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Rules to Better PCs - 8 Rules

  1. Do you benchmark your PC?

    It is important to benchmark your PC so that when making a major change to your PC you can be assured that it has been an improvement.

    There are a lot of great tools that can test the speed of your hardware, but these won't tell you if, for example, upgrading to the latest version of Windows has sped up or slowed down your computer.

    PassMarkhowever will give you a holistic view of how fast your computer can run specific software

    Figure: Good Example - Done video after updating Windows to latest version

  2. Computer Rotation - Do you know when to upgrade your laptop?

    Managing multiple computers can be a challenging task, especially when it comes to keeping track of them. It can be a real pain to constantly monitor and manage numerous devices, each with its configurations and updates. Electronic gadgets should have an expiry date because their performance fades as we use them.

    For example, in the IT industry, laptops are the tools of the trade. Employers spend thousands of $ on laptops with good specs. However, these laptops deteriorate over time leading to poor performance. Some employees notice and complain, some do not notice that their laptop is no longer performing well. If you don't have a computer rotation policy, then you only renew laptops for the squeaky wheels (the people who complain).

    There are a few things that should be done with laptops in a company's fleet.

    • Rotation - Keep the fleet up-to-date
    • Waste management - Recycle old laptops

    Rotation - Keep the fleet up-to-date

    The laptops in your fleet should be fit for purpose and performant. In the old days, people used to Benchmark their laptops and it's still useful for personal machines, however, it is not the best method for enterprise asset management.

    Enterprises should buy laptops with standardized specs, in batches, at regular intervals e.g. every 6 months. Then the laptops should be rotated for employees on a regular cadence e.g. every 5 years.

    How do you figure out what cadence you replace laptops at?

    Most experts estimate a laptop’s lifespan to be 2 to 3 years. While a laptop might survive longer than its lifespan, its utility will be limited as the components become less capable of running advanced applications. However, many factors influence this lifespan, such as the quality of specifications and usage patterns. If buying high-spec laptops, a good rule of thumb is every 5 years.

    How do you track your assets

    To keep track of a laptop's lifespan, use an asset management tool e.g. Snipe-IT and use the audit option. That option allows a review date to be set after a period of time (5 years is recommended) so that the SysAdmin knows to upgrade the laptop.

    2022 10 05 9 29 51
    Figure: Power BI report - Snipe showing the oldest laptops that needs to be recycled

    Waste management - Recycle old laptops

    Once you have determined a laptop is no longer an asset to keep, then there are two options:

    1. Sell it (Recommended)
    2. Recycle - Dispose of e-waste

    You want to keep your fleet modern, but that doesn't mean the assets you are getting rid of are worthless. So, to get back a few $ sell the old assets online.

    microsoftteams image 7
    Figure: Bad example - Old laptops piled up in the server room

    microsoftteams image 8
    Figure: Good example - Posted laptop on Ebay to sell

    Recycle - Dispose of e-waste

    When electronic devices stop working and can't be sold for significant $ then they need to be recycled (not chucked). Most countries now have an e-waste policies.eg. Australian states require old electronic devices (e-waste) to be recycled, so follow the policy of the country and state your company operates ine.g. NSW Government e-waste policy e.g. VIC Government e-waster policy - makes it illegal

    How do you dispose of e-waste

    1. Check your item is accepted for electronic recycling via your government policy e.g. NSW e-waste policy
    2. Backup and delete any data from laptops, tablets, printers, and servers before you recycle them
    3. Hard drives - Securely format them (preferred) or drill them to avoid data theft
    4. Update the e-waste devices to archive them on the asset management tool

    hard drive destruction 1200x675
    Figure: Good example - Drill HDD before disposing of it

  3. Do you know the quickest way to get your Windows SOE up and running?

    Your developers should be using the latest version of Windows for security, speed, and the latest features.

    The next step is to get the Standard Operating Environment (SOE) installed. You have a few choices:

    • Manually

      • It can take over a day to install your favorite 20 or so apps
    • Windows Image

      • There is an overhead of maintaining the image as software changes
      • Recommended for large companies with company-owned devices
    • Use a package manager (e.g. chocolatey/Winget)

      • Recommended for smaller companies, and anyone running BYOD

    Use a package manager

    Assuming that Windows is already installed, then get your SOE installed fast by following these steps:

    1. Logon and configure Windows
    2. (Optional) Join the Domain
    3. Install Windows Updates
    4. Install driver & firmware updates (Tip: use an app from the manufacturer, e.g. Intel DSA)
    5. Run a script to get printers, Word templates, etc.
    6. Install and run a Chocolatey script to get most of the software
    7. Install any software not supported by Chocolatey
    8. In case you lose your laptop, it is a good idea to stick a business card to the underneath
    9. For branding, stick your company sticker to the laptop - or even better, a custom skin - see Do you brand your assets?

    login script
    Figure: Example login/branding script

    choco
    Figure: Example package manager - using chocolatey to install required software

    ssw skin
    Figure: Company branding on laptop

    1. If you are preparing the machine for someone else or migrating an old PC, you could send an email based on the template below. Don't forget to change the names where necessary:
  4. Do you use a package manager?

    A package manager is a collection of software tools that automate the process of installing, upgrading, configuring, and uninstalling computer programs in a consistent manner.

    Chocolatey is a great package manager. It is an easy-to-use way to manage software on Windows.

    chocolatey
    Figure: installing Git with Chocolatey

    To get started, open PowerShell and follow the instructions on the Chocolatey website.

