PC World .Hardware.Tips

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PC World .Hardware.Tips

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mp3 collections, gargantuan software programs, and multimegabyte video files have left PC owners scrambling for free storage space. The best solution for most PC users is to buy and install a new hard disk. Fortunately, now is a great time to buy: Drives are bigger, faster, and cheaper than ever. (For more on the recent crop of drives, see “Livin’ Large” at www. pcworld.com/reviews/march2001/large.)

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  2. HERE’S HOW tem’s CMOS setup program to see these statistics. But we’ve found a handy work- HARDWARE TIPS around: Just use Alex van Kaam’s Moth- erboard Monitor freeware utility to keep watch over your PC’s fans, voltages, and KIRK STEERS temperatures. Head to find.pcworld. com/16020 to download the program. AGP 3: WORTH THE UPGRADE? A Cool Breeze Keeps Your I REPLACED MY 1X/2X AGP graph- ics card with a 2X/4X AGP adapter, PC’s Innards From Frying but my graphics performance has not improved. Should I have waited for the do the cold, dark days of winter have biggest temperature changes occur when AGP 8X cards to come out? you dreaming of tropical beaches, sunny you turn your system on and off, so leave Evan Nathan, Dallas deserts, and the inside of your PC? You your PC on but use its power-manage- absolutely not. Applications that take read right. The climate inside your com- ment functions to keep its innards as cool full advantage of AGP 8X transfer speeds puter can rival that of Death Valley in the as possible when it’s idle. When you turn are at least a year away. Other improve- summer, and triple-digit temperatures on your computer in a really cold office, ments to third-generation AGP graphics are bad news for your hardware. let the system warm up for 15 minutes cards should enhance graphics perfor- Most desktop PCs run comfortably before saving anything to its hard drive. mance, however. FIGURE 1 shows the max- when their internal temperature is be- Listen to your fans: Your PC keeps cool by imum transfer rates of the AGP versions. tween 60 and 110 degrees Fahrenheit. blowing a constant stream of air through (Check your system documentation to its case. The primary air mover in most find your PC’s exact range.) Internal tem- PCs is the power-supply fan, although AGP DATA TRANSFER RATES AGP SPEED Transfer speed (MB/second) peratures over 110 degrees can stress del- some systems have an additional ventila- AGP 1X 266 icate circuits and electrical contacts, tion fan built into the case. Even in rela- AGP 2X 533 which may substantially shorten your tively clean offices, dust can accumulate AGP 4X 1066 computer’s life. Hard drives are especial- on the fan intakes and seriously obstruct AGP 8X 2133 ly vulnerable when the temperature goes airflow. Clean your PC’s fans and fan up: Data transfers slow down, and data intakes regularly, especially if you hear a FIGURE 1: FASTER AGP rates speed up tex- written to the disk is more likely to be lost. change in the fans’ one-note whir. ture maps but won’t help most applications. Here’s how to beat the PC heat. Most CPUs also have a cooling device— Avoid ups and downs: Sudden changes in either a fan or a heat sink. (A heat sink is AGP’s strength is its ability to process temperature are just as harmful to your a metal plate with fins or spikes intended texture maps. Certain 3D games and a PC’s circuitry as high temperatures. The to dissipate heat.) If your CPU’s fan or few 3D graphics development tools are heat sink stops functioning properly, a currently the only programs that benefit CPU failure won’t be far behind. greatly from fast-moving texture maps. A CONFLICTED MOUSE A heat sink needs a constant flow of air To make sure you’re getting the full DOES YOUR CURSOR sometimes appear to remove heat. In most PCs, the internal benefits of AGP 4X, go into your CMOS and disappear, move in the wrong direc- fans provide the required airflow. Never setup program and make sure your PC is tion, or change size and shape? It could leave the case off your system while it’s set to run at AGP 4X rather than 2X. be a sign of mouse trouble, which is running. Going topless may lower the Load the latest AGP drivers onto your often due to a conflict with your graphics overall temperature inside your PC, but it PC. The AGP drivers that come with Win- card’s driver. If you use Windows 9x or also destroys the internal airflow patterns dows 9x are limited, and systems using Me, there may be a solution simpler than that keep your CPU and other compo- AMD’s Athlon CPU don’t work well with installing an updated driver. Open Con- nents from overheating. older drivers. Check with the manufac- trol Panel, double-click the System icon, Mercury rising: Most PCs made in the last turer of your PC, motherboard, or chip choose the Performance tab, and click few years monitor and report on the state set—in that order—to find updated driv- the Graphics button. Move the slider of their case, CPU, and power-supply ers and installation instructions. next to Hardware Acceleration one notch fans. Some also provide data on the sys- to the left. This change disables some tem’s internal temperature, and some Hardware Tips welcomes your tips and ques- graphics capabilities, but it may be the have a temperature alarm built into their tions and pays $50 for published items. Kirk solution to your rodent problem. BIOS. You usually have to open your sys- Steers is a PC World contributing editor. 154 W W W. P C W O R L D.C O M FEBRUARY 2002
