Getting strange errors when you use your CD-ROM drive? Dirt and dust on the internal components can cause errors during disc playback. To clean the unit without damaging it, read and follow the instructions in the drive's documentation
Removable storage drives, such as the 100MB Iomega Zip, are more popular than ever for backup and archiving data. If these lower capacity drives don't meet your needs, check into the latest 2GB removable storage drives from Iomega and Castlewood Systems, both of which should start shipping in March.
Iomega's new Jaz 2GB features higher performance and capability with new 2GB cartridges, and will be available in internal ($549) and external ($649) Ultra SCSI versions. You can also purchase adapters from parallel port and PC Card interfaces. The new Jaz 2GB is fully compatible with older 1GB Jaz cartridges. http://www.iomega.com
Castlewood Systems' ORB drive uses 2.16GB cartridges and comes in parallel port, internal IDE, and external SCSI models, all selling for $199. http://www.castlewoodsystems.com 3D GRAPHICS BOARDS Those who get their thrills from 3D computer games should be aware that the latest and greatest in 3D acceleration is 3Dfx's new Voodoo2 chipset, which specifically enhances 3D graphics. Both Diamond Multimedia and Creative Labs now ship 3D accelerator boards, the 3D Monster II and the 3D Blaster Voodoo2 respectively, with this new chipset. Expect to spend $200 to $300 for these boards depending on the quantity of graphics RAM on board. http://www.diamondmm.com http://www.creativelabs.com 56-KBPS MODEM STANDARD ON THE HORIZON The ITU (International Telecommunications Union) is close to finalizing the standard for 56-kbps modems. The completed specification should be out by April, if not before. If you already own a 56-kbps modem, you'll need to check into a software upgrade (likely free) from your modem vendor to upgrade your modem to the new standard. If you're considering a 56-kbps modem purchase, you may want to wait a month or two to buy, giving modem manufacturers time to update the modems that stock store shelves. A HANDY TOOL Believe it not, the Leatherman SuperTool, a portable Swiss Army knife-type all-in-one toolkit, is an excellent helper for computer maintenance and repair. This $60 tool features pliers, wire cutters, both flat-head and Philips head screw drivers, knife blades, files, and many others tools you need for working on a computer, all in a handy fold-up metal handle grip. And, it's easy to carry. You'll find the Leatherman SuperTool at hardware and cutlery stores. ADDING PERIPHERALS TO YOUR NOTEBOOK? CHECK CMOS SETTINGS Notebook computers come with a host of settings in CMOS to shut down ports and disable PC cards slots in order to save power. When you attach a new peripheral device and it doesn't work, you may mistakenly assume you just purchased a lemon add-on product. First, read your notebook's documentation on entering the setup (CMOS) program. Then, check out the settings and see if the port in question has been disabled. ANTIGLARE SHIELDS How's the light in your computing environment? If you can't reposition your computer to minimize glare and reflection off your monitor or notebook, consider an antiglare shield like those from N' DA' SHADE: http://www.sonic.net/dashade/ Glare reflected from your display can quickly tire and strain your eyes. N' DA' SHADE sells wrap-a-round antiglare shields for desktop monitors and notebooks for $25. CHEAP PATH TO BETTER SOUND Just as with stereo gear, high-quality cables for computer speakers can audibly improve sound quality. If sound is important to you, ask your local computer store salesperson to point you to the best speaker cables. It's a cheap and effective way to eke out some better audio. DON'T FORGET THE DISK DRIVE LED Planning to add a SCSI host adapter board and hard drive? People often skip the step of connecting the cable to the LED light (which flashes when the disk is active) in the front of the PC. The connector can be found on the SCSI host adapter board (usually four small prongs). Read your board's documentation for details. The flashing disk light might help you troubleshoot your PC down the road. FORUMS (PART 1) ADVANCED GRAPHICS PORT Many new computers ship with Advanced Graphics Port (AGP) interfaces for accelerating graphics, especially 3D, through a specialized high-speed bus. At the moment, there aren't many graphics boards shipping that are compatible with AGP. To stay up to date on current AGP happenings in the computer industry, browse the AGP implementers forum, at http://www.agpforum.org. FORUMS (PART 2) WEBTV Having a problem with your WebTV system? See if others have already solved it, by browsing the WebTV forum at ProActive's site: http://www.pactive.com/wtvforum/ You'll find a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page as well as postings from a number of WebTV users. If you don't find your answer, post your own question and check back later for a response. FORUMS (PART 3) HEWLETT-PACKARD PRINTERS Hewlett-Packard supplies a series of printer FAQs and forums at its Electronic Support Center: http://www.hp.com/cposupport/indexes1/prhome.html If you're having difficulty with an HP printer, follow the links that reference your printer model or search the site with keywords on your specific problem. JAZ FOR THE ROAD To make a Jaz drive more portable, look into Iomega's Jaz Unleashed battery pack. The battery pack straps onto the bottom of a Jaz drive and powers the unit for two hours. The box includes an AC cable, which you can use to recharge the battery. Iomega sells Jaz Unleashed for $100 directly from its Web site: http://www.iomega.com SCOUTING ELECTRICAL OUTLETS Readers to the rescue! After receiving last month's tip on using three-wire electrical outlets, several readers wrote in warning that three-wire electrical outlets are not necessarily properly grounded. They're right, particularly in older homes and buildings. If you're unsure about the state of your wiring, check into electrical outlet testers (for as little as $10) at your local hardware store. Outlet testers check for several ominous wiring conditions, including open grounds, hot-neutral reversals, hot-ground reversals, open neutrals, and open hots. SHOPPING AROUND FOR NOTEBOOK MEMORY While additional desktop computer RAM has long been available from a wide variety of sources, many notebook computers have, in the past, used proprietary RAM upgrade modules that could only be purchased through the notebook manufacturer. Things are beginning to change in this area and now it's worth shopping around before you buy RAM directly from your notebook vendor. Celestica for example, now sells RAM upgrades for the IBM ThinkPad 770 as well as other computer makes and models. As always, check the return policy for any memory you buy, in