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Data Doctors Advice Columns

Computer Advice and Answers to Reader Questions


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:

What's to be expected at this year's CES?

Thu, 4 Jan 2018 00:00:00 +0700

(image) CES – the show formerly known as the Consumer Electronics Show – is set to kickoff on January 9th with various sneak peek events in the days before.

The days of the significant ‘revolutionary’ product launches are long gone as many of the large tech firms like Apple, Samsung, Microsoft and Google have their own launch events separate from CES.

As has been the case for many years, we can expect a lot of ‘evolution’ in familiar product categories along with lots of quirky products that seem to be ‘solutions searching for a problem’.

Automotive Tech

The race for the truly autonomous car has been heating up and we can expect to see just about every major car manufacturer showing off where they are in their development.

Driver assist technology that automatically parks, brakes, warns you when you’re drifting as well as accident avoidance tech is already commonplace in many new cars and is the gateway to the fully autonomous car so we’ll see how close the line has become.

One interesting new twist will come from the partnership of Aptiv and Lyft which will provide a self-driving taxi service to 20 pre-programmed locations around Las Vegas.

The city of Las Vegas is also scheduled to have a fleet of self-driving shuttles taking to the streets, so many of us will get our first real taste of the driverless experience in the real world.

Health Tech

A large section of one of the buildings will is devoted to health related technology that should take general tracking from devices like the Fitbit to wearables that address specific health issues that will come in the form of clothing, jewelry and other commonly worn items.

TVs and Entertainment Tech

As most consumers have yet to catch up to TV technology introduced years ago, we can expect incremental improvements in resolution on thinner displays that do more than just display video.

With the increase in switching from traditional cable/satellite to streaming services for watching content, expect more companies to include streaming capabilities in the TV along with more affordable 8K and HDR using both OLED and QLED displays.

Smart Home

Amazon’s Alexa dominated the show last year, despite not being an exhibitor, because of their integration deals with everything from car manufacturers to home security and smart home devices from a wide variety of companies.

Expect to see the Google Assistant make a push to narrow the gap, which means you’ll see lots of devices that you can control with your voice, whether it makes sense or not.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning will make an appearance in various smart home platforms so cameras can distinguish between your family and a stranger and various devices can interact with each other to make better decisions about how and when they should turn on or off.

Other Tech

We should see a little more clarity on what 5G cellular service might look like in 2019 and I’m expecting to see improvements on wireless charging, quirky robots, new ways to use Virtual and Augmented Reality, electric cars, personal care gadgets like smart mirrors and small powerful computers with unique form factors.

What can I do if my iPhone 6 is getting really slow because of the update?

Thu, 28 Dec 2017 00:00:00 +0700

(image) The recent admission from Apple that they have been intentionally slowing down older iPhones since the release of iOS 10.2.1 in January of 2017 has many users upset.

Conspiracy theories have been floating around for years claiming that Apple intentionally makes older iPhones slower to encourage people to upgrade to a newer model, but this wasn’t what they admitted to doing.

The iOS update that started slowing older devices down was in response to an issue users were having with phones that would suddenly shut down.

Apple determined phones with weaker batteries were incapable of operating properly under a full load, which was causing them to suddenly shut down.

The 10.2.1 update was designed to examine the condition of the battery on iPhone 6 or older and when it detected an aging battery, it slowed the processing down to prevent the battery from becoming overloaded and shutting down.

With the release of iOS 11.2, users of iPhone 7 models with aging batteries will be subject to this same slow.

An aging battery turns out to be one of the most common causes of a slow iPhone, so I’d start there.

How Many Charging Cycles?

All Lithium Ion batteries suffer from loss of capacity as the number of charging cycles increase. Apple estimates that after 500 charging cycles, your battery can lose up to 20% of its capacity.

A charging cycle is considered a complete discharge and recharge of the battery equivalent to 100% of the batteries capacity, even if it’s done over several charging sessions.  For instance, if you recharge your battery when it’s at 50% twice, that equals one charge cycle.

There is nothing built-in to your iPhone that allows you to see the number of charging cycles, but knowing what the number is can be very helpful.

