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CNET to the Rescue: We are done with PCs (and Macs)

Brian Cooley joins us today for an epic rant about re-installing Windows yet again. Also, great topics from listeners, including updating Android phones, using an iMac as a TV, and using solar power on laptops.

CNET's Brian Cooley joins us today for an epic rant about re-installing Windows yet again. I join in with my rant on my MacBook. Will the love never end? Also, great topics from listeners, including updating Android phones, using an iMac as a TV, and using solar power on laptops.

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 call us and we'll try our best to help you out.

Now playing: Watch this: CNET to the Rescue Ep. 46: We are done with PCs (and...


Episode 46: The PC (and Mac) rebuild rant

Listener questions
Daulat Raikar: I wanted to know if I can upgrade the OS in an Android device be it a mobile phone or tablet.

Rafe: You really should.

Unfortunately, according to Donald Bell, it's every man and woman for themselves. For phones, users are at the mercy of the carriers to issue an over-the-air update. Users could possibly root their devices in order to manually force an update (or more specifically, a ROM based on 2.3.4).

In the meantime, disable auto-syncing for apps, and try not to connect to unknown Wi-Fi hot spots.

Users of tablets running an OS prior to 2.3.4 can bug the manufacturer to push out an over-the-air update, but there's no (easy) way to force an update manually, especially since so many tablets prior to Honeycomb require extensive tooling of the code in order to run on the larger hardware Android wasn't designed for. The most high-profile among these tablets would include the Galaxy Tab, B&N Nook Color, and Dell Streak 5&7. The Tab is apparently getting the update later this month. The Streaks are running 2.2.2 and I haven't heard any word on an update. The Nook Color just received the 2.2 update, so a fast update to 2.3 seems unlikely.


Matt Verheul: I have a TV in my family room which is not the primary media space. I'm trying to keep the equipment as minimal as possible preferably avoiding a receiver. Is it possible to have an audio solution with speakers connected using only a TV and cable box? I'm not looking to use any rear speakers but would be interested in surround sound possibly with an acoustic soundbar, ultimately though my goal is just to get decent sound quality from this TV. My other interest is keeping my speakers as small as possible so perhaps you might have a recommendation for speakers that pack the best performance into a small package.

Donald: Assuming you can run audio out from your TV or cable box as either a minijack stereo plug or RCA, you have plenty of solutions out there. Some of these can also connect over HDMI. Here are some sound bar home theater in a box solutions. Also might want to just check out some powered multimedia speakers.

John Falcone has three recommendations:

Any Zvox product (use TV as input switcher).

Best bang for the buck: Sony HT-CT150. Has HDMI switching.

Higher-end: Harman Kardon SB 16. Uses TV as input switcher; best sound quality, but remote setup is weird.


Bobby: Recently you mentioned how you never go over your Comcast bandwith usage, so I decided to go online and check mine. I noticed that just 12 days into my cycle I was up to 112 gigs out of the 250 I get. I assume that my video streaming might be to blame. Is there a way to know how much bandwidth you are about to consume before you hit play?

No! But that is a good idea...shows you're about to stream should list the amount of data in said stream. It can vary widely depending on video definition and effectiveness of the compression and codec. There's no way to gauge for sure without knowing the details.

Brian: At home, no. We need something like in the mobile space where carriers will warn you via SMS that you are approaching your cap.


Anne: I need to get a non-contract mobile hot-spot for a cross-country car trip with the family and have been looking at the Virgin Mobile MiFi 2200 and the T-Mobile 4G Movile Hotspot ZTE MF 61. We definitely want to go non-contract on this. Use of the device would be mostly be for email & casual web surfing by a laptop and a couple iPod touches, maybe a little light Facebook gaming. We're driving from Colorado to Washington, DC. Which do you think is the better choice?

Check the coverage maps first. T-Mobile; Virgin Mobile. Note that Virgin is on Sprint's network, and in fact is owned by Sprint.

