Welcome to the Builder's Corner Current Newsletter: Updated Issue
This Issue Includes a Review of Computer Hardware Components
The Builders Corner current newsletter provides a review of the Nvidia GTX graphics card, applications, tips and tricks. The next three issues will feature stories on the best computer hardware components, updates from external hard drive reviews and more. Build your own computer while using information from the best computer reviews and updates.
As always, I keep the newsletter printer friendly if you prefer offline reading. Simply click File --> Print and you're off and running.
Hard Stuff - The Nvidia GTX 280
It finally arrived - in 2008. After a long wait and a lot of hype, the GTX 280, and its little brother the GTX 260 are here. But what is so great about these cards? Well, for starters, Nvidia has incorporated 240 stream processors into the GTX 280, an increase over the previous 128. They crammed 1GB of GDDR3 memory on board, as well as 1.4 billion, yes billion transistors onto their 65mm die. That's gotta be a tight fit for all those transistors. The card sports 2 Dual-Link DVI connections allowing you to run dual monitors with ease. And running dual monitors will be easy with the processing power of this card. Also near the top of the feature list is the cards lower power consumption when idling. Nvidia managed to drop the consumption level by around 60%. That's quite a gain, as graphics cards can be the biggest power hog in the system.
So how does this card perform? Well, let's just say the only card that has a chance to beat it in benchmarking is Nvidia's 9800 GX2. That is, until you crank up the resolution and graphics full bore. Then the GTX 280 really starts to shine. For those of you who are gamers, the GTX 280 will run Crysis at full graphics, with resolution up at 2560x1600, and get around 22 fps (frames per second). That may not sound like a lot, but for Crysis with a single card, that's pretty impressive.
Of course, it's not all roses for the GTX 280. On the down side, it does compete with the 9800 GX2. Being that the 9800 is an older card, you would think that the GTX 280 would top it quite easily. This however is not the case. When you get to very high resolutions, it does beat it, and any other card hands down. At lower resolutions however, the 9800 comes out on top more often than you would like to see for a new card. The other hit to the card is that Nvidia did not implement DirectX 10.1, they stuck with 10.0.
Despite the fact that the 9800 GX2 can top the GTX 280, they are currently priced just about the same, right around $500, depending on the manufacturer you choose. Personally, if you are looking to pick up one of these, I have always had good luck with EVGA. They overclock their cards and guarantee their overclock. You are also automatically enrolled in their upgrade plan. If within 3 months of buying your card, you want to upgrade to a better model, they will credit you with the full purchase price of your current card. Just send them you old one and they send you the new for the difference in price only. Not a bad deal...
Update: 2011: Nvidia releases what it calls the "world's fastest" graphics card: GeForce GTX 590. Fast, but also quiet, this card is targeted to gaming builds. Priced at $699 USD, you need to be a serious gamer to pick up this card.
Featured App - Hijack This
This month I want to tell you about an awesome little application called Hijack This, through a site called TrendSecure. Does it sound a bit sinister (it isn't)? This little app is made by Trend Micro and is a free program which makes it even better in my opinion. What this app does is scan through key areas of your registry and hard drive to look for hijacking software.
Let's take a quick look at hijacking software. Hijacking is a term that is used to describe specific types of malware. What this malware does is infiltrate your system without your consent, and usually without your knowledge, and perform tasks that were programmed by the creator of the malware. These can be simply annoying things such as opening a web browser and going to a specific page or pages, or taking over your current browsing session and re-directing you to a different page. However, malware can do worse things as well, such as stealing personal information or causing data loss.
I recently had the joy of trying to rid myself of an annoying piece of malware. This one was not that harmful, but it was extremely annoying. It would take over my browser when I was surfing around and redirect me to websites that were selling a product. My guess is, if you were to buy the product, your credit card information would be recorded for later use by whomever was doing this. I tried everything to get rid of it. Ad-Aware, which usually works wonders, Windows Defender, which can catch a few things Ad-Aware misses, but none of it worked. The malware was still there. I started to worry that I would have to reload Windows, which is something I wanted to avoid.
So, after some searching, I ran into Hijack This. Figured I'd give it a shot, as nothing else was working. Now, one caveat about using this program; you can really mess up your computer if you delete something that shouldn't have been deleted. The best way to use this is to run a system scan, and generate a log file. Head to a malware forum and post that log file up and let the experts analyze it and tell you what should be removed. You can find malware forums online easily; here is one that is fairly active, Major Geeks Malware Removal, that you can try if you need help.
Hopefully you will never need to use Hijack This, but in the case that you do, it's nice to know that there is something out there that can get rid of malware that other programs may miss.
