Houston We Have a Problem 11



Ask Rick 142, 26/02/11


Time for a Change

My Vista desktop PC is now three years old and out of warranty.  Logging on each day the clock is now always a few hours slow which suggests a failing clock battery. The manual is not very helpful in this area but it advises that, it is necessary to record the System Setup screens before commencing. It fails to explain where these screens are located or what type of battery is required. It’s no great hardship having to reset the clock each day and, as I am rather wary about dabbling 'inside the box', I wonder whether anything will be adversely affected if I do nothing and the battery fails completely?

Ken Seaman, by email


The manufacturer is taking a boots and braces approach by suggesting that you record the settings on the BIOS setup program. However, it’s probably unnecessary as most PCs operate perfectly happily on the defaults. If you don’t want to take chances just call up the BIOS program by pressing the appropriate key or key combination. This is normally displayed immediately after switch on, e.g. ‘To enter Setup press F2’, etc. Either jot down the entries shown on each menu page or use your digital camera to take a series of screenshots.


Not replacing a dead or dying clock battery has no long-term consequences and nothing in Windows is seriously affected, providing you remember to reset the date and time after switch on. If you don’t, and your PC is not set to automatically check time and date on the Internet then usually the worst that can happen is that newly created files will be incorrectly date-stamped.



Fixed Asset?

My router frequently drops the connection with my wireless printer. I have been advised that to overcome this, I need a Static IP address. My ISP tells me that this would cost an extra £5 per month.  Is this a standard charge?

Gerald Timmis, by email


You don’t need a static IP address. Your IP address is the unique numeric code that identifies your PC on the Internet, so that web pages and emails etc. can be sent to your computer. On most broadband connections your IP address is set by your ISP and it changes if the connection is interrupted or you switch the router off. A fixed IP address is usually only needed by businesses or individuals who operate their own web servers and actually need an unchanging Internet addresses. The wireless connection between your printer and router is entirely local and uses a fixed ‘internal’ IP address that is set by the router. The dropped connection is probably due to a weak signal or interference from another nearby wireless device, in which case try moving the printer closer to the router, or manually switching to another wireless channel in the router’s setup menu.



Little and Loud?

I need a high quality portable recorder to record a choir, and also to play the recorded music back at a high volume. Can I do this with one device, or would I need to plug it into a stereo system to play it back?

Udita Everett, by email


Most portable digital audio recorders have only a small monitor speaker so yes, you will have to plug it into an amplifier or PA system if you want the playback to be loud enough for the choir to hear. On the other hand, if you only need it to be heard in a small room, say, they you may be able to get away with the built-in speakers on a laptop PC, in which case you can also use it as a recording device. All you need is a decent stereo microphone and a freeware recording application, like our old friend, Audacity (http://goo.gl/frrBS), which, depending on the microphone and PC hardware, is capable of making near broadcast quality recording. If that doesn’t work out you can always plug the laptop into an amplifier, or amplified speakers to boost the volume.



Disappearing Data

For the last two months our broadband usage has exceeded the 10Gb cap imposed by our ISP. Our use of the computer and the content has not generally changed over the past three years, but now according to the ISP we are averaging 1Gb per day. We have contacted their technical department who suggested changing the security key of our wireless router. This we have done with no noticeable difference in usage.  Any suggestions?

Frank McGuigan, by email


As a matter of urgency you should closely watch your router when all of the PCs and devices that connect to it are switched off. If any of the router’s activity lights blink then your connection may well have been hacked by someone close by. If the lights remain steady when you are not using the connection then there’s probably something on your PC soaking up your data allowance. It may be completely innocent, like programs seeking routine updates, or it could be a malware of Spambot infection but either way, you need to verify your ISPs download figure and the simplest way to do that is with a free application like BitMeter (http://goo.gl/NYRml). This tells you how much data is flowing in and out of your PC, and it logs the results, so you can see, over the course of a few days, if there are any suspicious ‘spikes’, which may help you identify the cause of the problem.



Thin Red Line

My Sony laptop has recently developed a display problem. A vertical thin red line goes from the top to the bottom of the display. This line is permanently present, as soon as the display powers up. Is there a cure for this?

Derek Koelling, by email


I am fairly sure it’s going to be due to a faulty LCD panel or a problem with the flat ribbon cable that connects the display to the laptop’s motherboard but you can easily confirm this by plugging a known good monitor into the machine’s VGA monitor socket. If the red line isn’t on the external monitor display be warned that replacing a display panel can easily cost more than the machine is worth. Cable faults are usually easy to fix but either way it needs expert attention. If the red line also appears on the monitor that suggests an even bigger problem, probably with the video adaptor and that usually means a new motherboard, which can be very expensive. 




© R. Maybury 2011 2401


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