Friday, September 24, 2010 “Cool Websites and Tools [September 23rd]” plus 9 more “Cool Websites and Tools [September 23rd]” plus 9 more

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Cool Websites and Tools [September 23rd]

Posted: 23 Sep 2010 08:31 PM PDT

Check out some of the latest MakeUseOf discoveries. All listed websites are FREE (or come with a decent free account option). No trials or buy-to-use craplets. For more cool websites and web app reviews subscribe to MakeUseOf Directory.

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Cosanote – Maintaining a profile of the things you own can be very useful. For instance while selling your used car, receipts for all of its repairs can be extremely helpful in convincing the buyers that your car has been well taken care of. You can maintain all these records for your belongings using Cosanote. Read more: Cosanote: Online Documentation Software To Keep A Record Of All Your Possessions


iMovieTube – Movies can be the perfect solution to your boredom. But if boredom strikes unexpectedly and you do not have a DVD handy, you could watch a movie on the internet instead for free. Downloading movies from torrent sites is not advisable because it is illegal; instead, there is a great website called iMovieTube. Read more: iMovieTube: Watch Full Movies Online, Legally & Free



Flisti – When it comes to creating online polls, some tools can get really fancy. However, if speed and simplicity are what you are looking for, Flisti is the best tool out there. No registration or sign-up, just go to Flisti, type your question and start adding answer choices. Once the poll is created, it can be shared using a permanent URL, shared on Facebook or Twitter. Read more: Flisti: Creating Online Polls Made Quick & Easy



CineCatalog – Are you looking for the one place to get movie torrents easily? If you are, you should check out CineCatalog, a simple search engine for finding movie trailers and verified movie torrents. This gallery lets you search a growing collection of movie downloads, organized and tagged so that users can search or browse the database easily. Read more: CineCatalog: Tagged Search For Trailers & Movie Torrent Downloads



PhoneAble – Apple's iOS devices are some of the best in the world, but many will agree that you are compromising a lot when you use an iPhone or iPod touch. One compromise is the fact that your iPhone can only be synchronized with one computer. Fortunately PhoneAble is a downloadable utility that lets you sync iphone with multiple iTunes libraries easily. Read more: PhoneAble: Easily Sync iPhone With Multiple iTunes Libraries


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These are just half of the websites that we discovered in the last couple of days. If you want us to send you daily round-ups of all cool websites we come across, leave your email here. Or follow us via RSS feed.

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Play Your Old Xbox, PS2, Newer X360 & PS3 Multiplayer Games Free With XLink Kai

Posted: 23 Sep 2010 06:31 PM PDT

old free gamesIt was a sad day when Microsoft announced that Xbox Live support for older games was ending in April this year. Classics like Halo and its sequel which introduced many to the notion of playing against foes across the world lost their online communities overnight.

But long before the announcement was made a service called XLink Kai was already quite popular. By establishing a server on a home PC which connects your console to the Kai servers, it is possible to play pretty much any game that supports the System Link mode of play.

X-Link Kai has support for Xbox, Playstation 2, GameCube, PSP, Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3. Finding a game can sometimes be difficult, but there's a cracking little community there to help you organise and play your favourite games.

Before We Begin

The console I'll be using in this walkthrough is Microsoft's original Xbox. The set-up procedure is a pretty basic affair for all consoles, but the service has a trickier set of rules to adhere to on newer consoles. Xbox 360 users might benefit from reading this step-by-step and PS3 owners might want to consult this one.

The first issue I had was connecting my Xbox to my home network. As Microsoft's chubby black console doesn't support wireless networking, I decided to try bridging the connection with my laptop, running Windows 7.

If you've got metres of network cable, or your Xbox (or other chosen console) is already networked then you can skip this bit, but there’s a decent network troubleshooter on the XLink website if you run into problems.

Bridging Wirelessly With Windows 7

Connect one end of an Ethernet cable to your console (in my case the Xbox) and the other to your computer's Ethernet port. Click on Start then Control Panel and find Network and Sharing Center. In the panel on the left hand side click Manage Wireless Networks (this may appear as Manage Connections).

In the next dialogue choose Adapter properties and click on the Sharing tab. Enable the first option: Allow other network users to connect through this computer's Internet connection and then OK.

old free games

Now you should have bridged your console wirelessly. One good way to test this is to start-up your console with nothing in the CD tray, and attempt to access an online element from the console’s dashboard.

