Some FAQs about PCs you wish you knew before you bought it!

Monday, October 28, 2002

Q: What is a VCD any way?
VCD, or Video CD, is a format for digital video storage that is very popular in Asia. Basically, it's MPEG video stream saved to a regular CD in a specific format. Most movies in Asia are distributed on VCD (esp. bootleg versions) as it is so easy to master. Your computer at home with a regular CD-R/W drive can make VCD's with the right software.

There are actually multiple formats of VCD. VCD itself uses MPEG1. A newer version, SVCD, uses MPEG2. There's recently a newer version called XVCD, which is regular VCD with some nonstandard encoding to improve quality.

VCD can only store about 1 hour of video, so most movies will take two CD's unless you are willing to lose more quality. The picture and audio quality will also be noticeably less than that of a DVD depending on the bitrate chosen.

For more info, see

Q: How do I make a "slide show" of pictures that can be viewed on a home DVD player?
If your DVD player can play VCDs, there's a free tool called VCDEasy, available at, that will convert your pictures into small MPG files, which can then joined into a single MPG stream to be turned into a VCD. Go to that site, click on "guides", and there's a section on "How to make a still pictures VideoCD (v1.0)". Take a look there.

Friday, October 25, 2002

Q: How do I convert MIDI music into WAV or MP3 so I can listen to them on a CD?
What you need is called a "MIDI renderer". First, let us explain what MIDI and WAV/MP3 are.

MIDI, which stands for (m)usical (i)nstrument (d)igital (i)nterface, is both a hardware standard and a software file format. The keyboards send encoded instructions like which instrument to play, what note, how long, and things like that. Then a player generate the sound. A computer can easily record all that and allow to easier manipulation. A MIDI file, even for full length composition, is only a few kilobytes long, compared to 4-5 megabytes for MP3 and 20-50 megabytes for WAV. However, the player must be able to render each of the instruments. This is a purely digital signal, not a digital sampling of analog signal.

WAV, short for "wave" files, is the standard Windows sound storage format. It is usually not compressed, and stores the sound exactly as recorded. It's a purely digital recording of analog performance (including any noise and such) at the specific sampling rate. A typical full length song (3-5 minutes) will take 20-50 megabytes on your HD.

MP3, which is MPEG Layer 3 audio, is a compressed format that can achieve significant size savings. Similar to WAV, it's a digitized analog system. A typical MP3 song takes 3-5 megabytes on the HD, a LOT less than WAV, but nowhere close to MIDI.

Why would you need to convert MIDI to WAV or MP3? In general, the CD-burning programs can only deal with WAV, or in case of some newer programs, MP3. That is because CD-Audio is a digital sampling of analog signals. MIDI, on the otherhand, has no analog representation. So if you want to listen to a MIDI song in a CD player, you must "render" it into a WAV file, which can then be burned to a CD.

[Slight detour: technically, you do NOT burn a WAV file to make CD-Audio. The burning program have to convert the WAV into a slightly different format to make CD_Audio, but that process is internal to the program. ]

Any way, Polyhedric Software has two software that will help you do do this conversion: MIDInight Express, which is free, and WaveMaker, which is not free.

Q: What's the coolest "notebook" I can buy for the Windows platform that's equivalent to the Apple T-Book??
Q: I heard that Porsche has designed a computer. Is it true?
Porsche Designs designed a whole series of computers for VPR Matrix, a subsidiary of Best Buy. Take a look at the laptop here at the PC Magazine article. A whole line of desktops and laptops are available.

Q: I have a router acting as a firewall. Do I still need to run a software firewall such as ZoneAlarm?
In general, yes. A hardware firewall will prevent incoming attacks, but a firewall should also control outgoing traffic, and a software firewall will do that. Why would you need to control outgoing traffic? If you are infected by trojans or has spyware on your PC, some of the outgoing traffic can control compromising information. WIth software firewall, you can identify suspicious activities and investigate what's needed.

