January 2008


The Colour of Sound

Hello Rick, my soundcard appears to have five sockets; black, orange, green, blue, pink.  The speakers are plugged into the green socket and the microphone into the pink. Could you tell me what the blue is for ('Line-In')? What are the black and orange for? (Yes, I have looked in my manual!).

Grant Mangham


A. Unfortunately there’s no industry standard for soundcard sockets and some manufacturers use proprietary colour schemes to match the colours of plugs and sockets for idiot-proof installation. Nevertheless there are some loose conventions, and as you have pointed out blue is usually stereo line input, pink is for the microphone and green is for stereo line out, headphones or powered speakers.


Things start to get a bit more complicated on soundcards and motherboard adaptors that have multi-channel  ‘5.1’ and ‘7.1’ surround sound capabilities and SPDIF digital outputs. Again, don’t take this as gospel but the orange socket normally carries the mono centre-front and sub-woofer outputs, the rear stereo channel socket is generally black and on 7.1 channel card there should be a grey socket for the mid surround speaker channels.


However, don’t just rely on the colours, most soundcards and motherboards also have a little symbol stamped into the metal next to the case, or some sort of label, so double check before you plug anything in.


By the way, 5.1 and 7.1 refer to the number of channels in a surround system. In a 5.1 channel system there are the normal right and left stereo channels, two rear surround channels, a high quality centre front dialogue channel, and the narrow bandwidth sub-woofer channel, which carries only low frequency sounds and effects (it’s the .1 channel). In a 7.1 channel system there’s an additional pair of speakers placed mid-way between the front stereo and rear surround speakers.  And in case you were wondering, SPDIF or Sony Philips Digital Interconnection Format is an optical (infrared) connection system that carries digitally encoded and compressed multi-channel sound between decoders and multi-channel amplifiers over a fibre-optic cable.



DVD in Windows 98

Hi Rick, we are using Windows 98 but seem unable to play and watch conventional DVDs through the system - can you help please?

Ian Bradley


A. It may surprise some PC owners to learn that until comparatively recently DVD replay was not a function of Windows. Even now it’s only possible with versions of XP and Vista with the Windows Media Centre option, and this is true even if your PC or laptop came with a DVD drive.


In order to watch DVDs you need a fully-fledged DVD player program or a media player, like Windows Medial Player (WMP), which has been included with all versions of Windows since Windows 95. However, WMP on its own isn’t enough, it needs a software component called a ‘codec’. Its job is to unscramble the data on the disc, and I’m guessing this is what your PC lacks.


Codecs are available for most versions of WMP, though if you are still using the one that came with early releases of Win 98 that might not be possible, but there are alternatives. I suggest downloading an excellent free Open Source program called Media Player Classic, and this includes a DVD codec as standard. It’s also small, very easy to use and consumes relatively few resources so it’s ideal for older and slower PCs. You’ll find a link to the download in the Software section of PCTopTIps. By the way, if by some chance your problem is that you could once, but now cannot watch DVDs – which suggests you have a suitable player program and codecs installed – then it may just be something as simply as a dirty drive. Otherwise try uninstalling and reinstalling your DVD player software, or install Media Player Classic.



Master Boot Record Malarkey

Hi Rick, I have looked at your site but cannot find the answer to my problem.  Basically, I do not know how the MBR works, I do not know how to deal with the error messages like ‘winload.exe is missing or corrupt’ and ‘NTLDR is missing’.


Since I installed Vista Ultimate, I have cheerfully run Vista/XP on one hard drive, and Vista on another, waiting for Vista to accept the many programs it still rejects.  I recently decided the time had come to use my 2 hard drives for only one OS, something I have done many times in the past, except this time all hell was let loose. Basically I lost all access to my second hard drive containing Vista. Changing the boot sequence in the BIOS produced the NTLDR error message, and from time to time, Vista appeared as a choice during boot up but selecting it produced the second error message.