Another product by the same company is TrendProtect, which is a free browser plug-in to help you avoid 'hidden' threats on some Web pages. How does it work? The application rates the security of the page(s) that you enter and then you decide whether it's worth the risk to visit or avoid the Website. Yes, it does mean taking extra steps to ensure the security of the site however it's worth it in the long run since there are numerous issues on websites that can hurt your system and take a long time to fix. TrendProtect also has enhanced protection (through paid services) that will block access to unsafe Web pages.
Q & A
Our question in this issue comes from Brad in St. Petersburg, FL. He asks: "My computer has been getting slower and slower over the last month or so. What can I do to speed things back up to the way they used to be?"
Hi Brad - thanks for your question.
Over time, your computer starts to build up more and more junk on it. Think of it like a garage or the attic at your house. I know that over time, my garage tends to collect more and more junk. Spring cleaning for me is the garage - get rid of all the stuff you don't need. The same applies to your computer. Over time, old applications you no longer use build up, your web browser cache gets bigger and bigger, and files you no longer use or have forgotten about can clog up your hard drive. Let's look at different ways to take care of this.
1 - The first thing you can do is to look at what's all installed on your computer. If you go to your Control Panel and click on Add / Remove Programs, you will get a list of all programs that are installed on your PC. Take a few minutes and browse through the list. Look for programs that you no longer use and get rid of them. One thing to keep in mind, on the Add / Remove programs window, you will see a label that says Used, and how often the program is used. This is not always accurate, and I usually don't go by this.
2 - Next, clean out your web browser history and your web cache. The cache can build up over time and get quite large. If it gets too big, it can start to slow down your browser simply with the loads of data it looks through. So, to clean this out, open up your web browser, and go under Tools -> Internet Options. On the General tab, click the Delete button under the Browsing history section. In the resulting window, you will see 5 buttons for deleting different things. The ones we are concerned with here are Delete Files, and Delete History. You can even skip deleting your history, as it doesn't take up all that much room. Click on Delete Files and let it do its thing. If you have a lot of cache built up, it could take a few minutes to complete.
3 - The Windows Registry is the next stop. This is where all the information about your system is stored. From what's installed, to program settings, to favorites, to Windows information, it's all here. Therefore, in order to clean this out, some care is needed. This is not something that you can just browse through and delete this and that. Deleting the wrong thing can corrupt your Windows install and force you to repair or re-install. To clean out your registry, you are going to want a professional application to scan and detect problems, and to clean out old keys from your registry. A great list of programs can be found Registry Cleaners Compared's site.
4 - Finally, you can use Windows built in disk cleanup tool. This can be found under Start -> Programs -> Accessories -> System Tools -> Disk Cleanup. Run this little app, select your drive, and give it a few minutes to scan your system. It will give you a list of recommendations to help clean up your drive. One thing it recommends is to compress old files. Personally I do not do this, as it will increase the amount of time it takes to open a program if the system has to un-compress it first. The rest however will help to clean things out.
Brad, I hope that helps to speed up your system. If you have computer questions, feel free to send them to me and I will always get back to you as soon as I can, and I may feature the questions - and answer - in an upcoming newsletter.
Tips and Tricks
You have all seen the "Windows" key on your keyboard - or, at least, most have I'm sure. It usually resides on the bottom row next to the Alt key by your spacebar. If you press it, the Start menu pops up and you can navigate through it using your arrow keys, mouse etc. But, there is more that the Windows key can do. When used in combination with other keys, it can be used to do quite a few things. Here is a list of useful commands:
- Winkey + F1 - This will open Microsoft Windows help and support center. Useful for a quick link to update Windows.
- Winkey + D - This combination will bring your desktop to the front and hide all other applications.
- Winkey + M - Similar to Winkey + D, this combo will minimize all windows and take you to the desktop.
- Winkey + Shift + M - This will undo the Winkey + D or Winkey + M and restore all applications.
- Winkey + E - Opens Windows Explorer - very handy shortcut that I use all the time.
- Winkey + Tab - Similar to Shift + Tab, this combination will cycle focus through all programs that are on your taskbar.
- Winkey + F - Opens Windows search.
- Winkey + R - Opens the Run dialog. For a good list of Run commands, see this newsletter archive issue's tips and tricks section.
- Winkey + L - Locks your computer, requiring a password be entered to unlock it. (Your normal login / pass is what is used here.) Useful when you are stepping away from your computer but you want to leave all your applications running.
If you have any requests for the Tips and Tricks section, let me know and I'll address them in the next issue. The next three issues will focus on computer hardware components, external hard drive reviews, and information from, and on, the best computer reviews.
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