Wednesday, October 30, 2013

PDF Converter To Windows Context Menu

A common situation many users face when dealing with digital documents is having to convert PDF files to other formats such as Word, JPEG, TXT etc. Fortunately, there are a bunch of PDF converters out there that can get the job done, though finding the best one can become tedious at times. Back in February, we reviewed a handy online service dubbed Cometdocs that allows you to host any kind of document to the cloud and perform PDF conversion to other formats via its web-based interface.Cometdocs for desktop  a standalone tool by the same developer – brings the same conversion features to Windows. The tool makes document conversion a breeze, thanks to its context menu integration. And besides converting PDF to many other formats, it also lets you easily create PDFs out of other files. Details after the jump.
For those unfamiliar with Cometdoc’s web service, it provides 1 GB of free storage space that you can use to host files, in addition to the ability to convert documents between different formats. You need to create an account with the service before you can use all these features. The desktop application also requires you to create a Cometdocs account first, if you don’t have one already. Upon launch, Cometdocs for desktop asks you to sign in with your account; just input your email and password credentials, and click Sign In. The tool then begins running in the background.
Sign in to Cometdocs
Converting PDF files to other formats using Comerdocs is dead simple. It creates a ‘Convert To’ submenu in the context menu of PDF files. To convert a PDF to any of the supported formats, simply right-click your desired file and then hover your mouse over the Convert To submenu to see a list of supported formats. You will be amazed to see how many output formats this tool supports, including Microsoft Office files (Word, Excel, PowerPoint), TXT, LibreOffice files, AutoCad (DWG, DXF), and image files (JPEG, PNG, BMP, GIF, TIF). All you have to do is click your desired format, and the application will do the rest.
Convert To
The application doesn’t give you any flexibility and control over the file conversion method, quality and other parameters for the output file, which is pretty much the only shortcoming you may notice.
Besides document conversion, other files can also be converted to PDF. To do that, right-click the file you wish to convert, followed by clicking the ‘Create PDF’ option, as demonstrated in the screenshot below.
The application doesn’t take much time converting the document between supported formats. It’s worth noting here that all the conversion is still done using the Cometdocs web service in the background, and the output is automatically downloaded to your computer in the same location as the input file after conversion. You can view recently converted and in process files by clicking Cometdoc’s system tray icon.
Recent conversions
The application is available free of cost and works on Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Extend your Wi-Fi network throughout the house

The wireless signal from Aidan's router doesn't reach throughout the house. Here are a few ways to fix the problem.
Extending a Wi-Fi network can be as easy as playing with cardboard and tape, or as difficult as rewiring your house. It all depends how big a boost you need, and how much time and money you're willing to devote to the task.
Here are three ways to increase your signal's range.


You know those little antennas that screw onto your router? You can improve the signal by replacing them with bigger antennas, or more directional ones.
You can also improve the existing antenna, making it directional. All you need is a few minutes and some common household materials. See Extend Your Wi-Fi Range With a Parabolic Reflectorfor detailed instructions.
If you're not the do-it-yourself type, or if you need to boost the signal in all directions, you can buy a generic antenna for a few dollars. I've seen this same antenna (see image to the right) sold under different brand names--priced from $2 to $7. And yes, I've tried it and it helps…a bit.
For a more powerful boost than either of those, try the directionalTP-Link TL-ANT2409A. You can get it for $25 if you shop around.


You plug one of these devices, also called repeaters, into a wall socket as far from the router as you can get and still receive a good signal. The extender picks up the signal and rebroadcasts it.
In general, I find these more effective than boosters. But they're also more expensive, and are trickier to set up, since you have to find the best location and connect them to the network.
The best one I've tested (and I haven't tested all that many) was theAmped Wireless REC10. If you look around, you can buy one for $70.In general, I find these more effective than boosters. But they're also more expensive, and are trickier to set up, since you have to find the best location and connect them to the network.


