Spectre and Meltdown: Processing Problems

You may have heard recently that many of Intel’s Central Processing Units (CPUs) have a design flaw that could allow malicious attackers to steal private information.  Passwords, emails, etc. could be stolen because of “kernel memory areas” in the CPUs.

However, even though the focus is on Intel’s screw-up, it’s believed that CPUs sold by other vendors may have the same problems. Intel is just taking the heat because they’re the biggest and most reputable name.

What is a CPU?

processor

If you’ve ever seen a CPU (above) – also casually known as a processor – you would know it’s probably the strangest-looking part of a computer.  It’s relatively inconspicuous, but it is regarded as the “brain” of the computer, because pretty much everything needs to run through the CPU.  That’s why keeping the CPU at a low temp takes a lot of work, but is very important (if your computer is overheating it will probably shut down to protect the CPU).

What are the security flaws?

 

The two main “vulnerabilities” have cool names: Spectre and Meltdown.  They both can be exploited by malicious programs on your computer to get secret information from your currently running programs (password managers, emails).  The nitty-gritty details of it are complicated but the gist of it is pretty simple.

Your processor wants to act quickly and it makes information readily available, in an attempt to give you a faster and more fluid user experience so you don’t need to wait for the information.  These flaws take advantage of that optimization and the software patches to fix it might affect that.

Okay cool, it’s being fixed.

 

The initial reports from PC Mag were saying that the software fix would be a big problem, and that it could potentially slow down your computer up to 30%.  Intel has pushed back at that statement saying “any performance impacts are workload-dependent, and, for the average computer user, should not be significant”.

So, if you’re a really intensive computer user you might notice your machine slowing down every now and then, but hopefully you won’t.

The Moral: Nobody is Perfect

 

Everything seems like it can be hacked. The Equifax security breachthe Showtime cryptocurrency mining scandalthe OTHER Equifax security breachKRACK attacksRansomware… there’s a lot of bad hacking-related issues lately and it seems like it might not get better.

Unfortunately, this is just the age we live in right now. We can just stick with our personal best practices. Use a virus removal you trust, keep an eye out for phishing attempts, and update your software frequently.

Top 5 Gadgets of 2017

We’re obviously a big proponent of NOT getting the latest gadgets, and instead upgrading your old ones.  However, some things can’t really get upgraded (for phones we can fix it, but we can’t make it BETTER than it was new) or sometimes it’s just not worth it.  Also, given the nature of our work, we’re all pretty geeky and like the latest and greatest in tech – this is where we get to share that. In order to help you keep up with some of the newer trends in technology, we have put together a list of the top new gadgets that have debuted in 2017.

 

  1. Samsung Galaxy S8

Where else would we start besides the brand new mobile phone?  The next iPhone isn’t out yet, and the Samsung Galaxy S8 is the latest Android model to be released. While its predecessor, the Samsung Galaxy Note 7, was disappointing to most people, the S8 is an improvement in many ways. With a larger, sleeker screen, the S8 has created an immersive platform for those who enjoy using phones for videos and gaming. It also has an improved camera, which has become one of the most important features of a smartphone. The improved pixel quality of the S8 makes for sharper, more realistic photos.While it still has its flaws, such as the occasional slow processing, many agree that the display and visuals are some of the best to ever come from a smartphone.

 

  1. Here One Earbuds

A terrific complementary piece to a brand new smartphone is a set of ear buds that match in quality. The latest gadget that guarantees to “drown out the noise”, is the set of Here One earbuds from Doppler Labs. These wireless earbuds allow the user to manipulate the sound around them using built in microphones and sound processors; the goal being to be able to eliminate specific sounds around you. While Doppler Labs has not necessarily perfected this, it is still a far step in being able to completely manipulate the sound with your own earbuds. Occasionally the battery can be insufficient, but the pros outweigh the cons when it comes to the Here One earbuds.

