Imagine a world in which all cars are like the Toyota Prius: four-door midsize hybrids. Sure, they aren’t bad cars, you can paint them any way you want and even modify some parts, but in the end you still just have a generic Toyota with a funky paint job.
That’s the world of personal computing today. It doesn’t matter if you’re running Windows, Mac OS, or Linux. Your machine is almost certainly using Intel chips at its core and almost everything else is fairly generic—even the world’s greatest case mod with water-cooled dual-Xeons and quad-SLI graphics is just a really fast PC.
This was definitely not the case 35 years ago. A quick tour of the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA, reveals machines that were as varied and unique as the companies that made them.
The microprocessors, if there even was one, were supplied by Intel, MOS, Zilog, RCA, or any number of other companies. Memory was static, dynamic, and shift-register. And without the Internet, programs were loaded from paper tape, punched cards, cassette tape, floppy disks, cartridge, or even manually switched in by hand.
In the following pages, we take a close look at some of the most influential personal computers of the past 40 years. From pre-microprocessor machines to the venerated IBM PC, each of these systems contributed in some way to the modern personal computing era.
Stop surfing the internet for a minute (we know, a tall order) and go get your last cable or satellite TV bill. Back? Good. Now skim to the bottom and look at the total amount of money you paid for TV last month. Do you feel like you got a reasonable amount of entertainment for that $60, $80, or even $100-plus? Are you happy about the money you spend for the privilege of watching TV? We’re not. The vast majority of TV we watch is available for free, over the air. Sure, we’ll occasionally watch an episode of Flight of the Conchords on HBO or a documentary on Discovery, but most of the TV we watch is on one of the big over-the-air networks—ABC, CBS, Fox, the CW, and NBC. So we started looking for alternatives.
It turns out that the vast majority of new TV shows are available online, either as part of an ad-driven website like Hulu or TV.com, or available for sale on iTunes or Amazon’s Unbox service. However, having a PC in the living room has traditionally sucked. After all, you don’t want to hear a big, noisy PC when you’re enjoying a movie or a TV show, and using a mouse and keyboard as the primary interface just doesn’t cut it when you’re kicking back on the couch. But times have changed. These days, it’s easy to build a PC that’s quiet enough to be virtually unheard, yet powerful enough to play all the high-definition video that’s currently available.
And making the proposition even more appealing, there are software frontends like Boxee and the new Hulu Desktop that let you harness all that hardware power in an easy-to-use, remote-friendly interface that combines the massive library of streaming video on the web with the DRM-free content you rip from discs or purchase legally on the web. We’ll introduce you to a couple of the options, then help you configure our favorite. By combining a few hundred bucks’ worth of hardware with a free software app and your broadband connection, you can reduce the money you spend on entertainment from $100 a month to $100 a year.
A sucker buys a new PC at the first signs of a slowdown. A savvy power user gives his aged PC a fighting chance for redemption. From tweaking your OS to compressing files to overclocking your videocard or CPU, there are plenty of ways to tune up a computer, and none require a trip to Bob’s House of New PCs. Follow along this step-by-step as we show you 21 of our favorite techniques for making a PC better, stronger, and faster — for free. These essential tweaks and tune-ups range from common-sense caretaking measures to practical adjustments that you'd be foolish to ignore. Combined, they release your PC's untapped potential and breathe new life into your system.
So here's the deal. You have a ton of extra storage sitting around your house/apartment/basement. That's great. So what's the problem? It's just sitting there, doing you absolutely no good. You've maxed out the SATA ports on your desktop rig, but would love for a way to make use of your hard drives in some manner that's geekier than a doorstop, a height extension for your coffee table, or a crude weapon.
Have you thought about building your own server?
Woah, woah. Don't skip over this article just yet. It sounds complicated, but crafting up your own personal server for your files (and multimedia) isn't that complicated. In fact, for some of the free solutions I'm about to show you, all you need is a working PC that accepts USB keys. That's it. Plug it in, fire up the software, and you'll have a brand-new storage array that's ready to receive your file backups and music files in equal measure. And why is that important? Because you're probably not running a RAID array on your main PC--if your primary drive goes, that's it. Game over. End of story. And if you're the most backup-conscious person around, wouldn't it be nice to have a low-powered PC that serves up multimedia for any networked computer in your abode? I thought so.
All this and more awaits you in the land of home servers!
