5 Ways to Automate Your Computer When It’s Idle

If you’re like most people, your home computer probably sits idle most of the day. Maybe you’re at work or watching the kids or grocery shopping or watching TV. Whatever the case, 80% of the time my computer at home is either off or sleeping.

This is good for saving power and money, but most computers don’t cost that much to keep on all the time anyway. Instead, I decided that I wanted to have my computer do something useful while I wasn’t working on it. Well, what can you accomplish on a PC without being around? Quite a few things actually. Here are five things you can try.

Help Mankind

There are quite a few projects out there that are trying to solve really complicated problems in the world, but need more resources. If you want to help with scientific research, there are several programs from universities around the world that can harness the power of your computer along with millions of other computers to create a super computer.

The BOINC Project

This is a project from the University of Berkeley where you can volunteer your computer resources to help cure diseases, study global warming, find objects in space, etc. They have over 172K volunteers with over 850K computers in the network. This gives them a whopping 27 petaflops of computing power. Just download the software and choose the projects you want to support.

Folding@home

The other big project for volunteer computing is Folding@home from Stanford University. Its main purpose is to research diseases by looking at protein folding. It’s all quite technical and way over my head, but you’re basically helping them design new drugs to fight diseases.

Automatically Backup Your PC

If you’re not backing up your computer, you should really take the time out to get a proper backup plan in place. Even if you don’t have any important data stored on your PC, you can still save yourself hours if your computer crashes and you need to perform a restore.

Reinstalling Windows along with all of your programs is a time-consuming process. Why not have your computer backup when it’s idle? You can create your own backup images manually, but you’re way more likely to create the backups if they are done automatically.

The best options here is to use a cloud backup service. The ones I have used personally are BackBlaze and Carbonite. These services obviously cost money, but they are super easy to use and give you the freedom to not worry about manually backing up your computer.

Update Your PC

If you hate your computer restarting in the middle of a work day, then you can easily adjust your settings so that Windows only updated your PC when you’re not using it.

In Windows 10, you simply click on Start, then Settings and then Update & Security. Click on Change active hours and set the time that you work on your PC. Windows will only do updates outside of this time range.

In Windows 7, open Control Panel and click on Windows Update. In the left-hand pane, click on Change settings.

You can choose to install new updates every day or you can pick one day of the week. You can also choose the specific time when you’re most likely not using the computer.

Setup an FTP or Game Server

If you’re someone who likes to share a lot of content with others, then you might consider setting up your computer as a file sharing or game server. I wrote an article about some third-party software you can use to create a home file server.

You can also install IIS in Windows Pro and higher versions to create your own FTP server or web server. Finally, if you enjoy gaming with friends, you can setup your own game server to play games like Minecraft, Counter-Strike, Quake, etc.

These are a bit more complicated to setup, but your friends will definitely think you are cool if you have one of these running from home.

Become a Tor Relay

If you have a powerful machine, an unlimited Internet connection and one hell of a router, you might consider becoming a Tor relay. Tor, if you didn’t know, is a project that aims to help users browse the Internet without being tracked. It’s not full-proof, but works well for a lot of people.

However, the network is made up of volunteers who act as relays. When you visit a website, your request goes through several relays before reaching the final destination. This helps mask your true identity.

Becoming a Tor relay has some technical requirements and legal implications, depending on where you live, your ISP, etc. However, if you can, it’s a great way to make the web more private.

Other Extra Uses

I only listed five ways to use the extra processing power of your PC, but there are so many more that I figured I would add a couple of more.

  1. Mine Bitcoin – You probably won’t be making much money if you use a single computer with one graphics card, but if you have a powerful multi-GPU rig, you could earn a couple of dollars a day (possibly). Or you could join a mining pool. One free and clean Bitcoin mining program is GNUMiner.
  2. Record Movies and TV Shows – If you have an OTA antenna and some extra hard drive space, you can easily record TV shows and movies for free. Download a program like Plex onto your computer, connect a digital tuner and you’re good to go.
  3. Automate Usenet Downloads – Download a program like SABnzbd to automatically download files from Usenet.

There are a lot of other things you can do with an idle PC, but these were just a few that came to my mind. If you have another cool way to utilize an idle PC, let us know in the comments. Enjoy!

