Security

50 Top Computing Tips

Written by William

Whether you’re looking to fix what’s broken, speed up what’s slow, or just tweak your tech for fun, PC Magazine is here to help. We dispense advice in many different ways: with our Ask Neil and Ask Loyd columns, with how-to features in the magazine and on the Web site, and in our Solutions section. Click on the Expert Help tab above to see just how much tech knowledge we have to share.

Along with all this help, we also provide readers with a Tip of the Day from our experts. You’ll find an archive of these tips in our Expert Help section, and we also send them out as a daily newsletter (there’s a gray box about two-thirds of the way down this page where you can sign up for it).

From these daily tech tips, we selected 50 of the most popular for this story, giving you a huge helping of expert advice all at once. Read these tips and follow them—your computer will thank you!

1. Outsmarting Keyloggers
Keyloggers can thrive on public terminals and PCs, feasting on the passwords and personal info you type in. Here’s how to outwit this type of spy software.

2. The Ultimate Upgrade Guide
Looking to upgrade your PC instead of investing in a whole new rig? This upgrade guide offers strategies and suggestions about what to buy and build.

3. Protect Your Passwords
If you’re logging in using one of the 10 most common passwords, you need to change your ways, or you may face a breach in security. Protect your login with these guidelines for coming up with a safe password that you might even be able to remember.

4. Upgrading to USB 2.0
A reader writes:
“I have an old laptop that supports only USB 1.1. Is it possible to change it to USB 2.0 without changing the hardware?”

5. Google Tip: Use a Colon
Here’s an easy trick for making your search queries more precise, so you can get exactly what you’re looking for.

6. The Best Free Software
Most software is expensive and bloated, while free software typically does one task and does it with precision and elegance. Among the thousands of free apps available on the Web, we’ll show you the best, most reliable ones for your needs.

7. Virtual Memory Low—What to Do?
What should you do when you get that vexing message that your computer’s virtual memory is low? It’s an easy tweak, and you’ll find it here.

8. Hacking XP
If Windows XP finally has you mad enough to buy a MacBook, this is the story for you. We’ve got 11 hacks that can get your computer running faster, increase your productivity, and make Windows a little less annoying.

9. Speed Up Windows XP
Does it ever seem as if the little squirrels inside your computer aren’t racing fast enough on their conveyor belt? Yeah, we’ve been there, too. Memory-hogging start-up programs, a hard drive that has not been defragged since a Democrat was in the White House, and that one nasty spyware app—all of them can really bog down Microsoft Windows XP. Want to speed things up? We’ll show you how.

10. How to Unlock Your Phone
Many Americans are fed up with their cell provider’s lame handset selection. Show your carrier a thing or two by going with a cool unlocked phone that answers to no one except you. Read on to unlock the secret.

11. Dangerous Searches
Some seemingly safe and simple searches can actually make your computer vulnerable to malware. What should you be wary about typing in to that Google search box? Read this tip to find out.

12. Missing DLL Balks Install
A reader writes:
“Sometimes when I try to install a program, I receive a message that reads ‘Unable to locate component: this application has failed to start because framedyn.dll was not found. Reinstalling the application may fix this problem.’ But when I reinstall, the problems keep on coming.”

We can help you fix that.

13. Make a Bootable USB Key
What do you do when your computer won’t boot, your most recent backup is three months old, and you don’t have an emergency CD? What if you’re using a laptop that doesn’t even have a CD drive? Kiss your data goodbye—or read this tip for another answer.

14. De-Clutter Your Inbox
Is your e-mail inbox a mess? Are you drowning in junk? We’ll show you how to delete it, defer it, and delegate it.

15. Undiscovered Computing Websites
When you feel like geeking out, after you’ve read everything at PCMag.com, head over to these great computing sites for inside info, tips, and tech news.

16. Cover Your Tracks Online 
You’ve got nothing to hide, right? Then you should have no issue with search engines storing your data! …Feeling a little uncomfortable with that prospect? Read today’s tip to learn how to keep yourself at least somewhat anonymous with the most popular search engine, Google.

17. Shortcut to Open a Window Maximized
A reader writes:
“When I open any Windows application, it opens in either half or three-quarters of the screen. How can I make all my applications open in maximized form? And how can I quickly maximize any window from the keyboard?” Here’s our expert advice.

