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Biggest ever PC tips guide

Tips and tricks for getting more from your PC, laptop, tablet, phone, printer, camera and more

We use our PCs and laptops for so many different tasks these days, it’s a wonder there’s a point in the day when we aren’t using technology in one form or another. Whether we’re getting all we can from this technology is, however, a very different matter.

Over the following pages, we present some of our favourite tips for getting your PC out of a fix, repairing a wonky installation, recovering from malware and avoiding social-networking pitfalls. Drunken tweets? Check!

There are a lot of tips here: some are satisfyingly techie; others are more about enhancing your PC and tablet-based entertainment. In other words: there is something for everyone.

Photos, music, video; PC Setup


Organise and edit photos for free

Picasa is a great free photo editor and manager. Get it from picasa.google.com and let it manage your images and display them in groups automatically organised by date. It supports tagging and face recognition, and offers some simple non-destructive edits.

Create a custom screensaver ?with Google Picasa

Google Photos Screensaver (get it free from tinyurl.com/2vrwuz) is another freebie based on Picasa. Launch Picasa, click the Tools, Configure Screensaver option and select a source from those listed in the Settings menu. RSS feeds, Flickr photostreams and your own photo library are all options. Pan, zoom and panorama are all supported.

Use Windows’ photo-printing tools

Windows may offer little more than Paint in terms of photo-editing tools, but its Fax and Photo print driver is rather clever. It can auto-arrange photos on a page, stretch or resize them, and help you choose the most appropriate paper type and resolution.

Create a musical slideshow ?in Windows Media Center

Windows Media Center usually offers up some exploding fractal graphics to accompany your choice of music. Head to the Tasks, Settings menu and add some photos to your Favourites menu – tagging any you wish with star ratings. Click Save, then go to the Music Library, select an album and press Play. Choose Play pictures from the far left to start the slideshow.

Sound advice

Windows audio can sometimes cause music playback to stop. If this happens go to Control Panel, Sound. Select the Playback tab and check your preferred sound output is selected as the default device. If it isn’t, highlight the preferred option and click Set Default.

Volume issues

Updating the drivers for the internal sound card or for any external speakers often clears a playback issue. Check the Sound, Properties, Advanced tab, and try adjusting the playback quality settings and clicking on Test to see if something else is interfering.

Play more video formats than just Mpeg4

QuickTime and Mpeg4 movies are actually a collection of video codecs, but they are fairly widely supported. If your tablet, PC or laptop won’t play a clip that you want to watch, try either VLC Media Player (videolan.org), which can handle most video files without additional software, or download the Combined Community Codec Pack for Windows Media Player (cccp-project.net).

Safari’s iTunes safe browser

Whenever we plug an iPhone into a Windows laptop, iTunes seems to spend ages thinking about synching our music, and so on. We’ve noticed it’s checking with Safari about safe browsing. There’s no real need, so just click cancel to go straight to your iTunes library.

Add album art

Missing album artwork in Windows can be tracked down by right-clicking on the album cover and choosing ‘Update Album Art’. In iTunes you need to choose ‘Enable Automatic Downloading’ for your cover art. To track down any that iTunes has missed, try the collection maintained by Amazon, which is also available as a widget from Apple’s downloads site at tinyurl.com/6etn85.

PC makeover

You can instantly change the look of your Windows PC by changing the desktop background to something other than the images that came with Windows. Right-click anywhere on the desktop, choose Personalize and then select a new wallpaper.

Warm to your Windows Theme

A theme is a combination of pictures, colours and sounds that give Windows PCs a particular look and feel. You can change the default one by right-clicking the desktop and choosing Theme, then selecting from those on offer. Alternatively, download one from tinyurl.com/273hutd.

High-resolution hell

Just because your display is capable of supporting HD resolutions, it doesn’t mean you should set it to do so all the time. Cramming more pixels into a smaller space results in a smaller onscreen image – so you’re more likely to squint. Right-click on the desktop, choose Screen resolution and select a slightly lower setting.

Beware screen fatigue

Of course, we all love our PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones, but you can have too much of a good thing. Give your eyes a break from that backlit screen. If you’re forgetful, use a pop-up reminder app. The likes of AntiRSI can also be useful to stop you ending up with aching limbs.

Get a second screen

If you mainly use your laptop at the same desk or table, consider using an external LCD. You’ll enjoy a larger screen and will be sitting further back from the screen itself, making for a more comfortable viewing experience.

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