Wednesday, April 13, 2011 “Cool Websites and Tools [April 12th]” plus 11 more “Cool Websites and Tools [April 12th]” plus 11 more

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Cool Websites and Tools [April 12th]

Posted: 12 Apr 2011 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. You can make use of them without spending a dime. If you want to have similar cool websites round-ups delivered to your email daily email subscribe here.

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Queue Noodle – Netflix movies lets you watch movies instantly from your computer, tablet or gaming console. However, the movies don't stay there forever and once they expire, you have to queue them up in your DVD requests to watch them at home. QueueNoodle is a service that lets you avoid that hassle. Read more: QueueNoodle: Get Notified About Expiring Netflix Movies


Groovylists – iTunes users who stream music through Grooveshark spend quite a bit of time manually creating Grooveshark playlists. If there was a method that exported the iTunes playlists to Grooveshark, it would surely be appreciated by all. This method is now available thanks to GroovyLists. Read more: Groovylists: Migrate, Spotify & iTunes Playlists To Grooveshark



Free Documentary TV – If you are into watching documentaries, FreeDocumentary is a great resource to bookmark. It is a simple website that indexes free full-length documentary films available on the web from sites like YouTube, DailyMotion, etc. You can browse documentaries by categories. Read more: FreeDocumentaryTV: Watch Free Full-Length Documentary Films



SimpleShell – If you want to use the Linux command line to check something quickly but don't want to go through time consuming installations, SimpleShell is a great alternative. It is a web app that gives you a terminal emulator and a Linux shell account that can be accessed with just a simple browser. Read more: SimpleShell: Web Based One Click Linux Shell Access



Rent Calculator – Living with flatmates always means splitting the overall expenses. One of the most debated expenses is probably the apartment's rent. “Calculate the Rent” is here to help you end the debate and reach a fair decision on who should pay how much. Various factors are taken into consideration during the evaluation. You start by entering the total rent amount. Read more: Rent-Calculator: Fair Apartment Rent Calculation Online


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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The 13 Toughest Tech Questions [MakeUseOf Answers]

Posted: 12 Apr 2011 06:31 PM PDT

tough questionMakeUseOf Answers provides a never-ending stream of questions and solutions. If you have answers to the tough ones you should definitely share them! A great solution could win you a prize!

In our weekly contest the Best Answer of the Week is rewarded with $50 and two runners-up win $30 and $20, respectively. Every comment automatically enters the contest, however, we need to be able to contact you and only serious answers need apply.

Are you able to solve these?

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Join MakeUseOf On Facebook!

Posted: 12 Apr 2011 04:31 PM PDT

If you like reading MakeUseOf and have a Facebook account, join MakeUseOf on Facebook, enjoy reading our greatest posts and download over 30 PDF guides on various topics!

We also use our fan page to inform you about premium software giveaways and discounts that are not announced on the website. We get a lot of those from software developers and distribute them mainly on Facebook. Simply click on the “Like” button below to get started!

So grab some friends and join us on Facebook today!

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Free CAD Drawing For Linux, Windows & Mac Using LibreCAD

Posted: 12 Apr 2011 02:31 PM PDT

free cad softwareFor all you Computer Aided Design (CAD) fans out there, it’s time to introduce you to another cool, free way to work on your technical drawings and designs. The newly renamed LibreCAD (a.k.a. CADuntu) began as an Ubuntu CAD client, but has since been released as a Mac and Windows port as well.

LibreCAD Beta 4 is a free 2D open source CAD client, which can be used for all manner of 2D design, including architectural plans, engineering drafting, graphic design and the design of mechanical parts. The LibreCAD client is quite advanced for free, open source CAD software, allowing layer control and complex item selection processes. We’ll take a closer look at the Mac LibreCAD client in this article, but keep in mind that it’s free for Windows and Linux too.

Side note: You’re possibly a bit of a designer if you’re reading this far. LibreCAD are currently holding a logo contest which you can join by following these guidelines (the prize is to be acknowledged in the ‘About’ dialogue). Or if you prefer, make some comments on the current best logo submissions.

