Hiren’s BootCD via USB the Easy Way

Do you want to be your local neighborhood geek? Of course you do! That’s why you’re here. One of the easiest things you can do to earn your badge in geekiness is helping a person recover files from a computer that just won’t boot. How about taking it one step further and actually performing all kinds of different repairs on that ailing computer? Perhaps a user accidentally deleted a file that they shouldn’t have. You would ask the person to simply recover the file from a backup but we all know how that’s going to go right? The user probably never even have thought of putting the words “important files” and “backup” in the same sentence. What about a user who forgot their Windows log on password? You would ask the person to use their password reset disc that they created when they first got their shiny new computer but I’m sure you’ll just get a blank stare as well. With Hiren’s Boot CD, you can perform all these recovery tasks plus a ton more with relative ease. It’s the year 2012 and boot CD’s were so 4-5 years ago. Let’s take a look at how we can boot the entire Hiren’s Boot CD right from our USB thumb drive, the easy way.

You can find more information about Hiren’s Boot CD from this past article.

The only thing you really need, device wise, is just a USB thumb drive. Preferably, this thumb drive should be at least 1GB but anything higher is definitely doable as well. The advantage of booting Hiren’s Boot CD (HBCD) from a thumb drive is due to the fact that you do not have to dedicate the drive solely to booting HBCD! If you have a 10GB USB stick, HBCD will take about 1GB. You can use the other 9GB for storing your personal files or other things. In fact, I would recommend you to use a bigger thumb drive because if you’ll be recovering files from an ailing laptop or computer, you’ll need some place to store them. You USB stick should make a good temporary location, unless of course the user has heaps and heaps of data to recover. USB sticks are so cheap that you can get a 32GB one for less than $20. Once you have your thumb drive ready, it’s time to get down to business.

Booting HBCD from a USB Stick

First off, you’ll need to download a copy of Hiren’s Boot CD itself. At the time of this writing, HBCD is at version 15.1. The download weighs in at about 500MB. Once downloaded, simply extract the file with your favorite archiving utility such as 7-Zip (Windows 7 can also extract zip files as well natively). Within the download are a bunch of other files. What we are interested in is just the ISO image of HBCD. Pay no attention to the rest. For simplicity sake, extract the ISO image to your Desktop.

You can download HBCD from here. HBCD is basically a single repository of some of the most used freeware utilities on the Internet. With new releases of HBCD, you might find that some utilities are no longer available due to licensing issues and whatnot. Therefore, it’s very important to read the change log for each new release to see what has changed. Mainly, you’ll be looking at what utilities have been added or deleted.

Extract

Once we have the ISO image extracted, we now need to download the utility that will help us create the bootable thumb drive containing the HBCD files. I have read of numerous ways of making HBCD boot off of a USB thumb drive but they contained more steps than what I will show here. An awesome utility called UNetbootin allows a user to create bootable USB thumb drives containing many different Linux distributions. This utility is all that is needed to make our thumb drive bootable and that is why it’s so darn awesome!

You can download UNetbootin from here. Please note the requirement that the resulting bootable thumb drive is only good on Windows PCs and not on Macs.

Preparations

Now that we have all the files needed, it’s time to prepare our thumb drive. At this point, if you have any important data on the drive, you must back it up to another location because we will perform a reformat which essentially will wipe everything away. Once that is done, head over to Computer, right-click on your USB drive icon and select the Format menu option.

Format

Within the Format options window, choose to format the drive with the FAT32 file system. You can also choose to give your drive a volume label so you can better distinguish it while it is plugged in to a system. If you prefer a quicker format, check the Quick Format option although this won’t be as thorough as a full reformat. After the format has completed, take note of the drive letter used by the USB thumb drive as we will need this information in the next step.

Format Options

Installation

Now that our thumb drive has been prepared, it’s finally time to dump HBCD onto it. First we fire up the UNetbootin utility. It’s a self-executable so no installation is needed. Can it get any better?! Within the utility, rather than selecting a Linux distribution to install onto our thumb drive, select the “Diskimage” radio button at the bottom instead. Next you’ll want to point the location to your extracted HBCD ISO image that is on your Desktop. Finally, under Type, make sure that it is selected as USB Drive and that your USB drive letter is selected. That’s it!

UNetbootin

Hit the OK button and the utility will do its thing. It will extract all the contents within the ISO image file into your thumb drive and it will then proceed to make the drive bootable.

Installing

At the end of the installation, UNetbootin will ask if you want to reboot the computer to test out the thumb drive. Cancel this request because there is one more step we need to do.

 Booting into Mini Windows XP Mode

At this point in the process, we have a bootable thumb drive for HBCD but one big thing is missing. One of HBCD’s biggest selling point is being able to boot a system into what they call Mini Windows XP mode. However, after creating the bootable drive with UNetbootin, the option to boot into Mini Windows XP is missing from the boot menu option! Technically you don’t have to use this mode but trust me, you can do a lot more with HBCD if you do so. You can see from the screenshot below that the option to boot into Mini Windows XP is missing (there’s a second page but trust me, it’s not there as well).

Missing

In order to restore the option, we need to replace a certain file within our thumb drive. What you want to do is head into the root of the thumb drive and open up the HBCD folder. Within is a file called isolinux.cfg. Simply rename this file to syslinux.cfg. Next, cut the file (ctrl+x). Head back to the root of the drive. Here you will see another file called syslinux.cfg. We need to overwrite this file with the one we just renamed. If you want to, feel free to make a backup copy of the original syslinux.cfg file before overwriting it by just dragging the file to your desktop. Once done so, paste the new syslinux.cfg into this directory (ctrl+v). Click Yes when asked if you want to overwrite the file.

Credit goes here to the blogger who I got this fix from: http://blog.radevic.com/2012/04/hirens-boot-cd-using-unetbootin-missing.html

Rename

That’s it! We are finally done! We now have a bootable USB thumb drive loaded with the full version of HBCD.