  3. HERE’S HOW peripherals at one time. All the devices the back of your PC for two narrow, rec- connected to a USB 1.1 controller have to USB VS. FIREWIRE DATA RATES tangular openings. If you have an older Maximum HARDWARE TIPS share its 12-mbps bandwidth. If you need to run multiple devices that eat up more SPECIFICATION data rate (mbps) Comments Supports low-speed (up to 1.5 mbps) peripherals such as mice and keyboards, as well as system without USB, an adapter card should get you up and running. (Using than 12 mbps, you can use a PCI adapter USB 1.1 12 printers, scanners, and other medium-speed devices. USB on systems running Windows 95 is, KIRK STEERS card to add a USB controller to your PC. at best, problematic. If that’s what you’re Also called High-Speed USB, the new standard is fast enough to support external hard Belkin sells a USB 1.1 PCI adapter card USB 2.0 480 drives, CD-RW drives, and other high-speed peripherals. using, consider an OS upgrade.) CONNECT DEVICES A UTILITY FOR AN OLD AGP CARD for $39 and a USB 2.0 version for $59. Many PC peripherals now support the IEEE 1394 Popular spec for digital video cameras; will allow direct connection of IEEE 1394 devices WITH A USB HUB CACHE MANAGEMENT IN A NEW AGP SLOT Easy linking: If you’ve ever tried to chain (FireWire) 400 (such as a DVD player to a TV) without the signal having to pass through a PC. USB 2.0 specification. USB 2.0 devices together two devices—such as a printer can run more than 40 times faster than and a Zip drive—you know it can be a real FIGURE 2: USB 2.0 HARDWARE MOVES DATA slightly faster than devices using an IEEE 1394 those using USB 1.1. The top USB 2.0 For Fast, Easy Computing, nightmare. USB allows any device to be connected to any other USB device that has a built-in hub. So you’ll never have to (FireWire) connection, but it can be more than 40 times faster than USB 1.1 devices. ty from the incoming USB connector and If you buy a self-powered hub, make data rate is 480 mbps, which is faster than the IEEE 1394 (FireWire) ports that run hard drives, digital still and video cam- USB Is the Bus to Ride crawl under your desk to reach the back of your PC when attaching a peripheral. output up to 100 mA per port (that’s milli- amps, a measure of electrical current). sure it provides a full 500 mA to each port—some don’t. To check, divide the eras, and CD-RW drives (see FIGURE 2). USB 2.0 products are backward com- lots of things get better with time: ial or parallel port often requires a com- Some keyboards and monitors have Self-powered hubs draw their own power hub’s total amperage rating (found in its patible, so you can use older USB devices friendship, a fine cabernet, and yes, even plicated configuration. USB avoids the built-in hubs with one or two USB ports. or, in the case of the root hub in your PC, documentation or on the power supply) on a USB 2.0–equipped PC. So what’s the PCs. Every day we’re bombarded by ad- hassles of setting and juggling IRQs and If you don’t already have one of these, get it from the PC. They provide up to 500 by the number of ports. For example, a catch? USB 2.0 products are a bit more vertisements hawking systems that are other resources. One IRQ covers all the consider buying a dedicated USB hub mA per port. Keyboards, mice, and other four-port hub should provide at least 500 expensive. Also, the selection of USB 2.0 faster and cheaper—so much so that it’s hardware attached to each low-power USB devices use 25 mA to 40 mA per port, or 2 amps total. devices is limited at present, and they re- easy to lose sight of really useful improve- USB port. USB peripherals mA and run well on a 100-mA port of a If your PC originally shipped with quire a USB 2.0-ready PC to run them. ments, like the Universal Serial Bus. have fewer compatibility bus-powered hub. More-demanding de- Windows 98 or later, it almost certainly Look for the first USB 2.0–ready moth- USB is the way to connect anything to problems than peripherals vices need to use a self-powered hub. has a set of working USB ports. Look on erboards and systems to hit the mar- your PC. It’s fast, simple, and so much using serial or parallel ports. better than parallel and serial ports that Speed: A USB 1.1 controller they look downright medieval by compar- transfers data at up to 12 ison. (Not to say that leeches and a good mbps, or about four times suit of armor don’t come in handy every faster than the speediest now and then. But, hey, enough about my parallel port and 100 times personal life.) Judging from all the e-mail quicker than a serial port. I get about problems with parallel and While that won’t affect the serial ports, a surprising number of you performance of a mouse or FIGURE 1: EASILY ADD AND REMOVE USB hardware by