Tuesday, October 22, 2002

Q: What is V.92 standard for modem? Do I need it?
Not really. V.92 is the latest "standard" in analog modems. The 56K standard is known as V.90. The improvement from V.90 to V.92 is minor. 1) The UPLINK speed (from you to phone company) has improved slightly from 33.6K to 48K, and that's under ideal conditions, assuming ISP supports this feature. 2) Internet-on-hold for about 15 second is possible if the ISP supports that feature. 3) faster connection time (less time negotiating the common protocol between modems).

Due to lack of support for V.92 by most ISPs, V.92 modems are not selling that well. If you already have V.90, there is no need for V.92 unless you really want that "Internet-on-hold" feature (which only works up to 15 seconds, by the way) and your ISP supports it. If you are buying a new PC, and you need a new modem, you may as well get a V.92 modem to start with.

Can your existing V.90 modem be updated to V.92? You need to ask your modem maker to find out. Some 3COM/USRobotics V.90 modems can be updated to V.92 with a Flash ROM upgrade. Others cannot.

Q: What is ISDN? How does it compare to DSL and such?
ISDN, which is short for (i)ntegrated (s)ervices (d)igital (n)etwork, is a standard to transmit digital data over phone lines. Normally, ISDN can give you throughput of 128Kbps, more than twice as fast as a modem, but much lower than DSL. ISDN cost the phone company more to setup. ISDN also has a longer deployment range than DSL, making it more available.

For more information on ISDN, follow this link.

Friday, October 18, 2002

Q: How do I turn songs on a CD into MP3 files or WAV files?
The process is called "ripping", as in "rip a CD" or "CD ripping". You will of course, need a CD ripping program. Windows Media Player 7 or later (free) will do it, as well as RealOne (basic version is free). There are many other alternatives, some free, others not. I personally use MusicMatch Jukebox, which has a nice interface. I've also used Sonique and others.

Q: I have seen all these digital cameras. Is there a digital microscope available?
Yes, Intel used to make one, the IntelPlay QX3, though it's marketted as a toy for under $100. A new company, Scalar, has produced one called Proscope. It retails for $249, and works at 640x480 in snapshot mode or 320x200 in movie mode. It can go from 1X to 200X with optional lenses. It comes with a 50X lense. See review here.

Q: Should I get AGP8X?
If you mean should you buy an AGP8X video card and a AGP8X compatible mainboard, the current answer is no. Currently, only three video chipsets (ATI Radeon 9700, NVIDIA GeForce 4MX-8, and NVIDIA GeForce 4 TI4200-8) support AGP 8X. A recent test by Extremetech found major stability problems (lots of crashes) as well as virtually NO performance gain.

Read article here.

Q: What is a VCD and how do I make one?
VCD, or Video CD, is basically digital video stored on a CD. Most DVD players can also play VCD. VCD, having only 650 megs of data space available, must trade off quality or time. In general, each VCD contains about 40 minutes of full motion video of roughly VHS quality. To make one, I suggest you visit, which can answer all your VCD/DVD questions, including how to create some.

Q: I have a digital camera with built-in USB interface. It did not come with any software. How do I get to the pictures?
Q: What is USB AutoConnect?
USB AutoConnect is a new standard that is supposed to minimize hassle for digital camera owners, but it seems to be confusing to some owners because it's TOO easy. :-) I have an Olympus D-370 that has this feature. To get to the pictures I do the following in a Windows PC:

  • Connect camera to USB port using the supplied USB cable

  • Open "My Computer", and look for a new drive "Removable drive"

  • Open that, and search through its folders to find my *.JPG photos

Yep, it's THAT simple. Some owners were expecting some custom software, upload/download, etc. Nope, NONE of that. Just DRAG those photos in Explorer back to your HD, and VOILA! It's downloaded!

In fact, you can copy files you want to keep into that removable drive as well. It really IS a removable drive. It's NOT limited to pictures only. Some pirates are known to have taken cameras and copied software off store computers using this method. :-)

Q: I have an old Pentium IV mainboard that uses the older Socket 423 interface. The newer P4's are Socket 478. Is there an adaptor so I can upgrade to the faster CPUs?
Actually, there is. UpgradeWare's P478 adaptor does exactly this... It goes between your Socket 423 and a Socket 478 CPU... Giving your old mainboard a new lease on life. There's a review on Tomshardware you may want to read.