If you have a Mac-based computer, you can install an excellent free program called coconutBattery ( that not only provides excellent info on your iPhone battery, it can do the same for your MacBook battery.

The ‘Loadcycles’ reading tells you how many charge cycles have been performed while the ‘Design capacity’ reading is an indication of the percentage of the original capacity left in your battery.

If you have a Windows-based computer, you can use a program called iMazing ( to check your iPhone’s battery details.

Free Battery Replacements

If you have an iPhone 6s that was manufactured between September and October of 2015, you may be eligible for a free battery replacement.

Apple has created a web resource ( that allows you to check your iPhone 6s by entering the serial number of your device. To find your device serial number, go to Settings > General > About.

Battery Replacement Options

If your iPhone is covered by AppleCare+, Apple will replace your battery at no charge when it falls below 80% capacity.

If you’re not sure if you have coverage, you can check here:

If it’s not covered, Apple usually charges $79 to replace it, but recently announced that it will be offering $29 battery replacements for iPhone 6 or later in the near future:

Which DNA test is better, 23andMe or Ancestry DNA?

Wed, 20 Dec 2017 00:00:00 +0700

(image) The popularity of genealogical DNA testing is growing and there are a variety of reasons that so many people are interested making use of them.

What Do You Want To Know?

Starting with this question is the best way to evaluate the various tests available because they all have their own proprietary datasets they provide in their analysis.

There are many companies other than the two that you’re asking about, but these two are the most popular services and I recently used both myself to see the differences.


23andMe offers two types of tests: ancestry only or ancestry + health related reports.

If you’re interested in learning about genetic variants that you have that may increase your risk of developing certain health conditions, then paying for the extra health report may make sense.

In my case, I had extensive knowledge of the health issues on my maternal side, but very little on my paternal side, so I opted for the additional health information.

What I got back was information on 7 different health conditions: Macular Degeneration, Late-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s disease, AAT Deficiency (lung and liver disease), Celiac Disease, Hereditary Hemochromatosis (iron related) and Hereditary Thrombophilia (blood Clots).

The report included information on whether variants were detected and whether or not there is an increased risk if they were.  They are quick to point out that this is far from a medical diagnoses and that your lifestyle, environment and family history have as much to do with your specific risk whether variants were detected or not.

They also supplied a ‘Carrier Status Report’, which looks for variants that may not affect your health, but could affect the health of your future family members.

In all, I received 84 reports that included ancestry, carrier status, genetic health risks, traits and wellness.

Ancestry DNA

The Ancestry DNA test was much cheaper, because it didn’t include the health reporting. Anyone specifically interested in extensively researching his or her family tree will find Ancestry’s DNA test very helpful.

Because of Ancestry’s extensive database of family trees combined with genetic matching, they were able to provide much more detail about the paternal side of my DNA.

23andMe generally pointed to my paternal DNA being Northwestern European, with the highest likely hood to be British or Irish, but Ancestry was able to link my shared DNA to a specific region in Ireland that gave me a much better sense of place.

They also provided information that it was likely my ancestors migrating to the Ohio River Valley or other mid-west states during the 1700s, again based on DNA matches in the area.

If you’re trying to connect your family tree to others that have taken the test, you can find users in the database that are likely 2nd, 3rd and 4th cousins and if they have started their own family tree.

Privacy Concerns

There have been many privacy advocates voicing their concerns about DNA testing, including the Federal Trade Commission ( No one knows how DNA samples will be used in the future, so make sure you understand what you’re giving up in order to get your test results.

What should we expect now that Net Neutrality is dead?

Thu, 14 Dec 2017 00:00:00 +0700

(image) It’s a little premature to proclaim Net Neutrality ‘dead’ as many parties are likely to challenge the overturning of this 2015 ruling, including the New York State Attorney General, Common Cause, Free Press and others.

Party Politics 

This very important issue is as much about party politics as it is about regulating the Internet and as expected, the 3-2 vote went right along party lines.  

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that any regulation put in place by the previous administration has a bulls-eye on it from the current administration, not to mention the general Republican stance of less regulation is better.