LibreCAD Set-Up

Set-up is simple, involving a simple copy of the application to the Applications folder. The application currently is still shown as CADuntu, despite the new name change.

free cad software

When you run the program for the first time, you can choose your language from a surprising number of language choices. This setting can also be changed later in preferences.

free cad program

General LibreCAD Functions

At first glance, it’s easy to see that regular users of other popular CAD programs will have no problems working out how to get started and create a simple design. There’s a straightforward menu palette of basic tools to your left, layer options at the top and a blank template screen with little dots as guides. It’s very easy to jump in and get a feel for LibreCAD and piece together a simple diagram.

free cad program

All other typical CAD functions can be found in the menu bar. There’s a number of different view options, selection and modification tools, drawing options, snap choices, dimensioning and information tools, plus layering and block options.

free cad program

The layers support is vital for creating detailed models and keeping large sets of information separate from each other. The available selection tools are also sufficiently advanced to allow complex selection.

free cad design software

Below the drawing there is a command line, which allows you to enter diameters and other information as the CAD tools you use require. You’ll see the prompt for information if you have chosen such a tool.

free cad software

More About LibreCAD

LibreCAD can be used for any 2D architectural drafting, engineering designs, mechanical parts drawing, construction, simulation, interior design, creative design work or other diagrams.

Files are saved as DXF format or can be exported to a number of picture formats, such as JPG or PNG.

More Design Articles

If you’re into CAD programs or design in general, you’ll love these articles:

Have you tried LibreCAD? For your purposes, how does it compare to popular CAD tools and other free CAD software? Let us know in the comments!

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Hot Tech Deals [Apr 12th]

Posted: 12 Apr 2011 01:30 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.

  1. $150 off Customized HP Pavilion dm1z Laptop Coupon Code: NB3527 (Exp after 450 uses)
  2. 30% off Customized HP Pavilion dv6t Select Edition Laptop Coupon Code: NB7758 (450 uses)
  3. 30% off Customized HP Pavilion dv7t Quad Laptop Coupon Code: NB6973 (560 uses)
  4. 33% off Customized HP Pavilion dv6t Quad Laptop Coupon Code: NB8095 (1350 uses)
  5. HP dv6tqe Intel Core i7-2630QM Quad-Core Sandy Bridge 15.6in Laptop $770.49 via code NB8095 (Exp after 1350 uses)
  6. HP dv7tqe Intel Core i7-2630QM Quad-Core Sandy Bridge 17.3in Laptop w/ Blu-Ray $874.99 via code NB6973 (Exp Soon)
  7. HP Pavilion dm1z AMD Dual-Core E-350 (FUSION) 11.6in Laptop w/ Radeon HD6310 $399 via code NB3527 (Exp Soon)
  8. HP dv6tse Intel Core i5-2410 2.3GHz Sandy Bridge 15in Laptop w/ Radeon 6590 $664 via code NB7758 (Exp Soon)
  9. TODAY ONLY AMD Phenom II X4 840 3.2GHz CPU Super Combo $249.99AR via rebate and rebate
  10. TODAY ONLY Audio Unlimited Premium 900MHz Wireless Indoor/Outdoor Speakers $49.99
  11. HP G42 Intel Dual-Core P6200 2.13GHz 14in Laptop (4GB/320GB/Win7) $369.99 via code TECHBARG30 (Exp Soon)

Image credit: Modified from Svengraph’s icon set

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10 Free Online Tools To Test Your Website Loading Speeds & Create Faster Webpages

Posted: 12 Apr 2011 12:31 PM PDT

website speed testNot every website can be a Google. No; not in terms of scale but in terms of the speed with which it loads up in our browsers. Minimalism is great, but it does not go with the need to put more content and animated ads on the webpage. It is sometimes a trade-off which every web designer has to make.

