Tuesday, December 25, 2012

How to Clear Your Computer’s CMOS to Reset BIOS Settings


Your computer stores low-level settings like the system time and hardware settings in its CMOS. These settings are configured in the BIOS setup menu. If you’re experiencing a hardware compatibility issue or another problem, you may want to try clearing the CMOS.
Clearing the CMOS resets your BIOS settings back to their factory default state. In most cases, you can clear the CMOS from within the BIOS menu. In some cases, you may have to open your computer’s case.

Use the BIOS Menu

The easiest way to clear the CMOS is from your computer’s BIOS setup menu. To access the setup menu, restart your computer and press the key that appears on your screen – often Delete or F2 – to access the setup menu.
If you don’t see a key displayed on your screen, consult your computer’s manual. Different computers use different keys. (If you built your own computer, consult your motherboard’s manual instead.)
Within the BIOS, look for the Reset option. It may be named Reset to default, Load factory defaults, Clear BIOS settings, Load setup defaults, or something similar.
Select it with your arrow keys, press Enter, and confirm the operation. Your BIOS will now use its default settings – if you’ve changed any BIOS settings in the past, you’ll have to change them again.

Use the CLEAR CMOS Motherboard Jumper

Many motherboards contain a jumper that can be used to clear CMOS settings if your BIOS is not accessible. This is particularly useful if the BIOS is password-protected and you don’t know the password.
The exact location of the jumper can be found in the motherboard’s (or computer’s) manual. You should consult the manual for more detailed instructions if you want to use the motherboard jumper.
However, the basic process is fairly similar on all computers. Flip the computer’s power switch to off to ensure it’s not receiving any power. Open the computer’s case and locate the jumper named something like CLEAR CMOS, CLEAR, CLR CMOS, PASSWORD, or CLR PWD – it will often be near the CMOS battery mentioned below. Ensure you’re grounded so you don’t damage your motherboard with static electricity before touching it. Set the jumper to the “clear” position, power on your computer, turn it off again, set the jumper to the original position – and you’re done.
Image Credit: Eden Richardson

Reseat the CMOS Battery

If your motherboard does not have a CLEAR CMOS jumper, you can often clear its CMOS settings by removing the CMOS battery and replacing it. The CMOS battery provides power used to save the BIOS settings – this is how your computer knows how much time has passed even when it’s been powered-off for a while – so removing the battery will remove the source of power and clear the settings.
Important Note: Not all motherboards have removable CMOS batteries. If the battery won’t come loose, don’t force it.
First, ensure the computer is powered off and you’re grounded so you won’t damage the motherboard with static electricity. Locate the round, flat, silver battery on the motherboard and carefully remove it. Wait five minutes before reseating the battery.
Image Credit: John Lester

Friday, December 21, 2012

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How to See Which App is Blocking Your PC from Going into Sleep Mode


Have you ever expected your PC to go into sleep mode only to come back and find it is still powered on? We know we certainly have, here’s how to check what’s keeping it awake.

How to See Which App is Blocking Your PC from Going into Sleep Mode

Press the Win + X keyboard combination or right click in the bottom left hand corner of your screen to bring up the Windows Tools Menu, then launch an admin command prompt.
When the command prompt opens, type the following command:
powercfg /requests
You can see from the screenshot above, that I have 1 Process (VLC Media Player) as well as 2 Drivers that are preventing my PC from going to sleep. That’s all there is to it.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

How to Access Your Router If You Forget the Password


Routers protect their web interfaces, where you can configure their networking, parental control, and port forwarding settings, with a username and password. These default passwords can be changed to protect the router’s settings.
If you’ve forgotten a router’s password – or if you acquired a used router and don’t know its password – there’s a way to reset the password. You may also be able to forward ports without knowing the password.
Image Credit: tnarik on Flickr

