IT for Donuts is our regular Friday feature where we explain a tech term or answer a question about business IT.
This week: it's often said that upgrading your laptop's memory is a good way to make it run faster and last longer. But how do you do this?
Your laptop's memory (random access memory, or RAM for short) is used to store information about the programs you're using.
If your laptop sometimes runs slowly, it could well be because the RAM is full of data. This means your computer has to work much harder to shift information around.
Upgrading your RAM is almost always the most cost-effective way to improve your computer's performance. With most laptops, it's also straightforward. Here's how...
The first thing you need to do is buy some new RAM for your laptop.
Different laptops take different types of memory. As long as you have the make and model of your laptop to hand, you can use these tools from RAM manufacturers Crucial and Kingston to find the right stuff for your computer.
You also need to decide how much memory you're going to buy. Your laptop will probably have between 1GB and 4GB of RAM already. When you upgrade, aim for a minimum of 4GB. For the cost, it's usually best to upgrade to 8GB or 16GB though.
A good rule is to get as much RAM as you can afford. I recently upgraded my laptop from 4GB to 16GB. The RAM cost around £120, but the performance difference is astonishing.
Once you've got your hands on some RAM, you need to install it into your laptop. For this, you'll need a flat surface to work on and a small screwdriver.
It's also a good idea to wear an anti-static wristband. This protects your computer's components from static electricity. If you don't have one, touch a bare piece of metal that's earthed (like a radiator pipe) before you start.
Now, don't panic, but we're going to open up your laptop:
To get started, shut your laptop down (don't just put it to sleep) and turn it over.
Depending on your laptop, you'll have to either remove the entire base, or remove a cover that provides access to the memory.
There may be markings on the laptop to help you. This Toshiba model has a small computer chip symbol next to the RAM cover:
Remove the screw(s) securing the cover.
If there's more than one, take note of which goes where, as they may be different lengths.
Lift off the cover or remove the base of your laptop.
Identify where the memory chips are in your computer. You're looking for one of more circuit boards that look like this (scroll up to the top of this post for a really good photo):
Depending on your laptop model, there may be one or more slots for the RAM. Often they're beside each other, but sometimes they're on top of one another.
If — like this model — there's only one slot, you need to remove the existing RAM. If not, then you may be able to install your new memory into the spare slot.
To remove the existing RAM, look for metal clips at the side of the memory module. Push them outwards, then remove the RAM as in this video:
(Hold the RAM module at the edges. Don't touch the metal contacts at the bottom.)
That's the hardest bit over.
To install your new RAM, just do what you just did in reverse. If you have more than one memory module to install, just do the same for each:
Pop the cover back on, do up the screws and then boot up your computer.
Finally, it's worth taking a few minutes to make sure your new RAM is working properly. You can do this using software that writes and reads data to and from the new RAM, checking it for accuracy.
You know your company’s admin process better than anyone. But can you find software that matches it?
No. Of course you can’t.
Why? Because the software companies always come up with generic, one-size-fits-all solutions. Allegedly, that’s the most cost-effective way.
And it works, up to a point. For instance:
It’s a little frustrating, especially when you remember how much you paid for your software. But at some point, you’ll run into a problem that requires a workaround.
Perhaps this means you have to do your calculations in a spreadsheet and then copy the result into your accounting software. Or you end up producing quotes for work in Microsoft Word, but then create the invoice in Excel.
Sure, off-the-shelf software has wonderful extras, like storing people’s birthdays or converting yen to sterling. But there’ll still be no way of making your phone number print on delivery notes, or placing your logo exactly where you want it.
You can spend months looking for the right software, then more months trying to learn it. And even then you have to spend more time adapting your company’s processes to fit it.
But doesn’t every business have to waste months working with inadequate, inappropriate software?
No, I don’t think they do. Often, the answer is a bespoke relational database.
When you build your own database, an expert looks at how your business works, figures out which bit can be automated, and then makes that happen. The learning curve is shallow, because the new system is designed to fit around how you already do things.
You don’t have any features you won’t use. And as your company grows, you can adapt the database to suit.
You’ll save some time because you won’t have to continue the ongoing search for software. And you’ll save more because everyday processes will be updated and speeded up.
Martin Bridges is an expert in office admin and developing relational databases who works at dataBASED.biz.
The scam email from my inbox
One morning recently, I opened my inbox to a piece of good news. Apparently, I'd paid too much tax over the last couple of years, and so HMRC wanted to give me a refund.
Well, according to the email's subject line, actually they were going to send me a 'refound'. But that's a mistake anyone can make, right?
As you've probably guessed, this email was a poor attempt to scam me. It's a classic piece of phishing, where scammers send out official-looking messages to thousands (or millions) of email addresses in the hope that a few people will click a link in the email.
Different scams operate in different ways, but typically the criminals either want you to provide sensitive information like your bank details, or are trying to infect your computer with malware via a dodgy website.
Fake HMRC emails do tend to peak each year around the self-assessment deadline in January, but this year it seems there's been a significant rise. As the messages are continuing to flow, it's wise to stay on your guard.
Many of these HMRC phishing attempts are laughable, with ridiculous typos like 'refound'. A good spam filter or security software that checks your email should filter out most of them.
However, a few scam messages will always find their way into your inbox. And it's these you need to be careful of. Anyone can be fooled if they open a fake email at the wrong moment — like while they're very busy or distracted.
