Friday, March 5, 2010

Maximum PC Load Letter #37: How to Properly Benchmark Your PC, Customize Your Desktop

Issue 037


This week, we're in process of overhauling our system benchmarks. This is no easy task, and we've had long discussions about what programs to use in the new benchmarking suite, what media source files to test, and how to future-proof our benchmarks so they'll be relevant a year or two from now. We're also updating our zero-point machine to be more representative of a current top-tier rig. We're not ready to release the specs for the zero point yet, but the picture to your right will give you some clues as to what will be included.

Benchmarking is one of those enthusiast skills that borders on science and art, and we wanted to make sure that you're able to replicate our benchmarking process on your own machines. That's why we've posted a huge feature on proper benchmarking technique, including recommended free tools that you can download. In the coming weeks, we'll also be posting our benchmarking source files on the website, so be on the lookout for that!

As always, shoot me an email if you have any comments! Please Digg our stories, and be sure to become a fan of our Facebook group to qualify for giveaways! We've also launched a TechMart, where you can buy special issues of Maximum PC.
Norman Chan
Online Editor, Maximum PC

How to Properly Benchmark Your PC feature1_newsletter -- To casual observers, PC builders who fixate on benchmarks are geeks unable to see the forest from the trees. "Why," they ask, "can't you just enjoy your new computer and let it be?" Our answer: the difference between a person who cares about benchmarking and one who doesn't is how much that person values their free time. To care about benchmark is to care about performance. And to care about performance is to care about having more free time on your hand.
But you shouldn't just download any benchmarking tool to run--there's a right and wrong way to benchmark your machine if you want to get meaningful results. We'll teach you proper benchmarking techniques and how to interpret your results. Read on to learn how to benchmark the Maximum PC way.

If you like this story, please help us by Digging it!

How-To: Properly Apply Thermal Paste and Install a CPU -- Building a PC is a many-step process, but one in particular stands out as being intimidating to first-timers: properly mounting a CPU and cooler. Why? Because, generally speaking, that one little cpu chip is simultaneously the smallest, most delicate, and most expensive part of your system. Mount the cooler wrong, or improperly apply the thermal paste and you're looking at (at best) a drop in performance and system crashes, or (at worst) a $200 disaster.But don't worry! It's actually not terribly hard to install a new CPU, as long as you know what you're doing. And so that you do know what you're doing, we've put together a quick primer on installing a new CPU.
12 Best Rainmeter Skins to Deck Out Your Desktop -- From Google Desktop to the Windows Sidebar introduced in Vista, there have been several attempts to integrate our online life onto our desktop. But none of them come close to Rainmeter, a totally customizable platform for decking out your desktop with a variety of useful applets that can stand prominently in the foreground or blend into the background.
Rainmeter isn't at all difficult to use, but there is an initial learning curve as you come to understand just how powerful this unassuming app really is. On the following pages, we'll guide you through the setup process and show you the ins and outs of using Rainmeter. We'll also highlight the 12 best skins out of the hundreds that are available to give you a head start on decking out your desktop like never before.
How-To: Create Custom Windows Shortcuts with AutoHotkey-- Think about all the time you spend in front on your PC. Are you being efficient? Here's a better question: Are you being as efficient as you can be? The simple answer is 'No.' Every time you lift your fingers off your keyboard to navigate Windows, you're wasting time. Sure, it only takes a few seconds to drag your mouse cursor over to the Firefox icon or to navigate the Start menu to open up the Control Panel, and while none of that sounds like a big deal, it all adds up over time, be it a week, a month, or a year. The reason Microsoft includes so many shortcuts in Windows is so you can streamline these little time wasters, but these preset hotkeys will only take you so far. That's where AutoHotkey comes in, a lightweight but powerful app that allows you to create keyboard shortcuts for any Windows program. Here are a few tricks to get you started.
White Paper: Rechargeable Batteries -- Batteries are everywhere. They're in our phones, mice, cars, laptops, game machines, controllers, remotes, cameras-you name it. Battery technology influences the design, capabilities, and feature set of nearly everything portable, from laptops and cell phones to hybrid and electric vehicles.

Most of the batteries in our lives are rechargeable, and our more eco-aware world is quickly replacing standard alkaline AA and AAA batteries with rechargeable equivalents. Still, few people know how all these batteries work or how to best take care of them. We're going to focus on common rechargeable battery types, but before we get into that we should cover a few basics about how batteries work and go over common terms.