Like many other complex technology issues, this is far from black and white, so stepping away from party politics is helpful in truly understanding things.

The Title II Repeal

At the root of this action was a change made in 2015 being repealed that classified Internet Service Providers (ISPs) as “common carriers”, that included a specific provision limiting ISPs ability to block, or throttle websites and apps or offer paid prioritization of specific Internet content.

Is the Internet Really Neutral?

Prior to the 2015 reclassification, the Internet was actually free to engage in many of the practices that are feared if this classification change holds up.

Anyone that’s ever loved AOL was actually embracing the world that everyone now fears.  AOL decided what you saw when you signed in and presented you with content that loaded quicker from their ‘partners’ instead of sending you off to the actual world wide web –we always referred to AOL as ‘Almost On Line’.

One of the many concerns is that ISPs will get to choose winners and losers by creating partnerships with large content providers, but that's already happening. 

T-Mobile was one of the first wireless carriers to allow unlimited streaming of video and music from specific partners, like YouTube, Netflix, Pandora and Spotify without it impacting their data plan.

Is this good for consumers or is this an ISP picking winners and losers?  How can a small, unknown music service startup that can’t afford to partner with a wireless carrier stand a chance?

With the growth of streaming video and our collective lack of patience for anything that constantly ‘buffers’, it’s easy to understand the concerns about the future, but even with Title II, priority access already exists.

Internet giants like Netflix, Google and Amazon have had special deals in place with large ISPs to ensure users can get to their online properties quickly that no startup could ever afford.

The Past and Future

Repeal advocates point to the pre-2015 Internet to say that we did just fine without the restrictions under Title II, while pundits proclaim it’s “the end of the Internet as we know it” - both sides are overstating their positions.

Since most large ISPs are now in the content business, much of what happened in the past doesn’t reflect concerns about how they’ll act in the future, but proclaiming “the Internet is dead” isn’t helpful either – stay tuned!

Can you recommend a home security system that doesn't require a monitoring contract?

Thu, 7 Dec 2017 00:00:00 +0700

The DIY home security market has exploded with Internet connected devices that can monitor just about anything in or around your home.If you’re willing to be the ‘monitoring company’ via your smartphone, there are numerous options that range from complete systems to various individual devices that can be used to create your own custom system.Self-monitoring means that if you sleep through an alert on your smartphone in the middle of the night, you won’t know about it until you wake up the next morning.It also means that you will have to decide when to call the police or 911 based on what you are seeing on your smartphone.Wired vs. WirelessYour first step is to access the areas that you want to monitor to determine if you have electrical power and wired or wireless Internet access.As Internet access goes, opting for wired devices over wireless devices can eliminate a common point of failure when Wi-Fi issues arise.Devices that plug directly into an electrical outlet also eliminate the possibility of a battery failure, but it can also limit where you are able to install devices.Complete SystemsIf you have a smaller home or apartment, you may be able to use one of the all-in-one solutions such as Canary ( or the upcoming Angee ( single device security systems are simple to setup and can monitor motion, sound, temperature, and humidity while providing video streaming to show you what it’s seeing.  The primary device can monitor your primary living space with various sensor options for extending the monitoring area if needed.The popular SimpliSafe ( platform offers a much larger variety of monitoring sensors that are still simple to setup because they’re all wireless. While they don’t require you to pay for their optional $15 per month monitoring service, you won’t get the full functionality such as controlling everything from your smartphone unless you do.  Their monitoring is month-to-month, so you have the flexibility to turn it on while you’re on vacation and discontinue upon your return.Lowe’s Iris platform ( offers a similar package including the ability to manage your devices remotely via your smartphone without having to pay for one of their monitoring packages.One of the more complete systems with a lot of options for tinkerers is from iSmartAlarm ( because it works with Amazon’s Alexa and the IFTTT platform ( Device OptionsThere are a plethora of camera-based monitoring systems that range from the Ring Doorbell, Spot and Floodlight Cams ( to Nest Cams ( which can work with their optional alarm sensors ( those needing completely wireless security cameras, both Arlo ( and Blink ( offer wire-free devices so you can put them virtually anywhere you have a Wi-Fi signal.  The batteries generally last 1 to 2 years and both companies offer weatherproof options for outdoor use.If your Wi-Fi signal range is an issue, don’t forget about my previous suggestion to upgrade to a ‘mesh network’: [...]

