Optical drives aren't potatoes. You can't boil them, mash them, or stick 'em in a stew. And by that, I mean there's simply not that much you can do with your average digital coffee holder. Optical drives read CDs. Optical drives write CDs. And... well, unless you have your drive hooked up to some kind of crazy Rube Goldberg device that feeds your guinea pig whenever you eject the tray, there's simply not much else you're going to be able to do with this essential part of your PC. CD goes in; CD goes out--end of story.
Of course, I'm being a little tongue-in-cheek with this description. There's a great deal you can do with your optical drive on the software side of things. Here's the problem: There are a ton of different programs out there for ripping, burning, and mounting images, amongst other behaviors. Finding the best-in-class application for your device can be like trying to find a tiny scratch on the bottom of the disc itself--a mind-numbing task that's sure to frustrate you as you sift through the 30 different utilities you've pulled down onto your desktop.
Allow me ease the pain a bit. In this week's freeware files, I'll be taking a look at some of the must-have software to supplement your CD drive. With these five apps, you'll be covered for a wide range of uses--ripping all different kinds of media to your (presumably) terabytes of storage space, burning your own custom discs and presentations based on preexisting files, and converting physical media to digital images that you can pull up off of your hard drive instead of ever having to fiddle with a disc again.
Grab a CD-R coaster for your drink and join me after the jump for all the software goodies!
Today, we’re starting to see the first motherboards with USB 3.0 support. That support exists in the form of a discrete controller chip, typically the NEC uPD720200; it will likely be late 2010 or sometime in 2011 before we see USB 3.0 integrated into motherboard chipsets. Still, USB 3.0 is a major leap beyond USB 2.0, so peripheral manufacturers are already announcing products to support the new standard.
First, let’s clarify some terminology. USB 1.0/1.1 was typically just called USB, and supported throughput up to 12Mb/s. When USB 2.0 arrived, with its 480Mb/s speed, the USB Working Group (www.usb.org) needed a distinguishing name, hence Hi-Speed USB. USB 3.0 will be called SuperSpeed USB. Got that?
Micro-management just isn't Microsoft's thing. Why do we say that? It's because the folks from Redmond are regular Babe Ruths when it comes to coding an OS and knocked the ball out of the park with Windows 7. But when it comes to integrated apps -- all those things we would expect Microsoft to excel at -- the software giant is more like Casey at the bat and we're all just a bunch of Mudville suckers wondering how Microsoft manages to whiff it at the easy pitches. Internet Explorer? Most of us are rocking Firefox or Chrome. And while we don't want to be too hard on Windows Media Player, there are certainly better media frontends out there.
One of them is XBMC, an open-source project formerly known as Xbox Media Center. XBMC was originally developed for the first Xbox console, and through the years, it has evolved as a fully fledged, cross-platform media hub with a rabid following and plenty of user-created plugins and scripts. It's also given birth to more familiar projects like Boxee, Voddler, and others, all of which initially borrowed from XBMC's source code.
If you've never played with XBMC, it's time for a test drive. To help you kick the tires, we've assembled 12 terrific tips and tricks so you can spend more time cruising the media byways and less time fumbling with the controls.
You know Adobe's portable document format: PDF. It's everywhere, from downloadable documentation for a motherboard you need to tweak to press releases from the assemblyman from Lower Someplace, PDFs rule. Why? It's not hard to understand:
PDF files are supported by computers and mobile devices, including smartphones; comparable formats such as Microsoft's XPS don't enjoy nearly as wide a level of support
PDF files are cross-platform, enabling you to create a PDF on a PC and read it on any other device with PDF support
PDF documents can be optimized for web display, eBook readers, PC printing, and high-resolution professional printing
Add up these reasons, and it's easy to see why PDF make sense if you need to distribute a document that can be read everywhere.
Although Adobe sets the standards for PDF files with its Acrobat PDF creation and Reader PDF display software, Adobe isn't the only game in town when it comes to PDF creation. In this article, you'll discover if your system is already ready to spit out a PDF on demand, how to add PDF output to your system, and how to track down free tools that enable you to perform some PDF editing.
It's a new year, a new decade, with bigger hard disks than ever and new technologies like SATA 6Gbps, USB 3.0, and bigger solid-state drives to choose from. So, what do you do with the drives you've replaced (or will replace this year)? From drive enclosures and media streamers to storage for home servers and salvage fodder, find out the best ways to decide which drives get promoted, which drives are out, and which drives deserve a second life.
