30 tech myths debunked

Even for a techie, it sometimes becomes difficult to tell fact from fiction -- so here is a collection of some popular misconceptions and our explanations to help clear the air.

Go to the Start menu, click on Run and type "convert C:\windows mac_OS" and wait for 10 minutes and restart. This hidden command will convert your regular Windows PC into a Macintosh with Leopard. You didn't really believe this, did you? For the record, that is just plain impossible. But then, there are several myths floating around about PCs and gadgets that actually seem plausible. Some are just bad practical jokes (like e-mails saying Microsoft or AOL would donate money for every forward sent) while some are distorted facts. Even for a techie, it sometimes becomes difficult to tell fact from fiction — so here is a collection of some popular misconceptions and our explanations to help clear the air.

Correct Computing

A higher wattage SMPS always draws more power: A 600 Watt power supply does not necessarily consume more electricity by itself than say, a 300 Watt model. The higher rating only means it is capable of delivering more power when the system requires it — and at those times, of course, it would draw more power from the mains. However, during idle or periods of lower power draw from the PC, when the requirement is, say, 250 Watt, both the power supply units will consume equivalent amount of electricity. The amount of electricity consumed by the power supply for the same amount of demand from the PC also depends on the efficiency rating, which is independent of the Wattage rating. For example, a 500 Watt SMPS having an efficiency of 70 per cent can effectively deliver 350 Watt to the PC and an efficient 450 Watt unit with an efficiency of 77 per cent can match it.

Owning an all-in-one is like having a DTP center at home: Well, technically yes. After all, you can print, scan and make copies. So, on the face of it, it does look like you need not visit your neighborhood photocopier. But, once you account for the cost of ink per page, you will realize that using your home all-in-one for all tasks is not financially viable. This is especially true for cheaper inkjet models. Printing or copying an A4 sized sheet with black only text can cost you anything between US$0.07 to $0.12, depending on the printer, the mode used, etc. A photocopying shop will charge you less than $0.05 with the bonus being better print quality as well. With each purchase of a cartridge, your wallet keeps getting thinner!

A 64-bit OS will make computing twice as fast as a 32-bit one: A 64 bit operating system (OS) (and programs) has the potential to be considerably faster than a 32-bit one. But that's in theory. In real world terms however, for any performance improvement, the applications must also be 64-bit compatible. A 32-bit program will run fine on a 64-bit Windows, but you won't see any improvement in performance. A way in which a 32-bit program can benefit from a 64-bit OS is when the system has more than 3GB RAM, in which case the OS will be able to address the entire memory and make it available to the program if needed. Generally, you need a 64-bit version of your program running on a 64-bit OS to harness the full capacity of your 64 bit CPU.

You always need to 'stop' a USB device before unplugging it: This is another of those statements that's valid only under certain conditions. The idea behind saying this is to ensure that the USB device is not unplugged while data is being read from or written to it. Doing so would corrupt the file being transferred. But, if the device is idle, there is no need to go through the 'Safely Remove Hardware' drill. Note that in Windows Vista however, if you have set a USB flash drive to act as a Ready Boost device, you will need to 'stop' the device before unplugging it. For other devices such as keyboard/mouse, printers / scanners, etc., you can just unplug them provided they are not currently in use.

Switching off power without shutting down damages the PC: This must be one of the oldest debates about PCs. Many users till this day believe that switching off power without shutting down will cause physical damage to their hard drives. Our colleagues in the US PC World Test Labs conducted an informal test — they ran 30 iterations of a test, turning off a pair of systems running Windows XP without first shutting down Windows. Each time documents were left open in Word, outlook, and Quicken. After turning each PC back on, Symantec's Norton Disk Doctor and Windows disk checker found no errors. The applications suffered no problems as well. You will suffer data loss if data is being currently written (or if your work is not saved) while pressing the power button. However, if your computer hangs, and you are in a hurry to get it working, you need not be paranoid before pressing the reset button.

Repeated on-off cycles reduce the useful life of the PC: While it is true that certain components of your PC have a fixed number of start-stop cycles, those numbers are high enough not to cause worry. Microchips (including the CPU and those on the motherboard), CRT monitors and hard disks especially, have a rated number of times they can be turned on and off. Shutting the PC down when its use is not required for an hour or more will save power and even reduce component wear and tear. For example, for hard disks, this number is 50,000 or more. So, even if you switch the hard disk off and on ten times a day, after three years you would be close to 10,000 cycles, five times lesser than the rated number.

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Formatting and partitioning hard disk causes physical wear and tear: When you format a storage media, the partitioning software reads and write data in multiple patterns and then fills the entire partition (or disk, as the case may be) with '0's. This constitutes a read-write operation which is no different from any other write command, like for example, copying files. During partitioning process, the starting sectors of the drive where the partition table is stored is modified. In this case also, for the hard disk, it is nothing but another write operation. When you choose a quick format option, there is even lesser strain on the hard disk as only the file table is modified to read that partition as empty. In fact, this is the reason why recovering data from a drive after quick format is a lot easier than after a full format.

Deleting files from recycle bin ensures permanent deletion: This belief is another long timer in the list of PC related myths. Emptying the recycle bin gives you a false assurance that the files are really gone. In reality, Windows only marks the area of the disk occupied by the files in question, as 'empty', but does not proceed to remove the data itself. Thus, file recovery software can search the hard disk for files that are still present (after deletion). So long as the disk area of the file is not overwritten by any new data, recovery is possible. If you wish to delete sensitive files permanently such that they cannot be recovered, use a third party tool like eraser (included on this month's DVD).

