Monitoring Performance

Just how good is your PC monitor? The chances are you have no idea, either because it was supplied with your PC and you had no say in the specification, or you have nothing to compare it with or measure it against. Well, now you have. Itís called Online Monitor Test and itís a comprehensive set of test patterns and screens that really put your monitor through its paces. The contrast test is especially tough and monitors that can discriminate between shades of black that vary by just 2 percent are few and far between. Trailing is another demanding task and it highlights your monitorís ability, or lack of it, to handle movement and rapid changes in colour and contrast. Itís very easy to use and the results are clear to see.



Dual Personality

If youíre using twin monitor users you will be interested in this little freeware application, called Dual Monitor Tools. For the benefit of those who havenít yet experienced the joys of multi monitor operation, allow me to explain. Having two (or more) monitors connected to your desktop PC allows you to multi-task more easily, so you can be word processing on one screen, whilst browsing, emailing or Facebooking on the other. In Windows (XP onwards) itís really simple to set up, though you will need a second graphics card, or one with dual monitor output, but once itís up and running you effectively double your screen space, and productivity. But managing those two screens can be a bit of a palaver, which is where Dual Monitor Tools come in. Itís a collection of utilities that let you swap the screen over, launch your favourite application, set up dual wallpaper, disable the secondary monitor and capture an image on the primary monitor and display it on the secondary, all with a single mouse click. Itís not going to change your life, but it will make it just a little easier.



The Key to Resolution

These days Windows pretty much takes care of screen resolution but there are occasions when it is useful or necessary to be able to quickly switch from one setting to another. The controls for setting and changing resolution are buried quite deeply, so hereís a handy little freeware program, called Hotkey Resolution Changer that simplifies the whole business and puts resolution settings under the control of a simple to use System Tray app. Just click on the icon, select the resolution you want and click the Change button, or set up your own keyboard shortcut of Hotkey.



Jiggle and Watch

Hereís a really handy little utility for anyone who watches videos and TV downloads on their laptops. But first some background. Many machines are set to switch off the screen or fire up the screensaver after just a few minutes of inactivity, especially when on battery power, and this can become really annoying. Even though the CPU and screen are active power save systems usually monitor for mouse movement and keyboard taps. Sufferers get into the habit of wiggling the mouse, or using the touchpad every so often to stop it happening. Well, you could do that, or how about this; itís called Mouse Jiggler, and no prizes for guessing what it does. In fact there are two modes, straightforward Jiggle, which moves the mouse after a few seconds of inactivity, and Zen Jiggle, which moves the mouse pointer Ďvirtuallyí, in other words the PC thinks it is moving, but the pointer remains still. Either way, itís simple, free and it does the job,



FlashBack Screen Recorder

Hereís a really useful tool for capturing whatever is showing on your computer screen (or screens). BB Flashback Express is a free screen recorder that does precisely that. For example, if you wanted to create a tutorial, showing how to do something on a PC then all you have to do is hit the record button and do it! BB Flashback Express records every screen, menu, and mouse movement as a Flash or AVI file, which you can share or upload to YouTube. As an added bonus it captures and record streamed video, like YouTube et-al, and keep this to yourself, it can also record those well known services Ė no names, no pack drill -- that you are not supposed to record and to date have proved to be tricky customersÖ



A Rather Dim Idea

Have you ever tried to adjust the brightness on your PC monitor? Itís normally not too difficult if you have a laptop, thereís usually an option on the Function keys, but often the only way to do it on a desktop PC is grapple with the monitorís controls Ė and thatís easier said than done on some models -- or delve deeply into Windows display properties. But why would you want to?  Maybe you are working in a darkened room and the screen is too bright, or itís a sunny day and not bright enough, either way, what you really need is a tiny little freeware application called Dim Screen. It sits minding its business in the System Tray, when you want it just right click on the icon and select a level, or tap the user-definable keyboard shortcuts for brightness up and down. Itís that simple, and if you want it to launch with Windows just copy the program shortcut into you Startup folder.



Drawing Attention

If you are in the habit of using your PC to give presentations then hereís a handy little portable application that can help you illustrate your point. Itís called DemoHelper and it lets you draw on your screen, to highlight something, point to a feature or, when no one is looking, have a crafty doodle. Itís small (just 76kb) and very easy to use, it runs from a pen drive, so thereís no need to install it, and it sits quietly in the System Tray until needed. Right click the icon, select the Draw mode and youíre in business. Right click and you can instantly draw an arrow. Itís highly configurable, you can change colour, or the size of your brush even zoom in and out, and when youíve finished just press the Esc key and your handiwork vanishes.



