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Tips Of The Day For December 1997

Tip Of The Day For December 30, 1997: After about nine days of most of the PCs in my office being off, this morning I was "treated" to numerous PC hardware problems. Many older systems experience more trouble when they are turned on for the first time after having been off for a while. Today's goodies included two systems that failed to boot up at all. One had a bad power supply that had to be replaced, but the other was fine after turning it off and then back on again. It's usually a good idea to "try again" when you experience an odd hardware failure; often, turning the PC off, waiting a few seconds, and then turning it back on will make "flakiness" like this go away--at least, temporarily.

Tip Of The Day For December 28, 1997: Nobody was born a PC expert. It takes time, patience and above all, practice to learn about how systems and components work. It also really helps to have someone whom you trust who can help you or give you advice. Since this is the season of giving, I'd urge those of you who know more about PCs to be giving of their time to help others who are having problems or need a word of advice. Those who are new to PCs: take your time, read a lot, and if you know of someone who can help, see if they are willing to assist you. Just make sure not to be too demanding of their time; specific questions are usually better than general ones.

Tip Of The Day For December 19, 1997: I don't deal with printers much on this site but there are a couple of things I wanted to mention. First, it seems that computer stores have come up with a new way to rip off their customers: selling them $150 printers and then trying to get them to buy $35 printer cables to go with them, claiming that new printers need "IEEE certified" cables or somesuch. Well, I can't say categorically that there are no printers out there that need these overpriced cables, I will tell you that there isn't a printer in my office that doesn't work just fine with a $10 standard cable. At worst, try the cheaper cable to see if it works and return it for the pricey one if necessary. Second, watch out for new low-priced ink-jet printers that claim to be "color capable", but which do not come with a color cartridge. They are often $30 less than the next-lowest-pricest model from a given manufacturer; guess how much a color cartridge costs? Finally, even though ink-jet cartridges are expensive, beware of services that offer to refill old cartridges in order to save money. With HP printers at least, the ink-jet cartridge contains some of the circuitry that the printer uses to print. When you buy a new cartridge you also buy new, clean circuits on the cartridge. Refilling older cartridges will save you money in the short run but may lead to printer problems later on due to the accumulation of dirt and dried ink on the cartridge and printer.

Tip Of The Day For December 17, 1997: This probably doesn't apply to most of you, but it may to some. Do you have two PCs on your desk? I talked in an earlier tip about networking, and that's a way to let them share data and other resources. In addition, you can also let the boxes share peripherals if they are in close proximity. We have a couple of people in our office who have two machines for various reasons. I have set them up with switchboxes, which allow them to use the same monitor, keyboard and mouse on both machines and swap between them using a toggle switch. The setup costs around $50 and includes a lot of wires, but it works. :^) One gotcha to be careful of: you need to make sure you have the same type of mouse for both PCs. You may also need adapters to make the setup work. Finally, some PCs can be a bit finicky about having their mouse and keyboard disappear while in operation, although in general it all works well.

Tip Of The Day For December 14, 1997: If you have two PCs in your home, have you considered networking them? Setting up a mini home network is easy in most cases and can provide you with several significant benefits. One of them is file system integration--you can map the drives from one machine to the other so that they appear like a local drive letter for easy backup, file sharing, etc. Another is the ability to share devices, such as CD-ROM drives. There are other advantages as well. With basic networking hardware dropping in price every month, you can now purchase two simple ISA NE2000-compatible network cards and a networking cable for under $100. I'll be adding some information on networking to The PC Guide sometime in the next few weeks.

Tip Of The Day For December 12, 1997: Having a strange problem with your PC? Was it acting just fine before and now you have scrambled files, or hardware that seems to have "disappeared", or other odd behavior? Well, you can certainly find the answers to many common problems in the Troubleshooting Expert. However, you should always first scan your system for viruses using a current virus checker. You'd be amazed at how often what seems to be a hardware problem is in fact one of the little e-critters in action. In fact, I just recently ran into another system here where that was the case. Read more about viruses here.