case you run into compatibility problems. http://www.celestica.com WIRELESS COMMUNICATION FOR HANDHELD COMPUTERS Motorola and Microsoft have announced an alliance to develop wireless communication devices for Windows CE-based handheld computers. Through plug-in modules, you'll be able to connect to the Internet and send and receive messages via paging technology. The first products from Motorola are expected sometime in '98. DESKTOP CAMERAS, PART I Those interested in videoconferencing are hot on the trail of desktop cameras. Many of these devices plug into the parallel port of your computer or into the input jack of a video capture card. If, however, you don't have a video capture card and your parallel port is overloaded with devices (printer, scanner, backup drive), you now have an alternative. Intel and Xirlink offer USB port connections for certain models of their desktop cameras. Check your system's documentation to determine if you have a USB port on the back of your computer before you shop. And if you go with a USB desktop camera, expect to pay about $200 for the device. http://www.intel.com http://www.xirlink.com DESKTOP CAMERAS, PART II It's easy to get excited about broadcasting your image. Most camera manufacturers realize this and simply highlight the products' videoconferencing and video capture capabilities. But before you buy any desktop camera, check into the control features it provides. If your office has poor lighting or you plan to broadcast more than just your own image (maybe you and one other person for example), then you need a camera with settings you can adjust. For poor lighting, you may need contrast and backlight compensation controls. To broadcast the image of more than one person, you may need a zoom lens, or at least a long cable, so that you can move the camera farther back on your desk. DESKTOP CAMERAS, PART III Unless you plan to record and edit your own video clips, you really don't need video capture hardware bundled with a desktop camera. With just the camera and the right software, you can perform videoconferencing tasks, so don't spend the extra money for a kit that includes a video capture board if you don't foresee the need for it. These less extravagant desktop camera products now sell for as little as $100. PRESENTATION MONITORS For computer presentations to a large group, many companies resort to projection devices to enlarge screens on a big viewing area. Unfortunately, these solutions often lack the clarity and crispness of a CRT monitor. One option for these situations is a big-screen presentation monitor like the 29-inch XV29 from NEC Technologies, which accepts input from computers as well as camcorders and VCRs. As it's not intended for close-up work, the XV29 has a maximum resolution of 800 by 600 pixels. http://www.nec.com SCANNERS VERSUS DIGITAL CAMERAS Unless you're a professional photographer, you may want to think twice before you rush out to purchase a digital camera. The least expensive digital cameras, like the Sony MVC-FD7 Digital Mavica Camera, start at about $700 and you'll likely spend extra money on lenses and accessories. Personal scanners, on the other hand, which can digitize photographs taken with an ordinary camera, now cost less than $400. Moreover, only the high-end digital cameras produce images with the quality and resolution of a traditional photograph. FASTER PORTABLE CD-ROM DRIVE Until now, the fastest portable CD-ROM drives topped out at about 6X, significantly slower than desktop CD-ROM drive speeds. Now, Panasonic has introduced the $400 KXL-810A, a 20X portable drive that connects to your notebook computer through the PC Card slot. http://www.panasonic.com CONNECTING THE OFFICE TO THE NET For small businesses, connecting every office PC to the Internet can be both time-consuming and expensive, particularly if you use a third-party Internet service provider and are forced to set up and pay for multiple user accounts. One option is the $500 Internet Station from Intel. The Internet Station lets you connect several networked PCs to the Internet through one phone line and one ISP account. http://www.intel.com DVD-ROM CAPABILITY Some PC World readers have written in about compatibility problems with DVD-ROM titles and movies. Since DVD technology is still relatively new, you may encounter compatibility problems with the various discs. Before you purchase a program or movie for your DVD-ROM drive, check the store's return policy. Better still, find a business that rents DVD discs, so that you can try it before you buy. HOME ENTERTAINMENT It feels like a waste of money to purchase a home stereo and then buy separate speakers for your home computer. To save some cash, you can buy home stereo equipment that also accepts computer output. One such system is the XL-520 from Sharp Electronics. The XL-520 has a CD player, AM/FM tuner, cassette deck, and two speakers, and it sports audio input jacks for connecting to your PC's sound card. And its small footprint lets it sit on the same desk or table as your computer. http://www.sharp-usa.com IBM'S ONLINE SUPPORT Need some info about your IBM PC, ThinkPad, or monitor? Check into IBM's online support page. It's a great example of an automated online support system. You'll find technical documents, parts catalogs, frequently asked questions databases, hints, tips, and much more. You'll probably be able to answer your question without even picking up the phone. http://www3.pc.ibm.com/support KNOW YOUR SURROUND SOUND Many DVD movies and titles include the Dolby Digital Surround Sound capability, which fully immerses you in the viewing experience. With the "downmixing" hardware features of most DVD-ROM kits, you can hear a 3D effect with only two speakers. But if you do decide to maximize your DVD audio, you'll need a speaker set that includes a Dolby Digital decoder and has five speakers and a sub-woofer. Don't be talked into buying an older Dolby Pro Logic decoder and speaker set. The Pro Logic decoders only provide four channels of Surround Sound and cannot reproduce the full six-channel sound that the Digital decoders can. LCD DISPLAYS Cramped for desk space? Consider an LCD display, like Hitachi's 13.3-inch Super TFT Color Monitor, instead of a traditional CRT monitor. LCD displays take up about half the space of a regular monitor and consume much less energy. And, over the last couple of years, there have been great improvements in the LCD viewing angle, so that you can now see the screen image even from the side. PRINTER MEMORY Did you know that the popular Hewlett-Packard 4000 series LaserJet printers can be upgraded to 100MB of memory (they normally ship with only 4MB)? If your LaserJet is constantly cranking out pages, you could speed things up with a memory upgrade. Crucial Technologies offers HP printer memory upgrade