still aren’t aware of just how great USB is. joystick, it makes a big dif- installing a USB hub such as Belkin’s four-port device. And with USB 2.0, the spec gains even ference with printers, scan- more advantages. Here’s a rundown on ners, and other data-hungry peripherals. that sits on your desktop. Dedicated hubs why you should be riding with USB. Portability: All USB devices can be hot- have clusters of two, four, or more ports. Ease of use: USB just works better. Peri- swapped, which means that you can plug Belkin’s four-port USB 2.0 hub, for exam- od. Getting hardware to function on a ser- a piece of hardware into your PC, or un- ple, costs as little as $52 online (see FIG- plug one, while your system is running. URE 1). If your hub connects lots of USB The operating system will automatically devices to your PC, make sure you have SPEND YOUR CACHE WISELY recognize and configure new USB devices. adequate power to run them all. Printers WHEN YOUR PC uses the same chunk of Support for old hardware: There once was a and many similar devices have their own data over and over, it often stores that lack of USB peripherals, but now almost power connections, but mice, keyboards, piece of information in fast memory, or every I/O device comes in a USB version. modems, and others get their power from cache, where it can retrieve the data Even old devices run off USB by using an the USB connection. If the devices need faster than it can off a hard drive. Stor- adapter that converts parallel, serial, and more power than the USB port can deliv- ing the right amount of data in the cache other devices to USB. Belkin and SIIG are er, the entire bus may shut down. When can improve your PC’s performance. two vendors that offer such adapters. this happens, Windows displays a warn- PHOTOGRAPH: MARC SIMON Outer Technologies’ $10 Cacheman is an One port, many devices: With the use of a ing icon next to the Universal Serial Bus excellent shareware utility that lets you USB controller, a single USB port can Controller entry in Device Manager. For- conveniently monitor memory use and theoretically support up to 127 different tunately, you can avoid power problems control your cache settings. Go to find. devices, although practically speaking, it’s by using the right type of USB hub. pcworld.com/17641 to get the download. unlikely you’ll ever run more than ten Bus-powered USB hubs draw electrici- 154 W W W. P C W O R L D.C O M MARCH 2002
  4. HERE’S HOW H A R D WA R E T I P S ket sometime this spring. You can add There are three different types of AGP motherboard support the same operating USB 2.0 functionality to your system now slots: the original AGP 1.0 1X/2X slot, the voltages. The original AGP 1.0 spec called by using one of the adapters mentioned AGP 2.0 2X/4X slot, and the AGP Pro for motherboards and cards that operate above. But before buying a USB 2.0 prod- slot. The 1X/2X version is the shortest at 3.3V, and the AGP 2.0 spec added sup- uct, check with the vendor to confirm the and can be distinguished from the 4X port for operation at 1.5V. If your old availability of USB drivers for your oper- type by a small separator that divides it graphics card operates at 3.3V, you’ll need ating system. As I write this, USB drivers into two sections. The 4X slot also has a motherboard that supports 3.3V AGP. for Windows XP are still unavailable, and extra pins at one end. Likewise, a card that runs at 1.5V needs a drivers for Windows 98 and Me aren’t From your description, your PC proba- corresponding AGP slot. always included with USB products. bly has an AGP Pro slot. These slots have Fortunately, many motherboards come an extension added to the end of the 4X with ‘universal’ AGP slots that support ANY AGP PORT IN A STORM? slot without the extra pins. While the either voltage, and many of the latest MY BROTHER JUST gave me his AGP Pro slots are designed for top-end graphics cards support both voltages as old Pentium III PC minus a graphics graphics cards costing over $1000, they well. Not all setups do, however. A few card. I opened up its case to add are also found frequently on mother- motherboards out there run exclusively at the AGP 2X graphics card I took from my for- boards used in mainstream PCs. 1.5V and won’t support the older 3.3V mer computer, but the AGP slot in the P-III Because the AGP Pro slot is backward cards. Check with your motherboard and PC is much longer than the slot in my old compatible, a 1X/2X or 2X/4X AGP card graphics card vendors to determine your system. Can I safely add my old graphics card will work in the slot. But take care when hardware’s precise requirements. to the newer computer’s AGP slot? inserting a 1X/2X card to avoid incorrect- Peter Miller, Topeka, Kansas ly inserting it into the AGP Pro extension. Kirk Steers is a PC World contributing editor. you probably can, but before adding Often these extensions come with a cover Reach him at kirk_steers@pcworld.com. an old AGP card to a new motherboard, to prevent this, but the covers can fall off. Hardware Tips welcomes your tips and ques- make sure the two are compatible. Also make sure your graphics card and tions and pays $50 for published items.