Surfing the net produced to fixes to try out but none of them worked. I have seen all sorts of software advertised to solve MBR problems, but I find them confusing. I have returned to dual boot on one hard drive and Vista on the other. When I had XP and Windows on separate hard drives, I had to change the boot sequence to access the other hard drive. Now the OS seems to take over and produce the booting sequence. Is the MBR written only on XP?  Can you erase it?  Why doesn't formatting erase it, since reformatting and reinstalling have not solved my problems?
John Richardson


A. So many questions, but let’s begin with a quick and dirty guide to what the MBR or Master Boot Record is, and what it does. This is the first sector on a hard disc drive, it stores the ‘partition table’  -- a sort of index – detailing the contents of the other sectors and partitions on the drive. When you first switch on your PC this is the first part of the drive to be read and it tells the computer where to look for the boot loader or NTLDR (NT Loader – used to boot up Windows) and the operating system files. Because of the MBRs’ importance and location it is protected, difficult to access and it is extremely unwise to mess around with it.


Usually any attempts to tinker with the MBR ends in disaster, even seasoned experts give it a wide berth, however, there are ways and means. My preferred option is to give up trying to fix it – when in a hole stop digging – and try something else instead. I suggest installing a copy of the Linux operating system.


This will effectively take over the booting of your PC, repairing or installing a new MBR and BootLoader program. During installation it will create a new partition for itself, using free space on the drive (most Linux ‘Distribution’ need only 20Gb or so), and leave your Windows installation intact. After installation the Linux bootloader will appear on the screen, giving you the option to boot into Linux, or any of the copies of Windows on your drives; (this can be changed, in Linux, to boot into Windows by default). Best of all you’ll have the option of booting into a near bullet-proof OS if Windows gives you any more trouble, so you can continue working and extract files, surf the web send and receive emails and so on. There’s a simple to follow guide to installing and multi-booting with Linux in Boot Camp 446.



Multi Clipboard Solution

Hi Rick, is it possible to have more than one item of copy/paste text stored on the keyboard-computer? For example (and this doesn't work): Ctrl/C/1 copy text 1, Ctrl/V/1 paste text, Ctrl/C/2 copy text 2, Ctrl/V/2 paste text 2. It would be very useful if it were possible.

George O’Sullivan


A. I think you mean the Windows Clipboard, in which case the answer is yes. There is such a thing as a multiple clipboard, or clipboard ‘manager’, that can store several copied items. There used to be one in Windows, but I’m going way back now, to Windows 95. Nowadays you have to use a third-party program, and there are dozens of them to choose from. The good news is most of them are completely free. If you are a heavy-duty clipboard user then I would start with something like 101 Clips, which despite the name, stores up to 25 items. If you want to see what else is on offer then there’s a very good selection on the Tucows website.



Which Print Icon?

Hi Rick, I have never discovered whether it is better, correct or recommended to click on the ‘Print’ on the File Menu or to use the Print icon that appears with whatever program is in use? Does it matter?

Peter F. Penney


A. There is no right and wrong way, and just to confuse matters, in most applications you can fire up the printer by pressing Crtl + P. The print icon you see on most program’s toolbars is generally the quickest option as it usually just prints out whatever you’re working on, or seeing on the screen, which is normally all you want when using a word processor etc. Print or Print Set-up on the File menu is what you would use if you want to change some aspect of the printout. It usually opens up your printer’s Properties menu, or the applications print set-up or layout menu. For example, you would use one of these options if you want to change the paper size or type, print multiple copies, change from portrait to landscape view, alter the borders or margins, print quality or change the size or position of whatever you are printing.



Stop Digging!

