Speed Up Everything

Is your PC dragging? Does your broadband network creep along at dial-up speeds? These fixes will get you in the fast lane

Save Photos Faster

After you press the shutter release, your camera processes and saves the image. Most cameras can process several photos at once and still be ready to take more. After a certain number of shots, though, the camera has to call a time-out before it can take any new pictures. You can do two things to relieve the bottleneck.

First, if you don't need to capture a bounty of 12-megapixel shots, use your camera controls to save the images at a lower resolution. That can significantly increase the number of photos your camera can handle without stopping.

Second, buy a faster memory card. Memory cards are rated with different speeds, and faster cards, while they cost more, can write photos from camera memory swiftly enough to improve performance noticeably when you're taking a lots of pictures in a row, such as a burst of action photos.

Capture Fast-Moving Subjects

Action photos--of rambunctious puppies, grade-school soccer games, air shows, and NASCAR races--are challenging, particularly with slower cameras. But stopping the action is generally just a matter of using a fast shutter speed.

Most DSLRs and some high-end point-and-shoots have a shutter priority mode, which lets you manually dial in the fastest speed available; the camera will accommodate with the appropriate aperture setting. (Alternatively, you can use aperture priority to choose the smallest f-stop number, and the camera will match that with the fastest shutter speed available.)

If that still isn't quite fast enough, increase the camera's ISO. By doubling the ISO from 100 to 200, for example, your camera can halve its shutter speed. By pushing the ISO to higher values, you can stop action even in relatively dim light. The cost, though, will be noisier photos.

If your camera doesn't include these controls, you can improve your action photos by panning. Track the subject in the viewfinder and twist your body as the subject moves across your field of vision. Snap the photo and continue to pan, following through as if you were swinging a baseball bat or a golf club. The background will blur, but the subject will be sharp and distinct.

Benchmark Your PC

If you're serious about improving your PC's performance, it helps to measure how fast (or how slow) it is to begin with.

Here at PC World, we've been developing our own powerful benchmark tool for years. WorldBench 6, the latest version, tests all facets of a PC's performance on both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows. At $249 for a single-user license, WorldBench isn't cheap, but it's a proven benchmark that's trusted by industry leaders ranging from Intel and HP to Microsoft and McAfee.

If you're on a tighter budget, you can find cheaper benchmarks that can give you an indication of your computer's speed. OpenSourceMark is, as its name implies, an open-source tool that you can download for free. This simple utility runs your PC through assorted operations, from spreadsheets to image editing. Armed with a starting score, you can then compare it with a post-upgrade score or see how much of an effect some of our Windows tweaks have on your machine's overall performance.

Better Broadband

While a variety of products on the market claim to boost your broadband Internet performance, none have proven effective enough for us to recommend them. If you're not getting the Internet speeds you're paying for, you can try a couple of basic fixes.

First, measure your connection speed at Speedtest.net. This quick assessment will give you a fairly accurate picture of your download and upload speeds. After the test, if the results are well below the advertised speeds for your service plan, you can call your carrier to complain. This is the single most effective thing you can do.

Second, ask your carrier whether a newer broadband modem is available, and try to get the provider to send you one. ISPs frequently upgrade their base equipment, and existing customers almost never receive notification. But if you ask for the latest model, many ISPs will send one out free of charge (especially if your contract has expired).

For a complete guide to troubleshooting slowdowns, see "Six Steps to a Faster Broadband Connection."

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