modules ranging from $26 for 4MB to $43 for 8MB. http://www.crucial.com SPARE PARTS When you install a new add-in board in your PC, you end up with a spare metal plate, the one used to protect the card slot's opening at the back of your PC. Where should you store this plate in case you ever need it again? Inside your PC. A TipWorld reader wrote in and told us that he tapes these spare plates to the inside cover of his PC, so that he can never lose them. Great advice--we thought we'd pass it on. UPGRADING THE WHOLE PC As PC prices drop, there comes a point when you have to consider simply buying a whole new system rather than upgrading an over-the-hill model component by component. Compaq now sells the entry-level Presario 2240 for only $800 (sans monitor). The Presario 2240 has a 200-MHz AMD-K6 MMX system with a 256KB L2 cache. It includes 32MB of RAM, a 2.1GB hard drive, a 20X CD-ROM drive, and a 56-kbps modem. http://www.compaq.com UPGRADING A SERIAL OR PARALLEL PORT If you own an older PC, the UART chip of your serial or parallel port is probably not fast enough for the latest peripheral devices, particularly external modems. Read how to upgrade these ports from PC World's Upgrade Guide: http://www.pcworld.com/hardware/motherboards_chips/articles/mar98/160/3p316.html 56K MODEM UPGRADES HAVE ARRIVED Many modem manufacturers are working on their 56-kbps modem firmware upgrades to the new V.90 standard. In fact, some vendors, like 3Com/US Robotics and Diamond Multimedia, have already posted these free FlashROM modem upgrades onto their corporate Web sites. If you own a 56-kbps modem, check now with your modem manufacturer about upgrading to the new V.90 standard. THE WINDOWS 98 DVD PLAYER Dissatisfied with the software interface that accompanied your DVD-ROM drive? You'll soon have another option if you choose to upgrade to Windows 98. The new OS includes a DVD Player utility, which you can use to play DVD media. In order to use the DVD player, you'll need to have a DVD-ROM drive and a DVD decoder card installed on your PC. Keep in mind that the DVD Player applet does not load automatically during the Windows 98 installation. You need to select the Add/Remove software icon under the control panel, choose the Windows Setup tab, select the Multimedia component, and click on the Details button. Put a check next to the DVD Player and click OK to complete the installation of Windows 98's DVD Player utility. TV TUNERS--PART 1 OF 3 Need a TV fix while you're working at your computer? TV tuner add-in boards let you watch regular broadcast and cable television right over your computer monitor. The tuners range in price from $50 to $150 and are offered by a variety of manufacturers, including the video graphics manufacturers Matrox and ATI Technologies. Be aware that some TV tuner products, such as Matrox's Rainbow Runner Television board, only work in conjunction with video graphics boards from the same manufacturer. Carefully check the system requirements of a TV tuner card before you buy. TV TUNERS--PART 2 OF 3 Windows 98 includes a component called WebTV for Windows, which will let you view regular TV broadcasts and so-called interactive TV shows (that include interactive digital segments) on your computer. To view these shows, you'll need to have a TV tuner card installed in your PC. In the current beta stage of Windows 98, not all TV tuner boards are currently compatible. If you want to take advantage of WebTV for Windows, you might consider waiting for a TV tuner that includes a WebTV for Windows certification sticker on the box. If you already own a TV tuner, check with your card's manufacturer for a software driver update that will make the TV tuner work with WebTV for Windows. Even without a TV tuner card, you can still use the Program Guide section of WebTV for Windows. With the Program Guide, you can download your local broadcast and cable TV show schedules free of charge from the Internet. You can also search these listings by keyword or by category. TV TUNERS--PART 3 OF 3 Some TV tuner add-in boards accept either a regular TV antenna or a cable TV cable as input. If you plan to hook up your computer to cable TV, ask your cable service about adding a separate cable jack near your computer setup; or invest in an inexpensive cable splitter device, which will create a new jack from the cable you use with your television. FAST CD-ROM DRIVE Remember when a fast CD-ROM drive cost close to $1000? It wasn't all that long ago. Well, times have definitely changed. Panasonic has introduced the LK-MC682BP internal ATAPI CD-ROM drive that runs at a maximum of 32X (or 4800K/sec). The LK-MC682BP sells for only $99. For more information, check with your local computer store or browse the Panasonic Web site at http://www.panasonic.com/alive INFRARED PORTS Many of the latest desktop and notebook PCs have infrared (IR) ports, which can wirelessly transmit data from PC to PC or from PC to device (such as a printer) using the same technology as TV remote controls. Unfortunately, software that makes use of this technology has been fairly limited in the PC arena. One new software package that can take advantage of IR ports is the next release of the Windows operating system. Windows 98 will include a Direct Cable Connection feature that will allow you to transfer files between two PCs via a serial cable or a parallel port cable, or between two IR ports. If you plan to use Direct Cable Connection, check your PC's documentation to learn how to activate your IR port. NEW HAND-HELDS Expect a series of new hand-held PCs based on the new Windows CE, version 2.0 operating system available this month. Companies like Everex and LG Electronics USA will deliver lightweight PCs capable of running Windows applications, transferring data back and forth between desktop PCs, and connecting to the Internet. Everex http://www.everex.com LG Electronics USA http://www.lgphenom.com SOUND CARD MEMORY You've heard about adding system RAM and video graphics RAM to increase your PC's performance. But how about sound card memory? Some sound cards, like Creative Labs' AWE64 SoundBlaster, offer memory expansion for better performance and higher fidelity in audio processing. The AWE64 memory modules range in size from 4MB to 24MB and in price from $40 to $200. The extra sound card memory allows you to use and hear larger Sound Fonts, which add depth and range to your computer audio experience. Creative Labs http://www.creativelabs.com WINDOWS 98 SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS With the impending release of Windows 98, many people will be considering an operating system upgrade. The memory and hard disk requirements of Windows 98 have not yet been finalized, but beta testing clearly shows that most users will want a minimum of 16MB of RAM and at least 200MB of free hard