Find the Default Username and Password

Before resetting your router to its default settings, you should first try using the default username and password to log in. You’ll need these anyway if you plan on resetting the router to its factory default settings. There are several ways to find this information:
  • Read your router’s manual. Different models of routers – even ones from the same manufacturer – often have different username and password combinations. To locate the default username and password for the router, look in its manual. (If you’ve lost the manual, you can often find it by searching for your router’s model number and “manual” on Google. Or just search for your router’s model and “default password”.)
  • Look for a sticker on the router itself. Some routers – particularly ones that may have come from your Internet service provider – ship with unique passwords. These passwords may sometimes be printed on a sticker on the router itself.
  • Try a common username and password combination. Many routers use the password “admin”  (don’t type the quotes) and a blank username, a blank password and “admin” as the username, or “admin” as both the password and username. You can find a fairly comprehensive list of default usernames and passwords for various routers onRouterPasswords.com.
Try to log in with the default credentials after finding them – it’s possible the router was already reset or someone never changed its password. If they don’t work, continue to the next section – you’ll need the default credentials after resetting the router.

Reset the Router to Factory Defaults

Routers come with a button you can press to reset the router to its default factory settings. This resets any configuration changes you’ve made to the router – forwarded ports, network settings, parental controls, and custom passwords will all be wiped away. You’ll be able to access the router with its default username and password, but you may have to spend some time configuring the router again, depending on how many changes you made to its configuration.
The exact process (and location of the reset button) will vary from router to router. For best results, you should consult your router’s manual for any model-specific instructions. However, the process is generally very similar on most routers.
First, look at the back (or perhaps the bottom) of the router. You’ll see a special button labeled Reset. This button is often located in a depressed hole, known as a “pinhole,” so you can’t accidentally press it.
To reset the router, you’ll generally need to press this button and hold it down for about 10 seconds. After you release the button, the router will reset itself to the factory default settings and reboot. If the button is located in a pinhole, you’ll need to use a bent paperclip or another long, narrow object to press and hold it.
Once you’ve pressed the button down for long enough, you can log into the router with its default username and password.

How to Forward Ports Without Knowing the Password

Do you just want to open the router’s web interface and forward ports for a server, game, or other type of networked program? If so, you don’t necessarily even have to know the password. This trick is also useful if you’re using someone else’s network and don’t have access to the password.
This works because many routers support Universal Plug and Play (UPnP), which allows programs on your computer to “ask” the router to open ports for them. If UPnP is enabled on the router, it will automatically open the port.
If a program supports this option, you’ll generally find it in its connection settings alongside the port configuration. NAT-PMP, which you may also see, is a similar way of automatically forwarding ports that fewer routers support.
If you use a program that doesn’t include integrated support for UPnP, never fear – you can use a program like UPnP PortMapper to quickly forward ports from a desktop application. You can forward any ports you like.

Once you’ve reset the router’s settings, you can log in with the default username and password and change its password from its web interface.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Send a Free Fax to Anywhere in the World

If you don’t have a fax machine at hand, or if the cost of sending an international fax seems prohibitive, this should interest you.
Send Fax for Free
Send an online fax for free to any fax machine in the world
HelloFax, the online fax company, has recently partnered with Microsoft and now lets you send up to 50 pages per month to any fax machine in the world for free. All your need is a web browser and a Microsoft account (your Hotmail or Windows Live ID should also work).
To get started, go to hellofax.com/skydrive and click the “Sign-up with Microsoft” link. Once your are signed in, just upload any document and put in a fax number (with country code) to send your first online fax. Once your fax has been successfully delivered, a copy of the outbound fax document will be automatically saved in your SkyDrive.
You can use HelloFax to send Word documents, PDFs, text files, images and several other popular formats. You can also pull in documents directly from your SkyDrive, Box, Dropbox, Evernote and Google Drive accounts for faxing.
Your free account will only help you send faxes to other numbers but in order to receive faxes, you’ll have to buy an incoming fax number that costs around $7.99 per month.
Update – If you don’t have a Microsoft account, go to hellofax.com/googledrive and use your Google Account to sign-up for HelloFax.  You will still get credit for sending up to  50 faxes per month for free for a maximum of 6 months.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Multitasking on Android With Floating Apps

Android has decent multitasking, but the missing piece of the puzzle is the ability to have multiple apps on-screen at the same time – particularly useful on a larger tablet. Floating apps fill this need.
Floating apps function as always-on-top windows, allowing you to watch videos, browse the web, take notes, or do other things while using another app. They demonstrate how Android’s interface is more flexible than iOS and the Modern UI in Windows.


