20 Things You Didn't Know Your PC Could Do
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Each morning when I get into the office, I hang up my coat, drop my bag in a corner, and start the process of turning on my PC. Five minutes later, I'm ready to work after waiting for the machine to boot, typing in my network password, waiting for plug-ins to load, and finally opening all the applications I use each day. Who needs all that waiting?
Try this little experiment if you'd like to save some time: Go to the Start menu and click
If the option did work, your PC should quickly return to the state you left it in--with applications open, MP3s playing and everything--when you press the power button again. This feature, called Suspend to RAM, saves almost as much power as turning off your computer, by shutting down nearly every PC component and storing the machine's state in system memory.
Not all systems support Suspend to RAM, and some that do support it don't come with the option enabled. To begin with, you need to be running Windows 98 SE, Me, 2000, or XP. If you are and things still don't work as expected, check your machine's hardware support by rebooting and then entering your PC's setup utility. (Watch the screen as the PC boots; it should tell you which key to press.) The labels mentioned below will vary, but they should be typical.
Look for a power-savings or power-management category. Search there for settings related to suspend modes. Enable any setting labeled 'Suspend Mode' or 'ACPI Function'. If you can choose different types of suspend mode (my home PC has a setting called 'ACPI Suspend Type'), select Suspend to RAM by choosing
If you're running a pre-XP OS, double-click
You won't exactly be making news with your PC, but with a Webcam, a green backdrop, and
Visual Communicator comes with plenty of professional-looking effects, transitions, and overlays that you can add to your presentation. Use it to put that annoying accounting guy's PowerPoint presentation to shame, or pull in video clips from your child's soccer game and produce a home version of SportsCenter.
Don't bother packing your cell phone charger the next time you head out on a business trip. If you're carrying a laptop, or if there is a PC equipped with USB at your destination, you can use a simple USB adapter to charge your phone. Adapters like
Strap a notebook PC to
Don't be surprised if you occasionally end up late for a meeting when you rely on your PC's clock. Most computers do a poor job of keeping time, losing as much as a couple of seconds a day. That may not seem like a big deal, but let it go on for a few months and it's more than enough to put your PC's clock several minutes on the slow side.
Windows XP users can solve this problem easily. Simply right-click the clock in the corner of the taskbar, click
A free program like Thinking Man Software's Dimension 4 can perform the same task for PCs running earlier versions of Windows. Dimension 4 can operate in the background, syncing your clock every few minutes, or the application can do its thing as soon as it detects a Net connection, and then shut down and get out of your way. On a broadband-connected PC, it often can correct your time and exit before all of your plug-ins load.
Case modders like Pelis use Dremel tools and ingenuity to add all sorts of stuff--from useful tweaks like increased cooling to crazy stuff like cold-cathode lighting, clear acrylic windows, and, well, coffeemakers--to their anything-but-beige PCs. In a sense, case mods are like an external version of desktop customization. As people spend more time with their PCs, they're finding new ways to make them look and feel like their own.
Premodded PCs from companies like Voodoo Computers and CyberPower are starting to appear in our
But it doesn't have to be that way, as Mike Chin, editor and publisher of
If you want a quieter PC, you need to find and replace the loudest part in your case, and then work from there. As a quick test, open your case and carefully cover each fan, noting any change in noise. When you identify a particularly loud component, look for a replacement.
Silent PC Review features a section that recommends parts it has noise-tested, but those parts can be hard to find. Online specialty stores such as
According to Chin, one of the loudest components is usually your CPU's fan and heat sink. A replacement heat sink like the $45
Hard drives are another likely culprit. Most of a drive's noise comes from the vibration produced by constantly spinning the discs at high rpm. If you have an extra 5.25-inch drive bay, you can use a product such as NoiseMagic's $30
Finally, look at your power supply and at the other fans in your case--especially small ones, which can emit a high-pitched whine. Some, like the fan on your motherboard's chip set, can be replaced with noiseless heat sinks. Graphics cards require extensive cooling, making quiet replacements tough to build. One made by Zalman includes a top-mounted fan and covers an adjacent PCI slot.
What does all this work get you? Chin says it goes beyond a more enjoyable computing experience: "My ability to concentrate on my work is about twice what it was when I had noisy PCs. It's not just about making it pleasant, it's about productivity."
Is the latest crop of Mac ads getting to you? If you're tired of the taunts of your Mac-loving friends, take heart in a few tweaks that can make your PC look almost as slick as one of those overpriced desk lamps.