 

 

  1. Microsoft Surface Laptop

For the past few years, Microsoft has been presenting consumers with a tablet that can do basically everything a regular laptop can. The Microsoft Surface Pro has been marketed as a 2 in 1 device, giving people all the advantages of a tablet and a laptop. Well, now they have finally come out with just a regular laptop. The Microsoft Surface Laptop is a more efficient, standard-type laptop that appeals to those who do not need the tools that come with a tablet.

The sleek design is reminiscent of the Macbook Pro, except it has fabric all around the keyboard (for those of you who value fabric with your computers). The Surface Laptop allows the user to run only Windows programs, but this prevents the system from slowing down or running into malware from other programs. Overall, the Microsoft Surface Laptop is a successful addition to the market of traditional laptop computers.

However, a negative that we know since we are a repair shop: you better not hurt it.  If something goes wrong with your computer, or you spill water in it, etc. it is near impossible to open up, so it’s not ideal

 

  1. LG Signature Series Wallpaper Television

For televisions consumers are always searching for the perfect balance between the quality of the picture resolution and the overall size and sleekness of the television. LG has presented consumers with a new television that contains Organic LED technology that provides for more picture depth and contrast. However, it gets its “wallpaper” name from the fact that it is only .15 inches thick and weighs just 16 pounds. This helps the television to blend seamlessly into the wall, and with a screen size of 65 inches, it does not sacrifice any picture size for the smaller size of the entire device.

  1. Amazon Echo Dot

Voice-command devices are gadgets that are becoming increasingly popular. The Amazon Echo is one of the more popular voice-command devices, but Amazon has released a smaller, cheaper version for those who only require the more basic needs provided by the Echo. The Amazon Echo Dot, is a smaller, sleeker version that does not have the high-quality sound system of the regular Echo, but it provides many of the same services. The Dot is recommended for those who don’t require a top-notch sounds system from their device. However, if you are not satisfied with the basic sound system it provides, the Echo Dot is able to connect to another sound system nearby. The Echo Dot is recommended for those looking for a smart assistant device, but aren’t necessarily sure about making the full investment.

 

These are just a few of the new gadgets that are sweeping the technology market so far in 2017, and while more will come out in the coming months, the ones listed above are recommended for anyone looking to improve their current devices.

net neutrality

Net Neutrality means that ordinary people get to use their internet access however they want.  Facebook, Reddit, Amazon, Netflix, whatever – nobody’s going to stop you or charge you extra on top of your subscriptions.

It seems like a pretty good thing, that essentially EVERYONE is in favor of right?  But who would be against a relatively free internet?  Somebody must be against net neutrality, or else we wouldn’t have a designated day (July 12th) to remind the world that the current way the internet works is GOOD, and that we shouldn’t roll back the Net Neutrality regulations that are currently in place.

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are opponents of the free internet – the internet we have today – and I’m sure you didn’t need another reason to dislike them.  ISPs (Comcast, Verizon etc.) want to be able to control the content in their services as a way to charge customers more for specific, premium services (streaming, gaming, uploading etc.)

Essentially, some things that you use the internet for are more resource-intensive than others. Streaming content on Netflix or Hulu is harder than going through your email or browsing Facebook.  Streaming services are a perfect example of what ISPs hate, because it requires a lot of resources from them while Netflix just needs to keep updating their library to rake in their monthly subscriptions.

 

With that in mind, it makes sense that Comcast might want to charge you extra for streaming Hulu too often since it’s resource-intensive for them.  However, the customer should get to use their internet subscription however they want to.  If you’re paying for a certain internet speed, they can’t tell you that you can’t use that to binge-watch The Office.  That’s for the customer to decide, because you are literally paying for that right.

Essentially, these big companies want to roll back the current net neutrality agreement so that they can charge premiums for access to certain content.  Facebook, Reddit, Amazon, Netflix, Yahoo, etc… you might need to pay more to get what you want!  Right now you pay your internet bill, and your Netflix/Hulu subscription or your Amazon Prime, and that’s it.  But if we get rid of the regulations in place, you might get hit with a paywall before you can access some of your favorite websites.  Or they might just cap your download speed if you’re streaming something too long – which leads to buffering which leads to headaches.  But you’re paying for a high enough download speed that you shouldn’t have to buffer to watch Game of Thrones and they shouldn’t be allowed to throttle your download speed just because they don’t like what you’re using it for.

