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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

BROWSING

Perform a ping test

The simplest of all internet tools is the humble ping command, which lets you ?use the command prompt to contact a website and see whether it’s alive and responding. It also resolves host names to ?IP addresses, so if you issue the command ping www.pcadvisor.co.uk, it will tell you the site’s associated IP address. And it also tells you the speed of the connection and response – handy if you want to check on your own connection.

Manage browser add-ons

Use Microsoft’s Mats Run utility to check ?for browser toolbars and add-ons. To ?disable unwanted toolbars, right-click the Internet Explorer toolbar and deselect any you don’t use. You may need to look in Manage add-ons or Add/Remove Programs to disable them.

Update your browser to fix performance issues

If a once favoured browser no longer works flawlessly, upgrade to the latest version. Not only will that stop its makers bugging you about the upgrade’s availability, but it will improve stability and content handling, too.

Test your web connection

Another web speed test, speedtest.net, also uses a ping test to check the bandwidth between you and the web server your ISP has provided. Remember that connection speeds vary across the day, with peaks of usage in the early evening.

MUSIC & VIDEO

Download domains

For downloads, using a local mirror server somewhere in Europe rather than the US will generally result in faster access to the program you crave.

P2P file-sharing danger

Peer-to-peer file-sharing and torrent sites are among the most dangerous places you can visit on the web. They are fronts for the nastiest forms of malware, and are especially effective as they require you to open ports on your PC to let other users access your files.

Stream music and video for free

Rather than amassing a digital music library by buying through iTunes or Amazon MP3, you could use the web to stream music instead. There are thousands of online radio stations, but also free versions of music-streaming and subscription services. Napster and We7.com are two good examples; both allow you to enjoy music playlists and to save tracks you like for later offline listening.

Rent your tunes

As long as you’re happy to pay £5 per month, Spotify and Napster are content to share their seven million-strong music libraries with you – including live sets and unreleased studio sessions. Depending on the subscription model you choose, you can log into the account on your PC, laptop, tablet and smartphone, and bring up your chosen playlists whenever you like. Your favourite albums can even be enjoyed offline, so you can tune in without a web connection.

Google, Amazon and Tesco offer free video streaming

All of the above companies have recently launched video-on-demand services that let you rent or buy outright Hollywood blockbusters, British indie flicks and renowned TV series. Tesco’s is called Blinkbox and is preinstalled on some Smart TVs. A limited number of free films and programmes are also on offer, and you don’t even need to log in.

BBC iPlayer is now even better

The BBC iPlayer app is so popular that UK ISPs groaned about the extra bandwidth we started using. It’s now available on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii consoles, but also on iPad and Android tablets, so you can enjoy it in comfort rather than simply through a PC screen.

Add a parental lock to iPlayer

A potential caveat of the iPlayer is that it will play anything it’s asked to, at any time. Click on a post-watershed programme title, click the padlock icon next to the Guidance button, and enter a password and your email address on the Parental Guidance page that pops up.

Act your age

DVDs have age ratings on the box; as do computer and console games. Prevent your children ignoring them by implementing Parental Controls in Windows. You’ll find it in the User Account settings.

WINDOWS


Remote access tools rule

If you can’t fix your PC, someone else surely can. Use the Remote Assistance tools in Windows to get context-based help or allow a technical support staffer to peer at what’s happening and apply a few tweaks.

Manage exclusions to ?Windows Firewall

Windows 7’s firewall constantly asks you to allow or deny an application’s access to your network. To unblock or block a program, you’ll have to manually change some settings in the Windows Firewall control panel.
Click on your Start button, type Allowed Applications into the search field, and press Enter. In the resulting window, all the programs installed on the system that were flagged by Windows Firewall will be listed. If there is an application communicating through the Firewall that you now want to block, click the Change Settings button at the top of the screen, then scroll through the list of programs until you find the offending software, and disable it from accessing the internet over Home/Work or Public networks. Conversely, if you’d like to allow a program that was previously blocked, find it on the list, and select the appropriate boxes next to the entry.

Revive a non-functioning PC
We can’t perform miracles, but we can suggest some common fixes. A non-starting PC may have power supply issues, but a poorly seated processor, RAM module or graphics card could also be at fault.

Crashing soon after startup

Uninstall anything you recently downloaded, then check your startup apps and background processes to see if something is going wrong. View the processes in the Task Manager by pressing Ctrl, Shift, Esc and clicking the Processes tab. Use ProcessLibrary.com as a reference to identify the obscure ones.

For startup items, enter msconfig in the Start menu Search bar, then launch the application and click on the Startup tab to see what’s going on. If something you recently installed shows up in there, it might be the culprit.

Unexplained PC crashes

If your crashes aren’t easy to reproduce, get your security software to scan for viruses and malware. If you’ve recently installed a new security suite and have started seeing problems, try uninstalling it and then use a different one. Security applications typically get deeper into the guts of your system than other apps, meaning they’re more prone to incompatibilities.

Windows won’t load

This is best addressed by booting into Safe mode – you’ll probably be offered this option if Windows fails to start. Uninstall whatever you installed most recently, update any drivers such as the Bios software, then head to the System Restore menu and select a recent date. Restart the PC.

HARDWARE


Hard-drive errors
A failing hard drive won’t be fixed using the Safe mode and System Restore tools, but going through the process may help alert you to it. Get your recovery disc, boot up from it, and save whatever data you haven’t backed up. Run your disk diagnostic app or Check Disk, which is built into Windows. Right-click your hard-drive icon, select Properties, Tools, then select Check now... under the Error Checking tab. There’s no cure for bad sectors – you’ll have to replace the drive.

Imminent motherboard failure

The motherboard issues a series of bleeps ?to alert you to its plight. Back up the drive and save what you can before calling on tech help or looking for a replacement component.

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