On an old Xbox you can try to make a new Xbox Live Gamertag. Once the set-up fails (it will, Xbox Live has been shut down after all) you'll get asked if you want to troubleshoot your connection. Agree and run the network diagnostic tool. As long as you see the “DNS resolved” message then you're connected and good to go.

Installing X-Link Kai

Head over to the XLink Kai download page and grab the installer. Whilst it is worth mentioning that there are Windows, Mac and Linux versions, you might also need to set-up wireless bridging within your chosen OS. Linux users might want to check out Justin's guide about doing this with Ubuntu.

Once downloaded, run the XLink Kai installer.

old games

Once you’ve installed, there’s one last check to do before playing. Windows 2000, XP and Vista users are in luck as XLink should work perfectly and they can skip this bit.

Windows 7 users will need to find XLink Kai within the Start menu, right click on Start Kai and choose Properties. Click the Compatibility tab and enable compatibility mode for Windows XP (Service Pack 2). Last of all check Run this program as an administrator and hit OK.

old games

Let's Play Some Games

Use the Start Kai shortcut you just modified to launch the program. Once it's loaded you should be prompted for a login. Click here to register for an XTag, supply all the details required and confirm your account.

Turn on your console (stick in a game, I recommend Halo 2 for Xbox as people still play it) and make sure it's completed starting up. Log in through Kai. It shouldn't take long, and once loaded click on the small magnifying glass icon (labelled 1 in the screenshot below) to bring up the diagnostics panel. In the game you're playing (I chose Halo 2) don't sign in to any online services and choose System Link as if to trick your console into looking for games.

old games

Now click on the Switch to diagnostics view toggle button (labelled 2 in the screenshot above). Your console should appear, with a message saying it's correctly configured. Congratulations, now you can click on the globe icon to bring up Arena View.

Choose your console, genre of game and eventually the game you want to play. Once you find a populated arena, click on it. You should instantly see the games pop up in your System Link menu. Simply join any game of your choosing through your console.

old free games

If you are having trouble then the XLink Kai community forums are full of helpful people, not to mention those organising games and tournaments. Don’t forget you're far more likely to get a game at sensible times so don't fret if there aren't any servers immediately, you could always start one.

Do you play games with XLink? Had any luck getting your 360 or PS3 working? Halo 2 harder than you remember? Let us know in the comments.

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How To Enable & Troubleshoot Aero Effects In Windows 7

Posted: 23 Sep 2010 04:31 PM PDT

windows 7 aeroAero enhances Windows 7 with several visual effects. Aero Peek for example makes open windows transparent and reveals the desktop underneath them. These effects are very stylish and useful, but they are also heavy on your computer’s resources.

Depending on your system resources, Aero is not necessarily enabled per default. This article reveals how system components are scored and how you can enable or disable Aero effects.

Moreover, I will demonstrate how you can use only selected visual effects to go easy on your system resources.

What Aero Effects Are There?

  • Aero Peek

    This feature unites two similar effects. For one, it refers to the thumbnail preview you see as you hover over a taskbar icon. Once you move the mouse over the thumbnail, a full size preview of the respective windows is shown. Secondly, when you hover the mouse over the far right of your taskbar, all open windows become transparent and the underlying desktop is shown.

windows 7 aero

  • Aero Shake

    Click and shake a window to minimize all other open windows. To restore the minimized windows, shake the open window again.

  • Aero Snap

    Dragging a window to the left or right side of the screen will dock it to the respective half. This makes viewing two windows side by side very easy. Dragging a window to the top of the screen maximizes it. When you re-size a window and let it touch the top or bottom edge of the screen, it automatically maximizes vertically, while retaining its width.

  • Aero Flip

    This is a 3D effect that lets you flip through all open windows. It works with keyboard shortcuts only. Hold the [Windows] key and click the [TAB] key to launch the effect and then move between windows.

aero flip

Why Do Some Aero Effects Not Work On My Computer?

Windows 7 automatically adjusts Aero effects based on your computer’s Windows Experience Index. The index assesses key system components, including processor, memory, graphics, gaming graphics, and primary hard disk on a scale of 1.0 to 7.9. The base score equals the lowest subscore. The subscore for your computer’s graphics performance determines which Windows Aero effects are supported.

How Can I Find Out Or Update My Computer’s Windows Experience Index?

