Build a PC, Juice Up Your Laptop

I tried it once. I built a PC from scratch and it reminded me of a Heathkit electronics kit I assembled for a Boy Scout merit badge.

Sure, I saved some money--but overall, I didn't enjoy it. Intel's motherboard manual was poorly written and confusing; I never got the front USB ports to work; and I cut my hand on a sharp edge inside of the case.

Build Your Own PC

Some of you may be interested, though, and I dug up some glass-half-full pieces you might look at. PC World's Zack Stern seemed to have fun and was clearly successful. Zack's also probably 22 and makes use of a pocket protector. (Read "Build Your Own High-Def PC.")

Tom Mainelli, however, admittedly isn't a youngster, so he's less tolerant of noisy PCs. So he tackled the problem by convincing a PC World editor to let him build a quiet computer. He did it, in two parts ("How to Build a Superfast, Superquiet PC, Part 1" and "Part 2"), and it's a great instructional how-to. The reader comments are also fun.

Earlier in the year, Tom decided to build a tiny, cigar-box PC, something that could fit on his kitchen counter. (See "Build a PC So Small It'll Fit in a Drive Bay.") He used a Pico-ITX MOBO from Via, a company specializing in tiny, energy-efficient motherboards.

BTW, if you're into form over function, check out these "15 Offbeat Computer Designs."

Economize With a Laptop Renewal

Considering that I have a 4-year-old IBM ThinkPad, "How To: Revitalize an Aging Notebook on the Cheap" caught my eye. It talks about rejuvenating an old notebook, and the idea makes sense. Slap in some memory, replace the hard drive, and clean up the insides.

On the other hand (there always is one, right?), our mobile expert, Jim Martin, has advice if you'd rather buy a new laptop. (See "Laptop Buying Tips, Part 1" and "Part 2.") Here's a PCW Business Center roundup of tons of notebook prices, specs, and reviews.

And even more tempting are the new small, subnotebook PCs, perfect for quick journaling and e-mail, and ideal for throwing into a backpack. Darren Gladstone has a bunch to say about them in "The Mini-Laptops of Summer." You can find links to individual reviews in Darren's piece.

This Week's Roundup of Time Wasters

Get ready for burning fire holes, doggie goggles, and a new perspective on, well, lots of things.

Locals call it "The Door to Hell." It's near Darvaz, Uzbekistan, and it's been burning for over 35 years. (Full disclosure: It could be in Tajikistan; I haven't been able to verify the exact location.)

Designer sunglasses for dogs? My pooches said, "No way!"

If I ever need to pop a bobcat onto a flatbed truck, I'll definitely try this trick.

Running the Numbers is an extraordinary display of stats--plastic cups used on airlines every 6 hours, the number of plastic bottles used every 5 minutes, and the astonishing rate of cell phones being retired each day. Of course, I count vouch for the accuracy of the numbers, but the thought is definitely intriguing.

You know that box full of old parts you have sitting in the closet? Dig around and find an old floppy drive--and make some music.

You've survived the Fourth of July fireworks and BBQs, now see if you can deal with quicksand, handle an avalanche, and avoid being struck by lightning. Here's the quiz.

Steve Bass writes PC World's monthly "Hassle-Free PC" column and is the author of "PC Annoyances, 2nd Edition: How to Fix the Most Annoying Things About Your Personal Computer," available from O'Reilly. He also writes PC World's daily Tips & Tweaks blog. Sign up to have Steve's newsletter e-mailed to you each week. Comments or questions? Send Steve e-mail.

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