installed on it, because all you need is a web browser.  This gives you the flexibility to communicate with your customers from any computer, anywhere.

Comparison Chart

PC Magazine recently published their ‘10 best email marketing tools’ ( that should cover everything from the very basic needs (@$5 a month) to incredibly sophisticated systems that provide automated follow-up and full CRM (Customer Relationship Management) capabilities to elevate your marketing efforts.

Can you give me a layman's explanation of what exactly blockchain is?

Thu, 22 Feb 2018 00:00:00 +0700

With the hype surrounding crypto currencies continuing to grow, more people are hearing about the underlying technology known as blockchain.At the core of blockchain technology is a publicly shared ‘immutable digital ledger’ – meaning that it’s essentially a tamperproof record keeping technology.LedgersLedgers have been part of how humans trade since nearly the beginning of our species and continues to be how we record transactions.Until blockchain, ledgers were generally controlled by a single entity and could be manipulated without others knowing.Us old-timers also remember the time-consuming, error ridden manual record-keeping on green ledger paper for sales transactions or inventory tracking – which is why VisiCalc, the first electronic spreadsheet – was such a game changer.With only one copy of any ledger, it’s easy to manipulate the data when ‘no one is watching’.Today’s private ledgers, whether it’s in banking, real estate, taxes or health care requires us to ‘trust’ the organization that controls it.This middle-man model is also how so many global organizations have become so powerful – we’re required to use them in order to execute a transaction.This network of privately controlled ledgers that don’t talk to each other is also why so many transactions take so long to execute.Immutable Digital LedgersThis stranglehold on so many data sets is what prompted the creator of blockchain to develop this publicly visible, distributed ledger platform.Imagine a ledger that is shared in real-time with millions of others that shows every transaction in a continuously growing list of transactions.To further secure this public ledger, encryption keys are created for each entry that ties to the next entry, which forms a ‘chain’ of interconnected entries to the ledger.Any attempt to modify an entry would result in the ‘breaking of the chain’, which would clearly be noticed by the millions of other connected ledgers that had the authentic entry and the offending computer gets ‘kicked’ from the ledger.This decentralized ledger also eliminates the middleman, therefore transactions become one-to-one, instantaneously – which is why so many large ‘gate keeper’ companies are downplaying the value of this technology.Much More Than BitcoinThe original focus was on our financial systems, leading to the now famous BitCoin which uses blockchain to track who owns what in the virtual currency, but there are far more interesting possibilities.The fashion industry was one of the first to see the value of blockchain as a way to fight counterfeiting: Healthcare industry is looking to blockchain to help in electronic health record management, data security, interoperability and more: are underway in real estate (, government (, education (, insurance ( and one of the most compelling uses: identity management (, which could be the gateway to secure voting system.There’s a bit of a gold rush mentality for those that truly grasp the revolutionary nature of this technology, so expect to hear lots more about blockchain for many years to come.[...]

Can you help me understand all the numbers on SD camera cards?

Thu, 15 Feb 2018 00:00:00 +0700

Today’s memory cards are a confusing batch of geek speak, but once you understand some of the basics, it might make it easier to digest.Physical SizeMost of today’s devices use either SD or microSD cards, which you can determine by looking at the card slot on your camera.Storage CapacityThe easiest specification to digest is the storage capacity, which is represented in gigabytes (GB). It’s easy to assume that the bigger the number, the better – in reality, this is not necessarily the case.Not only can it be cheaper to use multiple smaller cards, you won’t live and die with just one card because they do degrade, get lost or experience data corruption.SD vs SDHC vs SDXCA memory card’s capacity is determined by the file system being used to store data designated by the type of card.SD (Secure Digital) cards are the oldest, least used and limited to 2GB of storage.SDHC (High Capacity) cards can store up to 32 GB of data, while SDXC (eXtended Capacity) cards can store up to 2 Terabytes (2000 GB).Older devices may not be able to use the SDXC format, so make sure your device does support these larger cards before buying one.Rated SpeedThis is where things can get a bit confusing, as there can be various designations referring to the card’s speed. It’s represented in MB/s (megabytes per second) or a large number followed by an ‘x’ or sometimes both.The ‘x’ designation is a marketing term - 1x represents 150 kb/s, so 600x is the same as a 90 MB/s rating (600 x 150 = 90,000). This number typically represent the ‘read’ speed, which is generally higher than the ‘write’ speed.Speed ClassThis specification is represented on the card as a number inside of the letter ‘C‘ to represent the minimum write speed and is most important to those shooting video or very large images in succession (burst mode).There are four classes: 2, 4, 6 and 10 which represents the minimum sustained megabytes per second (MB/s) write speed – the higher the number, the faster the sustained speed.UHS Speed ClassFaster SDXC memory cards will have the UHS or Ultra High Speed rating represented by a number inside the letter ‘U’. U1 means it’s 10 MB/s while U3 means it’s rated at 30 MB/s.UHS Bus ClassDifferent from the UHS Speed Class, this rating refers to the ‘bus interface’ and is represented by a roman numeral. Think of the ‘bus interface’ as the number of lanes on a freeway vs the UHS Speed Class, which represents the speed of individual cars.Video Speed ClassIf you’re trying to shoot extremely high-resolution video (4 or 8K), this class of cards designated by the letter V and a number that ranges from 6 to 90 offers the fastest sustained write speeds ( vs Future ProofingIf you have older equipment that you plan on upgrading soon, getting a faster card then you currently need may make sense, otherwise don’t spend more money then you need to as there’s no performance benefit.To help you figure out what you actually need, checkout SanDisk’s web tool:  Once you figure out the specs for your desired card, you can easily comparison shop around the Internet.[...]