Creating faster webpages is one of the commandments of great web design. A slow loading speed not only indicates poor design but is also a huge turn-off for visitors. Slow loading webpages could also be symptoms of bugs or any other bottleneck.

The first step you can take to optimize your website is to put it through a speed test. These ten tools are few of the many which can help test loading speeds and give cues to create faster webpages.


website speed test

The timer gives you the average loading time of your website. Enter the URL of your site, set the number of runs, and get the results in terms of Average, Median, and Standard Deviation after the runs are through. You can set the number of test runs. While running the website speed test, the app factors in all images, stylesheets, and Javascript. It runs in all popular browsers. (See Directory mention)

Which Loads Faster?

free website speed checker

Pit one site against the other and see which one comes out on top. You can benchmark the faster website and use it optimize the speed of your own website. The choice of two modes allows you to control the loading simultaneously in case one site interferes with the other. It could be quite a fun tool too as the 'epic test' between Apple and Adobe shows that Apple has bit of an edge. (See Directory mention)

Web Page Test

free website speed checker was developed by AOL and then Open Sourced. This web app gives you a long list of server locations to try out the tests on. Another dropdown enables you to set a specific browser (IE9 too). Advanced Settings are for further fine-tuning the test by setting parameters like the number of test runs, connection type, including scripts etc. You can also use a visual tool to compare multiple URLs together.  (See Directory mention)

free website speed checker

This website speed tool is definitely one of the coolest around in terms of visual appeal. gives you more than 50 server locations around the world to try out loading speeds on. The first run retrieves the loading speed for a random location. The next ones can be set by country and browser type. As the test completes, you also get snapshots of the webpage at various points on a timeline. The loading time also displays the individual loading times of each site element in a waterfall chart. The data can also be downloaded as a HAR file. (See Directory mention)


website for checking download speed

This page loading speed tester gives you an instant speed report that also scores your site from 0 to 100. The report displays data like the total number of elements, page size, download time, and the score. With this as a denominator, you can instantly compare it against a competitor site and see the performance. (See Directory mention)

Ping Brigade

website for checking download speed

Test your website on three scales – ping, page load, and web server latency. The test is quite fast and a colored map gives you clickable server locations in America and the world to test with different servers. (See Directory mention)


website for checking download speed

Test your page load speeds The Full Page Test gives you a detailed visual report on the load time of each element (images, CSS, JavaScripts, RSS, Flash and frames/iframes). Objects included in javascript are ignored. You can sort through the results with the tools available on the menu bar and diagnose any bottlenecks if any.


The free website performance test gives a neat visual display of loading times with reference to a few locations around the world. The number of objects on the page are also broken down in a nice colorful pie-chart. Use the waterfall chart to analyze each individual element in more detail.


WebSlug's site timer gives you a comparative estimate of two websites. With just the URL you can benchmark one site against another. The simple site is pretty limited in scope but can be used as a 'battle tool' between two websites.


website speed test

Page Speed is an open-source project from Google that's available as an online app and also as a Chrome extension. Page Speed Online analyzes the content of a web page, and then generates suggestions to make that page faster. The suggestions are graded as low, medium, and high priority. Using this valuable tool you can see the suggestions on each object on the webpage. In an improvement, PageSpeed also tweaks the suggestions for faster mobile browsing.

Webmasters need a bevy of tools to work on optimization of their websites. Along with the online apps, there are quite a few extensions and offline tools as well. Tina's post shows you – How To Run A Speed Test On Your Website with FireBug and YSlow. If you are looking for a portable app, take a look at Speed Monitor. Which tools would you recommend to speedup websites and blogs?

Image Credit: Shutterstock

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How To Browse Privately In Chrome Without Going Fully Incognito

Posted: 12 Apr 2011 11:31 AM PDT

browse privately with google chromeAs I’ve stated in the past, depending on what I’m doing on the web, I like to “make use of” the different browsers that are available to me, but these days I am primarily a Google Chrome user. I’m a fan of the simplicity, speed, and innovation that Google constantly seems to be implementing, like with Chrome Instant and the new speak-to-search addition to Google Chrome beta. Last week, I even pointed out some of Chrome’s themes that I’m partial to.

One of the features I especially like about Chrome is its incognito mode. When in incognito mode, webpages you open and files you download won’t be recorded in your browser’s history file, and cookies are deleted on exit, making your browsing session truly stealthy.

Unfortunately however, not having cookies means you’ll have to re-log into your favorite sites and re-enable the extensions you want to use one by one. But did you know that there’s a way for you to browse privately in Google Chrome but still stay signed into all your sites and have access to your extensions?

How Do I Access Incognito Mode?

If you still aren’t sure how to open an incognito window, I’ll show you real fast. All you have to do is go up to the top right of your Chrome window and click on the little wrench icon. Then, select New Incognito Window and a new window will open up with the little spy-guy in the top right-hand corner.

browse privately with google chrome

Alternatively, you can open an incognito window up by typing the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+Shift+N on a PC, or ?+Shift+N on a Mac.

chrome browser privacy

All of your extensions will be gone, but don’t worry, they’re still installed, just disabled temporarily. Any changes you make to your bookmarks and general settings while in incognito mode will still take, so you don’t have to worry about changing your settings each time you browse this way.

Incognito mode may be all you were looking for as far as private browsing, but if you would like to make your normal Chrome window not record your browsing history keep reading.

Browsing Privately Without Incognito Mode

If you would like to be able to use Chrome the normal way but you would like to have the ability to tell the browser to not save your history without being in incognito mode, all you need to do is make it so the browser doesn’t write to your history file. That may sound complicated, but it’s really quite easy to do…

How To On A PC

If you’re using a PC with Windows, just browse to C:\Users\AppData\Local\Google\Chrome\User Data\Default\History. Right-click the history file and hit properties. Check the box that says “Read Only” and exit.

How To On A Mac

chrome browser privacy

If you’re using a Mac with OS X, just open a Finder window and browse to [your root name]/Library/Application Support/Google/Chrome/Default/History. Right-click the history file – or click the little gear drop-down menu – and hit Get Info. At the bottom, under Sharing & Permissions, set every drop-down to Read Only. Once done, you’re free to exit.

browse privately with google chrome

Now you should be able to browse the web using Chrome without any of your history – from the point you alter the file – being recorded by the browser. When you’re ready to start keeping your history again you can follow the steps to set the file back to how it was before you changed it.

Will you be utilizing this method to browse the web in stealth mode? Are there any other things you would like to be able to do with the Chrome browser? Leave a comment below so we can discuss!

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FEEDBACK: What Do You Think Of Our Best Windows Software Page?

Posted: 12 Apr 2011 11:00 AM PDT

If you’ve been following us recently, you would have read our announcement regarding the update performed on our Best Of: Windows Software page. In the latest listing, we included 12 new applications, including Sticky Password, Threatfire, and a few more deserving software. Now we would like your input.

What do you think of our Best Of: Windows Software collection?

  • Do you agree with the apps that we’ve included?
  • Do you think that we should remove any of them?
  • Are there any apps that you would like to suggest?

As always, we appreciate your input and suggestions. If we’ve overlooked anything, please let us know. If you are an app developer and think your software should be featured on our Best Of: Windows Software page, please contact us.

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Build Beautiful Mini Websites In 60 Seconds Or Less Using Zapd [iOS]

Posted: 12 Apr 2011 10:31 AM PDT

how to build mini websitesDo you still remember the good old times when hand coding was the only way to build websites? Me neither. Web building tools these days are so easy to use that anybody can build their own websites in a matter of minutes without even touching a single letter of code. Just press a few buttons and your site is ready.

While the process might have gone from lines of codes to series of buttons, everything is still stuck within the realms of computers. Nobody would have thought of building websites on a mobile phone. Not until the appearance of Zapd, a free iOS app that allows you to get your beautiful website up and running in 60 seconds – or less.

