Does your computer have malware? Here are the telltale signs

Windows wouldn’t update on Warren Blake’s PC. Nor would system restore work. A malware infection seems likely. Here are some symptoms that could suggest foul play.

I’m received countless letters from readers who think they have a “virus.” The problems they describe—Blue Screens of Death, no audio,  grinding sounds inside the PC—can be attributed to virtually anything but malware.

Real malware is generally designed not to be noticed. The people who write these programs don’t want you to clean them off of your computer. But if you know what to look for, you can recognize a symptom that might be caused by malware.

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What you need to know about the cloud

Peter Mwanyama asked for a better understanding of the cloud.

The cloud is the Internet, when used for chores that are traditionally handled by local hardware and software. For instance, if you back up your files to an external hard drive, that’s local. But if you use an online service such as Mozy or Carbonite, you’re using cloud-based backup.

Another example: If you use the installed Outlook program to read email, you’re using the Internet, but not the cloud. But if you read your email on the Outlook.com webpage, you’re reading it in the cloud.

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Windows 8 and Windows 7 Safe Modes: How to enter and when to use them

No reader question today. Instead, I want to discuss Safe Mode, Windows’ stripped-down, minimum-driver environment. For years now, there’s been one quick way to enter Safe Mode—pressing F8. But that  trick doesn’t work for all Windows 8 PCs.

And even in older versions, it’s not always the easiest form of entry.

Safe Mode gives you a low-resolution, visually ugly, feature-limited Windows environment useful for diagnostic and repair purposes. You wouldn’t want to create a PowerPoint demonstration there, but if things are misbehaving, it can be a fruitful place to visit. For instance, if a program’s uninstall routine keeps failing, it just might uninstall properly in Safe Mode.

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When to image a hard drive, and when to clone it

Robert Spann asked how best to copy everything on his internal drive. Should he image the drive, or clone it?

Cloning copies the complete contents of one drive—the files, the partition tables and the master boot record—to another: a simple, direct duplicate. Imaging copies all of that to a single, very large file on another drive. You can then restore the image back onto the existing drive or onto a new one.

Typically, people use these techniques to back up the drive, or when upgrading to a larger or faster drive. Both techniques will work for each of these chores. But imaging usually makes more sense for a backup, while cloning is the easiest choice for drive upgrades.

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Personalize the Windows Explorer Navigation Bar

Windows Explorer (AKA File Explorer) offers a Navigation Bar on the left to help you select folders. Mary Hall asked how to customize it.

The Explorer Navigation Bar provides a map to the drives and folders on or accessible to your computer. Two of the sections, Favorites and Libraries, are easily configurable. The other sections are not configurable for a good reason. If you want to add a drive to the Navigation Bar, you need to add that drive from your PC (which adds it to the Navigation Bar automatically).

A quick note on the name: Microsoft has called its file manager Windows Explorer since Windows 95. With Windows 8, they renamed it File Explorer—a good change in my opinion. For this article, I’ll just call it Explorer.

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If Windows virtual memory is too low, you can increase it, but there are trade-offs

Dspenc40229’s PC occasionally complains that it’s running low on virtual memory. “How do I get more?”

Virtual memory, also known as the swap file, uses part of your hard drive to effectively expand your RAM, allowing you to run more programs than it could otherwise handle. But a hard drive is much slower than RAM, so it can really hurt performance. (I discuss SSDs below.)

[Have a tech question? Ask PCWorld Contributing Editor Lincoln Spector. Send your query to answer@pcworld.com.]

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Here's what to do when your touchscreen won't work

Miguel owns a Windows 8 laptop, upgraded to 8.1. But "the touch screen…began to fail sometimes, until it failed completely."

First things first: If you haven't done so already, reboot. Yes, it's obvious, but so many people don't think about it, and it fixes so much.

But it doesn't fix everything. So if the problem remains, follow the suggestions below. I'm assuming your PC is running Windows 8 or 8.1.

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