Top Tips




While your Windows PC is working normally you might like to make a permanent ‘hard-copy’ record of its configuration. It may not mean much to you now but it could prove useful to you later or to an engineer diagnosing a problem. Here’s what to do, open System Properties by pressing Winkey + Break (or right-click My Computer and select Properties) then click Hardware > Device Manager. Click and highlight the Computer icon at the top of the tree then go to the Actions menu and select Print. Your Printer Properties dialogue box will open, click Print and it should start. Keep the printout in a safe place; you never know when you might need it. 



Sounds unpleasant but it could happen to you…More PC users are making their own CDs and DVDs, and dressing them up with printed labels. The trouble is the adhesive on some of these labels can soften if left in the drive (it gets quite warm in there) and if it starts to peel the drive tray can get stuck. No amount of pressing the eject button is going to free it up and the only solution is to manually open the drawer. Pretty well all CD and DVD drives have a emergency release latch, just look for a tiny hole on he front panel, it’s usually underneath the loading draw. To open the draw switch off the PC and find a paperclip, open out one end and gently poke that into the hole, when you meet resistance press it in another millimetre or so and the draw should pop open enough for you to be able to pull it all of the way out and retrieve the disc. If the label has got stuck to anything open the draw very slowly to avoid it sticking and tearing. Remove the label completely if you want to use the disc again and this time use a CD pen or marker.



Before making any changes to the Windows Registry or using any tool or utility that can affect it I strongly suggest that you make a backup of the Registry and if you are using Windows XP create a new System Restore point.  This is easy, go to Start > Programs > Accessories > System Restore, select ‘Create a Restore Point, then Next and follow the prompts.


To manually backup the Registry go to Run n the Start menu, type ‘regedit’ (without the quotes) then OK. Select Export on the File menu; give the file a name (e.g. today’s date) then click Save. Should anything go wrong double click the saved *.reg file in My Document and your Registry will be automatically restored.



A totally dead PC is very rare so if nothing happens when you power up for the first time check the obvious – the rear panel on/off switch, the ‘On’ switch connections on the motherboard and the two power cables from the PSU to the motherboard. If the fan is running then the mains supply is okay, if not it could be the cable or mains fuse. If the PC bleeps more than twice there may be a problem with the memory module, make sure it is properly seated. If the PC bleeps but the screen remains blank check the monitor is on and the cable is securely connected. If the PC won’t boot from the Windows CD-ROM check the drive’s power and data cables, also enter the BIOS program (press the Del key at boot up) and verify the CD/DVD-ROM drive is listed as a ‘Boot Device’. If you are using an alternative operating system or an older version of Windows you can use a Windows 98 emergency recovery disc to partition and format the drive, see Boot Camp 53




Video editing programs are hugely complex applications and can really put a strain on your computer hardware and operating system, pushing both to their limits so crashes and lockups are not uncommon. It is vitally important that you get into the habit of saving your project every 15 to 20 minutes otherwise when the inevitable happens you will end loosing your work and wasting a lot of time and effort.




A common cause of Windows crashes or lock-ups is too many programs running at the same time. You might be lucky and get a warning that something bad is about to happen – a slow running program is a sign of impending danger  -- but you can keep an eye on what is happening, and possibly prevent a crash, using a simple utility called the Resource Meter. It is quite well hidden.  From the Start button select Programs, then Accessories and click on System Tools. Double click on Resource Meter and a small bar-graph icon will appear on the Taskbar, next to the clock. Placing the mouse pointer over the icon will give you an instant readout of the percentage of resources being used, better still click on it and a set of three bar graphs will appear. Problems can occur when any of the three meters fall below 25%. If that happens you should close one or more programs, not forgetting to save any open files first, reboot and all should be well again.   




Thunderstorms can be fatal for PCs. Strikes on nearby overhead cables and sub-stations can send high voltage 'spikes' down mains supplies, frying computers and other electronic devices. It's sensible to switch your PC off, disconnect the mains plug and telephone modem lead during a thunderstorm, even if it's not directly overhead. If that's not possible then it is worth investing in surge protection devices, for the mains and telephone connections. Protection devices, built into mains sockets or multi-way adaptors are relatively inexpensive -- £20 to £50 -- compared with the cost of PC and loss of data. Telephone line protectors start at around £40 and are readily available from PC stockists.




Make sure your PC is well ventilated as the combination of a hot office and poor airflow can result in erratic behaviour. Check that the fan is working properly and if there is a build-up of dust around the grille, clear it with a clean paintbrush. Use a vacuum cleaner hose to suck out fluff and debris from the back of the machine. Remove any clutter from the front and side ventilation slots. Don't forget the monitor, now would be a good time to file those papers that are piling up on the top and blocking the vents. Peel off any stickers and furry creatures that could obstruct cooling air.




This tip won’t stop the dreaded 'Blue Screen of Death' (the error message that heralds a major system crash) from appearing, but you can change the colour and make it a more restful shade.  Use Notepad to open the System.ini file in the Windows folder. Scroll down to the section that starts ‘[386enh]’ and at the end type the following two lines, paying attention to the spacing, capitalisation and spelling:



Now you need to add a number or letter (hexadecimal code) after the equals signs for the background and text colours, the choices are: 0 for black, 1 blue, 2 green, 3 cyan, 4 red, 5 magenta, 6 yellow, 7 white, 8 grey, 9 bright blue, A bright green, B bright cyan, C bright red, D bright magenta, E bright yellow, F bright white, and here's hoping you never see the fruits of your handiwork…



Copyright (c) 2006 Rick Maybury Ltd.