disk space to load and run Windows 98 efficiently. During the installation process, Windows 98 asks you if you want to keep Windows 95 on your system so that--should you run into trouble--you can uninstall Windows 98 and go back to your original setup. In order to use this safety option, you'll need an additional 50MB of free space for Windows to store your configuration information and system files. MORE DISPLAYS IN WINDOWS 98 Apple's Macintosh has had the capability to use more than one monitor for one computer for many years. PC users, however, will probably marvel at this new feature offered under Windows 98. In fact, the new Windows OS allows you to install up to nine graphics cards (and then attach up to nine monitors) to use simultaneously. Nine seems a little excessive, but two monitors running on the same PC provides a great way to double your virtual desktop area. Like the Mac, Windows 98 lets you drag windows between the two monitors as if they were physically connected. TEST YOUR RESCUE DISKETTES If you've purchased any crash prevention/recovery software, such as Symantec's Norton Utilities or Helix's Nuts & Bolts, make sure that you create and then test the "rescue" diskettes that help you recover from system crashes. Testing the diskettes means booting up with the rescue diskette in your A: drive to determine that your system will start successfully. Never wait until a real computer emergency before verifying that your crash recovery procedures work properly. OCR TIPS--PART 1 OF 3 Optical character recognition (OCR) software lets you translate scanned documents from an image format into editable text used by word processing programs. Unfortunately, even the very best OCR software isn't 100 percent accurate and requires you to proofread the resulting text and correct mistakes. You'll often spend several extra minutes fixing misspelled words or re-entering dropped characters or words. Fortunately, there are a few tips that you can use at the very beginning of the process--the scanning part of the process--that will reduce the time you spend fixing OCR mistakes. Your first tip is to start with a quality original. If at all possible, make sure that the document you scan has no wrinkles, tears, smudges, or creases. A good quality document will be digitized much more effectively than a tattered one, and the OCR software will be much more capable of recognizing all the characters and words. OCR TIPS--PART 2 OF 3 Here's your second tip for helping your optical character recognition (OCR) software be more accurate: If you're scanning an article from a newspaper, try putting a clean sheet of white paper behind your document before you scan. Newsprint is very thin, almost transparent when held up to the light, and this transparency makes for poor scanning. When you put a clean sheet of white paper behind the newsprint, you decrease the transparency and increase the likelihood of a better scan. Then, when you pass the document through your OCR software, it will have a better chance of correctly recognizing all the characters and words. OCR TIPS--PART 3 OF 3 Here's your final optical character recognition (OCR) tip for this month. OCR software works more effectively on text that is perfectly aligned on the page, meaning that the text isn't slanted up or down, but runs straight across the page. Even if the original document you scan isn't well aligned, you should use the rotate and crop tools of your scanning software to align the text correctly before you process the document through the OCR software. Once the scan is aligned, the OCR software will have a much better chance of correctly recognizing characters and words. CUT THE BACKGROUND NOISE FOR VOICE RECOGNITION The microphones for voice recognition packages do a pretty good job of picking up only your voice and not the background noise around you. Still, you'll probably notice a little better recognition accuracy if you cut down or completely eliminate background noise, like radios, fans, and buzzing equipment. INTEL'S OVERDRIVE CHIPS If you're considering upgrading your PC with one of Intel's OverDrive processors, you should first run Intel's free BIOS utility to determine if your PC needs a BIOS upgrade before it can support the OverDrive chips. Download the utility from http://www.intel.com/overdrive/upgrade/bios/index.htm INTERNAL VS. EXTERNAL SCSI REMOVABLE STORAGE DRIVES The April issue of PC World contains a review of removable storage drives, which finds that there's almost no performance difference between internal and external SCSI versions of removable storage drives like the Iomega Jaz and the Nomai USA 750.C. What does this mean? It means that for around $100 more for the external versions, you can potentially gain the advantage of porting your drive to another computer. You do, or course, need suitable SCSI adapters on-board any computer on which you plan to use these drives, but for some users the benefits of an external drive will be worth the additional cost. If you don't plan to port your drive and you have an open expansion bay. you should go with the internal models to save money. WINDOWS 98 AND DUAL MODEMS You may have heard about dual-modem technology like Diamond Multimedia's Shotgun technology, which allows you to use two modems (and two phone lines) over one Internet connection to attain faster access to the Web. What you may not have heard is that Windows 98 incorporates this dual-modem capability right into the operating system, so that you don't need specialized firmware or software from your modem manufacturer. Windows 98 should begin shipping in late May or early June. EXTERNAL VIDEO CAPTURE DEVICES A new wave of external video capture devices let you capture video and still images from your VCR and camcorder without the hassle of installing a traditional internal video capture card. Companies like Dazzle Multimedia and AVerMedia sell external video capture devices in the $200-to-$350 range. Dazzle Multimedia http://www.dazzlemultimedia.com AVerMedia http://www.aver.com NOTEBOOK GLOBAL POSITIONING SYSTEM Etak now sells a Global Positioning System (GPS) for use with notebook computers. The $300 SkyMap Pro includes GPS antenna, 2 CD-ROMs containing maps of all 50 states, and a hand-held remote control. Etak http://www.etak.com SPEAKER SHIELDING Most computer monitors are very sensitive to nearby magnetic fields. The magnets contained in small speakers can distort your monitor's image if placed too close together (3 to 5 inches). Make sure you ask your salesperson whether or not your speakers have been shielded for computer use. Also, always check the return policy so that you can return any speakers that cause you trouble. USB HUBS AVAILABLE Are you one of the early adopters of USB-interface devices? If so, you may quickly run out of room to plug them in. Most