The tech world abounds with hype, rumour and innuendo. It can be hard to tell IT fact from fantasy fiction. Fortunately, PC Advisor has rounded-up 15 technological rumours and given them a thorough shake down, so you can tell what's nonsense, and what's not.

We hate to break it to you, but Bill Gates is not going to give you money just for forwarding an email. Eating Pop Rocks and drinking fizzy pop at the same time won't cause your head to explode (although we don't recommend mixing Polos and Diet Coke). The Harry Potter books are not a secret plot to promote witchcraft and satanism. And that story about Richard Gere and his pets? We don't even want to go there.

These are, of course, urban legends that have been circulating on and off the internet for ages. But they're not the only misconceptions out there. Many intelligent, experienced computer users believe things about technology that simply aren't true.

We came up with 15 common myths in the tech world and did some digging to reveal the real story. Some rumours are wholly false. Others turned out to have more than a grain of truth in them.

To give you a sense of how real these myths are, we've created a little 1 to 5 scale with 5 being total nonsense and 1 signifying that the rumour is true.

We hope this research will make you a little wiser when you encounter future tales of technology - whether they're fact, fiction or something in between.

Myth 1: If you download files from a peer-to-peer network, the MPAA or RIAA will know who you are.

Nonsense meter: 2.5 out of 5

It all sounds like George Orwell's 1984: "If you are downloading movies, television shows, music or video games using a P2P network, the files that you have downloaded can be traced back to your IP address," says MPAA spokesperson Elizabeth Kaltman.

But BayTSP, which keeps watch on file-sharing networks such as BitTorrent and eDonkey, is a tad less self-assured. When the company monitors these services for various clients, it can indeed capture a file swapper's IP address, the date and time of the download, the name of the file, and information on the individual's internet service provider - but only for large downloads.

"If the file is big enough - a movie or software application (as opposed to a single song) - it is highly likely that BayTSP can identify an individual before that person has completed the entire file download," says Jim Graham, spokesperson for BayTSP.

"Not 100 percent likely, but pretty close. We never claim to have complete insight into every downloader."

Connecting an IP address to an actual name or physical address isn't a sure thing either. Typically, attorneys for the record and movie industries approach ISPs or universities with evidence of alleged copyright infringements.

It is up to that organisation to identify its customers based on their IP address - and not all of them comply.

There are other challenges as well. Peter Eckersley, staff technologist for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says that using anonymous IP networks, anonymizing proxies (sites or servers that let you keep your IP address hidden while surfing the web), or open Wi-Fi connections can make it much harder to trace your identity.

Note, though, that using a dynamic IP address via DHCP will not protect you. ISPs keep track of who was using a certain IP address at a particular time, and if they're willing to cough up that information, you could be done for.

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Myth 2: Using third-party ink in your printer voids the warranty.

Nonsense meter: 5.0 out of 5

This one has bogus written all over it - in any kind of ink.

According to Canon, Epson and Lexmark, using another company's ink cartridge or refills does not automatically invalidate your warranty. (However, PC Advisor tests have shown that using third-party inks may not yield the best results.)

The exception to this rule is if the ink itself causes a problem with the printer. Epson spokesperson Cheryl Taylor likens it to the 50,000-mile warranty on your new radial tires.

"Your car tire has a warranty on its tread life," she says. "If the tread wears out before it's supposed to, it's covered by the warranty. If you go out and slash your tire, well, something's wrong with your tire, but that's not damage covered by the warranty."

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Myth 3: If you type a URL into your browser, you're safe from phishing attacks.

Nonsense meter: 3.0 out of 5

The surest route to having your identity stolen is to click a link inside a phishing email and naively hand over your personal information. But typing into a browser is no guarantee that you'll foil the phishers.

There are at least two dangers still lurking, says Dave Jevans, chairman of the Anti-Phishing Working Group.

The first is "pharming" or "domain name poisoning" attacks, which intercept legitimate URLs en route to their destination and redirect the requests to bogus sites.

So far, a handful of pharming attacks have struck domain name servers on the internet, including one in February that targeted the websites of at least 50 financial institutions.

Jevans says the only defence against pharming is to type or bookmark the address of the site's secure log-on page (it should begin with https:), since pharming attacks tend to target the top-level page of financial sites. However, you also should be on the lookout for warnings from your browser that the page's security certificate is invalid, in case the pharming attack has gone deeper.