I used to be a fan of this technology, which carries network data over your house's electric wiring. The adapters are basically power bricks with Ethernet ports. Some also have Wi-Fi Antennas.
You won't have much trouble adding HomePlug to your network--you just plug it in and it works…if it works.
All sorts of things can interfere with HomePlug signals--wiring, the location of the washing machine, the type of light bulbs you use.
I used HomePlug happily for years. It didn't give me Ethernet speed or even 802.11n speed, but it was faster than my Internet connection and that was all that I needed. Then it just stopped working. I never figured out way.
A HomePlug/Wi-Fi kit--two receivers, one of them with an antenna--will cost you about $90. You can check out the HomePlug Alliance's Products page.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

10 Steps To Take When You Discover Malware On Your Computer

10 Steps To Take When You Discover Malware On Your Computer
Viruses are everywhere! And although we’d like to think that the Internet is a safe place to spend our time (cough), we all know that there are risks around every corner. Email, social media, malicious websites that have worked their way into search engine results, and ad pop-ups all can pose a threat. Although there are precautions you can take to limit the risk of infecting your computer, sometimes you simply have bad luck and get infected anyway. But thankfully, you can do it for completely free, although removing malware can be a painful process. And because of that, I’ve laid out all the steps of exactly how to do it.

It’s Not Just Viruses — Other Kinds Of Malware To Know About

2 Kinds of Malware
Because there are so many kinds, “virus” is typically the term used to describe all the nasty stuff that can infect your computer. But the correct term is actually malware, and there’s lots of it.  Chris Hoffman wrote an article differentiating between the three main types of malware: viruses, trojans and worms. In that same article, he also briefly explains what spyware and scareware are. Scareware, or ransomware, is simply a program that infects your computer and then prompts you to pay to get it fixed. Guy McDowell goes more in depth in what ransomware is and how to remove it. Lastly, there’s adware, i.e. unsolicited advertising installed on your computer.

How To Detect The Symptoms That You’re Infected

3 Symptoms
Why do you need to know how to detect symptoms – that’s what you have an antivirus program for, right? Well, that’s true – they help for sure. There have been occasions where mine has caught something and I’ve been able to get rid of it before it has been able to cause any harm. However, if an antivirus program isn’t updated with the latest definitions, it might not catch everything. Plus, it’s always better to know what to look for, rather than depending on what a program says.
1. Homepage And Search Engine Hijacking
Ever wonder why your homepage, now redirects to some weird website? Or what about your default search engine now being some other search engine that you’ve never heard of or recognize? These are tell-tale signs of malicious activity on your computer.
2. You’re Redirected To A Different Site Without Warning
Similar to the previous one, another problem you might run into is being taken to another website, likely malicious, when you typed in or clicked something completely different that youknow hasn’t taken you there before.
3. Pop-ups
Ah, yes. The notorious pop-ups — we all know what they are.
4. Crashes
This isn’t always related to a malware infection, but if this is happening along with some of the others mentioned here, you’ve most likely got something.
5. Unfamiliar Programs And Toolbars
Ever wonder how all of those toolbars got there in your browser? They are full of search boxes and loads of useless buttons. Frankly, no one needs toolbars anymore. But if one showed up unannounced, it was either your poor program installation habits, or it snuck its way onto your computer… or both.
6. Slow Computer Online And Offline
Internet connectivity issues are one thing, but if your computer is always running slow, whether you’re online or not, you better keep reading this article.
7. Browser Can’t Load Pages
I hate to be the barer of bad news, but if your browser(s) continue(s) telling you that pages can’t be loaded, yet your Internet connection is fine, I’d bet that there’s something fishy going on.

The Steps To Take If You Are Infected

There is a level of panic and worry that can overwhelm you whenever you realize that your computer has been infected – you feel vulnerable and open. However, it’s not over for your computer and all of your files that it contains. There are ten things you need to do to obliterate that virus, trojan, worm, or whatever else may be infecting your computer and restore it to the state that it was prior to the infection.

1. Back Up Your Personal Files

4 Backup
Hopefully you have already been backing up your files. But even so, I recommend that you copy your personal files elsewhere just to be safe. Secondly, you don’t want to back up everything on your computer, as there’s a risk that you could save some infected files along with it.
I’ve written several articles on backing up, but the two that you should refer to the most would be why you need to backup and recovery tips to help you prepare for a disaster.