18. The Worst PCs
Shopping for a PC these days can be overwhelming. We’ve reviewed a ton of laptops and desktops in the past year or so, and we’ve seen the good, the bad and the worse. So, to help you narrow down your options, we’ve pulled together a list of the PCs you should avoid—don’t go shopping without it!

19. Before You Give Away Your Old PC
When you get a new computer, odds are that you don’t simply throw away your old one. You may tuck it away in the closet, or set it up elsewhere in the house as a “backup” PC but never use it. You may have considered giving your old PC away to a family member, or perhaps to someone who can’t afford a new computer (needy students are everywhere). Before you send your machine to a new home, read this tip to make sure it arrives in the best condition.

20. Make a Recovery Partition
If you’ve ever reformatted your hard drive, reinstalled Microsoft Windows, reloaded all your applications, and reset all your settings, you know what a time-consuming and generally heinous process it can be. We’ve got some steps you can take to make the process slightly less painful.

21. Still Haven’t Adjusted for Daylight Saving Time?
Is your PC’s clock still an hour off? Find out how to fix it here.

22. What Not to Buy for the Holidays
Great news! There are more ways than ever to screw up your holiday purchases. Lance Ulanoff shared some of his tech-shopping secrets last year, and his words are still applicable 12 months later.

23. Internet Explorer Sluggish at Start
A reader writes:
“I have a broadband Internet connection. Every time I try to open Internet Explorer, there is a long delay while it searches for proxy settings. I get a message “Detecting Proxy Settings.” I don’t use any proxy. My response is just to wait. After about 30 to 60 seconds, IE opens up. How can I solve this problem?” Here’s how.

24. Side-by-Side Instances of Windows Explorer
A reader writes:
“I often need to move files and have found that the best way to do it is to open two instances of Windows Explorer and then size them so they fit side by side on the screen. It’s cumbersome to go through the motions of opening one instance of Explorer, sizing it, opening another instance, and sizing that one. Is there any utility or program that can do this automatically?” Yup, and we’ll show you what to do.

25. Utility Superguide
Oddly enough, no one has come up with the perfect PC with the perfect operating system and the perfect applications that make everyone happy all the time. Crazy world. That’s why we turn to utilities, from the little ones that show you the weather forecast and keep you from making common e-mail faux pas to the far bigger ones that search your system at the speed of thought and back up your hard drive. Read this tip for all our recommendations on the most useful utilities.

26. Handy Keyboard Shortcuts
We all know a few keyboard shortcuts—Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V, Alt-Tab—that make our life and work easier. The PC Magazine staff has collected a few that you might not know in this tip.

27. The Best and Worst Firefox Extensions
One of the best things about that little upstart Web browser, Firefox, is how easy it is to customize it with extensions to enhance your productivity, or just to have a little more fun. You can use them to block annoying popup ads, find out your local weather forecast, and a lot more. We’ve got a collection of some of our favorites to get you started.

Top 15 Firefox Extensions

Even More Mozilla Firefox Extensions

And, of course, not all extensions are created equal… we’ve also found more than a few that have left us scratching our heads at just what possible purpose they could serve. But, hey, if someone wants to turn their stop button into MC Hammer, who are we to say no? Check out that weird extension, and nine more, in our Top 10 Useless Firefox Extensions roundup.

28. Toss Your Tapes
For most of us, the cassette-tape collection went into shoeboxes years ago. It’s time to dig out those forgotten gems for digitization—and make room for CDs in the shoebox!

29. Turn Off Hidden Shares
With all the attention that spyware, phishing, e-mails, and corporate hackers get on any given day, we mustn’t forget that good ol’ Windows itself can be the source of a security hole. It turns out that Vista has a back door that could permit someone else to read any file on your hard drive, and the same problem exists in Microsoft Windows 2000 and XP. We’ve got a way to get around it here.

30. What to Do With An .iso File
A reader writes:
“I downloaded Vista from the Microsoft Web site, and I can’t find installation instructions. The file extension is .iso, so it’s not an executable. I tried using the Run command and the install from Add/Remove Programs, but they won’t run it. What do I do to make this file run?” We’ll show you in this tip.

