Computer Support & Repair

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Reviews of Consultants Other Services Advice and Do-it-yourself


August 2009

What do others do about backing up the data they have on their home computer? The most important thing to me are the pictures I have. Now that I only take digital pictures, what if I lost them all? I do have them backed up onto a external HD, and some are on CD, and a selection are uploaded to a share site so I guess I'd still have access to some of them there. But I'm worried about hard drive failure or my computer or backup HD being stolen. (There have been breakins in our neighborhood, we have been lucky.) What are others doing? Are there good online backup sites? I have 20+ GBs worth... a little worried

I don't know if this is the perfect solution, but it works for me so far: Once a month (I make a note on my calendar), I back up all my ''My Documents'' files (I don't worry about software, just the content) onto a 250GB external USB hard drive (less than $100) and walk it down to our safe deposit box, and at the same time pick up my second external drive from the box for the next month's backup, just swapping them in and out. The one that's at home could still get stolen, but at least I have a copy of everything relatively safe from fire/theft at all times. I also periodically burn CDs of photos to store at home or in the safe deposit box. Knock on Wood

Backup, backup, backup. And backup again! I keep at least triple backups of all of my data. I have over 600 GBs of photography work and 700 GBs of music. I backup all the time and keep several off site. I've spent too much time ripping music and my photography work is too important to me to lose any of it.

If you have a Mac you can use Carbon Copy to back either entire drives or specific content. 1 TBs drives are priced reasonably these days. I buy most of my drives from OWC. Backup often and have more than one backup! Keep one at work or at a friends house. diligent

I use an online backup program called SugarSync, available at I pay about $50 per year for 30 Gb of storage. Whenever you add a file or change a file on your computer, it automatically uploads to the online website (password protected and secure). It also saves the last five versions of everything so if you make a mistake, you can go back to a previous version. You can turn it off when you need bandwidth for other things, like streaming video, etc. There are different plans with different storage maximums. You can try it free for a month too. You can also share files with others easily and share photo albums, and sync files from differnt computers. I love the piece of mind knowing that all my files are online in case my house burns down or everything is stolen. I can access all my files from any computer hooked up to the internet too, which is very handy. I am VERY happy with this service. Andi

When thinking about backing up data, the rule of thumb is that data must exist on two completely different 'things'. that can be an external hard drive, CDs, another computer, etc. Hard drives fail often and data can usually be restored but you don't want that kind of worry.

The other rule is that if you are protecting the data from theft or damage like fire/water, you will need to have the data in two different physical locations. I am now a fan of going with an online storage/backup service. You can either use something like a photo sharing service or get a service that stores yours files for you. I would recommend getting a large external hard drive and synching it to a hosted site--that would be your belt with a pair of suspenders...... stacie

You should check out either or For about $5 per month you can back up your entire hard-drive to Internet based storage. Mozy asks you to define what you want to back up. BackBlaze backs up everything by default. I prefer latter but it's a matter of opinion really. What I love most: both support both Mac and PCs. Nik

I back up my computer on (I think that's what it is...I'm out of town right now and using another computer). It's about $10.00 per month. It automatically backs up everything daily. There are many sites like this. It also backs up my pics, BUT I also put all of my pics into a Kodak site. That way I can send them to other people without taking up too much of their computer space) and they/I can order prints etc.

Hope this helps. It's important to have some kind of back up. Good you are doing this now. anon $5 per month - we use it - it's great. YOu can schedule it on your computer so you don't have to remember to back it up yourself. And it's offsite.

When searching for an online site, I would recommend to use one that functions as a storage database so you can get your originals back, rather than a photo-sharing site like Snapfish. Flikr will allow you to upload pictures and retrieve your originals. You can get a small monthly allotment for free (100MB I think), but to upload more than that you pay a monthly fee. I also back up my pictures onto DVDs and put it in a bank safety deposit box. That way if there is a fire, flood, etc. in the house, all my backup won't be in one place. Good luck! Stacy D.

Here's what I do for backups:

I have two small USB disk drives (I like the little Western Digital Passport -- tiny, and about $100 from Amazon for 500 GB; only $75 if 250GB will do). I format the whole partition with TrueCrypt ( -- free and very secure, so if the drive is lost or stolen I don't worry.

I keep one at home, and one in my safe deposit box at the bank. I use the one at home to back up every few days (incremental backup, so it takes very little time). I store the drive AWAY from the computer, so if it's stolen they won't think to take the backup drive. About every three months, I swap the home drive with its twin at the bank, so I have one that's no more than a couple months old totally safe even if my house burns down.

