Is XP Service Pack 3 Safe Yet?

Hi Rick, I have a yellow shield icon at the bottom right of my PC and when I click on it, it brings up a MS automatic install of updates. When I click install it says it is going to install Windows Service Pack 3 if I agree to usual terms and conditions. I seem to remember seeing info that there had been initially niggling problems with SP3 and was wondering if it is now safe to go ahead with this update. Are there any major advantages with SP3 over SP2 and should I have it on my PC until Vista settles down? The advice on the web is inconclusive and baffling.

David Braisher.


A. In fact the distribution of SP3 has gone suprisingly smoothly, especially when you consider how many computers were involved in the mass update. Unlike SP2, which included a lot of new code – some called it XP Mk II – this most recent Service Pack simply rolled-up previous updates and included a few relatively uncontroversial tweaks. There have been some glitches, though, and these have been mostly confined to PCs using AMD processors and running Norton software. The problem manifests itself as a random reboot. Fortunately fixes appeared soon after the release of SP3 and there’s an update at on the Symantec support site at: http://tinyurl.com/6kgle7. Otherwise it seems to be okay, but as usual the advice is not to take chances, so before you install make sure that any irreplaceable data has been safely backed up, and set a new System Restore point (SP3 also sets one, but you can’t be too careful). If something goes wrong you can uninstall SP3 and provided your anti virus software is up to date, you have a decent firewall, stay away from dodgy web sites and refrain from opening unexpected attachments, you can live without it.



Lost Documents

Hi Rick, I use Windows XP and during a recent very necessary tidying up all the folders in My Documents was irretrievably lost. (Please don’t ask). The My Documents folder is on the drive but it is now empty. Is there a simple way re-establish the set of sub-folders, which should be in the folder, either by a download or by manually entering them? I want to try to avoid re installing XP due to all the other programmes involved.

Eric L Staley


A. If you think there’s a chance that the folders might still exist somewhere on your PC -- and even if you deleted them they may still be recoverabe -- then try an excellent freeware utility called PC Inspector. You’ll find a link to the download in the Software section of PCTopTips Here


If you are absolutely sure that the data is lost beyond recovery then you can reset and restore the My Documents folder, and its contents with a Registry command. Go to Run on the Start menu and in the box type the following and click OK: 

rundll32 mydocs.dll,PerUserInit



Favourite Solution

In saving my Favourites file to disk I have somehow lost my Favourites list in Internet Explorer - it is just blank. I have reloaded into the Windows folder my saved Favourites folder but no change. My Favourites folder has a large yellow star as part of the name. I realise I have messed something up, but don't know how to retrieve the original Favourites. Help!

John Pether


A. I think I can see what has happened. Instead of copying the Favourites folder you probably moved it to the disk, there should have been a warning message but I suspect you just clicked OK. The reason that it doesn’t work, now that you have ‘reloaded’ it, is because you’ve put it in the wrong place; it belongs in your User folder, not the Windows folder. In Windows XP it should be in C:\Documents and Settings\<yourname>, in Vista it lives in C:\users\<yourname>. The missing star icon is easily restored by right-clicking on the Folder icon, select Properties > Customize tab, Change Icon and select a suitable looking star from the icon library.



Lust for Speed

Hi Rick, of the current crop of Vista friendly Norton progs, which one has got the old Speed Disk hidden within? Maybe at the age of 83 I'm going blind or senile, but I just cannot find it. Help please.

Peter Carr


A. Speed Disk has indeed had a chequered history, and not many people know that way back, in the 1980s an early version was licensed to Microsoft, who bundled it into DOS and Windows and called it ‘Defrag’.  Speed Disk has been revamped many times over the years, but as the need to frequently defrag hard drives has receded – once or twice a year is enough, even on well used XP and Vista machines – so it has tended to be withdrawn from various Norton/Symantec products. It’s still around, though, but the only place I’m fairly sure you can find it is as part of Norton System Works, including the Basic Edition 12, which you can pick up for around £30.



Devious Downloads and Mystery Activity

Quite often, and for no discernable reason, my laptop will start downloading something, often quite large, and it isn't a Microsoft update.  Also, unrelated but just as frequently, the processor bursts into life, working frantically and making extensive disc accesses for several minutes.  I don't believe that there is anything Machiavellian going on as I have various run

time protections, I scan my machine regularly and I ensure that the programs opened on start up are the least possible.  Nevertheless, I would be keen to know what is going on.

Ray Halligan


A. Providing your anti-virus software is up to date, you have an effective two-way Firewall and carry out regular malware scans then the mystery downloads are almost certainly just virus signature files, Microsoft updates, and the various other programs and browser toolbars on your computer phoning home. The latter can be up to all sorts of mischief, sending heaven knows what information from your machine so you should keep an eye on them, and in most cases switch them off by disabling their Internet updaters and ‘Services’ from the Start Up list on the Microsoft Configuration utility (type msconfig in Run or Search on the Start menu). If you have any concerns that your network security has been compromised then install and run a little freeware utility called LookatLan.


If you are getting a lot of disc activity when the PC is offline, and you have less than 1Gb of RAM then it’s probably Windows trying to manage its resources by shuffling data back and forth between the RAM chips and the virtual memory on the hard drive. The solution is simple, upgrade your memory. XP needs at least 1Gb, but it will run even smoother with 2Gb; Vista is even more demanding and 2Gb is the starting point.


