Random Access   chris, kp & rob
In The Lab
From the 2006 Mail Bag
by chris

Greetings and Happy New Year! There are lots of cool things in store for us early on in 2007, like the new Intel® quad-core processors, DirectX 10 compatible video cards and, of course, Microsoft® Windows® Vista. While systems with Vista are already being staged for delivery along with retail boxed versions of Vista for the end of January, system builders may get a crack at installable media a week or two earlier. Video cards based on the nVidia 8800 series chipset are some of the first DirectX 10-compatible cards and are already on the market, and ATI is working hard to get their version ready as well. Why all this talk about CPUs, video and new operating systems? On Saturday, January 6, our in-store Tech Support will be presenting the first clinics of 2007 on How-to Build-Your-Own-PC (BYOPC) at 11:00 and again at 2:00 in all of our stores. During the demonstration and build presentation, Tech Support will cover everything from using product specifications to select components, avoiding ESD and other best practices for assembly, installation of components, and testing and troubleshooting your system. Then, on January 27, Tech Support will hold a hands-on workshop where those of you who want to build your own system can do so under the guidance of our Tech Support associates. Openings in the Workshops are limited and require pre-registration in the store to attend; your BYOPC components must be selected for purchase prior to the workshop. If you are interested, tech support or our Peripherals Sales Associates will help you select compatible components which can be held in Will-Call until the day of the workshop.

While our in-store Tech Support associates present the How-to Clinics, their primary role is to answer technical questions and give advice to customers in the stores. For those of you who purchase products from microcenter.com or who want to call for Tech Support, we have a toll-free Telephone Support group to take your calls (800-207-3434). Here at Random Access, we receive the occasional plea for help.

That being said, sometimes email help requests can be answered and expanded upon in the form of one of our monthly articles. Because I have been remiss in answering email requests, I will try to do a little catch-up and answer some that we received in the final months of 2006...

Q: All my PCs & printers are wired to Ethernet switch & Ethernet router. How can I connect my Ethernet router to external WiFi network? Do you have a WiFi receiver with Ethernet jack, NOT USB or PCMCIA or PCI? - Ed

Ed, There are a couple of ways to approach this; the most direct method would be to replace your current router with a WiFi router. This would take over the functions of routing your internal wired network devices out to the Internet, and add wireless access to any local systems giving them access to both the Internet and your LAN. The other method would be to add an access point or WiFi router running in 'access point' mode to your existing wired network. When running in access point mode, the router does not have anything connected to the WAN (Wide Area Network) port, and would normally have its DHCP feature disabled. This leaves just the wireless capability along with any local connections to your internal wired network. Just about every WiFi router would meet your requirement of supporting Ethernet rather then the other types of connections, although some may have printer ports or other I/O ports to allow you to share printers on the network without a PC acting as a print server.

Ethernet controllers using USB, PCMCIA (or CardBus) or PCI are not going to automatically make your network accessible by WiFi since they are intended to be used by the client system to attach to a wireless network. To use a WiFi network adapter in this fashion requires that the system it is installed in is on all the time, that it has a wired network connection to the rest of your network, and that some sort of Internet Connection Sharing or network "bridge" function is enabled on the system to link the wired and wireless networks.

When adding wireless capability to an existing network, don't forget to change the default security settings and password in your wireless access point or router. Require some sort of security encryption or MAC filtering to access the router, and enable or upgrade firewall software on your other internal computers.

Q: My Gateway will not open hotlinks in emails or on websites. If I have the address and can enter it into the browser, the website will open but when only a link is given, it will not open even with CTRL Click. - Marcene

A: Marcene, this could be caused by several things. Although the first item that comes to mind is security settings and changes made during one of many updates to both Microsoft Windows Internet Explorer and Microsoft Office. The correct answer probably depends on what version of browser you are running, and what program you are using for email. Programs like pop-up blockers can prevent web pages from opening in new windows, and they may not always give you an indication that a pop-up is being blocked. In Internet Explorer, the block pop-up feature should display an information bar at the top of the window indicating that a pop-up was blocked, even though you clicked on a valid web link. If you click on the info bar, you should get a list of options that includes the choice to temporarily allow pop-ups (only for that session) or to always allow pop-ups for this site. If this is a web site you visit often, and you trust the content and the links, you can choose to always allow pop-ups on the site. Otherwise, you must approve the message every time you connect.

It might be possible that some of these pictures and links can be blocked by anti-spyware or other protective programs or security settings. If they are being blocked by a particular security program, you may have to change some setting in that program or approve connections to the site. Some email and other programs may be determining what to block based on your Internet Security settings. If this is the case, and you do know and trust the web site you are trying to click on, then you can try adding the site to your trusted sites list in Internet Explorer to see if this helps. To do this, open Internet Explorer, click on the "Tools" menu and then select "Internet Options". Click on the tab marked "Security" and then select the "Trusted Sites" icon and click on the "Sites" button. Remove the check mark next to "Require server verification (https:)..." and enter the full site address in the box and click "Add".