Go to > Start and type > experience index into the > search field. From the results click > Check the Windows Experience Index. If you have a laptop, make sure the power plug is connected as the test does not run on battery power. Then click > refresh.

windows effects

How Can I Adjust Aero Visual Effects?

Note that Aero is not available for Windows 7 Starter. Furthermore, you must use an Aero Theme, rather than a Basic or High Contrast Theme. To verify or change your theme go to > Start and type > theme into the search field. Then click > Change the theme and select a theme from the list of available > Aero Themes.

Make sure your Windows Experience Index (WEI) is up to date. When you just updated it, you can click > Adjust Visual Effects in the top left of the same window. Otherwise, go to > Start and type > adjust performance into the > search field. A window with > Performance Options for > Visual Effects will pop up.

This is where you can > Let Windows choose what’s best for my computer (based on your WEI score), > Adjust for best appearance, > Adjust for best performance, or select > Custom settings.

To go with the best performance and still retain functionality for all Aero effects, select only the following options:

  • Enable Aero Peek
  • Enable desktop composition
  • Use visual styles on windows and buttons

windows effects

For best performance you should have as little options checked as possible. I also like the > Show windows contents while dragging option, but other than that I can live without fancy visual effects.

What Can I Do If It’s Still Not Working?

Windows may have issues with your video driver or your system performance is too low to support Aero. Generally, the WEI subscore for your graphics must be 3.0 or higher for Aero to work. Note that my score is 2.7 and Aero still works rather well, however, Aero Peek was disabled by default. In any case, there is an easy to use troubleshooting tool that will track down the issue or fix bugs and automatically enable Windows Aero.

Again, make sure your WEI is updated. Then click > Start and type > Aero into the > search field. From the list click > Find and fix problems with transparency and other visual effects. In the wizard that pops up click > Next and the tool will work its magic.

windows effects

If the tool isn’t able to automatically fix some of the issues, you must attend to them personally. Then run the troubleshooting wizard again to automatically enable Aero, or go through the steps described under “How can I adjust Aero visual effects?” to do it manually.

Also check out the following articles to learn even more about Windows 7:

Which Windows 7 Aero effect do you find most useful? Do you have other favorite Windows 7 features?



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The Top 10 Interactive YouTube Games

Posted: 23 Sep 2010 02:31 PM PDT

interactive gamesYouTube’s interactive games are essentially built on a choose-your-own-adventure premise, by linking multiple videos using hyperlinks in annotations. By developing on this idea that the viewer can make a choice, game makers have worked in more intricate stories, crafted harder games and added more of a game-like feel to the experience. It’s safe to say that these games have made YouTube viewing even more addictive.

From the first primitive videos, YouTube’s interactive games have progressed rapidly to the more sophisticated games available today, including Howard Glitch, Bboy Joker, ChadMattAndRod’s adventures, Heavy Rain & Trivial Pursuit.

Interactive Card Trick

Interactive Card Trick deserves a mention since it claims to be the first interactive game on YouTube. It’s pretty neat.

interactive games

The Birthday Party: An Interactive Adventure!

The Birthday Party is a great little “choose your own adventure” story by the ingenious ChadMattAndRob. All you have to do is get to the birthday party without dying. Also check out The Time Machine, one of their earlier interactive works.

Interactive Shell Game

The Interactive Shell Game is a simple, yet mesmerising game to play. It highlights some of the best usage of the interactive video game technique.

Trivial Pursuit

The new YouTube Trivial Pursuit is made with the co-operation of YouTube to enable a seamless interactive integration. This is the way of the future for interactive games on YouTube.

interactive online games

Bboy Joker

This is the craziest idea ever: Batman and Joker stop-motion interactive break-dancing competition. You probably have to see it to believe it. Patrick Boivin also made the Street Fighter interactive YouTube game, which is also worth taking a look at.

Super Mario Slots

Super Mario Slots: Well, you know, it’s Mario.

YouTube Interactive Spelling Bee w/ Christy Carlson Romano

Interactive Spelling Bee could either be great entertainment value for the kids or a way to secretly test your own prowess.

Interactive Piano

Interactive Piano is a neat interactive video by MysteryGuitarMan, who has heaps of other nifty videos to play with too.

Heavy Rain

This is a neat way to preview Heavy Rain for the PS3 and see if you want to buy it. Heavy Rain is a thriller about a serial killer – your choices determine the fate of the four characters.

interactive games

Howard Glitch

Howard Glitch is a very new game written to complement the Howard Glitch Project. The project is a puzzle made through a variety of media, including a book, music EP, artwork, YouTube game and more to come. Each piece of media focuses on one character, with a story tangential to that of the other puzzle pieces, leaving the player/reader to decide what the truth is.