There are various ''cloud storage'' options these days, but I haven't used them and don't know how to evaluate their security or permanence (what if the company goes out of business? or an irate employee erases everything? etc.). --Careful about backups

I use an online service called Mozy that backs up everything automatically. It's affordable and gives me peace of mind. The website it

Yes, you should definitely back up your photos (though it sounds like a lot of yours are already sort of backed up). Don't do what I did. My hard disk died a couple of years ago. I had years and years of photos on it, never backed up. Sometimes you can recover data from a failed hard drive yourself, using software, but mine was beyond that. I ended up paying $2,000 to have an organization in Novato recover all my data. Ouch! Since then, I back up regularly. The easiest way is using an online backup service. You might want to take a look at Carbonite ( It's very easy to set up and use. The first 15 days are free, so you can see if you like it. It costs about $60 a year to keep it going. Another, cheaper, alternative, if you have a DVD burner, is to burn all of your photos to DVD now and then. If photos are mostly what you're concerned about, online backup might be overkill. The disadvantage of the DVD solution is that you actually have to do it! Carbonite is automatic. If you don't have a DVD burner, how about just copying all of your photos to an online photo site? Learned the hard way

March 2009

I need to have a back up system for my computer...all my documents, photos, itunes, etc. I've been putting this off for a very long time and don't want to wait till it's too late. I have a PC....what's good? Prices? Easy-ish to manage? Thanks in advance june

I just love my new backup software/website. It was recommended by the tech Q guy in the SF Chronicle. It's at You download their program to your computer. You tell the program which files to back up and then it backs up all the files online to sugarsync's website. The great thing is, everytime you add a new photo or song or file to your computer, or save a new version of a document, it automatically backs it up to sugarsync. This way, you always have a 100% current back up online should there be an earthquake or your house burns down. You can access your files (securely) using any computer with internet access, which is very handy. You can also share your photos online with people through sugarsync's website, and you can share large files or folders with others if you choose to. I bought 30 Gb of storage for $50/year. I think it's a bargain for the piece of mind. They have different packages depending on how much storage you need. You can do a! free trial if you'dike to check it out (30 days?). It's also very easy to use, and quick to set up. Andi

I'm not expert, but on the suggestion of the Chronicle's computer columnist, I started backing up my PC files online at You set up when, how often, and what you want backed up, and then it runs automatically (your computer has to be on, but you don't need to be signed on).

Their basic program is free, but will only back up 2 GB. That's what I use, but I don't have it back up everything - especially photos, since they take so much space. They also offer $50/year for 150 GB.

For photos, as soon as I put them on my computer, I try to remember to upload them to two different online photo sites (I use Shutterfly and Koday Gallery) - in case one of them goes belly-up - so I don't have to use a ton of CDs. Not as convenient, but I don't have to do it often. R.K.

There are two main options for computer backup, online and external hardware, each has advantages.

You can use an online service like and get 2GB of storage for free or they have paid plans that accommodate more space. You set the computer to backup at a certain time and day and it takes care of the rest. The disadvantage is the data is stored elsewhere and may not be immediately accessible. If you have a catastrophic failure, you're going to have to know how to access the data from another computer for retrieval.

Personally, I use an external hard-drive that backs up all my important data daily without intervention. Most external drives will come with some type of software which will allow you to accomplish this in very easy fashion. For less than, $100 you should be able to find an external hard-drive to accommodate most needs. Your photos will take up the most space. I recently purchases a 1 terabyte drive for about $200 which should be more than enough for quite some time.

The downsides to the external hard-drive would be the potential for theft, damage (such as fire/flood) and cost. They will also wear out eventually since they are mechanical.

Eventually I will probably move to a dual external hard-drive configuration where one gets saved in a fire resistant safe.

Hope this helps! Rick

Getting a home business up and running

May 2006

I would like help understanding the various components needed to get a home office and business up and running.

1. Domain name - I do understand how to buy one. Is there a reason not to use GoDaddy?

2. If you have a domain name who hosts you -- or is that even the right terminology? If I want who does someone send email to -- is it Jane [at] But then who do I get my email from? Is that the same as whomever provides my DSL service?

3. What are the advantages or disadvantages of having these services bundled or not from a single provider? Recommended comapnies for all these things?

4. I want my email to download to my computer not just exist on a web-based service. How do I make this happen? do I beign to understand all these component parts and does anyone have suggestions as to who can teach me or how I do it myself? Thanks! Behind the technological curve

Yaron Rosenthal, Berkeley Parents Network Member and owner of 57 Works, can help you with the computer issues that you need help with. He can also help with just about any PC or Mac problem you might have. His specialty is setting up back-up systems to protect your data. 510 677-5816 or shakalim[at] Melanie

As a web designer, I get these types of questions a lot from my clients. Here are the basics: You buy hosting from a hosting company - there are a million of them out there. Most hosting companies (GoDaddy included, since you mentioned them) also do domain registration, often as part of the hosting package, and it usually makes sense (convenient and cheap) to do both through the same company. Whatever hosting package you choose should come with email accounts that you set up with whatever name(s) you want - Jane[at], etc. You generally check this email online. There are ways to hook it up to your Outlook, etc. box, but I've never done that.

