You probably have more than one PC. Home PCs do so much. Beyond e-mail, web surfing, homework and calendars, you can do financial management, photo and video albums, CD and DVD burning (music and video) and more! If your PCs aren’t up to doing all these things and if they aren’t networked together and connected to a broadband Internet service, you are missing out on all they can do to add to your life!
This page hints at some of the things that we can easily and inexpensively accomplish with today’s PCs and networks. Some can even be done by upgrading your existing PCs.
Be sure to also look at the section on Office Systems, since they share many of the same concerns.
Will the PC run video games?
Gaming – These can be some of the most demanding applications for any PC, home or office. They demand high levels of CPU and disk performance and more powerful video hardware to do 3D rendering and other video effects. Video cards costing up to several hundred dollars support special graphics effects such as 3D, shadowing, and texturing.
DVI – Digital Video Interface. If you have an LCD monitor that supports this interface, your PC should also. Otherwise, you’re not getting the full advantage of your screen
Video Editing – Put your digital pictures and camcorder movies onto videodisks that display on your TV. Add captions, sound, music, and special effects to enhance the experience. (Note: You can use the less expensive CD-R disks. DVD disks are not necessary.)
Video Capturing – Convert your old pictures, slides, and 35mm negatives into digital images. Transform your analog camcorder tapes and VHS tapes into digital movie files.
DVD Extraction – Decrypt video files from commercial DVDs to your hard drive. Extract out the stuff you don’t need (such as foreign subtitles) to save space. Use these video files to edit into your own projects. Or network them over to your laptop to watch them while you’re traveling.
Will the PC be used to listen to music or movies?
Enhanced sound cards support multi-channel speaker systems, high signal-to-noise ratio, high-quality sound recording and special audio effects such as reverb and pitch modification.
Surround Sound – Most new PCs support 5.1-channel audio for multi-channel speaker systems.
MP3 – MP3 files are compressed audio files, usually for holding music. Easy to use software tools help you to maintain a digital music library. Add to it by downloading MP3 files over the internet and by making your own MP3 files from CDs you already own. Newer home and car stereo systems play MP3 CDs that hold over 100 songs on one disk. Portable MP3 players hold MP3 files in memory by connecting to one of your USB ports.
Recording – Enhanced hardware add-ons support high-quality stereo sound recording.
A home network connects two or more PCs in your home together via thin cables that resemble telephone wires or by wireless connections that operate over the same radio frequencies as cordless telephones.
Once in place, any PC on the network can access any disk drive or any printer connected to any other PC on the network. To a software application program, it appears as if all the network resources reside in the local PC.
Once your home network is connected to an Internet Service Provider (ISP), all the PCs in your house automatically have simultaneous internet access.
If you have any special printers (such as a laser printer or photo printer) on one PC, all your PCs can now use it.
In your house, you only need one copy of special files, such as an address book or recipe file. Any updates or new addresses added to it appear an all PCs simultaneously. This includes a laptop you may have since, when you bring it home, it is temporarily in the home network and will sync-up with the changes.
Digital pictures or movies are viewable anywhere in your house. The same goes for music CDs, one you convert them to MP3 files.
Since the network is broadband, you are ready to connect to an ISP broadband network (either DSL or Cable Modem) by simply connecting it to the network with one cable. All PCs on the network are instantly connected. The network router serves as a firewall, protecting all your PCs against outside intrusion. This is important because, with broadband, your PCs are connected to the Internet all the time!
This may be the most important benefit – automatic data back-ups! How long has it been since you last backed-up your financial data files? Because the disk drives of your PCs are external devices to each other, you can copy (or backup) files of one PC to the disk of another. Should the disk on one PC die and need to be replaced, its files can be restored from its mate PC on the network. You would only lose, at the most, anything you did between the time of the loss and the time of the last backup. However, since the PCs are interconnected all the time, backups can be setup to run automatically, such as every night at 2:00 am, without you doing anything! Therefore, you would never lose more than one day’s changes. If you are really worried, a backup can run every hour, or even every few minutes!
Anti-Virus protection – You should have an Anti-Virus utility that automatically updates itself with the latest virus definitions and routinely scans your hard drive, Internet downloads, and emails.
Firewall – This may be either software or hardware that protects your PC from intrusion by sources outside your local network. I recommend a hardware firewall, usually implemented as part of a Router because (1) it protects all the PCs at your location, (2) it does not take CPU resources away from your PC(s), and (3) offensive data never enters your PC(s).
Spyware – These are little programs that sneak onto your system via downloads or web accesses and run without your knowledge. They can do anything from changing your web browser’s home page to monitoring every keystroke you make. If you’ve never scanned your system for Spyware, you’ve probably got dozens of them. And, if your PC is behaving strangely or sluggishly, Spyware is probably the reason why.
Windows Updates – You can have your PC automatically update itself with the latest fixes released by Microsoft. This is important because many of these patches make your PC safer by fixing security problems.
Pop-Ups - Although not strictly a security problem, they are a major nuisance. Pop-up blockers make web surfing so much nicer.
Multiple users – If you have several PCs, by using a Network Router, they can all share the same DSL or Cable Modem connection. Each PC has equal access and can access the Internet even if the other PCs are turned off.
Email – Download your email to your PC so your can read it scads easier than through your ISP’s web browser. Hear an audio chime when there is new email to see (whether or not your email viewer is running.) Automatically delete certain types of email that you know you don’t want to read. File away email messages that you want to keep (such as from family members) in separate folders that you can easily refer back to later.
Time Sync – Have your PC’s clock automatically update itself from national and international time standards services.
Receipts – Save electronic copies of the "print this screen for your records" screen when you buy things online. Then, you don’t have to keep track of paper copies.
Web Links – Set up web links (i.e. Favorites links) to companies that you regularly buy from. Automatically scan your web links to weed out those that are no longer valid (or that you just don’t want to keep anymore.)
Get automatic notification of critical events that occur with your investments, such as when a particular stock goes above or below a certain price.
Banking – Many banks provide access to your checking and saving account online. You can move money between them like you would at an ATM.
System Performance and Tuning
Defragmenting – Your PC’s hard disk needs to be cleaned up occasionally to reunite files that get scattered all over the disk by frequent use. Failure to do so probably won’t cause failures. But things start to slow down after a while when it takes more and more disk accesses to read each file.
Window Integrity – There are many things that can go wrong in Microsoft Windows, and do, continually. These can cause problems if allowed to mount up over time. You should have a utility program that routinely scans for these problems and fixes the problems it finds.
Monitoring – Utility programs help you see what is happening with thing such as CPU and memory usage. They can clue you in when something abruptly changes that might lead to a problem (or need you to upgrade your system).
Screen Backgrounds – Put pleasurable or inspiring pictures as the background for your Windows Desktop. Each system user can have a different picture (so it’s obvious who’s logged in.)
Sounds – Associate poignant or humorous sounds with various screen events (such as pop-up alert windows).