Fire Up your old Computer
By Rick Marine
Is that tired old computer of yours getting a bit dowdy and obsolete? Here are some thoughts on how to improve that tired old workhorse at the home or the office.
If you're like many people, your PC has become a sort of home entertainment center. Between playing MP3 music files, Internet radio, CDs, and gaming, sound does matter. Yes Virginia, there really is a difference between those tinny speakers that come with your box and a decent sound system. My friend Don Mangiarelli from Kailua, a network engineer who doubles as a disk jockey, was impressed by a system manufactured by Cambridge Soundworks so I decided to look at their Soundworks Slim 500 series, which sells for $80. (See http://csw.creative.com/products/slim/) This 3 piece set consists of two flat-panel speakers, that don't take up much space on a desk top and a cube-shaped subwoofer, about the size of a six pack. Setting up the speakers was easy, as everything connects to the subwoofer. The resulting sound was huge, with enough power to satisfy the most decibel hungry teenager. One other note: If you're serious about audio quality and are going to upgrade the speaker system consider buying a new soundcard as well. You can spend as much as $200 on a soundcard but we suggest the Sound Blaster Live 5.1, which has a street price of around $70. Check out www.soundblaster.com for details. Both are available locally at CompUSA.
I originally got a Logitech Quick Cam Pro 3000 to see if it might work as an inexpensive video conferencing device. This is a high quality camera that has 640x480 resolution and can take still shots as well as function as a web cam. However, expecting it to work as a video conferencing system is asking too much. Though the quality of the picture was quite clear and crisp, even with a DSL connection, you still get a herky-jerky video motion that is distracting for a business setting but certainly good enough for (non business) social interaction. This web cam, which also has a built in microphone, was fun-especially for the kids who like to capture photos of themselves and send them to friends around the world. The Logitech 3000 also works with Yahoo Instant messaging-another plus for kids nowadays who live and breathe IM. Cost is $100 but check for details at www.logitech.com/cf/products/cameras.cfm.
Wireless Networks @home
Wireless routers were very popular as holiday gifts and there's a good reason for that. One DSL or cable connection can hook up an entire family. If you already have a home office computer that doubles as Junior's Internet workstation you may consider setting up a home network so that mom and all the kids can access the Net at the same time.
There are a number of manufacturers out there but we looked at offerings from Proxim, NetGear and Linksys that would serve you well. The Farralon Proxim Skyline 802.11b (www.proxim.com) priced at around $250, provides a four-port switch, a built-in 802.11b (Wi-Fi) wireless gateway, as well as support for VPN and NAT (firewall) protection. Instead of opening up your PC to add a wireless network card, you have the option of installing a wireless USB adapter that pops into the back of your computer. The NetGear router (www.netgear.com), the MR314, is more suitable for an office but according to the manufacturer, many people use it in the home as well. One thing I liked about the NetGear product is that it uses state of the art SonicWALL firewall technology to protect you from hackers. I was told the company will soon be coming out with a home version that will be less expensive and more aesthetically tailored for a residence. Cost is just over $200. Finally, I'd also seriously consider the Linksys EtherFast Wireless Router (www.linksys.com) as well. I use it in my own home and am very happy with it. Cost is around $175 with rebate.
If you find that you PC seems to be slowing down it may be suffering from fragmentation-the PC version of sclerosis. It's a condition in which files and free space are broken up and scattered in pieces (fragments) around a hard drive causing your hard drive the equivalent of heart palpitations. The solution is Diskeeper 7.0, from a company called Executive Software. This program will tune your disk up and make your hardware run like a new machine. It definitely works faster than the standard software that comes with your Windows OS. Cost is $44.95. See www.diskeeper.com.
Rick Marine is the founder and CEO of Century Computers, a Honolulu-based technology company specializing end-to-end networking solutions including disaster recovery.