Archive for November, 2011

FutureProof: End-of-Year Purchases

End of year purchasing is coming around for many institutions in our nation’s capitol. Budgets are being constrained, and clients are curious about how to purchase a computer that will last them into the future.

BLOGCost Comparison

Investing in a reliable high-end machine, rather than multiple cheaper or used machines will get the most life out of our budgets and dollars.  This investment in a nicer machine now will mean that your users will maintain their productivity over the years. They’ll also be happier with their computers, and without complaints of slow computers, everyone is much more productive.

The optimum PC purchased today should last for at least three years. It should be running Windows 7 (64 bit), with a core i5 or i7 processor. The machine should also have at least 8 GB of RAM, and if you’re serious about future-proofing your technology, the computer should contain a solid state drive.

Now that may sound like gibberish and understandable only to the techno-priests, but let us quickly break it down for you and show prove how these will be the fastest, most secure computers you can buy today for use into tomorrow.


Windows 7 brings many enhancements to both security and ease of use over its predecessors Windows Vista and XP. Connecting to wireless networks is simpler than ever allowing users to spend more time working than calling tech support.  Window management, Internet browsing, word processing, and a host of other improvements have been made in Windows 7 making it the ideal operating system.


The i5 and i7 processor line that intel produces are some of the fastest yet power-efficient computer brains on the market. These processors are top of the line and will be competitive in speed tests as the years march on, while still saving your office on electric bills.  Regardless of the exact speed the i5 or i7 processor winner and worth the money.


More RAM allows users to multitask more applications without their computer slowing down. Programs increase in system resource requirements with each year and lets face it, we like to leave our programs running all the time instead of closing Outlook, Word, or the seventeen tabs we have open in Firefox to speed things up.  An investment in RAM now means more speed and less hassle later.


The hard drive is the file cabinet of the computer.  All files are stored on it and must be acquired from it when the computer is running.  Until recently hard drives were made only of spinning disks which were prone to wearing out and were limited by the speed the disks spin (think very tiny, ultra fast record player).  Solid state drives don’t have any moving parts thus decreasing we are and tear and increasing speeds.  A solid state drive provides near instant boot time, and instant access to user files.  The current downside is their price.  They become exponentially more expensive the larger their storage capacity is.  However, local drive space is of less importance these days, as saving things locally to your computer is discouraged in a server based environment.  The server is backed up regularly and provides data redundancy while individual computers are not.  If a users computer crashes most likely all of their data will be gone unless they saved it to the server.  To compliment the reduced size of hard drives, offices can store their precious documents in shared storage on a device such as a Network Attached Storage drive, file server or other cloud services.  Hence you can buy smaller solid state drives and get the benefit of their increased speed while not sacrificing total storage capacity for your office.

As you plan for end of year purchasing make sure to talk with your HouseCall systems administrator.  They can provide you with a detailed layout of your current technical situation and provide recommendations on how to save money, become more efficient, and get the biggest bang for your buck.  If you aren’t a HouseCall client give us a call and see how we can help you.

HandBrake – Video Conversion Made Easy

Video can be an effective and viral medium for communicating with constituents.  In order to make video available to constituents, converting the videos into usable formats is often necessary.  HandBrake is an outstanding software designed to make the task of ripping or converting video easy.  It is also completely free and available for Windows, Mac and Linux!  To download a copy and get started using it visit the HandBrake website.

    Whether you are ripping a video from a DVD or converting a video file on your computer the steps within HandBrake are the same:

    1. Download and install HandBrake (Download Page).

    2. Make sure the DVD you are going to rip is in your DVD drive or that the video file you want to convert is locally stored on your computer.  Having the file local on your computer will greatly speed up conversion times.

    3. Open Handbrake.  The program will open with this interface.

    HanBrake main screen

    4. Select the source for your video conversion.  Simply click on the source button and choose either video file or the DVD.  HandBrake will then scan the file for tracks which may take some time depending on how large the video is.

    Source Selection Menu

    5. When HandBrake has finished its scan, click on the Title drop down menu.  Here you will see the different Title tracks you can rip (if you are just converting a video you will only see one track).  In the case of a DVD with many tracks you may have to use the length of each track to determine what portion of the DVD that you are going to rip.  Generally you will see a very long track (the entire video) and some other shorter tracks (often special features or content).  Choose the track you wish to rip.

    Track Length Dialogue

    6.  HandBrake comes with a wide variety of preconfigured settings for conversion.  If one of these fits your needs feel free to use it.  Otherwise you will need to choose the settings you want for the video conversion.  In most cases the default settings will work perfectly.  Notice that there are controls to specify how big you would like the final file to be and the quality of that file.  HandBrake will allow you to finely tune every setting of your conversion so if you have very specific requirements you will need to dig into the advanced settings.

    7. Once you have the video and audio settings you would like make sure that you set the Destination location to where you want to save the video and give the video a name.

    8. Double check your settings and click the start button.  HandBrake will go to work and let you know when it has finished with a popup notification.  Speed of conversion will vary depending on the processing power of your computer and the length of the video.

    One last feature that is very helpful in HandBrake is the ability to queue a number of videos for conversion.  Simply go through steps 4-8 but instead of clicking start after you have configured your settings, click “Add  to Queue”.  The video will be queued up and will start as soon as the previous conversion finishes.

    If you run into any issues using this guide simply reach out to your HouseCall Systems Administrator and we will be glad to help you with using HandBrake.