A similar problem can occur with Outlook and some other email programs. Changes were made to Outlook that can block downloading web content in email you receive. In most cases, Outlook converts these messages to text-only and displays non-clickable web links in the body of the message. From what I can see in emails I receive this way, most of the time pictures will be blocked, but a text message appears instructing you to right click to download pictures. In addition to the option to download the pictures for a particular email, Outlook 2003 also has the choice to "Change the Automatic Download Settings." This determines if you will see pictures in every message, or only in ones you trust. Keep in mind that one method spammers can use to verify email addresses involves tracking web page requests for image files that are tagged with a unique code that ties it to your email. If you trust the sender or the website this came from, a better solution is to add the user to the safe senders list, or add the domain to the safe senders list. For example, say emails come from a special web address associated with "news.microcenter.com"; adding this URL to the safe senders list lets Outlook to download the pictures and web links on messages that appear to come from "news.microcenter.com" but would still block pictures and links from "email.microcenter.com". Adding the domain to the safe senders list would allow any message from microcenter.com to appear correctly in your inbox, no matter what the specific server is called (in this example the server names would include "news", "email" as well as "www").

Q: Hi I have a question. I accidentally deleted the Internet Explorer icon off my desktop trying to create my own home page like my boyfriends'. How do I reinstall it? Also what's the difference between CD-R, DVD+R, and DVD-R? Exactly what is the hard drive? Are you guys/ladies helpful with beginner's computer/windows for dummies/and all the components/know how to do? I can't even type without looking at the keyboard. Any help you can provide would be appreciated. Thank you so very much. - Darchelle

We try to be helpful, friendly, courteous, kind... (sorry, scout flashbacks). We try to be helpful to beginners because we were all beginners at one time. Getting good directions and some decent mentoring is something not everyone receives. Actually this email contains several questions, so let's take them one at a time:

A: How to undelete the Internet Explorer Icon: Restoring the Internet icon on the desktop should be a quick fix. You don't say which Operating System you are running, but under Windows XP, you should be able to right click on the desktop and select properties. Click on the tab labeled "Desktop" and click the "Customize Desktop" button at the bottom of the window. You should see Desktop icons at the top, with check boxes for "My Documents", "My Computer", "My Network Places", and the one you want to restore - "Internet Explorer". Add a checkmark in the box and click OK to save the change.

A: Exactly what is a hard drive? Once upon a time (I remember it well...) personal computers used cassette tapes to store files. This never worked well because it was slow, data was stored as audio sound, and as the tape stretched or deteriorated, causing errors in reading the information back. Another problem was that tape could only store information in a sequential fashion, and because these were audio tapes, there was no simple way to locate or jump to a specific point and restore a single file or program. Enter the floppy disk. Like magnetic tape, a floppy disk is a thin, flexible disk of plastic with a metallic-oxide coating used to record information. Instead of audio, a floppy disk uses the magnetic field to represent digital patterns of raw binary data. Other features include a logical directory or index representing where the data is stored on the disk, and this allows the computer to randomly jump directly to any track on the disk and start reading information. But floppy disks have several disadvantages: the amount of information that can be stored is limited and the risk of physical damage or contamination of the media because of its exposed surface is still a factor. By replacing the flexible plastic disk with a rigid metal one (most of the current hard disks use glass, not metal), and enclosing it in a protective case the contamination issue is pretty well eliminated. Hard disk refers to these rigid platters used in this type of drive. There are several basic advantages to the hard disk construction. As the disk speed increases, the read-write heads start to "float" above the surface of the disk on a cushion of air, further eliminating wear. This, combined with the rigid disk, allows for more precision in positioning the magnetic read-write heads. Increasing the speed of the disk rotation also means that data can be read or written to at higher rates. On the down side, the failure "disk crash" describes what happens when a read-write head touches the disk platter as a result of shock, jarring, or power failure. The usual result of a scratch or gouge to the surface of the disk is physically destroying any data recorded in that location. In a worst-case scenario, the delicate magnetic head gets ripped off of the mechanism and starts bouncing around inside causing even more damage to the platter surface.

A: What's the difference between CD-R, etc.? CD-R refers to Compact Disk Recordable media or drives. The actual media format is for a standard physical disk in terms of the size and spacing of the groove. Commercial CDs are molded and pressed much like a phonograph record, with microscopic "bumps" in between the grooves. These bumps scatter the light from the CD laser differently from areas without a bump and are read as data by the drive. Recordable CD media has a molded track within a special dye layer between the plastic and the metallic backing. The dye layer can be destroyed by the infrared laser in the CD-R drive, altering how much light reflects back from the metal layer. There are several different recording formats for compact disk media identified by different "book standards" that are used for recording data, music, video, etc. Think of these CD standards as defining where the information is being stored on the disk and if it has a computer-readable directory of the information available. Music CDs might only have limited text information about the name of the song, the artist, album title, etc., while a data CD can have any type of data, including pictures, video, test documents, computer programs, etc. A five inch CD can hold up to about 80 minutes of (uncompressed) audio, about 20 minutes of video (this depends largely on the resolution and compression used), or 700 MB of data. (The first CD format was formatted to hold only 650 MB or about 70 minutes of audio. Changing the spacing of the spiral track to make the edges closer together produced the extra capacity.) There is also a CD-RW media that uses a special metallic layer that changes its reflectivity based on how fast or slow it is allowed to cool during the burning process. CD-R media can only be burned once, since the dye layer is destroyed during the burn process. CD-RW media can be erased or changed by re-burning the layer with the new information.