Booting from the USB Drive

To see our newly created drive in action, we need to configure the computer to boot from the USB drive first, rather than the original hard disk, CD/DVD drive, etc. If you are creating a bootable thumb drive of HBCD, there is a good chance that you should already have some sort of idea on how to perform this procedure. Every system is a little bit different but usually it consists of you either heading into the BIOS itself to configure the boot order or by pressing a certain key during POST to select the boot device directly. In either case, you would select the USB disk/drive device first.

On one of my computer, selecting to boot via the USB drive yielded no results. I actually had to enter the BIOS itself and configure the actual hard disk boot order and not boot “device”. In this case, the BIOS recognized my USB drive and I just configured it to be top priority over my two other internal hard disks.

Once the computer boots from our thumb drive, you should be presented with the original HBCD boot options menu. At this point, you can go ahead and launch some of the tools right from within the boot menu. Because we did that little fix above, you should now see the option to load Mini Windows XP. We have successfully booted to HBCD via our USB thumb drive! Now you can go ahead and save the day for the poor unfortunate soul who thought their computer was gone for good.

Boot Menu

Mini Windows XP

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Never Leave Home Without Hiren’s Boot CD!

With all the freewares available out there to help with computer troubleshooting issues, it can be a hassle trying to find the right one for the job. As experienced workers will tell you, a job is a whole lot easier, no matter what it may be, if you just have access to the right tools. You could pound a nail with a book but using a hammer would most likely be easier. You could loosen a Phillips screw by using a flat-head screwdriver  but the job would be a whole lot easier if you had access to a Phillips screwdriver! Point is, choosing the right tool to do the job is very important and in many cases, can even determine the outcome of the project. If you’re the friendly neighborhood PC technician, you’ve no doubt had to troubleshoot a PC or laptop that either couldn’t boot into Windows or if it could, you couldn’t really do anything with it because it was plastered with malware.  In these situations, you would then have to boot into Safe Mode and then proceed to run your favorite utilities to fix the problem. But what happens when even booting into Safe Mode doesn’t work or you don’t have the utility you need to remedy the problem?

Creating an efficient PC troubleshooting toolkit can sometimes mean success or failure. Many a times, PC technicians download some of the most used utilities and stuff them all onto a thumb drive. When trouble calls, they simply insert the USB drive into the computer and pick the right utility to run. Whether this utility helps scan the computer for malware, performs a secure hard drive wipe to recovering data, the job’s success often relies on running the right utility. A popular toolkit that has been around for some time now is called Hiren’s BootCD (HBCD). This toolkit does the job of bunching together some of the most used freeware utilities out there so that you don’t have to manually go hunting for them when the time comes. The next time you’re out needing to troubleshoot a computer, you’ll have a peace of mind that you’ll most likely have the right tool at your disposal by simply popping in HBCD.

Hiren’s BootCD

You can download Hiren’s BootCD from here. The latest version as of this writing is 15.1. For a complete list  of the freeware utilities included with HBCD, please consult this page instead. The ISO file weighs in at around 500MB and you’ll have to burn it to a CD/DVD or to a bootable thumb drive to be able to use it on another computer. Some might wonder if HBCD is legal or not. In previous versions, HBCD included some copyrighted tools and utilities that allowed anyone to use it even if they didn’t have a license for that said product. Of course, doing so is illegal. With recent versions of HBCD, many if not most of those copyrighted software have been removed from the bundle. If you look at the list of utilities included within HBCD, the majority of them are all considered true freewares. This means anyone can use them for free and no license is required whatsoever.

Going over every single utility included within HBCD is insane and of course, I won’t be doing that here! Many of the utilities will no doubt be familiar to users who have some experience with PC troubleshooting. If some tools seem unfamiliar, I would suggest you to spend a little time researching about them so that if the time for the use of that tool arises, you’ll be prepared. Having over 100+ tools at your disposal is useless if you don’t know which one to actually use to fix the problem at hand! At the very least, familiarize yourself with one or two tools from each major troubleshooting category.

One of the cool things about using HBCD is that it doesn’t depend on the operating system currently installed on the computer. HBCD includes a neat feature called Mini Windows XP where it loads a XP-like environment completely within memory (RAM) and from there, run any of the included utilities. In the past, I’ve recommended utilities such as Puppy Linux to help you recover files from an un-bootable Windows system. However, that’s all that it was really good for unless you were well versed with using Linux itself. By using HBCD, you could do that and a whole lot more simply because of all the bundled utilities. HBCD was meant to be the Swiss-army knife of PC troubleshooting. It doesn’t matter if you are a professional computer technician or just a casual computer user. Having a copy of HBCD on hand can go a long way in helping to save the day.

Here are just some screenshots of HBCD in action:

Boot ScreenMini Windows XPMini XP ExplorerUtilities BrowserCloneDiskCCleaner

How HBCD Can Help You

I’ve always stressed the importance for users to gain some knowledge on how computers work. Especially in this day and age where electronics rule our every day lives, gaining some insight into how they work can help in many ways. My opinion is that tablet computers is a long shot away from replacing our traditional PCs and laptops especially when it comes to doing real work. Learning how to do some basic PC troubleshooting can potentially save you a lot of money considering how much nowadays a PC technician can charge. Funny thing is they’re probably using the same tools available within HBCD to do their work! In some cases, when all else fails, a computer reformat is necessary. Do you really want to spend $200+ just to have someone help you recover data when you could use HBCD to do it for free yourself and then perform a system recovery? In all likelihood, that’s what the PC technician will do anyways so why not just perform the procedure yourself? Because HBCD includes many bundled utilities, you don’t have to go software hunting. Who knows? It could be that you actually fix the problem itself with a little tinkering around.

