A few hard questions popped into the mailbag this week, just in the nick of time for the answers to make it into stockings.
Let’s get right to them and see what Santa might bring.
Q. I have a computer in a bonus room that is too far away from my router, so I am having a hard time getting a signal. I have tried a better router and a home-line wiring system, and neither worked. Are there options I am missing?
A. By home-line wiring system, I presume you mean the kind that uses your home wiring to transmit an Ethernet signal, often called a Powerline system. If not, you can try that. The obvious answer, which I am sure you have considered, is running some Cat-6 cable from your router to your other computer. I gather that is out.
Two options that come to mind: If you have a cable-TV jack in that room, ask your provider to drop another cable modem there and you can have another router in that room. Some will do it for nothing if you provide the modem, which costs less than US$50.
The other option is a cellular USB modem, which uses high-speed cellular connections. You can get 5 gigs for about $60 a month in most parts of the country. That can get unreasonable if you use that computer a lot.
Q. Can you upgrade Windows Vista 32-bit to Windows 7 64-bit?
A. Not without a “custom” upgrade, which means reinstalling your programs, basically starting over. It’s not a bad thing, but please back up your data in a couple places before you do it and run the Windows 7 compatibility checker before you launch the upgrade. Really. I mean it. Run the tool.
Q. What happens at the end of the beta period of Office 2010 if I don’t buy it? Do I lose all of my data?
A. No. You don’t get an offer to buy the program, either. It just stops working, but your data remain intact. You will have to go to a retail outlet to buy the whole product. You will get some warnings before the end of the beta period that the product is expiring. However, any files you created with Office 2010 will remain on your hard drive even if you uninstall Office 2010.
Q. You have recommended Microsoft Security Essentials for an anti-virus product. Does it work with Windows 7? Why doesn’t it just come with Windows if it is so good?
A. It does work with Windows 7, and the governments of various countries filed antitrust actions against Microsoft several years ago in part for bundling applications like Internet Explorer, with its operating system claiming that was an unfair and monopolistic business practice. To add an anti-virus product to Windows I am sure would be tempting those governments to go after them again. Therefore, they make it an optional download.
Q. Every time I start my desktop computer it says something like “loading defaults” and I have to hit the F1 key to continue. Do you know what could be wrong with it? It just hangs there if I don’t.
A. Your CMOS battery is bad. It is a little silver disc on the motherboard. Go to a computer store and ask for a CMOS battery and a can of compressed air. Unplug your PC, open it and you will see the battery. Pry it out and swap in the new one and clean your PC while you are in there.
James Derk is owner of CyberDads, a computer-repair firm and a tech columnist for Scripps Howard News Service. His e-mail address is jim(at)cyberdads.com.