To casual observers, PC builders who fixate on benchmarks are geeks unable to see the forest from the trees. “Why,” they ask, “can’t you just enjoy your new computer and let it be?” Our answer: the difference between a person who cares about benchmarking and one who doesn’t is how much that person values their free time.
Case in point, we recently did something as simple as download two large zip files at the end of the work day. Instead of strolling out at 6 p.m., we ended up waiting 15 minutes for the files to be decompressed on our work-issued PC. To care about benchmark is to care about performance. And to care about performance is to care about having more free time on your hand.
But you shouldn’t just download any benchmarking tool to run--there’s a right and wrong way to benchmark your machine if you want to get meaningful results. We’ll teach you proper benchmarking techniques and how to interpret your results. Read on to learn how to benchmark the Maximum PC way.
It's difficult to envision a life without email. I'm not sure if that's a good or a bad thing. Suffice, digital messaging is just a fact of geek life that we all have to deal with on a daily basis. Whether your inbox gets flooded with messages like the Nile during rainy season, or it's barren as one of those outback wastelands that Bear Grylls likes to visit, you probably aren't using your email client of choice to its fullest potential.
That's ok. Neither was I before undertaking the research for this week's open-source and freeware roundup. But now that I have seen the light, as it were, I would never go back to the ol' vanilla installations of Outlook, Thunderbird, Gmail, or whatever one's particular email utility of choice happens to be. There are just too many interesting ways to tweak and alter the normal email experience to better enhance your ability to read, organize, and shuffle your messages.
That's kind of "the big point" of the roundup this week--making your email work better for you. Click the jump, and I'll show you five apps and utilities for taking your email processing to the next level!
Batteries are everywhere. They’re in our phones, mice, cars, laptops, game machines, controllers, remotes, cameras—you name it. Battery technology influences the design, capabilities, and feature set of nearly everything portable, from laptops and cell phones to hybrid and electric vehicles.
Most of the batteries in our lives are rechargeable, and our more eco-aware world is quickly replacing standard alkaline AA and AAA batteries with rechargeable equivalents. Still, few people know how all these batteries work or how to best take care of them.
We’re going to focus on common rechargeable battery types, but before we get into that we should cover a few basics about how batteries work and go over common terms.
Whether you own an iPod touch, Zune HD, Nintendo DSi, or any number of other portable devices, there's one tool that makes easy work out of ripping DVDs and converting incompatible video files into manageable formats: Handbrake. This wonderful utility has just about everything you could ask for, including robust compatibility, a slick interface, and snappy performance. And if that weren't enough, the developers have chosen to give the program away for free, no strings (or trialware) attached.
We realize we're probably preaching to the choir and there's a good chance you've used Handbrake before, if not frequently. But do you know how to create, backup, and transfer your own custom settings for the Xbox 360, PS3, and other popular media players not included by default? Do you know how to encode a copy protected DVD with the least amount off fuss? We do, and on the following pages, we'll guide you through a series of advanced tips for getting the most out of Handbrake.
In our last router roundup, way back in November 2007, we wrote, “We’re months away from a final IEEE 802.11n standard.” We never imagined that months would stretch into nearly two years before that standards body would finally finish ironing out all the details. But now that the spec has been ratified, 802.11n routers abound—and their prices have dropped dramatically.
Back then, the average price of the 802.11n Draft 2.0 routers that we reviewed—all of which had single-band radios—was $130. The average street price of the six single-band 802.11n routers in this batch has dropped to less than half that. The even better news is that the cheapest router in this roundup also delivered the best real-world performance.
You’ll want to consider features as well as benchmark numbers, of course. If you have complex routing requirements, you’ll want a model with tweaker-friendly firmware. And if you rely on VoIP for telephone service, play online games, or stream video over your wireless network while downloading files using BitTorrent, you’ll want a router with robust quality-of-service features. One of the models we tested allows you to share a printer over your network; another boasts advanced parental-control features.
And then there’s the certification issue to consider: Each of the routers in this roundup implements features of the IEEE 802.11n standard, but not all of them carry the Wi-Fi Alliance’s 802.11n certification logo. We’ll go into more detail about this in our buyers guide.
Read on for our full review of six of the latest mainstream 802.11n routers on the market.