Right now, I’m in the process of also creating a dedicated USB thumb drive to booting HBCD. I want to be prepared for whatever situation I find myself in and there were times when a malfunctioning computer would refuse to boot from the CD/DVD drive no matter what I did. From a customer’s standpoint, a technician will seem much more professional and dedicated to their job if they come to the job site prepared. Do you really want to see the technician only then to begin downloading the utilities onto your computer when they first arrive? It’s not only a waste of time but it also gives the technician a bad reputation.

From a technician’s standpoint, a copy of HBCD should follow you wherever you go. You just never know when you’ll be stuck in a situation where it could come in handy and that’s why having a copy of HBCD on a spare thumb drive is a great idea. A 1GB USB drive could be bought for less than $10. That amount of money is nothing compared to the praise and recognition you’ll receive when you find yourself using HBCD to help your boss recover his malfunctioning computer!

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Fixing File Associations in Windows

Every once in a while, you cleanup a computer from malware infections and everything seems to look good after a reboot. All is well it seems. However, you then notice that upon clicking on programs and your data files, they don’t want to open! The icons are still showing and whatnot but Windows seems to have forgotten how to open them. This seemingly complicated error is nothing more than what techies call “file association errors”. This is one of the reasons why cleaning up a malware infected computer can sometimes be challenging. If you’re lucky, getting rid of malware involves a simple scan from one of your favorite anti-malware scanning software and a reboot of the computer. If you’re unlucky, the malware that was installed will leave behind a host of post-uninstallation errors and problems that you’ll now have to deal with. Corrupting your file associations in Windows is just one of the many headaches a malware removal procedure can leave behind. Luckily, fixing file association corruption isn’t as hard as it seem thanks to brilliant people out there who took the time to help us create individual registry fixes to remedy the problem.

If you normally open your PDF files with Adobe Reader or Foxit Reader and all of a sudden you’re presented with the “Open With” dialog box after a malware removal procedure, then that is a simple sign of a file association error. Although your PDF reader application is still installed, Windows doesn’t know to use it because the data telling it to do so is either missing or corrupted in the registry.

Open With Box

For applications, one of the first things you might want to do is to reset the association links so that Windows will know to open up a specific file type with a specific application by default. There are different ways to do this but there are two mostly known ways to do it and that’s what I’ll go over here.

    • Within the Application Itself. Many applications give you the opportunity to set that program to be the default application to open up for whatever extensions or file types it itself can handle. For example, an image viewing utility such as the popular IrfanView will want you to use it every time you double-click on a picture with the extensions .gif, jpeg, .bmp, and .png. With most applications, you can usually find the ability to set these file associations somewhere within their Options or Settings menu. Settings Menu
    • Using Windows Default Program Utility. The other method to set file associations is to use Windows built-in utility. Open it by heading over to:
      Control PanelAll Control Panel ItemsDefault Programs

      You’ll want to select the “Associate a file type or protocol with a program” option. If you want a specific program to be the default program to open for all file types it can handle, then select the first option labeled “Set your default programs”. I personally don’t use that option because I use various utilities to open various files. For example, just because IrfanView can handle .PNG files doesn’t mean I want to make it the default for that file type. Instead, I want to make Photoshop handle that task instead.

      File Types
      Once you have the option selected, you’ll now need to select the appropriate file extension you want to associate a default program with. Once done so, hit the Change Program button and browse for the program executable you want.

      Default Programs

In most cases, this should help remedy the problem. However, what about other types of files that don’t really belong to a specific program in general? For example, what do you do if you cannot open any type of executable programs at all? What about Control Panel items? For this, we need to turn elsewhere for a fix.

Registry Fixes

As mentioned earlier, Windows rely on the registry for file association information. If that portion is badly corrupted, you’ll need to rewrite it with the correct information. However, many users, myself included have no idea on what to write back to the registry unless otherwise instructed. Because the registry is such a vital storage location, any wrong doing can cause your computer to function incorrectly. Luckily though, a couple of websites have done all the work for us in providing the information we need to write back to our corrupted registry to fix the file association errors!

Head over here if you are using Windows XP! Head over here if you are using Windows Vista! Head over here if you are using Windows 7!

Basically, all you need to do is find out which file extension or file association problem you are having issues with and download the registry file. The lone registry file is usually inside a Zip archive so extract it with your archive utility of choice. Windows by default should also be able to unzip them without any additional tools.

If you are having Zip file association errors, then you wouldn’t be able to unzip the registry file in the first place! Therefore, the authors have this specific registry fix as a stand-alone download (no unzipping necessary). Just right-click and select Save-Link-As. The resulting file should have a .reg extension like the rest of the other registry fixes.

Once you have the registry file extracted, you are now ready to merge the information within it to your own registry files. If you are curious to see exactly what will be written to your registry, simply right-click on the file and select Edit from the menu. The file should now open in Notepad and you will be able to see what exactly is inside that registry fix, although it wouldn’t do most of us any good since we wouldn’t know what the heck is going on anyways!

Registry Notepad

To write the information to your registry, right-click on the file and select Merge from the menu options. You’ll be presented with a message stating the obvious dangers of working with the registry. Hit Yes to continue. The changes should take effect immediately. However, if it doesn’t, give your computer a simple reboot and try opening your files again. If everything went well, they should now open with the default application within Windows.

Registry Warning

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Windows 7 Not Genuine After Disk Clone

A while back, I helped a user easily clone his 320GB Windows 7 system to a 1TB hard drive using Symantec’s BESR 2010. Everything went smoothly except for one big issue that I didn’t find out until now. After the cloning process, Windows 7 was still using the old drive (320GB) as the boot device. While my C: in Computer showed it as using my 1TB drive, I couldn’t detach the old hard drive from the system because it was required to boot the system. Only now when the same user wants to upgrade his hard drive again (to 2TB) did I notice the issue. Basically, disconnecting the old hard drive from the system did allow me to boot from the new 1TB drive after some tweaking but I get the dreaded light blue screen telling me that my copy of Windows 7 is not genuine. I can’t do anything at all as nothing loads up. After some digging around, I noticed that many users had the exact same problem after cloning their Windows 7 system to a larger hard drive. It didn’t matter what method/software they used for the cloning process. The only way to continue using their system was to leave both drives attached to the system, which defeats the purpose of upgrading to a bigger hard drive as most users want to either sell the old hard drive after the upgrade or use it as a secondary storage unit.