Two popular floating browsers are Floating Browser Flux (free) and OverSkreen (paid, doesn’t yet function on Android Jelly Bean).
With these apps, you can use a browser while using another app, open multiple floating browser windows and view multiple web pages at the same time, or both.

Video Players

Video players are an obvious use case for pop-up apps, especially on a larger tablet. You could watch a video while browsing the web, doing your email, or using any other app on your tablet or phone. DicePlayerBSPlayer, and Super Video are all free floating video players. Stick It! is a paid app, but it also supports YouTube videos in addition to local video files.


Want to take notes while reading a web page, PDF, or any other type of document? Switching back and forth between a note-taking app and the main app you’re using can be tedious. Instead, try hovernote – a floating notes app that hovers over the other apps you’re using. It’s a paid app, but there aren’t any free floating notes apps on Google Play at the moment.

Chat & IRC

Old-school desktop chat programs like ICQ, AIM, MSN, Pidgin, Trillian, and the others didn’t force you into a full-screen chat mode, but most apps on your tablet do. LilyPad gives you a floating chat window, allowing you to chat on Google Talk, Facebook, and Windows Live Messenger (MSN). The developers promise future support for AIM, Yahoo, and Jabber.
If you’re a geek who still uses IRC for your chatting, try FloatIRC.


The default Android calculator app looks a bit ridiculous in full-screen mode on a tablet. TryAirCalc or Float Calculator instead – both are free and allow you to use a calculator while using another app.

Any Widget

While floating apps are useful, the selection is currently a bit limited. For example, there’s no floating app that shows your Gmail or a Pandora music player. However, many apps provide widgets, which are normally attached to your home screen. A floating app likeFloating Banner (free) or Floating Widget (paid) allows you to turn any widget into a floating app. If you can’t find a floating app that meets your needs, you can find a widget and turn it into a floating app.


AirTerm gives you a floating Linux terminal. If you want to SSH into your Linux server or use Android’s terminal (particularly useful on rooted devices), AirTerm will allow you to do it in a floating window. It’s a paid app, but it’s the only one of its kind on Google Play.

System Stats

Apps like Cool Tool (free) and PerfMon (paid) give you a floating window with information about your Android device’s system stats – resource usage and everything else you might want to know. If you like seeing this stuff, you can see it all the time.

Android developers who want to create their own floating apps can use StandOut, an open-source library for creating floating apps.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

System Information Tools

system information toolHave you recently purchased a PC? If yes, was it customized? By customized, I mean assembled by a local computer shop, or even just by someone you know who builds and sells computers. If you answered “yes” to these questions, then you may want to double check what is in that machine of yours.
Now, don’t get me wrong, it is likely fine, but mistakes happen and it surely couldn’t hurt to make sure that you got exactly what you paid for. There are several free programs that can help you identify what you have by displaying information about the different parts of your computer.
These same programs also function as excellent system information tools for technical support and troubleshooting issues, which is nice to know that they aren’t only limited to a one time use.

