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

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Q: I want to buy a power supply, but it says it's P4-compatible. What does that mean exactly?
P4, in this case, means Pentium IV. The latest Pentium-IV compatible mainboards requires an extra power plug to supply power in addition to the regular ATX power plugs. Therefore, power supplies that has this extra plug is called P4-compatible. You can have it and not use it.

Q: I downloaded a file, and Windows asked me to pick a viewer. I think I picked the wrong program, but I marked it "permanent", so I can't choose any more. What can I do to change that choice?
Go to Windows Explorer, and locate that file. Then hold down one of the two SHIFT keys, then RIGHT-CLICK the file. You should see a new choice "Open with...". Select that, and that "choose program to open..." dialog should come back. Choose the right program this time.

Q: I've been getting these pop-up "spam" that says "messenger service" in the title bar. I use Windows XP. How do I stop that?
See this Microsoft webpage

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

Q: What can I use to monitor my mainboard? I want the info displayed on the toolbar or other places...
Try Motherboard Monitor. You will need a compatible mainboard with onboard sensors.

Q: What is this "slammer" worm I am hearing about?
It's a worm that spreads from SQL server to SQL server. If you are NOT running a SQL server (if you don' t know what it is, you probably are NOT running one), it can't infect you. It MAY affect you indirectly as it sends out a lot of wasteful packets and thus can flood a network, clogging the network up and delaying everybody else. For more info, check here.

Q: What is ECC RAM? Do I need it?
ECC stands for Error Correction Code. Basically, through a special algorithm, it is possible to CORRECT a single bit error. In parity RAM (see previous entry), it can only detect the error, but can't do anything about it. ECC RAM can actually FIX that single bit error. I won't go into how it actually works, suffice to say it does work. However, it is SIGNIFICANTLY more expensive than regular RAM, and it is also SLOWER due to the internal circuitry that does the calculations.

ECC RAM is still used, but only in the "dedicated server" market, where 24/7 operation is critical to a business and errors are not tolerated. Again, special mainboards with support for this type of RAM is required. Home users do NOT need this type of RAM.

Q: What is "parity" RAM? Do I need it?
Parity RAM has an extra bit per byte that serves as a quality check. For example, let's say this byte holds the decimal value of 17, which is 10001 in binary. That's 2 bits turned on, so the parity bit would be OFF. If the byte holds decimal value of 19, however, binary is 10011, then parity bit would be on. When each byte is read back, the parity is recalculated, and compared against the existing parity bit. If there's a mismatch, you can conclude that there is a problem with the memory, and the operating system can do something to warn the user.

Parity RAM is popular a couple years back, say, mid 90's, when memory reliability is not that good. In the 21st century, parity RAM is no longer needed, esp. for home PC's. As you can imagine, using up 1/8th more memory for just error checking will make those modules quite a bit more expensive, as are those error-checking circuits on the memory themselves. Not only that, the mainboard must also support this type of memory.

Monday, January 27, 2003

Q: Can you suggest a video card that has a full set of video input and output features?
The ATI All-In-Wonder series are good choices. The choices currently are 8500 AIW, 9000 AIW, and 9700 AIW. ATI is planning to add a new one, called ATI AIW VE, which is really a 7500 AIW, but with the AIW component from the 9700.

Saturday, January 25, 2003

Q: Can I create my own fonts?
Yes, there are programs to do that. For Windows, I found two, one shareware, the other professional:

High Logic's "Font Creator Program" (shareware, $50 to register)

Macromedia's Fontographer (demo available, $349 list price)

Friday, January 24, 2003

Q: Do speakers need "drivers"?
Audio speakers? No! The sound card they connect to needs drivers. The only exception: In about 2000, Microsoft tried to push a standard where the speakers are connected directly to a USB port: no sound card. PC does the sound processing and the speakers get the audio data directly. That idea went away in a hurry as USB compatibility is low back then, and this means you can't upgrade the sound without replacing the speakers.

Thursday, January 23, 2003

Q: I have some spare internal drives around but I need the drives to be EXTERNAL. Is there a way?
A: just reviewed this adaptor kit from ADS Technologies.

Q: What happend to VisionTek? I have their video card! What should I do?
VisionTek went bankrupt late 2002. However, its assets were purchased by Hartford Computer Group, and still honor the original warranties. If you need help, the original website is still available, as is the support staff. VisionTek will be coming back onto the market, using ATI chipset instead. Check out their website...

Q: What is VIVO when it comes to video cards?
VIVO stands for (V)ideo (I)n, (V)ideo (O)ut. It means the video card can output to TV, as well as accept TV-signal inputs.

