PC World's Top 8 Holiday How-Tos

Hardware Tips: New Use for an Old Laptop, and More

PC World's Top 8 Holiday How-Tos

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A couple of annoying hardware problems recently forced me to get creative. I bought a refurbished Media Center PC and discovered the Blu-ray drive's Eject button isn't functional. And when I tried to sync my Apple iPhone to iTunes, it didn't work. This week I'll tell you how I worked around these problems, plus I've got a great tip on how to turn an old laptop into a secondary display.

Turn a Spare Laptop Into a Second Monitor

Adding a second monitor to your workstation can greatly improve your productivity. Take it from me: There's nothing like having your Web browser running on one screen and, say, your word processor on another.

Most desktops (and even laptops) support the addition of a second screen, and the monitors themselves are pretty affordable these days.

Of course, nothing's more affordable than gear you already have--like, say, an old laptop that's just collecting dust in a closet.

MaxiVista is a clever utility that lets you turn a second PC into a second monitor. As long as both systems are connected to your home network, you're good to go.

Most users will probably pair their desktop with a laptop, though you can just as easily configure two laptops, a laptop and a netbook, and so on. The software now supports third and fourth PCs as well.

I put MaxiVista to the test on a desktop system running Windows 7 and a laptop running Vista. It worked flawlessly. Even Windows 7 features like Aero Snap worked on the secondary system. Very impressive.

MaxiVista costs $40. There's a 14-day trial version available, which you should definitely install first to make sure your configuration works properly. I think it's a terrific solution for anyone looking to put an old or unused PC to genuinely good use.

Open a CD or DVD Tray That Won't Eject

I just bought a new (well, refurbished) Sony Media Center PC, and while it's working fine for the most part, there's one annoying glitch: The Blu-ray drive's Eject button doesn't work.

Consequently, discs stay trapped in the drive unless I minimize Windows Media Center, open Computer, right-click the drive icon, and choose Eject. Talk about a hassle!

While I'm working to resolve this with Sony's tech support, I need a faster, easier solution. And I found one: a tiny freeware app called, simply enough, EjectCD.

After extracting the program from the Zip file, I pinned it to the Windows 7 taskbar. (Vista users can do likewise by enabling the Quick Launch toolbar and dragging it there.)

Now a single click of the EjectCD icon pops open the drive. Even better, I can just as easily use a keyboard shortcut.

See, every icon in the taskbar (and Quick Launch toolbar) is automatically assigned a numerical value: 1 for the icon closest to the Start button, 2 for the next one, and so on. Pressing the Windows key and that number launches that program.

So I pinned EjectCD in that first position. Now, a tap of Windows-1 runs the app--and opens the drive.

I haven't been able to pin down the origin of this tool, which I found in an OverclockersClub forum. Thus, it's slightly use-at-your-own-risk, though as I said, it worked like a charm for me.

iPhone Sync Problems? Try This

I spent the better part of a day trying to resolve a problem with my Apple iPhone: After migrating iTunes to Windows 7, it wouldn't sync properly.

Specifically, iTunes would conk out about three-quarters of the way into backing up the iPhone. I waited hours, hoping it would eventually finish the process, but no luck.

I won't bore you with the gory details, other than to say I did a lot of resetting, restoring, waiting around, cursing, and hair-pulling, all to no avail. (I hope it comforts you to know that even we so-called experts run into crazy glitches like this.)

Finally, I tried something totally crazy: I plugged the sync cable into a different USB port. And believe it or not, that did the trick. The iPhone zipped through the backup process and was back to normal. Hallelujah.

I can't say this will solve whatever sync problems you might be experiencing, but it's definitely worth a try. (Just make sure you're not in the middle of syncing when you unplug the cable.)

Rick Broida writes PC World's Hassle-Free PC blog. Sign up to have Rick's newsletter e-mailed to you each week.

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