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Helpful technical support may not come free

© St. Petersburg Times
published February 17, 2003

Q. On Feb. 3, I read your comments related to technical support for free antivirus programs compared with purchased ones. I bought Norton SystemWorks 2003 and had trouble installing the program. I could not find any telephone support other than opting to pay $29 per incident or calling a 900 number and paying by the minute for technical support. Norton does offer support on its Web site and also by e-mail. I received information from technical support by e-mail that assisted in installing the program correctly. Where is the "free" telephone support for Norton SystemWorks? If such support is available, I would like to have the phone number.

A. If you go back and read that column, you'll find that I never said Norton (Symantec) offered free telephone support. I'm glad to see that its free e-mail technical support was able to solve your problem. The free antivirus program I mentioned was AVG Antivirus by Grisoft Inc. If you go to its Web page ( and follow the links for the free version of its antivirus, you'll see that it explicitly states that there is no technical support available. If you're comfortable with that kind of arrangement, go for it.

However, if I'm making a recommendation for our general readership, the responsible thing to do is to recommend a product that includes technical support. For what turns out to be about 10 cents a day, products such as Norton and McAfee are bargains.

AntiVirus renewal troubles

Q. My Dell computer came with a 90-day trial of Norton AntiVirus. When the time was up, I started getting reminders that I should renew my service. I have tried several times with no luck. I called the number given (not a toll-free number). After listening to several choices and listening to ads, I was informed that if I wished to renew over the telephone, there would be an additional $10 charge. I never spoke to a person. I have been to Norton's Web site several times attempting to renew, but it hasn't worked. They don't seem to have an e-mail address that I can address my renewal request to. Do you have any suggestions or should I just throw in the towel and go buy a new McAfee antivirus CD?

A. I'm not sure which steps you took to renew your subscription, but I would recommend that you go through the technical support trouble shooter at Select your Norton product and version and click the Continue button. Select "Renewing subscription services" and click Continue. This will launch the subscriptions services trouble shooter in a separate window. Click Go and enter something similar to "I cannot renew online" in the area provided to describe your problem. This will launch a series of questions and choices. You can follow along or click "None of these options are appropriate." Eventually you will come to the form where you can send an e-mail to its tech support (which is free) describing your problem.

Yes, I know that it makes you jump through a lot of hoops just to get some basic support. But Norton wants to make sure you've tried to solve the problem yourself, which keeps its (very expensive) support costs down and in turn helps keep the product more affordable.

PC, Mac networking

Q. Is there a way to use a router to share an Ethernet connection to the Internet with a PC and an Apple Macintosh? Also does the router work with Zone Alarm?

A. Good question. Since I have a mixed marriage where my wife is Mac (she works in the school system) and I'm PC, there have been occasions when she has brought home an iMac and just plugged it into an empty port on our router-hub based network. You'll need to make sure the Mac is configured for dynamic host configuration protocol, or DHCP, or whatever your home router-hub TCP/IP subnet setup is. Many routers work with software firewalls such as Zone Alarm (DLink, Linksys, etc.). You can find out the details by checking the company's Web site.


Q. I have a Gateway computer that uses RIMM memory. I intended to add some memory after seeing ads for DIMM at good prices. Then I saw the cost of RIMM. What is the difference between RIMM and DIMM, besides the cost? Does the extra cost mean it is better or faster? And why would RIMM be in a computer sold to a novice who might want to upgrade?

A. RIMM is Rhombus dynamic random access memory, or RDRAM, built into a single physical module. Since some motherboard chipsets require that RAM be inserted in pairs, RIMM satisfies that requirement and saves space at the same time by combining two modules in one. RDRAM is faster than synchronous dynamic random access memory, or SDRAM, which is what DIMM is.

Explaining the actual engineering differences and why it's faster is beyond the scope of this column. What it comes down to is faster data transfer and shorter latency. I'm not sure the typical home PC user running the typical home applications would see a dramatic difference between the two. The first rule of system performance is that your system is only as fast as its slowest component. It won't matter how fast your central processing unit or RAM is when you're waiting on data transfer from hard drive, the slowest component in your system. Until hard drive technology takes a huge leap, the performance benefits of faster CPU and RAM speeds will be incremental.

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