Make sure that whatever host/package you choose provides the tools you need - if you plan to use Front Page, ASP, FTP access, etc., check that those features are included/supported. If you're working with a web designer, ask them what they need.

In my experience, the smaller hosting companies (my current fav is are better than the big providers (Yahoo, Verio, SBC, etc.) when it comes to customer service, features and price. There are a bunch of sites out there that rate and compare various hosts -,, etc. Or ask around and see what other people like jpp

You have asked very good questions. I would go for bundled services - one host with web, email and other functionalities all provided. It's more convenient for you service-wise and more cost effective. My company offers full webcenter services with complete email package so that you can access email accounts directly through such favored Pop3 email clients as Outlook, Thunderbird and Eudora. It also has Auto Responders features where replies can be sent when you are not physically available. The Design Center feature gives you quick, easy and cost- effective control over the look and feel of your Business Web site. I would like to discuss with you about your business needs and give you complete answer of all your questions. Please give me a call at 510 410 9798 or email me at gloriouszone[at] Lan

Computer Hard Drive Full!

April 2006

My problem is that I have two local disks (C and D; the floppy, and CD drives are A, F and G respectively). Drive C is 16 GB but only has 500 MB available. Drive D is 58 GB and is essentially empty although I have moved all of my personal files and pictures onto the D drive. It appears that the C drive is full of programs (including ITunes). Is it possible to move some of the programs from the C to D drive or do I need to uninstall and reinstall on the D drive? Is this DYI project or do I need to call in the professional? Any websites that might address issues like this? Thanks! Cindy

To answer your main question, about moving software from your C to your D drive, unfortunately, the only surefire way to do this is to uninstall the software and reinstall it on D. If you've got the original CDs for the software (or downloaded copies, or in the case of software like iTunes, access to the WEB site), you can certainly do this yourself. The tricky part will be moving all of your associated data over to D. It's not that hard if you're pretty comfortable in general with moving files around. After you uninstall software, those data files are left around. Unfortunately, they can sometimes be hard to find. For instance, Microsoft tends to place your data in some obscure folder that's shared by lots of other software. If you were to uninstall Outlook, for instance and reinstall it on D, when you ran the newly installed program, you wouldn't see any of your data (e-mails, contacts, calendar) until you found your old data and either moved it or told Outlook where to find it. A bit tricky, but it completely depends on which software you're moving.

All that said, if you can afford to, I'd recommend a different fix. A larger C drive would be a much better solution. You could even get a used one, cheaply. There are lots of things that just have to be on C, so you're likely to run into this pretty constantly. Copying the contents of your old C drive to a new one can be done without reinstalling everything, but you'd want to hire a pro to do it. Patty

It is possible to uninstall programs from your C drive and re-install them on your D drive, but that's kind of tedious. The simplest solution is probably buying a new hard drive and using it as a replacement for your C: drive. Hard drives are so inexpensive now that it will cost less than $100. Maxtor hard drives come with instructions and software to help you copy the contents of an old drive to a new drive. (Other manufacturers probably have the same thing, but I've done this with a Maxtor drive). Whether you can do it yourself depends upon how comfortable you are with opening up your computer and removing components. It is a process intended for consumers to complete, but you have to be comfortable at installing/uninstalling and connecting/disconnecting your hard drives. If you're not, BestBuy (for instance) advertises they will installl a hard drive for $39. Finally, there are a lot of different acronyms associated with hard drives and you need to make sure to get one that is compatible with your computer. If it currently has only a 16GB drive then it's probably pretty old, maybe mid to late 90s? It might be time to consider upgrading to a new computer to solve your hard disk limitations. Upgrading all of the Time

You could temporarily transfer all your documents (photos, etc.) to an external hard drive (HD) or burned on DVD, then reinstall your operating system (OS) and all programs on the large HD (58GB), then transfer all your docs back to the 16GB HD. Another way of doing it is getting a larger HD, say 150 GB, setting that up as your storage HD, then transfering all contents of your 16GB to it and converting the 58GB as your OS HD, for programs only. The reasoning is that you will accumulate docs more quickly than programs, so you will need more storage space eventually. And 16GB is small for an OS HD; they work faster when there is empty space, at least twice as much as taken space. And your 16GB could remain a back up HD, a MP3 HD or an external HD. Miguel

Upgrading a Computer Yourself

I'm needing to upgrade my IBM-compatible PC (memory and hard drive). Any good suggestions about where I could have this done in the East Bay?