    It is better to run Chocolatey in PowerShell - it may work in Command Prompt, but you're likely to have permission issues.

    choco install
    Figure: Chocolatey installation page

    Option 2: Winget

    Winget is Microsoft's own package manager that developers can use to discover, install, upgrade, remove and configure a curated set of applications.

    Winget can be installed from the Microsoft Store.

    Once installed you can search for a tool with:

    winget search {{ APP NAME }}

    And then install the tool with:

    winget install {{ APP NAME }}

    For example:

    Figure: Installing powertoys via winget

    For more information see MS Learn.

    Option 3: Homebrew

    Homebrew is the preferred option when on a Mac. Head to their website for installation instructions: https://brew.sh/

    homebrew
    Figure: Homebrew installed

  5. Do you know what to do when you have a PC problem?

    When your laptop/desktop PC malfunctions, it could be something to do with Windows updates or driver upgrades, or maybe a firmware update. Before reporting it to SysAdmins, you should follow the following steps:

    1. Run a Windows update (Settings | Windows update)
    2. If that doesn't fix the issue, check if there are any additional updates (Settings | Windows update | Aditional options | Optional updates) - Most of the driver updates will be hidden in this location

      aditional update
      Figure: Windows additional optional updates

    3. If the problem still didn't resolve then, check the manufacturer's updates via their support assist portal (e.g. If your laptop is Lenovo then open Lenovo System Updates

      lenovo update
      Figure: Lenovo System Update - Install updates (Recommended)

    4. Still, if the issue isn't fixed, report it to SysAdmins by sending an email that should include the steps that you have done to troubleshoot the problem.

    If your operating system needs to be reinstalled, follow Do you know the quickest way to get your Windows 10 SOE up and running?

  6. Do you call SysAdmins before formatting company-owned laptops?

    It is important to make sure all standards are followed before formatting a laptop that is managed by your company.

    SysAdmins follow all kinds of procedures and standards to make sure all company-owned laptops and devices are configured correctly, with the right permissions, users and applications.

    Refer to the quickest way to get your Windows 10 SOE up and running to get the best way of setting up your computer with the right applications.

    If you, for any reason, has a company-owned laptop and needs to format it for various reasons (e.g. slowness, forgotten computer, new computer) it is important to give your SysAdmins a call first to ensure any pre-steps are followed, for example:

    1. Backing up the current data in the laptop
    2. Ensuring no client data is present
    3. Ensuring the new admin username set follows the password standards

    Failing to contact your SysAdmins might lead to computers that need to be reformatted down the line, meaning unnecessary rework!

  7. Do you use a standard local admin account?

    Having a local admin account that is not the built-in admin account Windows creates at first is an important way to get access back to your system if any troubles arise.

    When first setting up, Windows creates a local administrator account that can change everything in the system – this account cannot be deleted, just disabled. It is good practice to disable this account and create a new one, following your own company password and naming standard, that is also a local administrator on the PC.

    It is also good practice to use a script (or Group Policy) to set that admin account, fewer errors than doing it manually.

    Have a look at SSW SysAdmins' script for that: https://github.com/SSWConsulting/SSWSysAdmins.LocalAdminAccount

    Having a local admin has many benefits, including:

    1. “Backdoor” or offline access if no domain controller is available to serve login requests e.g. no internet, remote locations
    2. Consistent admin user across all devices e.g. no need to guess which password or user was created for that machine

    But it also has cons:

    1. If an attacker gets the username and password for that admin account, it can control any machine – Important to have a different admin account for different types of services e.g. servers, BYO devices, laptops, desktops
    2. If a password is compromised, changing the password of all devices might be cumbersome
  8. Do you compare and synchronize your files with FreeFileSync?

    Keeping all your files and work backed up is important, but can be a very complex task to do manually, especially if multiple people are working on the project simultaneously.

    FreeFileSync:

    FreeFileSync is folder comparison and synchronization software that creates and manages backup copies of all your important files.

    When working on a complex project, there are often a large amount of files and data spread over multiple folders that need to be synchronised.

    The best way to keep your project backed up is to use software to track and synchronise of all of these changes.

    See how FreeFileSync works here:


    Notes on Synchronisation modes:

    • Update: Syncs in one direction - new and more recently updated files on the left-side will be added to the right side but not the other way. It won't delete any files. This is best to use in most cases.
    • Two Way: Syncs in two directions - new and more recently updated files on both sides will be added to both sides, and it won't delete any files.
    • Mirror: Syncs in one direction - new and more recently updated files on the left-side will be added to the right side but not the other way. WARNING: It will delete any files from the right-side that are not on the left-side. Do not use this unless you know what you are doing!!
  9. Do you call SysAdmins before formatting company-owned laptops?

    It is important to make sure all standards are followed before formatting a laptop that is managed by your company.

    SysAdmins follow all kinds of procedures and standards to make sure all company-owned laptops and devices are configured correctly, with the right permissions, users and applications.

    Refer to the quickest way to get your Windows 10 SOE up and running to get the best way of setting up your computer with the right applications.

    If you, for any reason, has a company-owned laptop and needs to format it for various reasons (e.g. slowness, forgotten computer, new computer) it is important to give your SysAdmins a call first to ensure any pre-steps are followed, for example:

    1. Backing up the current data in the laptop
    2. Ensuring no client data is present
    3. Ensuring the new admin username set follows the password standards

    Failing to contact your SysAdmins might lead to computers that need to be reformatted down the line, meaning unnecessary rework!

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