Overall, the project is a philosophical work challenging thoughts of destiny. The game itself also involves some beautiful artwork (see the trailer). The premise: You are trapped inside a spaceship with no controls whatsoever. Think fast. Save the passengers. What do you do?

If you’re still hungry for more YouTube entertainment, watch these awesome stop-motion videos.

So, the world of online gaming is being explored by YouTube and this could also be a possiblity for the future of TV and movies. If you could give a game/interactive movie idea to someone with both the budget and talent, what would it be? What would you like to see someone make?



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Hot Tech Deals [Sep 23rd]

Posted: 23 Sep 2010 01:15 PM PDT

If you’re in the market for a new computer, laptop, mobile phone, games and other accessories; don’t waste your time searching online. We’ve taken the liberty of locating the best tech deals and unifying them into a single post for your convenience.

For more fresh hot deals, visit our Hot Tech Deals page, which is constantly updated.

Keep reading to find out today’s Hot Tech Deals.

  1. TODAY ONLY iLuv iMM190 Dock + Alarm Clock for Apple iPod/iPhone $49.99 Free Shipping

  2. TODAY ONLY Vizio E420VL 42 inch LCD HDTV (1080p, 120Hz) $549 Free Shipping

  3. Belkin 2-Outlet Travel Surge Protector w/ Hidden Swivel Plug $3.99 + $0.99 Shipping via code EMCYXNP65

  4. Toshiba Canvio Plus 500GB Portable External Hard Drive $49.99 Free Shipping

  5. Canon PowerShot SD1400 IS 14.1 MP 4X Zoom 28mm Wide Angle Digital Camera $179 Free Ship via code EMCYXNP75

  6. Western Digital Caviar Green 1TB Internal SATA Hard Drive $54.99, 2TB $94.99 Free Shipping


  1. Dell Home: Free Shipping on Computers $599+ Coupon Code: ZQQZSGW6HFDG3K

  2. Dell Coupon: 25% off All Laptops & Desktops on this landing page Coupon Code: ?$QNC1?HSKNR9F

  3. Dell Coupon: 20% off all Dell Desktops & Laptops in this link with Coupon Code: 5TK?LC9VJ5F$33

  4. Dell coupon: Free Shipping on Dell Studio/Studop XPS Laptops $699+ Coupon Code: ?8CN$RJ?W5TQ0C

Image credit: Modified from Svengraph’s icon set



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Torrent Search Helps You Find Torrent Files Quickly & Easily

Posted: 23 Sep 2010 12:31 PM PDT

torrent searchThere’s not much to improve about BitTorrent. It’s a very fast way to download pretty much anything, and because everyone downloading is also sharing, it’s very rare for a file to disappear so long as people are interested in it.

Sometimes however, it can be a little taxing to find the file you’re looking for. With many different torrent trackers finding a file often means exploring them all one-by-one before eventually finding it.

Windows and Linux users can find relief from this, however, thanks to Torrent Search.

This program looks through a variety of different trackers to match you with the file you’re looking for, and with very fast searching to boot.

What It Does

Fire up this program and you’ll see a very simple – almost spartan, one might say – interface. There’s really not much to do but type what you’re looking for, but when you do you’ll quickly start seeing results:

torrent search

The results can be sorted by any of the visible columns, although I’m sure most of the time sorting by “Seeders” is what’s going to work best for you.

The results come from a variety of different Torrent sites; see a current list of plugins here. As the tracker community is constantly changing, it’s good to see a program based on an easy-to-update plugin system.

Torrent Search is not a client; you cannot use it to download files via BitTorrent. What happens when you double-click a torrent in your search depends on how you’ve set the program. There are a few options:

bit torrent search engines

As you can see, it’s possible to set the program to launch your standard BitTorrent client, or to save the file to a particular folder. The latter option can be very useful if you’re using Dropbox to remotely launch a BitTorrent download. Do that and you’ve got a really slick way to remotely launch a download.


You’ll find Ubuntu (.deb) and Windows downloads for the program over at Torrent Search’s download page. You’ll also find the source code there, if you’re using a different Linux distribution and want to try compiling this program from source.

Alternatively, you can find a portable Linux version of Torrent Search over at PortableLinuxApps, a site that offers portable applications that work on any Linux distribution.