  5. HERE’S HOW as the HWInfo shareware package. Visit find.pcworld.com/11881 to get it. HARDWARE TIPS Does it use a socket or a slot? The type of CPU connector your motherboard uses determines which CPUs can connect to KIRK STEERS your system. FIGURE 1 lists information to help you determine what your PC uses. THE INS AND OUTS MATCH UP YOUR FASTER WRITING TO What about your frontside bus and multi- OF CPU UPGRADES MOTHERBOARD REMOVABLE DISKS pliers? The frontside bus (or FSB) is the path between your RAM and CPU. It runs at a particular frequency: 66, 100, or Will a New CPU Give 133 MHz. The motherboard multiplies that frequency to drive the CPU. For ex- ample, a Pentium II-233 CPU typically Your PC More Vroom? runs on a motherboard with a 66-MHz FSB and a multiplier of 3.5. The same sys- if you think you can feed your need That’s because other components play tem can run a Pentium II-266 CPU if you for PC speed without investing in a whole a big role in determining your system’s change the multiplier from 3.5 to 4. But new system, simply by replacing your old overall performance. For example, dwin- running a Pentium II-400 CPU on that CPU with a newer and faster one, you’re dling hard disk space or too little RAM system would be a waste: With an FSB of right—probably. A CPU upgrade can be can slow down a system that’s trying to a cost-effective way to boost PC perfor- process big spreadsheets or databases. mance, but it’s not for everyone. Any And adding a topflight graphics card to WHAT’S YOUR SOCKET? CPU Motherboard attachment prospective upgrader should ask two your PC can dramatically improve the Pentium (75 to 133 MHz) Socket 5 or 7 questions: How much performance will a look and play of many games. Pentium (133 to 200 MHz) Socket 7 new processor add to my PC? And is the But if you’re on a tight budget and you Pentium MMX Socket 7 bounce worth the cost? need a moderate, across-the-board perfor- Pentium Pro Socket 8 Intel You can find a CPU upgrade for almost mance boost, adding a new CPU can be Pentium II Slot 1 any PC—from systems based on Intel’s worthwhile. Our rule of thumb: If you’re Pentium III Slot 1 or Socket 370 ancient 80486 chip through today’s Pen- staying in the same processor class, buy a Celeron (300 to 433 MHz) Slot 1 or Socket 370 tium III models. But don’t expect mir- CPU upgrade only if it will at least double Celeron (466 MHz or faster) Socket 370 (PPGA or FC-PGA) acles from a new CPU if its clock speed is your current clock speed—from 400 MHz K5 Socket 5 or 7 only slightly higher than that of your cur- to 800 MHz, for example. Better yet, K6, K6-2, K6-III Socket 7 or Super 7 rent CPU. A new processor running at move up an entire CPU class, such as AMD Athlon Slot A twice the clock speed you’re used to won’t from a Celeron chip to a full-fledged Pen- Athlon (Thunderbird) Socket A come close to doubling your system’s per- tium II or Pentium III. Duron Socket A formance. A 10 to 20 percent jump in per- If you have an older system, keep in formance is more realistic. mind that powerful new PCs are cheaper FIGURE 1: KNOW YOUR motherboard attach- than ever. If a CPU upgrade costs more ment type before you buy a CPU upgrade. than $300, you may be better off spend- MORE ZIP FOR YOUR ZIP ing a little more for a new PC. 66 MHz and a top multiplier of 4, the old IF YOU FREQUENTLY use a removable Here’s what you need to know about machine can run no faster than 266 MHz. storage drive—such as an Iomega Zip or your PC before you buy a new CPU: What is the voltage? If you’re adding a Jaz drive—you can speed up data writing What’s your old CPU’s name? Use Intel’s standard CPU rather than an upgrade to the drive by enabling write-behind Processor Frequency ID Utility to identify processor, make sure your motherboard’s caching. This arrangement allows Win- the company’s CPUs. Go to find.pcworld. CPU voltage matches the voltage needs of dows to temporarily store data destined com/11880 to download the program. your new CPU. Some motherboards sup- for the disk in RAM and then write it to What’s your PC’s chip set? The chip set port multiple CPU voltage settings, but the disk when no other tasks are being your motherboard uses determines what many older boards don’t. Check your performed. To enable this option, launch types of CPU, RAM, hard drive, and other manual to be sure of what you need. Control Panel’s System applet, select hardware will work with your PC. To dis- Performance•File System•Removable cover what chip set your PC uses, look in Kirk Steers is a PC World contributing editor. Disk, and check the Enable write-behind your system’s manual or download and Hardware Tips welcomes your tips and ques- caching on all removable disk drives box. run a hardware diagnostic program such tions and pays $50 for published items. 198 W W W. P C W O R L D.C O M OCTOBER 2001