Is it time for me to invest in Bitcoin and if so, where can I learn more?

Thu, 30 Nov 2017 00:00:00 +0700

(image) Cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin have long been the domain of the tech-savvy and rather confusing for the average consumer.  The confusion continues for most people, but with the massive increase in the value of Bitcoin since the beginning of the year, it’s getting a lot of people’s attention.

A single Bitcoin was valued at just under $1000 on January 1st of this year and by the end of November, it has popped up over $10,000 with new highs being reached almost daily.

I did a TV news segment in 2011 to try to help explain this ‘new currency’ ( and almost bought one just for the story. At that time, a single Bitcoin was valued at just over $3 – my loss!

It’s not surprising that anyone that simply looks at this at face value would consider it an investment opportunity, but this is far from anything resembling a traditional investment.

Wildly Volatile

Bitcoin has been extremely volatile from the beginning, with extreme changes to the value both up and down being commonplace.

Because there is no central bank, virtually any news story surrounding the use of Bitcoin from anywhere in the world can quickly impact the value.  In 2013 for instance, the value dropped in half overnight because of a change made by China’s largest Bitcoin exchange (

There have been Bitcoin exchanges that have been hacked, shutdown by governments or in some cases, simply disappeared with the funds, so it’s far from a normal currency.  There are now more stable exchanges such as Coinbase ( backed by banks, large venture capital firms and even the New York Stock Exchange

The current run up has many predicting a crash, but the reality is that we are in uncharted waters when it comes to cryptocurrency.  Anyone that claims to know where all this is going is simply speculating based on traditional financial models, which really don’t apply to this new phenomenon.

But, with the massive acceleration in value of Bitcoin in such a short period of time, it’s easy to see why so many ‘experts’ are calling it a bubble that’s bound to burst.

Various Ways to Invest

Jumping into the frenzy and buying a fraction of one Bitcoin is just one way of getting started, but based on what has transpired recently, that seems very risky.

There are other cryptocurrencies besides Bitcoin that are substantially cheaper to buy such as Ethereum and Litecoin.  Coinbase makes it easy to buy any of them via their app if that’s your preferred method of investing/gambling.

There’s a decent chance that you’ll be able to invest through an ETF (Exchange Traded Fund) sometime in 2018 which will spread your risk over many different cryptocurrencies and the CBOE (Chicago Board Options Exchange) recently announced that it plans to offer Bitcoin futures and options in the near future.

Educate Yourself

Whatever you decide to do, educating yourself is essential.  There are many ‘beginner’s guides’ available online, so if you have a favorite financial resource, search their website first.

What do I need to do about the new Bluetooth issue?

Thu, 23 Nov 2017 00:00:00 +0700

(image) A recent security whitepaper published by Armis Labs revealed a new way that many Bluetooth enabled devices can be compromised and exploited dubbed ‘BlueBorne’.

The potential threat exists for Android, iOS, Windows and Linux devices as well as many common household gadgets often referred to as IoT (Internet of Things) devices.

What Is BlueBorne?

The name ‘BlueBorne’ was used to reflect the attack method, which is through the air targeting the very common Bluetooth connection.

What makes this particular attack so disconcerting is that it doesn’t require the user to do anything in order to become a victim; they simply need to have their Bluetooth radio turned on.

“Even if the device is locked, the BlueBorne exploit can compromise the device” according to Michael Parker of Armis.

The exploit simply ‘bullies’ its way into connecting without the usual pairing process that we’re all used to performing when connecting via Bluetooth.

Once a remote attacker gains access via the BlueBorne vulnerability, they can do just about anything they want to the device without the user ever seeing anything happening.

Who’s At Risk?

The biggest risk is to users with older mobile devices running older operating systems.

iPhone and iPad users that are running iOS 9.3.5 or lower are vulnerable (Apple fixed the vulnerability with iOS 10 and higher).

