#3. Don't Ask Me How to Make Your 10-Year-Old PC Faster
"I just bought this game, and my computer won't run it. What's wrong?"
If your computer is more than five or six years old, the answer is most likely going to be: "You need to buy a new one." No, I can't upgrade it, you bought it at Wal-Mart and one reason you got it so cheap was that the motherboard has absolutely no place to add any components.
"Can't you just put more memory in it?"
That long blue slot is your RAM slot. Most new computers have four or more.
Nope. All of your RAM slots are filled. Replacing the motherboard with one that has room for more RAM creates a domino effect where everything other than your monitor, mouse and keyboard also has to be replaced. The hardware is obsolete, all of it, and it's not my fault.
"Yeah but even the stuff I used to do runs slower."
Yes, because you are using newer, updated versions of those programs and the people who make that software assume you are regularly upgrading your computer. Each version of Microsoft Office is going to be more of a hog on your computer's resources than the last one. Everybody makes their programs load on startup because they assume you have vast stores of RAM to keep it in. See those six rows of icons down by your computer clock?
"OK, so here's what we do: I sell my computer on eBay for a couple hundred bucks, and we buy the new system with that."
Not so fast, Johnny Mnemonic. Your setup wouldn't sell for a couple hundred bucks. It won't sell for 10 bucks. Remember that "obsolete" thing I mentioned earlier? That means that virtually nobody on the planet has any use for it. I don't care that you paid $1,000 for it 10 years ago. Right now, it's worth less than the shipping and handling fees it would take to deliver it to your customer. Computers degrade in value at roughly the same rate as bananas.
How about instead of me buying those from you, you pay me to haul them off.
No, it's not some huge scam on the part of the people who make computers and computer programs. And even if it is, I'm not in on it.
#2. Toolbars Are Bad News
I've used the word "toolbars" several times, and you'll notice I use the word kind of like how you'd use the word "virus." Toolbars are little strips that get glued to the top of your browser, bearing some advertisement and a bunch of buttons that will probably take you to even more advertisements. When you downloaded that free program that rotates pictures of your children on your desktop while playing inspirational songs, way down in the Terms and Conditions it mentioned that the price of downloading that free program was that they got to stick a toolbar on your browser.
And when you download the next gadget, its toolbar will not replace the last one. It will glue itself to the other one, and the next will get stacked on top of it. Eventually it will look like this:
The first thing I'm going to do when I start poking around on your machine is open Internet Explorer and Firefox, and the number of toolbars I find there will tell me everything I need to know about the problems I'll be encountering and what caused them. And I'm going to uninstall them all.
But I bring this to your attention because from now on, when you download anything, pause for a moment while you're blindly and rapidly clicking "next" on each window that pops up, and look for the word "toolbar" on the list of things they're asking to cram onto your computer. Uncheck it if it will let you. If it won't, just bail out of the whole thing.
That "cancel" button is there for a reason. The program won't be offended.
Even if you don't mind viewing your Internet through a two-inch window at the bottom of your screen (maybe you like to pretend you're seeing the world through the slit of a knight's helmet or something), a lot of these are malicious programs that track everything you do and, at random, will boot you out to some site they control.
I'm also going to get rid of a lot of free programs that sounded really useful when you clicked on the banner ads offering them. Again, I don't want to lower your opinion of your fellow man, but "Registry Cleaner 5000" was, in fact, not cleaning your registry, it was spawning fake warnings to make you go download more bullshit. Weatherbug will, in fact, tell you the temperature, while it's spawning popup ads on your system. But there are other ways to get that information.
#1. "Wipe" Means EVERYTHING
Worse has come to worst. I get to your place, and your PC is so screwed that it won't even boot -- not even in Safe Mode. Maybe you have a boot sector virus or maybe some key files got corrupted, but one way or the other, our only troubleshooting option left is start over and do a clean install of your operating system. With an exasperated sigh, you tell me, "Yeah, fine, just wipe it and start from scratch." I ask if you're sure because that means you're about to lose everything, since you did not keep backups. You say you know. You just want to start over.
Several hours later, all of the drivers are installed. Windows is up to date. You have a new antivirus. Your system is smoking fast (well, compared to what it was). You can actually see a whole screen's worth of Internet in your browser. It's like new again.
You sit down, open up your browser and ask in horror, "Where's my email? And all of my music?! And my pictures?!"
You just told me to wipe it. Did you not know what that means? Because when I said "lose everything," I didn't mean, "lose just the bad stuff." I meant every motherfucking thing. In some cases, this is a breakdown in communication. The person has heard a "computer guy" use the term "wipe" before, and they're just repeating it. Trying to connect with you by using terms you're familiar with -- even if they're not. "Yeah, 'wipe,' like when you're cleaning a window, right? You wipe it off?"
Or, they figure I couldn't have wiped everything because, look, Windows is still there. Hey, maybe that other stuff is still hiding somewhere, too!
No, Swordfish, you didn't keep any of that important stuff on any kind of a backup drive, you kept it all on the exact same bit of hardware you have been dragging through a shit gauntlet of adware, spyware and Trojans. So, you're starting from scratch. Think of it as a second chance. A fresh start; to clean up all off those bad habits, and to treat your computer like the crucial yet fragile tool that it is.
See you again in about three months.
For more on computers, check out 7 Reasons Computer Glitches Won't Go Away (Ever) and The 10 Most Baffling Computer Gadgets Money Can Buy.