18 simple, free fixes for your Vista or XP PC

Your ultimate PC repair kit

System Works file recovery

File recovery programs can save your behind when Window behaves erratically. Our juddering XP system peremptorily decided multitasking was for fools and shut down everything including Windows Explorer, leaving us aghast at our unsaved Outlook messages, partially completed spreadsheets and half-written feature.

Thankfully, Norton System Works had put a watch on our recycle bin so that anything that went west could also be retrieved.

Restoration comedy

To use Restoration, specify a folder location or instruct the program to search the whole drive. Unlike your PC's built-in search tools, it should track down the ghosts of files past and will do its best to recover the lost data. The program needs no installer and is so small that you can run it from a flash drive.

For your best shot at recovering lost files, try and do nothing with your PC in the meantime. Creating and saving new files will only increase the chance of your missing file(s) being overwritten.

Finally, for matters of life or death, companies such as Ontrack can access your PC remotely or take your hard disk away for forensic examination.

Web connection woes

Updating your web browser and checking for updated tools for your current web browser can bring instant benefits to your web-surfing experience. Other online glitches can be solved by disabling and enabling add-on browser tools one by one to check for hold-ups and incompatibilities.

An antivirus tool or Microsoft's Malicious Software Removal Tool can address other browser-based issues.

Refresh your IP address

If you use ADSL or cable broadband, you probably have a dynamic IP address. This refers to the fact that your PC's Internet address changes each time you log on.

From time to time, however, this process doesn't behave as dynamically as its name implies. Sometimes a new address isn't assigned at bootup and the last assigned address remains. Since a fresh IP address is necessary to reach the Internet, all you will see when you open your browser is an error screen stating that the PC can't establish a connection to the Internet.

Whether your system is connected directly through a modem or via a router, the first step involved in getting an IP address assigned to it is to right-click the network icon in the system tray. From the resulting menu, select Repair. Windows will automatically flush the old addresses and request new ones from your router or ISP, depending on the way your PC is connected.

Most of the time, this operation works like a charm. But when it doesn't, you'll have to troubleshoot the situation manually — and this requires a certain knowledge of the ins and outs of IPconfig to help you quickly get your connection up and running.

Click Start, Run and type cmd. In Vista, you can save a step by simply typing cmd in the Start Search box. At the command prompt, type ipconfig; the DOS window will then display your currently known IP address, the subnet mask, and the default gateway for all adaptors. Other adaptors might include Wi-Fi and Bluetooth cards, although these may be listed as disconnected.

By itself, IPconfig does nothing more than display information. To make it actually do something — such as refreshing your IP address — you must add parameters preceded by a space and a forward slash. The two parameters that do the most effective job are /release and /renew.

Typing ipconfig /release instructs the server to erase the existing IP address for all adaptors, be they ethernet or wireless. The process should take a few seconds, confirmed with a display in the DOS box showing all zeros for the IP address and subnet mask. Now type ipconfig /renew. If the command is successful, a new IP address, subnet mask and the default gateway will appear along with the DNS suffix.

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Scott Dunn

PC World (US online)

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