Category: Buying Advice

Windows Update: Warnings and Advice

Dear Windows Clients:

I decided to keep this message to my Windows users only, after all why would those with the fruit-flavored computers care about this anyway?

Recap:  Windows 10 – 1803:  How to delay and who can delay

I have been sharing a lot of advice lately about Windows 10 – version 1803.  It is literally the 6th new version of Windows to come out since the original Windows 10 in late July 2015.  Each one, while called Windows 10, has been a new version of Windows thrown at your computer. I think it’s excessive that they want to push 2 versions of Windows 10 per year. It was true last year and it will be the reality for 2018 as well.   In a previous post, I detailed how to delay your “Windows feature updates” (aka new versions of Windows) by 120 days while still letting the security updates come as scheduled.  The post with instructions can be found here.  https://theacronym.com/2018/02/22/windows-10-version-1803-how-to-delay-it/ On every Windows computer that I’ve touched over the past few months, where possible, I’ve implemented the 120 day delay.  Others have followed my lead and set up the delay themselves.

You can only delay new versions if you have the Pro version of Windows 10.  I’ve chosen this for you if I’ve ordered your computer or deliberately flipped the switch to Pro for you.  If you purchased your Windows computer on your own, there is a very high likelihood that you have the Home version of Windows 10. You are forced to take new versions of Windows at Microsoft’s whim.  As you will read below, that can be very dangerous.

A computer rendered useless by 1803

So far I’ve interacted with a couple clients’ computers who have successfully upgraded to 1803.  These systems all happened to be Dell desktops, 2 consumer grade and 1 business class, and ranged from about 4 to 8 years old.  I personally upgraded 2 of them to 1803 and on the 3rd one, I did some maintenance after the fact.  They are fine.  However, I got a very troubling report from a client last week.  Windows 10 1803 made her computer basically inoperable.  The screen was very dark and there was no way of making it brighter.  It definitely seemed like this supposedly ready for primetime version of Windows was not interacting properly with the video display hardware on her computer.  No major changes had been made to the system other than the new version of Windows, which was forced on Windows 10 Home, with no way of delaying it.  I suggested contacting Microsoft as they should take some responsibility for the damage that their mandatory software caused. 

Here is the rather interesting verdict.  The computer, although purchased in 2012 (Dell, consumer laptop), is obsolete. For all I know, it could have been a 2011 laptop that was sold in 2012, but I don’t know for sure.  However, it’s important to realize that each version of Windows 10 is truly a new version, just as if they called it Windows 10, 11, 12, 13, etc.  Each time Microsoft churned out a new iteration they had to decide which hardware they would support (just like Apple does with new versions of mac OS).  Having worked on this computer before I know that I did not have one of the mainstream Intel Core (like Core i3, i5, i7) processors that were common back from approximately 2010 through today.  It featured an Intel chipset that either didn’t sell in great volume or was simply deemed not powerful enough by Microsoft to run Windows 10 1803 effectively.  Fortunately, the Microsoft employee was able to do some special programming and revert the laptop to Windows 1709 (a feature built into Windows) and block all future updates.  I don’t know if security updates are also blocked, but the good thing is that it buys the client a little more time with the computer.

Shame on Microsoft for letting the situation go this far!   When Windows decides to check for new updates (including new versions), they have the power to do a basic hardware scan of the system. They know what Intel chipset (or AMD) is installed inside.  If a particular version of Windows 10 won’t run properly, it should never be pushed out to those particular computers.  Apple certainly does this with their software. Where is the quality control here Microsoft?

Buying advice

With all of this expressed, I recently installed 1803 on my wife’s 10 year old business class Dell Optiplex desktop.  The latest version of Windows 10 runs very well. The Optiplex 330 line from that era was purchased in millions of units by governments and large corporations.  Microsoft knows this and was not about to render it obsolete.   I want to give some general advice here that you can’t go wrong with. Let me order your next Windows 10 computer for you.  If we don’t do it as part of an appointment, I can do it for you over the phone and set it up when it arrives.  I don’t charge more for this service and I don’t make a commission off of the computer. The kind of Windows computers that I order are typically business class systems from the likes of Lenovo, Dell or HP. They are not found in big box stores or on Amazon.  Intel’s CPU’s are currently on the 8th generation of core processors.  An 8th or 7th generation, Core i3, i5, or i7 processor, with at least 8 GB of RAM, and Windows 10 Pro will stand the test of time.  While I can’t promise 10 years, I think you will be happy with its lifespan.  These should be your purchasing parameters.

