5 Computer Myths

by techtiptom

Originally posted to wibc.com on 03/28/2011

By Jake Ruddy

Having been in the Information industry for awhile, I often hear people repeat some common myths about computers. I decided it was time to put some myths to rest. There are many out there but today I will touch on 5 of them.

Myth 1: Having too much data on your computer slows it down

This is probably one of the most common statements I run into. A new customer will call and complain about how slow their computer has become and that they deleted a bunch of files to create space and it didn’t help.

A computer is like a filing cabinet, it’s designed to store and process data. The only time too much data is really an issue is when you have less than 1GB of space left. The reason for this is because windows uses part of the hard drive for a page file. This page file is like virtual memory which helps offset a shortage in RAM, (read memory) which sometimes happens when a lot is going on.

So, the next time you decide to go on a deleting binge to speed your computer up, don’t do it. Your computer is slow because something is wrong and it’s trying to tell you.

Myth 2: I have a firewall installed, so I shouldn’t have gotten a virus

Another common misconception, a firewall in general will not protect you from a virus. Yes there are certain types of business grade firewalls with virus protection built in. However, most people believe a software firewall like the built in windows one, or Norton Internet Security will keep you safe.

Firewalls are for security. They block traffic coming in and out of your network (if configured properly). If you click a link in an email or go to a bad site you are going to get infected. The firewall isn’t there to second guess whether you really wanted to click that link. Software firewalls do not read and test the link or files coming into your computer.

I am a firm believer that a software firewall is one of the most oversold useless pieces of software ever invented. Most times attackers will attack a flaw in Windows to gain access to a system, or people will run files that are viruses, download music / games illegally which are actually viruses.

One thing to keep in mind is that there is a built in software firewall in windows. Most people have a built in firewall in their cable / DSL / FIOS modems or they have some type of router on the network. Unless you invest in a business grade firewall, you are not going to get any more protection by buying another software firewall.

Myth 3: When your computer gets slow, you need more RAM

I see posts on blogs and forums often of someone complaining about the speed of their computer. The most common response is add more memory.

Let’s think about this logically for a second, your computer ran fine for 1+ years and now it’s slowing down. If you didn’t need more memory until now, why was it running perfectly fine before?

If your computer is running slow it is because there is another problem. Normally it’s spyware / malware related but often it’s a problem with 1 or 2 programs on your system that are not functioning properly and are using a lot more memory than they are suppose to.

If your computer is 3-5 years old and hasn’t had much maintenance (by a professional) done to it, then it’s probably time to back it up and reinstall everything. Windows just slows down over time and while IT Professionals can fix things to increase performance, ultimately at that age reformatting will provide the best outcome.

Things to remember, if you are using XP 32bit or Windows 7 32 bit (most are unless you specified 64 bit) your system can only really use 3GB of memory effectively. This depends on your video card and how much total memory it has, but throwing 3+ GB at a 32bit system is like throwing money out the door. It will not have any improvement on your system at all.

Few users need more than 2GB of memory in their system. If you are doing AutoCAD, graphics, high end photo work, producing music, or other resource intensive tasks you will want Windows 7 64bit and then you can throw as much memory as you like at it.

Myth 4: Installing Anti-Virus will keep you safe

Anti-Virus serves a great purpose and is a very useful tool but it does not protect 100%, not even close.

AV software has come a long way over the years and they really are trying to protect users from everything, but it’s simply impossible. There is more out there than viruses.

Today we have spyware, malware, root kits, and viruses. Most AV software will tell you it prevents spyware as well but reality is they can’t keep up. About 7 years ago there was under 20,000 different known types of spyware, now that number is well over 1 million. There is big money in high jacking browsers for advertising, or selling fake software that you think protects you.

We have about 20 different tools to clean computers because there isn’t one tool that will clean up everything. You need to have a couple spyware scanning programs to assist your anti-virus software.

Myth 5: Magnets will erase your data

Back in the day when we used 3.5″ and 5.25″ floppies there was a lot of talk about magnets and erasing your data. A common household magnet could erase your data pretty easily from floppies.

Today we use CDs, DVDs, USB flash drives, and large Hard drives, none of these items can be erased with a common magnet. Hard Drives are the only thing that can be affected by a magnet but you would need an extremely powerful one which you wouldn’t find in a typical hardware store.