Web-Based Alternative

torrent search

If you’re looking for a web-based tool similar to this, I highly recommend checking out ScrapeTorrent, a website capable of searching every major torrent tracker at once. Sure, it won’t automatically download your torrents to a particular site, and you’re going to see a lot more advertisements on this site than you will using Torrent Search, but it works on a Mac and you just might like it.


Whether you prefer Torrent Search or the web-based ScrapeTorrent, it’s nice to have one place to go to find whatever file you’re looking for. Do you like either of these tools, or do you have another tool you prefer? Share what you know below, because then everyone else will know too. Oh and don’t forget to download MakeUseOf’s Torrent Guide for more information.

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Convert RSS Feeds Into Any Format With xFruits

Posted: 23 Sep 2010 11:31 AM PDT

add rss feeds to a web pageAnyone that knows me well knows that I love RSS feeds. RSS is one of the driving forces behind the connectivity of the web. It is the fastest and easiest way to get your information into the online world. Aibek previously covered 14 cool ways you can make use of RSS feeds, and these really show how versatile and useful RSS can be.

Recently, I stumbled across an impressive new service called xFruits. xFruits has a series of tools called “bricks” which serve a specific information-conversion service. For example, in one case you can convert an RSS feed into a website, and in another you can use data from a feed to create a PDF file. xFruits was briefly mentioned in the directory, but there are so many amazing uses for these online tools that a full review is in order.

Let RSS Information Feed Everything Else

When you first sign up for your free xFruits account, you’ll discover a toolbox of 11 awesome tools that you can use to either distribute your own content throughout the Internet, or organize other peoples’ content into a format that you like the most.

add rss feeds to a web page

The combinations and possibilities are exciting. Organizing and converting information streams from throughout the web into a format that you prefer is a really useful feature, but I’d also like to show you how xFruits can help you to syndicate your own websites and blogs across the web.

Turning Your RSS Feed Into a Multi-Format Syndication Tool

Your RSS feed is a stream of your latest titles, linked back to your site, and with a synopsis of the content.  There are people out there that really have no interest in reading blogs, but they may prefer e-books or mobile sites.

One of the simplest ways you can share your content with people is with a simple HTML site that highlights your latest content – sort of a web-based feed reader that displays your feed. You can set this up using xFruits’ very simple RSS to HTML tool.

how do rss feeds work

Once you click “Publish” – the feed gets published to a URL on your public xFruit profile which displays all of the latest titles from your feed in the left navigation bar, and the content in the main panel. The site is extremely simple, but it’s also very efficient.

how do rss feeds work

xFruit also has a whole assortment of buttons when you click on “Add To” that lets you send your new data feed to various other syndication websites. For example your new simple website can go to Technorati, BlinkIt or MyYahoo.

Probably the most impressive tool on xFruits is the Aggregator to RSS. This tool seems simple, but it’s actually rather powerful when used in combination with the other tools. You can list a combination of RSS feeds and it will aggregate them into one, powerful RSS feed that you can use in a number of other xFruits tools.

Previously I reviewed WINKSite, a free service that will create a customized mobile website based off of your RSS feed. However, if you aren’t particular about the formatting or appearance of your mobile site, the xFruit RSS-to-Mobile tool gives you a mobile site in just one click. Here is the mobile website for one of my blogs.

how to use rss feeds

Of course, I think my favorite tool out of the entire xFruits toolset is the Post-to-RSS tool. Using this tool, you can enable as many email addresses as you like to post directly to an RSS feed. A whole team of mobile bloggers could post – all they have to do is send in the post to your unique Post-to-RSS email address (provided inside the tool).

how to use rss feeds

Each incoming email immediately updates the RSS feed with the title (email subject) and the content (email).

how do rss feeds work

This is one of the coolest ways to set up a fast and easy mobile blog to either collaborate real-time with several people, or as a mobile blog that people can follow with any RSS reader.

Another awesome tool if you have visitors that may prefer to read your latest updates in PDF format, is the RSS-to-PDF tool. You can even feature a “PDF” button on your site that let your visitors download the PDF file of your latest updates.

how to use rss feeds

I’ve saved the best for last. Most of the available online tools that “post” RSS updates only insert embedded Javascript somewhere on your page that displays the latest RSS titles. The Feed updates are not issued as actual posts to your blog.

