Saturday, October 22, 2011

Day #5 of the 'Five Days of Free Tools'

What? You say I missed a day?  Well you got me...  I totally failed at blogging for five days straight and I apologize.  I still want to provide all of the information that I promised though so here it goes!

Toolset #5 - PERFORMANCE

This toolset consists of two programs which can help cleanup junk and temporary files (CCleaner) and a disk defragmentation tool that I found to be one of the fastest ones out there (Auslogics Disk Defragmenter).

Tool #1 Toolset #5 - Cleaner Tool - CCleaner

- CCleaner (or sometimes referred to as 'Crap Cleaner' as I've been told) is a simple tool that you run and it will go through and cleanup your temporary internet files, recycle bin, and any residue files related to installations that typically do not get cleaned up although they are no longer needed.

Tool #2 Toolset #5 - Disk Defragmenter - Auslogics Disk Defragmenter

- This has been my most recent acquisition as far as tools in my personal toolkit.  It has a wonderful graphic interface (especially considering Vista and Up doesn't have a graphical interface) so that you can get an idea of how badly fragmented your disk is.  It also provides a longer running defragmentation that attempts to optimize the location of the files that it is defragmenting.  This makes it so all of the files necessary to run one specific application (there can be many files involved) are all relatively close physically on the disk.  This cuts down on the amount of physical surface area that the disk must cover in order to collect all of the files to complete the operations.

There you have it, 'Five Days of Free Tools' (and it only took six days, WOW!).

Until next time,


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Day #4 of the 'Five Days of Free Tools'

Today is the second to last day of 'Five Days of Free Tools'.  I am sad to see it end but I am also grateful in one sense because it has been crazy trying to blog every night for 5 days straight...  I don't see how other people can do it.  Maybe I'm just not of the blogging caliber yet... Anyways, on to Toolset #4...


This toolset consists of a tool which gives a very detailed look at all of the processes actively running on your system called 'Process Explorer' and a system analyzer which has proved very helpful in determining Brand and Model of internal devices making researching drivers that much easier.  That tool is called 'Everest Free Edition 2.20'.

Tool #1 Toolset #4 - Program Analyzer - Process Explorer

- Process Explorer is a more detailed version of 'Task Manager' which is a built-in tool in Microsoft Windows. Microsoft actually bought the Sysinternals (developer of Process Explorer and other tools) some time ago and I've only recently caught up with the news of that.  I am very excited for the developer because he has proved that there are still people out there that can grow great things on there own from something small.  Much like how YouTube and Microsoft once were.

- When you download the application it will download only an executable file which does not do any installation it will just straight run.  The tool provides a visual of all of the processes running on the system as well as which processes made calls to start other processes so you can see if there is one process (virus or malware) which is starting other processes which could potentially be harming your system.  With that information you can use Process Explorer to 'halt' those processes in an effort to keep them from degrading your systems performance while you can use items from Toolset #3 to help remove them.

Tool #2 Toolset #4 - System Analyzer - Everest Free Edition 2.20

- Everest Free Edition 2.20 is a wonderful tool if you are trying to get an older (or a newer) system up and running and are unable to find drivers available on the manufacturer of the computers website.  This application will read through all of the embedded devices (VGA, USB, LAN) as well as added devices through PCI, PCIe, etc.  It will show you a much cleaner visualization of the devices than what can be provided by Device Manager.

- Everest has also changed names to 'AIDA64' and I am currently uncertain to the future of a free version of the newer application but I am remaining hopeful.

- Again, I apologize for making another fairly brief, and probably super technical post for some, but I wanted to provide you with (what I consider to be) valuable information and tools and leave a little bit of the learning to you.

- Tomorrow marks the final day of 'Five Days of Free Tools' and I hope you return for the final installment which will cover the 'Performance' toolset.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Day #3 of the 'Five Days of Free Tools'

Today is the third day of 'The 5 Days of Free Tools' and today I am discussing the toolset 'Offensive Against Viruses and Malware'.

This toolset contains 2 applications that can run in safe-mode on a Windows based computer in order to scan and remove viruses and malware from your system.  The third is a tool that checks your system for different possible 'Hijackers' that should be taken care of.

Tool #1 of Toolset #3 - Antivirus/Anti-Malware - MalwareBytes Anti-Malware

- MalwareBytes has been a tool (as all or most of these tools are) a great one that I've used for quite some time.  It is free and very thorough and I've yet to see it interfere with any other antivirus application you may have on a system because of its inactive nature.  It is more of a supplemental tool as opposed to an active tool. If you purchased the paid version I believe it would play more of an active role and I think it would be a good investment however I've not made the purchase myself.