The second danger is malware, which can achieve the same effect as phishing by rewriting your PC's Hosts file or otherwise hijacking your browser. But there are ways to protect yourself from that threat, says Fred Felman, chief marketing officer for MarkMonitor, which provides brand and fraud protection for top firms.

According to Felman, if you keep your system patched, your firewall running, and your spyware and virus scanners up to date, you'll greatly reduce the odds of becoming yet another victim. Programs such as the free Spybot Search & Destroy or WinPatrol can help protect your Hosts file.

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Myth 4: Google finds everything on the web, and once it has your information, it can't be removed.

Nonsense meter: 4.0 out of 5

Although it sometimes feels as though the invisible fingers of Google touch everything, it's really not so. Google will find something on the web only if another site links to that page, notes Danny Sullivan, editor in chief of Search Engine Land.

"If you don't want information found, then don't put it on the web at all, or ensure it can only be viewed with a password," he says. "Google doesn't do passwords."

You can also keep Google's searchbot from indexing your site - or get it to remove pages it's already found - by following the instructions at Google Webmaster Central.

If the site has already been spidered, however, it will take time before the results are flushed from Google's cache.

The trickier question is how to remove personal information from Google if it's on a site that's not under your control. You can politely ask the site owner to remove the page or block Google from spidering it.

If the owner refuses and the site contains sensitive information like your Social Security number or copyrighted material, you can ask Google to delete it from its index.

Otherwise you may need the services of a site such as ReputationDefender (, which attempts to eliminate inaccurate, embarrassing or offensive material about you for a fee - but offers no guarantees.

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Myth 5. You're fully protected when you buy something on eBay.

Nonsense meter: 3.5 out of 5

The world's biggest auction site and its online payment division PayPal offer an arsenal of tools to guard against fraudsters, con artists and the criminally stupid. But the protection falls short of 100 percent.

Speaking about in the US, eBay spokesperson Catherine England said: "When buyers use PayPal to purchase a physical item on, they are automatically provided with $200 of coverage on the transaction.

"If the buyer uses PayPal to purchase an item from an eBay seller who is PayPal Verified, then the transaction automatically has up to $2,000 of coverage."

We asked to comment, and they told us it was a matter for PayPal. At the time of writing, PayPal are still working on their reply, but rest assured we'll let you know as soon as we do.

And anyway, if you pay by some other method - personal cheque, standing order or online transfer - all bets are off.

These protections also don't apply to nonphysical items, such as software or electronic documents. And if you're fooled by a misleading or confusing item description, you may be out of luck.

For example, PR professional Greg P thought he got a great deal when his $300 auction bid scored him a Microsoft Xbox. If he had merely received a broken Xbox, Greg P would have been covered. But what he actually bought was a Word document listing places where he could buy Xboxes at a discount. Because (a) the item he purchased was electronic, not physical, and (b) the item for sale was accurately described, even though it displayed a photo of an Xbox, PayPal's Buyer Protection did not apply.

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Myth 6: Static images on a plasma TV will burn in, so you can't leave them on for too long.

Nonsense meter: 2.0 out of 5

Plasma burn-in is not a myth, but it's something that most people need not worry about. According to, plasmas and some CRTs can suffer from burn-in when "a static image such as a video game, stock or news ticker or station logo remains onscreen for an extended period. Over time, these images can become etched into the phosphor coating, leaving faint but permanent impressions onscreen".

Crutchfield product advisor Dallas Simon says this is extremely rare, since the image refreshes itself during commercial breaks and when you change channels. But it can be a problem for hard-core gamers, who may be playing the same first-person shooter for hours at a stretch, notes Andre Sam, a sales specialist for Best Buy in New York.

For instance, many titles display a static set of in-game statistics, such as scores, medals, energy bars and radar.

Still, thanks to advances in plasma technology, newer flat panels are less likely to suffer from burn-in.

"Like anything, if you abuse it you will probably break it," says Paul Meyhoefer, VP of Marketing and Product Planning for Pioneer Electronics.

"With that said, new generations of plasma TVs have made significant improvements with things like the phosphors, cell structure, and filters to alleviate this issue."

Myth 7: You have to partition a large hard drive and/or defrag it often to get the best performance.

Nonsense meter: 2.0 out of 5

This is one of those myths that can start a bar fight at geekier watering holes. According to Mario Apicella, technology analyst and storage guru for, defragging a large hard disk will boost performance on a Windows machine. Exactly how much of a boost depends on the number of files you change or delete each day.

"The OS has a silly habit of trying to reuse every free cluster, even if it's in the middle of a large occupied area and there's a lot of free space at the end of the volume," says Apicella.