Delaying 1803 further

Wherever possible, I have delayed or had you delay your Windows 10 – 1803 upgrade by 120 days.  The maximum delay you can impose is 365 days. You will still get security updates because you have left that delay at 0. If you do nothing further, you will probably get 1803 pushed out to your computer sometime in September in Windows 10 Pro.  Following the instructions at https://theacronym.com/2018/02/22/windows-10-version-1803-how-to-delay-it/ I have no problem with you upping the delay to 365 days IF IF IF…. you have an image backup of your system.   If your computer crashes in the next year, you will want to restore to the version of Windows you had and not be forced into Windows 10 1803. An image backup will allow you to do that.   On many of your computers, I have installed my preferred imaging program Macrium Reflect (not a Mac program).  If you know your computer is backing up to an external drive via Macrium Reflect – then go ahead and delay the new version to the max of 365 days. 

If you are not sure if you have an image backup or if you even have Windows 10 Pro, please feel free to ask questions.  Let’s keep our Windows computers running smoothly without forced mandates and outside interference.

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Mac Books and Their Keyboards

I wanted to revisit a subject that I covered in the near past — current Mac Book Pros and their “wonderful” keyboards.  https://theacronym.com/2018/02/02/ipad-pro-best-mac-laptop/

Apple came out with a substantial redesign of the Mac Book Pro in 2016. These new systems featured a radically different keyboard than the one that Mac laptop users had come to love in the 2015 and many prior generations.  The keyboards were panned by reviewers and users had their troubles as well.  They suffered from an unusually high failure rate.  For what reason?  Apple wanted to shave a couple of millimeters off of the overall thickness!  Apple rushed out an updated model that looked identical in June 2017.  Customers are still having issues with the keyboards in the 2017 models and they cost close to $600 to replace out of warranty. 

I have some Mac clients who will likely be looking for a new laptop this year.  If using an iPad with a keyboard as a laptop is not the right solution, I want to share some honest thoughts. 

I spent more time with a 2017 MacBook Pro and I really wanted to give it an objective try.  The keys do not travel like they do on the laptops that are known for better typing experiences.  However, Apple has offered up a trick and it seems to work. The keys make an unusual clicking sound when I pressed them, giving the allusion that there is more depth than there is in reality.  So, the truth is, I could likely live with the keyboard on a long term basis.  I still have serious doubts about their reliability. 

I think the 2017 Mac Book Air is a better laptop for consumer use than the 2017 Mac Book Pro.  Best Buy was recently selling it for as low as $699.  If you are not married to specific Mac applications, I can think of a couple other Windows laptops that are better than the Mac Book Pro.   

-Lenovo Thinkpad T, Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon

-Dell XPS 13, Dell XPS 15

-Dell Latitude 5000 series, Latitude 7000 series

With all of this cold water being thrown at Mac portables, I still think a custom ordered iMac is one of the best desktops on the market.

Ultimately, I know there are some clients who are joined at the hip with certain Mac apps or have a massive library that has already been organized in Photos.  The Mac Book Air may be discontinued later this year, so the Mac Book Pro could be the only option. You’ll live with the keyboard, but If you buy it, you must get the 3 year, Apple Care warranty.  It is your firewall against expensive repairs due to design flaws. 

Desktop, Laptop, or Tablet

I was recently asked by a willing buyer, should I get a desktop, laptop, or tablet?

It certainly depends on the user’s habits and preferences.   I think a desktop is wise choice for someone who doesn’t mind doing their work in one place all the time and prefers using a larger screen.   The typical desktop monitor is 22 to 24 inches these days.  The standard high resolution (meaning everything is smaller) can be magnified or scaled up to give you a very comfortable viewing experience. 