2. Disconnect From The Internet

5 unplugging Ethernet cable and X over WiFi
A virus will try to call home via your Internet connection. Disconnecting from the Internet should be one of the first things you do in order to battle any form of malware. If you’re on a desktop, simply unplugging the Ethernet cable is the most certain way. If you are on a laptop, you can disconnect by unplugging the Ethernet cable, or if you’re wirelessly connected, disabling the WiFi by a physical button on your keyboard or in the Taskbar.
6 Disable WiFi

3. Boot In Safe Mode Or With A Live Antivirus Rescue Disk

7 safe mode
By booting in Safe Mode, you’re able to prevent any non-core components from running, allowing you to isolate problems easier. To do this, restart your computer, and press and hold the F8 key while your computer starts up. The first option, “Safe Mode”, should be already selected, but if not, you can navigate to it with your arrow keys. Then press Enter. Once you’re in Safe Mode, you can continue the malware-removal process.
If Windows won’t start at all, you can use an antivirus rescue disk. These are available for free from many antivirus companies such as KasperskyAviraAVG, and others. Justin Pot has written several articles on this, including one on three live CD antivirus scanners, and two more detailed posts on how to create a BitDefender and Kaspersky rescue disks. Lastly, you have the option of using a Linux Live CD.

4. Get Another Computer With Internet Access

8 second computer with internet access
You will more than likely need the aid of another reliable computer connected to the Web in order to resolve your malware problems. This is because you will need to research the problems and symptoms of the specific infection, as well as download various programs to remove the infection. If you don’t have another computer, you might talk to a good friend or family member and explain your situation. Of course, if you are going to school at a college or university, or if you have access to a computer lab at a library, you might be able to use a public computer to do this as well.
When you download any executable programs on the clean computer, you will of course need a way to transport them to the infect computer. What I find best is a flash drive with no other valuable files on it. You might also use an SD card or portable hard drive.

5. Try To Identify The Actual Malware And Search For Fixes

9 ID
Often times when malware infects your computer, it isn’t just some generic virus, but a specific kind that needs to be removed with a certain procedure. There are articles and forums all over the Web that address all kinds of malware infections. Start with a basic search based on the little information you know about the infection. For instance, if it’s in the form of a fake antivirus program, what is its name? Once you have somewhere to start, you can keep searching and gathering more information about what to do. Ideally, you’ll find instructions to walk you through the entire process from start to finish.
In case you are completely lost at this point, you can also ask MakeUseOf Answers and we will point you in the right direction.

6. Scan With Multiple Programs Until No Infections Are Found

10 scanning
If you can’t find anything specific about the infection, don’t worry — there are a variety of tools you can use to remove infections. These tools range from antivirus to rootkit removers to anti-adware and antispyware to general antimalware programs.
On our Best Of Windows Software page, we have sections for antivirusmalware removal andfirewall applications.
Some tools I recommend are the Kaspersky TDSSKiller for removing rootkits, Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware and HitmanPro for removing all kinds of malware, and AdwCleaner for removing adware. All of these tools are free and can be used in conjunction with one another.
Again, you will have to download these on the clean computer connected to the Internet and transfer their executable files to the infected computer. Programs like Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware often need Internet access to get the latest definitions, so I often use it to make one last swipe once I’m able to connect to the Internet once more and download the updates. I then return to Safe Mode to run the scans.
NOTE: You should know that although you can use multiple malware removal programs, you can’t use multiple antivirus programs, as they can conflict.

7. Clean Up Temporary Files And Worthless Programs

11 clean up
Once you’ve removed the nasty infections, it’s time to clean up any remaining files. The recommended program to do this is CCleaner. It’s not considered a “security program” by any means, but it can help during this process. However, CCleaner isn’t the only good cleaner availableIObit’s AdvancedCareSystem Ninja, as well as others like Xleaner and DriveTidy, are several good alternatives.
This might also be a good time to comb through your programs list with an app likeGeekUninstaller to remove unneeded or potentially risky software that snuck its way into your computer.

