Leo's Answers #236 – June 22, 2010

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Leo Notenboom


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*** New Articles

Do I need to backup my BIOS? What about backwards compatibility?

Ever since I got my computer with Win 7 Pro in Dec 09, I’ve been faithfully backing up and making system images with the built-in Backup and Restore feature. When I got my laptop it had BIOS version A04 installed by the factory. I’ve since upgraded to version A08 based on a recommendation by the built-in Dell diagnostics utility. On the Dell support website (drivers and downloads) version A08 is the only listed BIOS for the Vostro 1520.

If I understand things correctly (not always the case!) the BIOS resides as flash software within the CPU which is on the motherboard. It’s the BIOS that kick-starts the operating system. If the BIOS becomes corrupted or fails, your computer becomes a paperweight. During a backup, system image, or creating a restore point, only the hard drive is copied. The BIOS is NOT included. I can verify this if I use the Dell Recovery Manager and return my computer to factory settings or use one of my earlier system images. All of the junkware returns, but the BIOS still shows as A08 at startup.

When a person updates his/her BIOS, will it be backwards compatible? In other words, if a computer experiences issues and the BIOS is updated as part of the corrective action, and then the computer has to be returned to it’s original factory state, or to an earlier system image, will the newest BIOS always be compatible? If there’s a chance the BIOS will not be compatible how does one make a backup of the earlier BIOS(es) if they’re no longer supported or available at the Dell website?


You have a very good understanding of what a BIOS is, where it lives and how it’s not backed up. In fact, I feel like you’ve written half my article for me. Smile

But you also raise a very important question about backwards compatibility. I’ll address that, and clarify a couple of the items you mention.

Continue reading: Do I need to backup my BIOS? What about backwards compatibility?

* * *

What’s the minimum amount of internet security software I need?

I have 32 bit version of Widows XP running on cable connection. What is the bare minimum a single user needs to protect himself from malware, viruses and such? Right now I use Zone Alarm, AVG professional, Windows internet security settings, ad aware, spaminator, Advance system care and IO Bit, Glary Utilities. Some of these have passive features that run in the background, like ad aware and IOBIT and maybe system care and who knows what else may be running. I’ve been nailed by a trojan twice, and lost all each time. Then sometimes when AVG finds something, says it is locked or archived and can’t do anything. Anyway, back to original question. What would you use on your PC if you were me for security that would cover all bases without the apps stepping on each other’s toes making problems worse.


One of the common scenarios I see are folks that have many more internet security tools and software running than they need. Way more.

And of course they wonder why their system is a slow as molasses.

I don’t know if you’re in that boat, but that does seem like a long list of things. Too long for my tastes.

It doesn’t have to be complex, but there are definitely a few things that most people don’t realize or think of when it comes to internet security. I won’t share what I would do; I’ll share what I actually do. What you should do is very, very similar.

Continue reading: What’s the minimum amount of internet security software I need?

* * *

How do I unblock email to me that my ISP is blocking without asking?

A friend of mine, who is with a different ISP, quite regularly has emails returned to her that she sends to me. The reason given is that my email provider, Hotmail, received complaints against her IP address and hence they put a block on me receiving her emails. This is a complete puzzle to me. How has this situation that has nothing to do with me occurred and how can I ensure that this block is being removed and that I no longer have problems receiving her emails?


I can theorize why it happened, but I can’t hold out much hope for getting it resolved.

It’s not your fault, of course. It may, or may not be your friend’s fault, and she should do a couple of things to make sure she’s in the clear.

Ultimately it’s the fault of spammers, and perhaps overly aggressive spam filtering.

Continue reading: How do I unblock email to me that my ISP is blocking without asking?

* * *

How do I get the free Windows XP SP3 download to install? And do I really need it?

I have attempted repeatedly to download SP3 for XP but always have a reboot problem. I have a Compaq Pressario running AMD 64. I read where Microsoft will quit supporting XP without SP3 in July. I used Microsoft Security Essentials. Is there a “work around” for this? Do I really need SP3?


There are a couple of things going on here, but yes … Windows XP SP3 has become more important than ever with the impending termination of support for Windows XP with only SP2.

I’ll show you several ways to get it.

As well as one reason that still you might not actually need it.

Continue reading: How do I get the free Windows XP SP3 download to install? And do I really need it?

* * *

Can my neighbors see my WiFi if I can see theirs?

I have two TiVo Digital Video Recorders linked wirelessly in a peer-to-peer network. Everything works okay. During the setup process each TiVo scans for wireless signals and I usually pick-up 8 to 10. I can only assume these are my neighbors’ wi-fi networks. Of course, I can’t access them with the TiVo’s. But if I can see them, can’t they see me? Am I missing something here?


You’re not missing a thing.

It’s a very safe bet that they can see your WiFi network.

Now, I know very little about Tivos and networking Tivos, but this problem isn’t limited to Tivos at all. It applies to anyone with a wireless network.

I’ll show you what to do on your PC, and perhaps that’ll give you enough to determine what your Tivo needs.

Continue reading: Can my neighbors see my WiFi if I can see theirs?

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*** Comments

Is it safe to allow a technician to remotely access my machine to fix it?

Lester writes:

A comment on the other side. I do computer consulting out of my home, and remote access is one of my handiest tools. Most of the people I’m helping don’t really know that much about computers and trying to guide them through something can be a real pain. Will I misuse this? Hardly? Could I? Hardly, since I don’t keep log on information. The question is more: Do they want my help or don’t they? If not, don’t bother me, if they do, then let me do what I need to do. I realize that most of these people actually know me, which might make a difference…

I’m sure it does. But would you let someone you didn’t know connect that way to your machine? That’s exactly what many companies are asking people to accept.



