Valve’s latest utility determines your PC’s VR readiness, pinpoints bottlenecks

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You’ve made the decision to invest between $600 and $800 on a premium virtual reality platform but do you know if your computer is up to the task? It’s a concern that at least a few will fail to address and wonder why their new toy is riddled with lag.

Fittingly, Valve has released a new utility that takes the guesswork out of the equation and determines if your PC is capable of powering a premium VR setup like the HTC Vive. It’s called the SteamVR Performance Test and you can give it a try right now although you’ll need the Steam client to do so.

The description says the utility measures your system’s rendering power using a two-minute sequence from Valve’s Aperture Robot Repair VR demo. After collecting the necessary data, the utility will indicate if your machine is capable of powering virtual reality content at the target 90fps and how much “eye candy” you’ll be able to get away with.

Should your system fall short of the recommended threshold, the utility will let you know if it’s the CPU, GPU or a combination of both that’s the bottleneck.

If you’d rather not fool with the utility, note that HTC recommends an Intel Core i5-4590 / AMD FX 8350 equivalent processor or better, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 970 / AMD Radeon R9 290 or greater, at least 4GB of RAM, an HDMI 1.4 / DisplayPort 1.2 video output or newer, at least one USB 2.0 port and Windows SP1 or newer to get the best experience out of the Vive VR.

Oculus calls for nearly the exact same setup for its Rift with the exception of at least 8GB of RAM and two USB 3.0 ports.

Those in the market for a new computer to handle VR duties can save a few bucks by purchasing an Oculus Rift PC bundle (assuming of course that the Rift is your VR platform of choice). You may be able to save even more money by upgrading your existing system or building one from scratch but understandably, that’s not an option for everyone.

Build your own computer case with the Aerocool Dream Box

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Selecting the perfect PC case can often seem like an exercise in futility. While there’s no shortages of options to choose from, finding one that appeals to your taste, accommodates your hardware and physically fits where you want to use it isn’t as easy as it sounds. Worse yet, all of that hard work may go out the window if you move, switch to a watercooling setup or change form factors.

If you’ve ever found yourself in this situation (and you like to build things), the Dream Box from Aerocool may be worth a look.

The Dream Box is a DIY case in the truest form. The starter kit comes with 188 components – an assortment of joints, pipes, brackets, metal beams, an I/O port, PSU bracket and more – that allow you to build a chassis that’s limited only by your imagination.

In fact, you don’t even have to build a computer case as Aerocool suggests all sorts of things such as coat hangers, toys, a table, lamps and more. Think of it as a grown-up version of an Erector Set.

While the kit offers a ton of flexibility, it notably doesn’t include any sort of panels. If you’ve got young kids or curious pets, this could certainly pose a problem. I imagine it wouldn’t be too difficult to carve up some custom panels but of course, that requires extra time, money and effort.

The Aerocool Dream Box retails for $150.

Bethesda says ‘Fallout 4’ mod support will arrive on the PC in April

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Bethesda director, designer and producer Todd Howard has revealed that official Fallout 4 mod support will arrive between the first two DLCs. Or in other words, this coming April.

Howard, who made the admission in a recent interview with Game Informer, said people are currently beta testing it. He stressed that they want to get it going on the PC first before bringing it to consoles. As such, it’ll probably arrive a month later on Xbox One and hit PlayStation 4 the following month.

As Silicon Angel correctly points out, Fallout 4 already has a pretty significant modding community that has turned out hundreds of mods for Bethesda’s award-winning title. Some of the more popular mods include one that revamps the game’s dialogue, one that expands on the game’s weapons system and even some that introduce nudity.

Up to this point, however, mods have been a bit limited. Once access to the mod creation kit arrives, it’ll make it much easier to access and change game files.

Bethesda first revealed that mod support was in the works late last year at the same time it announced Fallout 4 DLC. The company took the wraps off the aforementioned DLC last week, detailing the first of three expansion packs – Automatron, Wasteland Workshop and Far Harbor – that will begin arriving next month and each month thereare.

How to know if your PC is part of a botnet

Botnets are the “big bad wolf” of the Internet, and the problem is that your PC might be a part of one, and you might not even know it. For those of you who are not familiar with the topic, botnets are an “army” of computers which get infected with specific malware and are then used by the attacker for illegal activities such as spreading viruses to other computers, spamming or flooding web targets. Also known as “zombie armies”, the PCs operate without the knowledge of their owners. The largest botnet that we know about was called Oficla, included as many as 30,000,000 computers and was shut down and dismantled in November 2010. In case you’re worried about such things, here’s how to find if your PC is part of a botnet:

Symptoms of being a “zombie”

If your PC isn’t acting strange in any kind of way, there’s no reason for you to worry that it may be part of a botnet. However, there are several signs which can tell you that your PC might be a zombie. Here are the most common ones:

  • Your computer never shuts down properly or takes a very long time to do so: this indicates that there are some processes running which your operating system has a hard time shutting down, and the regular applications that you install generally don’t do that. This could indicate the fact that your PC is part of a botnet, but it could also mean that you’ve picked up some kind of regular virusб so you will need to use a process of elimination to find out which one it is.
  • Your fans are working even harder when your PC is idle: smart botnets will try to conceal their presence as much as possible, so they will try to avoid the user’s suspicions by doing their thing only when the computer isn’t in use. The fact that your fans kick into overdrive while your computer isn’t active usually means that there’s a background process which uses resources. Don’t get alarmed just yet, this could also mean that your Windows is performing updates, or that there’s too much dust on your fan, so rule those out first.
  • Your hard-disk start working intensively for no reason: make sure that there aren’t any updates going on, but if there aren’t, and you weren’t doing anything on the PC while this happened, you should be slightly worried.
  • Windows updates / antivirus updates or installation not working: not being able to update your Windows or antivirus program (or even install a new security application) is usually a clear sign that something is very wrong. You can’t know for sure if you’re actually part of a botnet or of it’s just some other kind of the malware, but you definitely should check it out.
  • Your Internet browsing and downloading speed is very slow: this could mean that something from your PC is using your Internet connection without you knowing. First, make sure that there aren’t any updates running, and that your torrent client isn’t running. If not, then perform an Internet speed test, and if everything looks normal than your computer is most likely a zombie.

The symptoms are there. How about a cure?

The part about a cure is a little bit more delicate than anyone cares to admit. To put it very simply, depending on the type of infection that has been used to add your computer to the botnet, you may not be able to completely get rid of the problem. However, here are a couple of things that you can try:

  • Microsoft Safety Scanner – this tool has proven to be effective versus some botnet infections over the years, so in my opinion, this should be your first step. The application (also known as Malicious Software Removal Tool) is completely free and contains signatures of many known botnets.
  • Bot Revolt – is another solution that seems to work. To be completely honest, I didn’t test the application myself, but one of my friends did, and it actually helped solve his botnet issue. The tool constantly monitors all your inbound communications, being able to recognize suspicious or unauthorized access, keeps an eye on every installer that you use, constantly checks your registries and is not only useful for finding infections, but also for preventing them.
  • RUBotted – coming from Trend Micro, this freeware program contains digital signatures of several known botnets and is also capable of discovering currently unknown botnets. Additionally, the application is quite proficient at cleaning up an infection form your PC, but it uses an online feature called House Call in order to do this, so you will need a decent Internet connection.
  • Mirage Anti-Bot – a tool that contains a database of URLs known to spread botnet infections. The tool keeps you safe from these URL addresses and allows you to add your own links that should be blocked.

While the previously mentioned tools will probably help, there are cases in which there isn’t anything you can do, except maybe buy new hardware. Certain infections can affect your RAM or directly your router, which makes them nearly impossible to clean. So, if none of the applications I’ve shown you are helping, you should seek help from a specialist.

If computer security is a topic that interests you, then you might also want to find out what is ransomware and how to protect yourself against it, learn about how to keep your browser safe from hackers or read about how to know if your router has been infected.

Windows Search alternatives: find a file in record time

Most people find it difficult to organize thousands of files stored on their computers in a clear way. So do I. Without a system, it often becomes problematic to me to find a particular file on my PC, especially since a directory contains a large number of unmanageable items or I don’t remember the exact name of a needed file. This is where a desktop search utility usually comes to the rescue, but the default Windows Search app locates files too slowly and doesn’t provide a variety of settings. In this article, I’ve decided to present you with the most interesting alternatives to the Windows Search tool that work fast and flawlessly.

Everything

Search Engine FiltersSearch Engine Filters

The program with the most ambitious name on our list isEverything. It is free, portable, quick, and really great. Developed almost seven years ago, this desktop search utility stays highly competitive among other alternatives to Windows Search and provides the most convenient way to find files and folders by their names on your computer. Due to scanning your files on the very first launch, Everything creates its owndatabase of the files’ indexes which in turn helps the program spend less than two seconds to display the search results. Moreover, Everything is equipped with truly advanced search options. You may set the tool to match a case, match a path, match a whole word, match a diacritics, etc. while looking for a file. Or you may use somesyntax symbols to specify your search inquiry, for example, whether you search for two words together (x and z) or separately (x | z), whether you want to exclude something from the list (!y) or want to find everything that starts and ends with needed letters (a*e, where * any number of any type) or just look for the exact phrase (“qwerty”). Everything is possible with Everything! Include spaces in a search string, search for file types, find a file in a specific location and much, much more. Also, I cannot but mention that the program is absolutely free.

UltraSearch

UltraSearchUltraSearch

UltraSearch is another decent program for an instant search, that, importantly, is being developed by a reputable software company, JAM Software (see also TreeSize Professional). In comparison to Everything, the UltraSearch utility does not store indexes of your files in its database, but attains its great speed by working directly on the Master File Table (MFT) of the NTF system. MFT is a special entry that contains all the information about a file, including its size, time and date stamps, permissions and data content. It even identifies NTFS hardlinks (directory entries that associate names with files and folders). And what makes two programs similar is their support of regular expressions (the use of syntax symbols): with UltraSearch you can also find file extensions, exclude certain folders, sort the results according to certain criteria, use wildcards. UltraSearch is a freeware program as well. One of its advantages is that it can show the additional information of a file and export the search results to several types of files: RTF, HTML, CSV andExcel. The possible drawback of UltraSearch is the banner in the program interface advertising the download of other software by this developer.