Tinkering With Templates

Everybody would agree that “the ability to build a beautiful website in less than 60 seconds” is a hard promise to keep – even for a powerful desktop web builder. So Zapd must have a few tricks up its sleeves.

The first trick is the template-based approach. Similar to iWeb, Zapd provides users with a number of beautiful web templates. They are professionally designed and ready to use. The only thing missing from the templates is the content. The second trick is the simple method of adding content. Zapd makes it very easy to add content – all users need to do is upload photos and write short sentences. In my opinion, Zapd is like the mobile phone version of Tumblr.

Since experience is the best teacher, let’s start by downloading and installing the app to your iOS device. Tap “Start a Zap” to start. Note: “Zap” is a website created using Zapd.

how to build mini websites

The first thing that will greet you is the collection of templates. There are currently 20 mini web page templates that you can choose from. The basic layout is a page title at the top, followed by an image and the caption, a text block, and a link.

mini website builder

Here are several other examples of templates.

mini website builder

The themes are quite various, from the minimalist look, to the artistic photo gallery. From the cute and girlie look, to the dark and formal.

mini website builder

Building & Publishing Your Zaps

After choosing one of the templates, you’ll go into the edit mode. Tap the “Settings” tab to enable/disable the profile sidebar, to change the theme, and to delete the Zap.

mini website

Tap the “Edit” tab to give a page title, and add content in the form of text, photos, and links. Photos can be taken from the device camera or from the photo library, and they can be resized and moved around before chosen.

mini website

Add a caption to a photo and tap “Done” to add it to the page. You can rearrange content by tapping, holding and dragging the right bar of any item.

mini website

After you finish adding all the content you want, click the orange “Next” button at the top right corner of the page to publish your Zap.

First time users need to sign in using their Facebook or email account before they can publish their zaps.

04a Sign In

Other than publishing the zaps, you will also have the option to share your creation via Facebook, Twitter and Email. Zapd will generate a short URL for every page you create and host the results on its server.

04b Share

All the zaps/pages that you’ve created will appear on the library and you can quickly access a specific item by tapping on it.

06 Library

The results are in the form of mini sites and are accessible from both the desktop and the mobile web browser.

how to build mini websites

In case you are wondering, I built each of the examples above in less than a minute.

The Future Of Mobile Web Building

It’s true that Zapd’s 60 second mini sites are not in the league of professionally built full-scale personalized websites. But if you are looking for a quick way to publish your photos and stories, Zapd is the answer.

Even though (as far as I know) Zapd is the only mobile web builder available today, and it’s only available for iOS devices, the concept opens up broader possibilities. You can bet that the combination of mobile clients, solid templates, and web publishing will find its way onto other mobile platforms in the near future.

What do you think? Will people embrace mobile web publishing? Is there any other method to build quick websites from a mobile phone that you know of? Please share your thoughts using the comments below.

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3 Easy Bookmarklets To Print Nice Looking Web Pages Without Craplets

Posted: 12 Apr 2011 09:31 AM PDT

print web pagePrinting information from the web is often a challenge because websites are plastered with sidebars, images, advertisements, and other unprintable elements. What makes a website look fantastic is a real drag when printing because all of these items waste precious ink and paper. Unfortunately, those sites that need a printable version most, notoriously don’t offer it.

Rather than just printing everything or using copy&paste to create a custom document for printing, you can be smart and use one of the bookmarklet tools I will introduce below. A bookmarklet typically is a little javascript utility that sits in your browser bookmarks bar and does its magic once you click it. The following bookmarklets can help you cut all the junk out of a website and print a nice looking version.

Bookmarklets work in any browser. Typically, you drag and drop it from a button on a website into your bookmarks bar. In Internet Explorer you right-click the button and select > Add to Favorites.


This applet will automatically strip elements from a website that are known to be superfluous. If you have your own website, but can’t be bothered to set up a print option, you can add a Joliprint button instead.

When you see the button on a website or have the bookmarklet in your bookmarks, all you need to do is click it and wait while Joliprint prepares your document.

print web page

When your PDF is ready, you can download, open, and print it. Or you can share it via Facebook, Twitter, Email, or by using the provided link.

The screenshot below shows an excerpt from the PDF.

print website

The downside obviously is that you cannot customize the page in any way. You have to trust that Joliprint knows what it’s doing. On the other hand it’s fast and painless.


PrintWhatYouLike lets you fully customize a page and print it directly or save it as a document. PrintWhatYouLike also offers a printer friendly button for your website.

To launch the PWYL editor, click the button or bookmarklet and wait a second. To isolate, remove, widen, resize, or save only selected items, simply click them in the website on the right and select the respective option from the little menu that opens up. You can select more than one element at once and apply the action to all of them at once.

print website

You will also notice a sidebar on the left hand side of the website you are editing. In addition to manipulating single items, it allows you to change the default text size and font, remove the background, all images and margins, as well as undo and redo changes. A shortcut is to click Auto Format, which yields a text only version of the website.

Once you’re happy with the result, you can print the website directly or save it as PDF or HTML.


Among the bookmarklets introduced here, I find PrintFriendly to be the most user friendly solution because it unites all of the best features of Joliprint and PrintWhatYouLike. If you agree, you might want to get not only the bookmarklet, but also the button for your website.

Once again, visit a website you wish to print and click the bookmarklet. When the PrinterFriendly document preview opens, you will find that all the usual suspects have already been stripped: sidebars, ads, menu bars etc.

print website

You can now go ahead and remove anything else you don’t want to see in your final document. Mouseover the respective element and ‘click to delete‘.

print web page

When you’re done you can either print, save as PDF or email the document.

MakeUseOf has profiled several similar tools in the Directory:

Also check out the article How To Print A Web Page The Way You Want It and 2 Useful Bookmarklets To Make Your Web Reading Easier.

I highly recommend you save interesting articles to PDF for reference. This way you can also transfer them to your eReader, rather than printing them and wasting paper and ink. Besides, the file on your eReader will last longer than sheets of paper.

Image credits: vladis torms

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Washing Machine for OS X Giveaway Winners

Posted: 12 Apr 2011 09:00 AM PDT

Last week, we offered 25 licenses for a brilliant little app for Mac OS X that helps to remove sensitive information securely called Washing Machine. Here are the winners.

  1. Adisa Minka
  2. Alberto Turella
  3. Alex Shen
  4. alfred lim
  5. Ashwin Murali
  6. Benoit Descary
  7. Bonnie Marie Bates
  8. Bruce
  9. Emanuele
  10. Eric Miller
  11. genci
  12. Jayrus N Asuncion
  13. Jeffrey Kushner
  14. JoAnn Francis
  15. Keith Sanders
  16. Kevin Law
  17. Kim Fine
  18. Kyle Maguire
  19. Michael
  20. Mike Frazier
  21. Nancy Cunningham
  22. Richard Boughton
  23. sachin Jain
  24. Spencer Williams
  25. Wing K

Congratulations! An email with your license has been sent from If you haven’t received it, please check your spam inbox or contact Jackson.


MakeUseOf would like to thank Intego for their generosity while participating in this giveaway. Interesting in sponsoring? We’d love to hear from you. Get in touch with us via email.

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Five Important PC Gaming Terms Explained

Posted: 12 Apr 2011 08:31 AM PDT

gaming terminologyIf you play a game on a console, the technical details are handled for you. Some players prefer this, but PC gamers often enjoy the greater degree of control they have over a game's eye candy.

Of course, the customization offered by PC games is of no use if you don't know the gaming terminology and what the settings mean. This tutorial will bring you up to speed by explaining the five most common terms and their impact on your gaming experience.

Anisotropic Filtering

Virtually all modern games use mipmapping. This is a technique where a texture that is far away from the player is rendered at a lower quality in order to improve performance.