The cheapest way is to do it yourself. Neither installing more memory nor a new hard drive is beyond the abilities of anyone who can turn a screwdriver and plug in a lamp. Get a copy of a book like Upgrading and Repairing PC's (Pub. QUE, any recent edition will do) at the library if you're nervous. Ask a computer literate friend to help. At $50/hr. and up, you'll save some money.

If you still want to find a shop to do it, the folks at PC Ten (on Solano in Albany, and Piedmont in Oakland) are reliable. 5271388/6525268. Or any small computer shop -- take a look in Computer Currents for lots of listings.

Putting in new memory is a snap. It is as easy as inserting new batteries into a flashlight. Read in your literature that came with the machine to see if you can find the kind of memory required for the machine and then go to a catalog and order it. Make sure they send instructions. Changing the hard drive is a little bit more difficult, more screws to unfasten and to remember where to replace, but is like putting in a new can of oil into your car engine. If you can be assured that it is easy and that you can do it, you will save a bundle of money. You can order a hard drive directly from IBM or you can try Le Cie. Their web page addresses are obvious. Also, to get more experience you could sign up for an adult school class dealing in sevicing your computer. I did not go to a class, but I changed my own hard drive from a 2 gig to a 9 gig and doubled my memory on my own, no instruction. I am 68 years old!

Installing Network Cable

I want to have access to my computer network from the downstairs living room. The computer room is just almost above the living room, upstairs. I think we could get a very long network wire and string it inside the wall so it isn't visible. We need to be concerned about a fireblock in the wall because this wall is very tall, so we might have to poke a hole through the wall and drill a little hole in the fireblock so the wire can pass through and down to the bottom of the wall. But, then we have to be concerned about patching up the hole. Does anyone have suggestions to make this procedure as painless as possible? Maybe you can recommend a handy person to do this? Hana

A handyman who did something like this for us a long time ago use a VERY long drill bit (5 feet?) to get through the fireblock from the top the the wall in the attic. You might also consider various wireless networking stuff, there are Airports for Macs, and for PCs there are wireless options and there are products that communicate through the power wiring in your home. For 200-500 bucks you can get a complete setup, that's probably as much as you'd pay a handyman to make all these holes and patch them. Kevin

We have an Apple Airport hub that we got just for this purpose. It is meant for Macs but we adapted for use on our PCs (you can find instructions on the web but you will need a little technical expertise). Ginger

Adding a second computer to home internet connection

April 2005

When I got a new computer, I changed from AOL to ATT dail up internet. Everything works fine. My 11 year old computer is fine and I want to tie it to the new one. My new one has a connect to att icon. The old one just has the defunct aol connect icon. How do I get the att connect icon over to the old computer? I just want to let the kids do while I read my e- mail. I have the old one with a phone line going into a y splice in the new one's phone jack....the old one's msn network icon ''cannot locate''.....what should I do? Please advise me.

Get one of these or something similar (a router). You may have to upgrade to DSL.

In any case, it's pretty unsafe to plug a Windows machine directly into the internet without a firewall - you can get all sorts of viruses and worms. Wayne

Water Spilled on Laptop Computer

Feb 2005

Hi, my husband brought me water last nite when I was working on our new Dell laptop and he spilled water on the keyboard. I immediately wiped the water off but within a few minutes the computer just blew off and shut down. It would not turn on again. We didn't get the accident insurance and we know the warranty won't cover the damage. Any advice? Are you a techie or have a techie partner that might have some feedback? Nancy

I'm not a techie, but my husband is. In any case, you probably shorted your motherboard. There's nothing you can do, other than replacing it. I had the same thing happen to me with my (company-supplied) ThinkPad.

I don't know Dell's arrangements, but even though I recovered most of the data on my hard drive before sending the laptop to IBM for repair, I was pleasantly pleased to find out that all the data was still on the machine after the repair. I believe they just swapped out the motherboard.

I doubt it's covered under warranty, but I also doubt that it will be a huge fee. I think our repair was in the neighborhood of $40; the computer was also returned in a week.

It has been my experience, however, that you can't always count on having your data on a computer after a repair. Often machines are ''wiped'' clean when during the repair.

What you may want to do before you send it in for repair is purchase a ''shell'' ($15 to $50 at Fry's or similar stores) and get some somewhat savvy person to remove your hard drive and place it in the shell, connected to a working computer through a USB port (it's best if you have the same operating systems). You may be able to recover the data on your hard drive. If you can't see any of your files, try Googling for free- or shareware data-recovery programs. Good luck. Gwynne