Articles about Know Your PC

Thilmera7 is a very configurable PC monitor


Thilmera7 is a PC monitor which can help you track CPU and RAM usage, processes, threads, network traffic, hard drive activity, hardware temperatures and more, all in a free and portable desktop tool.

Launch the program and a tiny window appears with basic system details: free RAM, CPU usage, the number of processes/ threads/ handles, disk and network activity. This is presented in a horribly basic way, mostly text with a few feeble graphical touches, but it does at least give you some useful feedback on what your PC is doing.

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Run Windows 8 or 8.1 directly from a USB drive on any computer -- for free

Windows 2 go

The Enterprise edition of Windows 8.x has a feature called Windows To Go that lets you create a working version of Microsoft's tiled operating system on a USB memory stick. You can boot into this and be instantly up and running in the new OS from any computer. Which is great -- provided you have the Enterprise edition of the OS and a "certified" USB drive. If you only have the standard version of Windows 8.x then the option isn't available to you.

But there is a very easy way you can build a personalized and bootable copy of Windows 8 or 8.1 on a USB drive, for use anywhere. All you need is a USB 3.0 device with at least 13GB capacity (it will run on a USB 2.0 memory stick, but slowly), a copy of Windows 8.x (either an installation disc or an ISO -- you can get the Windows 8.1 ISO by following these instructions but you will need a Windows 8.1 key), and a free partitioning program. Here's what you need to do.

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Why I hope curved screens don't become the norm

TV television

One of the most memorable presentations given at CES this year saw Samsung showing off its latest curved screen TV. Sadly for the tech giant it was Michael Bay's on-stage brain fart that most people took away from the talk (if I can just leave you with the delightful image of taking away someone's fart with you...), but Samsung would much rather we concentrated on the display technology it was showcasing. It excited a great many people, and for some it is seen as the way ahead and something we could see a lot more off. I sincerely hope we don't, particularly on the desktop.

Why? There are lots of reasons that I am opposed to the idea of curved screens, particularly when used for TVs and monitors -- smartphones are slightly different, but I'm not too keen on that either. Curved screens are not really a brand spanking new technology; there have been curved cinema screens for a number of years now, and I can see the benefit of the curve in this setting. Used in a theater the curve eliminates the problem of trying to find a seat right in the center because it matters far less where you are in relation to the screen. Everyone gets an equally good view of the action. It is a democratizing technology. So why am I down on it?

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The most popular stories on BetaNews this past week -- December 22 - 28


This hass been a much quieter week than usual with Christmas meaning that many companies have been on a virtual shutdown. But there has still been a bit of activity over the past seven days. We've reached the end of the year and the BetaNews team finds itself in a reflective mood. Mihaita was the first to pick his favourite tech products of the years, and Wayne wasn't far behind. Brian also got in on the action and Ian shared his thoughts as well. Bing also took a look back at the year, putting together a list of the top ten homepage images of 2013.

A delay at UPS meant that the delivery of many Christmas presents was held up, but if the delivery man did manage to make his way to your door in time to bring you a Surface 2, Brian has a guide to getting started. Alan was also on hand to help anyone who was the lucky recipient of a Kindle Fire HDX or a Google TV. Many people will have received, or bought themselves, a Windows 8.1 PC: Wayne had the info you need to get started.

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Santa brought you Windows 8.1? Here's what to do first

Windows 81

Windows 8.1 is a great operating system. So if you received it for Christmas, either as a boxed copy, or installed on a new PC or tablet, the first thing to do is not -- as some people will say -- swap it for Windows 7.

If you are going to be running the new OS on a tablet, or on a system with a touch screen, then it’s fine to use pretty much as is. If you’re using it on a desktop, or non-touch laptop however, there are some customizations worth performing to make it more suited to your needs.

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Shhh! The noise your computer makes could be used to decrypt your files

hard disk listening

It's probably not something you need worry about in relation to your personal files just yet, but according to a newly published paper (the snappily titled "RSA Key Extraction via Low-Bandwidth Acoustic Cryptanalysis") it appears that it is possible to extract 4096-bit RSA decryption keys by listening to the sounds made by a computer.

This might sound like the talk of someone paranoid, but it is actually more feasible than you might first think. And the paper has been penned by no less than Adi Shamir, the co-inventor of the RSA algorithm.

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Take control of your privacy in Windows 8.1


Privacy has been a hot topic throughout 2013 and it’s always worth taking a little time to make sure you’re not accidentally sharing more information with the world than you might want to. Microsoft’s tiled operating system comes with some handy privacy controls baked in that you should definitely take a look at if you haven’t already.

This feature won’t stop the NSA spying on you, but it can prevent apps from accessing personal details like your name, photo, location and account info, and prevent them from using your PC or tablet's camera and microphone without your knowledge.