T-Mo seems to be a less pricey device than Virgin's. Since this is a one-off for a month, you don't have the luxury of trying your plan and adjusting it over time. So I would buy ample data right off the get: Virgin's plan is $50 for "Unlimited" which is B.S. since it is actually 2.5GB of data transfer before your d/l speed is capped at 256kbps. T-Mo offers 5 GB for $50 with the same cap rules. T-Mo is the clear winner here if the coverage map looks good for your route. B.C.


Ron: I've been a military combat correspondent for 20 years and have been all over the world including Afghanistan and Iraq shooting stories about our military men and women. Lately I've been making trips to Africa where I find myself without electricity for long stretches. While I normally have enough batteries for my video camera, my Panasonic Tough Book is reluctant to operate for long without a steady diet of AC power. Considering the tan I came back with on my last trip, I was wondering if there are any solar power options for powering and recharging a laptop? I often spend long periods of time video editing and sending stories via the internet back to civilization but without a several mile long extension cord, my options have been limited.

Rafe: I'd recommend a car charger if that would work for you. Solar chargers can be slow or expensive. But yes, they do exist. Treehugger did a comparison in 2008. The products mentioned may be out of date but it points you to major manufacturers. I'd be most interested in the Brunton line of Solaris products, from $166 to $1300, depending on number of panels and output. The $1,320 Solaris 62 specs: Max output: 62 Watts (12v / 3100 mA)

Also, it looks like Toughbooks might have toughened charging circuits.


Zsolt from Hungary: I have recently switched to Google Chrome from Firefox, and the transition went smoothly for the most part. However, Chrome's built-in synchronization lacks the feature to sync my open tabs across multiple computers! This is something I used daily with Firefox, and I really miss it. Is there any way to do this in Chrome?

There are a few utilities that do this. I would start with XMarks.


Richard M. Fogel: I have MacBook, but need to take training class which only works on IE (v.7 or lower) can I easily install IE on Mac? How and what version?

Yes, that's what Bootcamp is for. Note that you need to have a license for Windows, but once you have a disk, it's a snap.

Brian: Do you have access to a Windows machine at work or somewhere else you can remote into? Use Real VNC or Chicken of the VNC. Adding Windows to a Mac just for this use is too expensive and had a payload in that you have to set up a Windows partition that I don't know is easily removable later.

Rafe: Try LogMeIn Free.


Kris Levy, Madison, Wis.: My friend just bought herself a brand new 30-inch iMac [We think 27" is what you're talking about] and doesn't have enough for a TV. Whenever she gets more money, she would like to use a PS3 and Wii to play her games through her shiny new Mac. I saw there are limited ways to do this and they all seem expensive; I would really love to help her because she gave me her old iMac G4. So I was hoping you and other viewers could help me out.

Donald: You might be able to get away with an analog video capture adapter like Elgato's.

Brian: It's kind of a kludge, but any camcorder with a Firewire interface and AUX in would work. You can also look at the Sling Pro HD (get it on eBay and save money).


Ryan the Architect in Colorado: Love the show! Thanks so much for your thoughts about teaching computer skills to baby-boomer parents! I especially appreciate Donald's comments about getting your mom to do one thing on a daily basis that has a creative outlet or personal relevance. Now if I can teach my dad what is legit (adobe Flash update) and not (popup saying that the computer has bad sectors on the hard drive, out of ram, and registry errors) total phishing attack! True story!

Thanks also for your circumspect and balanced reporting on the Lastpass incident. I was a Lastpass convert at your encouragement, and will continue to use it, but will be pulling my banking passwords at other top-tier passwords from the vault.


Matt: Thanks for answering the question [about the expansion switch not letting computers connect to the Internet]. It turns out it WAS a router; it didn't actually say that it was a router specifically on the device it just said Netgear and some Ethernet ports so I just assumed it was a switch. I found an actual switch in my box of random electronics and plugged it in and it works perfectly. Thanks!


Brennan: I work for a school district and there was a lady with a similar problem: External drive power light was on but no data would submit. Turns out her laptop needed about 1 more mm for her to get a connection on the data connections. The data connections are in the middle. It will light up and assign it a letter in my computer but shows no data. Try a different USB on the laptop or get a USB extender cable (male to female), and try it.