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The truth behind technology’s biggest lies, tall tales & misconceptions

JANUARY 2011

Is IE too risky? Is Vista truly that bad? Should you defrag your drive? Can ink refills damage your printer? Are expensive cables worth the money? Are LCD screens really better than plasma?

REVIEWS

SAMSUNG GALXY TAB DELL INSPIRON ZINO HD ZOTAC ZBOX BLU-RAY SONY DSC-TX5

HOW TO

11 MOBILE WEB ANNOYANCES

UPDATE THE FIRMWARE ON YOUR HDTV, CAMERA, SMARTPHONE, PC, AND MORE

(AND HOW TO FIX THEM)

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contents This month’s selection of industry tips, advice and guides

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Reviews & Rankings

22 Dell Inspiron Zino HD 24 Samsung Galaxy Tab 28 Sony Cyber-shot DSCTX5 30 Zotac ZBOX Blu-Ray HDID34

Forward

8 11 Mobile Web Annoyances (And How to Fix Them) 11 Lab-Testing the PC That Time Forgot

Consumer Watch

12 Facebook Announces E-Mail Service 14 Apple’s Mac App Store: 5 Questions 4 | www.pcworldme.net | January 2011

Business Centre

16 How to Get Started With a Blade System 18 BlackBerry PlayBook Tablet 10 Key Features and Facts

Security Alert

20 Second Wave of Adware Pounds Web Surfers

Feature

32 Technology’s Biggest Myths

Here’s How

40 Update the Firmware on Your HDTV, Camera, Smartphone, PC, and More 44 READER Q&A 46 The back page


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Editorial

© Copyright 2010 CPI. All rights reserved. While the publishers have made every effort to ensure the accuracy of all information in this magazine, they will not be held responsible for any errors therein.

Publisher Dominic De Sousa

Commercial Director Richard Judd richard@cpidubai.com +971 (0) 4 440 9126 Editorial Director Dave Reeder dave@cpidubai.com +971 (0) 4 440 9100 Senior Editor Magnus Nystedt magnus@cpidubai.com +971 (0) 55 883 2009 ADVERTISING Sales Manager Crystal Nystedt crystal@cpidubai.com +971 (0) 55 2020 227 CIRCULATION Database and Circulation Manager Rajeesh M rajeesh@cpidubai.com +971 (0) 4 440 9147 PRODUCTION AND DESIGN Production Manager James P Tharian james@cpidubai.com +971 (0) 4 440 9146 DIGITAL www.cpilive.net www.cpidubai.com Webmaster Tristan Troy Maagma troy@cpidubai.com +971 (0) 4 440 9141 Web Designer Jerus King Bation jerus@cpidubai.com +971 (0) 4 440 9143 Web Developer Elizabeth Reyes eliz@cpidubai.com

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Android Market Mess Indulge me, because I have to, yet again, write about tablets. I know this is PCWorld Middle East but tablets are making increasing inroads on our daily computing and gadget lives so they fit right in. For the last month or so I’ve been carrying a Samsung Galaxy Tab pretty much everywhere I go and even though it’s not had the same profound effect on me and my habits as the iPad did some six months ago, it has reaffirmed my belief in the tablet form factor. Now I use it to read newspapers every morning, keep up with RSS feeds, tweets and email, take notes, watch movies, and much, much more. If you’re uncertain about what you’d actually do with a tablet, I’m sure that if you were to actually try one, you’d fall in love, whether it’s an iPad or something else. Concerning the Tab, you should read Paul’s extensive review of the Tab later in this issue but let me just say that it does pretty much everything the iPad does and then some. The addition of two cameras is nice, as is expandable memory. Not everyone will like the 7-inch size- and I’m one of the people who would prefer something more like iPad’s 9.7-inches- but it does make the Tab more portable and you can use it with one hand. But the usability of a tablet is not about the hardware, it’s about apps and what they allow you to do with it. And that’s where we run into trouble when it comes to any Android device, like the Tab, in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. As you may know the Android Market app is not installed on official Android devices sold in these two countries, which means customers won’t get access to all the apps they really should have access to. Sure, there are alternatives like Slide Me, GetJar, and others, but I can tell you from personal experience that none of them, not even all put together, can effectively replace having Android Market installed. Many of the apps that I want to put on my Tab simply aren’t available in any of the alternative markets. TweetDeck? Nah. Facebook? Why bother! And the list goes on. It’s a crying shame for customers in UAE and KSA and someone should really do something to fix the situation. I can perhaps understand that authorities want some mechanism for being able to “clean up” the Android Market so that all the naked-girl apps aren’t as accessible to customers here as they would be otherwise, but is that really so hard to do? Apple apparently came to some understanding with UAE about iTunes App Store, so why can’t Google? As much as I may like some Android devices currently in the market, I can’t fully recommend any of them until we all have unhindered access to Android Market. I would even like to be able to buy apps in the Market but for now I’d settle for just getting the free ones. So, please come together and make this happen. Whether you’re Google, TRA, or someone else, customers in UAE and KSA deserve better than they’re currently getting.

Head Office PO Box 13700 Dubai, UAE Tel: +971 (0) 4 440 9100 Fax: +971 (0) 4 447 2409 Printed by Printwell Printing Press LLC © Copyrigth 2010 CPI All rights reserved While the publisher have made every effort to ensure the accuracy of all information in this magazine, they will not be held responsible for any errors therein.

Magnus Nystedt Group Editor

January 2011 | www.pcworldme.net | 7


Forward

11 Mobile Web Annoyances (And How to Fix Them)

Fitting the Web onto your phone can be frustrating when ads, ‘back’ buttons, and video don’t cooperate. Here’s our advice for dealing with the worst irritants. By Jared Newman

I

f the Internet of the future is mobile, as some analysts predict, I’m betting it will be riddled with as many nuisances as the Internet of desktop computers is. To start with, Websites currently insist on creating mobile versions of themselves, forcing bite-size samples upon smartphone users who want nothing less than the whole Internet in their pockets. Because the very idea of Web browsing on small touchscreen devices is so new, however, pocketsize browsing perfection doesn’t yet exist. And when you consider that even the desktoporiented Internet—which has been around for decades—is still loaded

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with annoyances such as pop-up ads, it’s clear that the mobile Web has a long way to go. A new crop of Web-ready phones (namely the iPhone, Android handsets, and the BlackBerry Torch), coupled with the growth of fast and reliable wireless data networks, is driving mobile Web use, say experts. According to Nielsen Company market researchers, the number of people in the United States who accessed the Web via smartphones grew by about 36% over the past year, from 56 million in July 2009 to 76 million in July 2010. As for what kind of quality people get from the mobile Web, Nielsen doesn’t know. My guess is,

the experience remains frustrating for users. Until we live in a perfect world, here are 11 mobile Web annoyances, and how to work around, cope with, ignore, or fix them.

Lame Mobile Sites Mobile phone users aren’t primitive. Our devices may be tiny, but that doesn’t mean we seek a lesser version of the Internet. So why do some Websites exclude or bury features that are found on their PC counterparts? Hey, ESPN, just be­­cause I’m visiting you on my iPhone’s mobile Web browser, that doesn’t mean I don’t want to read page 2, get personalised headlines,


or even see story photos. An annoyance within an annoyance: the standard mobile site for every blog that uses WordPress. No photos, comment counts, or full stories from the home page? No thanks. The Fix: Your first option is to check the bottom of any page you’re on—if you’re lucky, you’ll see a way to switch to the full Website. Otherwise, browse as if you were on your desktop: On the iPhone, Atomic Web Browser lets you identify the browser as Firefox, Internet Explorer, or desktop Safari; on Android, Dolphin Browser HD can identify as a desktop app, too. You’ll never see a mobile Website again.

Worse than traditional pop-up ads are the kind that appears as part of the Web page you’re on— and they’re even more annoying on cell phones, where hunting for the “X” is like some twisted mini-game. As an online writer, I’m certainly aware that such marketing methods could be paying my bills at some point. That doesn’t mean they don’t aggravate me when I’m browsing. The Fix: I don’t condone ad-blocking (due to the aforementioned bill-paying), but if you must, alternative browsers can help. Atomic Web Browser has a blocker built in. Dolphin Browser has ad-blocking add-ons.

Redirect Hell, Part 1 You’re on Facebook or Twitter, and someone links to what looks like the most interesting article ever—“Top 10 Most Questionable Gas Station Bathrooms,” for example. So you get to the site, but it redirects you to the mobile homepage instead of the specific URL you were trying to reach. So much for the convenience of neat and tidy mobile sites. The Fix: If you absolutely must see those bathrooms, try using the site’s archives or a search function (if it wasn’t scrapped per annoyance number one). The story has to be there. Otherwise, revert to the first fix and hit the link again. Alternatively, e-mail the story link to yourself for later reading on a PC.

Redirect Hell, Part 2

Browser Windows Just like mobile Websites, mobile browsers wrongly assume that you’d sacrifice functionality for more screen real estate, so the standard browsers for Android and iPhone use windows, not tabs. Switching windows or opening new ones takes the focus away from what you were doing, almost defeating the purpose of having new windows in the first place. The Fix: Get a different browser. On the iPhone, Atomic Web Browser and iCab Mobile allow tabbed browsing, and Dolphin Browser does so on Android. Opera Mini, supported on multiple mobile platforms, provides browser tabs, as well.

contact information. LastPass, for various phones, will remember passwords and form information, but it costs $12 per year. Opera Mini doesn’t fill out complete forms, but it saves passwords, at least.

Filling Out Forms Sometimes I wonder how many people avoid buying things or signing up for services simply because they hate filling out forms. On the cramped keyboards of mobile phones (whether physical or on-screen), the task is even worse, especially when mobile browsers don’t fill out the information automatically. The Fix: On the iPhone, mobile Safari does have a form auto-fill feature, but it’s disabled by default. Head into the Safari section of your settings, and turn it on. You can even sync this feature with your

So you’ve passed through a mobile Website redirect unscathed, the link intact. Good luck returning via the back button to the site you were previously viewing. Mobile Web page redirects have a nasty habit of sending you forward every time you try the back button. Granted, my conclusion is a conspiracy theory—but I say it’s all part of the Website’s plan to trap you forever. The Fix: Option number one is to use brute force. Keep pounding the back button until you’ve returned to safety. Failing that, dive into the browser’s history to find the previous page.

January 2011 | www.pcworldme.net | 9

Forward

Built-In Pop-Up Ads


Forward

The Fix: Some sites, such as the ones mentioned above, will stop advertising their mobile apps for good if you take a moment to click the close button where the message appears. Otherwise, you could show your disapproval by going to a competing service or Website, but if you switch to Google Places over Yelp simply out of spite, you have a pretty big chip on your shoulder.

Accidental Tapping The harsh reality of touchscreens is that the actions of clicking and scrolling require contact from a finger. You’re bound to mess up on occasion, clicking a link when you meant to drag, and vice versa. The Fix: Not a fix, per se, but you can train yourself to avoid accidental tapping by always laying down your finger with a slight amount of motion so that it doesn’t register as a click instead. And try to tend more toward long, deliberate scrolling instead of quick flicks, which could register as taps.

Sites That Aren’t Appworthy Dear Website I Visit Maybe Four Times a Year: I’m im­­pressed you have a native iPhone or Android app. Now please stop getting in my face about it as I try to navigate your Website. (I’m looking at you, Digg, Village Voice, and Yelp.)