31. Is This Processor Fast Enough?
A reader writes: “I am looking at buying a new computer, and I like everything that I’ve seen about the HP Pavilion DV9005US, except that the processor speed is 1.6 GHz. Is this adequate? Should I try to stay over 2.0 GHz?” Here’s your answer.

32. Updates for a Sloooow Computer
It’s important to keep your system updated, but what if you’re stuck behind a dialup connection? This tip has an answer for handling those big downloads.

33. Beware Windows Hactivation Threat
This threat masquerades itself as the Microsoft Windows activation interface. Read this tip to learn how to recognize this Trojan horse, and how to remove it should you get infected.

34. Sending E-mail Without Your Server
Sometimes it’s handy to be able to send mail without your mail client or server. Learn how here.

35. IE Favorites in Alphabetical Order
A reader writes:
“Can I configure Internet Explorer to arrange the Favorites menu in alphabetical order automatically? Or must I do the arranging of the items manually?” We’ll show you how to rearrange your Favorites menu.

36. Google Tip: Calculate!
Why do math when you have the Internet? This tip shows you a quick way to do calculations and conversions using Google.

37. Customize Your Drive Icons 
In the early 1980s, when the computer revolution brought us removable storage media, all we had to worry about was two floppy drives—A: and B:. By the late 1980s, the advent of consumer hard drives eliminated the need for swapping those 5.25-inch disks, but we had another drive letter, C:, to contend with. Since then, the alphabet soup has boiled over, but in today’s tip, we’ve got a solution for keeping things straight.

38. Which Wireless Router is Right For Me?
A reader writes:
“I have just switched from dial-up to DSL service rated at 3 Mbps for four computers in my home. The ads for wireless routers and adapters show “g” and “n” versions at speeds much higher than the DSL’s rated speed. What will “n” (at twice the price) do for me that “g” equipment will not? We use our PCs predominantly for e-mail, Web surfing, and sending/receiving photos.” Here’s what 802.11n can (and can’t) do.

39. Is Mysterious MFE Malicious?
A reader finds that his e-mail software is changing all instances of his name to the mysterious phrase MFEMFEM. Is this a sign of something malicious? Read this tip for the answer.

40. How to Hack Everything!
Want to upgrade your iPod? How about boosting your Wi-Fi? In this tip, we’ve got over 40 cheap ways to help you get more from your gear.

41. A Hot Tip for Firefox Users
Morning Coffee, a handy Firefox extension, helps streamline your morning surfing rituals. Check it out here.

42. Kiss Those Cables Goodbye?
Organize your desk, unclutter your office, even stream video wirelessly! If you want to get away from those tangles of cords and cables, here’s what you need to know now about new wireless technologies.

43. 59 Ways to Supercharge Windows
With our 15th Annual Utility Guide, we highlight 59 tools that instantly improve Windows (including Vista). We’ve got everything from browser boosters to widgets, and you’ll find them all here.

44. Sync Folders the Easy Way
What’s the easiest way to keep your USB thumbdrive in sync with a folder on your desktop? Forget the Windows Briefcase—it’s old, clunky, and hard to use. Instead, check out this 3-minute video tip for a far easier way, using a secret Microsoft utility that you can download for free.

45. From Video to DVD
This tip will show you how to convert your old videotapes to DVD before they deteriorate.

46. Adding USB 
A reader writes:
“I have an older laptop with only one USB port, yet I need to manage a memory stick and two other USB devices through that one port. I need a solution that won’t block other ports on the back of the laptop. What’s the easiest solution?” We share our answer in this tip.

47. From VCR to DVD: Update Your Oldies
With the VCR approaching extinction, this is a very good time—maybe even an essential one—to convert your old VHS tapes to DVD. We’ve got a guide to what you need, and what you need to do.

48. The Best Download and DIY Websites
As part of our Top 100 Undiscovered Websites, we’re bringing you sites that can help, whether you’re hunting for a DLL file, the perfect font, or an invite to that hot new beta Web service.

49. Top 100 Classic Web Sites
We’ve put together our yearly list of the best sites the Internet has to offer. In our collection of classic sites, you’ll find a lot of old favorites that can teach you more about tech, the world, and even let you have a little fun.

50. Protect Your Identity
People take risks online with their identity that they’d never dream of taking in the real world. We’ve gathered 12 tips and 3 apps that can help you keep you safe.

About the author

William

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