Hardware Tips: USB Flex Adapter, HDMI Monitors

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The last time I ran a hardware tips article, readers just ate it up. So this week I've got another one, with a cool USB accessory that lets you move cords and devices out of the way and instructions on how to get an HDMI second monitor to display full screen (if your laptop has an ATI graphics card, that is).

The Best $4 You Can Spend on Your Laptop

Remember the good old days, when laptops had USB ports at the rear? Now, most models have them on either side, which is a little more convenient for plugging and unplugging devices but an aesthetic nightmare.

Indeed, my laptop has taken on a decidedly Borg-like appearance, what with cables poking out of each side and running off in various directions. And when I plug in my USB aircard, it sticks straight out, just waiting for an accidental mouse-hand bump to knock it loose--and possibly break it.

Fortunately, there's a simple accessory that can help. I call it a USB elbow adapter, a small double-jointed plug that lets you angle USB cords and devices however you please. Just pop one into your USB port, plug in your accessory, and turn or rotate the adapter as needed.

If, for example, you want a cord to stay as out of sight as possible, you can point the adapter straight back and run the cord along the edge of the laptop. Or you could point an aircard up to keep it out of harm's way.

I've shopped high and low for these little gizmos, and the best deal I've found is from PC Cables, which sells the IDE DIST FL001 USB Flex via Amazon for $3.95, plus $4.95 for shipping (I know: ugh). If you know of a better/cheaper source, be sure to share a link in the comments.

Even at $9 out the door, this is a terrific little accessory for anyone looking to reduce USB cable clutter.

Force an HDMI Second Monitor to Run Full-Screen

I recently spent a few weeks using a laptop as my primary PC. It was fine, but the one thing I really missed was the dual-monitor setup I had with my desktop. Well, that's no problem. One of my monitors supports HDMI, and the laptop has an HDMI output. With two shakes of an HDMI cable I'd be back in dual-LCD business.

Or so I thought. Although both displays have a native resolution of 1920 by 1080 (also known as 1080p), and although I'd configured Windows to use that resolution for both screens, the second monitor displayed a black bar (roughly two inches thick) around the image. In other words, it wasn't running full-screen, despite having all the proper settings.

I fiddled with the monitor's own menus for a bit, but found no way to zoom or enlarge the image. Then I remembered that this is HDMI I'm dealing with. Whenever I'd used HDMI to connect a media-center PC to an HDTV, I'd always run into problems with the size of the image. It was never scaled just right.

Like many laptops, this one was based on an ATI graphics processor, and therefore incorporated the ATI Catalyst Control Center--a utility that gives you finer control over your display(s). After launching the CCC and poking around a bit, I was able to solve the problem. Here's how:

  1. Start the CCC and switch to Advanced Mode.
  2. Click the Graphics button in the upper-left corner and choose Desktops & Displays.
  3. Near the bottom, under "Please select a display," right-click the monitor that's giving you trouble (in my case it was #2) and choose Configure.
  4. Click the Scaling Options tab, then slide the selector to the right, towards Overscan. Keep sliding until your image appears edge-to-edge in your monitor.
  5. Click OK and you're done!

Your mileage may vary depending on which version of the CCC you have. Mine was current as of June, 2011.

If you've got a hassle that needs solving, send it my way. I can't promise a response, but I'll definitely read every e-mail I get--and do my best to address at least some of them in the PCWorld Hassle-Free PC blog . My 411: hasslefree@pcworld.com . You can also sign up to have the Hassle-Free PC newsletter e-mailed to you each week .

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