The post 5 Ways to Automate Your Computer When It’s Idle appeared first on Online Tech Tips.

How to Create a GIF from a Video using Photoshop CC

Ever wonder how those long GIFs you see on sites like Imgur are created? A lot of times, the creators take a video, convert the whole thing into an animated GIF, and then superimpose text to make it entertaining.

Now this post isn’t going to teach you how to create those fancy GIFs from start to finish, but it will teach you how to take a video and at least convert it to an animated GIF. I’ll write up another post on how you can add text and graphics to your GIF.

I’ll be using Photoshop CC for this tutorial because it allows you to have more control over the final product in terms of size, quality, frames, etc.

Convert Video Before Importing

Before you start, you may need to convert your video to a file format that Adobe Photoshop will support. For instance, I took a video from my iPhone and downloaded it onto my computer. I then tried to import the video into Photoshop, but got the following error:

Could not complete the Video Frames to Layers command because the file has no video frames.

The video was a MOV file, but the codec that Apple uses is not supported in Photoshop. In order to fix this type of problem, you need to download a program like HandBrake to convert the video.

It’s very easy to use HandBrake. Just click on FileChoose Source and pick your video file. At this point, all you really have to do is click the Start Encode button. By default, it will use the Fast 1080p30 preset that you see listed on the right. They have many presets, so choose the one that works for you. Note that you can reduce the resolution of the GIF in Photoshop later on, so you don’t have to do it in HandBrake.

Once it has been converted to an MP4 file using the H.264 video codec, we can now import it into Photoshop.

Import Video and Create GIF in Photoshop

Open Photoshop CC and click on File, then Import and then Video Frames to Layers.

Pick your video file and click Open. This will bring up a dialog with a small preview of the video and a couple of options.

Now if you want the entire video as a an animated GIF, go ahead and leave the radio button to From Beginning to End. If you only need a portion, choose Selected Range Only and then use the trim controls below the video to pick the range.

In addition, to reduce the size of the final GIF as much as possible, you can also limit the number of frames. For example, if you check the box and leave it at 2 frames, that means Photoshop will remove every other frame from the video.

Lastly, you need to make sure the Make Frame Animation box is checked. Click OK and your video should be imported as a bunch of frames in Photoshop. If the program crashes, you may need to reduce the quality of the video even further before trying to import.

Now all we have to do is save the frames as an animated GIF. To do this in Photoshop CC, you need to click on FileExportSave for Web (legacy). Note that before saving it out as a GIF, you can edit and delete frames as desired.

 

On this dialog, there are a bunch of options that you will have to play around with. Most of them will affect the quality of the GIF, which you will be able to see in the preview area on the left. The right pane is where you will make most of the adjustments.

Up at the top, you’ll see a dropdown called Preset. You can click on that and choose one of the presets or you can adjust the values yourself. Choosing one of the presets will reduce the quality of the GIF, but will make it smaller also. Make sure that GIF is selected in the dropdown below Preset.

At the bottom under Image Size, you can adjust the final output resolution for your GIF. So if you video was 1920×1080 or 4K, you probably will want to reduce it significantly here. Under Animation, you can choose Forever, Once or Custom for Looping Options. By default, the GIF will loop continuously. You can use the controls at the bottom to play the GIF to see how it looks.

Click Save and choose a location to save your GIF. That’s about it. Photoshop makes it very easy to create animated GIFs from videos and allows you to tweak the settings to get it just right. Also, read my posts on how to create animated GIFs from images using Photoshop. Enjoy!

The post How to Create a GIF from a Video using Photoshop CC appeared first on Online Tech Tips.

How to Overclock Your GPU Safely to Boost Performance

Not many people know how to overclock their graphics card, and many others are simply afraid they’ll mess up their computers if they don’t do it correctly.

Overclocking your graphics card is generally a safe process – if you follow the steps below and take things slowly, you won’t run into any problems. These days, graphics cards are designed to stop the user from causing any serious damage.

Read through the entire guide to learn the important details about overclocking, find out the software you need, and to know what steps are required to overclock your graphics card to its fullest potential.

Prepare Overclocking Software

To overclock your graphics card, you’ll need two pieces of software. Firstly, you’ll need the software that can be used to set new speeds for your GPU. Secondly, you’ll need a program that can stress test your system to make sure the settings you’ve used are stable.