A single layer DVD disk can hold about 4.7 GB of data (4700 MB). This translates to almost 9 hours of uncompressed audio or two hours of standard MPEG compressed video. There is also dual layer versions of DVDs that are actually two thin DVD disks glued together. By changing the focus of the laser in the drive, each layer can be read (or burned) independently. The difference between -R and +R is in the basic disk format, but both hold almost exactly the same amount of data and can be used to store audio, video, data or a combination of these, just like a CD. DVD media holds more information because the track size is smaller and closer together, and the "pits" and "lands" (dimples / bumps) that represent the data are also smaller than those on CDs. DVD-R is the format originally created for DVD players and approved by the DVD Forum (a definition of DVD is Digital Video Disk.) One difference between -R and +R is that the DVD+R format has more/better error checking in writing the data to the media than DVD-R. As with Compact Disk media, what you record on a DVD disk and how it is formatted by the program doing the recording determines the logical layout and placement of information on the media more than the actual physical differences. For example, you could capture a TV show or movie, burn it to a DVD-R or a DVD+R disk and play it back on a standard DVD player when you are done. This was not always so if you were using one of the very early DVD players, you might be limited to video that was only burned on DVD-R media, but almost every new player available for some time now can play back DVD-R, DVD+R, or even DVD-RW or DVD+RW disks. Just like CD-RW disks, RW disks are Re-Writable and can be altered over and over, while -R or +R disks can only be recorded to once. Most DVD recordable drives are now identified as DVD+/-RW drives to indicate they can burn either -R or +R media. What I did not include is the "next generation" of blue-laser optical media, namely Blu-ray and HD-DVD; but that's another story...

A: . Don't feel bad, I can't type either. I still look at the keyboard when I type, although after 25+ years of hunt-and-peck typing, I can move along pretty good, even without ever taking a real typing course. Practice doesn't make perfect, but it helps...

Q: What exactly do I need to build a custom PC? - Ray

A: Ray, the short answer to your question would be a CPU, motherboard, memory, hard disk, optical drive, power supply and case, and depending on the features of the motherboard, you may need a video card as well for a base system. Over and above this, you might want add-on cards for video capture, a modem, and some sort of CRT or flat screen monitor if you don't already have one available.

The long version involves matching all of the various component specifications to make sure all of the pieces work together. Rob and I covered the process in a series of early Random Access on "Build Your Own PC". We managed to stretch the process out into ten articles covering everything from the CPU, avoiding ESD, and even lighting effects. If you want a presentation where you can ask questions and get straight answers, show up for your local Micro Center BYOPC clinic on January 6 at 11:00 AM or 2:00 PM.

Q: Our local community recently got their web site up and running. I cannot get the URL to come up on my computer, I receive a message "This page cannot be displayed, please check spelling..." It comes up on everybody else's computer. I asked Comcast and they suggested clearing my cookies and clearing my history, which I did. That did not correct the problem. I believe it to be some type of security setting, but which one?? I use Norton Antivirus Any suggestions? - John

A: Since the website does come up on other computers, but not yours, it does indeed sound like some sort of security settings or other software-related blocking. As long as you can reach other web sites (which I have to assume you did since you submitted the question on our web form), then this is not a general connectivity issue. The web site or domain could be blocked at one of several points depending on what you have installed or configured. If none of these suggestions help, double check that it is actually your computer that is having the problem by either connecting to the site by using a different Internet connection, or attach a different computer (like a notebook) to your Internet connection and verify that you can reach the site. If no other computer can reach the domain using your network or Internet connection, then the problem lies outside your computer and its software, either in your network router or at the Internet Service Provider level.

Is the site blocked at the firewall? If you are using Zone Alarm, Norton Internet Security, or other software that includes a network firewall, the firewall may have the domain listed in a blocked sites list. Navigate the menus of your firewall software looking for a blocked or restricted sites list and verify the domain did not get added to the list somehow. You might also be able to add the domain name to the trusted sites list, but how a firewall would handle it if the name were in both lists is probably "not well".

Your web browser should also have a security section where trusted and restricted sites can be listed. In Internet Explorer, from a main browser window, open the "Tools" menu, select "Internet Options", click on the "Security" tab and then select "Restricted Sites" and click the "Sites" button to view the list of sites being blocked. If your community domain name appears in the list, select and remove it to allow access.

There is also a slim possibility it is being blocked by some sort of anti-spyware or other "protective" software. The easiest way to test this is to disable the various programs one by one either from their System tray icon or by using MSCONFIG to disable startup programs until you locate the one that is blocking the site. Once you have isolated the troublemaker, you need to examine its settings to remove the domain from its restricted list or add it to a trusted list.

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