We know PC Authority readers operate their computers with alacrity, but there's always something to learn, and our experts sometimes find new tricks that the manual writers forgot.
It's always a bonus to uncover a shortcut or program enhancement, and here we bring you 100 tips and tricks that we hope will make your computing experience quicker, simpler or more rewarding. From Windows to security, ergonomics to photo-imaging, PC Authority gives you inside information on how to make the most of your IT assets.
Drivers and BIOS
1 Although it may sound obvious, the best advice when it comes to drivers is to always install the latest available. The best place to look for new drivers is the manufacturer's own Website, as many third-party sites may post beta drivers.
2 Try to avoid beta drivers unless you're having a problem with the device. Beta drivers, as the name suggests, are experimental builds. Some beta drivers may offer advantages, such as performance gains or bug fixes, and in some cases they are a valid option, although they may also be less stable. If you're having a problem with a device and a new driver, it's also worth trying out a slightly older driver before installing a beta.
3 Look for WHQL (Windows Hardware Quality Labs) certification if possible. WHQL certification means the drivers have been scrutinised by Microsoft's testers for compatibility with Windows OSes. WHQL drivers may not necessarily offer the best performance, but they should work. See www.microsoft.com/hwtest.
4 Unless otherwise directed, always uninstall the previous driver before installing any new ones. Installing newer drivers over the top of existing driver installations can sometimes cause problems, so it's best to play it safe.
5 Most driver packages have an installer application – an executable that automates the installation process. However, if the drivers you have don't include this, the best bet for a manual install is to use the Device Manager (Control Panel | System | Hardware) and choose update driver. If you know the location of the driver you want to install, choose Advanced and then choose Don't Search and browse to where the driver is stored.
6 One way to try and improve overall system performance is to tweak your memory timing settings. Memory timings (for SDRAM), such as CAS Latency, determine how fast the memory accesses and stores data. The timings are listed in clock cycles and are usually set by SPD (serial presence detect). Reduce timings one at a time and by one clock cycle at a time, running the system after each change to make sure it's stable. Reducing CAS latency usually has the most positive affect. This is quite an advanced task, though, and it may cause serious system errors and instability.
7 If you don't fancy tweaking individual memory timings, some BIOS revisions offer the ability to set different timings in a simpler way. Check the Advanced Chipset menu in the BIOS and look for a DRAM Timing option. This can vary between Safe and Ultra, with Ultra offering the most aggressive timings. There may also be an option for SDRAM Command Rate 1T/2T. The Command Rate relates to initial memory access speeds and setting 1T will boost performance a little, providing your memory can cope.
8 A less intense BIOS tweaking tip is to simply disable all the devices that you don't use. For example, this could include the COM ports or the integrated AC '97 audio, RAID controllers and so on. Doing this will improve your startup time, as Windows is no longer loading drivers for the unused devices, and could also help stability by reducing potential conflicts.
9 If you scout into the Advanced Chipset menu in your BIOS you will probably find an option for Spread Spectrum. This modulates the pulses from the motherboard's clock generator and helps to reduce EMI (electromagnetic interference) problems. If you don't have a problem with EMI, disable it as it reduces performance and stability, particularly if you're overclocking.
10 Most motherboards these days are jumperless – that's to say that there's no need to physically change DIP switches or jumpers to configure core settings, like CPU voltage and front-side bus speed. However, should your BIOS tinkering activities result in a PC that refuses to boot, don't panic.
This is probably down to an improper setting and can be rectified by simply clearing the CMOS and re-setting the BIOS back to default 'safe' values.
Clearing the CMOS involves momentarily connecting a couple of pins on the motherboard by moving a jumper, and your motherboard manual will tell you where these pins are. If you have lost your manual, you can probably download a soft copy from the Web, but do this before you start BIOS tweaking.