8. Remove System Restore Points

12 System Restore
Although System Restore can be very helpful and has proven to help me many times, system restore points do have the potential to contain malware, so it’s recommended that you delete those to ensure that all traces of malware are removed from your computer. If you know for sure when you contracted the malware, you can remove the restore points up to that time. However, to be safe, I recommend you remove all of them.
To do this in Windows Vista and 7 (and Windows 8 if you have a Start Menu tool, like Classic Shell), click the Start button, right-click Computer, and then Properties.
13 Start - Computer - Properties
Click System protection in the left panel, which may then prompt you for an administrator password or confirmation. Under the System Protection tab click Configure, then click Deleteand OK.
14 system protection – configure – delete
If you’re using Windows 8 without a Start Menu tool, navigate your mouse cursor to the lower right-hand corner to display the Charms bar. Click Search (magnifying glass), type “recovery”and click Settings.  You should then see a result that says Recovery, for me it was the second result down in the right panel.
15.1 Charms bar
15.2 Search - recovery
Once you click it, you’ll be taken to a window with Recovery tools, where you will click the link that says Configure System Restore. Then follow the previous instructions.
16 recovery tools - configure system restore
If you use Windows XP, follow these instructions provided by Microsoft.

9. Fix Post-Malware Removal Problems

There may be some problems that you encounter after you remove the infections from your computer. A couple quick options you might try would be Microsoft’s Fix It tool and a tool calledRe-Enable II. Below are some common problems and how you might be able to fix them.
Can’t Connect To The InternetThis guide by Select Real Security is invaluable and can suggests many steps you might take to fix this problem.
Search Engine Redirecting To Random WebsiteOne of the primary reasons for this, if you have Java (which you likely don’t need), is the Java cache hasn’t been cleared yet, which Java shows you how to do.
If your primary search bar still goes elsewhere, that can be changed in the Settings of your browser, whether you use Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer or others.
Homepage Is Still DifferentIf your homepage, like your search engine, was changed, you can go into your browser settings and change what this is too.
Programs And Files Won’t OpenSelect Real Security has another great guide on how to fix this as well and uses four different methods: a Registry file, an INF file that fixes executable file association, CleanAutoRun by Kaspersky, and Creating a new user account.
Missing Desktop IconsIf none of your icons are on your Desktop anymore, try the Unhide or Re-Enable II tools.
Windows Update And Firewall Won’t WorkIf Windows Update and/or your Firewall aren’t working properly, you might try a tool calledWindows Repair by It can do a lot, so when you use it, uncheck all of the options except for the following five:
  • Repair WMI
  • Repair Windows Updates
  • Repair Windows Firewall
  • Reset Registry Permissions
  • Reset File Permissions
Windows Repair comes in both portable and non-portable versions.
Computer Is Still SlowIf your computer is still slow, there are several things you can do.
  • Removing more temporary files
  • Fix Windows system files by typing sfc /scannow in the Run Window (Start key + R) and the restart the computer
  • Ensure you have only one antivirus program installed and running on your computer
For more advice, take a look at Bakari’s article on why you might have a slow computer or Tina’s guide on speeding up Windows.
10. Change Your Passwords
17 Change passwords
Lastly, you should change your passwords to ensure that no information that was potentially obtained while your computer was infected can be continued to be used against you and cause even more harm.
I personally recommend using a password management strategy and Yaara wrote an excellent article on how to create strong, yet easy to remember passwords, as well.

Conclusion: Preventing Further Infections

18 internet checklist
With so much on the Internet today, preventing every single thing can be pretty difficult, but there are ways to be safe. We’ve covered many of these in the following articles already:

Monday, October 21, 2013

How to Tell a Hardware Problem From a Software Problem

Your computer seems to be malfunctioning — it’s slow, programs are crashing or Windows may be blue-screening. Is your computer’s hardware failing, or does it have a software problem that you can fix on your own?
This can actually be a bit tricky to figure out. Hardware problems and software problems can lead to the same symptoms — for example, frequent blue screens of death may be caused by either software or hardware problems.

Computer is Slow

We’ve all heard the stories — someone’s computer slows down over time because they installtoo much software that runs at startup or it becomes infected with malware. The person concludes that their computer is slowing down because it’s old, so they replace it. But they’re wrong.
If a computer is slowing down, it has a software problem that can be fixed. Hardware problems shouldn’t cause your computer to slow down. There are some rare exceptions to this — perhaps your CPU is overheating and it’s downclocking itself, running slower to stay cooler — but most slowness is caused by software issues.

Blue Screens


Modern versions of Windows are much more stable than older versions of Windows. When used with reliable hardware with well-programmed drivers, a typical Windows computer shouldn’t blue-screen at all.
If you are encountering frequent blue screens of death, there’s a good chance your computer’s hardware is failing. Blue screens could also be caused by badly programmed hardware drivers, however.
If you just installed or upgraded hardware drivers and blue screens start, try uninstalling the drivers or using system restore — there may be something wrong with the drivers. If you haven’t done anything with your drivers recently and blue screens start, there’s a very good chance you have a hardware problem.