You may also want to download an optional third program that can monitor your GPU temperature. The overclocking software suggested below already does this, but it’s nice to have an external program that can be minimized to the system tray.

  • For overclocking software, you should download MSI Afterburner from MSI.com.
  • For stress testing software, you should download Heaven Benchmark.
  • Finally, if you’d like an extra temperature and voltage monitor, you can download GPU temp.

Understanding What Overclocking a GPU Does

Before we get into the overclocking process, let’s first talk about what overclocking a GPU actually does.

Essentially, overclocking a GPU increases its performance by boosting the speed that the graphical processor works at.

All GPUs are set to run at a certain speed, called the base clock, but different cards usually have the potential to surpass the speed set by the manufacturer.

By overclocking the speed, your GPU will increase in temperature and it will draw more power. It’s important to find a good balance between more performance and a stable temperature for your graphics card.

Every GPU is different. For example, your GTX 1080 may be able to safely overclock to a higher speed than your friend’s GTX 1080. As a result, you must test your own overclocking speeds to find the sweet spot.

If you try to push your GPU too hard with the MSI Afterburner overclocking software, your graphics card will either show graphical glitches, or your PC will crash.

Don’t worry – you can simply dial your GPU speeds back down to a safe level if this happens. It’s best to start slow and make your way up until you notice problems.

Getting Started With The Overclocking Software

Now that we’ve gone over the basics, let’s look at how you can start to overclock your GPU.

First, open up MSI Afterburner. You’ll need to get to grips with this software as you stress test your GPU.

In the image above, we’ve numbered the different elements in Afterburner that you need to pay attention to. Details for each element have been provided below.

  1. This is your core clock speed – this is the main speed you’ll be overclocking.
  2. This is the memory clock speed – this can also be overclocked, but only after testing the core clock.
  3. This is the control panel – use this to overclock your core clock, memory clock, and fan speed.
  4. This is the temperature of your GPU.

It’s now time to open the UNiGiNE Heaven stress testing software. Once it’s open, you should run a base test to see how your graphics card performs on default clock settings.

  1. Install the UNiGiNE Heaven software and then run Heaven Benchmark 4.0 from your Start menu
  2. Once you’re in the UNiGiNE Heaven software, click RUN

In Heaven, you’ll see a 3D scene being rendered and some buttons at the top. Click the Benchmark button at the top left to start the benchmarking process.

Heaven will now run a series of tests. During the test, you’ll get to see the temperature, frames, graphics clock, and memory clock.

Let the test run through all 26 scenes. This can take roughly 10 minutes. During the test, pay close attention to the stats at the top right of the screen.

It’s likely that your GPU will reach a certain temperature and will stay at that temperature throughout the test. This piece of information is crucial because it’ll give you an idea of how much room for overclocking you have.

You will also be given a score and average FPS stats. Make sure to save the results, so that you can refer back to them later.

You should take note of the following:

  • Temperature during test
  • FPS at the end of test
  • Score at the end of test

Preparing Your Graphics Card for Overclocking

Now that you’ve tested the software, have your base score, and understand how things work, it’s time to overclock your graphics card.

Go back to MSI Afterburner and click the Settings icon.

You’ll need to restart your PC in a second, so make sure to bookmark this page so that you can come back to it.

Next, click on the General tab in Afterburner and tick Unlock voltage control, Unlock voltage monitoring, and Force constant voltage.

After applying the settings above, click OK. You’ll be asked to restart your system. Click OK.

Once you’ve come back from your restart, open MSI Afterburner and Unigine Heaven again.

  1. This time, slide your temperature limit to 87 degrees Celsius.
  2. You should notice that your power limit (%) slider also goes up.
  3. Put the core voltage (%) slider all the way to the right. The percentage you get will be dependent on your graphics card.
  4. Finally, click the Check button underneath the sliders.

Here’s an image of the settings you should have. These settings ensure you can get the highest clock speed possible while still staying within a safe temperature range.

Stress Testing Your Graphics Card

Now that you have the optimal MSI Afterburner settings, start by moving the core clock (MHz) slider to the right. Add +23 to the number and click the check button.

