In Technology Little Things Matter

So often, I have shared my advice on purchasing computer X vs computer Y.    I have warned you about potential malware.  I have advised you on productivity tips to make your work routines better.  Today, I want to look at things from a micro level.   The topics of this lesson are drivers and wireless choices.


Drivers are usually a small collection of files that enable devices you plug into the computer (whether internally or externally) to communicate with it.  Drivers allow you to play sound out of your computer.  Drivers facilitate the data between computer and printer.  Drivers enable your mouse to function properly.  Both Microsoft Windows and the Mac OS include built in drivers for a multitude of devices and equipment, even those made by other companies.  Apple will automatically download the drivers for popular printers the moment you plug them in.  Microsoft does a pretty decent job of this as well.  This is what you call a true plug-and-play experience.  However, there will always be devices that require a driver to be installed prior to first use.   Updated drivers may also be needed when you upgrade your operating system.  I recently helped a Mac client set up a new Canon scanner.  Her old one had been working for about 10 years.  However when Apple updated the Mac OS to version 10.10, the old scanner stopped working.  Expecting to get 10 years of use out of a scanner or printer, even if the device can still physically function, is wishful thinking.   There is a software component involved, the driver, which must keep getting updated for your device to stay in commission.

In the days when all of our computers has CD / DVD drives, manufacturers would simply put the drivers on a disc.  Today, fewer and fewer of our computers have these optical devices.  Therefore, your first option should be to see if your operating system (Windows or Mac) can automatically recognize the device.  If it does not or if there are performance issues,  you go to the manufacturer website and download the latest drivers.   Though the scanner story was a sad one, I recently had a positive experience with a client who upgraded to Windows 10 and could not get the full functionality out of her Cannon multi-function printer.  The printer was about 5 years old and had worked just fine in Windows 7.  While Windows 10 is a free (for one year) upgrade from both Windows 8.1 and 7, it is much more of a child of the Windows 8 generation than Windows 7.  If your your older device has Windows 8 / 8.1 drivers, then it is highly likely it will work in Windows 10.  Upon searching Cannon’s website, we found that this older printer had a Windows 8 driver (not 8.1 interestingly enough).  Installing this driver make everything work.  The client was very happy that she did not have to buy a new printer.   Bottom line:  When a device is not working as it should, check if the drivers are up to date before tossing it onto the scrap heap.

Wireless Choices

We all rely on wireless internet (or WiFi) to bring the internet to our computer and/or mobile devices.  The wireless signal is transmitted via a router that is connected (or built into) your cable / phone company modem.  I have always been a proponent of a separate modem and router.  That is why I could never fully get behind the U-Verse service from the local phone company.   DSL doesn’t operate this way.  If you still have the older phone lines,  you can get a separate modem and router.  (Unfortunately, if you have Frontier U-Verse internet and your modem goes down at 6 PM I cannot just run out to the store and get you a new phone.  It is possible to use a 3rd party router with U-Verse, which I recommend, but even this can become a challenge.)

However, having a separate router isn’t good enough.  You need to choose the right router.    The $30 and $40 routers just aren’t going to cut it.    For a good router, you are going to spend between $100 and $250.   When you think of all of the traffic this thing is directing, especially with an entire family at home, you will understand why it is important to invest wisely.  I believe that Apple’s Airport Extreme and Google’s On Hub are top of the line solutions that are easy to manage.  Both are approximately $200.  Apple also makes a $100 Air Port Express which is a great choice if you only have a few devices to connect. However, if you do not have any Macs or iOS devices, the Apple router’s may not be a good choice. While there is AirPort software for Windows and it works; it has not been updated since 2012.  If you are a Windows / Android household, I suggest you consider the Google router or routers by Asus, Netgear or TP Link.  Belkin is a good brand if you want to set it up yourself, while the previous three would probably require help from your favorite computer expert.

It is critical that you get a dual band router.  These routers support 2.4 ghz and 5 ghz (gigahertz).   With a dual band router, you will have two wireless connections available for your devices.  As you buy new computers, tablets, smartphones, Apple TV’s, Roku players, etc, you should make sure they have dual band wireless also.   For many years, we have only been using 2.4 ghz.  If you live in an apartment building, this can be a real nightmare.  Even if you live in a single family home, with other people,  your devices may all be competing for space in the 2.4 ghz range.  Older digital cordless phones also use 2.4 ghz.  (Note to self, when you get new cordless phones get the 6.0 ghz models).  Therefore, moving forward you will want to set more and more of your devices to use the 5.0 ghz  band on your dual band router.   Doing this will save you a lot of headaches.  You will not be wondering, why is the Internet crawling to my iPad when I am only 5 feet from my router?