What filter are you using on the pictures you've recently posted on Instagram?

Thu, 8 Feb 2018 00:00:00 +0700

(image) I’ve been road testing a Verizon Google Pixel 2 XL ( which has some pretty spectacular lens and camera technology built-in.

Features such as the automatic HDR+ and HDR+ enhanced help with images that have various levels of light, while the portrait mode creates images where your subject is in focus while the background is slightly blurred – like DSLRs can take.

One of the options that makes it simple to create some very interesting images like the one of my dog ( and the one with the group toast ( is the ‘Pop’ filter.

This effect is a preset combination of light, contrast, highlights, shadows and other settings that are available separately in the camera that instantly creates some ‘pop’. 

What’s Already There

If you’re not interested in getting a new phone, I’d suggest making sure that you’ve explored all the built-in features you may already have.  I commonly find that most smartphone users use a small fraction of the photo options that their phone offers.

You can find lots of information on your phone’s camera features by doing a search for ‘best camera features of xxx’.

Suggested Apps

If you’re looking for a lot of control both while you are taking the picture and after you take it, checkout the free Adobe Lightroom CC App in your app store.

Taking a better picture to begin with, improves your chances of better results with any of the filters or adjustments afterwards. If you use the app as your camera, you will have three modes to choose from: Automatic, Professional and HDR.

In Automatic mode, the majority of the settings are decided automatically by the app, but you can slide your finger across the screen to adjust the exposure setting before you take the picture.

In Professional mode, you’ll get a variety of manually adjustable settings like shutter speed, ISO and white balance before you snap your picture.

HDR (High Dynamic Range) mode is best used when there are significant differences in bright and dark areas in your shot, like the sun setting behind your subject.

The number of options for adjusting your image, whether it was taken through the Lightroom app or is already on your camera roll are impressive. While there are a large number of presets from 4 different categories, learning how to use the various manual options in the Light, Color and Effects menus will give you a lot more control over the final image.

If you want to add the blurred background effect, checkout the After Focus app (iPhone or Android -

If you shoot a lot of outdoor images in bright light, one of the best apps I’ve used is from EyeApps called Pro HDR (Android - and Pro HDR X (iPhone -

If you’re ready take on a really powerful tool, checkout Google’s Snapseed (Android or iPhone), which will come the closest to recreating the ‘pop’ effect that I referred to earlier.

Is the NUC an adequate desktop replacement computer?

Thu, 1 Feb 2018 00:00:00 +0700

(image) Intel’s Next Unit of Computing (NUC) was originally developed in 2013 as an alternative to netbooks and other small computing devices that mostly lacked in capability.

At its core, it’s a development platform that allows anyone to customize how it’s used or available as a traditional PC running Windows 10.  Its small size and portability even have some referring to it as a ‘laptop alternative’.

Intel saw a need for a more powerful computing device that could be used in situations where a small form-factor was important, such as digital signage, point-of-sale terminals, ATMs, etc.

Most of the focus in the early days was on business uses, but the NUC is now in its 8th generation of development and has proven to be a very powerful computing device for businesses and consumers.

Small Size, Big Performance

Measuring in at roughly 4”x4”, the various NUC models are fully-capable computers that can do just about everything the average PC user could ever need to do.

Traditionally, computing devices that were focused on reducing the footprint were very limited in expansion options, which limited their usefulness.