Freeware Files: 5 Add-ons for Ultimate Email Tweaking!

Whether your inbox gets flooded with messages like the Nile during rainy season, or it's barren as one of those outback wastelands that Bear Grylls likes to visit, you probably aren't using your email client of choice to its fullest potential.
That's ok. Neither was I before undertaking the research for this week's open-source and freeware roundup. But now that I have seen the light, as it were, I would never go back to the ol' vanilla installations of Outlook, Thunderbird, Gmail, or whatever one's particular email utility of choice happens to be.  There are just too many interesting ways to tweak and alter the normal email experience to better enhance your ability to read, organize, and shuffle your messages. That's kind of "the big point" of the roundup this week--making your email work better for you.

No BS Podcast #128: By the Time You Read these Lines, I'll be Gone

No need to rub your eyes--it's true. The No BS Podcast has finally come back after a long Winter hiatus. The first podcast episode of 2010 is also a bittersweet one, as it marks Will's last as host of the show (though he may return occasionally as a special guest). But life goes on, and we'll be bringing other familiar staff voices to join the podcast, including Nathan and Alex. In this episode, however, we discuss CES, Google butting heads with China, and our thoughts on this year's new technology trends.

AMD's Desktop Roadmap Through 2011 Revealed

The Asian press got a sneak preview of AMD's processor roadmap at the launch event for the new Phenom II and Athlon II chips. It's no secret that AMD has been lagging behind rival Intel, but if the slides are to be believed, AMD could still come back.

It looks like AMD plans to release the "Leo" platform later this year with a 6-core 45nm process. This would be in competition with Intel's Clarkdale CPUs at 32nm. The Leo is slated to be replaced with the 32nm Scorpius platform in 2011. This platform would apparently be equipped with a "next-generation discrete graphics solution", Bulldozer Zambezi CPU, and up to eight cores. We will also see the mid-range Lynx platform in 2011 with "next-generation integrated graphics". Could this be what happened to Fusion?

Google Sneaks into Apple's Walled Garden with Web-based Google Voice App

With no end in sight for Apple's ridiculously long review of the Google Voice app for the iPhone, the search engine heavyweight decided to single-handedly break the deadlock. A web-based Google Voice app for the iPhone and Palm's Web OS platform is Google's repartee to Apple's delaying tactics. The HTML 5 app can be accessed from the phone's browser. This being an HTML 5 app, it is more advanced than the existing browser-based version for mobile phones.

The two companies have been on the warpath ever since last July, when Google claimed that Apple had refused to admit its Google Voice app to the App Store. Although Apple had categorically denied rejecting the app back then, Google Voice is yet to earn its approval.

Another HP Slate Video Surfaces, Still No Release Date
We know you're anxious to learn all about Apple's upcoming tablet, and you will, but not until tomorrow morning when Steve Jobs plans to announce "a major new product that we're really excited about." So even though it might be pretty poor timing on HP's part, there's a new video making the rounds on the Web in which Phil McKinney, CTO of HP's Personal Systems Group, answers a few questions about his company's upcoming HP Slate.
Most of the video deals with the Slate's background and history, and we learn that HP first began working the tablet concept five years ago "around the concept of an e-reader platform." Based in part on user feedback requesting rich media content, the initial concept evolved into the Slate, McKinney says.

Is the Google Toolbar Tracking Your Browsing Even When You Tell it Not to?
No means no, except when Google decides it doesn't? This might be the case, according to Benjamin Edelman, who says that Google's Toolbar not only tracks your every browsing move when you've authorized it to, but it also continues to track you when you tell it not to.
Edelman tells us that when enhanced features are enabled in the Google Toolbar, the URL for all websites visited are sent to Google. In return, Google adds some additional information, such as "PageRank", "Related Sites", and "Sidewiki" to the Toolbar. That's to be expected.
But, when the "Disable Google Toolbar only for this window" option is selected, or if the Google Toolbar is disabled using the "Manage Add-Ons" option, URLs are still sent to Google for processing. Google acknowledges this, but says that URLs are no longer sent after the browser is reset. Edelman points out this requirement is meaningless for the first scenario, and that Google provides no warning of the necessity of a reset for the second.

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