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CNET to the Rescue: Apple will sync you

Josh Lowensohn is here to help us grok Apple's announcement that it's bringing music and data cloud synchronization to its apps and device. Also: What to do with a dead RAID array, how to save big bucks on Windows upgrades, and much more.

Josh Lowensohn is with us today to help us understand the impact of Apple's announcement that it's bringing music and data synchronization to its apps and devices--if not the Web itself. Also: What to do with a dead RAID array, how to save big bucks on Windows upgrades, and much more.

If you have a tech question for CNET to the Rescue, e-mail No question is too basic, so if you've got a tech problem that's been getting under your skin, please drop us a line and we'll try our best to help you out.

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Episode 48: Apple's new sync plans

We're starting today by talking about Apple's new cloud sync services, as well as sync utilities users can get today, like DropBox, SugarSync, and Windows Live Mesh. Also covered: Sync-enabled apps, like Evernote and Wunderlist.

Road tests today include iOS 5 (it's in beta), cheap Dell desktops, and GMail client apps Thunderbird and Sparrow.

Listener Questions
Stu: Is there a smartphone that does not require a data plan? It would only connect to the Internet using Wi-Fi. I want it for my kids and some friends that want everything but a bill for data.

Nicole Lee says: If you buy a smartphone through a carrier, they'll force the data plan on you. I've heard of people buying a smartphone unlocked or through a third party like eBay, and they can circumvent it, but generally the carriers don't like it, and you risk getting caught and paying more for data. FWIW, it seems that T-Mobile is the carrier that is the most lax about checking up on it, or so I've read.

We recommend the iPod Touch plus a cheapie phone for phone calls.


Jordan: Both my dad and I use wireless headphones when watching TV and listening to music and podcasts. After reading about the recent WHO report on cell phone use and the possible link to certain cancers, I got to wondering if the wireless headphones could pose a similar problem. Should my dad and I stop using the wireless headphones? (FWIW, the headphones we use are made by TDK and use their Kleer technology).

I am not a doctor nor an electromagnetic physicist but I know this: wireless headphones also use radio waves (except the crappy IR ones you get in minivans) but because the distance of transmission is so small -- feet, not miles -- the radios are much lower-powered. That's why tiny BlueTooth headphones can last so long, too. So: Radiation, yes, but a lot less of yet.

Josh: Also, there's less chance of accidentally killing yourself by tripping over a cord.


Eric Nagamine in Hawaii: I have a 5-year-old Dell Dimension 8400 that stopped working all of a sudden. Fortunately, most of the RAID 0 hard drives have been backed up to a external hard drive, but I would like to recover my old Outlook e-mails. It sounded liked the fan was on overdrive from time to time a couple of weeks before I was unable to even get the thing started. Pressing the power switch doesn't do anything. I checked the power cable and it was plugged in securely. What should I try next? Power supply replacement perhaps?

Normally, I would say, just pull the hard drive from the dead machine and try to read it in another, using an external drive adapter. But you went and set up your drives in a striped array, RAID 0, which means that a) a failure on one is a failure on both, and b) you can't just simply plug a drive into an adapter to read it. So yes, you need to get your PC working again, and I'd see if I could get a PSU for the Dell. I don't know if it's a standard part. And while I don't want to make an example of you, I would also use this as a life lesson about RAID in general and RAID 0 in particular. It's great when it works, but it adds complexity and really messes with recovery options when things go south.


Matt, Syracuse, NY: I just bought a used Dell Vostro 1520 laptop and think I may have bricked it. I was doing a BIOS update, when it froze around half-way through the process. I let it sit for about 20 minutes and still nothing. I ended up holding the down power button until it shut off. Now it won't boot to the BIOS. I've flashed many BIOS before, which usually takes a minute or two, and have not had any problems until now Is it bricked? Can you help???? Can you point me in the right direction for a step-by-step process for recovering my BIOS? It's a Phoenix BIOS.

Call Dell. Sorry. If anyone has advice on how to deal with a bricked motherboard, please sound off in the comments!


surfingtheweb: I currently have a laptop running Windows 7 Home Premium. I want to upgrade it to Professional. However, instead of paying $89.95 for an anytime upgrade, I can get a Windows 7 Professional Upgrade disk for $15 (through my university's computer help desk). Can I use this piece of software to upgrade from Home Premium to Professional?

