Sorry, we couldn’t resist the headline. For the record: We’re not predicting the early demise of AMD’s new Live Home Cinema reference platform (code-named Maui). AMD sent us a sample build several months ago, but we wanted to live with it for a while before publishing our thoughts on the design.
We’re big fans of home-theater PCs, especially the build-it-yourself variety (be sure and check out the May issue of Maximum PC for Will Smith’s terrific how-to guide to building one of your own). If AMD can resolve one major issue, we think Maui will be the best home-theater PC platform on the market.
With a home-theater PC, you can stream all manner of Hollywood content for free (from websites such as Hulu) or for a small fee (from online stores such as iTunes, Netflix, and Amazon’s Unbox). While you can accomplish the same thing with a media center extender and any PC equipped with a version of Windows that includes Windows Media Center, a dedicated HTPC leaves that other machine available for other tasks. A home-theater PC with a Blu-ray drive can play HD movies, too, but comparing home-theater PCs to Blu-ray disc players—which are becoming increasingly PC-like—is more problematic. We’ll get to that soon enough; for now, let’s take a detailed look at AMD’s Live Home Cinema platform.
One of the most rewarding parts of doing these weekly freeware roundups for Maximum PC is the sheer wealth of software that I get to play with each month -- applications that I not only use myself, but ones that I feel compelled to tell you about as well. But coming in a close second are the responses that you, the readers, leave in these posts. For as much as I scour the Internet to find awesome new programs for you to check out, you too have become my eyes and ears for the latest in amazing free software.
You might guess where this one's going. I'm looking toward the pool of Maximum PC users this week and highlighting programs that you, yourselves, have recommended in the various comments you've posted to these articles. For a number of you have left links and comments featuring compelling alternatives or hidden gems that relate to the programs I've posted. Although I'm featuring your best answers this week, don't let that stop you from joining the discussion! If a certain freeware application has really caught your eye, jump in the thread and say something! Or hit me up on Twitter and let me know when you've found something great!
After the jump: The Maximum PC commenters get their day in Freeware Court!
Ah, spring: when a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of upgrading. But, alas! Your fancy new videocard is too big for your tiny case, and you’re running out of hard drive bays for your RAID. Fear not! A classy full-tower chassis can be just the solution.
In this roundup we’ve collected five full-tower cases—big and tall enclosures with all the bells and whistles: new looks, toolless expansion slots, intake filters, drive bays aplenty, and more. Space-saving isn’t a priority here: The focus is on features, with room for as much hardware as you need to cram in. If you want a portable rig or something to nestle under your desk, these aren’t the cases for you. But if you’re looking to make the most of your computer, portability be damned, one of these beauts could be your huckleberry.
In evaluating these cases, we focused on a few key points: overall build quality, aesthetics, ease of installation, cooling options, convenience, and features like front-panel connectors. We kept price in mind, too, but only to a degree: After all, we’re Maximum PC. We don’t mind paying for excellence; we just object when gear is offensively overpriced.
Yes, there is more to Linux than Ubuntu. As you are probably aware, there are many different types of Linux to choose from, even though not all get the attention they deserve. These are organized into separate distributions, (distros) and each one is different. If you've read our previous Beginner's Guide to Linux, you are already familiar with the advice we gave about choosing the right distro for your needs. This guide will shed more light on some of the more common distributions in use today and will cover the distinct advantages or disadvantages of each.
For the purpose of comparison, we personally tested each distro and critiqued it based on several distinct areas: appearance, ease of use, system administration, software/package management, security, and the level of support available for the distro. We graded each factor on a scale of zero to five: 0 – Abysmal or non-existent; 1– Very bad; 2 – Needs improvement; 3 – Average; 4 – Good; and 5 – Excellent. We hope that this guide will give you a better understanding of the current state of Linux, so you can make an informed decision about choosing the right Distro without just defaulting to Ubuntu (which we've included in this roundup)
Whether you’re copying your movie discs to your hard drive for archival purposes or queuing them up in HandBrake for a batch transcode, your optical drive’s performance can make a big difference in time spent on this menial chore. The trouble is, there’s no obvious way of knowing which optical drive will do the job fastest.