Q: I use a Mac, but I also use the Pocket PC. Microsoft does not officially support Pocket PC on the Mac. What can I do?
Try PocketMac, which can sync just about anything from the Mac to the Pocket PC.

Q: Just how big of a power supply do I really need?
Old Pentiums and Pentium II's need about 200 watts. When AMD Athlon first came out, they REQUIRE 300 watts power supply. Nowadays, it's better to go for 350 or 400 (or even higher) to be absolutely sure you have enough power to drive all the latest peripherals, CPUs, and the accessories.

Q: Should I download and install DirectX 9?
Probably not yet. ExtremeTech did a test and found DX9 offers NO GAINS for existing DX8 users. There is also NO SOFTWARE other than a few tech demos that uses DX9 features.

Read the full article here.

Tuesday, January 21, 2003

Q: Where can I find a screesaver that displays "The Matrix" (the movie) text like the ones on the computer when Cypher and Tank were operating the console?
There are a LOT of versions, including one on the official website. However, here's one that takes the cake: Matrix Code Emulator. Here's a screenshot:

NOTE: The screenshot is actually UPSIDE DOWN. Try the freeware version first.

Q: My icon text on the desktop has this "background color". How do I get rid of it?
If you run any operating system before Windows XP, you will need to run a separate program to refresh the desktop. Here is one that I really like, and it's free: TransText from ChaosSoft. You can set the background and the text color to anything you want. The background can even be transparent.

On the other hand, taking out the background color does reduce the "contrast" somewhat and makes the dekstop less readable. Still, it's your choice. :-)

Monday, January 20, 2003

What is a VESA driver for a video card, and why do I need one?
VESA, which stands for "Video Electronic Standards Association", is a group that defines video standards. The standard resolutions and and color depth standards were created by them. In time, some of the software drivers to make the non-standard video cards comply with these "universal" standards became known as "VESA Drivers". However, these are mainly useful during the DOS era. By the time Windows came along, Microsoft's Windows GDI, and later DirectX drivers have made VESA drivers obsolete.

If you need to run some older DOS software that uses VESA video modes, you may need VESA drivers for modern video cards. The ONLY one now available, unless your card is already VESA compliant, is SciTechSoft's UniVBE, available here as a FREE download.

Q: What is SODIMM?
SODIMM (Small Outline Dual Inline Memory Module) is a "format" of memory, like DIMM, but for notebooks. The memory is packed into a tighter module for notebooks. The SODIMM itself can contain any sort of memory, like SDRAM, DDR SDRAM, etc.

Q: I am building a new computer and I need a new case. What should I look for in a good case?
Here are some things to look for:

== Clean edges (so you don't slice your fingers)
== Lots of room (again, so you don't slice your fingers
== Lots of bays (exposed or hidden) expansion potential
== Mainboard removable tray (may or may not be good, some say the tray, if loose, would give the cards bad fit. Others say mounting the board separately is easier on the board and your fingers)
== Big power supply (you may need to get this separately, at least 300W, maybe 420W)
== Aluminum (you'll pay $$$, but it's MUCH lighter
== Front-end ports (optional, like USB / USB2 / Firewire / Sound)
== More than one case fan attachment points

In general, most people should be happy with a "mid-tower" case, as it fits on a desktop with minimal footprint.

Friday, January 17, 2003

Q: What is SATA, or Serial ATA?
Serial ATA is the next evolution of the hard drive ATA standard, previously at "UltraATA 133". Serial ATA is supposed to be faster and better, but in small increments, and with a completely different interface. They are showing up on some mainboards as premium options, and most includes an adapter so you can still use regular UltraATA drives. However, most PC's comes with only one adapter.

Q: What can I use to record / edit my old tape or vinyl collection?
Try Polderbits' website, they have software that should do what you want.

Thursday, January 16, 2003

Q: What is northbridge and southbridge?
Northbridge and southbridge are both parts of a chipset. Northbridge is the part that talks to memory, CPU, cache, and AGP bus. Southbridge is the part that talks to all the peripherals, like IDE, USB, and things like that.

Q: What is "digital vinyl"?
They are CD-R's made by Verbatim in the look of old 45 rpm vinyl LPs. You can find more about them here.

Q: How do I play a .MOV file?
Visit Apple's QuickTime website and download QuickTime for your platform.

Sunday, January 12, 2003

Q: What is CD-R Audio? How is this different from regular CD-R?
CD-R Audio is designed for use by those standalone Audio CD copiers, like those from Phillips which you can use to create your custom CD-mix without using a computer. They have a special code that Audio CD copiers will ONLY use those CD's. If you put regular CD-Rs in audio CD copiers, they will say "invalid media".

