Windows System Restore: You can adjust this utility to save your PC image more often

I noticed that Windows wasn’t creating restore points as often as I wanted them. I set out to discover how I—and you—can better control how often this vital task happens without manual intervention.

Just about any new problem that makes Windows behave badly can be fixed by opening Windows’ System Restore and returning to an earlier time. But this only works if you have a restore point that was created before the unfortunate changes.

Restore points are also vital to Windows’ File History feature. If you want to go back to last Thursday’s version of that spreadsheet, you'd better hope that a restore point was created last Thursday. (You can avoid this problem with a good backup program.)

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Windows Live Mail stores your messages, but where? Here's how to find them

Ed Faris asked where Microsoft’s Windows Live Mail program stores his email.

If you don’t know where your important files are, you can’t be sure you’re backing them up. And if they’re not backed up, you can lose them.

And not knowing an important file’s location isn’t just about backup. If your files disappear, it’s easier to recover them if you know where to look.

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What to do if someone steals your IP address

Sam Cook’s ISP informed him that he has been downloading illegal material. He has done no such thing. He asked me to help him solve this problem.

Neither your ISP nor anyone else can actually tell what you are doing on the Internet. But they can follow the activity of your public IP address—the one your router uses to access the Internet. And if someone else uses that address for unsavory purposes, you could become a prime suspect.

As I’ve previously explained, your public IP address is readily accessible on the Internet. Anyone can use it to discover your general location (your neighborhood, not your house) and your ISP. Your ISP can identify it as yours, and will do so if subpoenaed.

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The easy answer to the laptop vs. desktop question: Use a docking station

Henry Johnston wants a PC with the advantages of both a desktop and a laptop. But he can’t afford to buy two computers.

There’s no way to get all of the advantages of a desktop and laptop without buying two computers. You simply can’t slide next year’s most powerful graphics card into a PC that could count as carry-on luggage. Laptops are generally less powerful than similarly priced desktops, and always less upgradable.

But if you’re willing to make a few compromises, you get something close to your needs and desires.

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What happens when a hard drive crashes

When Manoj Yadav took his dead PC to a repair shop, he was told that the drive had crashed. He asked me what physically happens to a drive to crash it.

Hard drives, unlike the SSDs slowly replacing them, are mechanical machines with moving parts. Each drive has one or more spinning platters, extremely tiny magnetic read/write heads, two motors, and a fair amount of circuitry. When working properly, one motor spins the platters at a very fast speed—usually 5400rpm or 7200rpm. The other motor moves the read/write head in and out with microscopic precision. The head doesn’t come into physical contact with the platter, but it floats on a cushion of air that may be as little as five nanometers. That’s less than 0.0000002 inch.

It’s a wonder they work at all.

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Prepare to take your laptop to another country

Yoni Shanni wants to take a US-purchased laptop to Israel, and asked me for advice.

Traveling internationally with a laptop is a lot easier than it was when I first wrote about it in 2000—at least when it comes to hardware compatibilities. Back then, I had to make my dial-up modem work with the German telephone system. Today, ethernet and Wi-Fi are pretty much everywhere.

In today’s more paranoid world, your biggest challenges will likely involve protecting files and crossing international borders.

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Recover a stolen laptop, or prepare for the day your laptop is stolen

Sylvia Chepkurui asked, “Can I recover my stolen laptop using the serial number?”

Probably not, but having the serial number gives you at least some chance of recovery. Without it, even if the police find your laptop in a stash of stolen property, you would have no way of proving it’s yours.

And no, booting the computer, entering your password, and showing your files won’t work—unless it’s recovered in the first few hours after the theft. Stolen computers’ hard drives are almost always wiped clean of any record of the lawful owner.

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