A customer is entitled to receive what they pay for.  You can’t tell somebody who is paying their bills that it’s suddenly not good enough.  The internet access that we have today gives us the freedom to use our internet access for whatever we want.  We don’t need to pay extra to the cable/internet companies because we’re going to a website they deem “premium”.

At the end of the day, the current regulations are what we need.  It’s what we currently have, but we need to make sure that it stays.  Once we cross that line, it’s hard to go back.

Please visit https://www.battleforthenet.com/ to make your voice heard, or to learn more about the current Net Neutrality rules in place.

iOS vs Android OS

During the age of the smartphone, users have continued to debate between Apple and Android as to which service is superior. While you may have heard several arguments as to which is better, it is time to settle the dispute once and for all. The iOS and Android OS have several differences between them. For starters, iOS encourages people to buy multiple devices and have them all connected to each other. That way, the iOS is similar on iPhones, iPads, and Mac computers. In contrast, Android is more contained directly within the phone. Androids are very useful for multi-tasking on the phone, but its services aren’t as useful for multi-tasking across different devices. In terms of visual preference, both phones have supporters and detractors, but that is mostly a subjective opinion.  Instead of going back and forth on the advantages of both, let us get to the actual answer of this question, and that is that iOS is probably the superior system. Yes, Android has its advantages and it certainly has its fair share of fans, but for the majority of users, the iPhone is going to have the operating system that you want.  It’s the driving force behind the iPhone becoming so widespread over the last few years.

To start, iOS is more secure. When it comes to choosing a smartphone or other type of device, security should be a top concern – which is something people may forget about their phone. Android OS is far more susceptible to malware threats, this could be because Apple provides its users with updates at a more frequent rate. This continues to add security, which Android is falling behind in. Apple also has stricter privphone securityacy policies, preventing unwanted threats from breaking into the operating system; Android is less strict about their apps and uses, which could be seen as a positive for some users because you have a little more freedom. While the iOS is far from impenetrable, it is still superior to Android OS in terms of safety.

Another important function for users when it comes to operating systems is the applications. Whether it be social media,phone apps gaming, or travel information, people have become heavily reliant on apps. In this case, Apple is also ahead. Apple and Android both have streamlined ways for you to find apps through either the App Store or Google Play, but Apple is more likely to get certain apps faster than their Android counterparts because it is more efficient for developers to optimize for iPhones rather than all types of Androids.  Some apps will be limited to iOS, some others will be limited to Android, but the scale is in favor of Apple for now.

 

Lastly, the iOS is easier and simpler to use.  Android phones are more customized and you can tailor it to specifically what you want, but that can also be annoying to set up and whenever updates arrive, they do get somewhat reverted.  There is probably a work-around for this for very tech-savvy consumers, but in general, the iPhone interface is very easy to use and consumer-friendly.  Not only that, but iOS is also constantly updating to try to be more intuitive, clean, and iconic.  iPhones also work very well in conjunction with other iPhones – which is a big deal now that they are so popular.  iMessage is a very clear example of this, because texting iPhone to iPhone is now more reliable and faster than typical SMS messages.  If you are in a group text as the only Android user, you may get messages a little out-of-order or slower than the rest of the group which can be frustrating.

imessage

While security, applications, and user interfaces are important functions when deciding between iOS and Android OS, the most important debate is often the price. In general, Android phones can be cheaper, because they have a wider range of selections. While their most expensive phones reach prices comparable to the iPhone, Android has a wide selection of cheaper phones. However, if we’re talking about picking a phone for the next few years, it is more useful to pay the slightly extra price for the technology that fits you best. When comparing the most expensive Android systems to the iOS, the price is relatively similar, which makes the choice of choosing Apple an easier one for most consumers. The bottom line is, Android is still very popular and provides a customizable experience with a wide range of options, and Apple still continues to make fine-tuned systems that provide the user with easy, efficient operating systems that work very well with other iPhones, as well as other Apple products.

digital currency

Digital Currency and Bitcoin

One of the newer trends in the technology world that has caught everyone’s eye is digital currency. Digital currency, or “the currency of the Internet”, is a new way for people to make transactions without having to go through a central authority such as a bank. Digital currency has become very popular for a number of reasons, and not having to go through a financial regulator seems to be the main reason that people prefer to use it. The industry of digital currency is continuing to grow, and the amount of trade that occurs using digital currency is at an all-time high.