Laptops are appropriate for users who want the flexibility to move around a lot (or at least once in a while) and don’t mind a smaller screen.  Some laptops can even be purchased with 17 inch screens, in the Windows world, so there may not even be that much of a compromise.  There is a wide spectrum of quality in the laptop game.  You could pay anywhere from $400 to $2500 for a laptop that works for you.  It simply depends on the purpose and features required.  As a final note on laptops, I will mention that I have had great experiences buying high quality, business class laptops for clients through the Dell and Lenovo outlets over the years.

Tablets (or even Chromebooks) are becoming a more popular choice for a consumer’s computer.  I set up a new iPad for a client over the weekend who will be using her iPad Pro as her primary personal computer.  I worked with a client today who only uses a Chromebook.   With an iPad or Chromebook, you can e-mail, compose documents, share files, edit photos, print (with a compatible printer), shop, do online banking, save files, and organize those files into folders.  Your device will be very SAFE compared to a Windows or Mac system.  However, you may not be able to run your favorite application for X (whatever X is for you).  For example, I like to use a program called The Journal in Windows to write personal journal entries.  I would not be able to use this program on an iPad or a Chromebook.   The greatest benefit to either of these devices is that you can KISS – keep it simple stupid.   As long as you can play within the sandbox, an iPad or Chromebook might just be your future computer.

Recommended Systems–Late May 2017

Recommended Systems (as of May 27, 2017):
VIP Computer Care faithfully recommends……

Mac
Apple iMac (2015 models – HD or Retina — only with upgrade to Flash Storage)
Apple MacBook Pro – 13 and 15 inch (2016 models)
*VIP believes that you should buy  3 year Apple Care Warranty with all Mac computers. 
** Buy Macs with an SSD (Flash Storage) only. 

Windows (current models)

Dell Optiplex desktops
Dell Precision workstation desktops
Dell Latitude (5000, 7000 series)  laptops. 
Dell XPS 13 – 13 inch ultrabook laptop

Lenovo Thinkpad X Series – 12.5 inch laptop
Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon -14 inch ultrabook
Lenovo Thinkpad W – 15 inch workstation laptop
Lenovo Thinkpad T 14 and 15 inch laptops
Lenovo Thinkpad L 14 and 15 inch laptops
Lenovo (desktop) ThinkCentre M series

HP Spectre x360

Microsoft
Microsoft Surface Pro 4 – 12.5 inch
Microsoft Surface Laptop w/ upgrade to Windows 10 Pro
VIP also recommends Microsoft Signature PC’s from the Microsoft Store with at least 4 GB of RAM + Intel Pentium, i3, i5, i7 processors

Windows Update: Lenovo is my new Dell

For years, and years, I recommended Dell as my go to computer brand for those desiring a Windows based PC. Today, I will tell you — NO MORE.

A brief history lesson: Lenovo purchased IBM’s PC business back in 2005. IBM continued to provide design assistance to them for several years after that. Lenovo has taken something great and made it better.

Lenovo has U.S. operations in North Carolina and at some time this year, they will even start building one of their laptops in the U.S.

My endorsement only covers their Think line of products, for example their ThinkPad laptops and ThinkCentre desktops. Lesser Lenovo systems like the Idea Pad and computers simply called Lenovo followed by a model number are pieces of crap. I have been in this business for over 15 years; I’ve earned the right to say that.

Since most people are going laptops these day, you’ll be pleased to know that Lenovo has Thinkpads in every price range.
– smaller ultra portable laptop, 11.6 inches – x131 is $500
– mid-range, well constructed laptop, – the Edge is about $650

– ready for work, durable, a world leader – the T series will run you about $900
– thin, lightweight, Apple-like – X1 Carbon – $1400

These Thinkpads come with a one year warranty. I would encourage all customers to look at Lenovo’s 3 year extended warranty for about $200. They do honor their commitments. However, the choice on the warranty is yours. Please don’t be upset if you get the bad banana in the batch and it dies after a year. FYI, the ThinkCentre desktops start in the $500 range.

Lenovo’s Think products can be ordered at lenovo.com or by calling them. I can also endorse purchasing Windows computers through Microsoft at www.microsoft.com/store

I seek out the best, so you can have the best!