Want a more Mac-like desktop? Stardock's $50
If the sleek-looking case is what you really desire, take some inspiration from the "Rotten Apple" case modification that hobbyist Brian Holmes built for
Specialty-paper vendors--for example,
Everyone knows how long it can take to get up to speed on a new machine. Organizing your desktop, storing your files and e-mail in the right place, and setting up your favorite bookmarks can take hours each time you migrate to a new PC or have to use an unfamiliar one on a business trip. Fortunately, there are some ways you can speed up the process.
Pair Desktop DNA with a key chain--size USB flash-memory device for a neat way to carry your PC in your pocket. USB memory keys can store up to 2GB these days--more than enough to hold application settings and critical files for a typical PC.
If you're concerned about privacy on the PCs you'll be using temporarily,
If you aren't quite ready to shell out the money for a rewritable DVD drive, the CD-RW drive that you probably already have can tide you over. Almost every CD-burning package includes an option to burn Video CDs that will play in most DVD players. Check the section on supported formats in your DVD player's manual to confirm that VCD will work on yours. If you see listings for CD-R and VCD or Super VCD (SVCD) formats, you're good to go.
Fire up your CD-mastering software and look for a Video CD project option. Roxio's Easy CD Creator keeps it in the 'Make a photo or video CD' section. In Ahead's Nero, it's in 'Other CD formats'. To compile a disc, drag video files into the CD project. Most software will convert video files to the correct format for you. Finish your project, pop in a blank CD, and test it out.
Just don't expect VCDs to look as good as DVDs. A VCD stores video at about half the resolution of a DVD to help make up for the difference in capacity. It also uses MPEG-1 encoding, an earlier version of the MPEG-2 compression used on DVDs, and it maxes out at 74 minutes of VHS-quality video per disc. An SVCD disc uses a better encoding scheme to record video at closer to DVD quality. Either Video CD format looks good enough for general purposes--such as archiving shows recorded on a TV-tuner card.
Note: If you plan to burn SVCDs, you may have to resize your video beforehand so that it will display correctly; click
A crash-free PC may be impossible, but you can have a PC that restarts automatically if it freezes up.
If you have a broadband connection and $13 (for a yearly subscription), your PC can play your MP3s for you anywhere.
I hate having to do the multiremote shuffle just to watch a DVD on my home theater system. That's why Philips's Pronto-series remotes--touch-screen LCDs that can learn the codes in your existing controls--are so attractive, though their $400-to-$1000 prices aren't. But if you have an infrared-equipped PDA, a download can turn it into your dream remote. For Palm OS devices, try
Computer mice have been around for ages, and (apart from the addition of scroll wheels) we're still using them the same way we did 20 years ago. Isn't this getting a little old? Don't we need some new ways to interact with computers?
Conventional wisdom has held that voice recognition would be the answer, but out-of-the-box accuracy isn't improving, and training such software takes time. That's why many developers are now turning to gesture recognition as a means to boost our PC control options.
Jeff Doozan's freeware plug-in,
Gestures made an appearance in one of last year's popular PC games: In Lionhead Studios' Black & White, players can draw simple shapes like spirals and stars to cast spells. Microsoft has gotten into the act, too--its new Tablet PC operating system recognizes more than 40 gestures that a user can make with the stylus.
PDAs and PC clocks aren't the only things you can sync. Thanks to
This one may be a little nutty, but you have to admit nobody knew PCs could do it. In fact, I'm still not sure they can. This clever but crazy hack runs a virtual needle around a scanned image of an LP to create a .wav file of the recorded music. You won't want to rip your old LPs this way, though. Programmer Ofer Springer's demonstration file, a reconstructed recording of Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons," sounds like it's being played at your neighbor's house--across the street. Still, it's good enough that you can recognize bits of the melody. See
Between my 19-inch monitor and my 300-watt tower system, it never feels like winter as long as my PC's on. All those drives, chips, and add-in cards generate lots of heat inside today's PCs, to the point where a couple of them can effectively heat a small home office. Here's a look at how much some typical PC components can change the temperature of a small room.
Take your PC on a trip down memory lane by running a 20-year-old program or two. Software emulators harness the power of your PC to run a virtual version of an older machine. Sites like EmuUnlim.com can point you to a downloadable emulator for virtually any antiquated computer, from the
For a retro gaming fix, check out
One caveat: While some early programs such as