As for my situation, it didn’t take me long to realize that the heart of the problem lies in the misconfiguration of the drive letters. When both hard drives were attached and the system was working, the boot drive (old) was assigned the letter G while my 1TB (new) drive was assigned C. Obviously your letter mappings may be different from mine. If I remove the old drive and booted from the 1TB drive, I found out that the drive would now be assigned the letter G. I found this out by opening a command prompt within Task Manager by pressing Ctrl+Shift+Esc while in the Windows Not Genuine screen. The problem here is that I can’t just switch the letters because Windows doesn’t allow you to do that to the drive with Windows installed on, which in this case is G. Normally, you could head over to Disk Management and assign a different drive letter to a drive/volume with the exception I mentioned above. Therefore, I was in a dilemma. In order to clone the drive again to the 2TB, I needed to be able to detach the old drive and solely boot off of the new drive. But this wasn’t possible since Windows 7 keeps telling me that it was not genuine every time! Reformatting is not a good solution as the user had already saved a ton of files to the 1TB drive and so it would be a huge waste of time if we had to back every piece of data up again and reinstall the operating system from scratch directly on the 1TB hard drive. Therefore, I had to find a solution to allow me to boot directly off of the 1TB drive without relying on the old drive.

You may be wondering why the pictures in the screen shots don’t match the drive configurations I mentioned above. This is because I am documenting this process on my second attempt to clone his 1TB to a new 2TB drive. Therefore, you can think of the 1TB drive in the picture as being the 320GB and the 2TB as being the 1TB drive. Hope that makes sense. No matter the case though, the problem that crops up is the same: I cannot detach the old drive and boot solely off of the new drive without experiencing the Windows not genuine message. After a little digging, I’m reading that some users believe that this problem could have been avoided if after directly cloning the drive, we boot off of the new drive only when the old one has been disconnected. Once you boot even once with both drives connected, you will/might encounter the not genuine message and disconnecting the old drive then will not work. Of course, if you are reading this article, it’s probably a little too late for that! This message serves nothing more than a reminder for the next time you clone a hard drive.

The Solution

UPDATE: 09/18/12 – Thanks to user Boonta’s comment, we now have a reasoning as to why this problem occurred in the first place. The reason stems from cloning to a drive that has already been allocated with a partition and assigned an existing drive letter, hence the drive letter mix up afterwards. The solution is to then delete any partition on the destination disk and have all its space unallocated. When cloning, simply choose the unallocated disk as the destination but whatever you do, DO NOT assign a drive letter to this disk or partition. Once the clone process has completed, you can then safely remove the old drive and boot directly from the clone. If a problem still occurs, use either a Windows install disc or repair disc to perform a ‘startup repair’ twice. You should then be able to log back into Windows from your cloned drive without encountering the ‘not genuine’ blue screen! I’m surprised product vendors do not make light of this issue because many users actually partition and assign a drive letter to their disk when or before cloning. Because the drive letter C is already in use, they will have to assign it something else and that is where the problem stems from. If you do not wish to repeat the cloning process, you can still follow through with this article and fix the drive letter mix up.

So after cloning the drive, you’ll be tempted to just yank the old hard drive out and be done with it. Once the computer with the newly cloned hard drive is booted up, you’ll be greeted with the same Windows log-on prompt as usual. You would think the everything is in place until it reverts to the Windows Classic theme showing you nothing but a light blue background with a message on the bottom right corner telling you that Windows 7 is not genuine.

Not Genuine

You open the task manager and open up the command prompt. You instantly notice that your drive letter is anything but the C: drive.

Wrong Letter

The solution to this problem is simple. We have to switch whatever drive letter your new hard drive is using back to drive letter C:. To perform this procedure, we have to boot into Safe Mode and work with the registry. If you haven’t already, leave only the new hard drive plugged in to your system. Boot it up and continuously tap F8. You’ll soon be presented with the boot options menu. Select Safe Mode from this list. Log in as usual. Wait a bit and you’ll be presented with a completely black desktop with the words Safe Mode on all four corners.
Now, bring up tasks manager again by pressing Ctrl+Shift+Esc. Go to File –> New Task. Type in ‘regedit’ and hit OK to launch the registry editor.

If  changing drive letters via the Registry seems too daunting, user John in the comments section recommends using the Paragon Rescue Kit boot disc. It’s a free download and registration for a serial key is free (give a fake email if you want). At a high level, you create the rescue disc, boot from it, choose to boot to the Normal recovery environment, select the Boot Corrector option, choose “Search for Windows installation to correct”, select the “Correct drive letters in the System Registry option and finally, click on the Edit Letters button. Using the Paragon Rescue Kit basically provides the same fix as detailed below but you get the benefit of a more intuitive graphical interface as seen here. Please let me know if you need more help!Paragon Rescue Kit

Task Manager

Now you’ll want to make a complete backup of your registry data by going to File –> Export. Give the backup a name and save it to your hard drive. In my example, it would be S:backup.reg. Once the backup has been made, we can proceed to change our drive letters. Navigate to:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE - SYSTEM - MountedDevices

Devices

Once there, you should see a lot of files. Scroll down the list until you see the files begin with “DosDevicesX:” where X is a drive letter in use by your system. As you probably could have guessed already, it is here where we get to switch the drive letter our new hard drive is currently using back to C:. First, find “DosDevicesC:”, right click on it and select Rename from the menu. Change the letter C (don’t change anything else) to another letter that’s not already in use. For me, I’ll switch it to drive letter P.

