5 simple answers to common tech problems

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You've got tech questions, we've found the answers. We help you make the most of your technology by answering your thorniest tech questions. So if you're wondering what to buy, how to plug it in, or how to fix it, we can help.

1. Signs your computer is dying

Q. I'm seeing a growing number of software glitches on my computer. Does that mean it's time for a new one?

A. It depends. If the glitches are coming from a single program, then it's probably just that program. Re-install it or find a replacement. If freezes, crashes and corrupt data are happening in several programs, it could be hardware-related. Use a program like CrystalDiskInfo to check for hard drive trouble. A program like SpeedFan can tell you if your computer is overheating, or if the voltages are way off. Both can indicate hardware failure is on the way. Learn four more signs that your computer is dying.

2. Stop Google from tracking your search history

Q. A friend said that Google is keeping a complete history of my searches. Is that true?

A. Yes, that's true. To see your search history, start by going to Google Web history and sign in with a Google account. You can clear your history. Then click the gear icon and select Settings. Next to where it says "Web history is on" click the Turn Off button. If you want to stop targeted ads altogether, visit the Google Ads Settings page and select the opt-out setting.

3. An essential tweak for Windows 8.1

Q. I upgraded to Windows 8.1, but it still works the same as 8. I was hoping it would work more like 7. Am I missing something?

A. Windows 8.1 did introduce some features you'll like, but they're not turned on by default. From the Start screen, go to the desktop. Right-click on the Taskbar at the bottom and select Properties. Go to the Navigation tab and check the "When I sign in or close all apps on the screen, go to the desktop instead of Start" option. Now the computer will boot to the Desktop. That will make it feel more like the Windows you know. I would also select "Show my desktop background on Start." This syncs your Desktop and Start screen backgrounds. Trust me; it helps. Click here for more Windows 8.1 tweaks you'll want to try.

4. Price check apps save you money

Q. I use my smartphone for price comparisons while I'm shopping, but looking up items online takes forever. Is there an easier way?

A. You bet! There are several price check apps that let you scan an item's barcode to bring up instant price information. You can compare prices to other major retailers or online shops. Take a look at Pic2shop, Red Laser and PriceGrabber to start. If you want to go even further, an app like Smoopa gives you rewards for finding and sharing local deals.

5. Smartphones lead to identity fraud

Q. I feel fairly confident I can protect my identity on my computer, but not my smartphone. Any suggestions?

A. You're not alone. Forty percent of people in a recent survey didn't feel confident they could protect their identity. Where a smartphone is concerned, there are a few rules. You'll want to lock your phone with a password or pattern. Check your manual for directions. Make sure you don't use an obvious PIN like 0000 or 1234. You'll also want a remote tracking wiper app installed in case your phone is stolen. Find My iPhone, Where's My Droid? and Lookout Mobile Security are good options.

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Kim Komando hosts the nation's largest talk radio show about consumer electronics, computers and the Internet. To get the podcast, watch the show or find the station nearest you, visit: www.komando.com/listen. To subscribe to Kim's free email newsletters, sign-up at: www.komando.com/newsletters.