Thursday, December 21, 2006

Tom's Hardware Guide How To Build A PC Part 3: Putting It All Together

Tom's Hardware has been at the forefront of the technology industry for years. They offer some of the best reviews and how's to guides that are available on the web today. And this article is no different. This is a great three part guide for those beginners out there wanting to get their feet wet and try a new build.


Final assembly is usually the least time-consuming part of a build. Component selection {part 1} may require days of consideration, and finding the "best" seller {part 2} can take up the better part of a day, but plugging connectors and inserting screws shouldn't take more than a couple hours, even for the most inexperienced builder.

An average person familiar with a few simple hand tools could assemble a complete system in less time than it takes to read this guide, but figuring out what he or she may have done wrong could slow things down significantly. Phobias aside, you're unlikely to damage your hardware or yourself if you follow a few very easy precautions, and we hope this final segment will eliminate hours of post-build troubleshooting.

First Precautions

Nothing creates a sinking feeling more effectively than damaging a component before the build is finished. Major concerns include electrostatic discharge, dropped parts, and breakage caused by force fitment or scratched circuits.

Electrostatic Discharge

An accidental electrostatic discharge (ESD) could destroy a component, a fact that's caused many building guides to exaggerate this danger. In all truth, few experienced custom PC builders take more than the most basic precautions against ESD; even when it does occur, it's likely to follow the component's ground plane rather than zap its most sensitive parts.

The most basic precaution is to occasionally touch a ground, such as a large metal office desk or the metal case of a plugged-in system, to discharge your body. Additional ESD risks come from the use of carpeted workspaces and extremely dry environments, so another level of protection may come from the use of an antistatic mat under the chair and a humidifier for extremely dry rooms. Grounded wrist straps are an over-the-top method of protection rarely used outside of production environments, yet the extra-cautious will attain peace of mind when wearing one.

Fallen Components

It seems easy to prevent in theory, but damage from falls is a far more likely cause of broken components than the previously mentioned ESD. Hard Disk Drives are often dropped during installation and other parts can be easily knocked from a desk. Reducing drop distance is as easy as moving work away from the edge of a desk, and reducing damage from parts getting knocked to the floor is as simple as leaving them in the box until they're ready to be installed.

Assembly Damage

Most components require a small amount of force to seat the connector, but a few don't. We'll cover the specifics for each part as we install it.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Top 21 Tech Screwups of 2006

From exploding laptops to corporate spying to Rocketboom's bust, a review of the year's gaffes and blunders.
Dan Tynan

It was a year where the world's biggest software company had to admit its flagship operating system was going to be delayed--yet again. And the number one PC manufacturer was caught spying on reporters and board members.

In 2006, turning on your laptop was an adventure in flammability. Of course, lots of government and corporate officials didn't have to worry about their notebook bursting into flames--they'd already lost theirs--along with the personal records of millions of Americans.

Surfing the Net you stood a good chance of being hoaxed by an actress pretending to be a lonely teenager or a blogger in the employ of the planet's largest retailer. If you subscribed to AOL, your searches might have been shared with the rest of the Web. And if you did anything stupid, somebody with a video camera and a YouTube account was probably there to broadcast it to the world.

Here, then, on the following pages we humbly offer our nominations for the biggest tech mistakes of the year. (And if you notice any errors in this article, please--keep them to yourself.)

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Friday, December 08, 2006

Hackers work around Vista's activation feature

Spoofed software activates corporate edition of new OS, pirates claim
Nancy Gohring
IDG News

Hackers are distributing a file that they say lets users of the corporate version of Microsoft Corp.'s Windows Vista operating system get around the software's antipiracy mechanisms.

Windows Vista must be "activated," or authorized by Microsoft, before it will work on a particular machine. To simplify the task of activating many copies of Vista, Microsoft offers corporate users special tools, among them Key Management Service (KMS), which allows a company to run a Microsoft-supplied authorization server on its own network and activate Vista without contacting Microsoft for each copy.

The software, Microsoft.Windows.Vista.Local.Activation.Server-MelindaGates, lets users spoof that KMS process, allowing them to activate copies of the enterprise editions of Vista, its creators say. The hacked download can be found on various file-sharing sites.