Windows XP and Vista spend a fair amount of time indexing your hard drives; this helps to speed up searches but if you’re not in a desperate hurry you can safely disable the indexing function by right-clicking on its icon in Windows Explorer or My Computer. Select Properties and you’ll find the option on the General tab. Badly fragmented drives churn data, so if you haven’t defragged recently (and two or three times a year is usually more than enough) run the defrag utility. If you are running out of hard disc space the drive can be quite busy as well, in which case it’s time to upgrade.



Slave to Misfortune

Hi Rick, I’ve just installed a second SATA drive. All went well on installation, with BIOS assigning the drive to channel 1 as a slave drive. Windows recognised the drive and formatted it. I’ve transferred my photo folders to it. There’s just one problem. When I reboot the computer the drive is not recognised by BIOS! If I turn the machine off and immediately switch back on then the drive’s recognised and Windows boots normally.


I’ve read that some drives take time to initialise and could lead to problems – could this be happening here?

Paul Davies


A. I don’t know about SATA drives taking time to ‘initialise’; that sounds a like a fob-off, dreamt up by incompetent tech support people… The most likely cause for your difficulties are an out of date BIOS. If your PC is more than a couple of years old, which sounds likely if you are now having to install a slave drive, then it is quite possible that the BIOS has been revised a couple of times, possibly more, in order to sort out glitches like this, which often do not surface until a mobo has been out ‘in the wild’ as it were for a few months.


However, before you pay a visit to the motherboard manufacturer’s website, to check for BIOS updates, go to Administrative Tools in Control Panel, and work your way to Computer Management > Disk Management. Right click on the slave drive, select Properties and on the General tab make sure ‘indexing is checked. This will help to make sure that Windows looks for the drive when it loads. While you are there, on the Security tab select your Username, or Administrator, and make sure everything down to Write is checked. If the drive still isn’t consistently recognised then it’s off to the find that BIOS update.



iPlayer Struggling to Stream

I can stream 4OD and ITV without problems. Sometimes I can stream iPlayer successfully but usually I get the programme ident and then nothing, unless you count a spinning circle as entertainment!  Success has come at 2.30 am but that's not very convenient is it?  It looks as though the BBC cannot cope with the demand except at dead of night but could this really be true or am I doing something wrong?

David Evans


A. The fact that you can stream programmes from other providers, and that iPlayer will eventually work, albeit at a less than convenient time, suggests that there’s nothing wrong with your setup, though it is worth checking your broadband connection speed, just to make sure that you are getting something close to what you’re paying for.


You’ve correctly identified the root cause of the problem, which is the runaway success of iPlayer but others are to blame for the sluggish performance, and in particular certain ISPs who use a technique called ‘Traffic Shaping’, to limit the volume of iPlayer traffic on their networks. It is a problem and recent figures indicate that over 250,000 TV programmes are being downloaded and streamed from the BBC every day. Unfortunately if your ISP is creating the bottleneck – and there’s no easy way to find out as this is not the sort of thing they like to admit -- there’s little you can do about it, apart from complaining, or moving your account elsewhere.



Getting Attached to BT Yahoo

Hi Rick, can you tell me how to reduce picture size when sending an email? My PC uses Vista and emails are with BT Yahoo mail. I get as far as browsing for files as attatchments and then when image is chosen I right click and reduce the size of image to a more reasonable size. At this point when I double click (Left), the image does not go into the compose e-mail but only a blank screen appears. When I don't reduce image size all is ok on double click and image appears as file attachment. Can you please help?

Robert Connelly


A. In Windows Vista the facility to reduce the size of a photograph and send it as an attachment is designed to work with Windows Mail as the default email program. It can be persuaded to work with some other popular email clients (see options in Default Programs on the Start menu) but as far as I’m aware BT Yahoo Mail is not one of them. I don’t like it or use it, so if someone knows better or has a workaround please let me know).


My not very elegant solution would be reduce the size of the pictures you want to send using a freeware program, like PhotoFiltre or PaintNet both of which have effective and easy to use file compression options.   



No Fan of Laptops

Dear Rick, for some unknown reason, the fan on my laptop has stopped working. The strange thing is, the laptop is not getting hot like it used to; in fact it's barely warm. Electrical connection is fine, and all systems appear to be working well, and I don't really know why I'm complaining! It's just spooky without the fan noise! I left the laptop on all day yesterday, and it didn't heat up, nor did the fan cut in. Can you put my mind at rest please?

Gill Bishop


A. I cannot and you can be assured that the fan is there for a good reason. I suspect that the only thing that stopped your laptop from cooking was the fact that you weren’t running any heavyweight applications, and possibly the cooler weather we’ve been having recently. Normally when a laptop fan fails the CPU temperature rises quickly and it shuts down automatically within a few minutes, to protect it from damage. You need to get this sorted out, you appear to have been very lucky so far, but I really wouldn’t push it. A replacement fan plus fitting will probably cost you between £20 and £50, a fried CPU will almost certainly cost more to replace than the machine is worth, and only you can say how much of a loss of the machine and the data it contains will be…


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