"So new files end up being scattered all over the drive, which means having to do several seek operations to bring them all together."

But in PC Advisor tests, we found no noticeable performance lift after using a host of defraggers. Diskeeper Corporation, which makes a defragging utility, claims the practice can improve performance, but only if you have at least 20 percent free hard disk space. In short: your mileage may vary.

Partitioning your hard disk into two or more logical drives won't necessarily speed up your system either, but it has a host of other benefits. For instance, it allows you to create a dual-boot system or separate files that don't change much (like your OS and apps) from those that do (your data and internet cache).

That will reduce fragmentation problems and make it easier to back up your system and/or replace the OS without endangering your data.

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Myth 8: Using high-speed flash cards in your digital camera lets you take photos faster.

Nonsense meter: 3.5 out of 5

High-speed memory cards allow a digital camera to save files faster, but that doesn't necessarily mean you can snap photos more quickly.

"When you take a picture, the camera has to capture and process the image, then save it to the card," says Mike Wong, PR manager for memory-card maker SanDisk. "A faster card will only improve the latter part of the process - the save-file-to-card part."

If you use a speedy camera with slower memory, you may notice a lag on the memory side. But using a fast memory card with a slow camera is like putting race car tires on an ageing Fiat Punto - you'll mostly end up spinning your wheels, says Wong.

"[The difference] can be significant in digital SLRs but less noticeable in many of the point-and-shoot types."

However, Wong says faster cards can reduce the amount of time it takes to upload photos to your computer, provided you also have a fast card reader. This may become more important as megapixels increase and card capacities grow.

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Myth 9: Rechargeable batteries are more cost-effective than disposable ones.

Nonsense meter: 2.0 out of 5

This one's not a myth, at least in most cases, but the cost-effectiveness of rechargeable batteries depends upon the type of battery you choose and how often you use your gadgets.

Rechargeable nickel cadmium and nickel metal hydride batteries lose their charge quickly when stored, says Chris Calwell, VP of policy and research at Ecos Consulting, which publishes reports on the energy efficiency of consumer products.

These batteries are a bad call for devices you use infrequently - such as a torch for emergencies. Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries keep their charge much longer, but may not be available in the size you need. If lithium ion batteries are not available for your device and you don't use it frequently, it may save you money in the long run to go with disposables.

Duracell spokesperson Blayne Murphy agrees that usage is a key factor: "For heavy users of high-drain devices, such as digital cameras, rechargeables are definitely the most cost-effective solution.

"But if you are an occasional user who doesn't take a lot of pictures, rechargeables are not going to be convenient because they may not be ready when you need them."

Not only do rechargeable batteries cost more than disposables, but you also have to factor in the price of the charger, the electricity it consumes, and how many recharges the batteries can take before you have to replace them.

"Our general advice," says Calwell, "is to buy lithium ion-based rechargeable products or nickel metal hydride products with as high of a rated capacity and as small of a charger as possible."

Myth 10: 'Unlimited' 3G broadband access really is unlimited.

Nonsense meter: 3.5 out of 5

When carriers tout their unlimited high-speed data plans, rarely do they give you free rein over what you can do with that bandwidth. But some carriers are worse than others.

Some providers' terms of service forbid users from uploading or downloading files, viewing webcams, or using Voice over IP services. And we've also seen occasions of an undisclosed 5GB cap on each account; if some companies detected that you have sent or received more than that in a given month, it will terminate your contract.

In the US, Cingular (now AT&T) says this in its terms of service, you'll find that its unlimited 3G plans "cannot be used for uploading, downloading, or streaming of video content (e.g., movies, TV), music, or games." But At&T does not impose a hard data cap. It may still monitor you, though, to make sure your data usage is not too high.

No such thing as 'unlimited', it seems.

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Myth 11: Airport X-ray machines can damage or erase your digital camera's memory card.

Nonsense meter: 5.0 out of 5

The US Transportation Security Administration puts it succinctly: "Our screening equipment will not affect digital cameras and electronic image storage cards."

In fact, that CompactFlash card, Secure Digital card or Sony Memory Stick may be tougher than you think. Memory cards can be quite resilient - in tests they've survived a bath in a fizzy drink, a trip through a washing machine, being run over by a skateboard and the evil machinations of a six-year-old child. (However, they don't fare as well when smashed with a sledgehammer or nailed to a tree.)