Conquer Your Colour Scheme

I get a lot of emails and letters asking why the colours in printed photos sometimes donít match whatís on the screen? Sometimes itís the printer, but more often than not itís simply that the monitor hasnít been properly set up. Monitor calibration is essential if you work with graphics or photo editing software but how many of us ever take the time to adjust our monitors, apart from twiddling the brightness and contrast controls? Not many, I bet, but thereís no excuse any more. A freeware program called Calibrize takes you gently by the hand, and in three simple steps helps you to adjust your display; from start to finish it only takes around 2 minutes and the new settings or colour Ďprofileí is then saved and applied every time you start Windows. Itís also handy for those who, like me, use two monitors, making it easy to accurately match the two displays.



Is My LCD OK? Well, Is it?

Hereís one way to find out, a small freeware program called, you guessed it, IsMylcdOK. Itís a simple LCD monitor checker program that displays a series of solid colours, gradients and horizontal and vertical lines that will show up most of the common faults on flat screen monitors. These include dead or Ďhotí (always on) pixels, faulty backlights and incorrect video phase setting. The program download is tiny, around 15kb, and it doesnít even need to be installed, it runs from the zip/exe file, or from a pen drive. It is really easy to use; though watch out for the intro screen, itís in German, so click the English button to continue (unless you are, or speak German, of course). To select a particular test just hit the appropriate number key no your keyboard, or cycle the tests by pressing any key, and to quit just press the Escape key. Hereís hoping you get a clean bill of heath!




Free Video Capture Makes its Debut

If it moves and it appears on your PC screen then you can capture it with this freeware application, called Debut. Now donít get too excited, it can record streamed video (and audio), like You Tube and iPlayer, but the unless you have a blisteringly fast PC the frame rate will probably be quite slow if you donít want to sacrifice too much picture quality, but itís definitely worth experimenting and its certainly good enough for a quick and dirty archive. Itís just the job for making tutorial videos, showing someone how to do something on a PC, by recording everything that happens on the screen. It also has a built in timer and it can be set to email or upload your movie by FTP. You can even get it to burn directly to DVD with an optional add-on and thereís a facility to record from external sources like web-cams and USB capture devices.




Starship Screensaver

Yes, yes, I know I dislike screensavers, which are pretty much redundant these days anyway with LCD screens, but I just couldnít resist this one. Itís called Star Trek LCARS, and in case youíre not a trekkie, LCARs stands for Library Computer Access and Retrieval System, which is the fictional operating system used on Federation starships, a sort of warp-speed WIndows if you will.... Really thatís all you need to know, and once installed, after the preset period of inactivity you will be regaled with authentic-looking Starship display screens showing all manner of interesting things, including plans of the ship, ĎSector Scansí, Navigational readings and Galaxy maps, and I forgot to mention, thereís also sound effects. Qapla'



Simpler Screen Capture

Weíve looked at screen capture utilities before and some of them were very good, but this one, called CaptureScreen, has to be the simplest yet. The program is tiny just a few kilobytes, you donít even need to install it but itís a good idea to have it on your Quick Launch toolbar so itís ready whenever you need it. Just click on the icon and semi transparent box appears. Move and resize it to cover the part of the screen you want to capture, right-click and select Capture, Save or Print, and the image is frozen. You can save it to file (.bmp, .jpeg, .tiff, .gif, .png) copy it to the clipboard, to import into an image editing program, or the application of your choice, or print it directly, itís that simple!



Photosynth, A Glimpse of the Future

If your PC is  reasonably powerful XP machine equipped with 1Gb of RAM and a decent graphics card (ideally 128Mb or more), you might like to check out a pre-Beta preview of Photosynth, a new development from Microsoft Live Labs. What makes it even more interesting is that itís also available as a Firefox Extension.


Anyway, back to the Photosynth preview, which is rather difficult to describe, but think of it as a cross between the tilt and fly options in Google Earth, and the amazing photo jiggery-pokery carried out by Tom Cruise in the sci-fi movie Minority Report. You can view multiple images and collections of photographs and transform them into a 3D fly-through, viewing objects from any angle, zooming seamlessly in and out and see how and where images were taken, in relation to one another. Itís really impressive, but remember, this is test software, quite demanding of your PCís resources so donít be too surprised if it doesnít run or proves buggy.