Anyone who tell you that CD-R Audio give you better sound quality is lying. They cost more because they have to pay an extra tax/fee to RIAA.

Your computer wouldn't care if you use CD-R or CD-R Audio, so don't spend the extra money.

Q: My CD-ROM drive no longer seems to read my disks. What can I do?
Try cleaning it. Some compressed air to blow out the dust, one of those "cleaning discs" with solution to clean the insides. It may or may not help. CD-ROM drives are so cheap any way, just replace it, with a DVD or CD-RW drive.

Tuesday, January 07, 2003

Q: Is there such a thing as a webcam that does NOT need a computer to operate?
Yes, Axis makes a full range of network cameras. The 2100 is their starter model, and it'll run you about $350 or so. It has a built-in web server so you can just give it an IP address and you can pull the images from it at 10 fps from almost anywhere in the world, provided you got the bandwidth. If you want, you can even have remote recording, sound recording, pan / tilt, remote pan/tilt, preriodic scan, and more. It will cost you, of course.

Q: What is "spyware"?
Steve Gibson (of Gibson Research, at defined spyware as "any program that communicates with the outside world without your authorization". Usually, the program watches you, then sends out information about you behind your back. In other words, those programs are spying on you, thus the term spy-ware. Some may even cause pop-ups to appear.

Some spyware are known to look for search words typed into search engines. For example, let's say you are on Yahoo searching for "Ford". If a spyware watched you do that, they may show pop-up ads featuring GMs, or Toyotas, and so on.

Spyware violates your privacy. To remove spyware, search for removers such as Ad-Adware.

Q: What is "foistware"?
Foistware is a new term for software that surreptitiously adds hidden components to your system--- foisting them on you, on the sly. For example, Kazaa adds hidden components to your system and only a diligent search by programs like SpyBot or Ad-Aware will find those hidden stuff.

The term is used to differentiate the kind of sneak-installation done by commercial apps from classic Trojan horse apps, which are usually hacker/cracker products.

Q: What is "crippleware"?
crippleware n. (thanks to Jargon Lexicon)

1. [common] Software that has some important functionality deliberately removed, so as to entice potential users to pay for a working version. 2. [Cambridge] Variety of guiltware that exhorts you to donate to some charity (compare careware, nagware). 3. Hardware deliberately crippled, which can be upgraded to a more expensive model by a trivial change (e.g., cutting a jumper).

An excellent example of crippleware (sense 3) is Intel's 486SX chip, which is a standard 486DX chip with the co-processor diked out (in some early versions it was present but disabled). To upgrade, you buy a complete 486DX chip with working co-processor (its identity thinly veiled by a different pinout) and plug it into the board's expansion socket. It then disables the SX, which becomes a fancy power sink. Don't you love Intel?

Monday, January 06, 2003

Q: I want to change the program I use to open certain types of documents with. For example, I want to use Opera instead of Internet Explorer to open URLs, or I want to open JPGs in IrfanView instead of Internet Explorer. How do I do that?
Open Explorer, locate the file you wish to change (one of them is enough). Hold down the shift key, then RIGHT-click the file (now you can let go of the shift-key), and you should see a choice that says "Open with...". Select that, and you'll get a choice of programs that's registered with the system. Choose the right one, then choose if you want it permanent or just this once.

Q: I was told that I need to download this .NET Framework for one of my programs to work. What is this? Where do I get it?
.NET is one of the new Microsoft "platforms" that is supposed to help programmers make web-enabled programs easier. You can get this .NET Framework from Microsoft Windowsupdate.

Saturday, January 04, 2003

Q: How do I add a router to my DSL/Cable setup?
In general, it goes like this

DSL: Wall phone jack (with filter) to Modem
(or if you have cable, wall jack to Cable Modem)

Modem via network cable to Router (WARNING: USB port modems CANNOT be used)

Router should have multiple ports, which are then linked to individual PC's with network cables. Each PC should have a network card or network port for this.

If you use a wireless router, same idea. Each PC would have a wireless LAN card.

Then follow the router maker's instructions on how to configure it to access your modem and get out into the Internet.

Q: Where can I find some free web hosts for my personal webpage?
Here are some choices compiled by someone else... with some additions and editing by me.

Most Popular

While these sites are popular, they also have severe bandwidth and space limits. Geocities have implemented a DAILY bandwidth throttle, which means if enough people have visited your site for one day no one else can view it.
Not so well known (without banners)
Lots of space (150/250 mb of space) (infinite space?? low bandwidth?) ??? (file can't be more than 800k when transferring but still gives you 50mb (?))

ASP/PHP/CFML support (ASP3 support, no ASP components) (Cold Fusion support, $29.95 one-time setup fee)