  6. H A R DWA R E T I P S KIRK STEERS Reserve a Cab Your PC’s Case: ABOUT THE ONLY time you need your Win- dows CD-ROM once your PC is running is Enter With Caution when you install hardware. If you can’t find the disc, or if you can’t get your CD-ROM drive to work, you could be stuck. To play it safe, make a folder on your hard disk, name every time you crack open your PC’s grounded outlet. it CABS, and copy Windows’ .cab files (the case to add or remove hardware, you’re Always remove compressed versions of Windows operating rolling the dice. Maybe you’ll slip that new all traces of the system files) to it. Just copy the ‘win98’ and modem or ethernet card into its slot and old device before ‘drivers’ folders from the Windows CD. They watch Windows seamlessly install its driv- you install the occupy about 275MB, but it’s space well ers. Yeah, and maybe your Internet stocks new one. Here’s used, even if you only need the files once. will return to triple-digit share values, what to do: too—but I sure wouldn’t count on it. 1. Use the Add/Remove Programs applet Windows’ own installation routines. Even with such technologies as Plug in Control Panel to remove all of the soft- 2. If the installation instructions are and Play, hardware ware associated with the device. unclear or refer to a different model num- can still be quite 2. Remove the device’s driver. ber, go to the manufacturer’s Web site tricky to install. Click Start•Settings•Control Panel• and look for updated documentation. Mistakes or prob- System, choose the Device Manag- 3. Get the latest driver update. The drivers lems can lead to er tab, double-click the device’s on the floppy or CD-ROM that came with hours of trouble- category, select the device you’re the device may be out-of-date. Check the shooting, or even uninstalling, and click the Remove vendor’s Web site for newer versions. to an unusable PC. button. Note: To remove the driver 4. Don’t interrupt a driver installation. These installation of a graphics card (Windows calls Stopping in midprocess can cause all guidelines should it a “display adapter”), first double- kinds of trouble. If you want to abort an help keep your click the device name, choose the installation, finish the procedure com- system running. Driver tab in its Properties box, pletely, and then uninstall the driver. First, create a and select the Update Driver but- 5. Secure cards to the case with their fas- backup. Windows ton; then use the Update Device tening screws. Unfastened cards can work 98 automatically Driver Wizard to install Windows’ their way out of their slots over time. backs up its Registry generic VGA driver (see FIGURE 1). files every day. By default it stores the last 3. Shut down your PC. For additional hardware tips, five backups in the Windows\Sysbckup 4. Open your system’s case, and remove visit www.pcworld.com/heres_ folder as .cab files named rbxxx.cab, the old device. If you’re upgrading your how. Send your tips and ques- where xxx is the number of the backup— graphics card, put the new one in now. tions to kirk_steers@pcworld.com. We pay 001, 002, or whatever. Copy the most re- 5. Restart the PC and check Device Man- $50 for published items. Kirk Steers is a cent .cab file, and give it a different name ager. If the old device’s entry is still there, PC World contributing editor. so it won’t be overwritten by a corrupted repeat the uninstall. Sometimes copy. If you need to restore a backup file, you have to “remove” a device restart your system in DOS mode and run more than once before there are regscan.exe—running it from a DOS ses- no traces of it left in Windows. sion in Windows won’t work. Install new devices one at a Windows Me’s System Restore utility time, and use your PC for a few automates system backups. Click Start• days between each installation to Programs•Accessories•System Tools•System give problems time to reveal Restore to reload a system configuration themselves. Some things to re- that Windows saved previously. member as you install: Last, make sure that you’re electrically 1. Plug and Play isn’t always the grounded. Even a small static charge on best method for installing a your body can damage your PC’s delicate device. Some drivers have their circuitry. Touch the system’s metal chas- own installation programs that FIGURE 1: BEFORE INSTALLING A NEW graphics card, sis just before you unplug it from its are best run independently of replace the old driver with Windows’ Standard VGA driver. 190 PC WORLD A U G U S T 2 0 0 1
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