The Village Geek Is Going Mobile

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After 18 years in the same Zionsville location, I have made the decision to close our retail outlet. It was a tough decision, but the cost of the “brick and mortar” outlet has ballooned, the need to inventory parts is long past, and I’ve gotten older. It is time to make this a more personal experience for our customers.

We (Marlene and I) will continue to service you, our customers, with the same quality of service you have come to expect. Everything will remain the same, except when you need service we will come to you. If your computer needs service that requires in shop service, I will pick it up and deliver it back to you at no additional charge.

Today’s mobile technologies have changed everything, I hope you find this new service to be more in keeping with the times, while we maintain the personal service we have always provided. I hope you like our new web page, and please notice that you can schedule your own appointment here on the site! We will call you to go over the details of your service needs before we arrive.

Marlene and I appreciate the support you have given us over the decades, and look forward to continuing this relationship in the future.

Computers are Computers

I often get asked “What is the best brand computer to buy?”  Of course I look the person straight in the eye and tell them “We prefer Village Geek Computers.”  Once the prospective customer realizes that we are in fact a computer manufacturer, they will ask me if our computers are the same as the brand name computers, or if they are competitively priced.

Let’s set aside all the baloney you might hear from advertising or from salesmen, or even from your neighborhood geek.  The fact is computers are computers, and they cost what they cost.  Let me explain.

Computers are computers:

All major manufacturer use Intel or AMD based computer hardware, and so does the Village Geek.  Inside my computer you will see the same Intel processor and chipset, the same Nvidia graphics, the same Seagate hard drive and the same Intel, and Gigabyte motherboards.  However we do have a warranty advantage on those parts, since we buy the models with 1 to 3 year warranties.

And they cost what they cost:

In the computer business, a $.50 discount on a part is a pretty big deal.  In a typical computer, there are only six to eight parts.  So while Dell has the economies of scale, the actual cost of what they build is pretty much the same as what it cost me to build one and they sell it for pretty much the same price Ido.  They save maybe $5 per computer but they sell a bazillion so they make five bazillion dollars more than we do.

Exceptions:

Some minor geeks out there are saying “Now wait a minute, I saw XYZ for a nickel ninety-five the other day at Fryes…”  True enough.

Certainly there are low quality discount parts out there.  Brands like Nanya memory or ECS motherboards sell parts at very low prices and their failure rate is very high.  We don’t use those brands, and neither does Dell, HP, Compaq, eMachines or Gateway.  The cost of returns is too great both financially and in customer satisfaction.

There are some ridiculously low loss leader sales at the big box stores.  When you see a full sized notebook advertised for under $500, you are the only person making money on that deal.  The manufacturer has taken a concession to gain market share, or the retailer is selling below cost to get you into the store.  You will notice how intent the sales people are at getting you to buy extras if you manage to get your hands on one few loss leaders they have.

So what is my point?

The real truth is we don’t make much money on computers or computer parts, so we really don’t mind if you buy a name brand computer.  We will be happy to service it for you either way.  The main reason we sell computers and hardware is so we can provide you with a high quality product that has been tuned specifically to what you need.  The other advantage to our computers is that we handle the warranty.  In the rare case when a customer does have an issue, they will not spend one minute on the phone trying to get through a Tier One tech support call. You just tell us what you are having trouble with, and we take care of it, thank you very much.

Laptops for ZCS Students

It’s a tough question; there are so many choices, Netbook, Notebook, Laptop, Tablet, and Chromebook? What is the answer? Do you really understand what these different categories are? What should you consider when shopping?

Well you start by looking at the schools specification requirements. Typically these requirements are pretty confusing because the schools rarely require much power, so the specs they quote are ancient and have very little relationship to what you see in the advertisements.

Zionsville High School recently sent their requirements to me and with a few exceptions, almost anything will work. What will not work is a Tablet (iPad, or Android), and a Chromebook.

For those of you that are unfamiliar with these terms, a Chromebooks is the $250 “notebook” that Google advertises on TV. These ads have people convinced that a new notebook is under $300, and so they get sticker shock when they get to the store and start shopping. A Chromebook is based on Linux and does not run applications; it’s basically a tablet with a new operating system. Your kids are going to need to run applications to do their school work.

A tablet, like a Kindle Fire or an iPad, doesn’t run regular applications either, and so the school cannot use those.

Netbooks, which look like a notebook, but are much smaller, start around $300. Netbooks use a very low power processor, designed to maximize battery life. These little computers do meet the specs, at least for Zionsville High School, but they have a very small screen (typically 10”) and keyboard. Most students find them hard to work on after a few days. The screen is so small that only about half a typical website will show on it, you have to scroll to see the rest. Additionally netbooks do not have optical drives (DVD-ROM, CD-Rom drives) so you have to buy an external DVD drive or you cannot install applications that are delivered on disks. Lastly because of the low power processor, netbooks typically struggle with applications that your student will probably want to use when they are not doing schoolwork, i.e. games like Sims, and some multimedia applications.