The NUC is small enough and light enough (@ 2lbs) that it can be mounted on the back of a display screen, which is why it works so well in the digital signage world.

This small size also makes it the perfect home theater PC or for use in an RV as a portable computing device that can plug into just about any TV.

Standard Features

If you’re going to purchase a pre-built system, a base model is likely going to come with Windows 10, 8GBs of RAM and a speedy Solid State Drive (SSD) ranging from 250 to 500 GBs and start around $800, so the small size does not mean it’s cheaper than larger computers.

Wired (Ethernet), Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity are also standard features on most upper-line models.


Because the NUC can be used for so many different things, it comes in a variety of processor options, but if you plan on using it as your primary PC, I’d recommend sticking to an i3, i5 or i7 based model (lower cost units use Intel’s older Pentium or Celeron processors).

If you plan on doing more processor intensive tasks, such as photo or video editing or PC gaming, going with an i7-based model would be best.  If you primarily use it as an Internet terminal, an i3 or i5-based unit will work just fine.

Many models come standard with dual-display capabilities and you can add up to 32 GB of RAM. Their are a variety of external accessories ranging from powerful video cards that allow you to connect three or more displays, DVD drives and backup drives.

What’s Not Included

The NUC is just the computing device, so you’ll need to add a display and a USB or wireless mouse and keyboard, which you probably already have.

There are so many options for setting up a NUC, that it can get confusing for the non-enthusiast crowd, but many companies can help you wade through the maze on these awesome little computers! 

I'm hearing conflicting stories on processor firmware updates; should I try doing it now or wait?

Thu, 25 Jan 2018 00:00:00 +0700

(image) The Meltdown/Spectre processor flaws have created a considerable mess for the tech industry with most companies scrambling to push out updates and patches.

This ‘rush to fix’ has created a variety of issues ranging from Blue Screen errors to random rebooting problems.

Not Yet Available

In our review of machines that we have in for service across our stores, the vast majority of them have no patch available with some that have pending publication dates in the near future.

At this point in time, it appears the attempts to fix the flaw is causing more headaches then it’s worth, especially in light of the fact that no known exploits ‘in the wild’ have been discovered as of yet

Most Recent Recommendations

Intel recently published the following based on the various problems that have been reported:

We recommend that OEMs, cloud service providers, system manufacturers, software vendors and end users stop deployment of current versions, as they may introduce higher than expected reboots and other unpredictable system behavior. (

HP and Dell followed suit by pulling updates from their websites and advised their customers not to deploy the update if they have already downloaded it.

This seems to underscore the general opinion across the tech industry: at this point, it’s safer to go with your processor unpatched than it is to risk installing a rushed firmware update that hasn’t gone through the normal testing cycles.

Businesses should be especially careful about how and when they choose to attempt to patch their hardware, as the resulting fallout could be disruptive.  Selectively testing on non-essential systems is highly recommended.

The Road to Recovery

Part of the challenge both the industry and end-users face is that it’s not clear who’s responsible for creating and distributing the firmware updates.

In some cases, you can go directly to Intel’s resources ( as long as you know exactly what type of motherboard/CPU combination you’re using.

In other cases, you’ll have to go to the support website for the specific manufacturer of your computer keeping in mind that this flaw is not limited to only Intel’s processors.

Older systems may never get a patch while many with obscure systems could be waiting for months or even a year before they’ll see an update.

In the Meantime

The best thing you can do right now is figure out who will be responsible for providing a firmware update for your computer(s)  so you can monitor that resource or sign up for an alert if they offer it.

You should also make sure you have the latest updates for your browsers and operating systems on all your devices as all three will need to be patched in order to be protected.

Windows Performance Issues

Microsoft says older Windows systems like 7 or 8 will most likely suffer a noticeable decrease in system performance after the update: “Older versions of Windows have a larger performance impact because Windows 7 and Windows 8 have more user-kernel transitions because of legacy design decisions, such as all font rendering taking place in the kernel.”

Microsoft is recommending users upgrade to Windows 10 to reduce the performance degradation.

My computer is locked up with the dreaded Blue Screen Of Death after it installed a Windows 10 update, so what do I do to get my computer running again?

Wed, 17 Jan 2018 00:00:00 +0700

(image) This scenario, also known as the ‘BSOD’ is among the most frustrating and potentially complicated issues that a Windows user can ever face and even for seasoned technical experts, it can be very time consuming to resolve.

When you experience a BSOD, it’s essentially Windows telling you that it’s detected a serious problem that makes using the operating system too unstable, which is why you get stopped in your tracks until it’s resolved.

