Patrick Marshall answers your personal technology questions each week.
Q: I have a 10-year-old HP Pavilion running Windows 7. It is running fine (mostly) but I am considering upgrading to Windows 10 and replacing this machine. My question is: Should I wait until we know the chip makers have addressed the recently reported chip security vulnerability problem? How would I know if a machine has a chip with the fix?
— Chris Richards, Camano Island
A: I don’t recommend waiting for manufacturers to deliver a new generation of more secure CPUs that don’t have vulnerabilities such as the recently reported Spectre and Meltdown, which allow hackers direct access to data moving though the CPU chips.
First, you’ll gain far more in security by moving to a new machine with Windows 10 now. But also, CPU manufacturers are issuing firmware updates to block the vulnerabilities. So what you should do in any case is make sure to install any Windows updates and to check with HP for a CPU firmware update.
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The downside of the firmware updates, however, is that they can impact (negatively, of course) your computer’s performance, especially on a CPU-intensive task, such as decompressing files. Most users, however, probably won’t notice a slowdown at all.
Q: After a recent Windows 10 update, my default browser (IE) starts by itself, loading my homepage. I have searched for a setting to stop this from happening and can’t find anything. It’s not harmful, but it is annoying. I own the computer and the software … NOT Microsoft. What’s up?
— Ed Wietecha, Sammamish
A: I hear you. Fortunately, this annoyance is easy to get rid of. Just right click in your system tray and launch Task Manager. Next, click on the Startup tab and locate Internet Explorer in the list of programs that are started when you boot Windows. Right click on the IE entry and then select Disable. From now on the only downside is that you’ll have to manually launch IE when you want to use it.
Q: I read with interest your recent column addressing Microsoft tech scams. I recently had a “security alert” pop-up, and it gave me a number to call. The person had a strong accent, so it was difficult to understand him, but I questioned whether he was really Microsoft or not. I went through steps he gave me to give him access and just before I took the last step I felt something was wrong so I told him I was going to do more research before giving someone access. He insisted he was with Microsoft.
I found the real Microsoft tech-support number online, and I had them check out the “security alert,” which in fact did not exist. They confirmed that the number I had called was indeed NOT Microsoft.
And since I had them on the line they spent considerable time with me fixing Outlook synchronization, at no cost.
— Sherry Hill, Tenino
A: Good move, Sherry. It’s a relief to hear that you dodged the scam. And it’s a further warning to others: Don’t call numbers that appear in pop-ups! Instead, look up the appropriate number to call on the company’s website. And don’t rely on a search engine to, say, search for “Microsoft support phone number.” You’ll find support services that look a lot like Microsoft but that aren’t. Instead, go to the Microsoft site and initiate a support request.