Rename

Now that the driver letter C is freed up, we can make the switch. Right click on the entry letter that represents your current hard drive letter and select Rename. In my situation, this entry is “DosDevicesS:”. This time rename the letter to C. That’s it! Entries you make in the registry is live so no need to save the changes as it’s already saved once you have changed the values and hit OK. Close out of the registry and reboot your computer. Once again, make sure that only your newly cloned hard drive is attached. If everything went correctly, you should boot into your desktop! You should be presented with another Windows Genuine message. Go ahead and activate it. It should proceed without any hiccups. Here, you can see in Disk Management that I only have my 2TB hard drive attached and that it has changed from being letter S: to C:. All is good!

Final

The Finishing Touch

Now that we have solved the issue with the letter configuration, we can safely reformat the old drive. If you are planning to either sell the old drive or simply give it away to a friend, please safely delete your data by scrambling it so that it cannot be recovered by whoever will be using it next. Even if you don’t think you have any sensitive or private data stored on the drive, you can never be too sure. It doesn’t hurt to be cautious. Do no think that simply reformatting the drive will delete the data on the drive. As shown here, it is very easy for even computer novices to use free third-party tools to recover data that the original user “thought” was deleted.

Once you are sure everything is working as expected, reconnect your old hard drive and reboot the computer. When you head into Computer, you’ll see that your old hard drive will now have a different drive letter. This drive letter should be the one we have changed in the registry just earlier. In my case, it is now using drive letter P. Head over to Disk Management when you are ready to reformat.

Disk Management

Right click on the disk that you want to reformat (old drive) and choose the Format option from the context menu. Be sure to heed the warning that all data on this drive will be gone. Give it a appropriate volume name, select a file system (NTFS should be fine), leave the allocation unit size to its default, and decide whether you want to perform a quick format or not. It’s usually better to perform a full format but it will take a much longer time to complete then when compared to a quick format, especially if the hard drive is big in capacity. Once the format has completed, head back over to Computer and you should now be able to use your old drive as a secondary storage unit! If you want to perform a secure wipe of the drive, now is the time to do it.

Reformat
Reformat 2

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Why TeamViewer is the Best Remote Assistance Utility!

For helping out remote users, whether they may be your friends, family members, co-workers or heck, even strangers, there has to be a way for the computers to easily communicate with each other via the Internet. I did write about Window 7’s Remote Assistance feature but I then later realized that the set-up process could have been simplified even further. Also, the Remote Assistance feature didn’t always work for some strange reason. Consider me late to the party but TeamViewer is what I am currently using for remote computer support and I love the damn thing. The process is much more simplified and best of all it doesn’t take much to get started, even if the other party member you are helping have limited computer knowledge.

TeamViewer is a powerful software that allows you and others to easily connect with one another. It is free for non-commercial/private use, although you could purchase licenses for your business needs. By being able to connect with other users scattered across the globe or even if just across the street from you, many possibilities arises. TeamViewer features remote support, meetings and presentation collaboration, and remote access. Here, I’ll be going over the remote support capability to show you how easy it is to help users with their computer problems no matter where you folks are located at any given time.

TeamViewer

TeamViewer is much more than just a remote support tool, which is the feature I will talk about here. There are many things you can do with it. For a more in-depth look at TeamViewer’s features and what it can do for you, please refer to their manual.
You can download TeamViewer from here.

The cool part about TeamViewer is that you can either fully install the software onto your computer or simply run it like a portable application. This makes TeamViewer fully portable and allows you to use the software on pretty much any computer you may be working on. For remote support sessions, we can run the software without having it fully installed.

Install

You should then see TeamViewer’s main menu screen. Here, the screen is split into two sections. On the left side under “Wait for Session”, you’ll see your unique 9 digit ID number and password. This is the information you give to your partner should you require assistance on your end. This allows the other party member to connect with your computer via TeamViewer. On the right side under “Create Session”, you can reverse the role and connect to the other party member instead. Likewise, the user you are supporting needs to give you their unique 9 digit ID number and password in order for the connection to be successful.

You have four different options to choose from based on what you want to do with the remote user. Remote Support is basically like Window 7’s Remote Assistance in that you can to control that user’s computer. Presentation gives you the ability to share your computer screen with the remote user. Need to go over a PowerPoint presentation with members of your team before presenting it to your bosses? Then the Presentation feature within TeamViewer is an excellent way to collaborate. File Transfer is exactly that: transferring files between your computer and the remote user or vice-versa. You can also initiate a file transfer while in Remote Support mode as well. VPN allows you and the remote user to connect together in a way that the computers will “think” that they are both on the same network locally (LAN).

Options

Alright, so now that we have TeamViewer up and ready to either join or create a session, the real fun begins. Because we are the helpers, we need the unique TeamViewer ID and password of the remote user we are helping. This is the most important part because if this process is to complicated, the user might not be able to complete it and therefore, ruin the whole remote session even before it begins! Luckily, the only thing the remote user is required of is to download and run a small piece of software by TeamViewer. This little software helps generate the unique ID and password in which they then communicate back to you, the helper. Simply direct he remote user to the TeamViewer’s main website. Rather than having them download the entire TeamViewer software like you did, direct them to download the guest piece instead by clicking the “Join a Session” link which is directly under the Full Version link as seen here:

Guest Download

It still baffles me how some users have no idea even where their downloaded files from the Internet are on their computer. You’ll have to then guide them to their Downloads folder and if it’s not there, then I wish you luck explaining to them how to open their browser’s Option menu to figure out the location for the downloaded files.

Once the file has been downloaded (luckily it’s only about 2.5MB in size), instruct the remote user to open it. No installation is necessary. The software will quickly do its thing and the remote user will be presented with their unique 9 digit ID number along with the password. Have them communicate this back to you.

Guest

Make sure you have selected the Remote Support option on TeamViewer and then enter the ID number you have been given. Immediately, you will then be asked for the password. Once the info have been entered correctly, you should then be able to see the remote user’s desktop! Easy right?!

Desktop

By default, you should automatically be able to control the remote computer. The remote user at any given time however can take that privilege away by clicking on the mouse symbol in the lower right corner.

