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How-to Guides

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How can I extend a laptop's battery life?

Laptops are deceptive – they use more power than one might think, depending on how they are set up. Two identical laptops can use drastically different amounts of power, simply based on what the computers are configured to do. Some tips for conserving power include:

  1. Dim your screen – By far the fastest and easiest way to save battery power is to dim your screen. The brighter your screen is the more power it will consume. Go into your system settings and dim the screen to the lowest tolerable level.
  2. Defragment your hard drive regularly – The more your hard drive has to work, the more power it consumes. The more data is scattered on your hard drive, the more work it will have to do to find it. Defragmenting your hard drive will keep data organized most efficiently. Mac OS X systems are an exception to this – they do not need to be defragmented.
  3. Turn off multiple programs – The more programs you have running at the same time, the more power will be consumed. Turn off music programs, scheduling programs, and anything else you aren’t actively using. When you’re on battery power, only use what you need.
  4. Add RAM – Having more memory in your notebook will reduce the amount of virtual memory you use, which means less demand on the hard drive.
  5. Disconnect peripherals – Anything plugged into your computer is drawing power from it. When you’re on battery power, try not to use wired mice or recharge your MP3 player.
  6. Use the hard drive over CD or DVD drives – CD and DVD drives consume more power than hard drives. Do your best to transfer CD or DVD data (music, videos, etc.) to your hard drive.
  7. Maintain your battery – Don’t just forget about your battery. There are some things you can do to keep it in top shape:
    1. Clean the contacts on your battery every couple of months. This keeps the transfer of power as efficient as possible.
    2. Don’t leave your battery charged for a long period of time. Once charged, use the battery at least once a week.
  8. Choose hibernation over standby – Standby seems like a good power saving option, and gives the added benefit of being able to instantly start up from where you left off, but hibernate saves more battery power.
  9. Keep it cool – Notebooks operate most efficiently when they are cool. Clean out your notebook’s cooling fan and air vents or use a cooling mat (preferably both).
  10. Manage your settings – You can set your notebook to use optimal power settings within your operating system’s power settings. Normally there is an option specifically for notebooks that is optimized for power management.

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How do I quiet a noisy fan?

Your fan is running hard because things are heating up.

  1. Use a cooling mat – A cooling mat takes a lot of the burden off of the notebook’s internal fan by cooling the notebook. This is especially true if you are gaming, performing multimedia work, or having lots of programs running at once. A cooling mat will help keep your notebook cool (and quiet).
  2. Turn off unneeded processes – When your notebook is running, it’s doing a lot of things that you aren’t even aware it’s doing. By killing off unwanted processes, you’re saving battery power and the heat generated by that extra work.
    1. In Windows you can configure start up applications and processes by using the Windows System Configuration Utility. Hit Start and then find Run. Type in msconfig and press OK. Navigate to the Startup tab and toggle the items you want to run when the computer first boots.
    2. In Mac OS X, click on the Apple icon in the upper left and then select System Preferences. In the System section, click on the Users & Groups icon. Click on the user you wish to manage and then click on the Login Items tab. Highlight the item you wish to remove and then click the minus sign to get rid of it.
  3. Keep it clean – Removing dust not only keeps your notebook clean, but it also maximizes airflow, thus increasing your fan’s efficiency. You will need a can of compressed air and a screwdriver. Turn off your notebook, remove the battery, and remove the screws that secure the case. Once that’s done, start spraying it with the compressed air. Spray air in short, controlled bursts. Look for dust build ups around fans, heat sinks, and vents.

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How do I properly set up the touchpad?

Your laptop’s touchpad isn’t just a simple mouse replacement – it can be used for a lot more than just moving the cursor around. It can be used to perform more complex tasks than the poor mouse can – but you have to tell it what to do.

Windows:

  1. Click Start, enter “mouse” in the search field, and then select the Mouse control panel program from the search results.
  2. In the resulting dialog box, manage the touchpad’s behavior based on your needs.

Mac OS X:

  1. Click the Apple icon in the upper left, and then select System Preferences.
  2. Select Trackpad from the Hardware section.
  3. Manage your trackpad’s behavior based on your needs.

There are a number of things that you can do with the touchpad. For instance:

  • You can set different functions based on how many fingers you use to swipe up, down, left, or right across the touchpad surface.
  • Touching the touchpad on the bottom left or right can be the same as a button click.
  • Tapping the lower right hand corner can give the right click menu.
  • Tapping the top left hand corner can minimize the active window.

The functionality of your touchpad is quite impressive. Don’t be afraid to get into the settings and experiment with what works best for you.


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How do I connect to the Internet?