Changing Resolution Results in Blank Screen

Have you ever fiddled with your PCs resolution settings, clicked the OK button and found that the picture disappears? Scary stuff, but Windows XP has a built-in safety feature that should reset the resolution to its previous setting after 15 seconds. But sometimes it doesnít work and you end up with a dark screen and no obvious way back. The same thing can also happen if you swap monitors that cannot support your current resolution, but there is another safety net that will get you out of trouble. All you have to do is start Windows in Safe Mode, just press F8 repeatedly after switch on and on the menu that appears there will be the option to ĎEnable VGA Mode. This is the universal default setting of 640 x 480 pixels and it works on just about every monitor. When Windows has finished booting you can go back into Display Properties and change the resolution back to its original setting.



Improve Legibility on Larger Displays

Either my eyesight is failing or larger screens and higher resolutions are making things harder to read. I prefer to believe the latter, and one of the most obvious problems is typing in web addresses in Internet Explorer; the text is so small that itís easy to make mistakes and difficult to spot them afterwards.


This tip increases the size text in the IE Address box and the text-entry/display fields and Explorer boxes in other MS and Windows programs as well. Simply go to Display Properties (right-click an empty area of the Desktop and click Properties) select the Appearance tab and click the Advanced button. In the Item drop-down menu select Icon, now you can change the display font and size, I would leave it on Tahoma, itís a good clear display font, but try increasing the size by a couple of points, to 10pt, you would surprised how much difference it makes to legibility.



Fixing Dead Pixels on an LCD Display

There are few things more aggravating than a dead or Ďhotí (permanently lit) pixel on an LCD screen and the trouble is some manufacturers consider several dead pixels to be quite acceptable, and not replaceable under the warranty, though normally only if theyíre well away from the centre of the screen.


The first thing to do if you encounter a dead or hot pixel on a new screen is complain. Some vendors and manufacturers are more reasonable than others. If they wonít oblige or a pixel lights up after the guarantee has expired then there are a few things you can try, and who knows, you might get lucky, what have you got to lose?


There have been several reports of hot pixels being fixed with gentle massage. The theory is light pressure around the defective pixel forces the liquid crystals back into their little pockets (sounds extremely dubious to meÖ). The trick is to switch the screen off, rub the area using a soft cloth, then after a few seconds switch the screen back on. Another wheeze is to gently tap the area, it also sounds a bit optimistic but who knows? Just be very careful not to tap too hard or youíll have a few million more dead pixels on your handsÖ

The last two methods are a lot safer and involve switching the pixels on and off really fast, presumably in an attempt to reset or switch the faulty pixel back to its normal working state. My favourite is a little freeware utility program called
Dead Pixel Tester or DPT, which in addition to a Pixel ĎExerciserí facility also has a number of useful and rather funky test patterns and screens that can help you to find faulty pixels. The second one is called Screenfix, and this is a crazy web page that randomly switches the pixels on and off many times each second and apparently several hours of this treatment have been known to revive dicky pixels



Double Quick Display Properties

I donít know about you but Iím forever opening Windows XP Display Properties, to tweak settings, mess around with screensavers and change the appearance of my desktop -- it may have something to do with my job -- but the point is to get to it you have to open Control Panel and click on the Display icon or right-click on the desktop and select Properties. Iíve found a much better way and now I can open Display with a single click on a Quick Launch icon and here is how itís done. Right-click on the desktop and select New > Shortcut. In the ĎType the location o the item boxí enter (or copy and paste) the following command:

rundll32.exe shell32.dll,Control_RunDLL desk.cpl

Click Next, give the new shortcut a name then OK. Now you can drag and drop the shortcut onto the Quick Launch toolbar and you are ready to give it a road test.




On many XP (and some Windows 9x) PCs there is a hidden facility, built into the graphics card/adaptor software that lets you rotate the screen display. This can be quite useful when using an LCD monitor, for example, some of which can be rotated to provide a ĎPortraití view, which some users prefer, when using Desktop Publishing (DTP), web layout and word processing applications.


On some PCs with ATI and NVIDIA graphics adaptors the screen rotate function is assigned to a memorable keyboard shortcut; Ctrl + Alt + left/right cursor arrow is used on several graphics cards. On others itís buried in Display Properties (right-click empty area of desktop, select Properties, click Settings then Advanced button. If your PC doesnít have this facility you can try it out with the 30-day trial-version of Pivot Pro, the screen rotation program supplied with many rotating monitors. If you fancy a little fun try a tiny freeware utility called Rotate. It randomly flips and rotates the screen but returns it to its proper state when a key is pressed.