On the helper side, there are many configuration and options to play with.

Under Actions drop-down menu, you are allowed to send special keyboard commands to the remote computer among other things such as locking and rebooting the computer.

Actions

Under the View menu, you can configure how TeamViewer renders the remote desktop. If the connection between you two is really slow, you’ll definitely want to lower the quality by removing the wallpaper and toning down the color depth.

View Settings

One neat feature with TeamViewer is the ability to either chat, talk via VoIP or video conference with your remote user! This is a big advantage over Windows Remote Assistance which I believe only allows both parties to chat via text. This makes the remote support session that much more easier because both parties can communicate using whatever means comfortable for them.

Audio/Video

As mentioned earlier, you can transfer files between computers very easily as well via the File Transfer menu button.

File Transfer

TeamViewer is so awesome that you can even choose to record the remote session anytime you want! You can then transfer this video recording to your remote buddy in hopes that they will never bother you again with the same problem! It’s a really neat and simple feature of TeamViewer that I instantly fell in love with.

Extras

Once you are finish with the remote session, simply disconnect by pressing the big red X button at the top left corner to exit.

In the End…

TeamViewer is truly an excellent utility. The fact that they make it free for non-commercial use is even more awesome. If you are the person whom many people come to for their PC woes, do yourself the favor of using a remote support application such as TeamViewer. The best part is that it is so easy to setup for both sides of the party. Whether you are the helper or not, the process is dead simple. TeamViewer has their own technology that makes it easy for remote users to communicate over the Internet whether they are behind a firewall or not. This is similar to the Logmein service. Once you have the full version of TeamViewer installed or downloaded on your computer, you can literally connect with any of your clients from then on. Simply have them download and run the small client piece from TeamViewer’s website, have them communicate back to you the connection info and you’re in business. Can it get any simpler?

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Recover Your Wireless Connection Passwords in Seconds

Ever had a quest come over your apartment requesting access to your wireless network? Sure you have! Ever forgotten what your actual password was due to its awesome complexity you gave it? Of course! Who actually can remember a 14+ random character password?! Well, if you were prepared, you would have kept a copy of that password somewhere (hopefully in an encrypted location). You could also just log back in to your router and recover the password that way. However, what if a non-techie friend asked you for help recovering their wireless password for their connection at home? Have you ever tried explaining how to log in to a router to a computer illiterate person? Not fun at all. Luckily, there is a special utility that allows you or just about anyone else to easily recover and retrieve all passwords the computer has used to log in to every wireless network in the past (assuming the connection profile wasn’t manually deleted by the user).

Nirsoft’s WirelessKeyView is a simple utility that does one thing and one thing only and that is to help you recover your wireless connection passwords. Not only does it do so for your current or last used connection, it helps recover basically every wireless connection password for every wireless connection you have connected to in the past. One caveat though: those wireless connections must have been managed by the Wireless Zero Configuration service in Windows XP or the WLAN AutoConfig service in Windows Vista and Windows 7. In simpler terms, in order for WirelessKeyView to help recover your passwords, you must have used the Windows built-in wireless manager when connecting to that specific wireless connection. If you used third party utilities to help manage your wireless connections, then the WirelessKeyView utility might not work. Personally, I never had to use any third party utilities to manage my wireless connections. The built-in tools in Windows does an excellent job at doing so.

You can download Nirsoft’s WirelessKeyView from here.The best part about using WirelessKeyView (as with every other self-executables) is that it doesn’t require any type of installation. Just download, extract and run. Simple as that. Immediately, you’ll see a list of all the wireless networks you have connected to in the past. Find the wireless network in question and look under the “Key (Ascii)” column and the password should be right there in plaintext.

Recovered Wireless Password

If you don’t feel like using WirelessKeyView every time, then what you can do is export the values to a simple text file. Highlight the connections you wish to export and select the Save Selected Items option under the File menu. The resulting file is just a simple text file that can be opened with Notepad or Wordpad.

Save Item

Some might think of WirelessKeyView as pretty useless because there are other ways to retrieve your own wireless connection’s password. However, that can’t be said when you need to view a password to a connection you have connected to in the past and this utility can do just that should the need actually arise. If you provide tech support for family members or non-tech clients, it’s much easier to give them instructions on how to run WirelessKeyView than to log into their own router. Since WirelessKeyView is a self-executable, you can simply dump the tool onto your thumb drive and access it on just about any Windows computer you use.

WirelessKeyView does not help you crack wireless connection passwords. It can only show you passwords to wireless connections in which you have successfully connected to in the past (assuming you haven’t actually deleted the wireless profile itself).
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The Importance of System Recovery

Have you ever considered what you’re actually getting in return when you put down money to buy that brand new computer either at your local electronics shop or at an online retailer? Well, of course you’re going to say the actual computer itself and everything in it including a humongous hard drive you’re never going to fill up, a video card that’s way too powerful for your awesome Word application, a high-end sound card that will only be used with your mediocre 2.1 setup etc, etc. Jokes aside, yes, many of you are smart enough to know what you should be getting when you buy that new computer system. You’ll also be smart enough to realize that the new computer system comes equipped with the latest operating system (hopefully) from Microsoft, which should be Windows 7 at the moment. So what’s the big deal? Well, like with the actual hardware components themselves inside the computer, you’ve actually “purchased” a copy of that operating system. That means it belongs to you (or rather to your computer). Why do you need to know this? Because when the time comes for troubleshooting your computer and you want to restore your system back to default, you’ll want to know what to do.

When all hell breaks loose in your computer’s operating system (malware infection, driver corruption, system unresponsiveness, etc), many users may find themselves in a dire situation. Do I bring my computer in for repairs? Or do I roll up my sleeves and get the job done myself? Many users don’t want to deal with the headache themselves so they let experienced (or not) tech junkies do the work for them. In many cases, they’ll just go ahead and reformat your entire computer to bring it back to a default/clean state and all the while charging you a fortune for that simple service. If you want to give your computer a fresh start while saving some money while you’re at it, then you’ll want to learn about how to how to perform a system recovery.

