Hardware Tips

SAN FRANCISCO (03/03/2000) - The most pernicious threat to your PC's data isn't a dead hard drive, a rogue virus, or a stray bolt of lightning. It's human nature. The only surefire way to protect your files is to back them up. And that takes time and money, two things most people don't like to spend. Here are a few ideas that can speed the task of backing up while keeping costs to a minimum.

If you have relatively few data files to back up, choosing the right storage media is easy. If you measure your files in kilobytes, they'll fit on a floppy disk. If you have megabytes of data, you'll need the storage space of a Zip or a CD-RW drive. And to handle gigabytes, choose an Iomega Corp. Jaz drive or a similar device. Of course, the more data you back up, the more it costs and the longer it takes.

Still, backing up your entire hard disk--OS, applications, and all--has some great advantages. With everything saved, you can easily replace a dead hard disk and immediately restore Windows and all your applications and data without tedious reinstallations. In some cases, overwriting a troublesome install of Windows with an earlier, cleaner copy can save you hours of effort spent tracking down software incompatibilities or damaged program files.

Unfortunately, backing up an entire drive requires lots of storage space. Using a 100MB Zip drive to back up gigabytes of data is inconvenient at best. And larger-capacity drives such as CD-RW or Jaz drives, though faster, cost well over $200.

For a happy medium, consider buying a second hard drive. An 8GB drive costs between $100 and $200. And hard disks are relatively easy to install. These days just about every CMOS program has a hard disk autodetect feature. And unlike some removable storage drives, EIDE hard drives have few Windows-related compatibility problems or driver issues. Compared to most removable storage devices, EIDE hard drives are extremely fast, making them ideal for backing up or restoring data.

There is one catch: Because hard drives aren't removable, you can't store your backups off-site. And in case of fire or other disaster, you should keep a backup of any vital data in a different location.

SEND IN THE CLONES

A second hard drive lets you keep an exact copy of your working hard drive with virtually no effort, especially if your system has a good hard disk controller.

Promise Technology's $99 PCI-based FastTrak ATA Raid Controller hard disk controller will automatically replicate on your backup drive every change you make to your original hard drive, thus maintaining an exact, timely duplicate.

After FastTrak is installed, backups are completely automatic. You never have to raise a finger. But instantly updating data can work against you, too. Any data corruption or human error--such as accidentally deleting or overwriting an important file--is instantly transferred to the backup drive.

One alternative to relying on the FastTrak is to use a second conventionally installed hard drive to back up your primary drive. This may require occasional manual data backup, but executed properly, this plan offers far more flexibility in recovering data and fixing intermittent software problems.

Windows 98 comes with a useful backup utility, functionally but unimaginatively called Backup; you can find it under Start*Programs*Accessories*System Tools*Backup. Backup can move all of your primary drive or selected parts of it to your second drive. And you can arrange for subsequent backups to copy only new or altered files--a big time-saver if you want to back up your entire hard drive, Windows and all.

IMAGE IS EVERYTHING

Windows' backup is great for backing up data files, but after a hard disk crash, you may not be able to get your copied version of Windows up and running. That's because Backup may not have copied hidden or system files that Windows needs to run, and the settings in your MSDOS.SYS file may need to be altered. Also, corrupted files may slip into your Windows backup long before you see their effects--which may range from strange mouse behavior to system crashes.

None of the above is a problem if you create an exact image of your hard disk.

You can do this with an imaging program such as PowerQuest's $50 Drive Image 2.

This powerful utility can copy and compress your entire drive--system files, hidden files, your disk's file allocation table, and everything else--into a single file that can be stored on your second hard disk and restored at will.

My advice is to get PowerQuest's PartitionMagic and create three partitions on your hard disk. Then install Windows into partition C:, your apps in D:, and your data in E:. Now you can make images of each partition. Subsequently, whenever Windows starts misbehaving and you can't isolate the trouble, you can restore your original Windows partition. Just remember to update the images after you add any new hardware or software and confirm that your system is functioning properly.

MY SOUND BITES

I JUST BOUGHT a stellar new four-channel sound system for my PC, with four satellite speakers and a huge subwoofer. But when I plug it into my one-year-old Pentium II PC with its OEM Sound Blaster sound card, I can't get two of the satellite speakers to work.

Patrick Applegate, Sacramento

There are a couple of possible solutions. In the first place, to obtain four-channel sound on a PC, you need a sound card that supports four channels.

All of Creative Labs' Sound Blaster Live audio cards support four channels.

The easiest way to check is to examine the sound card's ports on the back of your PC. If you can see two line-out jacks--one for each pair of channels--then the card supports four channels.

If, on the other hand, your card has only a single line-out jack, you can use an adapter available from Radio Shack to split the two-channel signal and send it to all four speakers. But to get true four-channel sound, you'll need to buy a new sound card.

If your Sound Blaster card does support four channels, and you're sure that you have attached both pairs of satellite speakers to the correct jacks on the card, your software may not be properly configured. To find out, first open Control Panel's Multimedia applet (Sounds and Multimedia in Windows 2000).

Then, under the Audio tab, confirm that the Playback box is set for your sound card. Next, click the Advanced button and make certain that the Speaker Setup reflects your current audio configuration. Finally, select Control Panel*System*Device Manager*Sound Cards*Properties, and confirm that your audio card has been set up to handle four-channel sound.

DVD'S BOUNDARIES

RETURNING FROM Asia, I purchased DVD movies for the flight home. But an error message on my laptop said that the DVD-ROM drive was not configured to play the disks. The same thing happened on my PC at home. Are there any restrictions on foreign-bought DVDs, and is there a way to get around them?

Katy Hancock, Los Angeles

To discourage piracy of DVD movies, DVD players and disks have been marked with a regional code that prevents a DVD player sold in one region from playing a DVD movie sold in a different region. Each geographic region is denoted by a number from one to six. The United States is part of region 1.

Each DVD disk is set to play only in its assigned region. To identify the region of the DVD disk, look for a small globe with the region's number printed on the top of the disk. No number? Then the disk may be readable in all regions.

The region code for DVD drives, on the other hand, can usually be reset a handful of times--typically a maximum of five to nine times. After a drive reaches the preset limit, however, you'll have to return it to the manufacturer for service. You can find lots of hacks for resetting DVD players posted on the Internet, but be warned: Performing one of these operations may invalidate your DVD player's warranty.

For additional hardware tips, see www.pcworld.com/heres_how. Send your questions and tips to kirk_steers@pcworld.com. We pay $50 for published items.

Kirk Steers is a PC World contributing editor.

Shed a Little More Light

DOES YOUR MONITOR appear a tad dark and dingy even after you've switched the brightness to its maximum setting? Some graphics adapters--usually newer and higher-end adapters with 3D capability--have an additional brightness control as part of the graphics adapter controls. Right-click the Windows Desktop and select Properties. On the Settings tab, click the Advanced button. Examine each tab for a setting labeled 'Gamma Correction' or something similar. Adjust it to your liking.

Drive Image 2

Street price: $50; PowerQuest; 800/379-2566; www.powerquest.comPRODUCT INFO NO. 675FastTrak ATA Raid ControllerStreet price: $99; Promise Technology; 800/888-0245; www.promise.comPRODUCT INFO NO. 676PartitionMagic 5Street price: $70; PowerQuest; 800/379-2566; www.powerquest.comPRODUCT INFO NO. 677.

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