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Save time and money, the easy way

Want to burn CDs efficiently and stop paper jams the frugal way? We can help.

This column appears as Hassle-free PC in the May 06 issue of PC Advisor, available now.

I'm the world's biggest cheapskate: I hate wasting anything, even the smallest bit of space on a blank CD. And throwing away a perfectly good late-20th-century printer? I wouldn't dream of it. My never-ending quest for ways to save a few quid led me to the following tips, tools and timesavers.

The Hassle: I have a huge collection of videos and images and want to burn some of them to CD to share with a friend. I can never seem to fill the discs to the maximum capacity. Any ideas?

The Fix: I was in the same boat, with videos ranging from small 8MB files to some that approach 300MB. When quickly burning a single CD, I would drag-and-drop files on to Nero's explorer window and watch the sliding bar to stay under the 700MB limit. Roxio's Easy Media Creator works in a similar fashion. But if I wanted to burn a large number of files that collectively exceed the size of one CD, I had to remove files from the list manually for the best fit.I've found a better way to fill them up. It's a cool, free utility that examines all the files I've chosen to burn and figures out how to make the most of each CD or DVD. Get SizeMe here.

To use the program, click ‘Scan new directory' in the righthand panel and select the files you want to burn. The program then creates little CD icons in the middle panel. Drag-and-drop those icons on to your burning software. If you're using XP to burn CDs, first create a folder in Windows Explorer, drag-and-drop the SizeMe CD icon into the folder, then burn as usual by dragging files on to your CD-ROM drive icon.

I have a more intuitive tool for burning big files on to CDs. Picasa 2.0 (www.picasa.com), Google's free image-management software, has a great little backup feature. It's easy to use, can burn to a CD, a DVD or an external drive, and it fills up each disc automatically. From Picasa's Tools menu, choose Backup Pictures and select New Set. You'll be asked which type of backup media you want to use. Choose a name for your set, the backup type and the file extensions to include; click Create, then Burn.

The Hassle: My laptop has a Wi-Fi card but the wireless connection is often flaky. When I lose connectivity momentarily, I get a pop-up from the system tray that says 'Wireless Network Connection is not connected'.

The Fix: Windows is doing its job too diligently. Use the free TweakUI, which is included as one of Microsoft’s PowerToys, to fix the hassle. From TweakUI's taskbar and Start menu item, uncheck Enable balloon tips – you won't get the alert any more.

The Hassle: My nine-year-old laser printer often jams. It seems the rollers aren't gripping the paper. Should I upgrade?

The Fix: Upgrade? Ha! My laser printer isn't as old as yours, but its rubber rollers used to be as smooth as I'm guessing yours are. I sprayed the rollers on my printer – and fax machine – with a Rubber Roller Rejuvenator Can (see www.fixyourownprinter.com). With shipping costs, it costs about $21 (£12), but my equipment's grip is back.

Want a free taskbar replacement?

I'm using the free version of ObjectDock (www.stardock.com/products/objectdock) to give my desktop a little pizzazz and to make reaching my favourite apps and tools easier. It's Mac-style, with animated buttons and icons – and plenty more goodies are available on the ObjectDock site. Adding programs is simple: just drag-and-drop an icon from XP's Start menu. You can configure ObjectDock's size and location and kill some time trying out assorted skins.

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