newer computers feature only two USB ports. Companies are now introducing USB hubs that add four or more USB ports to your system. IBM, for example, now offers a USB Hub option for its $800 G94 19-inch General Business Color Monitor, which allows you to plug up to four USB devices into the base of the monitor. ELECTRONIC STAMPS Are you ready for a more efficient metering process for U.S. Mail? The E-Stamp Corporation, at http://www.e-stamp.com has just had its E-Stamp Internet Postage product approved for beta testing by the U.S. Postal Service. E-Stamp will allow you to download electronic stamps over the Internet and store them in a "vault" box that attaches to a PC via the printer port. Then you can "stamp" envelopes by running them through your regular office printer. Pricing and availability for E-Stamp has not yet been set. DEFECTIVE CABLES, PART 1--DEAD HARD DRIVE A damaged or defective IDE cable can make your system appear as if something is wrong with your hard drive. If your IDE cable goes bad, your CPU can't communicate with the hard drive and won't be able to boot the operating system. Even repair people are sometimes fooled by this problem and will recommend a hard drive replacement when all that's really needed is a new $3 cable. If you find yourself in this situation, ask your PC repair person to check the IDE cable. It could end up saving you a lot of money. DEFECTIVE CABLES, PART 2--NO AUDIO The internal cables used to connect your CD-ROM drive to your sound card (or integrated audio chip set) are notoriously fragile. The small plastic connectors at each end of an audio cable can easily become detached from the audio cable wires if they are jostled or bumped. If you have accidentally damaged a cable, you won't be able to hear any audio from your PC speakers when playing an audio CD-ROM. So, check the audio cable first when experiencing audio problems. THE LAST STEP OF A NEW CD-ROM INSTALLATION When you install a new faster CD-ROM drive on a Windows 95 system, don't forget to adjust the optimization settings for the new drive in the Control Panel. Choose Start, Settings, Control Panel. Choose the System icon, then select the File System button under Advanced Settings. Then choose the CD-ROM tab. All CD-ROM drives that you would purchase today are faster than 4X speed, so set the Supplemental Cache Size to Large and Optimize Access Pattern for: Quad-speed or higher. This procedure will ensure that you see the speed benefits of your new CD-ROM under Windows. V.90 BACKWARD COMPATIBILITY As we mentioned last month, modem vendors have begun releasing V.90 upgrades for their 56K modem products. Eventually, all 56K modems will be able to talk to one another because of the new V.90 standard. In the meantime, there's one problem you need to be aware of, particularly during the next few months while ISPs are in the process of upgrading their networks to V.90: V.90 modems are only backward compatible with either the K56Flex or x2 56K protocols--not both. So, until your ISP finishes upgrading to V.90, you must still make sure your modem is backward compatible with the 56K modem protocol that your ISP uses. Otherwise, even with a V.90-capable modem, you'll be connecting at only 33.6-kbps speed. MULTIPLE MODEMS IN WINDOWS 98 Windows' Dial-Up Networking component has been enhanced under Windows 98 (scheduled for release next month). In Windows 98, you can install several modems in one PC and have them all cooperate to achieve faster Internet access (provided each modem has its own phone line). This feature is called PPP Multilink protocol. MORE THAN ONE INPUT DEVICE Users often forget that you can add more than one input device to a PC under Windows 95. If you like the feel of a traditional mouse for most work, but prefer a trackball or joystick for other applications or games, consider installing a second pointing device. Most input devices are Plug N' Play compatible, so you can simply attach the new device and boot up. Otherwise, you can choose the Add New Hardware icon under the Control Panel once you've completed the installation. TAKE INTERNET AUDIO ON THE ROAD Audible.Com, at http://www.audible.com now sells its portable Audible MobilePlayer for $200. After attaching the MobilePlayer to your PC, you can download radio broadcasts and Web site audio, including clips from sites using the new Mobile RealAudio format. When finished, you can take the MobilePlayer's handheld device with you and play back the audio at your convenience. PARTITIONING HARD DRIVES The latest file system from Microsoft is called FAT32. It's available in the OSR2.1 release of Windows 95 and in the upcoming Windows 98. If you're running on FAT32, you no longer need to partition your hard drive into multiple logical drives--like C:, D:, and E:. Under the old file system, unless you partitioned your large hard drive, you ended up wasting valuable disk space. FAT32 completely solves this problem, so you can store all your applications and data on your C: drive. POWERING UP Many users are still afraid to power up all their PC components (monitor, system, speakers) at once (via a power strip on/off switch for example). They believe that they should first turn on the monitor and then the system. This really isn't necessary with most modern PCs. That advice was useful back when video cards weren't as capable as they are now; old video cards would sometimes assume the display was monochrome unless the monitor was already on. If you'd like, try powering on your PC components simultaneously. Even if you have an older system, you won't cause any damage. If your display comes up in monochrome, simply go back to your old method of first powering up the monitor, then the system case. Int13h Extensions: Breaking the latest hard disk capacity barrier As hard disk capacities continue to expand, they've finally come up against the size limitations imposed by the system BIOS. The latest capacity barrier now concerns disks larger than 8.4GB. But unlike earlier limitations, breaking this barrier requires major changes to the BIOS itself. It also has significant ramifications for all the elements involved in accessing the hard disk, including the disk itself, the BIOS, and the Operating System. 1. The role of the BIOS in managing access to your hard disk. The system BIOS plays a key role in your hard disk's operation. The BIOS provides the standard firmware routines that allow software -- Applications and the Operating System -- to access the hard disk. BIOS Interrupts, or software interrupts, control the most fundamental peripherals in a PC; such as the keyboard, video, floppy and hard disks and, more recently, the mouse. Historically, the design of the PC BIOS itself has been the source for a number of capacity limitation problems inherent when using IDE-/ATA-interface hard drives.