Some people are confused by the terms notebooks, and laptops. They are the same thing. The correct term is notebook. Calling it a laptop is like calling a tissue a Kleenex, everyone knows what you mean, but Kleenex is just a brand name.

OK, now we know what all these things are, what should you shop for? How much will you spend? What brands are best? What should you avoid?

I believe a notebook is the correct choice, because netbooks are just too small and slow. There are several categories of notebooks, Ultrabook class, Business Class, Value class, Gaming notebooks, and Convertibles. For the purpose of this discussion I will not get into Gaming notebooks.

A convertible is a notebook with a screen that swivels and folds down so it looks like a tablet. These are great for medical students who have to carry their notebooks around and make notes while standing. They are very pricy, starting around $1000 at the low end.

An Ultrabook is the new class of notebooks that came out last year, these were designed to compete with the MacBook Air, and they are very slim and light. Like a netbook they do not have optical drives, they come with home or multimedia based versions of Windows 8, and they typically do not have a network jack. You must connect to the internet wirelessly. Because of the light weight and slim size Ultrabooks tend to be more fragile. The Big Box stores carry Ultrabooks from several manufacturers and prices start around $500. They also make Ultrabook Convertibles, which are a combination of the two classes.

Business notebooks are more traditional in that they have optical drives, they often have a numeric keypad built into the keyboard, they often come with the Professional versions of Windows, and they are still available with Windows 7. Typically they are built to withstand rougher treatment. We sell Business class notebooks and they start around $600.

Value class notebooks are very similar to business class, except they typically have a less expensive processor (often AMD processors), the bodies are more plastic looking and feeling, and they come with the home or multimedia versions of Windows 8. Value class notebooks start as low as $350 in the Big Box stores.

Now that you know what you are looking at, what other things should you consider? First let me say this, don’t be confused or mislead by the advertising you see. All the GHz, GB’s and TB’s in the world will not help your child get through the school year. They need a tool that does what they need efficiently. We’ve found that Intel processors run cooler, and tend to have a much longer life span than AMD processors, so we recommend Intel Pentium Dual Core, and Intel Core series (i3, i5, i7) processors. Any of these processors will handle all the applications your student wants to run, avoid the Atom series processors.

There are only a few companies in the world that actually make notebooks. They are called ODM’s (Original Design Manufacturers). These are companies with names like Compal Electronics, Arima, Quanta Computer, and Inventec. Almost every brand you see is one of these brands, rebadged as a Dell, Lenovo, Acer, Toshiba, Gateway, etc.

I tell you this so you can understand the brand name is less important regarding build quality and much more important when it comes to service. Companies like Gateway, eMachines, and Toshiba have a horrible reputation (and in my experience a horrible track record) when it comes to service after a sale. Since all the computers come from the same ODM’s the only thing that matters about brand is what happens when you call them for warranty service.

We have had very good experience dealing with warranty issues with companies like Lenovo, HP, Asus, and Acer. We recommend those brands.

When it comes to hard drive size, the smallest one you find will be big enough for all the school projects and applications your student needs, getting a larger drive only means they can store more music, pictures and videos. 250GB is more than they will need.

Lastly let’s consider size. The average new notebook is a 15.6” size, that being the size of the screen. They make 17.3” notebooks, and I’ve even seen a few 18” models. On the smaller side they have 14” and they go down to about 13.3”. Below 13.3 you start getting into the netbooks.

The thing to think about on size is not how nice the screen looks, but how much does that sucker weigh? Your child has to carry this thing strapped to their back for the entire day as they hustle from class to class. The difference between an 8lb 17.3” notebook and a 4.5lb 14” notebook gets to be a lot by quittin’ time.

Talking with High School age students and with the staff at ZCHS, the 14” models seem to be the most popular size for students. A 14” screen is still easy for those young eyes to see, and taking 4lbs off their back is welcome relief.

I hope this helps, if you would like to sit down and discuss your child’s needs, give me a call.

~ Steve

So You Think You’re Special…

Back when I was little I hated to hear that, because it usually meant I had asked for too much.

I was thinking about it again last week when I was talking to a customer. You see I really do think I’m special. And I really think you are too. I know for a fact I don’t use my computer the way you do, and I’ll bet that you don’t use yours the way your next door neighbor does.

So why do the clerks at the big box stores think they know what you need as soon as you walk up? Why do the big online stores show you something with bloated specs that won’t do what you want them to do?

We want to take the time to customize every PC, every notebook, and every repair to suit the customer we are serving. We ask you how you use the computer before we do anything else. I want to be sure you don’t spend more than you have to, but also don’t spend any less then what you need to spend.

We recently helped a customer who wanted to build a computer that was the fastest thing he had ever had. We showed him that hard drive speed was what he needed, not an Extreme processor. The same week, we built a system for a customer that never uses it for anything but internet surfing. This time we showed him that $1000 machine was way more computer than he needed.

Now, I want to point out that what you want is as important as what you need, and if you want a machine that is built for more than what you do, we are happy to do what you ask us to do.