Amazingly, this little site called xFruits has succeeded where so many others have failed. By filling out a simple form that includes the path to your xmlrpc.php file (make sure posting via xml is enabled on your blog!), you can instantly convert an RSS feed into actual blog posts on your blog.

add rss feeds to a web page

You could use this feature to stream in content from free article directories or syndicate your friend’s sites with auto-updates that link back to their site. The possibilities are limitless.

Browse through some of the useful tools at xFruits, test a few of them out and let us know what you think of the service in the comments section below.

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How To Fix Common DVD & Blu-Ray Drive Errors

Posted: 23 Sep 2010 10:31 AM PDT

fix dvd drive errorsEvery once in a while, a DVD or Blu-Ray drive starts to go on the fritz. Sometimes video gets choppy or a brand new disk doesn’t even get recognized. Maybe once you put in a disc the drive starts spinning but the disc is never available on your computer.

Whatever the problem, we have some simple tips to try to fix DVD or Blu-Ray drive errors.

Dust – An Optical Drive’s Worst Enemy

fix dvd drive errorsEven though a DVD or Blu-Ray drive is mostly enclosed, dust still has an opportunity to invade through small openings and also while the drive is open. This depends heavily on how dusty the environment is but it can really wreak havoc on a drive.

In my experience, when a drive gets dusty, a disc will either take a long time to read initially or it will show random errors and slowdowns while the disc is being read from.

It helps to know how a optical drive, such as a CD, DVD or Blu-Ray drive works to know why this happens. The disc is a round plastic disk with a shiny reflective coating on the top and several layers of plastic. The way data is read from the drive is that there is a tiny laser which shoots up onto the disc, and depending on the configuration of the plastic and reflective layer, data is returned and read back to the drive. In reality it is much more complicated than that, but at the core this is what is happening.

When dust gets into the drive, specifically around the laser, it can block or refract that light causing a number of errors to be returned, and make the drive and/or disc unreadable.

There are several ways to get rid of dust. The first is with compressed air. It is available at many stores and is very cheap to buy. You can also get a special optical drive cleaner disk. This is comprised of a disc with tiny little brushes on it. The DVD disc usually has a program on it to ensure that the laser read head will move over the brushes several times to clean off any dust.

Disc Scratches

how do i fix my dvd player

Most of the time, the drive isn’t even the problem! Discs become scratched fairly easily and this can cause a lot of read problems on the drive. The way to check is two-fold:

  • visually inspect the disc to see if there are any scratches.
  • check the drive with another disc, alternatively try the disc in another drive.

Once you have confirmed the disc is scratched you can try a few things to fix the problem.

The first is to use a wet or dry cloth to clean the disc. Use circular motions to clean it, or wipe from out-to-inside or inside to out. Never wipe in the direction around the tracks, as this can cause track skippage and actually make the problem worse.

The second is to use some sort of abrasive compound, such as toothpaste (not gel) to grind out scratches. I’ve never actually used this method but I have heard it works well.

The final one, and preferred, is to use a motorized disc cleaner. They are available from retail stores for about $20-$30 and automate the above procedures for maximum effect. I think this is the safest way to clean a disk, as there is less chance of human error.

Is Your Firmware Old?

Sometimes there are bugs within the firmware of the optical drive. The firmware is like an operating system for the drive, telling it when to spin, where to move the read/write head, and so on. Sometimes this is a last ditch effort but updating the firmware has raised several drives from the dead for me.

Check the manufacturer’s website to see if there are firmware updates. It might involve burning a CD with the firmware and rebooting the computer or player off of the disc, or there might be a way to update it right in your normal OS – it just depends on the manufacturer’s process.

If you have a Blu-Ray drive – in your PC or as a Home Theater component – then there is a good chance you will need to flash new firmware. This is due to the encryption keys stored on the drive. New protections are put out all of the time on new discs and if you have an older drive you simply might not have the right keys to decrypt the disc. A sign of this is if you have no problem playing older Blu-Rays, but new ones simply don’t work.

Is It A Hardware Problem?

fix dvd drive errorsFinally if all else fails, you could simply have a hardware problem. This goes anywhere from a cable that was unseated, to a bad drive or motherboard connection somewhere down the line.

The first step is to try a new cable and connection port on the motherboard to see if that fixes your problem. If it doesn’t you can try to plug another know-good drive in to see if the problem is coming from the old drive or the motherboard.