How do I unblock email to me that my ISP is blocking without asking?

Mark Jacobs writes:

Here we go again. This happened to me. My ISP was rejected by hotmail. I got a hotmail address and wrote to their help forum and the kindly (LOL) assured me that they were working the problem out. I wrote several computer help gurus and Mary Jo Foley, MS guru from Zdnet contacted hotmail and got the situation resolved. I suggest you tell your friend and everyone reading this tell your friends to get another email address other than hotmail. Try gmail or if you prefer gmx.com (owned by 1&1) is also good and has the advantage that the people receiving your email don’t usually know it’s a free provider.


How do I get people to stop asking me to fix their computers?

EkimBbew writes:

Another idea; I know that the computer users group is a dying breed, but if there is one in the area, point ’em there. Also, you could modify Leo’s “script” to include recommendations for appropriate books (starting with the relevant “Dummies” books). Used copies can often be had pretty darn cheap via Amazon.com. That also addresses the matter of pointing them to resources of self-support. In addition to “Ask Leo!”, I’d suggest pointing ’em to Bob Rankin’s site as well (friend “Bob Rankin” on FB or go to http://askbobrankin.com). That way whatever isn’t covered on Leo’s site may be covered on Bob’s and vice-versa.


Should I install optional Windows driver updates?

NewDimTech writes:

I am of the “if it ain’t broke” camp. As a 11 year PC tech, I have learned to never install optional updates unless there is a problem I’m trying to solve. I never install hardware updates from MS, as I have had problems in the past, specifically with video drivers. I will say that the MS update site is a quick and easy way to see if there are any updates available for your hardware. If updates are available, I’ll go to the manufacturers site every time, but again, if it ain’t broke…

*** Leo Recommends

TrueCrypt – Free Open Source Industrial Strength Encryption

TrueCrypt comes up frequently in Ask Leo! answers. Many people are concerned about things like privacy, identity and data theft, particularly on computers or on portable devices where they might not always have total physical control of the media.

Someone might gain access to sensitive data stored on your computer.

Encrypting your data renders that access useless, even when your computer or your thumbdrive falls into the wrong hands.

And TrueCrypt makes it not only easy, but nearly un-crackable.

Continue reading…
TrueCrypt – Free Open Source Industrial Strength Encryption


Each week I recommend a specific product or resource that I’ve found valuable and that I think you may as well. What does my recommendation mean?

*** Popular Articles

This is still so much voodoo to most people.

How should I configure my swap file / virtual memory settings?

I have Windows XP Pro SP2 MCE with 2 gigabytes of RAM, to which I just added a 500 MB hard drive to the original 250 MB HD. The new drive is now the primary. Both are 7200 rpm SATA. What do you recommend for a swap file? The “3X RAM” rule of thumb doesn’t make much sense. It should be bigger with less RAM, not more. It’s currently set to a 2 GB minimum and 4 GB maximum size on the C: drive partition. What size should I set it to, should it be on a different partition, and should I give it its own partition? I will be doing a lot of scanning and Photoshop, if that affects the answer. It’s my understanding that a fixed size reduces fragmentation (or at least makes defragmentation easier). I’ve also seen suggestions for making the swap file an entire partition. (I have Partition Magic.) Would putting it onto the second drive improve read/write speeds? The second drive will be for backing up data files and not in constant use.

You’re asking a lot of good questions, and providing a lot of the right kind of data from which to make some recommendations.

I’ve written about Virtual Memory a time or two already and it does seem like so much voodoo to many people. The same is true for figuring out what to do with it.

But if you’re trying to eke out a little more performance from your machine, then it’s possible that a couple of settings might help.

Continue reading…
How should I configure my swap file / virtual memory settings?

*** Thoughts and Comments

Big thanks to everyone who shot me an opinion in my latest survey – we had a great response.

I was asking whether which of installing & tuning or maintenance & tuning was of more interest, and for which version of Windows. Here’s how it breaks down by operating system:

  • 46% Windows XP
  • 11% Windows Vista
  • 43% Windows 7

Windows Vista’s poor showing isn’t too surprising, but I was kind of hoping that an XP versus Windows 7 preference would be clearer. Kind of like the results for installing & tuning versus maintaining & tuning – it’s maintaining in a 94% landslide. I guess you’re more interested in tweaking your existing machine that’s already set up, rather than going through the pain of a reinstall. Makes total sense.

My sense from the questions I get and the state of the two operating systems, folks using Windows XP probably have a greater immediate need. Particularly with support dwindling over the coming years, it makes sense to want to eke out every bit of life we can out of XP. It’s still a viable, solid operating system for many people and there’s really no reason not to make it last as long as we can by making our systems as efficient as we can.

So, in the not-to-distant future: maintaining and tuning Windows XP. It’ll probably have a fancier title, it’ll definitely have step by step how-to’s, perhaps even have some useful videos to go along with it. And yes, if the XP version goes well I’ll likely do the Windows 7 equivalent shortly thereafter. Windows Vista … at this point I’m thinking not (though much of Windows 7 would apply).

Stay tuned. I’ll most definitely be previewing some of the chapters here to make sure I’m on the right course.

More as it develops.

’till next week…

Leo A. Notenboom

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Posted: June 22, 2010 in: 2010
Shortlink: https://newsletter.askleo.com/4349
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