Quick, the boss is coming! Hereís an easy way to swiftly hide that web page or personal email youíve been working on in company time. The idea is you click on a desktop icon and it instantly fires up a screensaver, blanking out whatever is on the screen. Itís also a good way of hiding your screen from prying eyes if you are only going to be away from your desk for a couple of minutes, and you can tell when you return if anyone has been having a peek. Hereís what to do, go to Search on the Start menu and type Ď*.scrí (without the quotes) into the filename box, click the Search button and in a couple of moments a list of all the screensavers stored on your PC will appear (most of them live in C:\windows systen32). Right click on the icon of the one you want to use and select Send To > Desktop (create shortcut) then exit the Search box. To start the screensaver simply double-click on the Desktop icon, moving the mouse or tapping a key restores normal service. By the way, right-clicking on the desktop icon brings up the screensavers settings menu




Todayís Top Tip is a little freeware utility called Glass2k. Once installed simply right-click on any open window, or press a keyboard shortcut, and you can change the windowís transparency, so you can see whatís underneath. It can also make the taskbar transparent and thereís the option to store your settings and load it with Windows. The download is tiny (just 54kb) and it takes only a few seconds to install. Itís Beta software, so the usual warnings about using it at your own risk apply but itís been working flawlessly on our office PCs for weeks so why not give it a try?




LCD monitors are now as good as CRT displays but itís important to make sure that you are using the correct settings, in particular resolution and refresh rates. For best results an LCD screen should run in whatís known as Ďnativeí resolution, so if the screen has 1024 x 768 pixels, thatís the setting you should use in Windows Display Properties. Another little known facility is Clear Type fonts, which are available in Windows XP and these are optimised for desktop and laptop LCD displays. To switch it on go to Start > Control Panel and click the Display icon. Select the Appearance tab followed by the Effects button, select ĎFade Effectí on the drop down menu and check the item ĎUse the following transition effect for menus and tooltipsí. Next underneath check the box ĎUse the following method to smooth the edges of screen fontsí and select  ĎClear Typeí on the drop-down menu. Exit the dialogue boxes and reboot. You can also fine -tune the settings using a free online or downloadable optimisation tool on the Microsoft web site.




If you want to launch a screen-saver quickly -- maybe you're going out to lunch or prevent others from seeing what's on your screen -- open Windows Explorer, go to the Windows folder and open the System file. There you will find all of the Windows screen-saver files. They're easy to spot as they have monitor-shaped icons and end with the file extension *.scr. Right click on the icon, select 'Send To' then 'Desktop as Shortcut', when you want to start it in a hurry just double-click on the desktop icon.




Here is a nifty little trick to access the contents of your desktop from the Start button, without having to close or minimise any windows. Right click on the Start button and choose Open then on the Start Menu window that appears go to the File menu, select New and Shortcut. The Create Shortcut window opens and in the Command Line box type in the following: 'Explorer /root,' ignore the inverted commas but be sure there's a space between Explorer and the forward-slash, and don't forget the comma after root. Click Next and a window opens asking you to 'Select a title for the program'. Back space to delete the default entry and call it 'Desktop' (or anything else you fancy) and click Finish. The item should now appear on the Start menu, if you click it a window containing the contents of your desktop will open. To remove it from the Start menu go Start > Settings > Taskbar & Start Menu > Start Menu Programs tab and click the Remove button. Find the shortcut on the directory and click Remove.




If youíre bored with the standard Windows 98 & ME colours for title bars on windows and message boxes hereís a quick way to cheer them up with a very snazzy Ďgradientí colour, which changes gradually from one colour to another. This trick works best if your PC is set to True Colour or High Colour, to check right-click onto an empty part of the desktop, select Properties from the menu and click the Settings tab. To create your colour gradient stay with Display Properties and select the Appearance tab. Click on the Active Window title bar in the display window then click on Colour, a palette of 12 colours appears, with the facility to create a colour of your choice by selecting the ĎOtherí button. Now click on Colour 2 and select a second colour, the effect is immediately displayed. Have fun, experiment with some bright and outrageous shades; it can really brighten up your desktop! 




Newcomers to Windows often find the scroll bars at the side and bottom of word processors and spreadsheets screens quite difficult to use. The bars are narrow and the slider can be hard to control, until you get used to it. It's easy to change the size of the bars; even seasoned users may prefer to make them a little wider. To make the change go to Control Panel, click on the Display icon and select the Appearance tab. Click in the middle of the scroll bar shown in the 'Active Window', in the display.  The word 'Scrollbar' should appear in the box below marked Item, along with a pair of up/down arrows and the default setting of 16. Try 20 or 25 but if you want to see something really funny whizz it up to the maximum of 100!