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Time is running out: How to upgrade from Windows 8.1 Preview

Windows 8 logo

The finished version of Windows 8.1 has been out for a couple of months now, but if you’re still using the free preview build, time is running out. Windows 8.1 Preview and Windows RT 8.1 Preview are both set to expire on January 15.

Upgrading from the preview to the final GA release is very easy, and there are a couple of ways of doing it.

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Should companies stick to their guns or give in to customer demands?


The customer is always right, right? As a customer it is understandable that this old adage seems like something set in stone, but looked at from a company's point of view things are rather different. A large proportion of customers are in fact idiots. While it is reasonable to expect a company to listen to what its customers have to say, does this risk stifling innovation as customers demand that things be done a certain way?

Here on BetaNews we've had a little debate about whether Microsoft should reintroduce the Start menu. Despite the number of people calling for its return, Brian does not think it is a good idea saying that "the company should ignore these customers, even if they are the majority". I am of the opinion that it would be good to at least make it optional, particularly for enterprise customers.

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Troubleshoot tricky PC problems with SpyStudio

broken PC

In an ideal world, diagnosing software problems would be easy. If a program couldn’t find a vital DLL or Registry key then it would display a detailed error message, describing both the problem and solution, so you could get everything working again with the minimum of hassle.

The real world, of course, is very different: failing programs will generally crash, lock up, or display an error message which means almost nothing at all. Checking with the developer, or searching for your symptoms online may offer some clues. But if you’re getting nowhere, then SpyStudio 32-bit and 64-bit might be able to help you understand what’s going on.

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Get ready to upgrade -- DDR4 memory is on its way


I recently upgraded my already fast PC, adding a large Kingston SSD, Intel Core i7 Processor, and new motherboard, and additionally boosted the amount of DDR3 RAM to 16GB. Unfortunately, my new super-speedy system could be out of date as soon as next month -- well the memory and motherboard elements of it at least.

Memory specialist Crucial has DDR4 listed on its website, along with a nifty infographic (embedded below) to tell you more about the next generation memory. According the information on the site, the faster RAM is coming out late in 2013, which means -- as we're running out of months -- it should be available some time in December.

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Activate the hidden 'Slide to shut down' option in Windows 8.1

win 8 slide

One of the (many) complaints people had about Windows 8, was how unnecessarily awkward it was to shut it down. Windows 8.1 makes that aspect of things much easier. You can still go through the Charms bar, but you can also now right-click the new Start button and shut down, or sign out there.

There is another method though, and that’s to use the "Slide to shut down your PC" option. This isn’t activated by default, but it’s easy to summon, and you can create shortcuts for it.

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Tidy up the Windows 8.1 Apps screen by removing unwanted shortcuts

apps screen

When you install an app or desktop program in Windows 8.1 it gets added to the Apps screen. From here you can add it to the Start screen by right-clicking to summon the Customize menu, and then selecting "Pin to Start". You can also "Pin to Taskbar" if you want regular quick access to it while working in the desktop.

The Apps screen, which you can set as your default view, can be ordered by Name, Date Installed, Most Used, or Category -- to make it easier to find the apps and desktop programs you want. You can also have desktop programs show up first when the Apps screen is sorted by Category. To do this, right-click the taskbar and select Properties. Click the Navigation tab and tick “List desktop apps first in the Apps view when it’s sorted by category”.

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How to easily migrate to SkyDrive from Google Drive, including your Google Docs

cloud storage

Google Docs and Google Drive were all I knew when it came to personal cloud document storage until this summer. I never got on the Dropbox bandwagon, and was so entrenched in the Google ecosystem that SkyDrive didn't interest me at first when it came out. While I have nothing personally against Google Drive, as it has served my company and myself quite well, I had to take a deep dive into SkyDrive territory to prepare for an Office 2013 class I taught this past summer. I was pleasantly surprised with the service, so much so that I began using it side by side next to Google Drive for my personal needs.

Fast forward to when Windows 8.1 went RTM, and I subsequently moved my primary Thinkpad X230 Tablet over to the new OS. One of the least publicized aspects of 8.1 has to be hands-down the tight integration between the OS and SkyDrive, meaning you didn't need a standalone app anymore to save/open files on the service. Some have called it Microsoft going too far, but I completely disagree. The service is 100 percent optional (you can still save locally as you would expect) and if you are using a local account instead of a MS account for your computer login on 8.1, the service is a moot point at best.

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Automate login and bypass the lock and Start screens in Windows 8.1

Windows 8 start

Windows 8.1 is a huge improvement over Windows 8. Once you've spent any time in the preview (or one of the leaked builds) you'll find it impossible to go back to the obviously half-baked original.

But the default setup still has some annoyances that get in the way and prevent you from just booting up your PC and using Windows. For starters there's the lock screen to get through -- a delaying stage which serves little purpose in a home environment. Then you have to enter your password and log to in your Microsoft account, and finally, once you've cleared those steps, there's the Modern UI to go through on your way to the desktop. Fortunately you can configure Windows 8.1 to skip all of that nonsense.

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