Computer Won’t Boot

If your computer won’t boot, you could have either a software problem or a hardware problem. Is Windows attempting to boot and failing part-way through the boot process, or does the computer no longer recognize its hard drive or not power on at all? Consultour guide to troubleshooting boot problemsfor more information.

When Hardware Starts to Fail…

Here are some common components that can fail and the problems their failures may cause:
  • Hard Drive: If your hard drive starts failing, files on your hard drive may become corrupted. You may see long delays when you attempt to access files or save to the hard drive. Windows may stop booting entirely.
  • CPU: A failing CPU may result in your computer not booting at all. If the CPU is overheating, your computer may blue-screen when it’s under load — for example, when you’re playing a demanding game or encoding video.
  • RAM: Applications write data to your RAM and use it for short-term storage. If your RAM starts failing, an application may write data to part of the RAM, then later read it back and get an incorrect value. This can result in application crashes, blue screens, and file corruption.
  • Graphics Card: Graphics card problems may result in graphical errors while rendering 3D content or even just while displaying your desktop. If the graphics card is overheating, it may crash your graphics driver or cause your computer to freeze while under load — for example, when playing demanding 3D games.
  • Fans: If any of the fans fail in your computer, components may overheat and you may see the above CPU or graphics card problems. Your computer may also shut itself down abruptly so it doesn’t overheat any further and damage itself.
  • Motherboard: Motherboard problems can be extremely tough to diagnose. You may see occasional blue screens or similar problems.
  • Power Supply: A malfunctioning power supply is also tough to diagnose — it may deliver too much power to a component, damaging it and causing it to malfunction. If the power supply dies completely, your computer won’t power on and nothing will happen when you press the power button.
Other common problems — for example, a computer slowing down — are likely to be software problems.
It’s also possible that software problems can cause many of the above symptoms — malware that hooks deep into the Windows kernel can cause your computer to blue-screen, for example.

The Only Way to Know For Sure

We’ve tried to give you some idea of the difference between common software problems and hardware problems with the above examples. But it’s often tough to know for sure, and troubleshooting is usually a trial-and-error process. This is especially true if you have an intermittent problem, such as your computer blue-screening a few times a week.
You can try scanning your computer for malware and running System Restore to restore your computer’s system software back to its previous working state, but these aren’t  guaranteed ways to fix software problems.
The best way to determine whether the problem you have is a software or hardware one is to bite the bullet and restore your computer’s software back to its default state. That meansreinstalling Windows or using the Refresh or reset feature on Windows 8. See whether the problem still persists after you restore its operating system to its default state. If you still see the same problem – for example, if your computer is blue-screening and continues to blue-screen after reinstalling Windows — you know you have a hardware problem and need to have your computer fixed or replaced. If the computer crashes or freezes while reinstalling Windows, you definitely have a hardware problem.
Even this isn’t a completely perfect method — for example, you may reinstall Windows and install the same hardware drivers afterwards. If the hardware drivers are badly programmed, the blue-screens may continue.

Blue screens of death aren’t as common on Windows these days — if you’re encountering them frequently, you likely have a hardware problem. Most blue screens you encounter will likely be caused by hardware issues.
On the other hand, other common complaints like “my computer has slowed down” are easily fixable software problems. When in doubt, back up your files and reinstall Windows.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

windows 8.1 features

When Microsoft released Windows 8 back in October, 2012, the company faced serious backlash from its loyal fans for eliminating the Start Button (aka Start Orb) from the mix. Unlike its predecessors, Windows 8 boots to a Start screen, which presents the good ‘ol desktop as a regular app tile. The Start screen replaces the Start Button with a Start tile that pops up whenever the mouse pointer hits the bottom-left corner. After playing around with Windows 8.1 Preview for a while, all we can say is that Redmond did finally listen to the users. Taking a 180 degrees turn, Windows 8.1 not only brings back that familiar Start Button, but also allows users to boot straight to the desktop. That aside, the Start screen itself has been improved quite a bit, providing users with more flexibility in altering tile sizes and more ease in creating & editing tile groups. After the break, we’ll be taking a closer look at each of these features.