If it turns out that your DVD or Blu-Ray drive is bad, then it is bad. You can try to send it in for warranty service, but depending on the age of the drive and how much it would cost to replace it, it could just make sense to buy a new one. Buying a new one has other benefits: faster access times, transfer speeds and new features.

Whatever the issue, the steps above should be enough to try to fix your DVD drive on your own. Let us know your own tips and tricks to reviving zombie DVD drives!

Photo Credits: William Hook, czarcats, nickwheeleroz, and Don Fulano.

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Rip & Convert Your Movies Using MacX DVD Ripper & Video Converter Combo [Mac]

Posted: 23 Sep 2010 09:31 AM PDT

00 Video Converter-1.jpgWhen it comes to the video converting business, the name that pops up in most people’s mind is Handbrake. And why shouldn’t it? Handbrake gets the job done and it’s free. But that’s the problem with having something convenient: you settle for that and stop looking for alternatives.

There are other good video converters out there too. Some manage to get their name known, while some are still flying below the radar. Two of them are DVD Ripper and Video Converter from MacX. The combination of these two will be able to fulfill the ripping and converting needs of every movie lover who uses a Mac.

Rip & Backup

The first member of the dynamic duo is a DVD ripping app. As the name suggests, this one will help you rip and back up your DVD movie collection. But it is no ordinary DVD ripper, because it allows you not only to rip but also to convert the result into the format that you want. So you can go directly from a DVD disc to an iPhone compatible file without any additional effort.

The first step in using the app is to click the “DVD Disc” button at the top left of the window. A small window will appear, letting you choose what disc you want to rip from the drop down menu.

01 DVD Rip Source.jpg

The app will analyze your disc and display all the available segments. The app will also automatically choose the recommended segment to rip (usually this would be the longest part).

From my experiment I can safely say that this app handles copy protected DVDs better than Handbrake. While both apps can handle ordinary DVDs just fine, Handbrake freezes with most of the copy protected ones.

Aside from the available segments, there are other settings that you can tweak from the interface such as audio settings, subtitles, start and end time, and also the location where the conversion result should be saved.

01b DVD Ripping Title Select.jpg

The next step is to choose the video output settings. There are some pre-configured settings available for users to choose from: MP4, iTunes, MOV, Music, MPEG, and FLV. Even though you have to upgrade to the Pro version to have more ready to use settings, the available ones on the free version are enough to cater to our daily needs. Moreover, the available settings are also adjustable should you find the need to change.

01c DVD Ripping Settings.jpg

But please note that changing the settings are not advisable if you don’t know what you are doing. After everything is set, click the “Start” button.

01e DVD Ripping Start.jpg

A small progress window will appear, giving you overall information about the ripping process. There are also options to shut down the computer and open the output folder after the process is complete. All that’s left for you to do is wait for the conversion to finish.

01d DVD Ripping - Process.jpg

Another bonus feature of the app is the ability to view and take screenshot(s) from the movie. Just move the slider to the position that you want and click the camera button to the right of the slider.

01f Preview and other menus.jpg

Convert Video Files

The second member of the team is the Video Converter. This one specifically handles file to file conversion and will be especially useful for those who want to bring their movies to mobile devices. The working principle is basically the same with the DVD Ripper; but instead of choosing a DVD to rip, this one will ask you to find video files to convert.

From my simple experiment, I found that the conversion process took more or less the same time as Handbrake. There are some cases where Handbrake is slightly faster than the Video Converter.

02a MacX Video Converter.jpg

Another difference between the Video Converter and the DVD Ripper are the number of pre-configured settings. There are options in the Video Converter that are not present in the DVD Ripper, such as: iPhone, iPod, iPad, Blackberry and Android.

02b List of available device.jpg

The Good, The Bad & The Verdict

To sum up, I will try to quickly compare the DVD Ripper – Video Converter combo with Handbrake.

First, the good. As I’ve mentioned above, DVD Ripper handles copy-protected DVDs better than Handbrake while Video Converter has more pre-configured settings than Handbrake.

Second, the bad. I personally think that the developer could just combine the two apps into one, so users could do everything using just one app – just like Handbrake. As for the conversion speed, we could say that Handbrake is faster – even though the difference is not too significant.

And for the verdict, I think it’s up to the end users to choose which app they prefer to use. But whatever the choice is, it’s always good to have options.