There's a lot of good guidance on HMRC's own website about how to spot scams and what to do. But here are some of the most important points to remember:
Finally, before you follow a link in an email from HMRC, or reply to the message, take a moment to think. Is there anything strange about the message? Does it ring true?
It's always better to be overcautious when faced with a dubious message. If you're in any doubt at all as to its origins, just delete it.
IT for Donuts is our regular Friday feature where we explain a tech term or answer a question about business IT.
This week: you need to urgently check a website for information, but that website has gone offline. It's probably having technical problems, but how can you get the information you need without delay?
If a site you need to access in a hurry is having a moment, don't panic. Google will almost certainly come to the rescue for you.
As Google crawls web pages to keep its index up to date, it takes a snapshot of most of them. This is called the 'cached' copy, and you can view it easily. Here's how...
First, go to Google and search for the website you're looking for. (If you know the exact URL of the page you need, just paste that into the search box.)
In the search results, find the page you're looking for. (If you searched by URL, it should be the top result.)
Select the green down arrow beside the result's URL, then choose Cached from the options:
You'll see Google's copy of the page. At the top will be a line of text explaining when this snapshot is from.
Most of the time, this method should let you look up information you need.
However, if you're after something that's particularly time-sensitive, like the latest train disruptions or the weather forecast, Google's cached copy will probably be too old to provide accurate results.
To avoid any out-of-date information, always check when Google took its copy of the page.
This blog post sounds like it should be over on our sister website, Marketing Donut, along with the other information about marketing your business via email.
But actually, here we’re going to explain how a simple IT task can save money on your marketing budget. And that’s why this blog post is on IT Donut.
The data your business holds about current and prospective customers will gradually go out of date if you don’t make efforts to maintain it.
People change phone numbers, email and postal addresses and switch jobs. Businesses shut down, merge with others or get taken over.
If you don’t keep on top of these changes, you’ll end up wasting your marketing budget by mailing the wrong people at the wrong places.
For instance, Data HQ — the company I work for — recently saved a charity £1,500 in mailing costs by auditing and cleansing the organisation’s data.
Sending marketing messages using duff data can harm to your company’s image, too. You don’t want to make incorrect contact with customers and prospects when you’re looking to make a positive impression leading to a sale.
One of the most straightforward ways to weed our bad records from your marketing data is to regularly check it against industry suppression files.
These files contain ‘gone-aways’. These might be people who are deceased, businesses that have shut down and so on.
Data relating to businesses is more susceptible to decaying quickly than that relating to individuals, because people change jobs frequently and whole companies can change names.
The rate of decay for business data can be up to 40% per year.
This makes it even more important that you regularly check company and employee details, removing any that are no longer relevant.
Many industry suppression files are available to help you check and cleanse data. They include:
Ideally, you should cleanse your data against as many available files as possible, as regularly as possible.
Suppression files can also help you keep your database updated. If a customer has recently moved house, wouldn’t it be good to get their new address and maintain contact with them?
If you run telemarketing campaigns, there are some other suppression lists to be aware of too:
It is a legal requirement that organisations do not make sales or marketing calls to numbers registered with these services unless they have the contact’s consent to do so.
If you’re new to the idea of auditing your marketing data, it might be a good idea to speak to a reputable data solutions supplier.
They can help you determine the best way to compare your list to the most appropriate suppression files, showing what proportion of your data is inaccurate.
From there you can cleanse the data, updating details where possible or removing records entirely.
At the end of the process you’ll have cleaner, more accurate data for your marketing activities. And that means your marketing budget will go further.
This is a post by David Battson from Data HQ.
There’s a good chance you’ll have heard the term ‘virtualisation’ before. You might even have been told it’s a super-efficient way to set up the servers in your company.
And it’s true: the arguments for virtualisation are impressive. It can make your organisation’s IT system more cost-effective, while also providing extra flexibility in the software you use every day.
However, although these benefits have made virtualisation more popular over the last few years, many companies still need help to understand the basics.
In simple terms, virtualisation separates the software and the hardware on a server, creating a new go-between the two.
Picture an average server room belonging to a business. Typically, this room contains a bunch of servers stacked high with red and green blinking lights, buzzing with noise and generating a lot of heat.
(If you can’t picture it, the photo above is of a really big server room. Your company might only have one or two servers, but virtualisation can still be helpful.)
Each of these servers is running specific software, usually to perform a particular job, like managing your company’s email or customer database.
All these servers use electricity and cost you money to run.
The thing is, in reality each server is massively underused. You might think that your email server is working hard, but actually it might only be being used at 20% of its capacity. That’s really wasteful.
Enter virtualisation, which allows you to merge all these different servers onto a single server containing all the software and files that relate to the business.
Virtualisation is a form of consolidation. It brings several different servers together into one.
Now how does your server room look? Well, there are fewer machines, it’s less noisy, you’re using less electricity and your costs are lower too.
Traditionally, a single server was a specific piece of hardware installed with its own operating system and software.
The hardware and software were linked, so you had to choose a particular platform to use. Did you want a Windows server, a Linux server or a Mac server?
Virtualisation flips these conventions around, giving you more freedom and flexibility. If you have one or more servers in your business, it’s certainly worth investigating.
To learn more about how virtualisation works, see how one business replaced its old servers with virtualisation.
This is a post from Akita, a company providing IT support and computer services to businesses in Kent and London.