The optical drive spec that gets the most attention is the DVD+/-R write speed. It’s the spec that’s prominently featured on the packaging and often even integrated into the drive’s name. But if you assume that the newest drive with the fastest-rated write speed will also kick butt at copying the contents of your movie discs to your hard drive, you’re mistaken.
For this task, read speed is what matters. But even knowing that, you can’t judge a drive’s real-world performance at copying video files simply by looking at its read specs. Not only do the specs indicate maximum capability as opposed to average speed, but a drive’s read time with video files can differ from its read time with data files. To find out which is the fastest drive for DVD copiers, we grabbed a bunch of DVD drives, a copy of Batman Begins, and got ripping.
The personal computer has a storied history, stretching all the way back to the days of the Commodore 64 and IBM PC. But for us, the most interesting PC hardware developments really started about 15 years ago. Along with the eminent arrival of Windows 95, this was when Moore's law would really kick into high gear and bring us amazingly fast PC components like Intel's front side bus-multiplying Pentium, AMD's gigahertz-breaking Athlon, and yes, the wonderful world of 3D graphics accelerators.
We take an in-depth look back at the 50 most important pieces of PC hardware in the modern computing area. From CPUs to videocards and even monitors, these components were the envy of every PC enthusiast, whether you could afford them or not. They might not have been the fastest parts at the time, but they sure were the most notable. And before you ask, many of these entries were used of our Dream Machines. Join us as we journey with the ghost of PC past, and share your own favorite PC parts in the comments section!
Bonus question: can you name the card in the image above, and the issue of Maximum PC where the image was used?
The Windows desktop can do a lot of things. You can drag and drop your programs all across your display, then resize the windows--or have the operating system tile them for you--to maximize your multi-application productivity. If you're using Vista, you can call forth a cascading, three-dimensional display of your Windows and cycle through live displays of each until you're ready to select an active panel. You can create new toolbars and assign them to new edges of the screen. You can minimize everything at once to show you a clean desktop image.
The Windows desktop can do a lot of things. But you can't do everything. And that's why I've hunted down five freeware applications that give you just-that-much-more control over the programs, windows, and taskbars that clog up your PC's display. Split your desktop into individual regions for maximum display control, or take matters into your own hands and assign the customized height, width, and positining of every application you use.
That's just a slice of the Windows pie I'm ready to dish up. Fire up some programs, put on a bib, and let's chow down on some freeware.
Some people want their rigs to be an approximation of what computers will look like at some point in the far-off future. Richard Clinton, though, wanted to look back to a simpler time: the 8-bit era. But while computer technology was less complex back then, building the Black Mage was anything but easy.
In order to re-create his favorite Final Fantasy II character type, Richard organized, glued, and painted 2,000 1”x1” cubes. All told, it took four months to assemble the Black Mage. To see the process shortened to 10 minutes, check out Richard’s build video at www.youtube.com/watch?v=VoUVgK65FIA.
Green. It's all the rage in the technology world nowadays. You've got green hard drives. Green laptops. Green desktops. Green printers (with soy ink!). Green displays. Green power strips. Louis Armstrong saw skies of blue and clouds of white, but any geek worth his electric bill sees nothing but green. It's the color of the environment, and it's the color of all the cash you'll be saving by using green-themed applications to curtail your out-of-control PC habits. Or normal PC habits, because anyone can benefit from the open-source and freeware applications we're profiling in this week's software roundup. Best of all, most of these applications automatically take care of your green actions for you--set them up to run, and you won't have to lift a finger to tap into increased savings and Captain Planet-style goodwill.
Earth Day is the one hippie-holiday of the year everyone can partake in—it’s a celebration of this giant rock we call home! This annual event strives to bring awareness and appreciation for the Earth’s environment. Some people throw festivals or plant trees, but what about those of us who wish to celebrate Earth Day in a technology-friendly way?
Dust off your Google Earth application (or download it, if you don’t already have it) as we’re going to show you five amazing things Google Earth can do to celebrate Earth Day.