Before going in-depth on how digital currency has become so popular, it is important to first understand exactly what digital currency is. As mentioned previously, digital currency allows for instantaneous transactions without any borders. In certain instances, it can still be centralized (such as PayPal or eMoney), but those services are still separate from the control of governments or banks.

            There are two main types of Digital Currency: Virtual Currency and Cryptocurrency

Virtual currency can be explained as a type of unregulated currency that is managed by the developer, and it is often specific to a certain group of people. Virtual currency is the form of digital currency that most often utilizes centralized platforms to control the exchanges. This means that the virtual currency that is being used is only accessible for that certain group. For example, currency that you have on PayPal is not able to be used on another platform such as eMoney. Virtual currencies can also include currency used in widespread online gaming services, such as World of Warcraft. Yes, even money used in RPGs is considered virtual currency. However, these services are categorized as “closed virtual currencies”, because they do not involve the exchange of tangible assets. As you can see, there are a number of limits to the use of virtual currency. If you are someone looking for a more flexible way of utilizing digital currency, then cryptocurrency may be more reasonable.

Cryptocurrency is similar to virtual currency, but it is not as limited. It uses cryptography to make sure transactions are secure, and it also prevents people from making additional units of the currency themselves. Unlike virtual currencies, which use centralized platforms to regulate trade, cryptocurrency is decentralized. This means that without having to be regulated by a bank or another type of central authority, cryptocurrency is much less susceptible to inflation and corruption. It allows the user to basically be their “own bank”, so you are able to have much more control. This also lowers the risk of having your assets seized by the government. Cryptocurrencies have become increasingly valuable, and this is because unlike centralized banking, most of  the platforms that use cryptocurrencies have put a cap on the amount of units that will be produced. This means that the units that are currently in circulation are continuing to gain value, because there will only be a finite amount of units produced.

Now, when it comes to digital currency, there is one platform that has risen above the rest, and that is Bitcoin. Bitcoin was the first ever form of cryptocurrency, and its popularity has continued to increase as digital currency is becoming more mainstream. Bitcoin was created as a way to make peer-to-peer transactions without an intermediary involved. The reason it is more popular than forms of virtual currency, is that it can be used to make transactions that are not limited to a closed-group environment.

Also, Bitcoin does not require you to submit your actual information, so people prefer to use if because of the privacy it provides. Bitcoin only asks you to have a Bitcoin address, and the owners of the addresses are never identified. Of course, like anything else in the technological world, Bitcoins do have disadvantages. The size of Bitcoins are finite, so that means it can be difficult to make large transactions, and often times transactions can be delayed for long periods of time. Also, Bitcoins tend to be more volatile compared to other forms of currency. In other words, the price of Bitcoins tend to fluctuate much more frequently. Currently, the price is near an all-time high, but prices have also dropped steeply in past years before rising again.

bitcoinEven with the disadvantages that come with it, Bitcoin has continued to surge in popularity. Just recently, the price of a Bitcoin shot to an all-time high of $2,200, which is double than what it was more than two months ago. For comparison, the price of a Bitcoin was just $224 at the start of 2015.With the uncertainty that is surrounding global currencies, the demand for alternative forms of currency, such as cryptocurrency, has continued to rise. Other forms of cryptocurrency that are competing with Bitcoin, such as Ethereum are also rising in popularity. The frequency of daily trades using digital currency is also at an all-time high. Just to show how much more frequent, in 2013 Bitcoin saw an average of 40,000 trades per day, and that number has now been raised to 330,000. Large corporations are also trying to become more mainstream by incorporating Bitcoin into their transaction services. By doing this, they will gain the attention of those who prefer to use digital currency as their means of making financial transactions.