Microsoft's official KMS offering is available to customers with 25 or more computers running Vista. The machines activate the software by connecting to the KMS server and must reactivate every six months.

KMS is not the only option that enterprises have for volume activation of Vista: They can also call Microsoft by phone or connect over the Internet to activate the software.

The MelindaGates hack, which uses the name of the wife of Microsoft co-founder BIll Gates, allows users to download a VMware image of a KMS server, which activates Windows Vista Business/Enterprise edition, its creators claim.

Microsoft did not respond to requests for comment on the hack.

Vista is the first Windows operating system that requires volume users to activate each product. The new activation processes are aimed at reducing piracy.

One security expert said he isn't surprised that KMS has been cracked and noted that the MelindaGates hack offers some insight into piracy.

"This also shows how piracy is not just about kids swapping games," said Mikko Hypponen, chief research officer at F-Secure Corp. "The only parties that would need a KMS crack would be corporations with volume licensing."

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Browser Smackdown: Firefox vs. IE vs. Opera vs. Safari

Four experts go head-to-head (to-head-to-head) to defend their Web browser of choice in an opinionated free-for-all.

Scot Finnie, Dennis Fowler, Preston Gralla and Ken Mingis

People may be passionate about their favorite sports team, but if you really want to get them fired up, ask what Web browser they use.

There's the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" crowd who tend to stick with the browser that's included with their operating system -- Microsoft's Internet Explorer on Windows and Apple's Safari on the Mac. There are the "I've just gotta be me" folks who prefer lesser-known browsers, such as Opera from Opera Software. And there are the "live free or die" open-source true believers who champion Mozilla's Firefox above its commercial counterparts.

Then there are those people who simply demand the best browsing experience there is. They'll defend their favorite browser to the death because they think it kicks all the other browsers' butts in terms of elegance, features, security and so on. But if a better option comes along, they'll happily switch and speak out just as loudly for their new browser of choice. At Computerworld, we fall into this camp, always looking for the Next Great Browser

In terms of market share, the winner is obvious. Most estimates show Internet Explorer commanding between 80% and 85% of the browser market, with Firefox trailing at somewhere between 8% and 13%. Safari is the third most popular browser, with approximately 2% to 4% market share, followed by Opera and AOL's Netscape, with around 1% each.

But in terms of quality, there's no clear winner right now. For years, Internet Explorer lagged far behind the competition in both features and security, but the October launch of IE7, a fairly radical overhaul of the aged browser, has brought it up to par with the rest. Almost simultaneously, Mozilla released Firefox 2.0, a less ambitious update that nevertheless made some important and well-thought-out improvements.

Meanwhile, Safari (currently in Version 2.02) and Opera (in Version 9.02, with 9.1 on the way) have been quietly improving and innovating away from the spotlight. Thus, for the first time in years, the top browsers are roughly equal. (Note: We chose to leave Netscape out of our browser roundup. In our testing, we found it too buggy and unstable for serious consideration.)

So which browser should you use? Which is really best? To help you decide, we asked four power users to do battle in support of their chosen browser: Scot Finnie for Firefox, Preston Gralla for Internet Explorer, Dennis Fowler for Opera and Ken Mingis for Safari.

Each expert is positive that his browser is the best and will try his hardest to convince you of that. These are not rational, disengaged reviews; these are opinionated essays meant to sway your point of view.

When you've read all the arguments and looked at our side-by-side comparison of features, you make the call by voting in our best browser poll. You can also drop us a line and let us know what you think; we'll use the best responses in a follow-up article.

Read the full article

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Looking for a Smartphone? Read This First!

Mary Branscombe
December 5, 2006 10:26

What Is A Smartphone Anyway?

All the smarts you need to buy a phone with the power of a computer, not a computer masquerading as a phone.

Phones these days can do a lot more than just phone calls and text messages and you don't have to sacrifice the numeric keypad to get the extra features. There are plenty of powerful PDA phones and we'll be looking at the best of those in another article, but when you want a phone that looks like a phone and works like a phone as well as doing more, look for a smartphone.