Nearly every new laptop contains a built-in wireless network adapter, giving the laptop its Wi-Fi connection capabilities. The built in Wi-Fi card allows you to detect wireless networks accessible in your home or your office. You can also use it when you travel with your laptop computer, allowing you to access public Wi-Fi hotspots in restaurants, hotels, and airports.


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How do I set up for Skype?

Skype is a great way to use your notebook as a Jetson’s-style video phone. It’s especially useful when you are on the road and want to talk to your family or need to conduct a business video conference. Skype allows video conferencing, regular phone calls, text messaging, and file transfers. The best part is that Skype is easy and free (although some features require a paid membership). Set up requires a few steps:

  1. Set up your web cam – If your notebook has a built in video camera, then you’re already set. However, if your notebook doesn’t have one or you want to use a different camera, it’s a matter of plugging it into an open USB port and following the manufacturer’s setup instructions.
  2. Download and run the Skype installer – It’s free to install and can be found for Windows, Mac, or Linux.
  3. Get an account – Skype needs some basic information (your name, a desired username, e-mail, and what country you live in) or you can connect with your Facebook credentials.
  4. Check audio settings – Checking and adjusting audio settings can be done by following these steps.

On Windows:

  1. Sign in to Skype.
  2. Click Tools and then Options.
  3. In the Options screen, click Audio Settings.
  4. You can manage your computer’s available options via the Microphone and Speakers drop-down lists.
  5. Click Save.

On Mac:

  1. Go to the Skype menu and choose Preferences.
  2. Click on the Audio/Video tab.
  3. You’re presented with your computer’s available options for microphone, ringing, speakers, and camera. You also have a slider that allows you to adjust the volume.
  1. Test it – Once you have Skype set up and your account established, you needn’t bother someone else to make sure it works – Skype offers an automated test service that allows you to make sure everything is working properly.

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How do I transfer files and applications from my old computer?

If you’re buying a new notebook, chances are good that you’ll need to get files and applications off from another computer. This can be accomplished easily.

  1. Via network connection – Connect your notebook to your work network or your home network. You can do this either with an Ethernet cable or via Wi-Fi. Your transfer speed will depend on how fast your Wi-Fi or Ethernet are. You might find that your Wi-Fi is a faster connection than Ethernet. Once you’ve connected, set up a folder on your desktop, and then share it.

Windows

  1. Right click the new folder and select Sharing and security.
  2. Select the Share tab and check the box Share this folder on the network.

Mac OS X

  1. Right click the new folder and select Get Info.
  2. Check the Shared folder checkbox.

You’ll be able to access this folder from your network and transfer files into it.

  1. Via USB drive – You can store as much as 64GB on a single drive (and they’re not all that expensive). Insert the flash drive into an open USB port and in a few seconds your computer will recognize it. Simply drag and drop files onto it, take it out, plug it into your notebook and drag the files out of it.
  2. Via external media – You can place files onto a CD or DVD-ROM or an external hard drive. After you’ve transferred the files, take them to your new notebook and transfer them from the external media.
  3. Via e-mail – If you only have a few files to transfer, you needn’t bother with network connections or flash drives – simply send yourself an e-mail with the files attached. This only works for smaller files.

Applications tend to be more complex to transfer, simply because they are made up of numerous files, often spread around your computer’s file system. You will need either the original installation media (CD or DVD-ROM) or an installer file.


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How do I manage my notebook’s power settings?

Managing your notebook’s power is accomplished via a power management application in your operating system. Different flavors of Windows or Mac vary subtly, but they follow the same basic steps.

Windows:

  1. Type power settings into the search bar in the Start Menu and hit Enter.
  2. The Power Options screen opens and from here you can select from three predefined plans – Balanced, Power saver, or High performance.
  3. To change any one of the predefined power plans click on Change plan settings.
  4. You can also change the amount of inactive time before the monitor is turned off or the computer goes into Sleep mode.
  5. To revert back to the default settings, simply click on Restore default settings for this plan.
  6. You can also create a custom power plan (by clicking Create a power plan from the Power Options section). Simply give the new plan a name and manage the settings you want customized and then click the Create button. Once a new plan is created, it will be added to the list of power plans and you can quickly select it.

Mac OS X:

  1. Go to System Preferences.
  2. Click Show All (if necessary).
  3. Select Energy Saver from the Hardware row.
  4. Utilize the sliders to customize:
    1. Computer sleep
    2. Display sleep
  5. The check boxes can be selected to allow the hard disk to sleep, enable Wake-on-LAN, reduce brightness, and restart automatically after a power failure.
  6. The “Schedule..." button can be used to automatically start up and shut down your computer on a schedule.
  7. You can specify an alternative power profile that will take effect when the Mac is running on battery power.

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