The Int13h Interface Among the BIOS Interrupts is the `infamous' Interrupt 0x13 or Int13h (hexadecimal value; equals 19 in decimal), it governs access to all installed hard drives on a PC. The PC BIOS was designed back when the original IBM PC was made, when hard drives were, on the average, 40Mb in size. Certain limitations have recently come to light, specifically due to the way hard drives are manufactured as well as the dramatic advances in Hard Drive Capacity within the last 10 years. The Int13h interface allocates 24 bits for the specification of the drive's geometry: 10 bits to the number of cylinders, for a total of 1,024 8 bits to the number of heads, for a total of 256 6 bits to the number of sectors-per-track, for a total of 63 The term, geometry refers to all three of the above parameters. Factoring these numbers together, you'll find that the BIOS can access up to approximately 16.5 million sectors per hard disk. Total Sectors = Cylinders x Heads x Sectors Since each sector can hold 512 bytes, this gives a total maximum capacity of about 8.4 gigabytes. So you may ask, "If the BIOS could use 8.4GB in the first place, then why was there ever a 528Mb or 2.1GB limit?" The reasons for those limits lie within how the geometry is handled in the BIOS, as opposed to how the geometry is represented on an IDE hard drive. 2. Breaking earlier capacity barriers The first BIOS limitation occurred at 528Mb (millions of bytes), or about 504Mb (megabytes, as would be reported by DOS FDISK). Quite simply, hard drive makers had designed IDE hard drive geometry to use a different array for the 24-bit Int13h: 14 bits to the number of cylinders, for a total of 16,384 4 bits to the number of heads, for a total of 16 6 bits to the number of sectors, for a total of 63 When you intersect those two geometry layouts, you find the first problem; Int13h and IDE only have 1,024 Cylinders and 16 Heads in common, effectively `losing' 4 significant bits. This decreases the accessible capacity to 1/16 of 8.4GB, or 528Mb (504Mb). The method devised by BIOS programmers to resolve this dilemma became known as the LBA standard (stands for Logical Block Addressing). This method is kind of a `detour' for Int13h that, in effect, lets the BIOS borrow bits from the Heads register, lending them to Cylinders. At first (circa 1994), this strategy was only in effect for two of the four `extra' Heads bits, leaving the total number of Cylinders at a mere 4,096. If you do the math, this leads to a mere 2.1GB (billions of bytes) hard drive, only an average capacity by today's standards. Certain BIOS makers found a solution independent from the LBA standard; squeezing one more extra bit into cylinders effectively allowed support for up-to 4.2GB hard drives. The exact execution of this method does not adhere to the LBA Standard, so any hard drives formatted under such support can not be `migrated' to another machine; the drive must be re-formatted before it can be used. One solution to this problem, concocted by the hard-drive makers, was to use special jumper settings on the hard drive itself, changing the number of cylinders to just 4,095 and forcing the drive to appear as only 2.1 GB. However, that results in a waste of capacity and is a less-satisfactory solution than BIOS LBA Translation. This setting also solves a matter of incompatibility; on some types of BIOS, a >2.1GB hard drive will cause things to just "lock-up". This, `cylinder reduction,' setting allows the BIOS to use a geometry within its own thresholds. Often, a Software Overlay will be used in such cases; allowing the entire drive capacity to be used, but without triggering any reactions from the BIOS. Later on (early 1997), the BIOS makers refined LBA to the point where all four `lost bits' of Int13h were accounted for, finally allowing `native' support for an 8.4GB hard drive. The question, then, is how would one support a hard drive that is greater than 8.4GB? 3. The 8.4GB Barrier This latest barrier results from the BIOS itself being limited to 8.4 GB: just 16,515,072 total sectors and 512 bytes per-sector. No translation can be used to get around this, since it is the limit of how hard disks can be represented using standard BIOS Int13h. This limit applies to all hard disks using the standard BIOS Int13h (including IDE/ATA and SCSI disks) and older operating systems (in particular MS-DOS 6.x and similar). 4. Breaking the barrier with Int13h Extensions. So the only way around this barrier is to make a fundamental change in how hard disk access is managed. This can be achieved by changing the BIOS to replace standard Int13h disk access routines with "Int13h Extensions". This has far-reaching consequences for everything involved in hard disk access: the Operating System, the BIOS, the hard disk itself, as well as certain, older Software Applications. Basically, the method used in Logical Block Addressing is extended through another interrupt, allowing more bits and therefore higher values for the hard drive geometry. Another, often less-costly solution is to use a software utility program that provides Int13h-extension functionality, though even a software solution will only be effective if the Operating System also supports Int13h Extensions. Hard Drive Overlay Utility programs, such as EZ-Drive from Micro House, enable you to use a 10GB hard drive (for example) even if your system BIOS will not support Int13h Extensions. One major advantage of this solution is that you don't have to make any changes to your hardware. EZ-Drive, for instance, will automatically set-up your hard drive in under 60 seconds, or copy the entire contents of an existing drive, and either way, giving you the full benefit of all the capacity on the drive. Nowadays, with the breakthrough of Int13h Extensions, one might ask where the next limitation lies. In all likelihood, you won't be hearing about it in the near future; the theoretical limit for Int13h Extensions lies somewhere in the dozens-of-Terabytes (1 TB = 1,099,511,627,776 BYTES ... that's in the *trillions*), and it doesn't seem that any, single hard drive will break that limit anytime soon.

