BOOT CAMP 185 (26/07//01)




We have something a little different for you this week and next as we're featuring ten essential PC accessories. These are not performance-enhancing devices and they won't stop Windows throwing the occasional wobbly but they can make your computer easier to use and possibly a little more reliable, moreover they won't break the bank, in fact the most of them cost less than £25. Here's the first batch of five.


PC TOOLKIT, £15 to £50

One day, and it will happen to you, you will have to take a screwdriver to your PC, whether it's to attach a printer cable or remove the lid to have a poke around inside, so where is that screwdriver? If you're the sort of person that always has to hunt around for tools or ends up using cutlery to undo screws then do yourself a favour and get a PC toolkit, before you damage something! Fortunately PCs are like Mecanno sets and you can put one together, or pull one apart with just a couple of simple screwdrivers, though most toolkits also include useful items like tweezers and pliers and mystery contraptions that look like those things for removing stones from horses hooves…

Maplin Electronics,0870 264 6000,




These days you need a whole line of mains sockets for the average PC. For starters there's three for the PC, monitor and printer then there's all the plug-in mains adaptors that power the speakers, external modem, scanner and all the other gizmos connected to your machine. What's more they all consume power even when the PC is switch off – just feel how warm they get...


This ingenious yet simple product can do away with at least one of those wasteful adaptor modules by tapping power directly from the PC. It fits into the back of the case, into one of the blanked out expansion slots; an adaptor lead plugs into one of the disc drive power cables. There's a voltage selector on the board that sets the output between 3 and 12 volts, and it comes with a 'universal' DC power plug with switchable polarity. If you're not averse to whipping the lid off your machine it's not difficult to fit – it should take about five minutes -- and you don't have to disturb any vital components.  

Hama UK, 01256 374 7000,




In addition to death and taxes two other things are certain, one day you will replace your PC, and sooner or later it will suffer a catastrophic failure. Both events can be traumatic but you can lessen the pain by preparing for the inevitable by fitting your PCs with a front-loading hard disc drive cradle in one of the empty blanked out drive bays. When you come to replace your present PC you can simply slot in the drive from the old machine and copy across data, e-mail messages, address books and bookmarks etc in just a few minutes. You could even use it to make a copy of your hard drive, for backup or emergencies. Alternatively, keep an old working PC on standby with a cradle, so you can slip in the drive from your present machine, if it packs up. They're cheap, reasonably easy to fit and one day it could save your bacon! Most PC accessory dealers



CABLE TIES, from £1

Have you had a look at the backside of your PC lately? It's not a pretty sight, on most set ups there's upwards of a dozen cables quietly entangling themselves into an impenetrable rats nest. Apart from looking terrible it makes adding or removing devices much more difficult, troubleshooting becomes a nightmare and there's always the chance that someone will trip up over a lead and send the whole lot crashing to the floor. All it takes to restore order is a set of cable ties, to neatly bundle or coil excessively long cables and separate leads from one another. Cable ties come in many different forms and are available from most electrical and DIY stores in packs costing a £1 or less, however, if you get a choice look for ones that can be undone, so you can re-use them if you need to change things around. Better still, look out for coloured Velcro type cable tidies, sold in hi-fi and video outlets, which are handy for separating cables according to function.





If you've got a digital camera or you are thinking about getting one you will quickly discover that getting an image from the camera into your PC may not be quite as easy as they make it look in the ads. Most cameras come with a USB or serial port connecting lead and download software, but this can sometimes be fiendishly difficult to install and configure, and file transfer can be very slow. The quicker and easier solution is a memory card reader. This is a device that plugs into your PC's USB socket and Windows treats it as an extra disc drive. All you have to do is take the memory card from your camera and pop it into the reader then drag and drop image files stored on the card into a folder on the PC. From there you can usually open them with a photo editor or paint program. In addition you can normally copy files from the PC to the card, and delete images, which saves time and camera battery power. Readers are available for the four commonest types of memory card, namely Compact Flash (CF), Multimedia Card (MMC), Smart Media and Memory Stick and prices start at less than £25.,


Next week – More PC Gadgets





Removable non-volatile (i.e. information is retained when power is removed) memory module used to store data – typically images and sounds – in portable devices like digital cameras and MP3 music players



Most PCs have two serial ports. One may be used by the mouse, the other by an external modem and other peripherals. Data is transferred relatively slowly, one bit at a time.  



Universal Serial Bus, high-speed industry standard connection system for peripherals including monitors, modems, digital cameras joysticks printers etc., that allows 'hot swaps', permitting connection and disconnection with the PC switched on



How many applications are running on your PC right now? It's easy to loose track and if your system's resources fall to dangerously low levels Windows will crash, often without warning. Windows 9x and ME has a built in monitoring utility but it's not enabled by default, there are two ways to get to it, via Start > Programs> Accessories > System Tools, or simply type 'RSRCMTR' into Run on the Start menu. This will put a little bargraph into the System Tray (next to the clock), if it shows two or more green bars you should be okay, double click the icon for more detailed information. It's well worth having this on display all of the time, to do that open the Start Up folder (Start > Programs) then go to Start > Programs > Accessories > System Tools, hold down the Ctrl key and drag the Resource meter icon into the Start Up folder and it will open automatically every time your PC boots up.  If by any chance you can't see Resource Meter in System tools go to Ass/Remove Programs in Control Panel and select the Windows Setup tab, double –click System Tools, check the item System Resource Meter, click OK and follow the on-screen prompts. 

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