Originally created 07/12/98

Ask the Computer Guy: Personal Computing Q&A



Q: My modem seems too slow -- how can I measure its speed?

A. America Online Inc. and some other online services give you a modem speed reading when you sign on. If you want something better, you might think about a California company called Vital Signs. It has developed a rather expensive diagnostic tool for World Wide Web developers to help them detect speed bottlenecks, but now has come up with a smaller program called Net Medic that will give you modem speed and few other readings and capabilities. It is available as a 30-day trial at www.vitalsigns.com/netmedic/index.html.

If you like it, you can register it for $49.95. It will handle up to 56K modems, but not cable modems or ISDN phone lines.

If you have the latest software drivers for your modem, and if you will gladly go where angels fear to tread, you can modify a setting called the Maximum Transmission Unit (MTU) to get increased speed. The MTU handles the way that Windows 95 interacts with typical Internet transmissions. The switch can be done by going into the registry editor ("regedit") of Windows 95, but you need to be some kind of magician to figure it out.

There are a few utilities available to make this procedure less painful -- one is called PPP-Boost at www.c3sys.demon.co.uk. But remember: before tweaking your registry, which stores various settings for Windows 95 and various programs, make a copy of it.

If you have a problem with your registry and haven't kept a copy, you're in trouble. There's no telling what your computer will do next time you turn it on.

Q. Someone sent me a .tif file. How should I handle it?

A. There are hundreds of different kinds of files floating around the Internet these days. There are specialized files for word-processed documents -- many times these are identified as .doc files (specialized viruses, it turns out, look for these three letters to find files to attach themselves to). The coin of the realm in the world of databases seems to be .dbf files.

And let's not forget the images we love to create on our computers. Some application programs allow you to save your graphic work as a bit-mapped file (.bmp), an encapsulated post script file (.esp) or even as a tagged image file. That's what a .tif file is.

Each graphic file format has different qualities. For example, although bit-mapped files are more popular, .esp and .tif produce better images -- the experts like to say they are "high fidelity." Perhaps someone used an expensive graphics program like Adobe Photoshop to create the .tif file that you received.

So, if you have access to Photoshop or some other sophisticated graphics program, you can view the file. Another way is to buy a $49.95 program from Inso Corp. called Quick View Plus, which will let you look at it. Besides .tif files, it can handle 200 other formats as well.

Q. I have a two-year-old laptop with a nickel metal hydride battery. Is it possible to replace it with a lithium ion battery?

A. A nickel metal hydride battery is fast becoming the obsolete way to power a computer. It suffers from "memory effect," meaning that if you charged it fully, used it for, say, 20 minutes, then recharged it, it would get to thinking that all you wanted was short sessions and would hold only enough juice for that. To get a full charge, you have to completely draw down the battery first.

The newer batteries are classified as lithium ion. They have longer life and have eliminated the memory effect. Our questioner wants to upgrade his battery as he might his hard drive-unfortunately, he can't do it.

Though the size of the battery may be just right to snap it into place, the computer's electronics will work only with the battery for which the computer was designed.