The Basics

When you purchase a PC or laptop from a brand name manufacturer such as Dell, Sony, Toshiba, HP and Asus, you’re basically purchasing the computer itself along with the rights to use that version of the operating system it came pre-installed with. In today’s case, this will usually be either Windows 7 Home Premium or Windows 7 Professional. So now the question is what happens when you want to totally trash your computer’s current operating system state and start from scratch? Well, there are two simple methods to accomplish this task:

1. Using a system restore disc
Some PC manufacturer’s chose to provide you with a physical CD/DVD restore disc. This disc is usually in a white envelope inside the box of your new computer system the day you bought it home from the stores. Generally, you do not want to lose this disc! If you have lost the recovery disc and don’t have the recovery partition, than you should still be able to order the disc via the support website of your computer’s manufacturer. You’ll be charged but that’s the price you pay for losing the disc in the first place! If you can somehow manage to borrow someone’s recovery disc (more on this later), you should be able to use that as well.

Factory Restore Disc

2. Hidden restore partition
People lose stuff. That much is true. Therefore some PC manufacturer’s prefer to install the recovery data on a hidden partition on your hard drive instead. That way, you wouldn’t have to worry about any physical disc or fear of losing it. Bad news is that if you like to tinker around with your hard drive’s partition using third party utilities, you might one day accidentally erase that recovery partition without even knowing it!

By reinstalling your operating system using these recovery methods, the advantage is that you will never have to worry about any activation issues whatsoever. When you purchase computers from these big PC manufacturer’s, you’re paying for a version of Windows what’s considered to be an OEM (Original Equipments Manufacturer) version. Basically, that license of Windows that is installed on that computer is good for only that computer alone. No exceptions. You cannot trash the computer and expect to be able to “transfer” that license over to another computer. Once you activate a OEM version of Windows (done by the manufacturer’s in our case), that license is tied down to that computer.
What I’ve just gone over is pretty much well-known information and anyone who even considers themselves computer technicians will no doubt know about it as well. Armed with the same knowledge, you’re now probably thinking what comes next.

Preparing for the Restore Process

Before continuing, there are things that you have to be aware of. One thing that you must absolutely remember and I mean absolutely, is that by doing a system recovery reformat, you’re basically erasing your entire hard drive. Yes, that’s right. That means all of your data will be gone as well! Remember, we are reformatting our computer back to factory defaults. When you first turned on your computer the day you purchased it, did you find your music collection on it? How about your Powerpoint presentations for work? Your photo collection? Of course not! That is why one of the main task you must perform before initiating a system recovery is to back up your data! Note I said data, not your applications! For that, you’ll have no choice but to reinstall them after the reformat. If you can boot into Windows itself and log in, than your job is easy. Plug in a external hard drive and load all of your data to it. If you can’t boot into Windows, than try booting into Safe Mode and see if that helps. If not, then you’ll need to go extreme and boot via a Live CD to back up your data. Whatever the case may be, you definitely do not want to skip this step!

Once you have your data backed up, the next thing you’ll want to do is write down or print a list of all the programs you currently have installed. Why? Because you will need to reinstall them after the system recovery procedure is completed. Therefore, it’s very important that you find the install discs for your programs and make sure you have their product key on hand. Some programs might allow you to export their configuration settings to a file so once you have the program reinstalled, you can easily do an import.

Proceeding with the Recovery

Once you have everything backed up nicely and made a list of the programs you need to reinstall, you should now be ready to proceed with the actual system recovery process. A lot of people tend to freak out at this stage of the process but it’s actually really simple in most cases. As long as you can read and follow instructions on the screen, you should be alright. The only thing you have to agree on is that by invoking this system recovery procedure, you agree that all your data will be wiped and your computer will return to the state it was in when you first purchased it. You’ll most likely noticed that when you first powered on your computer, many of them have a lot of trial software or other “crapware” as many would call them, installed on the computer. These unnecessary (usually) programs hog system resources and are just plain irritating. If you took the liberty to uninstall them, performing a system recovery will essentially bring all those crapware back on your system. Remember, your computer will be returned to the state it was in “when it was first purchased”. But don’t worry, there is a really simple solution to this problem that I’ll go over a little later.

Like I’ve said earlier, there are usually two methods to perform the system recovery. Either by using a physical CD/DVD or a hidden recovery partition.

Using recovery CD/DVD – All you need to do is simply pop in the recovery disc, configure your computer to boot from your CD/DVD drive first rather than your hard drive and follow the instructions. That’s all there is to it. The hardest part for many is actually setting their CD/DVD drive to boot first. You usually configure this setting in the BIOS, which can be accessed when you first power on your computer. Modern BIOS’s include a boot menu that you can call upon by pressing a special key right when you power on the computer. This might include the Esc or F12 key. Once the boot menu appears, simply select the CD/DVD Drive option.

Boot Menu

If you have the older type BIOS models, then you’ll need to enter into the BIOS directly and configure the change. Once again, you’ll need to look for the special key to press to enter your BIOS. Usually, this will be the F2 or Del key. The BIOS is a very dangerous place to change settings if you don’t know what you’re doing. This might scare you a bit but if you do not mess around and only configure the setting I’ve specified here, everything should be fine. Your BIOS should look somewhat similar to the picture below. Simply switch over to the Boot tab and configure your CD/DVD Drive option to be the top priority device for the computer to boot from. Once you make this change and *only* this change in the BIOS, you can safely exit out of the BIOS. Make sure you save the changes otherwise you’ll have to reconfigure the setting again.

Boot Order

If everything is done correctly, you should see the CD/DVD drive’s activity light continually flash when you reboot the computer. Why? Because it’s now booting from your reinstallation disc rather than from your usual hard drive. At this point, just follow the on-screen instructions to reinstall your operating system. Don’t worry, the process won’t start automatically. You’ll usually be ask to confirm your decision a couple of times just for safe measure before the process kicks off. It will usually warn you as well that all data will be erased. This is your last chance to go back and recover any more data you may have left behind.

