Your Common Computer Questions Answered by a Nerd

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Every week I receive questions from readers – anything from what wireless mouse I would recommend to how to edit cell phone videos.  Here are a few of the most common queries:

Q: Do I need an anti-virus program on my tablet (iPad, Kindle Fire, Nook, etc.)?

A: While viruses on tablet computers are rare, as tablets continue to grow in popularity they’re likely to be targeted more frequently by virus writers.  Any device that accesses the Internet should maintain up-to-date anti-malware software to protect your data from being compromised or Internet surfing hindered by pop-ups or web re-directs.  There are many free programs available so there’s nothing to lose (provided you pick a reputable program) and it may save you the headache of time and data loss should your device be infected and require a system restore.

To find an anti-malware program, start at your tablet’s app store.  I like Lookout Mobile Security (www.lookout.com), a free product available for iPad, Amazon Kindle Fire and Android (through the Google Play store).  It runs with minimal user interaction (some others send regular pop ups, banners or push notifications, which I find annoying) and uses few system resources so it won’t drain your battery.  It offers protection from malware, backs up your contacts in case of data loss, and offers remote location if your phone is lost.  The premium version is $2.99/month and adds additional cloud storage for your photos and call history, a “safe browser” that blocks malicious sites and remote lock and wipe to further protect your data if your phone is lost or stolen.

Q: How much RAM does my computer/laptop really need? How do I know if I should add more?

A: Crucial.com (www.crucial.com) is operated by a subsidiary of Micron Technology, Inc., one of the largest memory manufacturers worldwide.  John Egan, web manager for Crucial.com says, “For most typical users with newer computers, 4GB of memory will suffice. Additionally, both Windows 7 and Windows 8 will run adequately with 4GB of memory.”  However, some users note a slowdown in their system’s performance when they try to run multiple applications at once or utilize resource-heavy programs, such as photo or video editing software.  Mr. Egan continues that for these users, “at least 16GB of memory would be recommended.”

If you notice that your system is running sluggishly or is exceedingly slow to boot up, first make sure that you don’t have a malware infection and that you don’t have unnecessary programs launching automatically at start up.  Crucial’s homepage offers a “System Scanner Tool.”  Click the “Scan my System” button to quickly see how much RAM is installed in your computer, the maximum amount of RAM your computer can support, the type of memory required, and the configuration that will optimize performance.

Read our article about RAM and the difference between memory & storage here.

Q: My laptop battery won’t hold a charge.  Help!

A: All rechargeable batteries eventually die.  Major computer manufacturer Dell reports that, “For the typical user, noticeable reduction in run time generally will be observed after 18 to 24 months.”  If your laptop doesn’t run as long when unplugged or turns off as soon as you disconnect, you probably need a new battery.

You can usually purchase a replacement battery directly from your laptop’s manufacturer.  You’ll pay top dollar (expect to pay $110 or more), but the battery should carry a warranty and you’ll be notified in the case of recall (some batteries have been faulty and, in rare cases, caught fire).  However, many users purchase 3rd party batteries through reputable resellers such as Amazon, Newegg, TigerDirect, etc and the savings can be significant.  Check buyer reviews and confirm warranty terms before making your choice.

About The Author: Andrea Andrea Eldridge is CEO and co-founder of Nerds On Call, a computer repair company that specializes in on-site and online service for homes and businesses. Andrea is the writer of a weekly column, Nerd Chick Adventures in The Record Searchlight. She prepares TV segments for and appears regularly on CBS, CW and FOX on shows such as Good Day Sacramento, More Good Day Portland, and CBS 13 News, offering viewers technology and lifestyle tips. See Andrea in action at callnerds.com/andrea/.