Next, run Heaven Benchmark 4.0 and click the Benchmark button again. Go through the 26 scenes and wait for your test results. You should notice your score improves slightly from last time.

As you can see from the image below, our first test improved our average frames and test score slightly. You should also see an improvement, and you may notice a 1-2 degree increase in temperature during the test.

This is just the beginning. The next steps will involve you pushing your graphics card to the limit. Follow the steps below to overclock your graphics card to its full potential.

  1. Add an additional 20-30 to your clock speed.
  2. Run Heaven Benchmark 4.0 again
  3. Click the benchmark button and complete all 26 scenes
  4. If your PC doesn’t crash and you don’t notice any graphical glitches, repeat from step 1

If your PC Crashes or you notice graphical problems: Don’t worry – It’s completely normal. Simply open MSI Afterburner again and lower the clock speed by 30. This will be your optimal clock speed.

Final Steps for Overclocking Your GPU

You’ve almost completed your overclocking. If you’d like, you can repeat the steps above for your memory clock as well. However, most new graphics cards have enough memory as it is, so it won’t provide as much of a performance boost in games.

Once you’re finished with overclocking, click the Save icon on MSI Afterburner and then click a number to assign it to that slot to save your settings. You can now automatically load up these settings each time you want to have better performance while playing your favorite games.

The final test is to try out your new overclocked graphics card in your favorite games. In most cases, you’ll find that performance will be improved.

Some games may not work as well with overclocked settings, so if you notice graphical glitches or your game crashes, simply click the reset button to go back to default settings.

Thanks for reading our in-depth guide on how to overclock your graphics card. We hope this guide has been useful. Have any questions? Leave a comment below and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can. Enjoy!

The post How to Overclock Your GPU Safely to Boost Performance appeared first on Online Tech Tips.

How to Prevent Shutdown of a Windows Computer

If you’re looking for a way to prevent people from shutting down or logging off your Windows machine, you’ve come to the right place. Whatever your reason may be, there are several ways to remove all options for shutting down or logging off a Windows computer.

By default, there are several ways to shutdown a Window computer: click on Start and Turn Off Computer/Shut Down, press CTRL + ALT + DEL and choose Shut Down, open the command prompt and type in the shutdown command, or install a third party application that shuts down the computer for you.

In this article, I’ll cover each method and see how we can block the shutdown. Note that your mileage will vary depending on what version of Windows you have. If you are running a Home or lower edition version of Windows, all of the options below will not be available.

Remove Shutdown Options

First, you can remove the Turn Off Computer button from the Start Menu and from the CTRL + ALT + DEL screen by using the Group Policy Editor. Note that this is editor is not available in Windows Home or Starter editions.

Click on Start, type in gpedit.msc and press Enter. In the left pane, expand User Configuration and then expand Administrative Templates. Finally, click on Start Menu and Taskbar. Note that you can also go to same location under Computer Configuration if you want the setting to apply to all users on the computer.

Now on the right pane, double-click on Remove and prevent access to the Shut Down, Restart, Sleep and Hibernate commands and set it to Enabled. You’ll notice in the description that this will remove the shutdown option from the Start Menu and Task Manager.

However, a user could still simply log off of Windows and then click the Power button from there, which remains even after enabling the setting above.

To prevent this, you need to find the Remove Logoff on start menu setting in the same section and change it to Enabled also (only under User Configuration). Now the user won’t be able to log off and won’t be able to reach that screen. However, if the computer restarts for any particular reason, the login screen will appear and the computer can be shut down. To prevent this scenario, you can also configure Group Policy to only allow shutdown of the computer when someone is logged on.

Computer Configuration – Windows Settings – Security Settings – Local Policies – Security Options and scroll down to Shutdown: Allow the system to be shutdown without having to log on and set it to Disabled.

Finally, you need to prevent people from going to the command prompt and simply typing in shutdown! To do this, go to the following policy:

User Configuration – Administrative Templates – System and double-click on the Prevent access to the command prompt policy and set it to Enabled.

Note that everything in the User Configuration section will apply to all users, even the Administrator account, so be careful and make sure you leave an option for restoring access if needed. What I normally do is leave the option for the Run command in the Start Menu so that I can get access to Group Policy later on. If you remove that option also, then you’ve basically locked yourself out.

