16 PC Mysteries Solved!

Why won't my motherboard beep as my PC boots up?

Most motherboards emit a loud beep when you power on the PC to let you know that they're working properly. If something goes wrong, they'll emit a specific sequence of beeps that you can look up in your motherboard's manual to troubleshoot the problem.

If your motherboard doesn't emit any beeps, and your PC isn't booting properly, the board may be dead. Verify that it is plugged in properly and try booting up again; if you still don't hear any beeps and your PC doesn't power on, you may need a new motherboard.

Alternatively, the motherboard may use on-screen notifications during the boot sequence, and LEDs on the motherboard itself, in place of beeps.

What is IPS, and why is it desirable?

ISPS
Illustration by Parko Polo
When shopping for a new monitor, you may be puzzled about the difference between displays that employ Twisted Nematic panels and displays that contain newer In-Plane Switching panels.

IPS panels are superior to older TN panels because they can display images with a broader range of color and brightness values, and because they offer a wider range of good viewing angles than TN displays do. In addition, IPS panels don't react as strongly to touch as TN displays (which tend to lighten and blur under pressure), making them ideal for use as touchscreens. Though IPS was initially developed in 1996, the technology is still not standard; thus, when you compare monitor models, you may see displays that offer TN panels and such IPS-panel variants as Super IPS and IPS Pro.

Most IPS variants offer improvements over the basic IPS-panel technology. Nevertheless, a few good reasons remain for preferring an older TN-panel display to an IPS-panel display. Because TN panels are cheaper to produce, monitors that incorporate them tend to cost less. Also, TN panels can achieve greater brightness levels than most IPS variants, and they have much faster refresh rates, which makes them better for stereoscopic 3D applications.

How can Thunderbolt make my PC perform better?

Thunderbolt
Thunderbolt is the fancy name for a new high-speed interface designed by Intel. You may have heard about it back in 2011 when Apple updated its MacBook Pro laptops to include Thunderbolt ports. Only now are we beginning to see Windows laptops equipped with Thunderbolt ports appearing on the market.
Thunderbolt ports are nice if you can get them, because they're so much faster and more efficient at moving data between devices. The Thunderbolt interface combines the high-speed PCI Express interface and the DisplayPort interface into a single interface supporting a serial data stream that is easy to transmit over long distances. Since Thunderbolt can transmit data, audio, video, and power over a single cable, hardware manufacturers can reduce the number of cables and ports that they must provide for connecting to different devices. The technology allows you to daisy-chain up to seven Thunderbolt devices if you have enough cables and ports to do so. Just run a Thunderbolt cable from your PC to your external hard drive, from your external hard drive to your sound system, and thence into your monitor.

This arrangement works only if every Thunderbolt device on the chain can pass data along the chain­--and that could be a problem, since Thunderbolt technology is still new, and few Thunderbolt-capable devices are on the market. (See "Use Speedy Thunderbolt Hardware for Faster Data Transfers" for examples of some currently available products.)

Thunderbolt ports are still rare enough that you'll probably have to invest in some adapters if you want to start using this new technology right away; but you can already buy Thunderbolt adapters for common Mac standards such as FireWire, and we should start seeing USB and HDMI adapters shortly. Look for more Thunderbolt devices from Acer, Asus, and Lenovo before the end of 2012.

Fun fact: Thunderbolt was originally designed to transmit data by fiber optics, but almost all Thunderbolt cables to date use copper wires instead, to keep manufacturing costs low. As of our publication date, only one company, Sumitomo, sells Thunderbolt cables built around optical fiber. Although optical fiber can transmit data faster than copper and over longer distances, it's also more expensive to produce. Contemporary copper-based Thunderbolt devices are still blazing fast and can transfer data at theoretical speeds of up to 10 gigabits per second, but when we'll see more true fiber-optic Thunderbolt cables on the market remains a mystery.

Why is printer ink so expensive?

printer ink
Photograph by Robert Cardin
The short answer: Because printer manufacturers can get away with charging you that much. Without ink, your printer is just a big paperweight, and companies like Canon, HP, and Lexmark know it. That's why they can afford to sell printers for under $100; they're betting that most printer owners will continue to invest in ink cartridges that may cost $20 to $40 a pop over the course of several (or many) years. Third-party refilled or remanufactured ink cartridges may be a lower-cost alternative, but some are messy to install or deliver inferior print quality.

That's because printer ink is surprisingly difficult to replicate. But perhaps we shouldn't find this difficulty so surprising. Even consumer-grade printer ink is a technological marvel--capable of remaining fluid at extremely high temperatures, and then drying instantly on paper after being shot through a tiny nozzle at a speed of roughly 30 miles per hour. Good luck getting your ballpoint pen cartridges to match those requirements!

Of course, printer ink is less expensive if you buy a printer that matches your printing needs. Melissa Riofrio, PCWorld senior editor and printer aficionado, has spilled plenty of ink in the process of reporting on the printer industry over the years; her testing suggests that purchasing a more expensive printer ($200 or above) is usually a smart decision if you print more than 250 pages per month, as ink and toner replacements for expensive printers tend to cost less than replacement cartridges for cheaper models. However, if your print output is less than that, stick with the cheapest printer that meets your needs.

Next: Why does iTunes lose track of my music?

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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