Hi Rick, my Internet Explorer browser is unable to connect to any web sites but Windows Diagnostics tells me there are no connection problems (I have also checked as suggested by IE to ensure that my SSL 2.0 and 3.0 and TLS 1.0 protocols are ticked and they are). I believe this problem started when I uninstalled Panda Anti virus as my free period had expired (although I was unable to totally uninstall) and tried to install A-Squared anti virus which I was unable to do and then my computer crashed and I needed to boot in safe mode and do a system restore as well! I have RegCure and Error Smart installed also but no cure there also


My ISP is AOL, it connects perfectly and I am using Vista Home Premium and I have now installed Avast! anti virus but I cannot update it as my computer will not connect to their server. All part of the same problem. The MS website does not seem to have any suggestions and wont allow me to download Explorer as it is already installed. Am I safe to uninstall Explorer and then will I be able to re-install from Microsoft or is there another solution I can try. I am not a complete novice but also I am not terribly experienced either. Any assistance will be appreciated

John Hartley


A. As I read through this long tale of woe I couldn’t help recalling the old nursery rhyme about the old lady who swallowed a fly (and for those unfamiliar with it, she went on to swallow a spider, then succession of progressively larger creatures, each one meant to catch it its predecessor…).  Denis Healey’s famous quote about holes also springs to mind (‘when you are in one stop digging’), but I digress.


I’m not sure how you managed to download all of these programs if Internet Explorer isn’t working but as a general rule, if everything suggests that you have a solid connection to the Internet but you can’t go online the usual culprit is a Firewall or security program blocking access. Temporarily switch them all off, and the simplest way to do that is right-click the program’s icons in the System Tray, next to the clock. However, some of these programs can still operate in the background so uninstall them one by one and see if that beings back your connection.  Still no luck? Then get a friend to download a copy of Firefox browser, install that on your PC and see if that works, if so then it’s starting to look as if IE has a problem, in which case you can safely uninstall it and use Firefox to download the latest version.



MMF to MP3 Converter

Hi Rick, can you help a silver Surfer please? My problem concerns MMF Format music files. I have downloaded some music in this format but I am unable to either change the format into MP3 or play it on my Windows Media Player (which does not recognise the format). I would like to do both if possible; I have Windows XP Professional Service pack 2.

Bob Carn


A. I have to say I’m a little puzzled. As far as I’m aware the only audio format with an .mmf extension is SMAF or Synthetic Music Mobile Application, which is mostly used for mobile phone ringtones – please correct me if I am wrong.


I suppose you might want to hear your downloaded ringtones on your PC, though I can’t for the life of me see why, but if that’s what you want then who am I to argue and a little freeware utility called PSMPlay, which converts from mmf to midi format, should do the trick. The download seems to come and go but you should be able to find it by Googling the name or try this link:  http://encoderx.eu/mobile/index.php?id=1



Scary Registry Cleaner?

Hi Rick, after hearing such good reports about the Registry cleaner utility RegSeeker I downloaded it onto my computer. My question is: Is it usual for it to run for hours on end because after it had brought up over 2600 files I decided to abort the operation. There didn't seem to be many green files, mostly red. I would like to run it again but will wait until I hear from you to say the above is normal. I consider myself fairly competent on the computer but know nothing about the registry and I hear so many times 'do not mess with the Registry if you are not clear on what you are doing'!

Roberta Sandeman


A. I certainly have no hesitation in recommending RegSeeker and it’s about as safe as a Registry cleaner can be, and of course, it free, plus, unlike other some free or commercial programs, it doesn’t try to sell you anything, or deliberately infect your machine.


One of the best features of RegSeeker is the backup facility, so if something does go wrong, it can usually be safely undone. However, if you want to take a boot and braces approach always manually backup the Registry first -- see this TopTip for how to do it.


Since this is the first time you’ve run RegSeeker I am not surprised it found a lot of errors, though 2600 is definitely more than I would have hoped to see. I would proceed cautiously in that case, so definitely make a manual backup first and when you open RegSeeker and run Clean the Registry, uncheck all but one of the ‘Keys’ – i.e. just leave HKEY Classes_Root – run the cleaner and fix any problems it finds, reboot, make sure all is well, backup the Registry again then move on to the next key and repeat the exercise until all of the keys have been cleaned.  


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