Listary

Action MenuAction Menu

If minimalism is what comes first to you, thenListary as a simple and elegant search utility for Windows will definitely satisfy your taste. There are different ways to start and complete the search process with Listary (the Favorites and History search, the Fuzzy Navigation, the Projects search, and others), but the easiest and the one that is set by default is called ‘Find as you Type‘. This feature is designed to recognize suffixes, prefixes or other parts of any files, folders, drives, or apps anywhere in Windows Explorer or in programs like 7-Zip, Total Commander, XnView, etc. The results are instantly shown next to the Listary’s search box. As you type, the application brings up a menu with the results, which you can browse using the up / down keyboard arrows. By clicking or pressing the Enter button, you can quickly open any file. The right keyboard arrow over a file activates the context menu. Another way of activating the search function is using the key combinations like Win + S or Win + W. This feature works both under the file managers and open / save file dialogs. The free tool Listary also comes with dozens of configuration settings to customize the search engine to the full.

In case you want to go further in personalizing your computer, study the article on how to get rid of default apps in Windows 10.

How to fix your PC’s USB ports

USB ports, just like everything in your PC, may occasionally stop working. However, what you might not know about them is that quite often USB ports don’t break down for good. In many situations the problem comes from software or firmware (drivers) and not the hardware itself. So, if one of your USB ports has suddenly failed to work properly, here’s what you need to do to find out what’s wrong with it and maybe fix the problem.

Find out if it’s a hardware problem

The first thing that you need to clarify is whether the USB port is physically damaged or there’s something else wrong with it.

  • The simplest way to examine it is to insert your USB device in the port and see: either it fits in or wiggles (try to wiggle it slowly so that you don’t cause the hardware problem yourself).
  • If you think that it wiggles, but you’re still not sure, try plugging it into a port that you know is functioning; repeat the experiment and if in the second case it fits perfectly, then you most likely have a physical problem. In theory you can fix that too, but you will need to search YouTube for a tutorial on how to go about it and find the right tools or seek professional assistance.
  • In case the USB device wiggled in all the ports you’ve tried it, it may be the device fault.
  • If you’ve determined that the hardware isn’t defective, try restarting your PC.
  • In case that didn’t work, proceed to the next chapter.

Solution 1: Device Manager

Device ManagerDevice Manager

This is the fix I used when my USB port kept turning my mouse on and off, and the solution worked like a charm. It requires you to open theDevice Manager window (and the simplest way to do that is to launch the Run menu (press the Win+ R keys)), then type in devmgmt.msc and pressEnter. Additionally, you can get to the Device Manager menu from the Control Panel or you can write devm in your Start Menu and it will be the first result that shows up. Once you’ve opened the previously mentioned window, find the entry named Universal Serial Bus controllers and click on the arrow next to it.

Now, since it’s very difficult to determine which entry corresponds to which port on your PC, you should simply uninstall all of them. Look for every entry that has “USB Host Controller” (or “USB Enhanced Host Controller“) in its name, right-click it and press the Uninstall button. One you’ve taken down all of them, make sure that the USB device is plugged into the port that you want to fix, then restart your PC or right-click theUniversal Serial Bus entry and select the Scan for Hardware Changes button. Your computer will automatically reinstall all the USB drivers and that, in turn, might solve your problem (it did in my case).

Solution 2: Windows Registry

Registry EditorRegistry Editor

Another possible cause for USB ports malfunctioning is an entry in the Windows Registry. To be able to use this fix, you will need to edit your registries, so please proceed with caution and follow my instructions closely as modifying the wrong registry could cause your operating system to stop running completely. The first thing you need to do is to open the Registry Editor window, so once again go to the Run menu (Win + R keys), but now type regedit and pressEnter. Then, click on HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE –> SYSTEM –> CurrentControlSet –> Services, and find the entry named USB (all of these are on the left-side panel).

  • If you managed to find it, there should be an entry named DisableSelectiveSuspend in the right-side panel; right-click on it, select the Modify option from the menu that pops up and then change the number in the Value field to 1.
  • If you’re sure that the USB entry wasn’t present, you will need to create it yourself. Click on the previously mentioned Service section, then press Edit button (from the top file menu), click onNew and create a new Key named USB. Click on the newly created item, then, in the right-side panel, right-click the empty space, select the New option and create a DWORD Value or DWORD 32-bit Value. Name it DisableSelectiveSuspend. Now, repeat the procedure Value modifying procedure (from above) and everything should be fixed.

Since you now know how to fix your USB ports, you might also want to find out how to fix Windows issues concerning DLL files, read about how to properly maintain your PC or check out the efficient ways toincrease the power of your WiFi signal.