The Start Button

The Start button was the first delightful thing we noticed after getting the updated OS up and running. Unlike Windows 7, the Windows 8.1 Start button sports a flat, plain-white design that fits well with the new look and feel of the OS.
Hover the mouse pointer over the Start button and you will see the logo change to the accent color (a dark shade of purple by default) over a black background. The animated gleam that passes over the logo (both here and in the Start Charm) might not seem very Modern UI-esque, but it does add a nice effect.
What a lot of users might find disappointing is that the Start button simply opens up the Start screen. That’s right; still no fly-up menu like the one we had grown accustomed to through previous versions of Windows. Fret not, though, as we’ve already covered some of the best alternatives to the Start screen. Also, you can set the new Start button to somewhat replicate the behavior of the old Start Orb by having it open the All Apps screen instead of the Start screen. We will discuss this along with other navigation options in an upcoming post.
As odd as it might sound, the Start button doesn’t appear at the bottom-left corner of the Start screen itself unless you move the mouse pointer there. It would have been nice to have the button permanently present there to make things a bit snappier.
Start Button_Start Screen

New Start Screen Tile Sizes & Customization Options

You won’t find any drastic change in the Start screen of Windows 8.1 Preview. It looks exactly like its Windows 8 counterpart, the only difference being there are now dynamic Start screen backgrounds with subtle animations, and new tile resizing and sorting options. For now, there seems to be just one animated background, that being the default one with the betta fish. One other very handy addition is the option to set the current desktop wallpaper as the background of the Start screen.
Moving on to tile sizes.
Up until now, you had only two tile sizes to choose from. Windows 8.1, following in the footsteps of its mobile counterpart, gives users much more flexibility in this regard. When you right-click a tile, a new button labeled ‘Resize’ appears in the app bar.
Click this button and you will find two additional options for increasing or decreasing the size of the selected tile; Large and Small. In Windows 8 you could only switch between what Windows 8.1 calls ‘Wide’ and ‘Medium’. The new Large size is basically a Wide tile with twice as much height. The Small size is quarter of a Medium tile.`

Start Screen_Tiles Size
Although Small tiles allow you to pack more shortcuts into a single stack, remember that any tiles reduced to that size will stop displaying live information. Moreover, touch-based device users with oversized fingers might find tapping the new Small-sized tiles a tad troublesome.
Start Screen_Small Tile
We are not quite finished with the Start screen yet. Another improvement Windows 8.1 Preview has brought to this part of the OS is the way you can customize tile groups. In Windows 8′s Start screen, you needed to click the miniscule (-) button in the bottom-right corner of the screen to zoom out to a bird’s-eye view of the screen and then right-click a stack of tiles to specify a group name. Windows 8.1 has effectively refined this process by cutting it down to fewer steps. Right-click anywhere on the Start screen and select the new Customize button from the app bar to instantly bring up the tile grouping option. Right-clicking any tile does the same.
When customization is active, you can quickly name or rename tile groups to your liking by clicking the text field over each.
Start Screen_Customize

Batch Tile Moving On Start Screen

The Start screen is now much easier to edit and arrange thanks to the addition of a very basic feature that, a lot of users will agree, should have been there in the first place: batch moving of tiles. In Windows 8, you could unpin multiple tiles from the Start screen at once but you were only allowed to move one tile at a time. In 8.1, you can select as many tiles as you want and drag to move the entire selection to another group or an entirely new one. The group moves as one tile (the one you drag), with the total number of selected tiles indicated in its top-right corner.
Batch-move-on-Start-Screen Batch-move-tiles-Windows-8.1-Start-screen-new-group

Easier Access To All Apps From Start Screen

The All Apps screen is now much easier to access as well, with its shortcut having been moved from the concealed apps bar to the forefront. Clicking the arrow below the bottom-left most tile on the Start Screen or swiping upwards on the screen.
When Windows 7 was launched, many people cited the new OS as what Vista should have been in the first place. The story behind Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 is pretty much the same. The best thing is, Windows 8.1 Preview hasn’t just brought back the features Windows 8 had shed, it has left it up to the users to decide whether they want to use them or not.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Bad Sectors Explained: Why Hard Drives Get Bad Sectors and What You Can Do About It

A bad sector on a hard drive is simply a tiny cluster of storage space — a  sector — of the hard drive that appears to be defective. The sector won’t respond to read or write requests.
Bad sectors can occur on both traditional magnetic hard drives and modern solid-state drives. There are two types of bad sectors — one resulting from physical damage that can’t be repaired, and one resulting from software errors that can be fixed.

