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CNET to the Rescue: How to tweak your relatives' computers

You arrive home for the holidays and right away your dad asks you to take a look at his slow computer. Seth Rosenblatt and I help you help your dad (and others) with tips for tweaking other peoples' tech.

This week, as we gear up for holiday travel, we have a special show on preparing to help out your less-than-geeky parents, brothers, sisters, in-laws, and assorted relatives. You know they're going to ask you for tech support. How do you talk to them? Do you fix their computer? With what tools? We're joined today by special guest Seth Rosenblatt of, who can fill us in.

If you have a tech question for CNET to the Rescue, e-mail or call us to get on the next show: 877-438-6688. No question is too basic.

Now playing: Watch this: CNET to the Rescue Ep.#28: How to fix your relatives'...


Episode 28: How to tweak your relatives' computers

Tweaking tips
First, the approach. How to talk to your less-techie relatives. Their PC, their rules. Their terminology.

Seth's personal tech support pattern: 1) install manageable AV, set to silent/gaming mode. 2) install Revo, clear out all crapware. 3) Run CCleaner, clear out Reg 4) reboot 5) install new apps 6) take prescription from Dr. Whiskey.

The USB key of the the geeks: What should be on it?

Seth: Try our Utility Starter Kit.

Rafe: CCleaner; Revo Uninstaller.

Seth: Smart Defrag (XP only, W7 doesn't require defragging); replacement PDF reader (Nitro or FoxIt); WinDirStat (or Disk Inventory X for OS X)

Useful: Ninite, for getting a bunch of stuff at once.

Antivirus: First make sure relative isn't running multiple. Best free, lightweight tools: AVG, Avast, Panda, Microsoft. See also our Security Starter Kit.

Rafe's meta advice: Install LogMeIn (for unattended remote access). Seth: Try CrossLoop for simple attended remote sharing

Protect! Set up backup (Mozy, Carbonite, Crashplan)

Blow it out: Clean out the computer's vents - bring compressed air with you.

See Lifehacker: How to fix your relative's terrible computer.

Your questions answered
Charles E: I have a small question on bringing life to my old laptop. I have an old Compaq Presario that is about 5 years old will be a perfect computer for my mom. It's clean of all viruses and malware but still preforms very slowly on even small tasks. I was looking to just wipe the old thing and reinstall Windows XP. The problem comes in when I try to make a recovery disc. the disc drive does not work at all. I also tried to boot it from USB but in the system BIOS there is no option to do so. Then i tried to use a external usb dvd drive but with USB 1.0 ports performance is not good at all. So the main question is how can I wipe the computer and reinstall Windows. Worst case scenario, I am willing to put Linux on it -- Unbuntu or any other distribution that is easy for computer a novice.

Rafe: Not recommended. Use this as a project computer for yourself. You could clean up the existing Windows installation to make it usable. But a 5-year-old PC won't do video well and even a fresh update of XP will drag.


Voicemail: Jacob on saving old movies.

If you can get a projector, see this eHow article. Better bet: Use a service, like Digital Pickle.


Voicemail: Steve on making iPad a meeting notetaker

Rafe: There are keyboards, but the ones I've seen are lacking. You can type on an iPad, and you will get faster. However, I have stopped using iPad as note-taker. It's obstructive in a whole new way-- you have to look at it. I use my Macbook instead.

Seth: Or Livescribe.


Pat in Atlanta: I'm more of a geek wanna-be than a real geek. I know I can get good deals on a PC from a white box maker, but how can I tell a good one from a bad one? And, just as important, can I trust a white box manufacturer not to upsell me (perhaps needlessly) on components? I DO want to buy more than I need at the moment or can even use much (i.e. the USB 3.0 controller will become more and more useful), but I don't want to be talked into digitized, anodized, polarized, galvanized, hyper warp-drive "flux capacitors".

Read up on Tom's Hardware to spec out the machine you want. Or make it easy: Just buy a Dell or HP.