BSOD Causes

The causes for a BSOD are extremely numerous and can range from a faulty hardware component such as RAM or hard drive to driver conflicts in older programs to major corruption to the OS from malware among dozens of other possibilities.

One of the reasons that resolving BSOD issues can be so complicated is that just about every computer on the planet has a unique combination of hardware, software and program settings that comes into play.

Generally speaking, you should see some type of stop code that helps narrow down the problem as Microsoft has over 350 stop codes that could come up on either a blue or black error screen.

The complete list of Microsoft’s stop codes can be found at:

Troubleshooting Options

Microsoft attempts to help users with an interactive troubleshooting guide (, but if things are really a mess, their generalized suggestions may get you nowhere.

If you can decipher the meaning of the stop code through Microsoft’s list, you may be able to find a path for troubleshooting, but in some cases, the stop code is pointing at the results not necessarily the cause.

You can also try doing an Internet search for your specific stop code as many thousands of resources exist for this all-to-common problem.

Widespread Increase

We’ve seen a significant uptick in the number of computers being brought to us stuck in a BSOD loop and we suspect that in Microsoft’s rush to patch the recent Meltdown and Spectre flaws, their normal process of testing the update was compressed.

They’re also now pushing out the Fall Creators Update to all machines on a staggered basis automatically.

We do know that if your anti-virus program has not confirmed that it’s compatible with the January 3rd ‘flaw’ update or if your computer has one of the AMD processors that has a known issue, Microsoft won’t offer you the update.

If you don’t see the update being available, you should not try to manually install any updates as that could certainly lead to a nightmare BSOD situation.

Preventative Measures

Since we know that both the flaw patch update and the Fall Creators Update are being automatically installed, the possibility for anyone to experience this problem goes up.

With this in mind, if you haven’t performed a complete backup recently, now is the time to do it as in some severe BSOD cases, reloading everything from scratch is the only reliable solution.

You’d be wise to gather all your software product keys as well in the event reinstallation is necessary, which can be done with the Belarc Advisor:

What do I need to do to protect my computer from the microprocessor flaws?

Thu, 11 Jan 2018 00:00:00 +0700

(image) The Meltdown and Spectre processor security flaws, which many are calling the worst processor bug ever, should be of concern for all computer users.

Virtually every computer made since 1995 is considered to be vulnerable because of what has come to light as a design flaw in the way processors work.

Tech companies are scrambling to patch this serious hole, with lots of issues of who needs to do what first creating lots of confusion.

There  are three main things that need to be updated in order to ensure you are protected: operating system, browsers and BIOS/Firmware

Operating System Updates

In most cases, operating system updates are pretty straightforward and often times automatic for Windows users, but not in this case.

The available Windows update that patches the OS hole will only install properly if your anti-virus provider has created a provision in their protection that allows this critical update to install.

Without this ‘registry key’ in place, users that try to install the update can experience system problems including the dreaded Blue Screen Of Death (BSOD).

Making sure your anti-virus program has updated your system is a critical first step (check the support website for your program). The full technical explanation from Microsoft is available here:

Apple users need to update their computers, mobile devices and even Apple TVs with MacOS 10.13.2, iOS 11.2 and tvOS 11.2 respectively.

Android users need to check their devices regularly to see if there is an available update as there is no one update for all Android-based phones.


Every browser you use on every device needs be updated to the latest version, but this is the easiest and most straightforward process of the three. All of the major browsers have already created updates to patch this flaw, so there is nothing to wait for here.

BIOS/Firmware Updates

This is by far the most complicated and least clarified part of the update.  Intel announced that they plan to have firmware updates for 90% of processors made in the past 5 years by Jan 13th and older processors by the end of the month.

Think of firmware as a software update with operating instructions for a piece of hardware.

What makes this layer of protection so complicated is that figuring out where to get the patch depends on who made your computer’s motherboard and installing it requires some technical knowledge.  It’s also a bit risky because if something unexpected happens, like a power outage, you can render your computer’s motherboard useless.

Intel has published a detection tool for Windows and Linux users that can help you determine if you are vulnerable to these flaws at: but it won’t necessarily tell you exactly where you’ll need to go to get the update.

We’re also not clear at this point on what AMD or Mac users should do as it pertains to firmware updates, so we’re monitoring press releases to see if clarity comes soon.

As this is a dynamic situation with lots of unanswered questions, we’re compiling the information and will be emailing anyone that wants our suggestions once all of the updates have been clearly articulated: