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5 PC Parts That Tend to Die: How to Extend Their Lifespans

In an ideal world, your PC would last as long as you need it, and the only reason to get a new one would be for the performance boost. Unfortunately, life isn’t fair. PC parts die. Replacements can be expensive—so it makes sense to get the most out of every part you can.

The most important thing you can do is maintain your PC components properly. A long-lasting PC starts and ends with good maintenance habits, especially when you build the PC yourself. To get started, check out these tips on how to extend the lifespan of your PC parts.

1. Motherboards

asus rog motherboard

There are several reasons why you should upgrade your motherboard. However, let’s hope you do so voluntarily instead of being forced into it by a broken motherboard. Motherboard reliability increases with each generation, as you might expect.

Why Do Motherboard’s Die So Quickly?

Even though there are no moving parts, motherboards are very complex and delicate in their designs. As the focal point for everything else on your system, small malfunctions can have catastrophic effects.

Motherboard lifespan is difficult to gauge, too, as accounting for individual user habits and local environments is almost impossible. Still, a 2018 Puget Systems study found that “while motherboards seem to be getting more and more complex,” the overall failure rate was just “2.1% or about 1 out of every 49 motherboards.” Importantly, this figure is “about half what we saw in 2017.”

A 2016 HardWare.fr report returned similar results, with ASRock motherboards coming in at 1.45% and MSI coming in at 2.36%.

The biggest reason for motherboard failure is that the capacitors deteriorate over time and become exhausted. Sometimes the capacitors will even leak, potentially damaging other hardware components. You can replace a capacitor, but it is a non-trivial DIY operation that you may be uncomfortable completing yourself.

Other causes of motherboard failure include heat, static, and moisture.

Tips for Prolonging Motherboard Lifespan

Keep your computer away from environmental hazards like excess moisture or extra-dry air, which can promote static buildup. Excess heat can sometimes cause a motherboard to warp, leading to shorts and broken components.

But the best thing you can do to prevent motherboard failures is never to touch the motherboard. That’s hyperbole—you obviously have to touch it to install or replace parts. But try to limit the motherboard’s exposure outside of the PC case.

When you must touch the motherboard, be sure to ground yourself first, so you don’t accidentally shock and fry the motherboard itself.

2. Data Drives

SSD solid state drive

Data drives come in two main forms: hard disk drives (HDDs) and solid-state drives (SSDs). A computer cannot function without one, because that’s where the operating system resides. It’s crucial to your system. If it dies, you’ll need to get a replacement ASAP.

Why Do HDDs and SSDs Die So Quickly?

HDDs and SSDs are both prone to failure, but for different reasons.

HDDs are mechanical—they have moving parts—and will physically break down over time. The platter might get scratched, the head might stop reading, or the parts might become “paralyzed” by a power surge.

SSDs are based on flash memory chips, so they have no moving parts. However, they have unreliable long-term data retention, they are more susceptible to extreme temperatures, and power outages can lead to data corruption.

Tips for Prolonging Data Drive Lifespan

No matter which kind of data drive you have, it’s always a good idea to invest in a good surge protector. Electrical surges can cause a lot of harm to all kinds of devices, not just PC parts.

Avoid extreme temperatures when possible. Refer to your data drive’s manual for safe operating temperatures. This means cleaning dust out of your computer to ensure good air circulation and prevent overheating!

Other than that, it’s mostly about buying a good model from a reputable brand. The next time you’re shopping for a data drive, check out our articles on some things to consider when buying a hard drive or a solid-state drive.

3. RAM

upgrade ram

RAM is vital for a pleasant computer experience, and it’s one of the first parts you should upgrade if you want to speed up your PC performance. How much do you need? Well, it depends, but 8GB is the current norm.

Of all of the computer hardware components, RAM has the lowest relative rate of failure. However, depending on the model and brand of RAM you buy, the lifespan of the RAM module can vary. Dead RAM modules do happen!

Why Does RAM Die So Quickly?

Given perfect conditions, RAM actually has a remarkably long lifespan. The same 2016 HardWare.fr study found incredibly low incidences of RAM returns, as low as 0.20% for Kingston and up to 1.08% for Corsair. Given the staggering amount of RAM in use around the world, these figures are extremely low.

But two things can kill a working RAM module in the blink of an eye: temperature and power surges.

Most RAM modules have an operating temperature between 0 and 85 degrees Celsius. If you head outside of those temperature limitations, you could corrupt your RAM. It won’t happen instantly, and it would be disingenuous to suggest otherwise. But prolonged exposure to “extreme” temperatures reduces the lifespan of your RAM.

Power surges from faulty motherboards, bad power supplies, and electrical spikes can also cause failure.

Tips for Prolonging RAM Lifespan

The most important piece of advice is to buy a high-quality module from a reputable manufacturer. Reputable manufacturers include Kingston, Crucial, G.Skill, and Corsair, although other manufacturers are available. Make sure to read the product reviews before buying.

Otherwise, ensure you have adequate surge protection. Check out the best surge protectors you can buy right now.

4. Power Supply Units

A PC power supply unit (PSU)

A power supply unit (PSU) delivers power to all of the components in your computer. There are a number of considerations to keep in mind when buying the right PSU for your needs, but lifespan is one of the more important ones.

Why Do PSUs Die So Quickly?

Despite the perception, PSUs are only slightly worse than RAM modules in terms of hardware lifespan under perfect conditions. The HardWare.fr indicates failure rates between 0.49% for the best performing PSU (Fortron) and 2.41% at the other end of the scale (Cougar).

Again, the Puget Systems report corroborates the PSU rate of failure, with a “total failure rate of 1.15%.”

Under normal intended use, a PSU should last a long time—at least five years, possibly up to 10 years if you’re lucky. But if you start putting the power supply under high loads over long periods, it can be overstressed.

Tips for Prolonging PSU Lifespan

As always, start with a high-quality model from a reputable brand. Many generic models are overrated and don’t have much tolerance for stress. Poor build quality can also lead to faster aging and early death.

Another thing to consider is that some brands don’t manufacture the PSUs in-house. Instead, some PSUs are sourced from OEMs. This process means that the quality of PSU models can vary, even within the same brand.

The only effective way to prolong your PSU lifespan is to cut back on high-stress activities. For example, cryptocurrency mining is a very strenuous process. Overclocking your CPU or GPU can also place additional stress on your power supply unit, although you can mitigate this using appropriately rated hardware.

If you want a new PSU and don’t know where to start, check out the best PSUs for PC builders.

5. Cooling Fans

pc case fans

You probably haven’t given your PC fans much thought. They spin up when you need them, and they spin down when you don’t. Sometimes, we don’t even notice when one stops working (at least, not straight away!). Fortunately, most case cooling fans are relatively cheap to replace.

The situation changes when you consider CPU cooling fans, which can be more expensive than their case cooling counterparts, and similarly, GPUs.

Why Do Cooling Fans Die So Quickly?

This one’s really simple. Just as with hard disk drives, cooling fans are mechanical—they have moving parts that are susceptible to general wear and tear. Over time, as the fans spin and spin and spin, they’re more likely to break down.

But this process is accelerated by the dust and particles that build up on the fan blades and within the rotating mechanism. When exposed to heat and moisture, the dust can even get caked on and turn into gunk, which could cause more friction and stress.

Tips for Prolonging Cooling Fan Lifespan

The first tip for keeping any type of cooling fan working effectively is cleaning. That means cleaning the excess dust and buildup from fan blades, plus the dust from the PC case that contributes to the issue.

You could also consider the location of your PC in your home. Leaving your PC on a thick carpet, for instance, can cause extra heat and additional dust ingress, in turn causing your fans to work harder to keep your system cool.

So, how often should you clean your cooling fans? If you’ve never cleaned them before, give everything in your case a good clean. Then, head back one month later and see how much dust and buildup are gathering on your cooling fan blades. You can gauge your PC cleaning schedule from there.

If your CPU dies, read our guide to choosing the right Intel Core processor. Alternatively, check out the best gaming CPUs for all budgets.

Stop Your PC Parts Wearing Out

There is no doubt that certain PC parts wear out quicker than others. You can manage the general wear and tear on yours computer using the tips set out in this article. Keeping your system cool, clean, and dust-free will maintain your PC hardware for much longer. Furthermore, looking after your hardware keeps costs down, as you won’t have to replace bits that break.

Of course, if you want to upgrade, do! Just make sure to ask yourself these important questions first.

Image Credit: Michael Wick/Shutterstock

Read the full article: 5 PC Parts That Tend to Die: How to Extend Their Lifespans

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The 7 Best Google Docs Alternatives for Online Word Processing

Online word processors come with many advantages. Your documents are accessible from anywhere, they’re open to collaboration and sharing, and are easy to import and export.

When you think of online word processing, you immediately think of Google Docs. It is a great service with an extensive array of features, plus heaps of add-ons, too.

That said, you might not always want to use Google Docs. Thankfully, there are several excellent Google Docs alternatives that you can use for online document editing. Here are the best alternatives to Google Docs you can use right now.

1. Microsoft Office

microsoft office online 2020

Microsoft Office (formerly Office Online, also known as “Office on the Web”) is the free offering from the world’s most popular office suite. A Microsoft account is all you need to gain access to almost the entire gamut of Microsoft Office applications. Office Online grants access to Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, and Outlook, as well as Sway and a host of other tools.

So, how does the Office on the Web compare to Google Docs (and the wider range of G Suite tools)? The offering is so good that some people have entirely eschewed purchasing Microsoft Office 2019 or Office 365 in favor of the free online suite. The introduction of collaborative tools has only strengthened the free service, too.

However, Microsoft has not given us the crown jewels. The online Office offering does carry some limitations.

For instance, the number of templates available is reduced. As well as this, you can use the integrated styles, but cannot make your own. Office contains a number of these “half-features” that you’ll encounter from time to time. Some are negligible. Others can be massively frustrating—I’m looking at you Merge Formatting.

The free online version of Microsoft Office is still an excellent alternative to Google Docs, despite the shortcomings found in several of the applications.

2. Zoho Docs

zoho writer 2020

Zoho develops a huge number of apps, from a personal wiki to an email service, through CRM and bookkeeping tools, and more. Zoho Docs is Zoho’s answer to Google Docs, and it is a strong alternative online document editor.

The writer itself is excellent, with a ton of editing options, organized in a succinct and aesthetically pleasing sidebar. Almost anything you can do in Word can be done in Zoho, from adding a header and footer to directly posting a document to your blog.

It also features advanced options, such as mail merging and electronic signature support. Another extremely handy feature is the integrated Zoho chat, so you can chat with collaborators while working.

Zoho is the most feature-complete of the Web-based applications, including Google Docs, and is incredibly easy to use. Zoho doesn’t get nearly the press Google Docs does, but I can’t see a reason not to switch. Need more convincing? Here are even more reasons to try Zoho as your Google Docs alternative.

3. Dropbox Paper

dropbox paper document writer 2020

Dropbox Paper is the online document editing offering from Dropbox, better known for its cloud storage solutions. All you need to use Dropbox Paper is a Dropbox account. Once you sign up, you can begin using this handy Google Docs alternative.

Dropbox Paper has some handy features. Adding and curating images is exceptionally easy, especially if you already use Dropbox as an image host. Similarly, embedding other content is just as easy. There’s also the option to edit using markdown language, which is handy for quick edits and basic styling.

As with other online document editing tools, collaboration and sharing are key. Sharing in Dropbox Paper is as easy as clicking a button and inviting users (other Dropbox users or from Google Accounts), as is allowing commenting in the current document.

One cool collaboration feature is that you can “@” people from your document, even if they’re not currently working on the same document. The person receives a notification that you want them to come and work with you. Another handy collaboration feature is Task Assignment. You can quickly turn any bullet-list into a task list to be assigned to your collaborators.

As a Google Docs alternative, Dropbox Paper is a handy and quick document editing tool. However, it doesn’t have the extensive range of editing tools available to Google Docs or some of the alternatives on this list.

4. ONLYOFFICE

onlyoffice document editor 2020

OnlyOffice is a Google Docs alternative that offers both and offline and online document editing tools. As we’re primarily focusing on Google Docs alternatives that don’t require downloading, we’ll focus on the online OnlyOffice version.

Like Zoho Docs, OnlyOffice’s personal document editing tool is one of the most comprehensive alternatives to Google Docs. You’ll find extensive editing options in-line with offline document editing tools. You can customize formatting styles and layouts, invite collaborators to work with you, and even chat within the OnlyOffice window to keep your focus on the work window.

There’s also the option to install OnlyOffice add-ons, which are extensions that increase the functionality of the document editing tool. For example, you can install the WordPress plugin and publish work direct to your website or the Zotero plugin, which helps you manage references and other research materials.

5. Nuclino

nuclino document editing 2020

Nuclino is a brilliant free collaborative editor and alternative to Google Docs. It is extremely easy to use, has a great user interface (UI), and provides a satisfying experience in pretty much all areas. That said, it isn’t necessarily a direct Google Docs competitor. Google Docs provides a rounded suite of tools, while Nuclino has a definite slant toward team and project management.

Nonetheless, writing and editing in Nuclino is aided by the clean aesthetic and easily implemented editorial tools. Nuclino is versatile, too. Multiple groups, multiple boards, easy invitations, smart tags, and integration with services such as YouTube, Vimeo, and Soundcloud provide a comprehensive service. There’s the option to write and edit using markdown, too.

However, Nuclino isn’t strictly a document editing program if you’re considering a pure editorial experience. If your team depends on advanced document editing and formatting or even just basic spreadsheets, you’ll be importing to Nuclino from another source.

6. Etherpad

etherpad public instance 2020

If collaboration is what you’re into, give Etherpad a good look. There’s no need to sign up or install Etherpad. You can simply select one of the public instances running Etherpad Lite, many of which feature secure encrypted connections. Once you’re connected, either share a link to the pad or send invitations to your contacts by email.

As users enter the Etherpad, you can edit the text on the pad in real-time, and changes automatically appear. You can chat in the sidebar, highlight which user made a given change, and save revisions so as to revert if someone makes a mistake.

Furthermore, some public Etherpad instances allow you to choose how long the pad remains active for, adding a handy ephemeral document angle to this Google Docs alternative. For example, the Etherpad in the above image allows you to set a 24-hours, 60 days, or 1-year period before destruction.

7. Slite

slite document edit project manage 2020

Slite is another collaborative work tool you can use as an alternative to Google Docs. As it is a collaborative workspace, you might find that Slite replaces more than just Google Docs, too.

The free version of Slite allows you to create 50 shared documents per month, as well as unlimited personal documents. You can also invite an unlimited number of users to your free Slite. Furthermore, it integrates nicely with one of the most popular team management tools, Slack, meaning you can talk and work between the two with ease.

Other integrations include Figma, Loom, Trello, Asana, and GitHub. In that, Slite works as a document editing tool and as a project management option.

Which Is the Best Google Docs Alternative?

Google Docs is an excellent online document editing tool, but what is the best alternative? Well, you can choose a more traditional editor experience in Microsoft Office or Zoho Writer, or try a collaborative experience with Dropbox Paper or Nuclino.

Needless to say, you have more than a handful of Google Docs alternatives to consider before starting your next big project!

Stuck using Google Docs? Check out how you can make a beautiful Google Document using the inbuilt formatting tools.

Read the full article: The 7 Best Google Docs Alternatives for Online Word Processing

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The Best Cheap Webcam Alternatives Until Prices Drop

The COVID-19 pandemic sent the prices of certain bits of PC hardware spiraling. Webcams were one of the first items to begin selling out. People working from and those wishing to stay in video contact with family quickly cleared webcam stocks at the most popular online retailers.

The result is a webcam market filled with questionable brands, high prices for webcams, and a lack of stock at regular stores.

However, you don’t need a dedicated webcam. You probably have a webcam alternative in your home, waiting for use. So, here are the best webcam alternatives until the prices return to normal!

How to Use a Smartphone or a Tablet as a Webcam

UBeesize Adjustable Camera Stand Holder UBeesize Adjustable Camera Stand Holder Buy Now On Amazon $19.98

Let’s start with the easiest option—using your iPhone or Android device as a webcam. There are numerous apps available to both platforms that convert your smartphone camera into a handy webcam.

As many smartphones now come equipped with powerful cameras, you’ll get a clear image for your video calls. Check out how to use your iPhone as a webcam or how to use your Android device as a webcam for detailed instructions.

One thing that will make using your smartphone as a webcam easier is a tripod or mount. The UBeeszie Adjustable Camera Stand Holder is a basic smartphone and camera mount. It won’t change your life, but it will keep your smartphone stable on your desk during a meeting or family voice call, which is perfect.

How to Use a DSLR as a Webcam

Using a DSLR as a webcam requires a little bit more work than the smartphone option. The plus side is that you’ll have one of the best webcam streams around, unrivaled in quality amongst your co-workers and family.

There are two options for using a DSLR as a webcam. One uses software and is relatively plug and play. The other uses an external capture card to convert the HDMI output of the DSLR into a streamable USB signal output.

1. Using a Nikon or Canon DSLR as a Webcam with SparkoCam

SparkoCam features list

If you own a Nikon or Canon DSLR, you can use SparkoCam, a webcam and video effects tool for Windows. SparkoCam is freeware, although the free version will add a large SparkoCam logo to your video output.

There are various SparkoCam licenses, which you should check out before committing. For example, you can purchase a Standard License for both camera types for $69.95, which includes one year of upgrades. There are also licenses available for just Canon or Nikon cameras.

On to the software itself. SparkoCam offers support for a range of Nikon and Canon DSLR models (full list). If your camera model is not on the list, it is highly likely it will not work with the software. This is due to limitations with some older DSLR models.

SparkoCam is easy to use. You connect your DSLR to your computer via a USB cable, then select the corresponding model in the software. Once SparkoCam recognizes your camera, you can adjust the resolution and other features.

Now, there is one important thing to note before purchasing SparkoCam. The output frames per second appear to fluctuate, with some users noting that they could not create video at more than 30 frames per second.

However, this is more likely an issue with USB 2.0 devices, rather than the software. And for the most part, 30FPS is absolutely fine for a family video chat or meeting with colleagues.

The other thing to consider is that SparkoCam does not use the microphone on your DSLR. You will need to use a separate microphone. SparkoCam is available to Windows only. Furthermore, at the price point, it is most of the more expensive solutions. However, it is an option, nonetheless.

2. Using a Canon DSLR as a Webcam with EOS Webcam Utility Beta

Canon DSLR users can opt for the EOS Webcam Utility Beta, which turns your compatible Canon camera into a high-quality webcam.

The software is in beta, so there are potential bugs and other glitches that could affect performance. Furthermore, we haven’t tested the software with a Canon DSLR. Still, the software looks decent enough, and Canon is specifically marketing this new software in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to help make communication easier.

Check out the above video for a tutorial on setting up EOS Webcam Utility Beta. Like SparkoCam, the EOS Webcam Utility Beta is available to Windows only.

3. Using a DSLR as a Webcam on Linux

The previous two options were all about Windows. But what if you use Linux and you want to use your DSLR as a webcam? Well, the libgphoto2 project takes care of that. The video above is a detailed tutorial on how to use your DSLR as a webcam on Linux with libgphoto2.

Using a DSLR as a Webcam with a Capture Card/Device

If none of the software options work with your DSLR, you’ll need an external capture card. An external capture card is a special video device that turns your HDMI input into a streamable output, usually via a USB cable.

There are several excellent capture cards on the market. Most are extremely easy to use, too. However, one thing to note is that the capture card market is also experiencing fluctuations due to COVID-19.

1. AVerMedia Live Gamer Mini

AVerMedia Live Gamer Mini AVerMedia Live Gamer Mini Buy Now On Amazon $87.35

The AVerMedia Live Gamer Mini offers plug and play connectivity if you want to use your DSLR as a webcam. Furthermore, there is Full HD recording, hardware encoding, and zero-latency passthrough up to 1080p at 60FPS (1080p60).

You also have the option of using AVerMedia’s RECentral streaming software, which adds additional streaming and overlay options.

2. AVerMedia AVerCapture LGP Lite

AVerMedia AVerCapture LGP Lite AVerMedia AVerCapture LGP Lite Buy Now On Amazon $74.25

The slightly smaller cousin to the Live Gamer Mini, the AVerMedia AVerCapture LGP Lite is a handy plug and play capture card that lets you use your DSLR as a webcam.

Like the Live Gamer Mini, the LGP Lite allows Full HD recording and 1080p60 video passthrough. There’s also the handy capture card button you can use for one-click recording.

3. MiraBox Capture Card

MiraBox Capture Card MiraBox Capture Card Buy Now On Amazon $125.99

The MiraBox Capture Card is a USB 3.0 capture card that works well with DSLRs. It offers Full HD playback with 1080p60 video passthrough, and is compatible with Windows, macOS, and Linux. It is completely plug and play and will work with your Xbox One, PS4, and Nintendo Switch, too.

4. BlueAVS Capture Card

BlueAVS Capture Card BlueAVS Capture Card Buy Now On Amazon $39.99

The BlueAVS Capture Card is a basic but effective capture card option. You can connect a wide range of media options to the BlueAVS Capture Card and stream directly to your computer.

You should note that this is a USB 2.0 capture card, rather than USB 3.0. This means that you will not stream video from your DSLR at more than 30FPS. Again, that isn’t much of an issue for video calls with your friends and family, but something you should consider if you want a higher fidelity video stream.

5. Elgato Cam Link 4K

Elgato Cam Link 4K Elgato Cam Link 4K Buy Now On Amazon $126.43

The Elgato Cam Link 4K is one of the easiest ways to use a capture card with your DSLR as a webcam. You connect your DSLR to the Elgato Cam Link 4K with an HDMI cable and insert the capture card into a USB port on your computer. You can then select your DSLR for video calls, as well as other video recording tools.

Unfortunately, the Elgato Cam Link is sold out at many retailers, while the price on some sites is clearly double the usual retail price. So, while the Elgato Cam Link 4K is an excellent option, you could save money by waiting until the price returns to normal.

Are These the Best Webcam Alternatives?

For the time being, while the webcam market is unsettled and prices fluctuate, using a webcam alternative is a great option. You can use your smartphone or tablet as a webcam for a quick and easy alternative. Or, if you want greater video quality, you can use a DSLR camera as a webcam alternative.

Webcams won’t remain sold out forever. The demand for new webcams will stabilize, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic begins to ease around the world. Until then, try one of the webcam alternatives.

Oh, and if you have more than one webcam or additional camera, why not try using multiple webcams for your video calls?

Read the full article: The Best Cheap Webcam Alternatives Until Prices Drop

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What Is Windows 10X and How to Give It a Try

Have you heard about a new version of Windows 10? Are you unsure if those rumors are true? Well, wonder no longer.

Here’s what you need to know about Windows 10X, and how you can take Windows 10X for a trial run right now.

What Is Windows 10X?

windows 10x home page dual screen

Windows 10X is a new version of the Windows 10 operating system aimed primarily at dual-screen devices. Even though the focus is on dual-screen devices, the operating system will also feature on single-screen devices, too.

The original plan was for the dual-screen version of Windows 10X to launch first. However, due to setbacks in the development of dual-screen devices set to run Windows 10X, such as the upcoming Microsoft Surface Neo, the full launch is now set for 2021.

However, the single-screen version of Windows 10X will now take center-stage. Some of the design features of Windows 10X will also make the cross-over into the main version of Windows 10.

So, here’s what you can expect from the new version of Windows 10X, what changes might come to the main Windows 10 version, and how you can give Windows 10X a try.

1. Dual-Screen Optimization

Windows 10X focus is on dual-screen devices, despite setbacks in production and development. In the Windows 10X test environment (more on this below), you can transition Windows apps from screen to screen and try out the dual-screen version of Windows 10.

Part of the dual-screen optimization lies with the interface, as you might expect. You can drag and drop windows between screens, specify which screen you want an app to open on, or drag an app to the center of the dual-screen and release it so that it spans both screens.

2. Windows 10X App Containers

As well as the dual-screen optimization, Windows 10X will run Windows 10 apps and programs, just like regular Windows 10. In addition, the apps will run in an individual container environment, meaning they are isolated from the operating system. The app isolation should help stability, reduce the chance of random crashes, and improve device security.

3. New Start Menu, New Taskbar, No Live Tiles

windows 10x start menu live tiles

Windows 10X has a shiny new flat Start Menu—without any Windows Live Tiles, either. Screenshots of the flat Windows 10X Start Menu appeared a while back and received a lot of positive feedback.

Another major change is that the Windows 10X Start Menu does not use any form of Live Tile. Like them or loathe them, Microsoft is deciding to remove them.

There’s also the addition of a new Taskbar, too. The adaptive taskbar spans both screens when you use Windows 10X with a dual-screen device, using a new set of app icons, too. The apps center on the Windows 10X taskbar, which is a nice change and fits with the dual-screen operating system. But if you prefer the more traditional left-aligned location for your apps, you can do that too.

The new style is smart and a much more basic approach to the Start Menu, which is a welcome addition.

4. New Windows 10X Action Center, Compose Mode for Working

Animated GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

The Windows 10 Action Center isn’t great. It isn’t awful, either, but the design is lacking functionality. Thankfully, it appears Microsoft is aware of this, and Windows 10X comes with a remodeled Action Center.

The Windows 10X action center brings in several quick actions, with a focus on making changes direct from the panel.

The new Action Center also contains a Windows 10X dual-screen specific feature: Compose Mode.

You open the Action Center, tap Compose Mode, and your screen rotates 90°, turning one panel into an on-screen keyboard. The idea is that you only need a single-button process to switch between work and play.

5. Improved Windows Update in Windows 10X

I haven’t had a chance to see this working, but Windows 10X promises much faster updates than Windows 10. Microsoft will silently install and prepare updates in the background before requiring you to restart. Then, the update should install painlessly and quickly.

The change to the Windows Update for Windows 10X looks makes the process similar to a Chromebook. The operating system informs you that there is an update, you restart your system as normal, and then continue working.

Hopefully, Microsoft can begin implementing this streamlined update system in the regular Windows 10 build as well as Windows 10X.

How to Test Out Windows 10X

You can take Windows 10X for a test drive using the Microsoft Emulator and an early Windows 10X preview build. You should note that this is a work in progress, and the preview builds are designed primarily for developers to begin ensuring app compatibility. You may encounter bugs, crashes, and other issues.

1. Install Microsoft Emulator

First up, you need to install the Microsoft Emulator. The Microsoft Emulator is available from the Microsoft Store and is a free download.

Download: Microsoft Emulator for Windows 10

Open the Microsoft Store using the link above, select Get, and allow the installation to complete.

2. Download the Windows 10X Emulator Image

Now, open the Microsoft Emulator. The Microsoft Emulator will scan automatically for a new preview build on the Microsoft Store. When it finds a preview build, select the latest version, then Install.

windows 10x download emulator image

You’ll have to input your Microsoft account password to confirm the download and accept the EULA. Then, the Windows 10X preview will download.

3. Check Hyper-V is Installed

Before hitting the Start button, make sure Windows Hyper-V is enabled.

First, open the Start Menu and type command, then select Command Prompt (Admin). Now, input the following command:

systeminfo.exe

Scroll down and find the Hyper-V Requirements section. If the requirements say Yes, you can proceed to the next section, #4. If the requirements say No, continue reading this section to install Hyper-V.

The easiest way to make sure Hyper-V installs correctly is using PowerShell. (What’s the difference between PowerShell and the Command Prompt?) There is also an option to install Hyper-V using Windows Features, but this doesn’t always work properly.

Type powershell in your Start Menu search bar, right-click the Best match on top, and select Run as Administrator. Now, input the following command:

DISM /Online /Enable-Feature /All /FeatureName:Microsoft-Hyper-V

After the command completes successfully, save any work you have open, then restart your system. Once your system reboots, you will find options for Hyper-V in the Start Menu.

4. Start the Windows 10X Emulator

Once Hyper-V is installed, you can boot the Windows 10X preview build in the Microsoft Emulator. Select the preview build and hit Start. You’ll see a dual-screen smartphone configuration appear, followed by the spinning orbs indicating that Windows 10X is booting up.

windows 10x microsoft emulator

From here, you’re free to explore the Windows 10X preview build. Remember, this is a preview build for the dual-screen version of the operating system, and the Microsoft Emulator works accordingly.

Will Windows 10X Replace Windows 10?

At the current rate, no. Windows 10X will not replace the main Windows 10 desktop version you currently use.

However, you could well see the transition of certain features from Windows 10X into Windows 10. For example, the Windows 10X Start Menu would be a welcome addition to Windows 10, as would the streamlined Windows Update process.

Now you have read about Windows 10X, Microsoft’s statement regarding the last Windows operating system ever seem clearer. Here’s why Windows 10 isn’t the last Microsoft operating system ever.

Read the full article: What Is Windows 10X and How to Give It a Try

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How to Create a Pivot Table for Data Analysis in Microsoft Excel

Microsoft Excel’s pivot tables are a powerful tool you can use to compare large datasets.

You can use the pivot table as an interactive data summarization tool to automatically condense large datasets into a separate, concise table. You can use it to create an informative summary of a large dataset or make regional comparisons between brand sales.

Pivot tables do not have to be intimidating—far from it—and we are here to help you unlock one of the real hidden power tools of Excel.

What Is a Pivot Table?

A pivot table is a method for arranging large datasets into easier to manage statistics. You can use the pivot table feature to “pivot” your data to uncover new trends and links between data.

The primary method for data entry in Excel is a regular flat table, like so:

microsoft excel flat table example

The flat table contains columns and rows containing data. You can discern some basic trends through the data, especially with a small dataset.

However, if you have a dataset containing thousands or even millions of entries, you cannot understand the data at a glance. In that instance, you can create a pivot table to sort and link the data using the categories available (typically taken from the data range names).

One of the best things about a pivot table is the speed with which you can rearrange data. You don’t have to understand complicated comparison formulas, and you don’t need to become an Excel pro to work with a pivot table. Better still, you can reset your pivot table whenever you want and begin afresh.

How to Create a Pivot Table in Excel

Microsoft Excel has an excellent integrated pivot table option. You should note that Excel is far from the only spreadsheet program that uses pivot tables. Microsoft Office alternatives such as Libre Office and Google’s G-Suite all have support for pivot tables in their spreadsheet programs.

Anyway, back to pivot tables in Excel. The following tutorial uses Microsoft Excel for Office 365. Furthermore, I’m using a generic generated dataset of UK names, addresses, and so on. If you would like to use the same practice data, the file is available for download below.

To create a pivot table, head to the Insert tab and select PivotTable. Select the table or data range you want to include in the pivot table. In the case of the example, the entire data range forms the selection.

microsoft excel pivot table range

As you can see, there are options to connect an external data source (i.e., MS Access), or place the pivot table within the existing worksheet. For the latter option, be sure to check that your new pivot table will not obscure or break your existing data (though you can always hit CTRL + Z to undo if something terrible does happen!).

Sorting Pivot Table Data

Once you hit OK, your pivot table will open in a new worksheet. The worksheet begins blank. On the right, you will see the PivotTable Fields panel. This panel contains the data ranges from the example dataset, such as names, addresses, sales, and so on.

microsoft excel pivot table blank

From here, you have two options for adding data to your pivot table:

  1. Drag and Drop: The pivot table fields listed on the right-hand side can be dragged into the four areas below (Filters, Columns, Rows, and Values). You can select specific data items that you wish to cross-reference against any number of differentials.
  2. Add to Report: Clicking individual dataset fields will add them directly to the waiting report table. Use this method to rapidly build, analyze, collate, and modify the available data.

While both methods deliver similar outcomes, Add to Report allows you to simply select your preferred data field and marvel in wonder as your report table transforms. As a bonus, each time we click a new data field, it is automatically added to the area Excel deems correct, while reminding us that we cannot add a data’ field with more than 16384 items to the column area.’

Selecting Pivot Table Data Ranges

The pivot table example we are using is basic. It contains a few sample data points that are easy to understand. For this example, we’re going to look at regional sales of the various products sold.

From the PivotTable Fields list, select County, Sales Volume, Sales Total, and Product. The example pivot table should now look like this:

microsoft excel pivot table filters

You can now glance at your pivot table data and analyze data for any trends. If you want to see an overview of each section, right-click and select Expand/Collapse > Collapse Entire Field.

Filtering Your Pivot Table Data

microsoft excel pivot table filter column options

Feel free at this point to play around with the different fields, learn which varieties of data produce concise correlation, which data fields need tweaking to reveal their secrets and to comprehend the value actions of filter settings:

  1. Hover over the desired data field, note the small black arrowhead to the right of the text
  2. Selecting the black arrowhead reveals a drop-down ‘Filter’ menu – extremely useful for isolating data within a single field, or comparisons between similar data ranges across multiple data sources.
  3. Select the County filter menu.
  4. By default, all data ranges are selected. Unselect all (by hitting select all), followed by reselecting a few different counties. This isolates the data for these countries, filling our pivot table with concise, comparative data we are able to begin to analyze for potential trends.

microsoft excel pivot table filtered groups

Modifying the filters of each available field will almost always directly alter the data presented in the pivot table and is a sure-fire method of unlocking the true potential of your data.

Use Pivot Tables to Uncover Data Trends

You can use a pivot table to work your data into new angles, helping you to uncover new trends and statistics for your work, business, or otherwise. Pivot tables work best when they have a large amount of data to work with, multiple data fields, and some duplicate data fields, too.

That’s not to say you cannot use them with a smaller data sample. The example data for this article was just 500 rows and 14 columns, three of which were in use to manipulate the data.

If you’re looking to up your Excel powers, check out these Excel formulas that do amazing things!

Read the full article: How to Create a Pivot Table for Data Analysis in Microsoft Excel

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How to Copyright Your Photos (And Why You Should)

It’s easier than ever to share your photographs online. Unfortunately, it is also easy for others to use those pictures without your permission.

Fortunately, copyright law is designed to protect creators. Just by taking a photograph, you have certain rights to that image—even if you don’t add a copyright or trademark symbol. However, knowing how to enforce those rights is another story.

Whether you want to register your copyright, or just make sure that prospective content thieves are aware that you know where you stand, you have options. Here’s what you need to know about protecting your ownership of your photographs.

What Is Copyright?

When you possess copyright of a photograph, that means that you have exclusive right to reproduce the work, to create derivative works based on it, to distribute copies, and to display it in public.

In the United States, when you take a photograph, you automatically have the copyright of the image as soon as the shutter is released (as long as it isn’t a photo of an existing artistic work). However, this isn’t the case if you’ve been commissioned to take the photographs by an employer—they would hold the copyright since they’re footing the bill.

If you don’t register your copyright with the US Copyright Office before an infringement, or within three months of its first publication, you will only be entitled actual damages. This amount is calculated based on your normal licensing fees, and sometimes any profits made from the illegal usage.

If you do register your copyright, you can pursue statutory damages, which could be worth a lot more. It’s worth making the investment of money and energy in registering the copyright on your work if you’re a professional. However, if you’re an amateur, you’ll probably be fine with the automatic protections afforded to you as a creator.

What Is Poor Man’s Copyright?

You may have heard of “poor man’s copyright,” which some posit as a basic alternative to proper copyright registration. The idea is that you register the date of creation of the media using an alternative source, such as a notary, via an email, or another method that establishes possession at a specific time.

While poor man’s copyright can help establish legal ownership in countries without strong copyright law, there is no provision or protection in US copyright law for this method.

Another thing you may have heard about is copyleft. Here’s what copyleft is and whether it applies to your work.

How to Register Your Copyright

If you do decide to register your copyright of a particular image, head to copyright.gov and click Register a Copyright.

register a copyright US

Next, you need to specify that you want to copyright a photograph.

register a photography copyright

On the next screen, click the Register a Photograph link.

us copyright register a photograph

Now you’ll need to create a user account. When you’ve done this and logged in, you should see the screen below. Click Register a New Claim.

us gov copyright claim options

Read the three questions on the next screen carefully and answer them to begin the registration process. You’re then asked to select the Type of Work you want to register. Choose Work of the Visual Arts from the dropdown menu.

work of the visual arts copyright

Make your way through the form, filling it out in as much detail as possible. Anything you omit is only going to delay the process later on, so it’s best to be thorough. Once you’ve given the Copyright Office all the information it requires, you need to pay the $35 fee (if you’re registering a single photograph) and send them a copy of the photograph.

How to Enforce a Copyright Claim

The most extreme way to protect your copyright is to get in touch with a lawyer and file a copyright infringement lawsuit. However, in most cases, that won’t be necessary.

If you’re happy with someone using your photograph, but you want attribution, get in touch with the owner of the website. In most cases, if you explain your stance, they’ll be happy to comply to keep the content intact.

However, if you decide that you want the photo taken down, it’s best to raise the legal consequences. You could write up a cease-and-desist letter, or have a lawyer do so on your behalf. A DMCA takedown notice is probably a simpler option. You can find plenty of templates online, like this one from IP Watchdog.

The two techniques above are good choices if you find your work published on a blog or a smaller print publication. If it’s a bigger entity, like a major magazine or website, it might be worth sending them an invoice at your normal rate. These companies have a budget for images, so they might rather pay up than deal with the hassle.

Can You Use a Watermark to Copyright a Photo?

If you don’t want to pay to register a copyright, you do have another option. Placing a watermark over your photograph doesn’t do much to enhance your legal position, but it does offer two major benefits:

  • Anyone who infringes upon the copyright cannot claim ignorance, which might dissuade them from using your work.
  • A properly placed watermark will require some slick editing if whoever is infringing upon your copyright doesn’t want to give you credit.

The correct format for a copyright watermark is the word “copyright” or the copyright symbol followed by the year it was created and the name of the author. For example:

© 2020 | Gavin Phillips

To create a copyright watermark, open up your photograph in your preferred image editing software. If you don’t have an image editor installed, check out these free online image editing tools instead. Add a text element with your copyright information. It’s worth choosing a thicker, bolder font that’s going to take up as much space as possible.

add watermark copyright image 1

Next, position your watermark, so it’s taking up as much space as possible. You want to make sure that anyone that’s looking to use your image without permission can’t just crop it out. Now is a good time to make adjustments to its color, and while it’s best to stick to either white or black, see what looks better against the predominant colors of your photograph.

add watermark rotate copyright image

I’m happy with the way this looks, although it’s a little extreme. If you want to make your watermark a little smaller or less central, feel free. Just remember you’re trying to prevent easy cropping. We can still retain the overall effect of our image by adjusting the opacity of our text element. Select your text element in the Layers window (or the equivalent in your image editing program) and adjust its opacity until you are happy. You should end up with something that looks like this:

add watermark rotate opaque copyright image

The watermark isn’t too distracting but is still prominent.

Copyrighting Your Photos Is Worth It

If you are a professional photographer, you should absolutely create and implement copyright for your name or business. Once your images are online, there is a strong chance that someone will attempt to rip them off.

You might not always find recourse through the copyright, especially if someone in another country steals your work. However, there is a strong chance it will put some would-be pirates off, and it does give you a legal standing.

Are you on the lookout for copyright-free images? Check out the top sites where you can download copyright and royalty-free images.

Image Credit: Jirsak/Depositphotos

Read the full article: How to Copyright Your Photos (And Why You Should)

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The 6 Best Beginners Sim Racing Wheels for PS4, Xbox One, and PC

The world of sim racing wheels can seem daunting and expensive. Many sim racers who stream online appear to have incredible sim racing setups. Many do, and these can easily cost thousands of dollars.

But if you want to get started in sim racing, or even just improve your enjoyment of regular racing games, there are several beginner’s sim racing wheels you can try out.

So, here are the best beginner’s sim racing wheels for PS4 and Xbox One. These sim wheels are compatible with your PC, too.

How to Choose a Sim Racing Wheel?

The biggest question is budget. How much do you want to spend on a sim racing wheel? Although sim racing wheels start at a very low price, you definitely get what you pay for. There are a few considerations, such as the sim racing wheel turn radius, force feedback, pedal and shifter combinations, integrated buttons and gear shifters, and so on.

The entry-level sim racing wheels have a small turn radius, which affects your in-game driving precision. Similarly, a wheel lacking force feedback makes steering accurately that bit more difficult. It’ll be better than the jerky movements you get from a gamepad (in most cases), but still not completely accurate.

In that, you don’t want to break your budget. But ensuring your sim racing wheel does tick those boxes will provide much greater enjoyment. You should also note that you don’t have to buy the latest and greatest sim racing wheel to have an incredible experience. Some of the best beginner’s sim racing wheels hit the market years back but are still excellent options.

Now, onto the best sim racing wheels for beginners for the PS4, Xbox One, and PC.

1. Logitech G29

Logitech G29 Logitech G29 Buy Now On Amazon $314.99

Platforms: PS4, PS3, PC | Turn Radius: Up to 900° | Force Feedback: Yes | Clutch Pedal: Yes

The Logitech G29 is one of the most popular sim racing wheels, period. Many sim racing pros point to the Logitech G29 as their ideal beginner’s racing wheel, with many using it as the start point for their online racing career.

The Logitech G29 is popular for a few reasons. First, it has an excellent build quality that combines a leather steering wheel with anodized aluminum gear shifters and an overall solid base for a sim racing wheel. Buttons are plentiful, customizable, and easy to press.

Then there are the steel pedals, complete with a manual clutch, allowing you extra control and immersion in your sim racing world. There’s also the option of expanding your sim racing setup with a G29 stick shifter.

Another major plus for the Logitech G29 is its force feedback and drive, which uses a dual-motor system (known as helical gears) to provide a much smoother driving simulation than most other sim racing wheels in this price bracket. Oh, and the 24-way directional dial is a super handy car and race management feature, too.

Overall, the Logitech G29 remains one of the best beginner’s sim racing wheels available, providing some serious racing bang for your buck.

2. Logitech G290

Logitech G290 Logitech G290 Buy Now On Amazon $278.88

Platforms: Xbox, PC | Turn Radius: Up to 900° | Force Feedback: Yes | Clutch Pedal: Yes

The Logitech G290 is the Xbox version of the Logitech G29 racing wheel. So, that means they’re the same, right? Not quite. There are some differences between the PlayStation and the Xbox versions, which make the G290 slightly inferior to the G29.

For instance, the Logitech G290 doesn’t have as many buttons as the G29. It isn’t a massive loss, but those buttons do make for considerably easier in-car management during a race. Similarly, the G290 doesn’t have an RPM light like the G29. Again, it isn’t a huge loss, but the visual cue to change gear is handy at times.

That aside, the G290 uses the same helical gear force feedback system, comes with the same sturdy steel pedals, and uses the same aluminum gear shifters. Visually, the Logitech G290 is sleek and looks smart, giving a strong luxury sim racing cockpit vibe (it looks better than the G29, in my opinion).

You can expand your driving experience with the Logitech Driving Force Shifter, which works with both the G29 and the G290. The integrated gear shifters are perfect for sim racing beginners, but if you do want to expand your setup, this is the official shifter option.

3. Thrustmaster T150

Thrustmaster T150 Thrustmaster T150 Buy Now On Amazon $179.40

Platforms: PS4, PS3, PC | Turn Radius: Up to 1080° | Force Feedback: Yes | Clutch Pedal: No

The Thrustmaster T150 is an excellent entry-level sim racing wheel for the PS4, PS4, and PC. It comes with dual-pedals, adjustable force feedback, and a customizable turn radius up to 1080 degrees.

The sim wheel uses a combination of gears and belt-pulleys to provide force feedback, which can feel a little janky at times. However, as you can adjust this system, you can find a suitable level of feedback that enables smooth gameplay.

As a beginner’s sim racing wheel for the PS4, the build materials do feel somewhat cheap in places. Still, with the adjustable pedals, integrated PS4/PS3 buttons, and decent mount system, the Thrustmaster T150 is a great starting point for sim racing wheels.

4. Thrustmaster TMX

Thrustmaster TMX Thrustmaster TMX Buy Now On Amazon $178.31

Platforms: Xbox, PC | Turn Radius: Up to 900° | Force Feedback: Yes | Clutch Pedal: No

The Thrustmaster TMX is the Xbox equivalent of the Thrustmaster T150. You’ve probably noticed by now that each manufacturer launches hardware for each console—but one console usually ends up with slightly better hardware. In this case, the Thrustmaster T150 is a slightly better proposition as a beginner’s racing wheel.

However, the Thrustmaster TMX is a great option for Xbox users regardless. The major difference lies with the turn radius. The Thrustmaster TMX has a maximum turn radius of 900 degrees but otherwise uses the exact same internal hardware as the T150. Of course, the button configuration for the Thrustmaster TMX matches the Xbox, too.

5. HORI Overdrive

HORI Overdrive HORI Overdrive Buy Now On Amazon $78.58

Platforms: Xbox One | Turn Radius: 270° | Force Feedback: No | Clutch Pedal: No

If you’ve never used any sim racing wheel, the HORI Overdrive makes an interesting entry-level option. So, why is it interesting?

Well, for starters, the HORI Overdrive’s pedals are very soft, lacking serious resistance to help you gauge your acceleration and braking. You definitely have more precision than with a gamepad, though, so that’s a positive.

The wheel lacks force feedback, although there is a bungee cord resistance system and a rumble which provides some feedback when turning through corners or changing driving surface. Also, the Overdrive only turns through 270 degrees. However, you can mitigate the latter using in-game sensitivity settings, adjusting the wheel turning rate and the steering dead zone until you find a happy medium.

The HORI Overdrive reviews are full of positive experiences, with many users believing the HORI Overdrive is a great choice for the price, and the perfect option to try out a wheel controller without breaking the bank.

6. HORI Apex

HORI Apex HORI Apex Buy Now On Amazon $179.99

Platforms: PS3, PS4, PC | Turn Radius: 270° | Force Feedback: No | Clutch Pedal: No

Where the HORI Overdrive is for Xbox One users, the HORI Apex is for PS3, PS4, and PC users. Like the Overdrive for the Xbox One, the HORI Apex is an officially licensed sim racing wheel for the PlayStation.

This lets you know that it’ll work with PlayStation sim racing games (and heaps on the PC, too). The HORI Apex’s specs are the same as the Overdrive, albeit with PlayStation buttons rather than Xbox.

Second-Hand Beginners Sim Racing Wheel

If you don’t want a massive outlay when purchasing your first sim racing wheel, you can try the second-hand sim racing wheel market. There are always sim racing wheels for beginners available on eBay, Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, Carousell, and the numerous other online selling sites.

Some sim racers believe beginners should buy higher-end second-hand hardware rather than lower-spec new hardware. The reasoning is that although the second-hand sim racing wheel is already used, the wider range of functionality and potential for a better experience is a better introduction to sim racing wheels for beginners.

What Is the Best Sim Racing Wheel for Beginners?

Your budget for an entry-level sim racing wheel dictates your options. If you can spring for a beginner racing wheel with more features, a larger turn radius, and so on, you should because it will absolutely impact your experience positively. But if not, don’t worry!

You can have an incredible time using almost any sim racing wheel, be that for beginners or not. I used an Xbox 360 gamepad in sim racing games for years before upgrading to a very basic sim racing wheel and had a fantastic time.

If you’re new to PC gaming, check out our list of the essential PC gaming accessories you should have!

Read the full article: The 6 Best Beginners Sim Racing Wheels for PS4, Xbox One, and PC

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The 10 Best Free MMORPGs That Require No Download

The big-name MMOs, such as World of Warcraft, EVE Online, Destiny 2, and Final Fantasy XIV, take up a lot of space on your hard drive. However, if you have a computer lacking hard drive storage, these mammoth installations can be a problem.

If you want to play MMOs without downloading any files, check out these free MMOs that you can play in your web browser without taking up any space on your hard drive.

1. Arcane Legends

Arcane Legends is a fast-paced action MMO you can play in your browser. Arcane Legends combines RPG elements with hack-and-slash gameplay, allowing you to create a group with your friends and plow through enemies of all kinds.

There are three classes to choose from (Warrior, Rogue, and Sorcerer), multiple pets to enhance your gameplay, and hundreds of thousands of items you can use to level up your character. Your party members can also combine their skills across classes to create powerful spells and hit for more damage.

One of the best Arcane Legends features is the cross-platform gameplay. While Arcane Legends is available as a free browser MMO, you can also play on Android and iOS devices.

2. Hordes

Hordes is a clan-based open-world browser MMO, featuring both Player vs. Player (PVP) and Player vs. Environment (PVE) gameplay. It has multiple environments for you to explore with your clanmates, as well as large bosses that you can only take down as a group (sort of like a raid, but not quite on the same scale… yet).

There are four classes to choose from, two factions, and three gigantic maps. There are also heaps of loot of varying rarity, plus a rune system that allows you to upgrade your existing weapons and armor.

Hordes is the work of a two-person team, one coding the game and the other one bringing the world to life with 3D assets. When you see how much effort has gone into producing Hordes and on such a minimal budget, you’ll see why it is worth playing.

3. Mad World

Mad World is a free browser MMO that integrates a lot of the latest browser technology to bring users an experience that could easily pass for a regular indie game.

In that, there are a few things that will remind you of larger games, too. For example, Mad World features a large talent tree for extensive player customization. You’re also bound to a weapon style that focuses your build type, rather than being bound to a specific class.

Other than that, the art style gives Mad World an almost unique aesthetic. The hand-drawn characters, items, and backdrops help Mad World stand out from a browser MMO crowd that is often happy to mimic the best performing games of the era.

If you prefer to download free games for offline play, check out our guide to the best open-source video games.

4. Command & Conquer: Tiberium Alliances

If you played real-time strategy games in the 1990s and early 2000s, you probably remember all-time classic, Command & Conquer. The Tiberium-focused C&C games take their lede from science-fiction, featuring cool futuristic technology you can deploy against your enemies.

Tiberium Alliances continues that legacy as a free-to-play browser MMO. After you start building your base, you have a week of protection where no one can attack you. After that, it is a free for all. Collect resources, build units, expand your base, and lay waste to the opposing faction.

Tiberium Alliances is free, but you have the option of purchasing funds to speed up your progress. You can easily go through the game without spending any real money, though, making this a great way to get your RTS fix.

C&C Tiberium Alliances is far from the only browsed-based RTS. Here are some of the best browser strategy games for you to delve into right now.

5. Realm of the Mad God

Do you prefer to shoot stuff instead of strategizing? You should check out Realm of the Mad God, an 8-bit pixelated bullet-hell browser MMO. There’s not much preamble to this game. You’re teleported by Oryx, the Mad God, to his realm to be consumed by his minions.

Team up with other players, let the bullets fly, and survive! If you can. Once you’ve defeated enough minions, Oryx will show up—but once you’ve killed him, there’s plenty more to do. Explore the Shatters, a super-hard dungeon experience, collect legendary loot, and try to get the highest stats.

Just don’t die: once you’re dead, that character is gone forever, and you’ll need to start over. As irritating as this is, it adds another level of difficulty and is a nice nod to the roguelike genre.

6. Urban Dead

Did you know that there are text-based MMOs? Urban Dead is a great way to get introduced to a fascinating genre. You start as a human, and you need to survive zombie attacks. If you get killed off, you’ll come back as a zombie unless someone can heal you.

Explore the city, find useful items, and stay alive as long as possible. And don’t forget that you can be killed off even after logging out, so be sure to find a safe place before you quit for the day (or before you use up your Action Points).

Urban Dead is a free browser MMO. However, If you want to give money to the developer, you can buy some UD merch.

7. Pirates: Tides of Fortune

Do you prefer the high-seas to zombies and bullet-hell madness? Try Pirates: Tides of Fortune instead.

Pirates: Tides of Fortune offers a more classic setup, where you build up a Haven, establish your pirate fleet, and plunder the seven seas for loot and infamy. Harvest lumber and gold, distil rum (very important!), pillage shipwrecks, and take on other pirate fleets to become the most fearsome pirate of them all.

You can also spend time working through an impressively large technology tree, which includes things like sword-fighting, gunpowder, mathematics, trade, and even flight. Join a brotherhood and get to it!

8. Dead Maze

In Dead Maze, you’re building a better tomorrow in a zombie-infested post-apocalyptic world. The free MMO doesn’t require you to download any files, although there is a version of Dead Maze available on Steam.

Back to the game. Dead Maze is an isometric MMORPG with a focus on survival. You must gather resources and work with your fellow survivors to create shelter. Your shelter must also withstand attack from zombies, which you’ll also battle as you work your way around the world, finding resources.

So far, so familiar, but Dead Maze is well worth a look. There are warring factions, quests, private housing for your characters, and a crafting system.

9. Intium

Intium is a free MMORPG you can play from your browser, developed by a team of Reddit users. Intium is not only an MMO but also a MUD-like (Multi-User Dungeon). MUDs were one of the first ways people played out MMORPGs on the early internet, allowing for detailed world-building through text without creating a heavy network overhead.

Intium features roguelike gameplay with permadeath (when your character dies, they’re gone forever). There is a substantial amount of loot, server-wide elite bosses, and quests. Furthermore, the Intium world economy is entirely community-driven. There are no NPCs or price-fixing for items, which places a strong emphasis on exploring and finding premium loot to sell (or to craft!).

10. Stein.World

Stein.World started as a part-time coding project but evolved into a free MMORPG for your browser. Like Dead Maze, you can play Stein.World without downloading any files, but there is also a Steam version available.

Stein.World features a 2D 16-bit art style that brings the fantasy world to life. You’re on a quest to recover a lost family heirloom in the shape of a priceless beer stein. There are hundreds of quests, dungeons, guilds, and even in-game professions to hone your character. The game world is extensive and receives frequent content updates, adding new weapons, tools, and other improvements.

Are Free MMOs Dying Out?

The era of browser-based free MMOs was curtailed as many popular internet browsers removed support for Java-based games. Java is considered an unnecessary security risk, although some browsers still allow third-party Java installations.

Many of the most popular free browser-based MMOs depended on Java to run. Without Java, some browser MMOs switched to a non-browser version requiring you to download a program to launch the game (like Runescape). Other browser MMOs decided to cease development from that moment, preserving the game in gaming history.

So, in that light, are free browser MMOs dying out?

As strange as it sounds, the answer is no.

As you’ve seen from several entries on this list, new browser MMOs are appearing all the time. The lure of MMOs that require no downloads remains strong. While the number of free MMOs might decrease slightly, the overall quality of story, gameplay, and artwork rises as creators use more advanced tools to craft their worlds.

What Are Your Favorite Free MMOs?

These games are great free MMOs that you can play in your browser. However, there are plenty more MMORPGs that don’t require downloading out there.

However, if you do have hard drive space to spare, you should check out the best free PC games you can play right now.

Read the full article: The 10 Best Free MMORPGs That Require No Download

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2020’s 7 Most Secure Browsers Compared

It’s 2020, the internet is ALIVE, and you want to browse its worldly goodness. But you also know that being 2020, there is the potential for phishing attacks, malware, fake news, misinformation, and much more.

So, how do you stay safe online? The first thing to consider is your internet browser. There are many browser options, but which is the safest internet browser in 2020?

Here are 2020’s most secure browsers.

Security vs. Privacy in Internet Browsers

The following list has a strong focus on secure internet browsers. Hand in hand with security is privacy, something many people strive towards but find difficult in the online world. Your browser plays a key role in your privacy, as well as your online security.

Can you separate security from privacy?

For this article looking at the most secure browsers of 2020, we are going to talk about both features. As you’ll see, some browsers provide excellent internet security but are lackadaisical regarding your privacy.

1. Mozilla Firefox

mozilla firefox 2020

Mozilla Firefox is a very popular secure browser that regularly beats out its other top-tier browser competitors for security and privacy.

First up, Firefox is the only major open-source browser. This alone sets it apart from the major browsers in terms of accountability. Adding to that, the development of Firefox takes direction from the Mozilla Foundation, a non-profit organization. The Mozilla Foundation also directs the development of the Thunderbird email client.

Firefox features an extensive set of security features. It advises users that the browser provides “strong privacy protection from the moment you install,” but there are more privacy and security options available.

For example, Firefox blocks cross-site tracking cookies as default, stopping social media and other trackers following you around the internet and building a user profile. You can also use the integrated tracking protections to view which sites and trackers are attempting to follow you.

Furthermore, there are numerous excellent security and privacy extensions available as Firefox Add-Ons.

Another excellent Firefox security and privacy feature is DNS-over-HTTPS, which encrypts your domain name searches before sending them over the internet. DNS-over-HTTPS was once the sole reserve of third-party DNS providers. Still, browsers like Firefox are making the technology and the security it affords easier for regular users to access.

Although Firefox doesn’t receive as many updates as some of the alternatives, it remains a very secure browser that actively encourages user privacy, and believes that “Privacy shouldn’t be relegated to optional settings.”

Good: Open source, extensive privacy features, tracker blocking as standard, Facebook container, highly customizable.

Bad: At times, the lack of in-house testing holds features and releases back, lack of funding could cause Firefox to cease development.

Download: Mozilla Firefox for Windows, macOS, Linux | Android | iOS

2. Tor Browser

tor browser 2020

What list of secure browsers would be complete without Tor Browser? None, that’s the answer. Tor Browser is a modified Mozilla Firefox browser that comes with extra functions allowing users to browse the dark web.

The extra functions come in the form of extensions such as NoScript, HTTPS Everywhere, the TorButton, and TorLauncher, all of which are required to use the dark web safely. The setup of Tor Browser (and the content it allows access to) is usually seen as a major downside to its use. While access to nefarious content is, without doubt, a concern, Tor Browser has other issues.

Mostly, Tor Browser isn’t very useful as a daily driver for your internet browsing. Sure, it keeps you anonymous as you surf the regular internet, but due to extensive privacy settings, it also breaks a lot of stuff in the process. While the situation is much better than in the past, many websites won’t work.

Now, you can also argue that those websites shouldn’t use so much invasive tracking. I would agree with you. But reducing the amount of privacy Tor Browser provides to browse the regular internet also makes it much more dangerous to browse the dark web.

In that, Tor Browser is best suited to that purpose or for moments where you require extensive privacy as other secure browser options don’t make browsing the internet a chore.

Good: Integrated privacy features, open-source, and frequent updates.

Bad: Breaks websites potential for malicious exit nodes; painfully slow at times due to network configuration.

Download: Tor Browser for Windows, macOS, Linux | Android

I should also add that access to the dark web is both good and bad, depending on your take. Unsure what to think? Check our dark web explainer for everything you need to know.

3. Epic Privacy Browser

epic browser 2020

Epic Privacy Browser is a Chromium-based internet browser with a very strong focus on security and privacy.

Out of the box, the Epic Privacy Browser blocks a huge amount of advertising trackers and background scripts, drastically increasing your security and privacy. The script blocking ensures that malvertising and cryptocurrency mining scripts will fail to run. There’s also the integrated anti-fingerprinting, again protecting your privacy.

Meanwhile, Epic’s one-click encrypted proxy hides your IP address and routes your traffic securely.

Epic blocks the majority of browser extensions and add-ons. Although Epic is Chromium-based and could allow access to the extensive catalog of Chrome extensions, the developers believe this creates unnecessary risk. Extensions can come with security issues, create vulnerabilities, and, most of all, breach your privacy (for example, some extensions will reveal your IP address even while using other privacy features).

One issue is the update frequency of Epic in comparison to other secure browser options. At the time of writing, Epic uses the Chromium 80.2.3988 build, which was released sometime in February 2020. The latest version is actually 83.x, while version 84.x is close to release.

Good: Great privacy out of the box, extensive privacy options, blocks the majority of extensions and add-ons, and deletes all session data when you close the browser.

Bad: Sometimes falls considerably behind with updates; integrated privacy features don’t always work. Epic also provides a false sense of security.

Download: Epic Privacy Browser for Windows, macOS | Android | iOS

If you prefer Chromium-based browsers like Epic, check out the best Chromium-based browser alternatives.

4. Comodo IceDragon

comodo icedragon 2020

Comodo IceDragon is a secure browser developed by security company, Comodo. The IceDragon browser is based upon Mozilla Firefox, so it carries a lot of the same security features as the main browser.

Comodo IceDragon integrates other Comodo security features. For example, Comodo’s SiteInspector tool scans for malware and other vulnerabilities before visiting the webpage. There is also the option to use Comodo Secure DNS to load webpages faster as well as decrease the chance of loading a malicious page. The Comodo Domain Validation double-checks website SSL certificates.

Another plus is that you can use the full array of Firefox’s extensions with Comodo IceDragon. This means you can extend the security and privacy functionality of the browser using tried and tested add-ons.

Good: Based on Firefox, access to Firefox extensions, integrated Comodo security features.

Bad: Infrequent updates, based on an older version of Firefox.

5. Dooble

dooble browser 2020

Dooble is a unique entry on this list: it is powered by neither Chromium nor Firefox. Instead, Dooble is an independent development, which is impressive.