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Being Unable to Pick Up Where You Left Off During the day, my computer’s browser becomes an organised mess of tabs and open windows. But once I go mobile, all of those stories I wanted to read or Websites I needed to reference are gone, unless I e-mail a list of them to myself. The Fix: This one is easy. Just check out the Xmarks service, which lets you send all open tabs on a PC to your mobile devices. iPhone users can get the native app for a mere $1—an Android version is supposedly in the works—but you can also log in to the service’s general phone site at mobile.xmarks.com.

The Flash Problem Missing Flash support won’t always be a problem for all phones, but with the exception of Android phones running the new Froyo mobile OS (2.2), most phones can reliably annoy their owners by displaying Websites filled with empty Flash boxes. A subannoyance: Why doesn’t YouTube’s mobile site let you watch full television episodes as you can on a desktop browser? I fret that it’s because some Hollywood executive doesn’t like the idea of me watching full episodes of Star Trek on YouTube from the road.

The Fix: “Get an Android phone” is admittedly not the best answer—well, it is if you think of phones as political factions. Meanwhile, iPhone owners can try a workaround and turn to LogMeIn Ignition ($30) to feed content from their own computers, including Flash. Another workaround is to use the iPhone app called Cloud Browse (free, but with a premium version for faster speeds), which opens a Flash-enabled browser on the app’s own server.

Lingering Ghosts of Mobile Websites One thing I despise more than bad Websites on mobile phones is bad mobile Websites on a PC. At times this can happen if someone links to a site’s mobile version, and the destination has no redirect to take you back. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I feel helpless. The Fix: Using a full Web browser, conduct a search within the Website’s domain (for example, enter “site:domain. com the thing you’re searching for” in Google). That might just get you back to the land of the living.


In the PCWorld Labs we constantly re­­ceive new products for testing. Though we do our best to return each re­­view unit to its owner, we

W

e recycle most of this stuff, but occasionally we boot up a particularly amusing relic to reformat, reminisce, and remind ourselves that tech enthusiasts can find uses for a hunk of junk long after most consumers would have dumped it. This time, we found a desktop that we traced to January 1999, when it may have been delivered as part of a budgetPC roundup for the April 1999 issue of PCWorld US. After carefully wiping away the dust and grime to expose a set of vintage serial numbers, we did what any optimization-obsessed tester would do: We set up this one-of-a-kind “My Favorite PC” (yes, that’s the brand) for some hard-core performance testing.

Upgrading a Relic

And that is where the adventure began. First we had to install WorldBench 6, which meant that we had to replace the default Windows 98 with a fresh installation of Windows 7 Starter Edition. Reformatting was just the first step down this retro rabbit hole; to get Windows 7 operational, we had to toss out the factory-installed 32MB of 133 SDRAM and slot in a pair of 256MB SDRAM sticks.

Forward

Lab-Testing the PC That Time Forgot

By Alex Wawro

inevitably end every year with an oddball assortment of leftovers in our warehouse. We carefully catalogue and archive these remainders

(read: pile them in a closet), only to unearth them every few years for fun and profit during an impulsive spate of spring cleaning.

We junked the old 512MB hard drive in favor of a comparatively massive new 160GB hard drive capable of holding a bare-bones Windows 7 install and a copy of our benchmarking software. With the end in sight, we hooked up the 100-watt power supply and booted into Windows with a BIOS update and a prayer.

processor spent days chugging through Firefox and Microsoft Office tests that take 6 to 8 hours on a new budget PC.

Once we got WorldBench 6 running, the machine failed seven of the ten consumer-app tests. Without a fullsize motherboard in the PC, we couldn’t even install a 3D graphics card (no PCI or AGP slots), and had to rely on integrated graphics as the system limped through our Photoshop and video-encoding tests. The average budget desktop of today scores around the 100-point mark in WorldBench 6. My Favorite PC scored a 5—and earning even that much was a grueling process, as the 400MHz

So what have we learned from our upgrade experiment? First, stay out of the PCWorld Labs warehouse at all costs; you never know what you’ll find. Second, Windows 7 runs exceptionally well on an old machine, all things considered. With a little love, even a decade-old PC can be useful as a dedicated Internet box for a small business or a technophobic relative.

January 2011 | www.pcworldme.net | 11


Consumer Watch

Facebook Announces E-Mail Service Facebook has announced that it is building a fullfledged e-mail system into its 500-million-member social network. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the new e-mail offering will be introduced over the next couple of months to users.

By Mark Sullivan

Z

uckerberg said e-mail is just one part of the new, converged messaging system called Facebook Messages. The system blends e-mail, Facebook messages, SMS, and chat in one interface, so that users can receive and send messages in whatever form is appropriate. Facebook’s users will be able to get an @Facebook.com e-mail address that will allow them to communicate with any email account outside the Facebook network. The messaging offering has been created from the ground up and is not just an improvement of Facebook’s existing limited Messaging system. Facebook also announced that a new iPhone app will be released to facilitate the new messaging service. Facebook has had 15 engineers working on the project for a year, Facebook engineering director Andrew Bosworth says.

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Core Elements

The service has the following three core elements. Seamless messaging: Ability to communicate with people inside and outside of Facebook using e-mail, Facebook messaging, IM and text messaging using multiple devices, including mobile ones. Conversation history: Conversations between two people aren’t broken up under different subject headings, but rather are collected as one long, on-going thread. Social inbox: In a feature that other e-mail systems can’t match, Facebook is using your Facebook data to figure out which e-mails and other messages are important to you, and which ones aren’t so important. It organises high priority messages in special folders. It’s a similar algorithm used with the news feed to put the most important people and content on top.

Facebook Messages will slowly roll out over the next few months, on an invite system, the company says. Users will see a notice at the top of the existing messaging page inviting them to reserve their new Facebook email address. “Vanity” Facebook URLs, like www. facebook.com/marksullivan will turn into e-mail addresses, like marksullivan@ facebook.com. Zuckerberg says the messaging service can speak to all other e-mail clients, but does not yet support IMAP.

Messaging Extends Beyond Facebook

With the ability to communicate with people outside the Facebook system, Facebook will be capturing e-mail addresses and other information that didn’t already exist on its servers. Zuckerberg acknowledges this, but says that information is being captured to make the messaging tool smarter and easier to use. He denies that the


Watch Out, Google

The move makes sense; it’s simply the latest volley in Facebook’s war with Google to be the place where people spend most of their time on the Internet. Google currently owns this honour, but Facebook has proved that its addictive service can hold people’s attention for long periods of time. In terms of Internet advertising and marketing, this is extremely valuable.

Zuckerberg says the new messaging system is not meant to be a “Gmail Killer”--not yet anyway. “We don’t expect people to wake up tomorrow and shut off their Gmail account. We expect in a month or in a few years, people to say ‘Hey, this is the way that messaging ought to be done.’” Facebook is clearly trying to match all the services Google provides around its core search capability. Beyond its messaging capabilities, you can also already share links, photos, and video clips as well. There’s an instant messaging chat tool. A partnership with Skype allows you to make voice calls from the platform;

Google only recently added this capability to Gmail. E-mail is the piece that has been obviously missing, and now it is here. We will be getting a look at the actual Facebook e-mail client later this morning, and will report back with more details. There is certain to be more privacy discussion around this move, as Facebook begins hosting our e-mail data at its servers. What new information from our e-mail will Facebook collect and add to our social graph? But it’s the same old bargain: are you willing to give up a little more of your privacy in exchange for a free and convenient new service?

Consumer Watch

information collected via Facebook’s messaging platform will be used to target ads, or shared with advertisers or marketers, or made accessible to Facebook app makers.

5 Ways Facebook Email Could Threaten Gmail By Jared Newman

Now that Facebook has introduced their email service, should Google be worried? Here are five ways Facebook email could keep Gmail on its toes: Photo Slideshows

Gmail is still behind when it comes to photo integration--sending users to external Websites to view albums in Picasa or Flickr. Even if Facebook ignores these services in email, it will still have its own (immensely popular) photo service to rely on. A slideshow viewer directly in Facebook email, like Yahoo’s Picasa and Flickr viewer, could be a killer feature.

Smarter Conversation View

Google satisfied the anti-thread contingent in September when it allowed Gmail users to disable conversation view. But maybe these people wouldn’t have had so much rage if Gmail were simply better at threading conversations. Facebook already does a decent job

threading status updates, displaying the first message in full, followed by recent comments. A similar system will work nicely for email.

Integrated Bios

Ever get an email from someone, but can’t remember exactly who it is? I’d love to see Facebook tie-in profile data from the people you’re friends with, or whose information is public. This could include photo thumbnails and details that normally appear on the “info” tab on profile pages. Actually, an “info” tab on emails would be great.

Groups Integration

by association. But the idea might be more alluring if it were carried over to email. An automatic labelling system for group e-mail blasts could allow users to see the messages they want and ignore the ones they don’t.

The “Like” in Links

The “Like” button is the most popular new feature Facebook has introduced in recent memory. In just a few months, it’s gotten all over the Web. Why not extend it to e-mail? Whenever someone sends a link in the rumoured Facebook mail, it’d be nice to see how many other friends have already checked it out, and what they’ve said about it in their news feeds.

I’m still not completely sold on Facebook Groups, which are supposed to be an organic way of organizing contacts

January 2011 | www.pcworldme.net | 13


Consumer Watch

Apple’s Mac App Store: 5 Questions Standards, security and developer issues accompany Apple’s promotion of an App Store for Macs. By Lan Paul Expected to ship Summer 2011, Mac OS X Lion, the upcoming version of Apple’s operating system for Macs, will include the Mac App Store.

A

pple Mac fans were both thrilled and terrified to hear that Apple would be launching an online application store for the Mac by mid-January. Just as with the iTunes App Store for iOS devices, developers will submit their applications to Apple for approval before they will be sold online through the new Mac App Store. Users will download apps just like they do for the iPhone, and the Mac App Store will deliver application updates as they become available. But can Apple repeat with Mac the powerful iTunes-iPhone ecosystem the company has been using since the dawn of the iPod? On the one hand, the Mac App Store will allow users to quickly and easily find Mac applications. Then again, some worry this could spell doom for the Mac’s current open platform model where any developer can create applications for the Mac without interference from Apple. There are still a lot of unknowns about Apple’s new online retail store. Here are five questions that are top of my mind.

Will the Mac Go Closed?

So far, Apple has said you won’t be forced to buy software only from the Mac App Store in the way iPhone users must buy apps only from the iTunes App Store. Closing the Mac would also run counter to what people expect from a PC. But

14 | www.pcworldme.net | January 2011

the lure of a captive audience able to only download software approved by Apple might be too tempting for the company to resist. Truth be told, however, the majority of users probably wouldn’t notice much of a difference between a closed and open Mac.

Mac App Store: Another Nail In the Optical Drive Coffin?

So far only the MacBook Air has done away with the optical drive, but many believe the rest of the MacBook line could follow suit. Apple laptops certainly won’t need a CD/DVD drive to get software anymore thanks to the Mac App Store. As more people move away from using DVDs and Blu-ray discs for storing data and video, the need for an optical drive could disappear.

How Will Apple Handle Mac App Store Rejections? Apple’s reputation for rejecting software from the iTunes App Store has been criticised many times; will the Mac App Store have the same problems? It’s unlikely that Apple will have to deal with rejecting porn apps or Google Voice applications for the Mac. But that doesn’t mean every app, even the well-made ones, will get Apple’s stamp of approval.

