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Ambition—the desire to boldly fly your PC into the computing stratosphere—is one of the dividing lines separating the normal from the hardcore. To qualify as a true power user, you’ll need to possess knowledge of at least one of these three special skills.
Understanding Ubuntu is more than a source of pride; it’s the quick path to rescuing a damaged OS or an outdated system
One of the quickest ways to prove that you’re one of the high-tech hardcore is to run an alternative operating system. In case you can’t figure it out, we’re not talking OSX here—we’re talking about Linux. Despite its reputation as being only for the most advanced users, Linux is actually remarkably easy to install. Here are the steps we take to get up and running.
There are other ways to install Linux, but we’re going to show you how to install using a live CD, which is both the easiest and most useful way to go. Simply put, a live CD is a bootable version of an operating system contained on a CD. Almost all Linux distros can be installed from a live CD.
There are tons of distros out there, with different advantages and disadvantages. As usual, we’re going to use Ubuntu as it’s the most popular, and also the most user-friendly of all the varieties of Linux. To download the Ubuntu live CD, just hit up www.ubuntu.com and click Download Ubuntu. Select the version of the OS that you want (32-bit for more compatibility, 64-bit for a modest performance boost) and download the .iso file.
In Windows 7, all the necessary tools to burn the .iso image to a CD are included in the operating system, so you can just double-click the file you downloaded, insert a CD, and follow the instructions. If you’re still on an older version of Windows, you may not have image-burning software. If that’s the case, we recommend ImgBurn, which is powerful, lightweight, and free.
Once you’ve got your live CD burned, just pop it in the tray and restart your PC. You should be given the option to boot from this disc. If you aren’t, you’ll need to go into your BIOS and change the boot order so that your CD drive is ahead of your HDD. When you boot from the disc, you can choose to install right away, or to try using Ubuntu without installing. If you choose to try it out, you can begin the Windows-like installation wizard at any time by clicking the Install Ubuntu icon on the desktop.
Live CDs are a convenient way to run or install Linux from any machine, but there’s a problem: If a new version of your preferred Linux distro is released (which happens pretty frequently) you’re going to have to burn a new disc.
Fortunately, there’s a way around this: Use a USB thumb drive. As long as your computer supports booting from a USB drive (most modern PCs do), installing from one is a convenient, easy and economical alternative to using a live CD.
UNetbootin makes creating a USB drive installer a one-step process.
To do it, you just need a small application called UNetbootin. Download the application and run it. UNetbootin can make a live USB key from an .iso image, such as the one you downloaded to create a live CD, or it can download a distribution automatically from a long list of Linux options. Select whichever you want, point to a USB drive, and click OK. That’s it! Now you just need to plug your thumb drive into a computer and restart.
It’s easier to accomplish than ever, but amplifying your CPU’s clock speed is still one of the last frontiers of the power user
Even if you don’t overclock, as the tech expert your friends and family turn to in times of need, you should know the fundamentals of the process.
Overclocking is literally running your CPU out of spec. Isn’t this dangerous? Sure, the usual caveats are voiding your warranty, risking data corruption, and even blowing up the CPU. OK, the PSA’s over. Let’s get on to the fun.
We all know that many new AMD and Intel CPUs can run at far higher speeds than they’re rated at for retail, but for sales and marketing reasons, they’re locked at lower speeds. Unlocking this free performance is the goal. So how do you do it? There are three major platforms in circulation today: Intel’s LGA1156/LGA1366, AMD’s Socket AM2+/AM3, and Intel’s slowly fading but still quite popular LGA775 Core 2 series.
Despite amazingly dissimilar designs and microarchitectures, these platforms all overclock the same basic way. Each CPU features a clock multiplier. This is a ratio that sets the clock speed when the machine is booted. It’s usually something like 20x or 18.5x. In all CPUs except for Intel’s Extreme and K chips and AMD’s Black Edition chips, this is locked so you cannot increase the multiplier to overclock.
Whether you’re tweaking the base clock, host clock, front-side bus, or reference clock, the process of overclocking is amazingly similar on the Core i7, Core 2, and Phenom II platforms.