Out of the box, Dooble comes with a strong privacy focus. Default security and privacy options include ad and tracker blocking, script blocking, encrypted bookmarks and browsing history, encrypted user profiles, sandboxed tabs, and much more. You’ll also note that Flash and JavaScript are disabled as default.

The browser receives frequent security and feature updates, too. Interestingly, you can also use Dooble as an FTP client to transfer files to a server or otherwise. Dooble also features on our list of the best open-source browsers, which is worth checking out for other browser options.

Good: Open source, free from Google and other development influence, lightweight, and fast.

Bad: Can feel outdated in comparison to other modern browsers; difficult to find add-ons. Has a very small userbase which means easy identification.

Download: Dooble for Windows, macOS, Linux

6. Vivaldi

vivaldi browser 2020

Vivaldi is a free secure browser based on Chromium. Vivaldi aims to replicate some of the features users felt were lost when the Opera browser switched to a Chromium-based development model. While Vivaldi is also Chromium-based, it includes numerous modifications to replicate the older style of Opera.

Vivaldi is considered a very secure internet browser. It receives frequent updates, keeping it in line with the main Chromium releases, which is important for user security. The browser protects against phishing sites and malware and will prevent you from downloading files from a malicious site. Another cool feature is the encrypted bookmarks and passwords, which you can sync between your devices.

Furthermore, recent updates to Vivaldi have introduced better script and tracker blocking, although these features are somewhat lacking in the fine detail you find with alternative browsers.

Good: Frequent updates, access to Chrome extensions and add-ons, easy to use, highly customizable, with great tab management options.

Bad: Closed-source. Meanwhile the tiny market share makes users with the Vivaldi browser easy to identify without a VPN. Performance issues at times especially with resource-heavy tabs.

Download: Vivaldi for Windows, macOS, Linux | Android

7. Google Chrome

google chrome 2020

Google Chrome consistently features on lists of the most secure browsers. Now, some will take issue with the idea that Google Chrome is secure. That’s because while Chrome works well to keep attackers and other intruders at bay—but is also very lax on personal privacy.

Chrome has regular updates, performs well in hacking tests, comes with integrated security features, and has won the “Most Secure Browser” section at the annual Pwn2Own hacking competition on multiple occasions (as well as other security awards).

Still, Google Chrome’s privacy intrusions and data-hoovering practices are well known at this point. It should come as no surprise that the browser developed by a company whose primary income source is advertising would use the opportunity to collect data.

That’s why as good as Chrome is on actual security, it scores poorly for privacy. Of course, you can add privacy-focused Chrome extensions to increase your privacy. Some of these extensions also increase your security, too. But when there are equally secure options that come with better privacy features, Chrome shouldn’t become your automatic choice.

Good: Award-winning security, frequent updates, invites outsiders to stress check browser, and extensions make browser more secure.

Bad: Major privacy issues, browser extensions can cause security issues, closed-source code (based on open source project, Chromium), and as many have found out, very resource hungry and prone to hanging.

Are Lesser-Known Browsers Secure?

In a world where privacy and security are vital, finding the most secure browser is difficult. As you can see, you have to make compromises, choosing between security, privacy, and functionality. Mozilla Firefox ticks all three boxes and is one of the most secure browser options in 2020.

There are many alternative browsers out there. The major issue facing these browser alternatives is funding. How can you attract enough users to warrant continuing development without succumbing to some form of privacy-invading technology, or before update frequency creates a serious security issue?

Even if you don’t trust Google, Chrome receives frequent updates and is generally secure. But those Chromium-based browsers take longer to implement security features and updates, potentially leaving you exposed. The same issues are apparent for those using Firefox as a starting point, too.

So, yes, lesser-known browsers can absolutely be secure. But before committing to one, make sure to check the version history, update frequency, and the overall reputation of the browser.

Another thing to consider is speed. Have you ever wondered why some browsers are faster than others?

Read the full article: 2020’s 7 Most Secure Browsers Compared

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The 6 Best NFO File Readers to Open Your NFO Documents

An NFO file is a type of text file that usually accompanies digital media downloads from certain sources. More than just a simple text file, NFO files also allow for elaborate ASCII artwork to accompany the details of the download or to embed XML tags for media libraries.

So, here’s what an NFO file is, where you find them, and how to open and view NFO files—to their full potential.

What Is an NFO File?

NFO files are typically associated with media downloaded using a distributed file network, such as BitTorrent, or through a warez site. They are strongly associated with communities that pirate media, software, and other digital files. NFO itself is a contraction of “information,” which is what the file provides.

The NFO file includes information regarding the media, such as release date, genre, title, bitrate, subtitles, audio and video codec, resolution, and so on. Some NFO files attached to pirate software will also include information on how to install the program without triggering anti-piracy software or trackers.

As well as that, NFO files usually provide information on the person uploading the file and might include shoutouts to other pirates and file uploaders, requests for cryptocurrency donations for their efforts, contact details for file requests, and details of upcoming releases.

Kodi, Plex, and NFO Files

Media streaming and organization services such as Kodi and Plex use NFO files to update media library information. An NFO file can contain XML data that the services can read, updating your library accordingly, using tags such as title, user rating, outline, plot, runtime, genre, and so on.

The Best NFO File Viewers

If you find an NFO file on your system and want to view its contents, you can use a standard text file program, such as Notepad for Windows or TextEdit for macOS. However, opening an NFO file in those basic text editing programs doesn’t unlock the full potential of the file. At the very least, you won’t view the ASCII artwork in its true form, missing out on its glory.

There are several excellent NFO file viewers available for each operating system.

1. Notepad++

notepad++ NFO files

Notepad++ is a significant step up from the Windows Notepad. It supports several programming languages, multiple tabs, and heaps of other features. Importantly, it can display NFO files, as well as edit and convert them, too.

There’s no wonder it features on our list of the best Notepad alternatives.

Download: Notepad++ for Windows (Free)

2. NFO Viewer

NFO View nfo file viewer

NFO Viewer is a “simple viewer for NFO files.” It presents your NFO files in a simple yet effective manner and doesn’t mess around with fonts or other visual effects. Better still, NFO Viewer is free and open-source, so you can check out the source code if you want.

Once you open the NFO file, you can edit the font style and color, the line spacing, toggle through the color schemes, or select a custom color scheme. NFO Viewer also makes any URLs in the NFO file clickable, which is handy.

Download: NFO Viewer for Windows or Linux (Free)

3. Jane

jane NFO file viewer

Jane (Just Another Nasty Editor) is one of the most feature-packed NFO viewers available to Windows users. Not only that, but Jane is also one of the most frequently updated options, too.

Jane comes with several NFO file editing tools, such as font editing, design and organization presets, and a myriad of color options. One of my favorite Jane features is the random color option, which changes the font and background color. Press CTRL + ALT + H to cycle through all manner of NFO file colors!

Download: Jane for Windows (Free)

4. iNFekt

iNFekt NFO file viewer

iNFekt is a free and open-source desktop NFO viewer for Windows. There is also a command-line tool available for Linux users, which you can find in the iNFekt Github releases.

Easy to use, one of my favorite iNFekt features is also one of the simplest—it keeps the NFO file centered when you change the window size. Aside from that, there are options for importing and exporting NFO themes, customizable color schemes, editable fonts, and a few different viewing mode options.

Download: iNFekt for Windows (Free)

5. Yet Another NFO Viewer

yet another NFO viewer macos

Yet Another NFO Viewer (YANV) is a free NFO file viewer for macOS. YANV is a very basic NFO viewer and was designed as a “small, light, and hopefully fast tool.” Features-wise, YANV doesn’t offer much, but it is a handy NFO file reader option for macOS users.

Download: Yet Another NFO Viewer for macOS (Free)

6. NFOmation

NFOmation online NFO file viewer

If you don’t want to install a specific NFO viewer on your system but come across a file you want to look at, you could use an online NFO viewer. NFOmation is a basic online NFO viewer you can use to view your NFO file.

The maximum file size is 300KB, which is a decent limit considering the minute amount of data a typical NFO file uses. As an example, the NFO file I’m using in these screenshots is 3KB.

Do You Need an NFO File Viewer?

NFO files can contain elaborate ASCII artwork, showing off the skills of the creator. The NFO files found with torrent and warez downloads also act as a tag of kinds, indicating to the rest of the community that a particular group cracked this software.

If you don’t care about the ASCII artwork and just want the information in the file, you can open the NFO file in a standard text editor. While the fancy logo header won’t parse, the information regarding the file should be absolutely fine.

Similarly, if you’re creating or reading NFO files for Plex, Kodi, or another media service, you could probably use a default operating system text editor without running into any issues.

NFO files are still really handy. Did you know they are one of the ways you can check the quality of a film before downloading?

Image Credit: Pressmaster/Shutterstock

Read the full article: The 6 Best NFO File Readers to Open Your NFO Documents