Will The Mac App Store Be Good For Developers?

Apple is offering the same 70/30 revenue split for Mac developers that iOS developers get. But the bigger question will be whether the Mac App Store will help or hinder an application’s visibility and, therefore, its profitability. There is some evidence that only the most popular iPhone apps make any real money in the app store while the rest make very little, according to a survey published in TechCrunch. Will the same hold true for the Mac App Store?

Antivirus in the Mac App Store?

In December 2008, Apple was heavily criticised for publishing a knowledge base article on its site telling Mac users to employ antivirus software on their computers. The announcement came after years of Apple claiming Macs didn’t have the same malware problems as Windows PCs. Apple pulled the recommendation within 24 hours after the story broke. If a knowledge base article can create that much excitement, just imagine what would happen if antivirus programs such as MacScan or Norton for Mac showed up in the Mac App Store.


January 2011 | www.pcworldme.net | 15


Business Centre

How to Get Started With a Blade System When you install a new server in your small to midsize business’s data centre, you have to make multiple connections to it, including a keyboard, a mouse, a monitor, power cables, network connections, and perhaps a storage connection.

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by Logan G. Harbaugh


Why You Should Install Blades

Any organization that uses more than three or four servers may find blade servers a good fit. Blade servers offer a substantially simplified cabling setup versus the equivalent number of separate rack-mount servers. In addition, they often can squeeze more equipment into a given amount of space than separate setups can: A space that’s 7 rack units (12.25 inches) high, for instance, may hold from 8 to 14 blades. One trend is to use virtualisation to consolidate many operating systems into a single hardware setup. Even though it is possible to use blade servers and virtualisation in conjunction, systems that run several to dozens of OSs on each of many blades are probably beyond

the needs of most small businesses. If you’re keeping separate hardware servers (either because you don’t want virtualisation or because you’re running applications that fully utilise the hardware they’re on), blade servers can reduce the cost of managing all of the systems.

at under $2,000, or chassis that hold four blades starting at under $5,000. Processors and memory come in the same varieties and capacities as they do for standard servers; some blade systems even offer both Intel and AMD processors in the same chassis, plus blades with up to four 12-core processors.

Limitations and Costs

Benefits and Drawbacks

Blade servers have some limitations. First, while even 1U servers might have two or three PCI-X or PCI-E slots, blades may not have any. Usually, separate servers also support at least four drives, versus the one or two 2.5inch drives typical for blades. (Some blade systems, however, compensate for that shortcoming by offering highperformance connections or shared storage.) If your business typically buys clusters of 4 to 12 servers a year, the savings in management costs and potential power consumption may make blades worthwhile. Pricing for a chassis is about the same as that for an equivalent number of separate servers. In fact, though the blade system may be more expensive, the lower management costs over its lifetime will likely more than make up the difference. You can find blade systems from Cisco, Dell, HP, IBM, Sun, and smaller vendors. Blades from one system typically don’t work in another chassis, or in older (or newer) versions of the same vendor’s chassis. Spending $50,000 or more for a blade system isn’t necessary. You can choose small, 1U, two-node systems starting

Business Centre

R

ather than setting up all of those connections to each of a dozen servers, wouldn’t it be great to consolidate them into one of each type? A blade server system can do that for you. Blades are stripped-down, modular servers. Blade servers consist of a chassis (which can hold from 2 to 14 blades), the blades themselves, a management unit, and network and storage connections. Each blade is a separate server equivalent to a 1U (1 rack unit) rack-mount server, and it may have from one to four CPUs offering 2 to 48 cores. Memory can go up to 256GB of RAM. Blades can support one or two hard drives, or the chassis may share a storage system with six or more drives. The chassis requires only one keyboard, mouse, and video connection (or a separate management connection); two power connections for redundant power supplies; and one network connection. Many blade chassis also offer Fibre Channel or InfiniBand connections to each blade.

Blade servers can reduce management costs, free up administrators for other tasks, simplify data-centre cabling, save power, and enable remote administration without extra equipment. They also offer better reliability than individual servers, with options such as dual redundant power supplies and high-availability components. The biggest problems blade systems may introduce are higher power and cooling requirements. Since blade systems can fit more CPUs, memory, and other components into smaller spaces than other systems can, they might produce more heat, and may demand more power. Some blade systems can fit 672 CPUs into a standard 7-foot rack, which would require 38,400 watts of power and would produce more heat than a commercial-grade oven. Because many blade systems are available for purchase with less than a full complement of blades, you might buy a system with a few blades and get more as required later. But with hardware standards evolving so quickly, even after a period as short as 18 months the blades you purchased with the system might no longer be available. Finding out whether the maker still supports previous versions of blades will give you a good indication of whether new blades with faster processors and memory are likely to be compatible with the half-full chassis you already have.

January 2011 | www.pcworldme.net | 17


Business Centre

BlackBerry PlayBook Tablet:

10 Key Features and Facts

by Al Sacco

won’t need to pay any monthly service nxious to get your thumbs on bills or sign any new wireless contracts Research In Motion’s (RIM) for the PlayBook; but on the flipside, it’s (RIM) first BlackBerry tabnot exactly ideal because you’ll have to let, the PlayBook? Yeah. Me too. That’s tote both your BlackBerry and PlayBook why, over the past couple of weeks, I whenever you desire cellular connectivity scrounged the Web for every single detail via tablet. on the 7-inch, 1,024x600 BlackBerry tablet that I could find, no matter how minis- 4 BlackBerry PlayBook is a Processor cule, so that I could highlight the ten most Powerhouse relevant features and related PlayBookThe BlackBerry PlayBook packs some facts into this one, simple post. serious processing power. The PlayBook’s 1GHz, dual-core processor is one of, if not the, most powerful processors 1 PlayBook Storage: 16GB, 32GB and 64GB RIM’s BlackBerry PlayBook tablet will available in a modern tablet. And that be available with at least three different extra “ooomph”, if you will, should help storage-capacities: 16GB, 32GB and provide the PlayBook with impressive 64GBs, according to RIM Co-CEO Jim multitasking and media-streaming Balsillie. He reportedly told Bloomberg experiences, as well as stand up to a 8 BlackBerry Tablet Supports Full Flash 10.1 recently that a sub-$500 version of variety of additional processor-intensive Unlike one particularly popular tablet the PlayBook will go on sale in the tasks. today (think: Apple), RIM’s PlayBook first quarter of 2011. That version will will fully support Adobe’s Flash 10.1, presumably be the PlayBook with the in addition to a variety of other Web 5 BlackBerry PlayBook Wi-Fi least storage capacity, be it 8GB or 16GB, RIM’s PlayBook tablet may not pack technologies, including HTML 5, when it but again, RIM hasn’t made any sort of an internal cellular radio, but it should hits the market. official statement on storage capacities, have Wi-Fi locked down; the BlackBerry release dates or prices. PlayBook supports not only the common 9 PlayBook Will Run New “BlackBerry Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g standards, but also the Tablet OS” newer, more reliable 802.11n wireless. The PlayBook will get its own, brand new 2 PlayBook Colour Options RIM officially announced the BlackBerry RIM software called the “BlackBerry PlayBook tablet at its third annual Tablet OS.” BlackBerry Tablet OS is built 6 BlackBerry PlayBook is “EnterpriseBlackBerry Developer Conference in San Ready” on a foundation from QNX, a software Francisco last September. The BlackBerry PlayBook tablet is “CIO company RIM acquired last spring, and it RIM will offer the BlackBerry tablet in a and enterprise-ready,” according to should provide a “fresh” new BlackBerry handful of colour options including the RIM’s website. What exactly that means experience. Rumour suggests some default black and a turquoise-blue. Those is somewhat unclear, since RIM hasn’t version of RIM/QNX/Adobe software were the only two PlayBook colours at detailed the process of connecting the could eventually make it to BlackBerry DevCon, but PlayBooks could be released PlayBook to a BlackBerry Enterprise smartphones. in most of the colours of the rainbow Server (BES)--if it does connect directly before long. to BES; the tablet may only connect to 10 PlayBook Tablet Packs 5300mAh BES via a BlackBerry smartphone. Battery The battery inside RIM’s BlackBerry 3 No Stand-Alone PlayBook Cellular Connectivity...Yet PlayBook is a rather generous, 5,300mAh 7 PlayBook Sports Two Cameras; HD Video The initial versions of the BlackBerry Capture cell. That should translate into some PlayBook tablet will not have internal The BlackBerry PlayBook’s front-facing impressive battery life, especially since cellular radios. As such, you’ll need to 3.0-megapixel camera is meant for video RIM and BlackBerry smartphones have wirelessly “tether” your PlayBook to a conferencing, while the 5.0-megapixel always been known for their better-thanBlackBerry with a mobile data connection digital shooter on its rear-side is better average batteries. for wireless connectivity on the go. suited for everyday picture taking. Both This fact could be viewed as both a goodcameras are capable of capturing HDand a bad-thing; it’s good because you quality video.

A

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January 2011 | www.pcworldme.net |


Security Alert

Second Wave of Adware Pounds Web Surfers New adware companies are increasingly targeting Facebook, Twitter, and other popular social networking sites as a means of distribution. The share-friendly environment of such sites is ideal for spreading adware and trackware through third-party applications, which often hide their true intent. The Origins of Adware

Adware is software that displays targeted ads when downloaded. It often comes bundled with downloadable games, movies, music files, or software programs, but it usually isn’t listed as part of the download. Once on your system,

20 | www.pcworldme.net | January 2011

the app tracks your online behaviour and serves up ads based on that behaviour. The ads may appear as shopping assistants, targeted ads, pop-up or popunder windows, highlighted keywords, search toolbars, floating ads, or other annoying extras.

by Leah Yamshon

Old-style adware hit its peak around 2003; by 2005 it was common in several downloads and at sites around the Web. Installation methods included bombarding Website visitors with pop-ups, issuing prompts to install ActiveX controls or other software, posing as license


Security Alert

acquisition installs for programs such as Windows Media Player, and offering deals in a bundle with peer-to-peer apps. In late 2005, citing deceptive advertising and computer trespassing, US state attorneys general and the Federal Trade Commission began cracking down on adware purveyors. By 2007, adware giant Zango and other major players in the industry had either folded or joined a new software market. But the talent at Zango dispersed to companies like Loudmo and Pinball Publishing Network, to cultivate a new adware target: social networking sites. Teaming up with third-party app creators, the adware developers embed snoopy code into games and apps that users share with friends and followers. Many of today’s adware distribution strategies deal exclusively with popular social networking sites—specifically Facebook and Twitter—that rely heavily on third-party content. On Facebook, adware offerings appear masked as games, dating apps, videos, media players, and “sponsored” distributions for real open-source programs such as Mozilla Firefox and Open Office. On Twitter, adware affiliates spam software bundles, such as a free (but adware-tainted) FLV Direct player, so that they show up in common Twitter searches. Adware distributors also exploit Facebook’s ‘Like’ function to spread their adware programs virally. Recently, a status up­­date appeared on Facebook stating “Poor girl commits suicide after dad posted this on her wall.” When you click the link to read the page, an “age verification tool” pops up, and you have to download a gaming program (actually masked adware) to get to the story— which is unrelated to Facebook. If you fall for this scheme, friends will see that you “liked” the story. Many users are unaware that these apps contain a hidden installation of adsupported software (the main description of the download doesn’t mention it). Companies that create these applications fail to clearly disclose their purpose, which is to collect data and present users with advertisements for the company’s financial gain.

Who’s Behind It

Eric Howes, spyware research manager for GFI Software, a network security firm, warns users to watch out for apps, games, and video files from companies such as Circle Development, ComScore, Future Ads LLC, Game Vance, Loudmo, Pinball Publisher Network, PlaySushi, and Vomba Network. The software isn’t inherently malicious, but adware companies tend not to disclose their intentions up front, and data tracking without consent is a privacy issue. Though the TrustE privacy seal of approval supposedly “only awards privacy seals to Websites that give you proper notice of its privacy practices,” according to TrustE.com, Howe says GFI has found several TrustE seals on Websites of known adware distributors. To protect yourself from spyware and adware, keep your ad-blocker and antivirus programs up-to-date. Most basic programs will catch adware as it downloads, as long

as you have installed the most recent version of the utility on your system. Keeping Windows and Adobe apps current is important, as well: Many adware programs ask you to download a doctored version of these programs that is tainted with adware. If you click through to one of the ads sponsored by an adware company, check the URL. In many cases, it contains the name of the company, meaning that the data gets sent back to the company when you click one of its ads. Take the time to read the privacy policies and terms of service for third-party apps before downloading them. A program’s description might not allude to adware, but its accompanying privacy policy may mention that targeted ads through trackware are a component of the download package. If you do end up with adware, you can easily uninstall most such programs by using the ‘Add/Remove software’ function in Windows.

January 2011 | www.pcworldme.net | 21


Reviews & Rankings

DELL INSPIRON ZINO HD

ATTRACTIVE MULTIMEDIA MINIPC DELIVERS GOOD PERFORMANCE

by David Murphy and Nate Ralph Price: Dhs 2,499 Info: dell.to/hGc0US

3

5

Pros: Slick design; good performance for its size

Cons: Pricey. Priced similar to more-equipped value tower PCs; no upgradability

The ideal home-theatre PC is capable of dishing out highdefinition media, while remaining unobtrusive--qualities the Dell Inspiron Zino HD excels at. The miniscule 8-by-8-inch shell will fit about anywhere you can think of, is whisper-quiet, and can hook up to your HDTV or computer monitor using its HDMI or VGA connections. It also has two eSATA ports and four USB slots (perfect for connecting external hard drives full of media), and a multiformat media card reader makes it convenient to view photos on the big screen. The Zino HD starts at Dhs 2,499 and scales up to specs that include a 1TB hard disk. While most of the minidesktops we see use some variant of Intel’s Atom processor line-up, Dell has gone with a dual-core, 1.5-GHz AMD Athlon 3250e CPU. And what a difference this makes. The Inspiron Zino HD scored 59 in our WorldBench 6 test suite, placing it among the best-performing mini-PCs we’ve tested. The Zino HD’s ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3200 graphics make it far from a gaming machine, but most compact PCs aren’t designed to tackle anything more complicated than flash in a browser, anyway. You’ll be using it to consume content, and the Zino HD will handle high-definition media just fine, whether you’re streaming, watching digital files or watching DVDs.

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The front of the Zino HD is a tad anemic, supporting only two USB ports and a single multiformat card reader. Once you’ve plugged in your mouse and keyboard (which are not included), you’re down to a scant two USB ports on the entire rig! We did say variety, however, not a raw amount.

Reviews & Rankings

The rear of the system delivers a good amount of connectivity for its size--easily greater in its variety than what you’d typically find on a traditional value desktop--and includes two USB slots, one gigabit ethernet port, an HDMI output, two eSATA ports, and a VGA connection. We see the point Dell makes by supporting legacy VGA on its system, given the raw compatibility between DVI and HDMI. Still, isn’t it time we leave this connector in the dust for conventional displays?

As expected, you can’t upgrade a single part of the Zino HD, save for its colourful top, a unique little touch that Dell’s built into its mini-PC. If you can somehow get your hands on another Zino HD cover (we didn’t see any in the box), you can swap among ten colourful designs. Given this system’s sheer portability, you’ll likely want to have a few on hand to match the colour scheme of whatever room you move this system to (or bookshelf you stick it on). Ultimately, the compact, portable size of the Inspiron Zino HD is its most compelling feature--even beyond its fast speeds and strong variety of ports for its size. The Value PC category is littered with midtower desktops that destroy the Zino HD in power and functionality, but Dell’s mini taps their best features and compresses them into a frame the size of a power supply. In short, the Zino HD comes pretty close to letting you touch the cloud.

January 2011 | www.pcworldme.net | 23


Reviews & Rankings

SAMSUNG GALAXY TAB:

DON’T COMPARE IT TO IPAD

by Paul Castle

Price: Dhs 3,199 Info: galaxytab.samsungmobile.com

3

5

Pros: Useful as a nicely portable, multipurpose device; a good implementation of the latest version of Android; good selection of built-in apps; Flash support.

Cons: Pricey; limit selection of quality 3rd party apps, especially in this region; somewhat awkward to use in some situations; cannot recharge through USB.

Yes, pretty much everyone is comparing the Samsung Galaxy Tab to iPad, and the “iPad killer” label gets bandied about quite a bit. These really aren’t fair or productive arguments though. Why? First, in that sort of comparison, the Galaxy Tab is going to lose; it isn’t going to kill the iPad or even put a great dent in Apple’s sales figures. One doesn’t have to look any further than Samsung’s own hoped-for sales projections to see that. Their estimated 1 million units worldwide by end-of-year won’t touch the pace that Apple has achieved and maintained with its tablet. But frankly, it doesn’t really need to. More importantly, despite the apparent similarities, the Tab can and should be considered as a different device than either a tablet or a smart phone; it has its own niche to fill, and when considered this way it has a great opportunity to be very successful. If you do want to compare the Galaxy Tab to the iPad, I highly recommend that you try each device out for yourself to get the feel for them before making a decision; borrow one of each for a little while if you possibly can. The Galaxy Tab is powered by a 1Ghz Cortex A8 processor, which does a good job of keeping things snappy most of the time. Android 2.2 “Froyo” along with Samsungs’s own TouchWiz layer provide a capable operating system with a good user interface for getting things done. The 7-inch TFT LCD touch screen at 1,024 x 600 resolution looks great; text, pictures and video are all crisp. The screen also features Corning Gorilla Glass for scratch resistance. It comes with either 16GB or 32GB of

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memory storage, as well as a MicroSD slot that allows up to an additional 32GB. There’s a rear-facing 3.0-megapixel camera with flash, as well as a front facing 1.3-megapixel camera for video calls, etc. For connectivity there’s 3G data and voice, as well as 5GHz dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. A 30-pin connector at the bottom allows for docking and syncing. The 4,000 mAH battery offers ample usage time; Samsung’s claim of seven hours of movie watching seems quite realistic. The device itself is good looking. The front bezel and sides are black, and the back cover is white; it’s all very shiny, smooth and sleek, and to be frank, fairly slippery. Any covers or cases for the Tab that appear in the market will be welcome, not just for their protective properties, but to help keep a grip in it. It is fairly light though, weighing in at 380 gr, so that helps keep it manageable. Claims that the Galaxy Tab will fit in a pocket are exaggerated. It will fit in a pocket... if you happen to have a pocket that big. Being a large person, I do have some pockets that are large enough, but carrying the Tab around this way is not all that comfortable. The back pocket of one’s trousers may be workable, but then you have to be quite careful to avoid damaging the Tab, or your pocket.


The combination of Android and TouchWiz makes good use of the real estate provided on the Tab. In some apps it’s obvious that they have been scaled up from smaller screen versions to fit the Tab, with a lot of empty space showing up on the screen between the elements. This is particularly true in the messaging apps; they’re functional, but look a bit empty spread out across the screen. As Android continues to develop the promise is held out for better support and usage of tablet size screen. Expect the upcoming Android 2.3 and 3.0 updates to offer significantly improved user experiences for device like the Tab.

The built-in email client is nicely laid out, and in landscape mode it very nicely offers your Inbox on the left side, with the currently selected message displayed on the right. In fact it’s more pleasing then the Gmail app included on the device. The Calendar app is outright attractive as well as functional, in both landscape and portrait modes, with tabs for selecting the view and useful layouts for each.

Reviews & Rankings

So while the weight and size of the Galaxy Tab do make it quite portable, you are just as likely to end up carrying it in a bag or case like another tablet or laptop, rather than pocketing it like a smartphone.

The Reader’s Hub app offers a good selection of newspapers, books and- mostly British- magazines for purchase and subscription. I haven’t as yet tried any purchased in these store, so I don’t know have pleasant that experience is, but the sample copies that I managed to download looked very crisp and readable. So with its light weight, clear screen and a good selection of titles, the Galaxy Tab stands out very attractively as a reading device.

January 2011 | www.pcworldme.net | 25


Reviews & Rankings

It been said that the Galaxy Tab offer a “full web browsing experience.” Well, at least as much as you can currently get from a 7-inch screen and a 1Ghz Cortex processor. The Android web browser works very nicely most of the time. Scrolling and scaling to better see the parts of a standard page that you want to see can be a bit sluggish at times, which is a drawback since you will be scrolling and scaling a good bit. Yes, it has Adobe Flash, which works adequately to well, depending on the site, but is very likely to make browsing even more sluggish. Basically, it’s there for you if you really must have Flash, but most of the time you’re going to want to set it to “load on demand” in the browser settings to keep it from grinding the browser to a halt. Still, when you’re on the go and need to look up that restaurant that embeds its menu, timings and driving directions in an all-Flash site, you’re going to have a chance to wade through it on the Tab. Although it’s possible to watch Flash embedded movies in the browser, some will still come up as “not optimized for mobiles”. And speaking of movies, the screen and good battery life mean that the Tab serves amply as a portable cinema. Unfortunately Samsung’s Media Hub is not currently available on Tabs released in the UAE, so you’ll have to provide your own movies, as well as music. While we’re talking about what is not available on the Galaxy Tab, we have to mention the biggest drawback of purchasing one in this region: the lack of the Android Market, which has been disallowed in the UAE and Saudi Arabia. This is a serious consideration since it is apps that really drive the usefulness of

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touchscreen devices, extending their usefulness well beyond the basic functions of the device. The Android Market already has a good deal of catching up to do with Apple’s App Store- which it is starting to do- but the absence of the Market means having to snoop around the alternate sources for apps; there are quite a few out there, but without Market the process of finding and installing them is hardly seamless or simple, and far to many of them are not set up to properly use the Tab’s larger screen, so they end up centred with a large black border and no way to enlarge them. It’s useable, but not living up to the potential or aesthetically pleasing. Of course the Android allows “multi-tasking”, in the common misuse of the term when applied to mobile devices. This is both a good and bad thing in the realm of battery-powered gadgets, since you have to be careful to balance your usage with power consumption, but the benefits are there. This also brings us to one gripe I have about using apps on the Galaxy Tab, which is that most of them- including most of the provided onesdon’t have an inbuilt way of quitting the program when you’re


Reviews & Rankings

done with it. This means that it’s all too easy to end up with several apps still in the background that you didn’t want anymore. To get out of a running up, you can hit the ‘Home’ button, but then you have to open the Task Manager to kill it. Hitting the ‘Back’ button can end a running program, but if you’re very far into the use of an app, you’ll have to hit ‘Back’ repeatedly, passing back through all the pages and panes you may have navigated through during the use of that app. Not very convenient. When you do find an app which has thoughtfully had an ‘Exit’ feature included in its Menu selections, you’ll want to kiss it and it’s developers. The inclusion of the 3.0-megapixel camera is a bit puzzling since most current smart phones have moved to 5 megapixels or higher these days, including Samsung’s Galaxy S from which the Tab inherits much. Still, it takes pretty good pictures and has some nice features. You won’t likely be using this as your main camera, but it is handy, and using the built-in Panorama feature works quite well with a little practice, becoming quite addictive once you get the hang of it. The lack of HD video capture is disappointing as well, but in this area as well, the video produced by the Tab is of decent quality for general use. The 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera is of course mainly there for video call and such tasks. Its quality is adequate for the task, but nothing special. Although the lack of HD recording in video mode is disappointing, the camera does do a very good job in capturing video, even in action settings, producing very pleasing movies. You may feel- and look- a bit goofy holding this relatively large device up when using it as a camera, but on the upside, it’s ample size make it easier to keep steady when shooting and having such a large view finder is pretty hard to argue against. So stand proud when people give you funny looks while you take your snaps. This somewhat unwieldy form factor affects the usage of the Tab as a phone as well. You will definitely want to use a wired or Bluetooth headset when chatting by

way of this device, rather than look like your holding a plank up to your head. Or you can use it in speakerphone mode if the conversation is not so private.

data usage in such situations, but this feature can often be a lifesaver when other connectivity options fail, as they all-to-often do in this region.

One odd drawback of the Tab is that it requires a power adaptor for recharging. It does come with a cable for attaching to a USB port, but this is apparently only for syncing and communication purposes. The iPad does need newer more powerful USB ports for charging without resorting to an adapter, but I have yet to find one that the Tab finds sufficient for charging. So, adapter-only it is.

The price for a Samsung Galaxy Tab with 16GB of storage has been set at Dhs 3,200 in the UAE. This a bit on the pricey side, especially with the lack of Android Market on the device. So unless you just have to have the latest gadget no matter what the damage to your bank account, you’ll want to carefully consider and try out the Tab before commit that much cash to its purchase.

A feature, which is becoming more and more commonplace on such devices is the ability to turn it into a mobile hotspot, serving up one’s 3G internet connection to local devices over WiFi. Here the Galaxy Tab performs admirably, being easy to set up and providing reliable connections for other devices. One needs watch their

But if you consider all that the Galaxy Tab can do, you may very well be won over anyway. Don’t think of it as a smaller iPad or even a large smart phone, which is a more accurate comparison. If you think of the Tab as a versatile multipurpose tool, you’ll have a much better concept of its role and usefulness.

January 2011 | www.pcworldme.net | 27


Reviews & Rankings

SONY

CYBER-SHOT DSC-TX5

by Sarah Jacobsson Price: Dhs 1,399 Info: bit.ly/sonytx5

3

5

Pros: Large touchscreen works underwater; good performance in low light; rugged construction with slick looks

Cons: Pricey. Menus are a bit confusing; touchscreen can be unresponsive

The DSC-TX5 looks just like many of the other slim, fashionable models in the Cyber-shot TX series, but this camera is built to withstand shocks, water, freezing, heat, and dust. It comes in green, pink, red, black, and silver, and is priced at Dhs 1,399. The camera is waterproof down to 10 feet below the surface, shockproof to falls of as much as 5 feet, and dustproof; it can withstand high temperatures. Beyond its stylish exterior, it also has features that make it a good choice for day-to-day use, including anti-motion-blur mode, Sony’s revamped Intelligent Sweep Panorama mode, and a high-definition movie mode that records 720p MPEG-4 video at 30 frames per second. The DSC-TX5 feels pretty sturdy--as a rugged camera should--and it has a shiny sliding cover to protect its 4X-opticalzoom Carl Zeiss lens (25mm wide-angle to 100mm telephoto). I found the lens cover a little hard to slide, especially in the water. You get a choice of storage formats: The camera takes SD/SDHC cards in addition to Sony’s proprietary Memory Stick Pro Duo format, and it also provides 45MB of internal memory. Aside from the slippery lens cover, the DSC-TX5 is fairly easy to use. The camera features a 3-inch touchscreen for controlling most of its functions, which seems like an odd choice for a camera partially designed to be used underwater, but surprisingly the DSC-TX5 seemed more responsive underwater than on dry land. On terra firma, I had to press on-screen icons several times before the screen would register my touch, but the screen reacted quickly when I used it underwater. The DSC-TX5 takes decent photos, but its overall image quality isn’t outstanding. In our subjective imaging tests, we gave the DSC-TX5 high marks for exposure quality, but below-average scores for color accuracy, sharpness, and lack of distortion. As for video, the DSC-TX5 shot good-looking footage, but the on-board microphone was pretty weak. The DSC-TX5 received an overall imaging score of Fair.

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In dark conditions, however, the camera performed well in my hands-on tests. The DSC-TX5 boasts an Exmor R CMOS sensor, which Sony says is optimized for low-light shooting. The camera certainly did an impressive job of taking photos in low-light situations, such as this picture of a palm tree in the dark (trust me, I could barely see the leaves of the tree when I was taking the picture). The camera has very little shutter lag and lag time in general, but the touchscreen’s frequent lack of responsiveness cancels out the quick shutter on occasion. Though the touchscreen is sometimes frustrating, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX5 is a decent entry into the rugged-camera market that looks stylish enough for everyday use. I would have appreciated at least one more hardware button for quickly cycling through shooting styles, because the last thing I want to do when I’m scuba diving is to fool with confusing touchscreen menus. That said, it’s certainly the most day-to-day-friendly rugged camera we’ve seen, and its features and its low-light shots are impressive.


January 2011 | www.pcworldme.net | 29


Reviews & Rankings

ZOTAC

ZBOX BLU-RAY HD-ID34

by Paul Castle

Price: Dhs 2,050 Info: bit.ly/zotacbluray

4

5

Pros: An economical basic HTPC; very decent, if not robust specs; ample ports and expansion options; attractive case.

Cons: No remote control or easy options for adding one; no OS included; limitations to audio output.

It may look like a fancy DVD player, but actually it’s a lot more. It’s a Blu-Ray player in fact, and on top of that an actual PC with some impressive features, all at a very reasonable price, making it a good choice for a Home Theater PC (HTPC) and an attractive alternative to standard components. It does have a few shortcomings though. The ZBOX is equipped with a 1.8Ghz Intel Dual Core Atom D525 processor, which may seem like an odd choice, being somewhat of a glorified netbook CPU. But the processor is well up to the task when it comes to the core purpose of the device, playing movies, which it does from optical discs or from media files on the hard drive, as well as streaming video. But your entertainment choices won’t include high-end gaming on the ZBOX itself. The CPU is amply assisted buy a NVIDIA ION GPU with 512MB DDR3 memory. This model comes with 2GB of RAM installed, which is expandable to 4GB, and a 250GB hard drive. One thing it does not come with is an operating system, so you’ll have to add the cost of Windows to the equation when considering the ZBOX, if you do not already have a spare copy. It is, reportedly, Linux ready as well, if you are looking for a cheaper alternative, and which paired with an open source media center package could make a robust, yet inexpensive combination. The case is very sleek and stylish, making it a component that you actually won’t mind having on display in your living room. This is juxtaposed by the fact that the ZBOX has so many ports for device connections, at least a few of which you must put

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to work to get any usefulness out of it. But once you do, your attractive little box becomes a monster with many tentacles that you’ll want to hide away from discerning eyes. Fortunately, the ZBOX is designed with practicality in mind when it comes to location; it ships with a VESA mount allowing it to be mounted on a wall or to the back of a display. And the array of ports on the ZBOX is impressive: 1 DVI port with included VGA adaptor, 1 HDMI, 1 Combo eSATA/USB 2.0 port and 1 standard USB 2.0 port, 2 USB 3.0 ports, a Gigabit ethernet port, an optical SPDIF port and standard 3.5mm audio input and output jacks. The front panel also sports a 6-in-1 card reader for MMC/SD/SDHC/MS/MS Pro/xD card, giving additional versatility to the device. The specs on the optical drive itself are good: 4x Blu-Ray Read/8x DVD/24x CD read/write. And 802.11n/g/b WiFi rounds out the specs.


Reviews & Rankings

One surprising omission from a device that is meant for multimedia purposes is the absence of and infrared receiver or even Bluetooth, which means you won’t be able to use any standard remote control with it, and requiring you make arrangements for such through USB or WiFi. This isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker, but it is certainly an important consideration when planning how the ZBOX will fit into your entertainment layout. Another limitation of the ZBOX is in audio output. Although the hardware can technically stream eight channels through HDMI, this is not supported in the included software and it cannot stream HD audio. This and some of the other limitations mean that the ZBOX won’t be a first choice for a serious home theater system, especially where aficionados are concerned. But it is

amply capable for those of us with more modest entertainment demands or for a secondary system. Despite its small size, expansion is a very realistic option for the ZBOX. Simply turn it over and remove the bottom cover and you have easy access to the RAM slots, hard drive bay and a mini-PCI expansion card slot. This is especially useful since the ZBOX also comes in a “bare bones” configuration without RAM or a hard drive included, allowing for a bit of customization. Overall the Zotac ZBOX Blu-Ray HD-ID34 provides ample entertainment value at a very attractive price, and with reasonable ease one can use it to set up a very pleasing system for movie watching and other leisure activities. Its only serous drawback is a lack of support for any practical of remote control out of the box.

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Feature

Technology’s

BIGGEST Myths

Expensive cables are better! Defragging speeds up your PC! Refilling ink cartridges ruins your printer! We put these and nine other claims to the test to find the truth behind tech’s tallest tales. By Patrick Miller, Illustrations by Keith Negley

As it turns out, Windows Vista really wasn’t all that slow; and no, your PC probably won’t fry if you open it up without wearing a wrist strap. Thanks in large part to the Internet, the tech world is teeming with lies, half-truths, and misinformation. We’ve dug up some of the Web’s most notorious nuggets of conventional wisdom to see which hold up to scrutiny and which are merely urban legends. Of course, there’s often a grain of truth in even the most fanciful myth. That’s why we provide a handy-dandy set of numbered warning signs to indicate how accurate each of these myths is, with 1 being True and 4 being Outrageous—a complete fabrication. After all, they say numbers never lie.

WARNING

WARNING

1

2

TRUE

MOSTLY TRUE

WARNING

WARNING

3

4

DUBIOUS

OUTRAGEOUS

January 2011 | www.pcworldme.net | 33


Feature

RNING

1

RUE

RNING

3

IOUS

RNING

1

RUE

RNING

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The Claim: Vista is slower than Windows 7. When Windows Vista came out, it soon acquired a reputation for being slow and a resource hog. Once Windows 7 arrived, people were quick to tout it as the speedy, slim operating system Vista should have been. We conducted performance tests on a handful of laptops MOSTLY TRUE and desktops using both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Vista and Windows 7, shortly after the latter OS was released. Windows 7 raised WorldBench 6 scores from 1.25% to almost 10%WARNING (but most often in the vicinity of 2 to 3%); it also resulted in much faster disk operations and slightly longer battery life. But applications launched more slowly. As it turns out, the “snappy” feeling has to do with Registry tweaks OUTRAGEOUS and minor changes to the window manager that make the OS feel more responsive, even though it isn’t that different. The verdict: Windows 7 is faster, but not by as much as you may think.

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The Claim: The desktop PC is dying.

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Sure, laptops are cheaper and more powerful than ever, and can meet WARNING all your basic computing needs. But saying that the desktop is on its deathbed is like saying that, since all most people need is a Tata DUBIOUS OUTRAGEOUS Nano, the SUV is obsolete. Power users who need desktop-caliber performance in a laptop must pay a significant premium, and if they want a Blu-ray drive, a better GPU, or a 3D display, they must buy a new model. Also, people who like to tinker with their PCs have fewer options with laptops than they do with desktops. Meanwhile, the desktop PC market is evolving to meet users’ demands. People who want a larger display but don’t like the looks of a tower can buy an all-in-one system. Others want a computer that fits nicely next to their 50-inch HDTV—a home theater PC. And students, who typically benefit most from a laptop, can buy both a solid all-in-one PC for gaming and movies (ahem—“multimedia projects”) and a cheap, lightweight netbook for taking notes in class for the same price as a single moderately powerful laptop (which would be more expensive to replace if it were broken, lost, or stolen).

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The Claim: All smartphones suffer signal loss from a “grip of death.” When early iPhone 4 adopters discovered that touching a certain spot on the exposed antenna could cause the phone to lose signal strength, reduce data speeds, and even drop calls, Apple in­­sisted that all smartphones suffered from a similar defect. We tested that claim MOSTLY TRUE with five different smartphones. We looked at RF signal strength, data speed rates, and call quality in areas with weak and strong signals. WARNING While every phone we tested was affected by a “grip of death,” none went so far as to drop calls, as the iPhone 4 did. Bottom line: If you don’t have an iPhone 4, you don’t need to worry too much about this antenna issue.

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The Claim: WARNING WARNING LCDs 2 than plasma 1 are better screens for HDTV sets. TRUE MOSTLY TRUE Don’t believe the hype: Your local HDTV WARNINGmay be trying to upsell you on a spiffy salespeople new LCD, but there are plenty of reasons to pick a plasma instead. Plasmas still handle darker scenes better, have a wider range of viewing angles, and are OUTRAGEOUS generally cheaper than LCDs (especially at DUBIOUS larger sizes). Panasonic and Samsung continue to manufacture plenty of plasma sets (including a line of home 3D

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34 | www.pcworldme.net | January 2011

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TVs and a gigantic, superexpensive 152-inch 3D display). LCDs are catching up in a few respects, however. LCD sets with LED backlighting and higher refresh rates can compensate for some of the traditional problems of LCDs, and they suck up significantly less power than plasma sets do, so the higher price may be offset over time in your electricity bill. Some manufacturers are dropping out of the plasma display market (Pioneer, most notably, and Vizio) so the writing is undeniably on the wall: Plasma isn’t dead yet, but it may be finished in a few years.


PC ACCESSORIES Mini Wireless Optical Mouse

Slim External DVD Recorder

PC Headsets

2.0 Channel Multi-media Speakers

1.3 Mega Pixel Webcam

Multi-media Keyboard

Multi-media Wireless Keyboard

Multi-media Wireless Keyboard & Mouse Combo

Multi-media Keyboard & Mouse Combo


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The Claim: 2 High-priced HDMI cables make your HDTV look better. MOSTLY TRUE When you plunk down $1,200 (or more) for a new HDTV and $300 for a Blu-ray player, it can be easy for a salesperson to guilt you into tacking a $150 HDMI cable onto your purchase—after all, your brand-new gear needs a good cable to OUTRAGEOUS get the image quality you’re paying for, right? If you’re lucky, you’ll have the alternative of buying the “cheap” store-brand cable, at a cost of only $30 and a disapproving look from the cashier. Well, feel free to take that $150 and spend it on popcorn for the movies you’ll be watching— your HDTV won’t care which HDMI cable you use. High-quality cables have been a staple of the audio/video business for decades now, and for good reason—as an analog audio or video signal travels from one

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device to another, it’s susceptible to interference and disruption, meaning that the image data as it leaves your DVD player isn’t 100 percent identical to the image that shows up on your TV, because certain parts of the signal can get lost on the way there. However, digital audio/video standards like DisplayPort, DVI, and HDMI don’t have this problem because the data be­­ing transmitted over the cable isn’t as sensitive as an analog signal; it consists entirely of ones and zeros, and a tremendous drop in signal voltage has to occur before a one starts to look like a zero at the receiving end. When this does happen, you’ll usually see some kind of white static “sparklies” on your TV, as the set attempts to fill in the blanks itself, but this typically happens only over very long HDMI runs (8 meters and up). For shorter cables, the cable quality shouldn’t matter. That explanation rarely succeeds in silencing the home-theater enthusiasts (and home-theater salespeople) who swear that they see a difference between the good stuff and the cheap stuff, so we decided to check them out ourselves to see whether cost made a difference. We tested two pricey HDMI cables—the Monster HD1000 ($150) and the AudioQuest Forest ($60)— against a couple of bargain-basement cables from Blue Jeans Cable (the 5001A-G, $5) and Monoprice (the 28AWG, $3.04). After testing different kinds of high-def video clips (including clips of football broadcasts and selections from The Dark Knight on Blu-ray), we ended up with all four cables in a dead heat: Blue Jeans Cable, Monoprice, and Monster all saw an average rating of 3.5 out of 5, with AudioQuest trailing ever so slightly at 3.4—close enough to practically be a rounding error. So save your money and stick to the cheaper cables unless you need the cables to cover a long distance.

The Claim: 1 bars2on your mobile phone means better service. More The signal bars on your mobile phone display indicate the strength of your cellular signal to WARNING the nearest tower. But if you’re connected to a tower that lots of other people are connected to, you could have a strong signal and still have poor service, since everyone’s calls are DUBIOUS OUTRAGEOUS competing for scarce network resources. Once your information arrives at the cellular tower from your phone, it has to travel through your service provider’s backhaul network (which connects the tower to the Internet). And if your provider’s network isn’t up to snuff, you could have a flawless connection to an empty cell tower, and yet still encounter poor speeds and dropped calls.

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36 | www.pcworldme.net | January 2011

When we tested 3G service in 2009, we found that signal bars were poor indicators of service quality in cities in which we tested. In our testing, signal bars correlated with service quality in only 13 percent of test results. Additionally, if you use an iPhone, you might just be seeing inaccurate readings. Apple recently announced (in connection with the iPhone 4 antenna issue) that the formula it had been using in all iPhones to display signal strength was “totally wrong” and often reported the signal as two bars higher than it should have. Oops.


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3 The Claim: DUBIOUS People with more monitor space are more productive. Begging your boss for an extra display at work? You might sell her on the idea if you tell her you’d be 30 to 50 percent more productive than you are on your single 18-inch display. At least, that’s what a 2008 study from the University of Utah MOSTLY TRUE (commissioned by NEC, mind you) found for text and spreadsheet tasks. NEC, naturally, was quick to trumpet the results as a way to WARNING move more of its widescreen displays. However, the study also found a point of diminishing returns. Productivity gains fall in a bell-curve distribution once you hit a certain amount of screen space. For a single-monitor setup, over 26 inches is too much, OUTRAGEOUS while dual-display gains top out at 22 inches. In addition, the pattern of the results implies that while a second monitor can make you a wunderkind at work, don’t even think about adding a third. Interestingly, users’ reported preference did not predict their performance—that is, the setup they liked wasn’t necessarily the one they worked best with.

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The Claim: Over time, inkjet WARNING printers are much more expensive than laser 2 MOSTLY TRUE printers. To figure out how much a printer’s consumables will cost you over time, you take the price of the ink or toner cartridge and divide by the estimated page yield per cartridge, for your cost OUTRAGEOUS per page. Traditionally, laser printers have had a higher initial purchase price, which was balanced by their lower cost per page versus inkjet printers. However, as inkjet printer manufacturers began to release more efficient models (ones with separate ink tanks for each color, or higher-yield cartridge options), the cost-per-page gap has closed dramatically. Keep in mind that the inkjet printers you see going cheap with big mail-in rebates or included with laptop purchases generally aren’t the type that can hang with a laser printer in speed and costs. Instead, you’ll end up paying more in the long run via expensive, low-yield ink cartridges—to the point where it can even be cheaper to buy a new printer than to refill the ink in your old one.

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So think about what you’d be using that second display for. The University of Utah study took place in a controlled environment, where the subjects did nothing but the text and spreadsheet tasks they were assigned. If that sounds like your office, you’ll prob­­ably do great with a second monitor. If you’re planning on using that second display for e-mail, Twitter, or other Internet-related distractions, however, you’re probably going to end up being less productive overall. (I certainly am.)

The Claim: Refilled ink cartridges will ruin your printer. Taking your printer’s ink cartridge to a refill service can save you a few bucks. But because cartridges aren’t designed to be reused, refilling has risks: Nozzles could clog, or the ink tank could spring a leak. A good rule of thumb is to MOSTLY TRUE monitor the cartridge closely so you can prevent damage to it—or to your printer—if something goes awry. That way, though the cartridge or printhead might be a goner, you are unlikely to cause any permanent damage to the WARNING printer itself.

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Note that refills done by a third party typically come with a guarantee that covers the cartridge—but not necessarily the printer. Refill companies also like to remind you that it is illegal for your printer manufacturer to void the warranty on your printer for using third-party cartridges. True enough, but warranty agreements we’ve seen suggest that if a re­­fill cartridge breaks your printer, you shouldn’t expect a free fix. If you’re worried about leaks, pull the cartridge out of the printer occasionally to see if any excess ink is pooling near where the cartridge rests in the printer.

January 2011 | www.pcworldme.net | 37


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Everyone “knows” that Chrome, Firefox, and Safari are all way more secure than Internet Explorer. But what’s the real story? ToMOSTLY find out, I first looked up Symantec’s twice-yearly Internet TRUE Security Threat Report, which yielded the total numbers of reported vulnerabilities for 2009: WARNING Firefox had the most at 169, followed by 94 for Safari, 45 for IE, and 41 for Google Chrome. For more-recent data, I turned to the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (USOUTRAGEOUS CERT), which hosts the National Vulnerability Database, a searchable index of reported computer vulnerabilities. A search of data for a recent threemonth period yielded 51 such vulnerabilities for Safari (including both mobile and desktop versions), 40 for Chrome, 20 for Firefox, and 17 for IE. Such counts alone aren’t the best way to measure a browser’s security, however. A browser with 100 security flaws that are patched a day after being discovered is safer than a browser with only one exploit that hasn’t been patched for months. According to Symantec’s report, the average window of vulnerability (the time be­­tween when the flaw is reported and when it’s patched) in 2009 was less than a day for IE and Firefox, 2 days for Google Chrome, and a whopping 13 days for Safari. Clearly, Internet Explorer is doing fairly well. Nevertheless, you should still consider a few important factors before deciding to jump ship back to IE.

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The Claim: WARNING You’re safe if you 3 visit only G-rated DUBIOUS sites.

38 | www.pcworldme.net | January 2011

Stay updated. The second most common Web-based attack in 2009 exploited an IE security flaw patched way back in 2004 (the 2009 attack targeted unupdated PCs). The latest version of IE 8 may be pretty safe, but ditch any earlier version you have. Your browser is only as secure as your plug-ins. Symantec found that Microsoft’s Ac­­tiveX plug-in (enabled by default in IE) was the least secure with 134 vulnerabilities, followed by Java SE with 84, Adobe Reader with 49, Apple QuickTime with 27, and Adobe Flash Player with 23. The moral: Be careful at sites that use browser plug-ins. It’s tough to be on top. IE still has the biggest piece of the browser pie, meaning that cybercriminals are more likely to target IE than other browsers.

If your PC has ever had a virus, you probably know about the raised-eyebrow, mock-judgmental looks you get when you tell that OUTRAGEOUS to other people. After all, if you had been a good little PC user and stayed in the G-rated Web, you would have been safe, right? Not so, says Avast Software, makers of Avast, a popular antivirus suite. “For every infected adult domain we identify, there are 99 others with perfectly legitimate content that are also infected,” its chief technology officer, Ondrej Vlcek, reports. In the United Kingdom, for ex­­ample, users

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are far more likely to see infected domains with London in the name than sex. So porn alone doesn’t necessarily mean you’re opening yourself up for infection. Which makes sense—porn-site operators depend on subscriptions and repeat visitors to do business, and infecting your customers with spyware isn’t the best way to do it. If you find yourself on a generic-looking Website with popular search keywords in the title, or a site that’s rearranging your browser window, you’re likely to end up stuck with some malware—whether it’s about porn or about hotels in London.


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The Claim: You should regularly WARNING defragment your hard 2 drive. MOSTLY TRUE Your hard drive has to decide where to write your files on the drive platter, and as you fill up the drive, your files will be scattered more and more widely across the platter. This means that the drive’s read/ OUTRAGEOUS write heads take longer to find the whole file, since they take more time skipping around the platter to find the different parts of the fragmented file. However, this state of affairs isn’t an issue these days, for several reasons: Hard drives are bigger. When your hard drive capacity was measured in megabytes, fragmentation was a big deal. Not only did the drive’s read/write heads have to move all over the platter, but the space freed up by deleting old files was also scattered, and new files could be dispersed across the small gaps between larger files. People now generally have more hard drive space and use a smaller overall percentage of their drive, so the read/write heads don’t have to move as much. More RAM and optimized OSs help. According to the engineers who worked on Windows 7’s updated Disk Defragmenter tool, Windows’ file system allocation strategies, its caching and prefetching algorithms, and today’s relative abundance of RAM (which permits the PC to cache the data actively in use rather than having to write repeatedly to the drive) minimizes fragmentation delay. Solid-state drives don’t need to be defragmented. SSDs don’t have a drive platter or read/write heads that need to go

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searching around the drive. In fact, defragmenting is generally not recommended for SSDs because it wears down the hard drive’s data cells, shortening the drive’s overall lifespan. You don’t need to go out of your way to defrag. In Windows Vista and Windows 7, the system automatically handles defragging. By default, defragging happens at 1:00 a.m. every Wednesday, but if your PC isn’t on or is in use, the process will occur in the background the next time the machine is idle. We didn’t notice a difference. When we last tested disk defragmentation, we took a heavily used, never-defragmented system from the PCWorld Labs, ran speed tests before and after defragging, and found no significant difference.

You probably know this, but... ...you don’t have to worry about magnets annihilating your hard drive. Magnets were dangerous for 3.5-inch floppy disks, but modern hard drives aren’t affected by anything short of a high-end degaussing device. Don’t worry about your flash memory cards and solid-state drives, either—there’s nothing magnetic about flash memory, so such devices won’t be affected.

January 2011 | www.pcworldme.net | 39


Here’s how

Update the Firmware on Your HDTV, Camera, Smartphone, PC, and More

By Loyd Case

Software updates aren’t just for PCs any more. Here’s how to fix bugs and add new features to your existing hardware with a few easy patches.

40 | www.pcworldme.net | January 2011

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hese days, home-theatre gear, handheld devices, phones, and even appliances have embedded smarts in the form of a microprocessor, memory, and software. And like computer programs, firmware—the software that runs on your gadgets—needs periodic updating. Many new gadgets aren’t 100% complete when you buy them: Some promised features may be absent or incomplete at that point. And older hardware may require software enhancements to gain new features. As a result, manufacturers design much of their gear to allow updates. You won’t get every great new feature via downloadable updates, but firmware

revisions can make your old equipment run faster and crash less often. Firmware is software code stored in persistent memory (usually either in flash memory or in programmable, re­­ writable read-only memory) that is built into the de­­vice. Unlike apps loaded into a PC’s RAM, firmware doesn’t get erased when the system powers down. Firmware may hold basic software needed to start up a system—like a PC’s BIOS—or it may store the entire operating system and application suites, as is the case with smartphones.


Many PC and motherboard makers advise users not to upgrade a system’s BIOS, for example, unless a problem arises or the user installs an unsupported CPU. On the other hand, a Blu-ray player needs frequent updating, because new features on the discs may render them unplayable on old firmware. But before you rush out to update the firmware in a piece of electronic equipment, check the manufacturer’s recommendation. Let’s start with a few simple, crucial rules of thumb. Confirm that you have reliable power: For standard PCs and other electronics that you plug into a wall, power is no big deal. If you’re worried, you can connect an uninterruptible power supply to the device before proceeding. Plug in the hardware: Never rely on battery power when updating your laptop’s BIOS or your phone’s firmware. Create a backup of your current firmware: Not all devices allow you to do

this, but if you can, you should. If the new firmware introduces a bug, you may need to revert to an older version. Log your changes: Some firmware updates reset your device’s settings to their de­­fault values, so document any adjustments you may have made before updating. That way, you can restore them properly. If the device allows it, save ‘off’ settings to a file (this is common in

routers, for example). Warn other users before updating your router: If you’re updating a network device, be sure to let all users know in advance that the network may go down briefly. Now let’s move on to the updating process itself.

Here’s how

Should I Update?

Intel’s version of updating the BIOS from a flash memory key.

January 2011 | www.pcworldme.net | 41


Here’s how

PCs and Laptops

Today’s PC firmware falls into two categories: the traditional BIOS (Basic Input-Output System), and the newer EFI (Extensible Firmware Interface). EFI is much more capable than the old 16-bit BIOS routines. On the Windows PC side, most systems still use BIOS, while servers generally use EFI. Recent Apple computers use EFI too, though earlier Intel-based Macs used a firmware architecture built around the SMC (system management controller). Most current PCs let you up­­date firmware through the BIOS setup screen. Copy the BIOS update file to a USB flash memory stick, and plug the USB stick into the system that you want to up­­date. At startup, press the key that launches the BIOS update application. Alternatively, press a keyboard key (usually <Delete>, but sometimes another key such as <F2> or <F10>) to enter the BIOS setup program. Navigate to the device that contains the firmware up­­date: Select the file name and press <Enter> to launch the update process. Updating the BIOS from an executable file is even easier. All Intelbuilt motherboards are updatable via a Windows-based app. Some other motherboard makers offer the same feature, in which case you download the BIOS update app and launch it from the desktop. A few motherboard makers include apps for updating the BIOS over the Internet. Usually the site downloads the entire update before the updating process starts. PCs with very old motherboards may require you to use a bootable floppy disk containing the BIOS update. The update may start as soon as you boot, or you may have to type a command at the command-line prompt; for details, print the readme file for the update before you boot from the floppy. To update a Mac, download the firmware update for your system and launch it from the Finder. The update takes a few minutes, and un­­interrupted power is crucial.

Network Routers and Peripherals

PC peripherals such as hard drives, network-attached storage, and highend monitors may have updatable firmware. The instructions for installing updates vary, so pay attention to the manufacturer’s documentation. Wi-Fi routers are perhaps the easiest peripherals to up­­date; most have the capability built into their router management interface. Here we will use the update screen from a Netgear WNDR3700. The interface of the Netgear router identifies what the up­­date may fix when in­­stalled, and it gives you the option of backing out if you don’t think you need the up­­date. Network-attached storage devices use a similar in­­terface for firmware updates. Monitors rarely need such up­­dates, and most monitors don’t even allow them. We see more firmware up­­dates for hard drives—and especially solid-state drives—which can be tricky to install. Before making any changes to a critical storage device, back it up! In at least two instances I’m aware of, SSD firmware updates could result in permanent loss of the drives’ data. The firmware updating process can be arcane, so study the documentation before proceeding. As an example, updating an Intel X25-E solid-state drive involves downloading an ISO image, burning it to a CD, and then booting from the CD to install the firmware update. So you must be

comfortable with burning the CD and booting from it before you get to the firmware update process. Sometimes even expansion cards require firmware updates. I’ve had to update both graphics card firmware and network interface card firmware. In both instances, running the updates entailed working from a command-line prompt, but I did it all from within Windows. One last rule of thumb: Whenever you update a system peripheral, you should reboot the peripheral after you install the update (as­­sum­­ing that the device does not restart automatically).

Home-Theatre Gear

In the consumer electronics category, the two primary candidates for upgrades are Blu-ray players and HDTVs; but as other types of gear (such as A/V receivers) be­­come networkable devices, vendors make firmware up­­dates available for them, too. Such updates sometimes even fix problems you might have assumed were just a quirk of your HDTV set. You update most consumer electronics gear in one of the three following ways. ISO file burned to CD: Some older Blu-ray players didn’t have a network capability and lacked USB ports. To up­­date them, users had to burn the downloaded firmware file to a CD and then install it via either a menu selection or a combination of remote-control button presses. Even some premium DVD players required this type of updating a few years ago.

You can check for router updates over the Internet via the router’s interface, and apply an update only if you think you need it.

42 | www.pcworldme.net | January 2011


Game Consoles

Updating the firmware on currentgeneration game consoles is simple—and non-voluntary. For example, the Xbox 360 requires an always-on connection to the Internet to make most of its services available, though you can play singleplayer games without a connection. When the console de­­tects a new system update, a dialog box warns you that you’ll be logged off the network if you don’t install it. Smartphones Mobile phone updates may include critical security fixes, performance enhancements, and new features. To update your iPhone, plug it into your Mac or PC, and make sure iTunes is running. If a firmware update is available, click Yes when asked if you want to update. For Windows Mobile de­­vices, start by syncing (via USB) to back up your

You can download a Web browser plugin to gauge whether your device needs an update (the GPS unit must be plugged into your PC via USB), or you can enter your device’s serial number. If an update is available, you will download it as a very large file that is both a Windows app and mapping data. Attach your GPS unit via USB, run the app, and let it update your firmware. Gaming devices like the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP update automatically over their network as needed, as long as you have Wi-Fi. You can update the devices wirelessly, but at­­taching them to wall power is preferable. Digital cameras occasionally need firmware updates. In most cases, to update a camera’s firmware, you down­­ load the update, copy it to a flash memory card, and insert the card into the camera. Then you select an entry from the camera’s built-in menu or press some combination of buttons to load the update. Usually, you’ll have to copy the firmware file to the top level (root) of the memory card, not to a subfolder. To update a media player like Apple’s iPod or Microsoft’s Zune, attach the player to your PC and run the relevant app (iTunes or Zune software). Up­­dates occur almost automatically; click Yes if prompted to update. Many other music players copy the downloaded firmware file to the device over a USB connection; you then disconnect it, and the up­­date occurs automatically.

Here’s how

contact, calendar, and other phone data. Some models use ActiveSync for updating; others rely on a dedicated app. Read and follow all instructions carefully. Update processes for An­­droid phones vary widely. You can manually download and update the firmware, but waiting for your cellular network to roll out the up­­date may make more sense. If you want to Finding the right menu item for installing a firmware update on the download and manually Panasonic DMP-BD85 Blu-ray player can be tricky because it’s buried as update the phone, an option in the Others submenu. start by downloading the latest version Firmware copied to USB flash drive: and copying it onto an SD card or to the This updating method is most common in phone’s storage via USB. Depending on situations where a network connection is the phone, performing the update will unavailable or unreliable. I have updated involve pressing some combination of several HDTVs in this way. phone buttons. Firmware directly downloaded from BlackBerry owners looking for an the Internet: This is an increasingly update should go to RIM’s BlackBerry prevalent method for updating Device Software page and follow the firmware. For example, you can set up a in­­structions there; Mac users must install Panasonic DMP-BD85 Blu-ray player to the BlackBerry Desktop Software first. automatically inform you of new firmware updates, if you keep it connected to the Other Handheld Electronic Internet. The actual update screen is Devices buried in the menus inside the Others Most off-the-shelf GPS de­­vices come main menu selection, however, not in the with free updates for a set period of time; Network menu selection. after that, you may have to pay for each update.

RIM’s BlackBerry Device Software page provides detailed instructions for updating the firmware on BlackBerry phones.

January 2011 | www.pcworldme.net | 43


Here’s how

READER Q&A

by Rick Broida and PCWorld Middle East Staff

Fix stuck time zone, Windows account picture, Random freeze Q: Will my XP software still work if I 2. Upgrade to a more recent version of upgrade to Windows 7? the XP-compatible program, or replace it Almost certainly. Most programs that with a competitor’s program. work in Windows XP and Windows Vista 3. Install Windows 7 on a separate will have no trouble in Windows 7, though partition so you can choose XP or there are a few exceptions, of course. Windows 7 when you boot up. To confirm that a particular program 4. If you’re upgrading to Windows 7 works in the new environment, look it up Professional or Ultimate, download at the Windows 7 Compatibility Centre. and install the Windows Virtual PC and Once there, you can browse through Windows XP Mode. These applications program types or search by the program’s will allow you, in effect, to run XP inside name. Or visit Windows 7. the program’s There’s one Website and see other issue to what it says on keep in mind: If the matter. you’re moving If you discover from an older that a program XP computer to you want to keep a new Windows and continue 7 one, you’re to use does probably also have a problem, moving from a you have four 32-bit version options. of Windows to Windows Virtual PC lets you open older apps in Windows a 64-bit version. XP Mode with a single click from within your PC’s Win 7 1. Run the program operating system. (XP and Windows in XP Compatibility 7 come in both Mode. Right-click the program file or flavours, but 64-bit is significantly more a shortcut to the program on the Start common now than it was when new menu, and se­­lect Properties. Click the PCs came with XP.) The 16-bit Windows Compatibility tab. Check Run this program programs from the early 1990s run in compatibility mode for and select one just fine in 32-bit en­­vironments, but of the XP options from the pull-down they don’t work in 64-bit Windows. menu. Then hope it works. Consequently, some of your older apps may not work on the new computer.

CONTACT

If you’ve got a hassle that needs solving, send it our way. We can’t promise a response, but we’ll definitely read every e-mail we get — and do our best to address at least some of them in future issues: troubleshoot@pcworldme.net

44 | www.pcworldme.net | January 2011

Q: Why can’t Windows 7’s XP Mode see other computers on my network? It can access the Internet. Windows 7’s XP Mode (part of the Windows Virtual PC) lets you run a separate version of XP inside the newer OS. The Virtual PC is a free but very large download (it contains a complete copy of XP) that works in the Professional and Ultimate editions of Windows 7. If you have Windows 7 running nicely on your network, with access to the Internet, networked printers, and shared folders on other computers, XP Mode is likely to disappoint you initially. You’ll probably get the Internet just fine, but not your local network. So you’ll have to set up XP for the network separately. First, however, you have to tell Windows 7 how XP should access the network. If you are currently running XP Mode, exit it before moving on to this step of the process. In Windows 7, click Start, type virtual, select Windows Virtual PC, and press <Enter>. This opens a Windows Explorer window to the Virtual Machines folder. Right-click the Windows XP Mode file and select Settings (not ‘Properties’—which is an easy mistake to make). In the left pane, select Networking. In the right pane, for Adapter 1, select your network adapter. Click OK. When the dialog box is gone, load XP Mode. To do this from the same Explorer window, double-click the Windows XP Mode file. In your virtual XP environment, select Start In the settings for Windows XP Mode, choose ‘Networking’ in the left pane and select your network adapter (as ‘Adapter 1’) in the right.


Q: How could my protected PC have gotten infected with Trojan horses? There’s no such thing as perfect protection. Even if you have the best firewall and antivirus software available, and keep it up to date, something might still get through. But knowing how malware tries to sneak in can help you block it. First, do you really have the best security software? Windows’ own firewall, for instance, doesn’t protect as well as a good third-party firewall. I currently use Comodo’s free 32-bit firewall; a separate 64-bit version is available as well . It’s an annoying product that constantly interrupts my work to ask if it should allow something or other to get through— but the security is worth it. I really like my Comodo firewall, but for antivirus protection I prefer the free Avira AntiVir Personal. Whatever software you use, keep it up-to-date. It should do this itself automatically, but every so often, check it yourself. Avira pops up a notice every day when it has finished updating. You can turn the notification off, but I like the regular reassurance. Don’t stop at backing up your security software. Other programs, especially browsers, can let malware slip by undetected. So keep your operating system and browser up-to-date, too. Be suspicious. Don’t click links in a dubious e-mail message. If a program you didn’t install and launch tells you your PC is infected, assume it’s about to infect your PC. Download software only from reputable sites. And every week or so, scan your hard drive with an alternative

The comodo firewall asks a lot of questions about activity on your PC—which is what it should do to keep your system safe.

antimalware program to get a second opinion. You probably won’t get hit if you do everything properly—but you might. New malware appears in the wild every day, and some people’s systems will get infected with it before their security software has a chance to update itself. The unlucky one might be you. Finally, if a scan finds something malicious, don’t ignore the possibility of a false positive. I’ve seen a program that had been sitting on my PC unchanged for years suddenly identified as containing a brand-new, quite evil Trojan horse. It turned out to be innocent.

bar. Head over to a site that you want to designate as a favourite, click the down arrow next to the coffee cup, and then mouse over Add to My Morning Coffee. In the resulting menu, you will see choices like ‘Every Day’, individual days of the week, and ‘Weekends’. And Morning Coffee lets you designate different favourites for different days of the week. For example, you might want to look at work- and business-related sites during the week but leisure-oriented stuff on the weekend. To manage your picks—­removing entries, changing the display order, and the like—­ click that same down arrow and then choose Configure Morning Coffee. Savvy Firefox (and IE) users know that they can configure the browser to load multiple “home” pages at startup automatically—but that’s not quite the same thing. With Morning Coffee on hand, loading your favourites is optional—and just a click away. After a few days of enjoying this convenience, you’ll wonder how you ever got along without it. Morning Coffee just brewed its way onto my list of musthave Firefox add-ons.

Here’s how

> Run, type netsetup and press <Enter>. Click Yes at the ‘want to continue’ dialog box. In the resulting wizard, answer its questions as if your system were a standalone XP PC. Follow these tips as you do so: 1. Make sure that the Computer Name you enter differs from the one you use for the same PC’s normal, Windows 7 environment. 2. Use the same Workgroup name that the other network PCs use. 3. Turn on file and printer sharing. If the PC still can’t access the network, you likely have other network problems.

Q: I tend to open the same few Web sites every morning. Is there any simple way to open all of them with just one click or something? A: Most of us have a batch of favourite sites we like to hit every morning (with or without a hot beverage). For example, I routinely head to Gizmodo, Gulf News, BBC, and Lifehacker. Firefox add-on Morning Coffee instantly loads those and other designated favourites into their own tabs, effectively splaying them out across my browser like the sections of a newspaper. After installing the add-on, you’ll see a new coffee-cup icon to the left of the Firefox address

The Morning Coffee add-on for Firefox lets you designate precisely when to display specific favourite sites—daily or only on certain days.

January 2011 | www.pcworldme.net | 45


THE BACK PAGE

PC EXPERT

KHALID ALHURAIZ WWW.LOCHALARCHADE.COM

MORE VARIETY IN SMARTPHONES

Khalid Alhuraiz rambles every month about all things PC. This month he tackles issues of Android smartphone manufacturers copying iPhone too often.

F

or my smartphone I’m an Android user. As I’m sure everyone close to me already knows, I loathe onscreen keyboards, so my choice of phone is quite obvious but limited. Limited? Yes, limited. Count how many Android-powered phones that have a physical keyboard, and then count the ones without one. Add the fact that I really don’t want to settle for a phone with relatively poor specs, and there’s almost none left for me to be interested in. My first phone was HTC’s G1. It was a good phone although slightly slow. It had however a nice keyboard. Eventually I gave it to a sibling, and got myself a Motorola Milestone. The Milestone was better than the G1 in all aspects, other than it having one row less of keys on the keyboard. After much abuse and a destroyed keyboard, it was time for a new phone. After much research I kept banging my head against the wall because every new phone with a keyboard that was announced ended up exclusively on CDMA networks in the USA. In desperation, I got myself the one-year old GW620, LG’s first Android phone. Despite a recent survey by Mobiclix that shows slightly more than half of Android users prefer a hardware keyboard over an onscreen one, very few bother to make a phone with a keyboard. This isn’t

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about which is better. It’s about meeting the needs of the customer. This leads me to believe that Android phone manufacturers aren’t targeting Android users. Rather, they’re targeting iPhone users, the same people who tend to be overly loyal to the shiny fruit company. Ever notice how a good number of Android phones borrow the same physical features of the iPhone? Or how common it is with a very iOS-like user interface even on Android devices? If that’s what’s called “competition”, then I guess Burger King should add McDonald’s Big Mac to their menu so they can compete and maybe get some of McDonald’s customers to their side. Of course, that would blatant stealing, but it’s not that different from what’s happening right now with Android.

The same could be said for Windows Phone 7 and MeeGo phones, since it’s a single operating system running on many devices by many manufacturers, I’m sure we will see the same happening. It’s still early to tell though, since Microsoft has a tighter grip over their operating system than Google does with Android, and there aren’t any MeeGo phones in the market yet. Let’s go back a little. Remember that survey from Mobiclix I mentioned earlier? Well, 8% of those Android users surveyed switched from an iPhone, just 8%. How many iPhone knockoffs are there? Even my LG phone looks disturbingly similar to an iPhone. Frankly, I don’t think an iPhone knockoff would make an iPhone user make the move.

Some think one Android phone will not kill the iPhone, but add them all up together and they’ll pose a real threat to Apple’s smartphone. That could possibly be true. But if we end up with many Android-based iPhone knockoffs, we already know what killed the other.

While the iPhone’s design and functions work well, they work only on an iPhone, and not anything else. As an Android user, I’d want to see phone manufacturers compete with each other rather than with the iPhone. All that needs to happen is for someone to decide to make something different from the competition.

I don’t speak for every Android user, but how many ended up buying an Android phone from the same company that makes their washing machine? The way I see it, as long as you make a quality product, people will definitely come to you.

Khalid Alhuraiz is a long-time PC user with an almost fanatical interest in hardware, software and everything in between. You can find him hanging out at www.lochalarchade.com and catch up with him on Twitter as @khaloodh.


January 2011 | www.pcworldme.net | 47


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PCWorld Middle East January 2011  

This is the January 2011 issue of PCWorld Middle East, produced by CPI Corporate Publishing International, Dubai.