There is a way to apply local group policies to all users except the Administrator account, but it requires quite a few steps. Microsoft has written up a knowledgebase article on exactly how to do it.

Lastly, to prevent users from installing third-party programs to shutdown the computer, you can create a standard (non-administrative) user account in Windows. The standard account does not have permission to install software most of the time. If you really want to prevent any kind of software installation, go to the following policy:

Computer Configuration – Administrative Templates – Windows Components – Windows Installer and click on Disable Windows Installer or Turn off Windows Installer.

Set it to Enabled and choose Always from the drop down box. Note that standard user accounts also cannot access the Group Policy editor, so that’s another good reason to use a non-administrative account.

Having the user logged in as a standard user will also ensure that someone cannot use the remote shutdown command in Windows to shutdown the computer.

Finally, as a extra backup, you can also make sure that the shutdown privilege is taken away from normal user accounts. You can do this by going to the following policy:

Computer Configuration\Windows Settings\Security Settings\Local Policies\User Rights Assignment\ and clicking on Shut Down the System.

By default, you’ll see a couple of groups already listed here, depending on what version of Windows you are running. The easiest thing to do is to remove the Users group and leave the rest. That way, you’ll have the shutdown privilege, but normal users will not. Even if they manage to figure out some way to send the shutdown signal to Windows, it’ll be blocked by this policy.

That is about all the different ways a Windows computer can be shut down, so hopefully this covers everything. Again, this will only work on Pro or higher versions of Windows. If you have any questions, post a comment. Enjoy!

The post How to Prevent Shutdown of a Windows Computer appeared first on Online Tech Tips.

How to Change Default Download Folder Location on Any Web Browser

By default, anything you download from a web browser will normally go to the Downloads folder on your computer. This is pretty much true regardless of the operating system you are running.

Most people will use the default location for downloads, but there are instances where it might be helpful to change this folder. For example, if you are downloading several large files and you don’t have enough storage space on the local disk, you can download the files to an external hard drive or to a network drive.

In this article, I’ll show you how to change the default download folder location for all the major browsers. It’s different for each browser and each browser has different options.

Google Chrome

In Chrome, click on the settings icon (three vertical dots) at the top right of the window.

Then click on Settings from the menu list.

Scroll all the way to the bottom and then click on the Advanced link.

Again, scroll down until you see the Downloads heading. Go ahead and click on the Change button and pick a new location. If you need different downloads saved into different locations, then make sure to toggle the Ask where to save each file before downloading option.

Microsoft Edge

For Microsoft Edge, you click on the button that has three horizontal dots and then click on Settings.

A sliding menu will appear on the right-hand side. Scroll down until you see the View advanced settings button and click on that.

Scroll down to the Downloads section. Click the Change button and choose a new location for the downloads. You can also toggle whether or not you want Edge to ask you where to save each download.

Internet Explorer

If you’re still using IE, you need to click on the gear icon and then click on View Downloads.

A popup window will appear that lists any current or previous downloads using IE. Click on the Options link at the bottom left.

Click on the Browse button to change the location of the downloads folder.

Safari

Changing this setting in Safari is pretty straight-forward. Click on Safari in the menu bar at the top and then click on Preferences.

On the Preferences dialog, make sure you are on the General tab. Towards the bottom, you’ll see File download location.

If you click on that drop-down, you can choose Other to select another folder. You can also select Ask for each download if you want the option for every download.

Also, by default, Safari keeps a list of all the items you have downloaded for one day. You can change this setting to When Safari quits, Upon successful download or Manually.

Another interesting option in Safari is the Open “safe” files after downloading option, which is normally checked by default. Safari assumes safe items are pictures, movies, PDF files, etc, but I find this pretty risky. I recommend disabling this option as it really doesn’t serve any useful purpose other than making your computer more prone to malware or virus installations.

Firefox

Lastly, we have Firefox, which is probably the easiest in terms of making the change. Just click on the three horizontal bars button at the top right and then click on Preferences.

Next, on the General tab, click on the Choose button next to Save files to and select a different folder.

As with all the other browsers, you can have Firefox as you where to save each download individually. That’s about it for this tutorial. Enjoy!

The post How to Change Default Download Folder Location on Any Web Browser appeared first on Online Tech Tips.