CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement

CNET to the Rescue: Don't be a sucker and other advice

Guest Brian Cooley joins Rafe for a rambling discussion about home network safety, home security cameras, and how to avoid getting ripped off at Best Buy. Plus, as always, your questions answered.

Rafe Needleman Former Editor at Large
Rafe Needleman reviews mobile apps and products for fun, and picks startups apart when he gets bored. He has evaluated thousands of new companies, most of which have since gone out of business.
Rafe Needleman
6 min read

Brian Cooley is with us today, and he's in a bit of a mood, leading to one of the most rambling Rescues we've done. But still, we cover more news on Rafe's Synology NAS, a common problem with Panasonic network cameras, and why you should never take Best Buy prices seriously. Also, your questions answered, including the re-use of Windows licenses, adding a second monitor to a desktop PC, and more.

If you have a tech question for CNET to the Rescue, call us with your questions to get on the next show: 877-438-6688 or e-mail rescue@cnet.com. No question is too basic, so if you've got a tech problem that's been getting under your skin, please call us and we'll try our best to help you out.

Watch this: CNET to the Rescue #38: Don't be a sucker


Episode 38: Don't be a sucker

Road tests and various pearls of advice
Rafe's Synology DS411slim update: It's been a month, and it's still creating photo thumbnails. But there's good stuff: The Surveillance Station and Download Station modules, for example.

Other useful tips for home networking: Use PortForward.com to configure routers. See ShieldsUp to scan your home network for open holes.

Camera update: Discovering the Panasonic Webcam BL-C131a's fragile Wi-Fi. Looking at C230 "cubecam" instead.

Dept. of Don't Be a Sucker: We riff on Best Buy's absurd prices. Tip: Don't enter a Best Buy without the RedLaser app (or similar) on your smartphone.

See also: Top sites for saving money on tech.

Your questions answered
Karl: My older son upgraded his PC running a full version of Vista Home to Win 7 educational copy full version. My question: since his Vista is no longer active, can I reuse on my younger son's PC running XP? When Microsoft does its check to see serial number is valid, will I be OK?

Brian: If it's an OEM version of Vista, I believe it's not legal to transfer it. If it's a retail copy, all you have to do is remove it from the previous machine, supposedly via a drive format. When you install the Vista OS to a new machine, it will phone home for authorization. I have moved Windows copies around quite a bit and only once do I recall a glitch during authorization where I had to call Microsoft. The server checks the Windows OS ID against the CPU ID.

Rafe: It depends on the license. Since you did the Win 7 upgrade with a full version, not an upgrade version, your Vista install should be freed up. However, your Vista machine probably came with an OEM version of Windows, which is not transferable, legally or practically. If your old Vista PC was a home-built with a full version of Windows, then, yes, legally you should be able to use the license again, and if the OS phones home to Microsoft during install for authorization, a quick call to the Microsoft license desk will authorize it pretty quickly.

The real issue is: Vista? Really? It's the modern equivalent of Windows ME, worth skipping. Spring for Win 7; you'll be happier.


Henry C.: I have a computer (HP slimline desktop) that only has one VGA output. I wanted a two monitor setup without having to get a new video card. I purchased the Samsung Lapfit as my second monitor because it was supposed to work off of USB. Anyways, either a problem with my computer or with the monitor prevented this from working. Samsung wasn't much help. I was thinking of getting this product. I am mainly concerned that this will just mirror the same image on two monitors instead of extending my desktop. Can you verify this or suggest something else?

Rafe: Correct, the splitter will not do what you want. There is tech that uses USB for video, it's called DisplayLink, and it's no doubt what the Lapfit used. It's great when it works, but murder to troubleshoot when it doesn't. I would recommend getting a video card, you should be able to get one for about $50.

Cooley: I've had pretty good luck with Mimo USB monitors. They are small form factor monitors, however. But that means they are powered by USB as well, which is very convenient.


David Taylor: I'm currently using a MacBook, circa early 2008, with a 120GB hard drive that I am constantly watching the remaining balance on due to my affinity for video and music. I am also growing slightly concerned about the fact that I don't yet have a means of backing up my data, despite being an avid writer, and feel as though I've pushed my luck far enough. I was hoping that you, or one of your colleagues, could recommend a good portable external hard drive of 500GB or higher that falls within or below the $140 to $150 price range and can help provide me with some peace of mind in the future.

Rafe: Just get a good cheap external drive from a reputable company--WD, Seagate, Fujitsu--it doesn't matter. It's a backup drive. If it fails, OS X will tell you and you can warranty it or get a new one. Personally, I have a few WD My Passport 500s, they're about $75 each, no problems so far.

Cooley: I like Carbonite online backup, having had my fill of consumer grade onsite backup as a sole solution. You will outgrow that external drive in a couple years--or it will break, one or the other almost guaranteed--and during that time you could spend $130 over 3 years on Carbonite with a coupon offer.

Rafe: Get both. Local for speed, cloud for disaster protection.


Daniel James Morrison: I have Windows 7 32bit and I wanted to know If I can watch HD movies or watch Blu-Ray movies on my OS. I have a 23-inch 1,080p monitor and my screen resolution is 1,920x1,080. Should I buy Windows 7 64?

Rafe: No! You're fine, relax.


Joe L. Gonzalez: I am a college teacher and want to incorporate an iPad 2 into the classroom with PowerPoint via Keynote. I want to be able to control the iPad with a wireless pointer clicker to move my slide show. This will allow me to move about the class during my lecture. I know I can hook up the iPad via VGA to my projector and I need an option so I am not tied to the iPad while conducting my lectures.

Cooley: Don't know of a wireless clicker to control Keynote on iPad, but I feel there has to be one out there. But apparently no. I have had great results using a hot app that turns my iPad INTO a controller for PPT on my Windows MB Air.


Finally, from the Dept. of Rampant Speculation (Apple Division):

Mark from Winnipeg: Since Apple is integrating iOS features into OS X, and since Apple has their whole iOS ecosystem (where you can only buy/install iPhone/iPod Touch apps from the iTunes App Store), I was wondering if they will take OS X down the same path and eventually only allow OS X apps to be purchased/downloaded/installed from the Mac App store?

Even though the Mac App store was set up to be an easy place to go for Mac users to find software, I am partly concerned that Apple might take the OS X platform down the same path as iOS and restrict OS X app installs to the App store. Am I being paranoid?

Cooley: I don't think this "fear" is unfounded at all. But I'm not sure it's going to happen right away or is really something to fear.

Rafe: The app store model is the future of software, but I don't think Apple will disallow traditional installs soon. The real issue for developers is that they get so much more exposure in app stores, so that's where the apps will all end up. And Apple may impose restrictions on those stores that developers will meet in order to get into them.