ACCESSIBILITY AIDS Computing can be a frustrating experience for people with disabilities. Fortunately, several organizations offer catalogs filled with hardware and software products specifically designed for physically challenged individuals. Microsoft has a catalog of products that work with Windows 95, 98, and NT systems at http://www.microsoft.com/enable/ You can also contact the Trace R&D Center at http://trace.wisc.edu for a catalog of assistive technology.

DECOMPRESS BEFORE UPGRADING If you're using hard disk compression software on your Windows 95 system, you should seriously consider decompressing your disk before you upgrade to Windows 98. The Windows 98 installation routine must have access to your entire hard drive in order to work correctly, and it may not complete the upgrade successfully on a compressed disk.

DON'T TOUCH THE GOLD A basic reminder: Never touch the gold-edged connectors on computer add-in boards. Static electricity can easily damage the components on the card, and the oil on your skin can corrode the connectors. Always handle the add-in card by its green edges or by the metal bracket at the back of the card.

NO SMOKING ZONE Never smoke cigarettes or anything else near your PC. The fans that cool the internal components can suck your exhaled smoke in through the PC case and blast it all over your hardware. Over time, smoke can seriously damage your PC system. If you must, get a "smokeless" ashtray that cycles secondhand smoke through an air-filtering system.

BEFORE YOU UPGRADE--PART 1 OF 4 Sometimes it's obvious when you need to upgrade--you can't play a DVD disk on a CD-ROM drive, for example. Other times, people perform upgrades when their computer just "seems too slow." These less obvious cases always deserve a second look. You may be able to eke a little more life out of your PC by doing a little cleanup and maintenance. There's no need to spend money unnecessarily. Over the next few days, I'll pass along some tips and tricks you should try before you upgrade that older computer. First, older hard drives are nowhere near the capacity of the latest multigigabyte models. However, your system may be using space very inefficiently, and you might have more room left than you think. Perform a cleanup before you upgrade your hard drive. Remove or archive unneeded files and applications. Then perform a Scandisk-like operation on the drive to reorganize the data at a lower level. Your drive's capacity and overall system performance should improve with just this little bit of maintenance.

BEFORE YOU UPGRADE--PART 2 OF 4 Feel like you need a new modem? If you aren't running with at least a V.90 modem, then you may be right. But at any speed, you want to make sure the modem is running at its full capability. In Windows, be sure to check the Dial-Up Network connection settings for your ISP connection. In Windows 98, for example, you'll find your connection settings under Start/Programs/Accessories/Communications/Dial-Up Networking. Make sure your settings match the upper data transfer limits of your modem.

BEFORE YOU UPGRADE--PART 3 OF 4 A processor upgrade can be expensive and tricky, particularly if you aren't an experienced upgrader. Sometimes, however, it's your only option. With the demands of new software and hardware, processors do become obsolete. However, yours might still have more ooomph than you think. Double-check the performance settings of your operating system. In Windows NT, for example, you'll find them within the Performance tab of the System object in the Control Panel. Make sure you're running your applications at full throttle before you decide to buy a new engine.

INTERNET PHONE TIPS--PART 3 OF 3 How fast is your PC? If you have the option, run your Internet phone software on your fastest PC--preferably 266 MHz or better. The audio quality of the call will suffer on 100 MHz or slower systems--you'll hear pauses, hissing, and other annoyances during most calls. If you must run on a slower system, don't run any other applications during a phone call.

NEW SCANNER TIPS--PART 1 OF 3 Scanners are cheaper than ever. For as little as $100, you can add one to your computer arsenal. They are no longer just a tool for graphics professionals. For these prices, you can use them for loading images to your personal Web page, digitizing business documents, and even as copiers (combined with your printer). Many scanners, like Visioneer's OneTouch 8600, offer more than one interface. Contact Visioneer at http://www.visioneer.com The 8600, for example, comes ready for a parallel port connection or a USB hookup. If you have these type of choices on your scanner (and your PC is USB-capable), go with the USB connection. It's more flexible than the parallel port and you don't need a pass-through device if you want to use another device (such as a printer) at the same time.

NEW SCANNER TIPS--PART 2 OF 3 Button, button, who's got the button? In an attempt at creating better usability, many scanner manufacturers have placed extra buttons on the tops (or sides) of their scanners. These buttons let you perform various functions (such as copying, printing, or posting an image to an e-mail message) by simply pressing one button. Agfa's SnapScan Touch is one such scanner; see Agfa's Web site at http://www.agfahome.com Whatever you do, don't assume that these preprogrammed buttons are your only options for various tasks. By tweaking the scan settings in software, you can tune your scanner for your particular environment. These changes may involve increasing or decreasing the resolution or adjusting the color settings.

NEW SCANNER TIPS--PART 3 OF 3 While a flatbed scanner remains the best choice for most users, you should consider the alternatives before you settle on one. C Technologies' C-Pen 200, for example, is a battery-powered, pen-size scanner designed for digitizing typed text line by line from a book or document. Contact C Technologies at http://www.cpen.com With an infrared port transfer, you can quickly send your scanned data to your PC, even directly into a Word document. Consider how you will use your scanner before you buy, and try to find one that best suits your needs.

TWO-STEP UPGRADE TO A FLAT PANEL DISPLAY If you're think of investing in one of those hot new LCD flat panel displays for your desktop, but you can't afford both the display and the special digital graphics board many panels require, check out Hewlett-Packard's Pavilion FX70 15-inch display at http://www.hp.com The FX70 supports both regular analog graphics adapters, like the one you undoubtedly already have, and several digital models. You can buy the panel first, and purchase a digital graphics adapter down the road when you've saved up more money.

BEFORE YOU UPGRADE--PART 4 OF 4 The latest CD-ROM drives offer X speeds that match many computer users' ages, while a few years back the X speeds were more in line with people's shoe sizes. If your PC sports a 6X, 8X, or 10X CD-ROM drive, you may be thinking of upgrading to one of these new 40X drives--but think twice. All CD-ROM titles are still optimized for playback on about a 4X CD-ROM drive. This means you'll notice no improvement in audio, video, or animation when you play back the title on a faster drive. The only time CD-ROM drive speed makes a difference is when you install software or copy files from a CD to your hard drive. In those cases, the CD-ROM drive transfers data as fast as it can. The real reason to buy a new optical storage drive is to add functionality--for example, you might purchase a CD-R recording drive or a DVD new media drive. In terms of performance alone, odds are your current CD-ROM drive is fast enough.

NEW USB PRODUCTS--PART 1 OF 4 USB continues to be the bus of choice for many hardware designers. Over the next few days, I'll mention some of the latest products that sport this easy-to-use, hot-swappable interface. First up is Konexx's Mobile USB adapter--contact the company at http://www.konexx.com This analog-to-digital phone adapter lets you plug your notebook's analog modem into a digital phone line for Internet connections and data transfer. The Mobile USB draws power from the USB bus. With the adapter you don't have to worry about the high-current digital line problems that can damage or destroy analog modems.

NEW USB PRODUCTS--PART 2 OF 4 An inferior sound card might cripple your voice recognition software by distorting voice input from a microphone. Telex, at http://www.computeraudio.telex.com now offers a way around this problem--the H-531 USB Microphone System. This USB-interface, noise-canceling mike headset needs no sound card. Voice input data gets passed through the USB bus, not through your mike input jack. Notebook users might find this product particularly useful, since the audio components aboard most notebooks do not match the quality of those in your average desktop computer.