If you do damage your memory card, you may be able to use a program like WinRecovery's CardRecovery or Ontrack's EasyRecovery Lite to restore your lost photos.

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Myth 12: Excessive mobile phone use can cause cancer or other health problems.

Nonsense meter: 2.5 out of 5

According to both the World Health Organization and the US Food and Drug Administration, using a mobile phone doesn't cause any known health problems - unless you're using it while driving, in which case you're an accident waiting to happen. But it can interfere with your pacemaker, hearing aid, or defibrillator.

End of story? Not exactly. Most studies on the health effects of mobile phone radiation are inconclusive or contradictory, leaving both organisations to state that further research may be needed.

A Finnish study published last August in the journal Proteomics found that some people may have cells that are genetically predisposed to respond to wireless phone radiation. This may explain why the studies performed thus far have come out with different conclusions.

By the way, there's no evidence that talking on a mobile phone while filling your petrol tank can cause explosions. However, the US Federal Communications Commission does warn: "While any potential threat by wireless devices is very remote, there are potential ignition sources at gas stations like automobiles and static electricity."

So why risk it? Save your gabbing for when you're done at the pump.

Myth 13: Macs are safe from malware attacks.

Nonsense meter: 5.0 out of 5

True believers in the Mac's inherent impregnability found their faith sorely tested recently, when security researcher Dino Dai Zovi took home a $10,000 prize for remotely hijacking a MacBook Pro running Mac OS 10.4.

It took Dai Zovi less than 10 hours to uncover a vulnerability within Apple QuickTime and set up a web page to exploit it. (Windows versions of QuickTime are also vulnerable to the hack.) Later, in an interview with Computerworld magazine, Dai Zovi declared the Mac OS to be less secure than Vista. (That grinding you hear is the sound of Steve Jobs gnashing his teeth.)

This is hardly the only known Mac exploit. In January, security researcher Kevin Finisterre and a hacker known only as 'LMH' completed the Month of Apple Bugs project, which revealed a new Mac security vulnerability every day. And in February the first Mac OS X worm was identified.

Considered relatively harmless, the OSX/Leap-A worm spread via Apple's iChat instant-messaging application by forwarding itself to the user's buddy list.

Still, Mac users are far less likely to encounter viruses and exploits than Windows users, if only because Windows malware exists in far greater numbers.

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Myth 14: Colour inkjets that use combination ink cartridges cost more to run than those that use separate cartridges.

Nonsense meter: 1.0 out of 5

Here's a bit of common wisdom that actually appears to be true. "With a combination colour cartridge, the yellow ink could run out, and you would need to replace the remaining cartridges as well if you wanted to print with yellow," says Epson's Cheryl Taylor.

She says that individual ink cartridges maximize efficiency and lower your costs over time.

Basically, that's true, confirms Charlie Brewer, who writes the Hard Copy Supplies Journal, a monthly newsletter about digital imaging supplies. "It costs more to print with most tricolour cartridges than with individual tanks," he says.

"Now, there could be instances where the individual tanks are way more expensive than a low-cost tricolour tank, but I can't think of any."

If your printer uses individual cartridges, it pays to make them last as long as possible. To find out how to eke the most out of each cartridge, check out "Six Savvy Ways to Get More Prints for Less Money" for tips on extending the life of your ink cartridges. You'll also want to take a look at ink-saving tips from online store

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Myth 15: If someone has hacked your PC or turned it into a zombie, you'd know about it.

Nonsense meter: 4.0 out of 5

Not necessarily, says Lawrence Baldwin of MyNetWatchman, which tracks bot networks. If hackers have turned your computer into a spambot, for example, your system tray might warn you that your computer is sending hundreds of emails - but only if you've got security software scanning your outgoing email. Malware often shuts down your antivirus software, firewall, or Windows Update service so it can operate unfettered on your system.

In fact, says Baldwin, many users are oblivious until their ISP informs them that a bot has been detected at their IP address, or their email starts getting rejected because their address is on a spam blocklist - or the police knocks on their door asking why they've been launching denial-of-service attacks.

According to Baldwin, it's foolish to rely entirely on security software to protect your computer.

So how can you tell if your PC's been compromised? If your machine suddenly becomes sluggish or takes too long to start up or shut down, it may be infected.

"But," he points out, "these could also be symptoms of lots of different things that are potentially unrelated to malware." In most cases, users are to blame for allowing rogue software - such as files downloaded from a peer-to-peer network - to execute on their systems. As Baldwin puts it, "you need to either get smart or get off the net."

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