Belarc Advisor

system information tool
Belarc Advisor is a simple program that, when launched, gathers information (securely) about your computer and opens it up in your browser. Note that this is not stored anywhere, but the browser is simply the means of displaying the information.
system information tool free
Belarc Advisor breaks up the information into easy to understand categories and allows you to navigate to different sections of the page through hyperlinks.


system information tool free
CPU-Z, created by CPUID, is not unknown in amongst IT people to say the least. It is a small, even portable, program that breaks up an abundant amount of information into tabs to easily find what you are looking for. At first, one might be a bit overwhelmed by the vast amount of information throughout the tabs of CPU-Z, but glance at it for longer than a few seconds and you’ll begin to understand it.
The tabs are straightforward, dividing up the information into categories, which makes it very useful. CPU-Z has portable functionality through downloading the ZIP file. For more information on CPU-Z, refer to Erez’s recent coverage of it on MakeUseOf.

PC Wizard 2012

system information tool free
Another product by CPUID is PC Wizard 2012. It also has an abundant amount of information and features. For a straightforward overall look at your computer, the System Summary is your best bet. It’s certainly not the only place for information though, as there is a plethora of options.
system information tool windows
Note that when starting it up you can decide which options to display. Also, PC Wizard, like CPU-Z, is portable if the ZIP file is downloaded and extracted.

Sandra Lite

There are many versions of Sandra. Sandra Lite, which Matt covered here on MakeUseOf, is the free and slightly less featured version. It still has most of what you will probably need. However, you can check out the comparison chart to see how it stacks up to the others. My best recommendation though, would be to download it and see how it works for you.
system information tool windows
There are several tabs and several options within those tabs, but for the sake of looking at an overall view of what is in your computer, lets look at the Hardware tab and click on Computer Overview.
system information tool windows

System Information for Windows (SIW)

Like several of the other options here, SIW is stuffed full of features. Sticking to the theme of needing a basic summary though, scroll down until you find Hardware and System Summaryis the first on the list. This “general” overview provides you with all of the information you need to know. For being a summary, it’s quite detailed.
For more in-depth information you can explore the other sub-titles under Hardware such as CPU Info, Memory, Motherboard and more. If you’re curious about taking SIW with you on the go, it is available for Portable Apps on their website.


Speccy is brought to you by Piriform, the makers of the famous CCleaner. Speccy, covered here on MakeUseOf, follows in its path, providing an excellent, easy to follow interface, while remaining detailed.
system information tool
From the summary, each title is linked to more information about that particular part of your computer.
Speccy is available in a standalone version, as well as being portable, making it an excellent choice for IT people on the go.


As you can tell, each program has its own benefits. For my own personal use, I’ve found Speccy to suffice quite well, but that’s not saying at all that SIW, Belarc Advisor, CPU-Z or others are worse. It’s partly about user preference and partly about the depth of features offered. Sometimes less is more and sometimes more is more – it just depends on what you need out of a program.
My suggestion is that if you are purely needing a system information tool to look at your basic computer info, Speccy is simple and straightforward to use due to its clean design and a somewhat lack of features (meaning it’s not “cluttered” with a bunch of features you might not use). That said, you might prefer a program such as Sandra Lite or SIW for a more in-depth look.
What do you use? Have you ever got a PC that wasn’t what you ordered? How did that pan out for you?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Use Your Webcam For Home Surveillance With These Tools

free webcam surveillance softwareI live in England, the country with the highest number of CCTVs than anywhere else in the world – about 1 camera to every 30 people, it’s estimated. Obviously, that’s not enough (yes, that is sarcasm), so today I’m doing a round-up review of useful tools for adding CCTV to your own home.
In all seriousness, having your own home surveillance system can be a powerful deterrent to would-be intruders or office workers who tend to pinch your stapler, but I don’t suggest using it to spy on your own family members.
A note About UK Law: It is perfectly legal to use CCTV for personal and home security, though you’d be advised not to point it at a neighbour’s property. There is no law against taking pictures or video in a public place including roads and pathways, and the Data Protection Act 1998 or Human Rights Act does not cover domestic usage of CCTV. However, there are exceptions to this rule if your camera is capable of remote-controlled movement. This isn’t relevant for most webcams, but many IP cameras can perform pan and tilt.
A Note About US Law: There are generally no restrictions on private use of security cameras. However there are exceptions in places where people might otherwise have an expectation of privacy – such as bathrooms.