Updated List of Recommended Computers

I want you to have the best when it comes to technology. The best doesn’t always mean spending more but it means you being treated with respect when you need to deal with the manufacturer. I’ve been extremely conservative with the models and makers I’ve suggested over the years and I will continue to be very deliberate before I make additions.

Apple: Let me get the easy part out of the way first. Apple is the only company that makes Macs. The only choice is where to buy yours from. I advise my clients to buy from either B&H Photo Video of NYC www.bhphotovideo.com (an Apple authorized reseller) or the online Apple Store http://store.apple.com

Windows: I’ll stick to laptops here because these are what most of you are buying.

– Lenovo.com: Thinkpad T series, Thinkpad X1 Carbon, Thinkpad X200 series, Thinkpad Edge

– Microsoft Signature PC’s (various manufacturers) from http://store.microsoft.com or Staples.com (most computers from Staples ARE NOT part of the Signature program, check and verify)

– Dell ** I’m still asking you to hold off on considering Dell until their corporate reorganization is complete. There is a chance that warranties many not be honored when the “new Dell” emerges. I hope to be able to faithfully recommend them in the near future.

*** Manufacturer extended warranties with an onsite support (or local drop off – Apple only) option are usually a good bet. Stay away from aftermarket / 3rd party warranties. The only good one I know in the world of electronics is Square Trade, which is offered on most Amazon and eBay purchases.

– If you would like a Desktop recommendation, please ask!
Lenovo ThinkCentre desktops would be a good choice. Check out Lenovo.com

OEM or Replacement Printer Cartridges

Printer ink (or toner) is expensive — there is no way of getting around that.
Typically most residential and home office computer users have one of two types of printers:   a color ink jet (prints color + black and white)   or monochrome laser (prints black and white only).      The printer may be single function — printing only   or multi-function — handling duties such as printing, copying, and scanning.   Some multi-function printers also add a fourth function, faxing.  Just as an example, for the past four years I have used a multi-function printer made that is Dell branded.  (It was actually made by Samsung, but that point is not relevant).  This model is a monochrome laser and prints, copies, scans, and faxes.  I’ve been happy with getting four years out of it; I doubt this printer will make 5 years.

The trend in how these things are sold is troubling.   $80 printers are common, even multi-function models can be had for under $100.  However, the black and color cartridges combined might also cost $80.   Furthermore, these cartridges won’t get you more than a couple hundred prints.   WOW.   For laser printers, the cartridges are referred to as toner cartridges.   They might get you 2000 to 5000 prints, but will cost upwards of $100 or more.

First you should decide — do I need to print in color in a regular basis?   In our family, we decided a long time ago that we don’t.  For the few times a year that we need color, we will gladly print those items out at Kinko’s (Fed Ex Office) or Staples.   Laser printers give you the lowest cost per print.  However, I know many of you like to print an occasional photo, a letter or an invitation with color, etc.   It used to be that the inkjet printers were made for consumers (at a lower cost) and laser printers were made for business.  However, the lines are now blurred.  Inkjet printers generally cost less, but laser printers have also gotten really affordable in recent years.  As with so many consumer decisions, you are going to have choose what works best for you.

I’ve helped clients set up several printers over the past year.  Two that I like over all others are the Brother MFC 7860DW (a multi function monochrome laser)  and the Epson WorkForce 845 (a multi function color inkjet).  Based on Amazon’s prices, they are $250 and $140 respectively.  FYI, there may be newer models of each printer that have been released this year.

HOWEVER — nearly in ALL CASES I never recommend buying replacement (aftermarket)  ink / toner.   Avoid Brand X or store brand re-manufactured cartridges.   They may not work properly and could damage your printer.  The only alternative to OEM branded cartridges that I’ve found remotely legitimate has been CarrotInk(dot)com.   They’ve been serving customers for over 10 years.  Once I had an issue with a laser cartridge I purchase from them and they promptly sent me a new one at no charge.  Still, given that Amazon usually has good pricing on name brand cartridges and free shipping for orders over $25 I hesitate to recommend after market products.