Tool #2 of Toolset #3 - Antivirus/Anti-Malware - Spybot Search & Destroy

- Spybot Search & Destroy is yet another ol' faithful.  Like MalwareBytes it can be ran in Safe-Mode on a Microsoft Windows based system where some other supplemental tools cannot.  It also will run during the 'pre-boot' so that it can run a scan before services start-up that would potentially negatively impact the removal of malware.

Tool #3 of Toolset #3 - System Analyzer - HiJackThis

- This is a tool from Trend Micro (the makers of PC Cillin and other antivirus/anti-malware products) in an effort to detect potential hijacker elements on a system.  This (as all items discussed on this particular blog are) is free.
- Running this tool will create a log which you can submit here: where it has an automated analyzer to determine what actions you need to take on each item listed on the application.

I know these posts were short today but these applications are also pretty straight forward and there wasn't a whole lot extra to say about them.  They just WORK!

Tomorrow my post will be over Toolset #4 - Troubleshooting

Until then,


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Day #2 of the 'Five Days of Free Tools'

Today is the second day of 'Five Days of Free Tools' and we are talking about the 'Hardware Testing' toolset today.  Let's say that your computer has become extremely sluggish or 'glitchy' or even crashes with possible blue screens lately.  There are many things that could possibly cause this and one of them is the Hardware.  Specifically the CPU (Processor, Central Processing Unit), RAM (Memory, Random Access Memory), or HDD (Hard Disk Drive).  This can be a difficult and expensive task to undertake but with this toolset you can potentially save yourself some money if it is put to use properly and do some diagnostics on your own before taking your system to a technician or potentially attempt the repairs yourself!

Note - I am not suggesting that you can determine with 100% accuracy the issue(s) of a system by utilizing only the tools provided here.  However, they have been tools that I have used throughout my experiences to really lay the groundwork of the underlying issues of a system.  They have helped me determine, quite accurately, which hardware components are potentially damaged, which suggests the next possible steps in resolving issues.  **If you cannot determine without a doubt which hardware component(s) (if any) are damaged using these tools it would be in your best interest to either attempt using another tool that could verify your hypothesis of the failing component(s) or allow a technician to further troubleshoot your system with a wider array of tools than potentially you would have available.

Now, on to the toolset...HARDWARE TESTING

- Some of these tools must be downloaded and then burned using a program that can write ISO files to disk.  ISO files are nothing more than a bit for bit representation of a CD/DVD/Blu-Ray disk.  They must be burned onto the optical media in a specific fashion, not just burned on like a disk full of family vacation photos.  A program called CDBurnerXP is my preference and is easy accessible here: (we'll call this Tool #0.5 haha).

Tool #1 in Toolset #2 - Memory Stress Test - Memtest86

- Running Memtest86 will put the Memory (as well as other components) through a series of robust calculations in order to stress the memory to find if there are problems reading/writing to particular sectors however false readings are possible as a result of the CPU and L1 & L2 cache's (Processor and processor components) that could be the reason for the failure as well.  It will run multiple 'passes' or 'completed cycles' in order to basically get the system warmed up before any errors would show up.  Some users have run 1 pass and started receiving errors while others have performed 10 - 15 passes before getting any errors to show up.
- Your experience may vary but if you want to do some testing and possibly be able to save some time with your local technician you could explain that you've ran this test (although they may run it again) and explain that you feel led to believe your RAM or 'Memory' is failing.  Or for the novice computer guy try replacing, swapping the RAM around to determine if only one of a set of memory modules is bad and/or replace the memory as needed on your own.
- Whatever your choice good luck!