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How To Choose The Right PC Video Card [Technology Explained]

Posted: 23 Sep 2010 08:31 AM PDT

video cards for pcThe graphics processor in your computer is an important part in your system’s overall performance. While the integrated graphics found in most computers are adequate for mundane tasks and some video you’ll need a dedicated video card if you want to play 3D games or watch HD video.

Choosing a video card for a PC isn’t easy however. There are a huge variety of options ranging from tiny cards costing less than $40 to foot-long behemoths with pricetags of over $600. If you choose a video card that isn’t fast enough for your needs you won’t be satisfied with the performance, but if you choose a video card that is too fast you’ll end up spending more money than you needed to.

What Entertains You?

video cards for pcThe first question that you need to ask if you’d like to purchase a video card for your PC is what you hope the video card will accomplish. There are two main tasks that video cards are best at – playing video (including HD video) and playing games.

Playing video is by far the easier of the two tasks. If you only want to purchase a video card so that you can take advantage of GPU video acceleration you don’t need to buy an expensive card. The types of cards that are good for video playback, as well as other related issues, are addressed in a separate MakeUseOf article about how to play video smoothly on your PC.

If you’re a gamer however, read on. You’ll have to purchase a more expensive and complex card and you’ll need to consider a few things that don’t effect users who only want to play video.

Resolution Matters

A game running at thirty frames per second is basically asking the video card running the game to generate thirty images every second. That’s hard work, and it becomes harder as the size of the image (measured in pixels) grows larger.

video cards for pc

Let’s say, for example, that you have two monitors – a 20″ monitor with a resolution of 1600×900 and a 23″ monitor with 1080p resolution. The same game, running at native resolution and the same detail settings, will perform worse on the 23″ 1080p monitor. This is because the size of the images the video card must generate and display is larger.

As a result, the size of your monitor will determine what kind of video card you should buy. If you have a 20″ or smaller monitor you’ll likely be happy with a basic video card around $100. If you have a huge 30″ monitor, however, you’ll need a top-of-the-line card to support the larger display.

Of course, you don’t have to play games at your monitor’s native resolution, but displaying a game at a non-native resolution on a LCD display usually results in major ugly.

RAM – A Plumber’s Analogy

It is easy to become enthralled with the RAM number quoted on a video card. It is an easy, definable indication of performance that all video cards have. This often leads the layman to assume that a video card with more RAM is faster than one with less. I wish RAM issue was that simple, but it isn’t.

best video cardThink of your video card’s RAM as a pipe, and the frames that are generated and sent to your display like water. The GPU in your video card is like a pump, and it alone determines how much water is put into the pipe. As long as the amount of water being pumped doesn’t exceed the capacity of the pipe you’re fine, although you don’t gain much benefit from having the larger pipe.

If the pump sends more water through the pipe than it can handle, however, problems can happen. Water might get backed up or the pipe might burst, stopping the flow of water completely.

The higher an image’s resolution, the more memory it consumes. If you’re playing a game on a video card with 512MB of RAM on a monitor with a resolution of 1600×900, for example, you shouldn’t have a problem. The water being pumped into the pipe doesn’t exceed the capacity. If you increase the resolution to 1080p, however, the game you’re trying to play might slow to a crawl because you’ve exceeded the flow the pipe can handle.

Increasing detail settings can also have this effect, however, so you may want to choose a card with more RAM if playing with every single detail setting turned to maximum is important to you.

Forget What CPUs Taught You About Clock Speeds

Video cards, like most computer components, run at a certain clock speed. Or rather, the GPU that is on the video card runs at a certain clock speed. This clock speed help determines the GPU’s performance. If you take any single GPU and increase its clock speed it will provide faster performance (provided it doesn’t overheat, of course!)

However, clock speed is a terrible way to determine how fast a video card might be. Why? Because graphics processing is massively parallel. A Nvidia GTX 480, for example, has 480 processor cores grouped into 15 streaming multiprocessors. This makes clock speed largely irrelevant as a means of determining a video card’s performance unless you are only comparing video cards that use the exact same GPU.


Picking the best video card can be difficult, but considering the issues above will help. Remember – resolution is a major factor in game performance. If you want to play games at high resolutions you will need a video card that has a fast GPU and a lot of RAM. If you don’t play at high resolutions, however, you can save money by purchasing a less powerful card with less RAM.

I also highly recommend checking a performance chart to see what modern video cards are considered to be the quickest. The Tom’s Hardware performance chart is my favorite source for this information.

Image Credit: The Web Mechanic

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