The second half of this equation is the base clock, or bclock, for Intel’s Core i7/5/3 chips. (This is equivalent to the front-side bus in the Core 2 parts and the reference clock setting for AMD chips.) Our example will utilize the 2.66GHz Core i7-920 chip. This chip has a multiplier of 20x and a bclock of 133MHz. Take 20 and multiply it by 133 and you get 2,660MHz. Get it? To overclock this chip, we go into the BIOS and slowly increase the bclock. For even the oldest Core i7-920, we can run the bclock up to 160MHz for a total overclock of 3,200MHz. That’s a moderate overclock that will likely never give you any problems.
The same concept can be applied to Core 2 and Athlon II/Phenom II processors. AMD chips, however, have a few other settings you need to pay attention to such as HyperTransport speed and north-bridge speed. Since you’ll be increasing the reference clock for your overclock, you may unintentionally overclock the Hyper Transport or north bridge to unstable heights. To keep these from becoming problematic, you may have to manually set the HyperTransport and north bridge to lower values.
Memory speeds on all three platforms may also rise beyond what your RAM is rated for as you overclock. On Core ix, Core 2, and Athlon II/Phenom II, you should be able to manually lower your RAM clock speeds to keep the modules within a stable range.
Here’s where it gets sticky. Not all CPUs overclock equally—even within the same product line. And some will require additional voltage increases to the chip to get to higher levels. A bclock/FSB/reference overclock poses almost no danger. Adding voltage, however, is where you can screw things up.
Many midrange and enthusiast motherboards allow you to overclock from the comfort of the operating system.
For the various chipsets and motherboards, you may also have to add a little voltage to the north bridge to hit those higher clock speeds. We recommend that you add voltage judiciously. To find out how much, it’s best to learn from others’ experiences. Search MaximumPC.com’s forums and other enthusiast sites to see how much voltage other people had to add to hit their overclocks. It’s likely that someone else out there has already overclocked your system configuration.
The ability to safeguard your system via virtualization can be invaluable. Here’s how you make it happen
A virtual machine is exactly what it sounds like—a machine (a computer, really) that doesn’t have its own hardware. Instead of having a hard drive, the virtual machine writes to and reads from a single file on the host machine’s HDD. Since it doesn’t have its own processor or memory, it also borrows those resources from the host.
So why would you want to run a virtual machine on your system? For one, because the virtual environment is totally self-
contained, anything that goes on in the virtual machine cannot affect the host environment. This makes it an excellent sandbox for trying out software or operating systems that you might not feel comfortable running on your primary system. If you suspect a document might contain a virus, for instance, you can clone a virtual machine, transfer the file onto it, then read the document. Whether or not there’s a virus, you can just delete the virtual machine, and your real machine is safe.
VirtualBox can show you detailed stats for all your virtual PCs.
Another cool feature virtual machines permit is the ability to support “guest” operating systems. In other words, a virtual machine running on your Windows PC can provide a Linux environment for you to use, without the need to dual-boot or restart and boot from a live CD. Of course, this works the other way, too, so you can use virtual machines to run Windows applications on a Linux desktop.
Numerous virtual machine solutions are available online, though many are really only for businesses, and most aren’t free. There are several popular free offerings, but we’re going to focus on VirtualBox, a totally free VM program maintained by Oracle. Getting a virtual machine up and running is easy:
First, visit the VirtualBox homepage and download the free application. Install it using the default install settings.
Once installed, run VirtualBox. The window that opens will be mostly empty at first, so click the New button to create a virtual machine. You’ll be asked what operating system you want to install, and how much memory and hard disk space you want to allocate to this virtual machine. Allocating a greater amount means better performance and storage space (respectively), but at greater cost to the host system.
Just like a real PC, you have to install an OS on a virtual machine.
Once your virtual machine has been created, it will appear in the VirtualBox window “powered off.” Click it and select Play. VirtualBox will start the virtual machine and run a wizard designed to help you install the OS that you specified when you created it. Generally, this is as simple as pointing VirtualBox to the drive that includes the install CD for your operating system. This can be your Windows install disc, or a live Linux CD, but it has to be bootable.
At this point, you’re essentially doing exactly what you would with any new computer. Click through the OS installer, and you’ll find yourself with a brand-new virtual PC. When you have the VirtualBox window active, all your keystrokes and mouse movements will be “captured” by the virtual PC, rendering you unable to control your host PC. To switch back to the host PC, just press the “host button,” which is Right-Ctrl by default.