Although the term smartphone is also used for PDA phones like the Palm Treo, BlackBerry and the many Windows Mobile Pocket PC devices, here I will look at keypad-driven smartphones like the Motorola RAZR and BlackBerry Pearl, Windows Mobile smartphones from HTC and Samsung and Symbian smartphones from Nokia, Sony Ericsson and LG (the new LG JoY).

There are three main smartphone operating systems: Windows Mobile Smartphone, Symbian and Motorola's Java-based OS. There are other smartphone operating systems such as Blackberry's OS for the Pearl. These tend to be the products of one company. Here are some Symbian-based smartphones.

Rule number 1 of 4:A true smartphone is extensible and there's a wide range of extra software to install.

Rule number 2 of 4:Generally, that a phones comes from a specific vendor is no guarantee that it is a smartphone.

Rule number 3 of 4:It is the operating system that makes a smartphone a smartphone.

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Monday, December 04, 2006

Tom's Hardware How To Build A PC, Part 2: Choosing the Right Vendor

Tom's Hardware has been at the forefront of the technology industry for years. They offer some of the best reviews and how's to guides that are available on the web today. And this article is no different. This is a great three part guide for those beginners out there wanting to get their feet wet and try a new build.

Let's Make A Deal...

So you've followed our advice, assessed your usage patterns and come up with a list of suitable component types. Then you read reviews and found the exact manufacturer and model you want for each part. When you weren't sure, you even questioned the members of our Forumz. And now you're ready to make the big purchase.

With so much money on the line, you want to make sure the transaction goes smoothly, of course. Cruising through the building process you suddenly slam on the brakes: where is all this stuff going to come from?

Experienced builders often have a favorite source that they will recommend exclusively, but their reasoning might not apply to your circumstances. Each type of seller has strengths and weaknesses, and even hazards to avoid. Among these are the "big box" computer shops, smaller local stores, online vendors large and small, and even auction sites. Each varies in terms of the selection, convenience, cost and support they offer.

Purchasing Convenience

Online Merchants

Not everyone has the time or inclination to shop. Fortunately, buying online starts with easy site-to-site comparisons and ends with the parts being delivered right to your door. Customers no longer need to battle traffic driving between stores or make special trips to other parts of town - or even to other towns entirely - to find everything on their lists.

Vendor search engines such as MerchantHound compare prices on a huge selection of parts from such popular sites as Directron, Newegg, TigerDirect and ZipZoomFly, but often miss a few specialty parts. Online specialty stores such as EndPCNoise, and FrozenCPU provide less common parts, and locating competing sources is as easy as entering the specific part name into a generalized web search engine such as DogPile. This may require filtering through dozens of "hits" to obtain a short list of sellers, but that takes only a few extra minutes.

Local Stores

Buying locally eliminates shipping time, and avoids any potential inventory screw-ups that might further delay the shipment. While local variety is less than the web offers, national chains focus on popular items that meet the needs of most buyers. Smaller locally-owned shops may specialize in lower-volume parts, but finding the right one could be difficult.

In addition to instant-purchase gratification, local stores offer the convenience of display samples. This hands-on approach allows one to feel the action of keyboard keys, check out the weight and fit of a mouse or game controller, and examine the visual quality of displays. Seeing an item in person also allows one to more easily judge its visual impact, something simple photos and measurements don't always convey.

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Tom's Hardware Guide How To Build A PC, Part 1: Component Selection Overview

Tom's Hardware has been at the forefront of the technology industry for years. They offer some of the best reviews and how's to guides that are available on the web today. And this article is no different. This is a great guide for those beginners out there wanting to get their feet wet and try a new build.

Welcome To Your Next New System

Even though the computer industry's primary constant is change, there are still some more "constant constants" to aid builders in component selection. Tom's Hardware Guide has been a primary resource, covering the latest technologies for over ten years. Our community Forumz members have answered individual hardware questions for nearly as long, both sources working to prevent common mistakes that might ruin a project.

Before any parts are selected, a builder should clearly understand the machine's intended function. General purpose systems that deal with such tasks as 2D games, Internet browsing and document creation, will obviously have modest hardware requirements. In contrast, high-end 3D gaming systems will require better graphics, better cooling and a larger power supply. Special applications, such as 3D model creation and home theater PC use, should also be considered - these tasks require specialized hardware.

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