Tip Of The Day For December 10, 1997: There are lots of places on the net to look for computer industry news. One that I have recently grown to really like is the front page at Hardware.PairNET.com. What's nice about this page is that the webmasters post a daily digest of a few specific links to interesting hardware-related articles, saving you from sifting through all the general news you find on other news pages. The site also has benchmarks, reviews and other interesting items.

Tip Of The Day For December 9, 1997: Standard Windows mice use only two mouse buttons (left and right). There are, however, some applications (especially CAD programs) that require the use of a third, middle mouse button. For these, I recommend the use of a Logitech 3-button mouse. I have used some off-brand 3-button mice and often, the programs looking for the Logitech will not recognize these properly (even with the Logitech driver installed). Incidentally, three-button Logitech mice can also be programmed so that the middle button does a "double-click". How useful is this? Let's put it this way: I can't even use a PC with only two buttons for an extended period of time any more without the lack of a double-click middle button becoming quite annoying.

Tip Of The Day For December 7, 1997: Do you take good care of your media? I often realize that I take my CD-ROMs and tapes for granted, and I know that most others do. Floppy disks, especially, must be treated properly if you want to avoid problems with them. The key care factors? Dirt, heat and moisture--or rather, avoiding exposing your media to them. Check out this media care section for much more information.

Tip Of The Day For December 5, 1997: I recently put together my first ATX form factor system. One of the neat things about ATX is the "soft power" feature. If you set up the system properly, you can actually have Windows 95 turn off the power to an ATX PC when you tell it to shut down. Instead of getting a message on your screen that says "It is now safe to turn off your PC", the PC will actually turn right off. (Those of you who have recently-purchased name-brand PCs likely already have this feature.) If you are setting up an ATX PC and want Windows 95 to be able to do this, the key to enabling the feature is to make sure you do not disable power management in the system BIOS. (I still recommend that you not enable any of the automatic power-saving modes when first setting up a new PC, but leave power management enabled overall.) If you do this then when Windows 95 is set up, it will install support for automatic power management (APM), and part of this support is the automatic power-off at shutdown.

Tip Of The Day For December 4, 1997: Hard disk getting full? Need some free space in a hurry? Here are a few of quick tips. First, look through the disk for temporary files or items you aren't using any more, and delete them if you are sure they are unneeded. Most disks have at least a few megabytes that that can go. Second, empty the Windows Recycle Bin: this is where deleted files go when you zap them, and you'd be surprised how much space this takes up. Third, periodically empty out your Web browser's temporary cache file. I've seen over 100 MB of space recovered on many systems through a combination of these three.

Tip Of The Day For December 3, 1997: Of Mice and Motherboards... There are two primary interfaces used for mice on modern PCs. The first is the traditional serial mouse, which uses a 9-pin D-shaped connector and goes into a serial port on the PC, usually COM1. The second is the PS/2-style mouse, which uses a round, six-pin connector and goes into a dedicated PS/2 mouse port. This is fine and many systems will support either type. The problem is that computer stores sell physical adapters that allow a PS/2-style mouse to physically fit into a serial port and act as a serial mouse. Why is this a problem? Because the two types of mice use different electrical signalling. Simply changing the connector will not allow a serial mouse to be used in a PS/2 mouse port. There is, however, a third type of mouse. Commonly called a combo mouse, this device has the internal electronics to run as either a PS/2 or serial mouse. With this type, the adapter will work. So the moral of the story? If you want to be able to use either mouse interface, make sure you use a combo mouse.

Tip Of The Day For December 1, 1997: If you have a tape drive that you use for backups, consider carefully whether you want to use software compression on it. Most software programs will offer the use of compression to let you pack more onto a tape than you could without it. This is of course a great way to save tapes and in many cases, speed up the backup process. However, if you have a concern about compatibility of your backups with other tape drives or systems, you may not want to use software compression. While tape formats are standardized, many of the software programs use different, incompatible compression algorithms, so if you employ compression you may have more trouble moving your tapes from machine to machine. (Note that this does not apply to hardware compression, which is device-based.)

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