There are few things we like more than apps that enhance the Windows experience at no cost. In fact, we've already shown you the 32 essential programs that you must download with every clean install of Windows. But while those apps work great on their own, some killer programs and services perform even better when combined with other software. For example, Dropbox excels as a standalone application, but when used in concert with the little-known Mklink command, its potential is exponentially expanded. We call these unions "software mashups" -- the use of two apps for utility that's greater than the sum of their parts. Yes, 1 + 1 can equal 3. And the best part: every program in this feature is free.
Click through to learn how to augment Dropbox, automate Bittorrent, and even stick it to Apple!
We love the excitement of being on the cutting edge, but have to also acknowledge the risks of being early adopters of hardware. In fact, there have been numerous occasions where tech enthusiasts have put their faith into the seemingly fastest or the more innovative pieces of technology, only to be burned months or years later when that tech is revealed to have to a serious design flaw or falls victim to sudden obsolescence. In this roundup, we spotlight some of the most memorable PC parts and computing gadgets that showed huge promise but just didn’t deliver in the end. Whether it was high defect rates, underperformance, or bad launch timing, these products were poised to be market leaders if not for their spectacular failure.
How could the world's fastest optical drive be a failure? Read on!
Try to imagine where 3D gaming would be today if not for the graphics processing unit, or GPU. Without it, you wouldn't be tredging through the jungles of Crysis in all its visual splendor, nor would you be fending off endless hordes of fast-moving zombies at high resolutions. For that to happen, it takes a highly specialized chip designed for parallel processing to pull off the kinds of games you see today, the same ones that wouldn't be possible on a CPU alone. Going forward, GPU makers will try to extend the reliance on videocards to also include physics processing, video encoding/decoding, and other tasks that where once handled by the CPU.
It's pretty amazing when you think about how far graphics technology has come. To help you do that, we're going to take a look back at every major GPU release since the infancy of 3D graphics. Join us as we travel back in time and relive releases like 3dfx's Voodoo3 and S3's ViRGE lineup. This is one nostalgiac ride you don't want to miss!
Just like the Spy pulling a fast one over on the Sniper for this week's Team Fortress 2 update, I'm not going to be profiling a list of freeware applications this time around. Nope. Not a single program. I'm going meta with this update. Instead of tossing a list of superior apps your way, I'm going to give you a list of the top five Firefox extensions that will take your power downloading to untold heights of awesomeness.
Now what does that entail?
Are you sick of having to sort through your expanding download directory just to find and organize the new files you've picked up? Boom. There's an add-on for that. Does it frustrate you every time you have to wait for a countdown on one of the free file hosts before you can grab the file you want? Oh-ho-ho: There's an add-on for that as well! Do you hate the very act of clicking on multiple links on a page to download files?You might be a little lazy on that one, but no hate here. Yes, there's an application to make even this most-mundane of tasks easier.
If you aren't using Firefox, well, I can't say much to that. But check out this list anyway -- I bet you'll be tempted to switch over once you realize all the additional functionality you can pack into this foxy browser. Click the jump (no, an add-on won't do that for you) and let's get started!
Windows 7 has the potential to be the most imaging-friendly version of Windows yet developed. Windows 7 makes viewing JPEG and other common file formats easy, displays exposure metadata, and supports more viewing options than Windows XP, while offering better performance than Windows Vista. However, to get the maximum benefit from Windows 7, digital photographers will want to make two additions:
Installing RAW image support for their DSLR
Installing a photo organizer and editor
Wondering how to get RAW support for 64-bit versions of Windows 7? Not sure which free program (Windows Live Photo Gallery or Picasa) is better at fixing common digital photo problems? Looking for the best solution for organizing your rapidly growing digital photo collection? Join us after the jump for the answers.
RAM, like water, is a commodity. And just as there’s a clear difference between putrid L.A. County tap water and water choppered in from the peaks of Mt. Everest, the quality of RAM can vary wildly. But quality is not the sole factor to consider when you’re trying to achieve optimum memory performance from your system.
These days, a user is faced with a plethora of options spanning different technologies, speeds, and capacities. We’re here to help you make heads and tails of all that so you’re prepared when you configure your next rig. Armed with a slew of RAM-based benchmarks, we set out to answer three of the hottest questions in memory today: Is DDR3 for AMD’s new AM3 Phenom II CPUs worth the expense? Should you pay for high-speed RAM or stick with the standard stuff? Finally, just how much memory is enough? We test three common amounts of RAM for Intel’s Core i7 to identify the sweet spot.