Microsoft told us: "The short answer is yes. Through Microsoft's licensing programs, schools can provide Windows (as well as other Microsoft software). The student just may want to ask what are the terms of use, so that they know what their options are once they graduate. Windows Anytime Upgrade is just one of several ways that people can upgrade their Windows software--it's not the only way. For example, people can continue to purchase Windows from their local retailer or online as well."


Eddie Cintron: Can you tell me whats the recommended performance software to clean up registry, speed up the PC, etc. I currently have Powersuite by Uniblue but I have been having some issues with it.

Rafe's toolkit: CCleaner; PC Decrapifier, Revo Uninstaller, Soluto.

Josh: None of the above. Windows 7 doesn't need it (for most people).


Scott MacWatter: I'm a photographer and I just bought a new Canon 60D. I got it for the low light performance because I often shoot concerts, and I've been thrilled. However, I was also really interested in the video features included. It can record 1080p video at 30fps, I think (I haven't really looked at specs beyond seeing that it looks fantastic).

So here's my issue: I use Lightroom 3.4 to edit photos and I couldn't be happier, but it doesn't have any editing features for video. I don't own any part of Photoshop other than LR, and I don't feel like forking over the money for it or acquiring it illegally (which I know a lot of people do). Is there any free or extremely cheap professional quality video editing software out there, or am I out of luck?

I'm on a Windows Desktop that's less than a year old and I refuse to switch to a Mac. Cheap is key! I'm a CS student at Texas Tech so I can handle some work-arounds.

Josh says: You can always use Windows Movie Maker. It's a free application that comes bundled with Windows and does a good job (I think) at letting you trim, put together multiple pieces of video, and adjust audio. If you have Windows 7, there's a good how-to for importing 1080p content. Also: YouTube!

Bad news: it needs to be converted to .WMV. Stop being a cheapskate with your fancy camera and buy some video editing software like Adobe Premier Elements (80 bucks and keeps you in the Adobe ecosystem). That app also lets you make color and tone adjustments.

Rafe: Also check out VReveal, a cool Win-based vid enhancer. I use it for post-shoot stabilization. Freemium.


Anand from Houston: I recently moved over to Picasa after being a Flickr user for 4 years, mainly because of the integration in Android. However, I am now facing a crisis of downloading photos (original, high res) from my Flickr account so that I am move them over on Picasa.

Try Flickr Downloadr and the no-download Java version called FlickrBackup.


Comments & Followup
Henry C.: I wrote in March when I was experiencing problems with adding a second monitor (configuring the Samsung Lapfit). It was the best USB monitor on the market (I needed one around 24 inches). After I got it, it went black after about 2 minutes and needed to be restarted to show a picture again. Samsung, Displaylink, and HP were ALL terrible and rude. Anyways I found a great solution: this product is an EXTERNAL video card (no difficult instillation required) that turns your USB ports into VGA ports. This is great because the monitor works fine off of VGA. Just thought people would find this interesting on how inexpensive and easy it is to add a reliable second monitor experience. I have not yet ordered, but it looks hopeful.

Good luck, and let us know how it works out!


Gordon Todd: I'm still a Windows XP user, but this also applies to Windows 7. A reader had mentioned that the first thing they do after installing and fine-tuning their machine is to create an image of the system partition. Another really useful thing you can do is to partition the hard-drive into C: and D: for Windows system/programs and your data respectively. If you then move your ..\Desktop, ..\My Documents and ..\Application Data shell folders to the D: drive, then performing a data backup becomes very fast since since Windows and the Program Files only needs backed-up (image created) when new applications are installed.

In the event of a hard-drive failure, corruption of Windows, impossible to remove virus or just general slowdown as Windows clogs-up, the system can be made new again simply by restoring the system partition image; all documents, program settings, desktop contents etc. are preserved. I can confirm that updating a computer from XP to Windows 7 and then moving the shell folders before reinstalling the applications also preserves most things..

Rafe: Good idea, but I go a step further. I use two drives, one for system, one for data. It's just cleaner. Personally, I use Velociraptor 10k RPM drives for system, and cheap WD 1TB drives for data. Of course, I'm obsessive about backup, too. This applies to desktops only, unfortunately.