Types of Bad Sectors

There are two types of bad sectors — often divided into “physical” and “logical” bad sectors or “hard” and “soft” bad sectors.
A physical — or hard — bad sector is a cluster of storage on the hard drive that’s physically damaged. The hard drive’s head may have touched that part of the hard drive and damaged it, some dust may have settled on that sector and ruined it, a solid-state drive’s flash memory cell may have worn out, or the hard drive may have had other defects or wear issues that caused the sector to become physically damaged. This type of sector cannot be repaired.
A logical — or soft — bad sector is a cluster of storage on the hard drive that appears to not be working properly. The operating system may have tried to read data on the hard drive from this sector and found that the error-correcting code (ECC) didn’t match the contents of the sector, which suggests that something is wrong. These may be marked as bad sectors, but can be repaired by overwriting the drive with zeros — or, in the old days, performing a low-level format. Windows’ Disk Check tool can also repair such bad sectors.

Causes of Hard Bad Sectors

Your hard drive may have shipped from the factory with bad sectors. Modern manufacturing techniques aren’t perfect, and there’s a margin or error in everything. That’s why solid-state drives often ship with some defective blocks. These are marked as defective and are remapped to some of the solid-state drive’s extra memory cells.
On a solid-state drive, natural wear will eventually result in sectors becoming bad as they’re written to many times, and they’ll be remapped to the solid-state drive’s extra — or “overprovisioned” — memory. When the solid-state drive’s extra memory runs out, the drive’s capacity will start to drop as sectors become unreadable.
On a traditional magnetic hard drive, bad sectors can be caused by physical damage. The hard drive may have had a manufacturing error, natural wear may have worn part of the hard drive down, the drive may have been dropped, causing the hard drive’s head to touch the platter and damage some of the sectors, some air may have entered the sealed area of the hard drive and the dust may have damaged the drive — there are many possible causes.

Causes of Soft Bad Sectors

Soft bad sectors are caused by software issues. For example, if your computer suddenly shuts off due to a power outage or a pulled power cable, it’s possible that the hard drive may have shut off in the middle of writing to a sector. In some cases, it’s possible for sectors on the hard drive to contain data that doesn’t match their error-correction code — this would be marked as a bad sector. Viruses and other malware that messes with your computer could also cause such system issues and cause soft bad sectors to develop.

Data Loss and Hard Drive Failure

The reality of bad sectors brings home a chilling fact — even if your hard drive is otherwise working properly, it’s possible for a bad sector to develop and corrupt some of your data. This is another reason why you should always back up your data — multiple copies are the only thing that will prevent bad sectors and other issues from ruining your hard drive’s data.

When your computer notices a bad sector, it marks that sector as bad and ignores it in the future. The sector will be reallocated, so reads and writes to that sector will go elsewhere. This will show up as “Reallocated Sectors” in hard drive S.M.A.R.T. analysis tools like CrystalDiskInfo. If you had important data in that sector, however, it may be lost — possibly corrupting one or more files.
A few bad sectors don’t indicate that a hard drive is about to fail — they can just happen. However, if your hard drive is rapidly developing bad sectors, it may be a sign that your hard drive is failing.

How to Check for and Repair Bad Sectors

Windows has a built-in Disk Check tool — also known as chkdsk — that can scan your hard drives for bad sectors, marking hard ones as bad and repairing soft ones to make them usable again. If Windows thinks that there’s a problem on your hard disk — because the hard drive’s “dirty bit” is set — it will automatically run this tool when your computer starts up. But you’re also free to run this tool manually at any point.
Other operating systems, including Linux and OS X, also have their own built-in disk utilities for detecting bad sectors.

Bad sectors are just a reality of hard disks, and there’s generally no reason to panic when you encounter one. However, you should always have backups of your important files just in case a freak bad sector strikes — and rapidly developing bad sectors can certainly suggest oncoming hard drive failure.