Create your own personal screensaver. If you have the OSR2 release of Windows 95 or Windows 98 onwards click on the Start button go to Settings, then Control Panel and double click on the Display icon. Select the Screensaver tab and scroll down the list until you come to '3D Text'. Highlight the entry and click on the Settings button. You can enter your name or a message -- up to 16 characters and spaces long -- in the text field, that will bounce or wobble around the screen, or you can choose an animated digital clock display. Click on the Texture buttons and try some of the *.bmp files in the Windows folder. This screensaver also contains an 'Easter egg' a hidden novelty feature planted by the programmers. Type the word 'Volcano' into the text field, click OK and see what happensÖ




A pound to a penny says your Windows 95/98 Taskbar is still in its default position at the bottom of the screen, taking up valuable screen space. Maybe youíve enabled the Hide Taskbar facility (Start > Settings Taskbar & Start menu) so it doesnít take up any room when you are working, but it still pops into view every so often, when your mouse strays close to the bottom of the screen. So why not move it?  The most logical place has to be the right or left side of your screen. The right hand side in particular is often a Ďdeadí area in programs like word processors and since a VDU screen is over 30% wider than it is tall; you can afford to loose a little room at the side. To move the Taskbar simply put the mouse pointer into an empty area of the Taskbar, right click and hold and drag it to its new location. You can enable Auto Hide, or better still, leave it on show and more accessible, then re-size your application to fit, so that it doesnít obscure scroll bars: most Windows programs will Ďrememberí a new layout whenever they are opened.




It's all very well your PC being able to process over 16 million colours but can you see them all on your monitor screen? This simple little freeware monitor test program will help you find out and adjust your settings to produce the best possible picture. The self-extracting 'zip' file is only 278Kb and should only take a couple of minutes to download from:





When you see a picture displayed on your monitor how big is it and what size will it be when itís printed out? Screen Ruler is a brilliant little freeware program that superimposes a ruler on your screen. You can move the ruler around the screen and make it longer or shorter with the mouse; a right-click menu sets the scale and units (pixels, inches, centimetres or picas) and flips between horizontal or vertical layout. The download zip file is only 143kb and it can be downloaded from: http://www.spadixbd.com/freetools/jruler.zip




Whilst itís easy enough to remove red-eye in a digital image, it makes sense to avoid it happening in the first place. You canít do much about the position of the flashgun on most compact cameras but a lot of models nowadays have a red-eye reduction mode. This is usually a bright light or weak Ďpre-flashí before the main flash that reduces the size of the subjectís pupils. If your camera hasnít got this facility you could try asking the subject to look at a bright light, just before you take the picture. Alternatively try covering the flashgun with a paper tissue or handkerchief, which has the effect of diffusing the flash.




If you have a scanner hereís a quick, simple and very cheap trick that might help to improve picture quality, especially if it's a budget model with only rudimentary scan controls. Try this - place a sheet of black paper or card behind the picture or image that you are scanning. The card will cut down reflections and glare from the normally white backing pad, which can result in better contrast, crisper colours and more accurate mid-tones.




If your screen resolution is set to 1024 x 768, or higher, you may find your desktop icons are a bit on the small side and any youíve made from pictures may look indistinct. You can change the size of icons (make them smaller as well as bigger) by right-clicking into an empty area of the desktop, select Properties then the Appearance tab. In the ĎItemí drop-down menu select Icon and in the Size box increase or decrease the value as necessary.





Windows 7

Windows Vista

Windows XP

Internet, Email & Network

Word Processing & Office

Folders, Files & Backup

Desktop Mouse & Keyboard

Crash Bang Wallop!

Privacy Security & Environment

Imaging, Scanning & Printing

Power, Safety & Comfort

Tools & Utilities


Display & screen

Fun & Games




Monitoring Performance

Dual Personality

A Rather Dim Idea

Avoid Redeye

Classy Glass

Conquer Your Colour Scheme

Custom Colours

Debut Video Screen Capture

Double Quick Display Properties

Drawing Attention

Fixing Dead Pixels on an LCD Screen

FlashBack Screen Recorder

Improve Legibility on Large Displays

Is My LCD OK? Well, Is it?

Jiggle and Watch

Move The Taskbar

Personal Screensaver

Photosynth, A Glimpse of the Future

Quick Saver

Quick Peek

Screen Ruler

Scroll Sense

See The Colours

Sharper Display On LCD Monitors

Simpler Screen Capture

Small Icons

Smarter Scanner

Sneaky Screensaver Shortcut

Spin The Screen

Starship Screensaver

Switch Resolution no Blank Screen

The Key to Resolution





 Copyright 2011 PCTOPTIPS UK.

All information on this web site is provided as-is without warranty of any kind. Neither PCTOPTIPS nor its employees nor contributors are responsible for any loss, injury, or damage, direct or consequential, resulting from your choosing to use any of the information contained herein.