 

The popularity of digital currencies, both virtual currencies and cryptocurrencies, is currently at the highest it has ever been. If you are someone looking into potentially using digital currencies, the advantages and disadvantages listed for both types should help you in making your decision. To recap, virtual currencies can be effective, but they are more limited because they are still often controlled by a centralized figure. Cryptocurrencies allow for more control and privacy, but they do have a downside as well. The fluctuation in the price of cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, has caused some people to become wary of them. At this point, the value of cryptocurrencies is very high, so it is better to capitalize on the industry while it is successful. The fluctuation in value can be off-putting, but as technology continues to create an increasingly paperless world, it also makes cryptocurrencies more intriguing as a potential investment.

A Million* Ways to Kill Your Device In The Big Apple

New York is full of opportunity and possibility….even bad ones. For every beautiful moment our city gives us, there are plenty of annoyances that can only happen here. There’s a particular psychology that New York instills, a reckless abandonment of practicality and good sense that the city embeds in us. Don’t text your friend in Delaware about dropping your phone because you were trying to text while eating a slice on a crowded A, they just won’t understand.

At LaptopMD, we’ve seen some crazy device disasters. Here’s a list of very New York-centric ways to kill your device, whether it’s a phone, tablet or laptop:

Realizing you dropped your phone in Times Square, retracing your steps, and finding a phone stomped to death (if you find it).

New Year's Resolution: A New Phone
New Year’s Resolution: A New Phone

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LaptopMD goes Back To The Future With “Old” Devices

We saw a pretty puzzling Facebook post recently. A user wanted to get the Hard Drive in his 2009 Macbook checked out, but the repair shop he went to told him the computer was “vintage” and couldn’t be serviced. It’s puzzling to think of any Macbook as a “vintage” device, but that is Apple’s terminology for any computer discontinued between 5-7 years ago. A quick glimpse of the Apple site produces this explanation:

Vintage products are those that have not been manufactured for more than five and less than seven years ago. Apple has discontinued hardware service for vintage products with the following exceptions:

  • Macintosh products purchased in the country of Turkey.
  • Products purchased in the state of California, United States, as required by statute.

Obsolete products are those that were discontinued more than seven years ago. Apple has discontinued all hardware service for obsolete products with no exceptions. Service providers cannot order parts for obsolete products.

 

Now THIS is "vintage."
Now THIS is “vintage.”

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12 Facts of Apple Music

On June 8th, Apple launched their newest world domination initiative, Apple Music. The newest (and biggest) hat in the music streaming game plans to give millions of subscribers access to music and a 24 hour live broadcast radio station come June 30th. Here are some of the most important takeaways from the launch:

Apple

  • The service will be 9.99 per month for an individual subscription and 14.99 for a family plan, which will allow up to six people to participate.
  • On June 30th, everyone has access to a free 3-month trial on initial signup, after which the $9.99 will kick in. If you find that you don’t like the service don’t forget to cancel come August.

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Old Tech, New Tricks

The times are always changing. For the modern small business or tech savvy consumer, out with the old in with the new is literal. Once you purchase the new Windows PC on the market, what will you do with the obsolete model?

Many may not know a better alternative than to simply toss their old computers, laptops and phones in the trash. As the saying goes though, one person’s trash is another’s treasure. There are recycling programs all over the city, as well as initiatives to

turn those electronics into art.

Before you give your device away, have you considered re-purposing the electronic altogether?

darth vader

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5 Ways Tech Helps the Disabled

Technology is ubiquitous. Everywhere we turn, there’s a new device or application to augment our productivity. There’s something for everyone, including the less fortunate. Luckily there aren’t just engineers who develop content to keep people entertained on the train, there are some who use their acumen to support the mentally and physically impaired. Here are just a few of the wonderful developments we’ve heard of:

spoon

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