Tool #2 in Toolset #2 - CPU & RAM Stress Test - Prime95

- Similar to Memtest86, this tool runs a series of calculations (mersenne prime numbers to be exact... learn more here: in order to cause the system to stumble or fail in an effort to determine which devices cannot 'handle the pressure.'  Prime95 can be configured via the menu to lean more towards RAM or CPU to get the system to fail or stumble quicker dependent on which device is failing but this too can only give a slight picture into what could be wrong with the system.  Even to do simple mathematical operations (albeit finding Mersenne Primes are anything but simple) take multiple components, each of which that are involved could the be breaking point and without more precise or even forensic diagnostic tools it could still be a toss-up over which components are failing.
- As stated though, these tools are to help you get a glimpse as to some potential issues and are probably leaning more towards the novice computer 'geek' who may have some spare parts laying around and could benefit more because they can swap in and out components from those they have as spares.

and last but not least,

Tool #3 in Toolset #2 - HDD Test - Hitachi Drive Fitness Test

- Hitachi Drive Fitness Test has been a tool that I've used for quite some time too.  I have used Hitachi DFT quite more frequently than the previous other two tools but they come highly recommended all across the tech forums to perform the same exact functions as I've described above.
But, back to Hitachi...
- Once you've burned your disk it will boot-up and ask a few questions before it gets to the main application but if you just press enter on them the default options should work for a typical setup.
- Once the main screen is there it will ask if you believe the configuration shown is correct (it should be) and should show probably at least one optical drive and your hard drive (it is ok of your hard drive is not Hitachi brand, this test will work on any drive).  Once you've ok'd through the verification you can select your drive and then perform an advanced test and let it run through.  Obviously enough if it fails, bad HDD.  If it passes, its not the HDD that's the issue.... If your computer crashes during the test... Try again or one of the other tools listed above if you ran them in a different order than described here.
-  If you've already ran through the other tools it may be time to:
A. Do more research on your own to find a diagnostic utility that can help,
B. Employ a technician, BUT!, don't forget to let them know that you've tried these tools first and tell them how it turned out (crashing, errors, failures).  It could save you time or they may just run the tools again, but it is always worth the shot.

Hope you have enjoyed Toolset #2, Day 2 of 'Five Days of Free Tools'.  I'll be posting again tomorrow (duh!) and our toolset will be...'OFFENSIVE AGAINST VIRUSES & MALWARE'.  You've used antivirus and you use a firewall but somehow you still got a virus, use these tools to start your offensive 'treatment' to remedy your infection!  Stay Tuned!


Monday, October 17, 2011

Day #1 of the 'Five Days of Free Tools'

Today starts the first day of 'Five Days of Free Tools'.

This is where I have compiled a (small) list of programs that could easily be used by the inexperienced to the novice computer user to help maintain security and performance on their personal computer.

So, the toolset for today is.... HOME DEFENSE
Everyone should have a good defense in place.  If you don't have a defense, your offensive tactics will never get a chance to unfold.  I have for you today two tools which should help you to obtain a stable computer system while not weighing your computer down with large corporate level security and keeping your pocket book closed.

Tool #1 in Toolset #1 - Antivirus - AVG Free Edition

- I have been using this application for as long as I can remember.  Other than when I bought my first laptop (and it came with a pre-paid copy of another antivirus program called Trend Micro PC Cillin) I've never put any paid antivirus program on my personal computers.
- I want you to understand clearly though, using Free Software helps keep your pocket book intact but while you go the free route with AVG you can still get viruses.  AVG helps protect Computer Nerds (like myself, obviously) who can fix their own computer if anything happens, as well as the cautious user who never strays far from their favorite social networking site or email.  Purchasing an 'Internet Security Suite' is not entirely expensive and has some great benefits to help those users for example who have youngsters who may fall victim to the falsely advertised 'Download this to fix your computer' and then they plead later 'I was only trying to help.."

Tool #2 in Toolset #1 - Firewall - Comodo Personal Firewall
- I have been using this program for probably close to four years and just by how thorough it was the first time (albeit annoying sometimes too) I've never been able to stop using it.  This program once installed will be in a 'learning' mode.  If will monitor all traffic running through your computer to and from the internet (whether its visible like browsing the Internet, or a rogue program like malware or viruses).
- While it is learning mode it is the most annoying... But well worth it!  It will constantly be coming up with alerts stating that new applications are attempting to access the internet or portions of the hard drive that are typically unnecessary to access and asks your permission before it allows the activity to continue.  Installing this tool can be great to shutdown a rogue program if your system is already infected but also a great way to be alerted the second anything is 'out of the ordinary'.


I hope you have enjoyed the First of 5 Toolsets that I will be providing on a daily basis this week.  Tomorrow's toolset is for: Hardware Testing


Monday, October 3, 2011


One of the latest and greatest systems that I have found out there is FreeNAS.  It is a free operating system that can turn any disk system into a NAS.  It is based off of FreeBSD and the main website for the product is here:

For a nice starter system if you are looking to purchase brand new equipment, this guy has a full list of hardware, suppliers, and the steps for building here: