Article 88: Steam Streaming for PC

Steam Streaming comes to PC  

Hello ladies and gentlemen, welcome back to the Modern Nerd blog at the Computer Fixer. This week I am going to give you the scoop on a new service that Steam has introduced for their PC platform, totally free of charge. Now you can use multiple computers in your house to stream your games from one platform to another, effectively putting your gaming PC to more use than just your man-cave (or girl-gamer-rig, there’s no bias on this blog). Let’s check out the possibilities, so read on.

Powerful, Awesome, but Not Mobile

Desktop gaming has one really, really big drawback. It doesn’t travel very well as a rule. Once your monitor(s), speakers, tower, keyboard, and mouse are in place, you need a really enticing reason to move them. Wired internet is still the fastest internet, so there’s another reason to keep your command center, well, centralized.

However, Steam is trying to give PC gamers more flexibility to utilize their LAN networks. Steam is a free online gaming community that sells and manages games on your computers. If you have two computers running Steam on the same Local Area Network, you can use the computer that has the program installed to stream the game to the second.

If you have a laptop that is recent, but not necessarily a gaming powerhouse, then you can get the game transmitted, frame by frame, from your gaming rig. This also means more freedom to take advantage of Big Picture, the operating system that Steam introduced for controllers and televisions, so your laptop, a controller, and a TV can be a new Xbox or PlayStation.

Network Requirements

So what do you need to make this work? Steam and two computers is a good start, but you need to make sure that the streaming will be fast enough over your local network. Your wireless card, if that is the way you are going to stream, needs to be of the standard N or higher, and a dual band router is a great leg up to make sure that you get all of the speed that you need. Currently dual-band N-type routers are going for around 50 dollars online, which is about the price you would pay for a G-type router about 5 years ago. Speed has gone from 50 Mb/s to ~600 Mb/s, and the power you need to keep yourself connected, over wires or wirelessly, is readily available.

Thanks for reading. Check out the rest of the Computer Fixer’s content on our blog, and subscribe to our mailing list or Like our page on Facebook for the biweekly updates from the Modern Nerd, and check out all we have to offer. If you have any suggestions for topics you’d like the Modern Nerd to cover, leave a post on our Wall.

Article 87: Scrapping an Old Computer

Article 87: Disposing of Old Computers

Hey there readers, welcome back to the Modern Nerd Blog at the Computer Fixer. This week, as I was putting together a new desktop for a friend, I realized that he was getting rid of a machine that was 10 years old. By now the RAM, the motherboard, and the processor are antiques in computer years. They are now paperweights, but realistically you are not going to want to keep a bunch of computer parts around if you don’t need them. So this week I’m going to give you guys some ideas about recycling computer parts, safe disposal, and repurposing things that might still be useful.

Data Destruction – Foiling Identity Thieves

Your old computers have more information on them than you might think. Saved passwords, pictures, documents, internet search history, and programs could all lead to information on you that you don’t want in the wrong hands, so your first step is to destroy all information on your hard drives. Take what information you need and think will be useful and get rid of the rest. Remember that simply deleting the information is not going to be enough for clever hackers, so grab a free data destruction suite that is available as shareware. DBAN (also known as Darik’s Boot and Nuke) is the most popular, but there are over 25 you can find just from the first page of a google search.

Reusing Old Hardware

There are some pieces of an old desktop computer that are not completely useless. The power supply is the most universally recyclable piece, if it has the capacity you can use it for a new computer without issues. Newer power supplies have fancier features like modular cords, more PCI Express cable extensions, more capacity for SATA-capable devices, and they deliver power more efficiently than their older counterparts. However, a 700 Watt power supply is still a 700 Watt power supply whether it was made 1 year or 10 years ago.

RAM is trickier. If you are replacing a computer that uses the DDR3 standard for RAM, those DIMM’s (read: sticks of RAM) are absolutely reusable. The older DDR2 standard of RAM is not compatible with the newer motherboards.

Hard drives that are not going to be scrapped are reusable as extra storage space for a multiple-hard-drive computer. Network cards, sounds cards, and video cards are reusable if they are not too old.  Also remember that even if you have no use for it, EBay is a great place to get some value out of old parts rather than sending them to the recycler for nothing. I sold an old graphics card for an extra 25 bucks, and money is money.

Scrapping Useless Parts

Remember that computers have things in them like mercury and heavy metals that should not go in the trash can. Calling a responsible recycler for your computer parts is the best thing to do. Remember that the Computer Fixer is committed to responsible ownership through their partnership with Syracuse International, another Philadelphia based company. For more information go to www.sycamoreinternational.com. Batteries, cell phones, computer parts, and other pieces of tech that you no longer have use for must be disposed of responsibly for the future of the planet.

Thanks for reading everyone. For more articles check out our archives, subscribe to our mailing lists, and Like our page on Facebook to get all of the updates when the Modern Nerd returns. 

Article 86: The End of XP

Welcome back to the Computer Fixer’s blog, Modern Nerd edition. This week, we remember an operating system that was as iconic as it was long lived, as Windows XP is coming to an end. Technical support and automatic updates for one on Windows’ best versions has come to an end as of April 8th. This is an announcement for everyone about your options and your next steps if you haven’t made the leap away from Windows XP in the last 5 years since the release of Windows 7. Remember this moment back in 2001? We’ve come a long way since…

Windows XP – Rest in Peace

If anyone is old enough to remember Windows ME, then you are probably wishing that you didn’t. Windows XP brought a stability and versatility to the operating system that was sorely lacking in the previous version. For myself personally, I would have to repair my friend’s computer that ran on Windows ME every other week.

Windows XP also brought with it support for the 64 bit operating system. Back before 4 to 8 GB of RAM was necessary for the higher-end applications of today, there was the 32 bit operating system. It was hard-capped by its’ coding at 3.5 GB of useable RAM. While it took a while for programs to be reconfigured to take advantage of the increased capacity, the 64 bit OS is now standard, and it started back in Windows XP.

Windows XP is still used by an amazing 1 in 3 PC users. Applications written for this platform are not going to be compatible with Windows 7 and 8, and programs written to add to Internet Explorer 6 are going to fall by the wayside. Some equipment, printers, and monitors will be rendered useless as well, due to driver incompatibility. This will hit the business world much harder than the home users, but there are very little excuses as the writing has been on the wall for a while now.

…So now what do I do?

What are the options for replacing Windows XP? Realistically, I would recommend you look at Windows 7 first and foremost. 7 has great stability, on par with XP, and does not suffer from the performance issues that Vista did. More on that in a minute. Windows 8 is a good choice as well, but to truly take advantage of everything that 8 offers, you need a touchscreen or a system that has cutting-edge specifications. Windows 7 is the best choice for a computer that has kept up with performance, but still runs on XP. If you are looking to add tablet, touchscreen, or app functionality to what you do with computers on a regular basis, then Windows 8 will be your choice of system.

Windows Vista tried to do too much with too little. By this I mean the virtual memory requirements of the operating system were leaps and bounds ahead of the standard RAM that computers had, so if  you ran with 2GB of RAM, you would find yourself maxed out very often, because the background processes took a lot of memory to run.

Can I just ignore this?

At your own risk. With the heartbleed bug awareness widely spread around, the emphasis for the last few months has been on passwords and online security. With Microsoft making a huge announcement, it is almost an invitation for less savory types to attempt to gain access to your systems, knowing that the current security flaws of Windows XP are not going to be repaired, ever. You are taking a risk by not upgrading. Unfortunately, Microsoft’s message to XP users has been less than helpful, stating that after 12 years of their OS it is time to upgrade. While from a business perspective it makes sense to focus on new and better software, it is hard to see things like that for a tech giant that isn’t in any danger of going away.

But new toys are also fun…

If you don’t have the hardware to run a Windows 7 or 8 system though, it might be time for a new machine. If you don’t have at least 4 GB of RAM you might want to look into this. A midrange PC with the power to handle the newer systems is around 700 dollars, which isn’t chump change but will give you a serviceable platform for another 5 to 7 years with plenty of power and utility.

Another final option is to disconnect the computer from the internet, but in my opinion you lose too much utility that way. It becomes a lot more difficult to do anything if you don’t have any connectivity.

 

 

Thanks for reading. Follow our posts on Facebook and subscribe to the mailing list to get all of the updates from the Modern Nerd and all of the Computer Fixer’s posts. The Modern Nerd is a bi-weekly blog that brings you tips, tricks, updates, and news in the world of computers and tech. See you next time.

Article 85: The Heartbleed Bug

Welcome back ladies and gentlemen, to the Modern Nerd blog. We are at DEFCON 3 around here, and there’s a fairly scary thing that has invaded a lot of online spaces. There was recently discovered a major security flaw in SSL (Secure Socket Layer) websites that store account information, passwords, credit card numbers, social security numbers, bank accounts, the whole enchilada. Let’s get into what it means for you, and what security measures to take to protect yourself.

Big Brother has a Big Mouth

You knew that everything online was never really 100% safe, but now there’s a justification for the paranoia. A Google researcher, and a research team in Finland discovered what is being referred to as the Heartbleed bug about a week ago. Security measures went into place immediately at Google, Yahoo, banks, and hundreds of other sites to close up this vulnerability. Since then, most of the information that was at risk is protected again. What does that mean for you and me?

Well since we have no way of knowing if someone even smarter and more nefarious discovered the bug before it went viral, pardon the expression, your personal information and passwords could be in the hands of people who want to steal your identity and do you harm.

Bottom Line it for Me, Doc

Change your passwords. All of them. To something that you have never used before. Coming up with a whole new system of passwords for the couple dozen sites that you use on a regular basis is going to be a pain. I get that. However, you are better safe that sorry. Even if your account ends up in the wrong hands, be it your email, bank, or social networking sites, it could end up costing you a lot of headaches.

Is there any good news?

Yes! This loophole was closed quickly once discovered, major sites are now secure again, and there are sites that don’t even use this particular security protocol to keep data, so were never at risk. If you want to know what sites are the most likely to require a change of password, delve further into it.

There are some password keepers like 1Password that were never at risk, so if you have always wondered about outsourcing remembering your password to keeper software, now is an ideal time to do some research on it. Always check out the site thoroughly and never take one opinion as gospel, see what others are saying.

 

After all, this is the internet. There always exists the possibility of getting hacked. If you do your preventative maintenance now, you’re likely to never have an issue. Thanks for reading as always. Check out more content through our mailing lists, and like our page on Facebook to stay up to date. That is after you change your password.

Optimize Your Computer for Gaming

 

How to Optimize Your Computer for Gaming

Gaming evolves every day, and you want to be sure your computer is up to the task. Many factors influence your computer’s gaming performance, some upgradable, others not so much. Here’s a rundown of how you can bring out the best in your machine.

The Memory Myth

A common misconception is that more RAM (random access memory) equates to better gaming performance. Installing more RAM helps you run more programs simultaneously and reopens frequently used files faster; it won’t turn a slow PC into a super gaming machine. Multiple benchmark tests at 4 GB, 8 GB and 16 GB RAM configurations across various computers showed little to no improvement in FPS (frames per second) in some of today’s most popular PC titles, as Tech Buyers Guru explains. RAM speed can, however, make a difference if you’re using integrated graphics like an AMD APU.

The Hard Drive Dilemma

The type of hard drive matters more than storage capacity (which is also important). Solid state drives (SSDs) consume less power and seek and transfer data much faster than traditional hard disk drives (HDDs), according to Best Laptop For Gaming. This means you can play games longer and enjoy faster load times. If you’re on a budget, consider upgrading to a 7200 RPM (revolutions per minute) HDD over slower 5400 RPM models. Faster HDDs consume more power, so be sure to plug in your AC adapter if you go this route. Consider an external hard drive if you need more space to store downloaded games.

The Processor

Your computer’s CPU (central processing unit) has a huge impact on gaming performance. Most mid-range laptops and desktops use dual core or quad core processors. Fast dual core processors are sufficient to play many games, but more games are moving toward the quad core configuration. If you plan to play the most popular games for years to come, invest in a quad core CPU.

The Graphics Card

Your computer’s video card or GPU (graphics processing unit) is the most important piece of the puzzle. A powerful GPU enables maximum FPS and eliminates lag—the bane of multiplayer games, especially first person shooters. HD (1920×1080 or higher) graphics depend on a brawny GPU. The highest end gaming laptops come with a dedicated GPU and video RAM that can tackle even the most demanding games, albeit at a hefty price tag. Choosing your GPU configuration is crucial from the start, as the chip is soldered to your computer’s motherboard and can’t be removed or replaced.

Accessories

Some games play better with a mouse, others with a joystick. Choose an ergonomic device to keep your hands comfortable through long periods of gaming. Most accessories offer USB or Bluetooth support. Comfortable headphones or a high-end sound system can enhance your gaming experience, but prepare to pay for quality.

Cleaning Your Computer

A clean computer is a faster computer, and a faster computer is better for gaming. Here are a few tips for making your machine leaner and meaner:

  • Close unnecessary background programs.

  • Avoid running too many programs at once.

  • Run regular virus and spyware scans.

Article 84: SleepTracker Watch

Modern Nerd Testing Report: Sleeptracker

Hi guys, welcome back to the Modern Nerd blog. For the last couple of weeks, I have been testing a new way to wake up in the morning. I have a new piece of tech to share with all of you, and so far I am really impressed. The Sleeptracker system is a sport watch that can measure biofeedback during sleep, monitor your sleep cycles, and wake you up when you are closest to being awake already. That way you don’t risk sleeping through your alarm and you wake up refreshed and ready to go.

Information from Your Wrist

Sleeptracker Watch fits just like a regular sport watch. There are no wires to connect to heart monitors or anything. The back of the watch makes contact with your wrist and measures your vital signs. The inputs are very simple; you tell the watch when you need to be awake by at the latest. It also allows you to set a window of 10 to 60 minutes, and it will monitor you and wake you up somewhere in that window up to the latest time.

The watch has options to beep, vibrate, or both. That way you can avoid disturbing a partner or a roommate if you have to get up at different times. The beeping is about as loud as a standard kitchen timer, so while it is audible, it shouldn’t be considered loud. It is designed to work with you at your most awake stage so it doesn’t have to be.

Cycles of Sleep – What?

Most people have heard of rapid eye movement, or REM sleep. That is the ‘shallowest’ level of sleep, to continue the metaphor. This is also where you dream, which explains why sometimes you can remember your dreams or even be lucid during them. Your brain is the most ‘on’.

Deeper, regenerative sleep is further down the ladder, and the Sleeptracker watch can measure 4 levels past the REM sleep stage. As you sleep during a full 8 hours, you get less regenerative sleep and more shallow REM sleep. As the morning approaches, there are peaks at the top of the curve that could be considered the most ideal time to wake up. Your regular alarm clock doesn’t know anything about this though, which is why some mornings you get tired and groggy and some mornings you can pop right out of bed. This system is designed to tilt those scales a bit and let you wake up more refreshed or a regular basis.

How Well Does This Thing Work?

So far I am extremely impressed. I have noticed an improvement in my alertness when the alarm goes off. I am not going to tell you that it will make you spring out of bed, you still have to do that yourself. However, it has helped me a lot. The watch does not have a snooze function, so you get one shot at getting up with it. A backup alarm as an emergency measure is not a terrible idea, but for the most part I have not needed one. If you struggle to get out of bed in the morning, then I would suggest giving this a shot. Just Google Sleeptracker to get some more information.

Online Tools

The watch can also sync up to the computer to show you the data that it is measuring. If you are having a lot of trouble sleeping, then you can glean some useful information about your own personal sleep patterns.

Thanks for reading as always. The Modern Nerd is a bi-weekly blog to give you tips tricks and new ideas about ways to use technology to improve the quality of your life. You can subscribe to our mailing list or Like our page on Facebook to get all of the updates. 

Article 83: Mouse Acceleration and Why You Shouldn’t Use It

Mouse Movements: To Accelerate or Not Accelerate?

Hi guys, welcome back to the Modern Nerd blog. This week I’d like to reframe your knowledge in particular area, the way you control your computer. I recently purchased a new mouse (two in fact, one for my work and one for my home) and it was driven home to me the importance of the right peripherals.  You don’t consciously control your hands when you write, when you type, or do simple things, so why take an extra step with your mouse? I’ll explain what I’m talking about in further depth, as well as show you my new choice for a mouse, so read on my fellow nerds.

Increase Pointer Precision and Windows Mouse Settings              

If you are searching through your Control Panel and find the Mouse settings, you’ll notice that there are several options for increasing the pointer speed. There is a checkbox under the scrollbar that says increase pointer precision, and on most PC’s it is checked by default. Increase Pointer Precision is also known as the mouse acceleration.

This means that as you move your hand faster, the mouse will move faster. That makes intuitive sense on the surface, but let’s dig a little deeper. If you have acceleration disabled, then there is a point on your mousepad for every point on the screen. Your muscle-memory can interpret this much more intuitively.

You can point your mouse where it needs to be with repeatability, which is the key. When the speed is a factor in the mouse position, you can move it to the same position at different speeds and get halfway there or twice as far. This is something I encourage you to test for yourself, because the explanation through text is not as clear as it might be. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Cool… Now What?

If you want to increase your computing speed over time, then you should disable the mouse acceleration. You will find that your hand more instinctively knows where to go to find the buttons and you can focus on the next thing to click that much faster.

However, not all mice are created equal. If you have a run-of-the-mill cheaper mouse, you could find this a problem because having to pick the mouse up from the range of motion of your hand detracts from the experience. Gaming mice are the answer to this, as they more often than not have dpi adjustment capability and higher-grade optical sensors or lasers. Setting the sensitivity on the mouse is much different than setting the mouse sensitivity on the computer, as the digital enhancement of the mouse position is just like the mouse acceleration, it will produce results that are not as easily repeatable for faster movements. Make sure to set the mouse speed to the middle position in the windows settings and uncheck the mouse precision option for your best results.

One of my favorite video games was the inspiration for this, and I find that everyday and work computing has gotten much faster as well. It is worth experimenting with, to see if you could benefit.  Thanks for reading. Check out all of the Modern Nerd content on Facebook and subscribe to our mailing list to get all of the updates. See you in two weeks!

The Tethering Knowhow Guide for Newbies

 The Tethering Know-how Guide for Newbies

Nearly anywhere you go, it seems like you can get an Internet connection. But you may find yourself in a remote diner, library or a city park, and either have no signal or it’s so faint, that you can’t keep a connection. If your smartphone has a strong signal, then you have another option. Find out from these tips what tethering is and can what it can do for you, and you’ll never be left without a network connection again.

Types of Tethering

Tethering is a way for your computer to tap into the signal used by your smartphone. There are three ways to tether your phone to your computer:USB, Bluetooth and WiFi.

USB tethering allows you to connect one device, laptop or tablet, to your phone. You’ll need a USB cable that connects your phone to the computer. It can be the same cable you use to charge your phone from a USB port. On your computer, you’ll setup the smartphone as a USB modem. Your computer will then connect to your phone as a network device and you should see an Internet connection. Your phone will also charge while it’s connected with the USB cord so there’ll be no drain on your battery.

Bluetooth tethering requires no cable but does require Bluetooth on your computer and smartphone. Android phones have this built in as of version 4.0 of the Android operating system, says Android Authority. PadGadget says that Bluetooth is available as of 4.3 of the iOS operating system on your iPhone or iPad. Any new device with access to mobile Internet from T-Mobile or other carriers will have the Bluetooth option. If you have an older model phone, check the version of the operating system first.

To setup this type of tethering, pair your smartphone to your computer just like you would a pair of Bluetooth headphones. Once the paring is complete, configure the connection type in Bluetooth on your computer as a network connection. The speed will be slower than with USB tethering and the phone’s battery will drain faster unless you keep it plugged in to charge. Only one computer can be connected to your smartphone this way.

WiFi tethering is the most flexible option since it turns your phone into a wireless network. Also called a mobile hotspot, more than one computer may connect to the phone at the same time. This is also the easiest tethering option to set up. You may have an option called Mobile Hotspot on your phone. Enable it and the phone will begin to broadcast a wireless signal, just like a router. You can configure it like a router by designating the SSID and telling it whether to broadcast the SSID or not. If the SSID is broadcasted then everyone around you can see your network and may try to connect to it.

This connection causes a big drain on your smartphone’s battery so you may want to keep your phone plugged in and charging if you’ll be online for a long time. The speed is also faster than Bluetooth but a bit slower than a USB connection.

Restrictions on Tethering

Android Central notes that there are some rules about tethering you need to be aware of. Carriers have placed restrictions on the use of tethering on their devices. It was once simple to connect a computer to a phone, but they used the same data plan. Carriers decided they wanted to be able to charge for each device using a data plan. So each one implements different policies regarding the use of tethering on their devices. Most require additional fees to unlock the tethering capability of your phone. This is especially true of the mobile hotspot option.

Article 82: Sochi Olympics

 Mobile Olympics: Options from the Modern Nerd Blog  

Hey guys, I hope everyone has been dealing with the snow, because it’s been a rough winter. There is some consolation though; the Olympics are back and in Sochi, Russia. As America competes to be the gold medal leader again, there are some cool ways to keep up with the action even if you can’t sit and watch them live. Smartphones, tablets, laptops, and computers can take advantage of apps created especially for the games. This week, the Modern Nerd is going to review a couple put out covering the competition, which are available on Apple and Android devices.

NBC Sports Live Extra

This app is available for iDevices and Android, and features full-event replays, highlights, and live streaming of events playing in real time. You can set reminders about events that you don’t want to miss, like the hockey tournament. Or curling, if that’s your thing…

On Demand video and the full host of features are available for free, so long as you have a cable television subscription and an online account to access.

Sochi 2014 Results

For Windows Phone, Android and iOS, you can get the winners of all the events, and current medal counts. Once you specify your favorite country, it will be highlighted and feature the most pertinent information for you. Just search for Sochi Results in your App Store to find this simple and useful app.

Sochi Guide 2014

If you need a schedule of the events, then this is the app for you. Even though the events don’t change drastically from year to year, their locations and times will be different based on the home country. If you are looking for pictures, maps, and stadium information at your fingertips, then the Sochi Guide is available for iOS, BlackBerry, Windows Phone, and Android.

USA! USA!

While the hockey tournament is always my favorite, and the most laden with rich history with the victory over Russia in years past, you can find any event that you are looking for, so don’t miss out on the opportunity to see the best athletes in the world compete for gold.

Even nerds can love sports guys, I know I do. Thanks for reading. Check out the latest from our blog by subscribing to our email list. 

Article 81: GPU Tandem Configurations

 If One is Good – Two Must Be Better

Hi there desktop PC’ers. Welcome back to another article in the Modern Nerd series. As my personal desktop has grown into the Frankenstein Monster that it is, there were intermediate steps. Adding components along the way as I could, and now I have my first experience firsthand with a multiple GPU system, so that will be our topic of the day.

What is that? Sounds Awesome!

Yeah, I know. AMD and NVIDIA graphics cards have the ability to link together and work as one card in your computer. Not all of them. Just some. The NVIDIA cards are called SLI, and the AMD cards are called CrossFire compatible.

So instead of taking that card that you paid 200 hundred dollars for a year ago and replacing it with a 400 dollar one, you can get comparable performance by adding the same card and linking them together on your motherboard. There are a long list of requirements, but I am going to try to give you guys the quick rundown to help you decide if this is something that you think is viable to help you get more power for less deniro.

Know Your Motherboard

Can you even fit two cards? Open up that case and take a look. Most motherboards have more than one PCI Express (Graphics Card or other expansion card) slot, but you will not benefit from a second card if you don’t have the RAM or processor to keep up. Computers are like chains in a way, they will only be as strong as their weakest link, or slowest component. A racecar of a GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) will not go very fast if it’s stuck behind a clunker of a CPU.

A quick glance through the manual of your motherboard’s operating manual (don’t worry, they are all available as PDF’s online) will give you more information about your specific setup.

Three? That’s Madness!

There are some boards that can run on three or four GPU’s. It is for the enthusiast set only of course, but know that you would not be limited to two cards.

Exact Matches Only

One more word of warning to those who might not know – GPU’s in a tandem configuration must be identical. You can’t mix and match, because the information will not be properly allocated across multiple cards to run one program. The drivers will not work, and you might end up causing harm to your components. Please be aware of your model card and its compatibility with an SLI setup.

Does it Work?

Yes!! I have had a great experience with my SLI cards. I run a benchmarking program to check out my computer’s performance during high-load applications, and I am getting framerates of 60 frames per second and above with all of the eye-candy turned on. I would definitely say that it is worth the effort to add to your system and improve it, if you fit into this category.

 

Thanks for reading. Check out the rest of the Modern Nerd content, available every two weeks on the Computer Fixer’s site, as well as the archives, which can be searched. Subscribe to our mailing list or like the page on facebook to get all of the updates when they are posted.