Every system we build is custom, and while we don’t build the notebooks that we sell, we still shop through many, many, brands and specifications to find the one that fits your needs.

Then when you come in for service, a lot of people wonder why we charge for a diagnostic, when some of our competitors do not.

It is a fair question.

The truth is when you bring your computer in for service you don’t want to see us again any sooner then you have to. We don’t take that as an insult, we understand you want to enjoy using your computer, not have it spend time in the shop. So when we do a diagnosis we don’t just boot it up and give you a quick guess at the issue. We back up your hard drive, and then do a full range of diagnostics including testing the hardware, scanning for malware, as well as looking at the issue you brought it in for. When we call you and tell you what we find, we guarantee our diagnosis. If we are wrong, we eat it, not you.

So, yes you are special. And we want to treat you that way.

~Steve

FBI Virus Warning

“Your Computer Has Been Locked”

FBI Virus Screen Shot

That’s the text you’ll see on your monitor along with bolder accusations of “child pornography” violations.

One of our customers found those words splattered across his screen when he got home one day.

“It scared me. It looked really official, I mean the FBI logo, everything was on there and I was really concerned that it was official and I was about to get taken in,” he said, “and the web cam turned on, I thought they were watching me!” He called the FBI and they laughed, the guy said “No if you had that problem with your computer, we wouldn’t send you an email, we’d come to you.”

The message says “You have 72 hours to pay the fine, otherwise you’ll be arrested.” and if you have a webcam it may come on and show you live video of yourself.

The scammers basically hijack your computer and tell you the only way to unlock it is to buy a prepaid card, load $300 on it, and give them the money. If you are foolish enough to pay the $300, it does not unlock your computer.

Sometimes the virus claims to be from Department of Homeland Security or the Department of Justice, but it’s known as FBI Ransom Malware, and it is an epidemic.

It comes in several ways, one common method is through an email from Moneygram, UPS, Fedex or DHL claiming to have a delivery for you. You click on the attachment to see what you have coming and the virus installs. This method is particularly dangerous if you were expecting a delivery from one of these services. Another method is just a pop-up. It’ll pop up and say you want to do something. You’ve got yes, no or cancel. Well yes, no, or cancel all do the same thing, they install. So don’t click on unfamiliar pop-ups, just the “x” in the corner to close it.

The virus disables your computer to the point that you are unable to do anything except pay them, or power it down. In the process your antivirus product will be permanently disabled. If you do manage to clean the virus, your AV product will need to be uninstalled, and reinstalled, or replaced with a new product.

The FBI Ransom virus is cleanable in most cases; however some variants carry a rootkit infection. A root kit is a type of infection that is invisible to the operating system, and therefore to the software that cleans these infections. Rootkits are so difficult to remove we recommend formatting and reinstalling your operating system.

Data files are not affected by the virus, so you will not lose your documents, pictures and music, even if the system needs reformatted. Still it is wise to keep a current back up of these files at all times. The cost of backing up and restoring the data files after the fact is often higher than the cost of cleaning the system. We recommend an inexpensive online back up like Carbonite for most home users. Since these criminals will keep coming up with new viruses as time passes, a regular back up is crucial.

We have recommended for years that when you get hit by ANY virus, you power the machine down and do not attempt to use it until it can be cleaned, Trying to use it can only cause more damage. Using the computer is pretty much impossible after the FBI infection hits, but some people have tried.

I know there is not much positive in this article, but at least you know 1. Do not pay the money 2. It is NOT the FBI, and 3. It can be cleaned.

~ Steve Weigle

“Hi, I’m With Tech Support for Microsoft”

“And we noticed that you were online and downloaded certain files that can harm your computer and cause a system crash.  We need to log on remotely to fix this for you.”

That’s how it starts, it ends with, “Hi, this is Steve from the Village Geek, I’m sorry but those scammers caused a lot of damage.  It will take $200 to $300 to save your data and get your system running again.  By the way, you need to call your bank and let them know you have had your identify stolen”

This type of scam has been going on for years, but I’ve never mentioned it before because I have only seen two cases in the first 17 years we were in business.  I mention it now because I have seen six cases in the last two months.  These scammers are getting very aggressive.  They offer the online support for a nominal fee of $19.95 or so.  While they prey on people that are less tech savvy, at least two of the recent attacks were on customers that were very savvy.  The scammers just happened to call when the customer was dealing with some issues on the computer already, and it seemed logical.

In both those cases, the customer was charged over $400, and the scammers asked for information that would compromise their identities.

The most recent case the customer realized what was happening, and refused to give out his social security number, so the scammers locked his computer so he could never access it again.

I will give you some technical direction here, but first and foremost I want you to realize a few things.

1. Microsoft is not monitoring your individual daily online activities, and if they were watching for any reason, they would not have your name and phone number.

2. Microsoft does not call and offer online assistance. They have enough trouble dealing with the tech support calls that are made to them.

3. If you didn’t initiate contact with the person that wants to log onto your computer remotely, don’t let them. End of story.

4. NEVER give your personal identity information to anyone over the phone.