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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


Change the operating system

We’ve already noted how Linux can bring security benefits. Using Ubuntu 11.10 ‘Oneiric Ocelot’ (the latest consumer version of Ubuntu) rather than Windows will also let you get more oomph from an elderly laptop. Another Linux choice: Puppy Linux (puppylinux.org) is lightweight and secure, as well as free, and can be run off a USB drive if you prefer.

A new Windows for old

Windows is getting less bloated and laggy. Hooray! You could dump Vista or XP for Windows 7 Home Premium and enjoy a slicker Windows experience. Alternatively, you could try out the unfinished Developer Preview version of Windows 8.
You can download it from the PC Advisor website at tinyurl.com/3zqh77t (32bit) or tinyurl.com/bwhhaL4 (64bit). The worry-free way to test drive Windows 8 – or if you simply don’t have a spare PC on which to run it – is to use virtualisation software. We like VirtualBox (tinyurl.com/cvs9qx6).

Enjoy easier Windows upgrades

You need to back up everything on your PC before doing so, but once you’ve completed the preparation, there’s still lots of hard graft ahead. You’ll need to reinstall your applications and transfer your programs files, email and browser bookmarks. Microsoft helps ease this task by offering its Windows Easy Transfer utility, which is available as a free download (tinyurl.com/y2o5wkr). It scans the software, saves everything to an external hard drive and assembles all the items you’ll need when you load up your new version of Windows. It also transfers your files to the correct locations on your new PC.

Wireless keyboard keeps playing up

It’s not uncommon for wireless peripherals such as keyboards and mice to present problems. They need to maintain a connection with their RF receiver base station – the small module that plugs into the PC via USB – in order to communicate to Windows what you’re typing. Unfortunately, other electronic items in the vicinity often interfere. If you work with your mobile phone by your side, it’s likely to be the culprit.

Is my software kosher?

When you install Windows for the first time, you’ll be prompted to activate it. You can run the operating system for the first 28 days ?without needing to do so but, after that, Microsoft will start reminding you that “this copy of Windows is not genuine”, hoping you will activate (or register) your copy. The licence key will be written on the embellished sticker on the disc’s paper jacket, or on the box. If you don’t have a licence key, you’ll need to buy one or face sudden shutdowns and screen blackouts.

I think I’ve bought pirate software

Software piracy is rife. Buying software through an auction site such as eBay is ?ill-advised; you transfer money into a stranger’s PayPal account, they cash it and provide a string of numbers to unlock the software you downloaded. Expect a nasty malware infection as well as there’s a high likelihood that the software is ‘cracked’ and therefore unusable (or not legally). Our advice is don’t bother. If you can’t afford to buy expensive software, there are many free alternatives for almost every computing and
creative task imaginable.


Keep files in sync

Always have the latest version of a given file to hand: use Dropbox (dropbox.com) or SugarSync (sugarsync.com) and they’ll do the sorting for you. Install the free software on your home and work PCs – and your iPhone, BlackBerry or Android device if you need to – and the most recent version of a file will arrive in the Dropbox folder that appears next to your Documents and Downloads one.

Share a mobile web connection

Got a 3G connection on your smartphone and need to get online to send an email from your laptop? If Wi-Fi isn’t an option, try tethering your laptop and phone. Pair them using Bluetooth and then head to the Settings menu on your phone to share the connection as a mobile hotspot.

Password protection

A PIN will stop someone picking up your iPhone and idling scrolling through your Facebook messages; another for your SIM will stop someone downloading your contacts list; a code for your voicemail could stop phone hacking.
Spare battery pack

An extended battery pack offers more oomph, but also adds to the bulk. Nonetheless, a fully charged spare is a more efficient alternative to waiting for your dead brick to charge from the mains. If you must travel light, the likes of Philips and Belkin offer external battery packs that you charge in advance and then transfer power to whatever they’re hooked up to. If mains power isn’t in reach but you still need to work, these could prove a lifesaver.

 Improve laptop battery life

Switching off Wi-Fi when you’re not using the web, not having lots of items running in the background, and setting the battery to balanced mode can all extend your phone’s life.

Add ports and possibilities

A sleek laptop that’s light enough to take with you is highly desirable; such a machine probably skimps on ports to keep weight to the bare minimum though. A docking station that stays at home, but adds supplementary ports, could prove a worthwhile investment. Think ethernet, multiple USB and FireWire connections and an HDMI-out.


Should you be duped into downloading a ‘virus scanner’ that ensures your PC is compromised by the time your antivirus software has kicked into action, the clean-up can be messy. Tell-tale signs include strange pop-ups and your web browser being hijacked with add-ons that won’t uninstall. If you suspect the worst, take your PC offline.

We used to get calls from worried readers who were concerned that even if the PC was no longer connected to the internet, viruses could still be ruining their computer’s innards. They can’t, but a Trojan or botnet virus could be lying dormant, waiting for the call to action from their master. Botnets are zombie PCs that have been taken over and are used to launch a denial of service (DoS) attack on a server somewhere. So it’s vital you thoroughly investigate before you allow the PC anywhere near a web connection again.

Start up your computer in Safe mode. Usually, you need to press the F8 button to boot into this before the Windows loading page appears. In the ‘Advanced Boot Options’ menu, select ‘Safe mode with Networking’ and press Enter. Run a Disk Cleanup (listed under Programs, Accessories, System Tools) to get rid of any strays, then run a scanner such as Malwarebytes (malwarebytes.org).

Since your existing antivirus software may have missed or been disabled by malware, don’t rely on this. If needs be, connect to the internet just to grab a suitable malware scanner, then come offline. Better yet, use another PC to download the file, copy it to a USB drive and install it from that.

With luck, the scan will complete successfully and you can follow its advice about deleting quarantined files. Restart the PC and run another scan to check all infections are gone. If the scanner fails, ?a deep-seated infection may be at play.

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