16 PC Mysteries Solved!
Why do I need administrator access for some tasks?
It's a security precaution. Windows requires you to have administrator access in order to modify or delete files, if doing so might affect other people who use the computer. This usually isn't a problem if you set up the PC yourself, since the primary account on any Windows machine is assigned administrator privileges by default; but if you need access to your PC's administrator account without a password (if you bought the PC used, for example) you could be in a pickle.
Normally, gaining administrator access in Windows when you don't know the password to the account entails either reinstalling Windows or using third-party software like the Offline NT & Password Editor to reset the password. PCWorld Contributing Editor Lincoln Spector has written about this issue extensively in his Answer Line column, and you can find his advice on using the Offline NT & Password Editor to gain administrator access.
Fun fact: A hidden administrator account on every Windows 7 PC has privileges that supersede any other user's--and disables all User Account Controls by default. To see it, you must first log in to your Windows 7 PC with an account that has administrator access. From there, right-click the Command Prompt application in your Applications folder and select Run As Administrator. Once the command prompt is open, type net user administrator /active:yes and press Enter. If the command executes successfully, you should be able to exit the Command Prompt, log out of your Windows account, and see the now-visible Administrator account. To cloak it again, follow the same process, changing the Command Prompt entry to read net user administrator /active:no.
Why do I have to reactivate software after upgrading my motherboard?
Most programs link their serial key to the computer you install them on--and most software vendors tie your unique product key to your PC's MAC address, which your ethernet adapter generates. Some apps remain tied to the serial volume number of your hard drive, but many vendors prefer to use the MAC address because it is unique to your PC and is easy to transmit to the vendor's website when you register your software online. The ethernet adapter is usually part of the motherboard; when you upgrade the board, you obtain a new MAC address, and many of your applications must be reactivated.
To combat software piracy, some PC games require you to reactivate them and to verify your identity after a hardware change. Also, some game publishers now require players to be constantly connected to the publisher's servers to play their games.
What is a DisplayPort connection, and how does it affect me?
If you recently purchased a new PC or monitor, you may be mystified by the "DP" or "DisplayPort" connection on your new device. This component is exactly what it sounds like: a digital multimedia interface for shuttling data between your PC and your display.
Introduced in 2008, DisplayPort is an open industry standard that companies such as Apple, HP, Intel, and Samsung support. But we have VGA, DVI, HDMI, and now Thunderbolt cables for connecting computers, tablets, and smartphones to monitors and HDTVs. So why should you use DisplayPort instead of a standard DVI cable?
In the first place, the technology is just plain better. DisplayPort can deliver display data to your monitor or HDTV more efficiently than DVI or VGA can, because it transfers signal data to your display in discrete packets rather than in a steady stream. Each data packet contains its own time stamp, which helps your devices assemble the data more easily into what they're supposed to display on screen. The data-packet approach also reduces distortion and image degradation, and it allows developers to modify how DisplayPort transmits their data. DisplayPort cables can carry audio data as well as video data, and they're compatible with most popular display interfaces, if you're willing to purchase an adapter. Consequently you can hook up your new graphics card with DisplayPort connectors to an old VGA/DVI monitor, though most major manufacturers plan to phase out VGA and DVI in the next decade in favor of DisplayPort.
In the long term, this is good news for PC owners, in part because the DisplayPort standard is open and royalty-free (which should encourage competition in the market and lower prices). Also, DisplayPort connectors are more powerful and easier to hook up than DVI or VGA cables; instead of fiddling with tiny thumbscrews or worrying about bending a bunch of minuscule pins, you can quickly plug a (significantly smaller) DisplayPort cable into the back of your devices.
Why do certain apps always run at startup?
You may have told them to, or they may have assumed that you would have done so if you'd thought of it. Free programs such as iTunes, Spotify, and Steam are particularly aggressive about configuring themselves to launch automatically during startup; but some premium paid software suites (like Adobe's) are similarly presumptuous.
Of course, having apps for input devices, antivirus protection, and other critical functions run at startup is a good thing, even if they cause Windows to boot a little slower.
The setting for telling a program when to start up is usually located in the application's Preferences, Tools, or Options menu; consult your program manual for specific guidance.
If you can't stop a program from launching at startup from within the program itself, edit the Windows startup sequence. Click the Start button and type msconfig in the search box. This should open your PC's System Configuration utility, where you can change how your system boots and what applications and services it launches at startup. Select the Startup tab, scroll through the list of programs, and uncheck everything that you don't want to start automatically. If the program you want to halt doesn't appear in the System Configuration utility, don't panic; PCWorld Senior Editor Loyd Case points out that a few applications use the Windows Task Scheduler to launch themselves during startup, so you'll need to open the Windows Task Scheduler and disable them manually.
It's a good idea to let programs that you don't recognize (such as the Default Manager and Java Platform Updater) run automatically to keep your PC purring along smoothly. If you run into trouble, simply return to the System Configuration utility and let the troublesome application launch during startup.