There is a problem with mipmapping, though – often, the switch between the high-quality and low-quality texture is visible. Let’s say you’re looking down a hallway. The texture of the walls and floor near you will be rendered with a high resolution texture. But at some point further away from you, the game has to switch to a low quality texture. The transition is likely to be visible, and annoying.

gaming terminology

Anisotropic Filtering (AF) tries to fix this problem by smoothing the transition between those textures. In a way, it's anti-aliasing for textures. Many modern games have AF settings that range between 2x and 16x. Increasing this setting can improve the appearance of textures, but can also impact performance. If your video card is chugging, reducing this setting can be a big help.


pc gaming terminology

A modern computer monitor creates an image via pixels. One of the limitations of pixels is the fact that a pixel can only be one color at any one time.

In 3D games that's an issue because the edges of objects are rarely viewed in perfect lines, and two objects of drastically different colors and brightness are often paired together. Anti-Aliasing (or AA) finds a color and brightness that is an appropriate compromise and then places that along the edge. This softens the edge, resulting in a more realistic scene.

The algorithm used to determine to soften the edge is not free, however. It requires more graphical might, and can drag down a video card that is already struggling. Most games have a number of AA settings – usually 2x, 4x and 8x. Reducing AA will improve performance, but you'll want to try and keep at least the minimal setting on, as turning AA off completely will result in much lower image quality (as you can see in the image above).

High Dynamic Range Lighting

The human eye is very good at seeing differences in contrast. Games, however, are not always able to keep up. It's not unusual for game engines to give up when rendering extreme contrast, resulting in loss of detail.

High Dynamic Range (HDR) lighting increases the level of brightness that can be rendered, making it possible for overpowering light sources to stand out. Enabling HDR often results in most intense visuals with dominant light sources that bleed into objects (an effect known as bloom).

pc gaming terminology

Now a common feature, HDR lighting can have a large negative effect on performance, but also can make a big difference in how a game looks. Not everyone thinks HDR results in a more realistic image, and different game engines treat the feature in different ways. I suggest experimenting with this feature in every game to see if you like the results and can deal with the performance impact.

Shader Model

Contrary to the name, shaders are not merely a means of rendering shadows to a scene. They are, in fact, a fundamental part of how computer graphics are rendered. There are many different types of shaders, and they do many different things, but  there is one particular term you should know – shader model.

The shader model is the shading language used to program shaders. Newer shader models come with more features, most of which are difficult to understand without a degree in computer programming. For gamers, shader model is important because it determines how well and if a game will run on your video card.

If you have an older video card, it will likely only support older shader models. However, some games use newer shader models and therefore won't run on older video cards. In some cases, graphics features might be disabled if your card doesn't support the appropriate shader model. If you have an older graphics card you should always check the system requirements of games before you buy them to avoid paying for a game you can’t actually play, or can only play at reduced graphics settings.


gaming terminology

All objects in a game are made of polygons. Character models usually have a fixed polygon count, but the detail can be scaled down or up through the use of mathematical algorithms. This results in very high detail where required, and lower detail where not required. That's tessellation in a nutshell.

Some game engines have been using tessellation for years, but the feature was given official support in DirectX 11, which means there is now a tessellation standard that can be used by all games. In the past, tessellation has focused on decreasing the detail of distant objects to improve performance. With DirectX 11, it's now possible to dynamically increase the detail of objects, improving image quality. In the example above, notice the slightly more rounded chin and head that is visible when tessellation is on.

Not many games support DirectX 11 tessellation, but those that do can benefit from it greatly. However, this is a new feature, and not many video cards can cope with it. You'll need a DirectX 11 graphics card and a fairly beefy one at that.


Hopefully this article has de-mystified these PC gaming terms. Not every PC gamer needs to know what these terms mean, but if you want to optimize your gaming experience, it's important to know what the fancy graphics settings do. Feel free to ask any questions. I'll do my best to answer them.

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