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ISSUE 17.26.0 • 2020-07-06

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The AskWoody PLUS Newsletter

In this issue

HARDWARE: Buying a refurbished computer can save you money

LINGALIST: Tech insights from relocating home and office

ANDROID SECURITY: What’s the best way to lock your Android phone?

THE BRAND: Getting the perfect domain name

 

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hardware

What to look for in a new-but-old computer

You have to look closely at the offerings, and they aren’t ideal for every use case, but refurbished machines can be the way to go.

Susan BradleyBy Susan Bradley

Unless we have a specific need for an overpowered gaming computer, most of us can get along just fine with a machine that is a few years old. But one thing we should always look for is ample hard-drive space.

A recent article from Ars Technica showcases what I’ve said for years: never purchase a laptop that has a super small hard drive; you will immediately and forever regret the decision and fight with that small hard drive for the rest of the time you have it. For example, when I want to upgrade my 32GB ASUS laptop, I have to attach an external USB hard drive. It will still not do a proper feature-release install without it.

But you don’t have to pay an arm and a leg for a decent computer. Machines that the vendors call “refurbished” can be perfectly fine for what you and I do on a regular basis. Furthermore, if you don’t mind a bulky machine, you can get what I consider to be a bargain with an old-fashioned desktop computer.

Here’s a link to one I purchased not too long ago to replace a home-built computer that was acting up.

So what are “refurbished computers,” and are they legal? Microsoft allows vendors to refurbish computers, often ones that are coming off business leases, and resell them in the marketplace. Unfortunately, Microsoft doesn’t provide an easy way to find the vendors that perform this service, but you can find them on the Amazon, Dell, and HP sites.

In my case, you can see that the vendor that refurbished the PC had removed the old-fashioned IDE hard drive and replaced it with an SSD that contains Windows 10 Pro edition. Often, the vendors pre-install software such as LibreOffice rather than the Office 365 trial version you typically get on OEM computers. And I often find that they have removed a dual-monitor card and instead left the built-in video card. In the case of my refurbished computer, I ended up purchasing a low-rise video card that would work in the computer.

The hardest part of the project can be determining whether there is a piece of hardware that will fit into the machine or conform to the computer’s wattage. I have the best experience with these refurbished PCs when I purchase them with the basics I want already installed: a decent-sized SSD, 16GB of RAM (more if you can find it), and, if you are using the machine in a business setting, a video card that will handle two monitors. Most small business users don’t need extremely high-powered machines unless they’re using AutoCAD or some other engineering software.

Regardless of their Windows Home, Pro, or S status, however, these refurbished computers have legitimately licensed operating systems and a digital product key. In the Windows 10 era, I have even swapped hard drives from one dying computer to another; with the plug-and-play ability of Windows 10 and the digital licensing process, the systems did not lose their activations.

The ability to legally move a license gets murkier when you’ve upgraded from Windows 7 and obtained the license via the free-upgrade methodology. In my case, an older computer died (the power supply gave out), and I wanted to upgrade other parts of the machine as well. I moved the old Windows 10 SSD to my refurbished PC, and it had no issues booting up.

If you need a laptop, you can get a refurbished one from sites such as Dell, but you need to watch out for the OS that is being offered. They often are Windows 10 Home, not Pro, or even Windows 10 S. Windows 10 S is similar to Windows RT, if you remember that platform. You can install only applications from the Windows store, and you’ll probably want to immediately purchase and activate a Windows 10 Pro SKU to replace Windows 10 S.

Also, check out the drives and RAM offered up on refurbished laptops. It’s much harder (if not impossible) to upgrade laptops than desktops, so you could end up with an out-of-date system. Always make sure that the laptop includes an SSD and at least 8GB of RAM. Finding more RAM can be difficult with a refurbished laptop, so your options can be limited. In my case, I tend to use a laptop to remote into a better machine (for example, when I’m traveling) and not as a full-blown computer. That means I can lower my standards.

But forget all this advice if you work for a defense contractor. In that case, you need a secured-core computer. Such computers have built-in, integrated hardware, firmware, software, and identity protection. They come with Secure Boot, BitLocker device encryption, Windows Defender, Windows Hello, and a TPM 2.0 chip built in, at a bare minimum. They support biometrics and Windows Hello features. Naturally, they do not come cheap. But if your job involves protecting mission-critical assets or highly sensitive secrets, you don’t want to be relying on a refurbished computer. As the old saying goes, “You get what you pay for.”

Otherwise, if you aren’t protecting industrial secrets, check out refurbished computers the next time you go PC shopping.

In real life, Susan Bradley is a Microsoft Security MVP and IT wrangler at a California accounting firm, where she manages a fleet of servers, virtual machines, workstations, iPhones, and other digital devices. She also does forensic investigations of computer systems for the firm.

 


LANGALIST — SPECIAL EDITION

Tech insights from relocating home and office

Fred Langa

By Fred Langa

We Langas are midway through a major relocation. Here are a few things I’ve learned from tearing down, moving, and rebuilding my office and home computer setups.

Among them: another reason to love solid-state drives, and 5G is for real.

Moving home and office is never fun …

… but it can let you see some things in a new light.

We just relocated home and office 48 hours ago and are still awash in boxes (Figure 1). I’m sitting here in a straight-backed dining-room chair, waiting for the Verizon tech to arrive to get us back online with a dedicated private connection, and typing this column in Gmail on my underpowered, emergency-use-only Chromebook because I haven’t yet found the box my Win10/Office laptop is in, and my standing desk and office chair are buried in unpacked stuff. Yikes!

Android security

Security vs. convenience: What’s the best way to lock your Android phone?

Lincoln SpectorBy Lincoln Spector

You want your smartphone to be locked down so that no one but you can find your secrets. But you want to unlock your phone quickly and easily.

You can’t have the best of both worlds. You must choose between the best security and the easiest entry. But with the right precautions, you can have reasonable security without constant annoyance.


THE BRAND

Getting the perfect domain name

Will Fastie

By Will Fastie

Visit a registrar, buy a domain name, and you’re done, right?

Not quite. Those are the last steps.

Before getting to that point, it’s important to understand what you are buying, whom you should buy it from, why domain-name registrars are important, what you need from a registrar, and — most important — what your brand will be. Your domain name will be with you for (hopefully) a long time, and giving the decision the time and thought it deserves can pay dividends into the future.


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