Android users have a more complicated path to figure out whether they are vulnerable because there are so many variations of the OS that can be impacted by both the phone maker and your wireless carrier.

To make things easier, Armis has created a free app called “Armis BlueBorne Scanner” which is available in the Google Play store:

Once the app is installed, you simply click on the ‘Tap To Check’ button to scan your device for the vulnerability.

If your device is deemed safe, the app will provide an option to ‘Check Devices Around Me’, which when tapped will scan your immediate environment for potentially vulnerable devices (which could include your neighbors devices if you are close enough).

Steps To Protecting Yourself

Remember, this is primarily an issue of older operating systems, so making sure you have the most recent updates on all your devices will be all the protection you need.

A quick way to check for available updates on most mobile devices is by going to the ‘Settings’ menu and either look for a ‘Software Update’ or check the ‘General’ or ‘About Device’ menu for the update option.

If for any reason you can’t get an update for your device to fix this problem, turning off the Bluetooth option, especially when you’re in a public setting would be advisable until you do get it updated.

The Good News

The good news on this threat is that it requires the attacker to be relatively close (under 30 feet) and Armis has yet to see this attack being used ‘in the wild’.

Having said that, because this attack is so stealthy, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that since it’s now a known method, it will start being used without victims knowing that it’s happening. Make sure you have the most current update on all your Bluetooth enabled devices to best protect yourself.

How does the new Google Pixel 2 XL compare to the Samsung S8+?

Thu, 16 Nov 2017 00:00:00 +0700

(image) With Samsung’s release of the S8/S8+ in April, they brought a unique eye-catching design packed with new features and screens to market that quickly made it a top seller.

Google’s much anticipated Pixel 2 phones (which is a Verizon exclusive) was expected to compete at this highest tier with Samsung’s flagship and it does.

Screen Comparison

Both of these devices have large advanced OLED displays (s8+ 6.2” / Pixel 2 XL 6”) with no physical buttons, which pushes the viewable area to the edges. OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) technology means that the individual pixels can be turned on or off, which creates brighter colors and darker blacks over traditional LCD displays.

Samsung uses curved edges on the sides in a slightly narrower form factor, which makes it a little easier to use for those with small hands while reducing the bezel to almost nothing.

The Pixel 2 XL’s pOLED is excellent, but the S8+’s Super AMOLED display when compared side-by-side with the same image is noticeably better.

Camera Comparison

Both devices have 12MP rear facing and 8MP front facing cameras with the S8+ having a slightly wider aperture (f/1.7 vs f/1.8) which can make a slight difference in low lighting settings.

They both offer HDR options, but the Pixel 2 offers HDR+ Enhanced mode for those shots that have a large ratio of light to dark.  HDR essentially uses multiple images at various exposures and combines them for better images.

The Pixel 2’s advanced camera technology and features will appeal to hardcore smartphone photographers that includes free, unlimited storage of all your videos and photos in their original quality via Google Photos.

Additional Considerations

They both have fingerprint scanners on the back, but the S8+ has it right next to your rear camera lens, so you’ll need to make sure you clean your camera lens regularly as you’ll put your finger on it often.

The S8+ has glass on the front and back, which we managed to crack on our test unit fairly quickly, so I’d highly recommend a case. The glass allows the S8+ to use wireless charging with an additional accessory, which the Pixel 2 XL doesn’t offer.

The S8+ also allows you to expand the base storage with a MicroSD slot (up to 256GB) while the Pixel 2 XL is fixed at either 64 or 128GB of storage.

The S8+ has a slightly higher water resistance rating (IP68 vs IP67) but both are designed to survive total immersion in water for short periods of time.

The Pixel XL 2 has gone the same route as Apple and eliminated the headphone jack, so you’ll either need to use the included USB-C adapter or use Bluetooth headphones.

The Pixel 2 XL uses the Google Assistant, which can be activated by slightly squeezing the phone on the sides, while Samsung has their own attempt at a personal assistant called Bixby which you can’t remove - I prefer Google Assistant, which you can also download to the S8+ but Bixby will always be lurking in the background.

They’re both excellent phones, so think about the differences that I’ve outlined to see which fits your needs the best.