Active Webcam (Windows $29)

Ryan reviewed this back in 2009, and while it has a reasonable level of complexity, it looks like it hasn’t been updated since, so the interface and website are atrocious. Functional then, but better options below – keep reading.
free webcam surveillance software

VitaminD Video (Mac and Windows)

Free for 1 camera, but at low resolution. $200 gets unlimited feeds at hi-resolution. At this price, I would have expected something amazing; though the interface is easy to understand – rules that look for objects – the actions available are severely limited to either recording a clip locally, playing a sound, or emailing you. Pathetic, forget this one.
webcam surveillance

iSpy (Windows – Free/Premium)

Matt did a full review of iSpy last year, so I won’t repeat him here. It’s functional, but not nearly as advanced as some other apps. The software is free, but you’ll need to subscribe for $8/month for online access to view your feeds anywhere in the world (a function which many cameras and other apps provide for free).
One of the top benefits listed for subscribers is “reduced ads”! Probably best to stay away from this one.
webcam surveillance

SecureCam (Open Source, Windows only)

Mark highlighted this back in 2009 – but for a completely free setup, SecureCam is still a good option today. With support for 4 cameras (unlimited if you donate) and a built-in webserver to view the motion captured images and videos, it’s a fully functional and comprehensive solution, though lacking some of the shine of premium apps.
webcam surveillance

Yawcam (Windows, Free)

I wrote a full tutorial on using YawCam as a surveillance camera last year and even set up notifications on my iPhone, so read that for a full review. It’s not nearly as advanced as some of the other apps here, but it is free.
webcam surveillance software

Xeoma (Mac/Windows/Linux $30)

Xeoma is a comprehensive, cross-platform premium surveillance solution at an affordable price. Functionality is added by the use of modules. For instance, you can add an email module to email you if motion is detected, or an alarm module to sound an alarm, or you could run a random application that triggers your arduino fog machine, laser cannon and strobe, scaring away the intruder.
It’s infinitely expandable, and can even emulate an IP camera to send its own output to another remote copy of itself. Genius.
webcam surveillance software
The software does come with a limited free mode or 30 day full evaluation period, a $30 license is enough for up to 4 cameras.
webcam surveillance software
Although the interface is custom, I found Xeoma to be a reliable solution and easy to set up chains of custom events. This is one of the most powerful packages I’ve looked at, and is highly recommended.

Security Spy (OSX; £30-£80)

Quite pricey, at £30 for a single camera, £80 for 4. While I would love to have thoroughly tested this, unfortunately the app launched with the main windows far too large and wouldn’t allow me to resize; adding additional cameras was also buggy. Options seem quite limited, especially considering the price. Stay away from this one, there are far better ones out there.

EvoCam (OSX, $30)

EvoCam is an interesting solution but not particularly user-friendly; however it does contain more modular functionality similar to Xeoma. Actions sets are created which can act on one or more cameras – these consist of an active time (if you only want recording at night, for instance), a condition (including sound triggers), and an action to perform (speak text, email an image, save a video).
It takes a while to get used to the control flow, but EvoCam is probably the most powerful of all these surveillance apps if you’re okay with it being OSX only. Do be sure to check functionality with your IP cam first though.
free webcam surveillance software
My personal choice is Xeoma, which is both affordable and very customizable. On the free side, you can’t really go wrong with YawCam or SecureCam, but don’t expect as many features. I think that’s all of them, but do let me know if I missed your favourite surveillance software, free or otherwise.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Why It’s Good That Your Computer’s RAM Is Full


Is Windows, Linux, Android, or another operating system using a lot of RAM? Don’t panic! Modern operating systems use RAM as a file cache to speed things up. Assuming your computer is performing well, there’s nothing to worry about.
While it may seem counterintuitive to those of us who remember our computers always being starved for RAM, high RAM usage means your RAM is being put to good use. Empty RAM is wasted RAM.