NEW USB PRODUCTS--PART 3 OF 4 Thinking of finally buying that Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) to keep your computer running 24/7, even in power outages? If so, why not include an extra USB hub in the mix? American Power Conservation's new Back-UPS Pro gives you just that. It is specifically designed for USB-capable Windows 98 systems. Contact APC at http://www.apc.com

NEW USB PRODUCTS--PART 4 OF 4 Record on the road with Sony's new Spressa USB CRX100E/X--contact the company at http://www.sony.com This CD-RW drive records CD-R media at 4X speed and CD-RW media at 2X speed, and also plays CDs at 6X speed. Best of all, you can carry the portable unit with you to any USB-capable PC, plug it in to the PC's USB port, and start recording. The Spressa works with both iMac and PC computers.

VENTILATE FOR LONGER PC LIFE The system fans inside your PC cool off your system's internal components by drawing air in through the front of the PC case and pushing it out through the back. Unfortunately, if you've relegated your PC to the dusty corner beneath a desk, these fans may be doing more harm than good. Whatever you do, don't disconnect or remove the fans--your system needs this air circulation. But for the sake of your PC's longevity, keep the area around your PC free of dust, dirt, and smoke.


Color ink jet printer prices have now dropped so low that even SOHO users can afford them. Lower-end color ink jets range in price from $99 to $400. Depending upon your home or office budget, you might now be able to afford one of these color printers. Busy offices often use a standard black-and-white printer as the office workhorse, since they are usually cheaper to run over the long term due to less expensive consumables, but there may occasions when you wish to use a color ink jet for special color jobs.
Over the next few days I'll pass along some tips to keep in mind about these inexpensive color ink jets. First, with color printers, it's best to consider print quality over speed. Most of us don't print color documents often enough that we can't wait a few extra seconds for them. Don't concern yourself with the pages-per-minute specification (at least the color ppm rating) of your new color ink jet. But do try to get some sample color pages from any ink jet you are considering. Watch for crisp and clear images, little or no color bleeding, and solid, not fuzzy, lines.


Ink tank issues may be something that black-and-white-only printer users may not have had to contend with in the past. With color ink jet printers, scoping out the ink tank is an important task to do before you buy. Some printers have just one tank that contains all the separate ink colors, while others have small individual tanks so you can replace just one color at a time if you need to. The latter design will save you a lot of money in the long run. You won't need to throw out an entire ink cartridge simply because you've run out of one color. Put ink tank design high on your list of criteria for a color ink jet printer, and have the salesperson of your local computer store show you how the ink tank works on any printer you're considering.


Did you know that you can buy special ink jet printer paper? The paper is specially designed to provide quality printing without soaking up excess ink. Over the long term, using ink jet paper rather than regular paper with your color ink jet printer will save you money. Just make sure you can use this type of paper with the color ink jet you're thinking of buying. Also, check whether you can buy and use ink jet paper from various manufacturers, not just the one that makes your printer.


How often do you address envelopes? If you plan to use your color ink jet as your regular office printer, you should take this need into account. Most printers make the standard paper trays (8.5 by 11 inches) very user friendly and easy to access, but when it comes to single-feed envelope slots, there are good and bad designs. Some printers force you to remove the standard paper trays before you can access the envelope slots. Carefully check this feature on any color ink jet you plan to buy.


Duplex printing is another factor to keep in mind when you shop for color ink jet printers. Some models will print on both sides of a sheet of paper without your intervention. Others--in fact, most of the low-end models--force you to turn the paper over and send it through again when you want to use both sides. If you commonly use duplex printing (or if you just like saving trees), check for duplex printing capability in any color ink jet on your shortlist.


How is your small office configured? If you have all the PCs in your office connected on a LAN, you might consider a color ink jet that features an Ethernet adapter (or offers one as an expansion option). This way, all the office PCs can access the printer without slowing down the one PC to which the printer is locally attached. Expect to spend around $100 to $150 for an Ethernet printer adapter.


Some of the latest printers come with multiple interface options, including parallel, serial, and USB ports. They also sometimes support both PC and iMac platforms. This is all good. Because SOHO computing environments often change, you should buy a printer that is flexible and can change along with your setup. Ask whether these interface options come standard with the printer or are optional configurations. The best buy would be a printer that's ready for multiple interfaces and multiple platforms right out of the box.


Many color ink jet printers include software packages. While this extra software shouldn't be your main concern in shopping for a quality printer, it is a nice extra that you might take into account. Most often, the packages help you format and print Web sites and digital camera images. If a printer includes any software you were actually planning to purchase, you can consider this savings and calculate that into your buying decision.


One way to avoid the repetitive stress injuries keyboard and mouse devices can exacerbate is to use your feet. HTH Engineering at http://www.startstop.com sells a foot pedal called the Pedal Power that sends keystrokes and mouse button messages to Windows applications. You can customize the two-pedal device to communicate with your software.


Keyboard keys break or go missing more often than you might think. If you've ever busted a key on your keyboard, you know how frustrating it can be. Before you buy a whole new keyboard, check into replacing the key itself. Your first stop should be your PC manufacturer (or your keyboard manufacturer, if you purchased it separately). Also try The Key Connection, at http://www.customkeys.com In addition to replacement keys, the company also offers colored keys and specially labeled keys to suit your work or applications.


If you're on the fence about buying a set-top box for your television, you may just want to sit there a little bit longer. Early next year, you can expect the introduction of a number of set-top boxes running the OpenTV operating system. Open TV will allow you to send email, bank online, and be interactive with TV programming, initially from the Dish Network satellite TV network. You can contact OpenTV at http://www.opentv.com


One of your next computer hardware purchases just might be a device that utilizes your sense of smell. DigiScents, at http://www.digiscents.com hopes to bring its digital scent synthesizers to a computer near you so you can smell e-mail, Web sites, advertisements, DVD movies, and so on. You can sign up for the beta program now at its Web site.
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