Using recovery partition – Restoring your operating system from the recovery partition is a little trickier. Instead of pressing a special key to enter the BIOS, you’re now looking for the special key to press to start the recovery process in the hidden partition. The specific button to press may or may not be shown on the screen to you. Also, the special button can vary depending on make and model of your computer. For example, for Dell computers, you usually press Ctrl+F11. For Dell computers equipped with Windows Vista, you’ll have to press F8 to get into the advanced menu and pick the right option from there. If you are stuck, you can either Google it or visit the support site for your computer’s manufacturer to get the answer. Once the recovery partition have been summoned, once again, just simply follow the on-screen instructions to reinstall your operating system to factory default.

Once the reinstalltion process completes and your computer restarts, you’ll once again go through the familiar process of creating a user account and password for it. This may or may not happen and depends on how your PC manufacturer configured the computer. It could be that they have already made an account for you with no password on it. Whatever the case may be, you’re now left with a computer that behaves and acts the same way as it did the first day you turned it on!

Additional Notes of Interest

– Performing a system recovery should be considered as your last weapon in your arsenal. One of the best tools you can use to restore your computer is System Restore. Learn how it works and how to use it to your advantage. This is usually one of the first recovery technique to perform when you spot the first signs of computer malfunction. It’s not guaranteed to work 100% of the time but it’s one of your best starting points. Other recovery features in Windows include booting into Safe Mode and Last Known Good Configuration. To protect your computer from malware attacks, three simple things you need is a good antivirus program, a firewall, and install the latest updates from Microsoft.

– No matter what anyone tells you, you do not need to re-purchase another license of Windows for your computer. This is true unless you want to personally upgrade the operating system version, for example going from Windows 7 Home Premium to Windows 7 Ultimate. If your system came shipped with Windows 7 Home Premium from the factory, you are permitted to reinstall that same operating system (provided you use the system recovery discs, the hidden recovery partition, or another custom install method that will use the OEM license key on the sticker) as many times as you wish to on that same computer. This is true provided that you do not install too many additional components onto that computer. For example, changing out your motherboard on that Dell OEM computer may cause Windows to believe that you are trying to install the Windows license on a different computer (which would violate the EULA) and you will then have activation problems.

– Some computers you purchase, believe it or not, do not include either a recovery disc or a recovery partition! However, they do include a backup imaging program so that you can make your own recovery disc. Fail to do so and you’ll be in a world of hurt later on. Fortunately, this isn’t the norm for modern computers so hopefully this is a rare case.

– Starting with Windows 7, Home Premium users are also allowed to perform a complete PC image backup of their computer. This means that even if you have a recovery partition but would still want to have a recovery disc at hand, you can do so with the Windows Backup and Restore utility. If you are sick of having to uninstall the same trialware every time you perform a system reinstallation, then you’ll want to create your own PC backup reinstallation discs. Simply reinstall your system to factory defaults, uninstall unnecessary programs, “do” install programs you will be using, and then finally create the complete PC backup image. Next time you need to wipe your computer clean again, rather than using the original recovery discs or recovery partition that shipped with your computer, you can now use your own reinstallation media. This will help you save a lot of time as you now have a baseline image to work with.

– Please do not get suckered into paying an extra fee for recovery media at the time of your computer purchase. Some stores might try to get you to spend money by helping you to create your own recovery DVD’s. Well guess what? It’s a bunch of crap. You can easily create your own recovery media as long as you have Windows 7 Home Premium or higher. If you have Windows XP or Windows Vista Home Premium, you can still create your own recovery media by using free image backup utilities such as Macrium Reflect.

– I mentioned earlier that you might get away with borrowing a friend’s OEM reinstallation disc if you have lost yours. I say “might” because there is so much confusion surrounding this topic. To get the best results, you’ll want to find a reinstallation disc that matches your computer manufacturer along with the operating system version you have installed. For example, if your computer is from Dell and it came with Windows 7 Home Premium installed, then you’ll need to borrow a OEM reinstallation disc that is also from Dell and that is also meant to be installed with the Windows 7 Home Premium operating system. If you use another version, you’ll have activation issues because your license key (the sticker on the bottom of your laptop or on the back of your desktop) is meant to be only used with that version of Windows. If you try to reinstall your OEM computer with a retail install disc, that will give you activation issues as well without you having to perform some type of hack or by calling Microsoft. To spare yourself all this mess, do yourself a favor and just re-purchase the reinstallation media if you have lost the original. The cost will no doubt be much less than if you would have given your computer for a technician to repair. They’ll most likely do the same factory reformat I’ve explained in this article anyway so you might as well do it yourself and save a lot of money. I’ve actually given a rant on this subject matter so read it here if you’re up for it.

In the End…

You’ve learned of a quick way to easily reset your computer back to factory defaults. Although doing so is a bit drastic and shouldn’t be used unless there is no other option, it’s still nice to know that the procedure to do so is very simple and can be performed by just about anyone who can follow basic instructions! If you bring in your malware infested computer to a repair shop, either a mom-and-pop’s or a big name retailer, chances are they’ll perform the same repair operation and charge you an arm and a leg for it. Why? Because they believe you don’t know any better. You’ve got a clean computer, every nasty bit of malware is removed, your important data have been restored (hopefully) and you’re left with a clean slate to start over. What’s not to like except for the price tag that comes with it?

You can easily perform this same procedure because you are actually entitled to it believe it or not. When you purchased that computer, you’ve actually purchased that license of Windows as well and the nice people who works for these computer manufacturer’s allow you to reset your computer to the way it was when you first turned it on. Why not do it yourself rather than give someone $100+ to perform that “right” for you? As long as you understand the implications of performing the recovery operation and can follow basic instructions, there shouldn’t be anything to worry about.

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