Bad High Memory Usage vs. Good High Memory Usage

First of all, high memory usage isn’t always a good thing. If your computer seems very slow, then high random access memory (RAM) usage is not a good thing. If your RAM is full, your computer is slow, and its hard drive light is constantly blinking, your computer isswapping to disk. This is a sign that your computer is using your hard disk, which is much slower to access, as an “overflow” for your memory.
If this is occurring, it’s a clear side that your computer needs more RAM – or that you need to use less memory-hungry programs. This is definitely a bad thing.
However, there’s a clear difference between this case, where your computer isn’t performing well, and the more common case where your computer seems to be performing just fine, but there’s an alarming amount of RAM being used with few programs open.

Disk Caching

Install Windows XP on a computer and you’ll probably see it using several hundred megabytes of memory when the system is idle. Install Windows 7 on that same computer and you’ll likely see Windows 7 using several gigabytes of memory in the same situation.
So what’s going on? Is Windows XP just a lighter, faster operating system? Are modern operating systems bloated and wasteful with memory? Not quite.
RAM is more plentiful than it was when Windows XP was the shiny new operating system, and modern operating systems take advantage of it. Modern operating systems use your computer’s RAM as a cache for frequently accessed files and program data.
In Windows, this feature is known as SuperFetch, which was introduced in Windows Vista. SuperFetch watches the applications you use and loads commonly-used application files and libraries into your computer’s RAM before you need them. When you launch an application, Windows loads the application’s files from your RAM instead of reading them from disk, which is a slow process. This speeds up application launching and generally makes your computer faster and more responsive.
This doesn’t just apply to Windows. Linux users will also notice that their computer is using a seemingly alarming amount of memory for caching files from your disk, and new Linux users may be concerned when they notice this. Many resource-usage-monitoring programs, such as  GNOME System Monitor, hide the memory used by the cache from the user so that users won’t have to understand this or be concerned.

Browsers and Other Software

The same applies for browsers and other software applications with their own caches. For example, if you notice a web browser like Mozilla Firefox using a large amount of RAM, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If you have a lot of RAM in your computer, it’s good that Firefox is using it. By caching web pages you’ve visited in your RAM, Firefox can speed up web page load times, making using the Back and Forward buttons much faster. For this reason, Firefox automatically determines the ideal cache size based on the amount of RAM in your computer.
Firefox itself may have historically had memory leaks and other problems, but the concept is the same. It doesn’t make sense for Mozilla to get Firefox’s RAM usage down to the 50 megabytes because modern computers have a lot of RAM Firefox can use to speed up web browsing.
The same applies for other software. Programs with high memory usage may be making good use of your RAM, not wasting it.

Why Empty RAM is Useless

You may be thinking that using RAM as a cache is great, but you don’t want these program files and other data taking up your RAM. You’d rather have empty RAM available so that programs will launch instantly and the memory will be used for what you think is best, not what your operating system and programs think is best.
However, this isn’t a concern at all. Whether your RAM is full of cached files or completely empty, it’s all available for programs that really need it. Cached data in your RAM is marked as low-priority, and it’s instantly discarded as soon as the memory is needed for something else.
Because this data can be instantly discarded when necessary, there’s no disadvantage to using the RAM for cache. (The one potential disadvantage is users who don’t understand what’s going on becoming confused.)
Empty RAM is useless. It’s not any faster for the computer to write data to empty RAM, nor does empty RAM use less power. In fact, assuming you’re launching a program that may already be present in your RAM’s file cache, programs will load much faster when your RAM is used rather than when it’s empty.

This is why using a task killer on Android is a bad idea, and it’s also why you shouldn’t be too concerned if your computer is filling up your RAM. It’s also one of the reasons why Windows XP isn’t the ideal operating system for today’s hardware – while XP’s RAM usage may be much lower than Windows 7’s, that’s not necessarily a good thing if you have a modern computer with a decent amount of RAM.