The size of the page file must be set to twice the amount of RAM: Back in the days of Windows 95 / 98, when hard disk capacity was very limited (as little as 2 GB), this was a guideline to manually set the size of the swap file in order to eke out some performance, reduce defragmentation and save some hard disk space as well. Come larger and faster hard disks, no one really bothered much about swap file sizes. The little rationale that the above swap file rule had, is no longer valid. Today, you can let Windows manage swap files on its own or manually assign the first partition of your hard disk (fastest) for page file usage.

Magnets can destroy data on storage devices: This is true only for the sensitive floppy drives — place a powerful magnet on them for some time and bid good bye to your data. But then, who uses floppy drives these days? Flash drives are not made up of magnetic media and hence are immune to magnets. Hard drives can be affected by magnets — really strong magnets. The kind that are used in laboratories, the kind that might suck the iron out of your blood. Magnets found in homes, including those in speakers are simply not powerful enough to penetrate the magnetic shield of the hard disks and harm them. In short, no magnet in your home will cause you any data loss.

LCD monitors are not suitable for games and movies: This is not a myth per se as this was largely true till about two years back. Most LCD monitors lacked contrast, had poor response time and color reproduction was not spot-on either. A lot has changed over the last two years and today an LCD monitor can produce better quality images (read: higher contrast and color reproduction for movies) and has response times that are suitable for gaming. Going the LCD way is a wise choice for more than one reason. For one, it causes significantly lesser eye strain which makes it ideal for gamers who spend long hours staring hard at the monitor. Widescreen LCDs are suitable for movies which are increasingly coming in a widescreen format too. But watch out, there are quite a few LCD monitors out there that we can classify as sub-par in quality. Do read up reviews before you get one!

CD / DVD Media can last forever: Some disc manufactures claim shelf life of over 100 years for optical media, but that is only under ideal storage conditions, use of best materials and an error free process of writing data onto it. These three conditions are seldom fulfilled, and it is not rare to see CDs and DVDs burnt five years ago going bad by mere shelf storage (not used). It is hard to predict the shelf life of optical media, and there is much disagreement between manufacturers and researchers on the subject. If data is critical to you, it is best to make a second copy of it and replace it every two — three years. Store discs away from sunlight heat and dust, as these can accelerate the aging process.

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If you have an antivirus there is no need to worry about what you click or install: No doubt an antivirus is a must on any PC, especially those connected to the Internet, but no single antivirus program can be the digital equivalent of the proverbial impregnable fortress. When a new threat (virus, trojan, or an malware) is detected, the antivirus vendor may take anything from a few hours up to a day to come up with an update. The antivirus program will require such an update in order to detect the new threat. Besides, an antivirus program may not be as effective against spyware or other kinds of malware not classified as 'viruses'. It is a good idea to have an anti-spyware program running alongside the antivirus. An antivirus program without updates is as effective as 'no antivirus at all' against new threats. So, keep your security software updated.

Wireless Networks are unsafe and can be hacked easily: Like an open door attracts a saint, any unprotected network (wired or wireless) is a potential security hole (right from stealing your Internet connection to reading your e-mail). So long as you take enough care to use a strong encryption method you can make it as secure as a wired network and keep intruders off. All wireless devices these days support the common encryption protocols — WPA, WPA2 and WEP. Of these, WPA2 is the most secure and enable it to make your wireless network safe. To gain entry to gain entry into the network, users will have to enter a pass phrase, much like a long password.

Since my e-mail requires a username and password, it is safe: The Web page into which you input your username and password is almost always SSL encrypted, so it's safe. But the same cannot be said about the actual e-mail text you send and receive. A competent hacker in your network can 'read' the text that is 'travelling' between your PC and the e-mail server. Chances of someone wanting to do that might be very slim, but for extremely sensitive data, it might be worth ensuring your entire e-mail is secure. explaining this is beyond the scope of this article.

Gaming Gyan

Graphic cards with more RAM are faster: While more system RAM certainly helps, it is not necessarily the case with video cards. Often, a better video chipset and / or faster clock speeds are more beneficial than more video RAM. For example, a 256MB 7600GT will produce more frames than a 512MB 7300 GT. The 7600GT has a much faster memory and core speeds that see it perform better in spite of having only half the memory as its slower sibling.

Gaming experience is all about graphics: This statement is not entirely true. Gaming experience and enjoyment is a combination of many factors — how realistic and / or spectacular the game looks, the AI (how effectively the game can simulate the moves of a human opponent), the difficulty in various levels, an engaging plot and how easily you can control your actions in the game. So, choosing to play a game for mere eye candy will be an incomplete experience if you don't find the plot engaging, and neither will you relish the game if you have to turn down all effects to make a game playable on weak hardware.

The fps numbers are enough to judge a video card's performance in a game: You have finally found a video card in your budget and reviews say it can do 30fps (which seems playable) in a particular game. When you actually play the game on the card you are very likely to be disappointed to see jerky motion in parts of the game. That's because, the 30fps you read about is the average figure and the lowest fps can go up to 30 per cent lower than the average depending on the kind of game and effects. Always look for a card that does at least 50fps in the game you wish to play, at the desired resolution and detail levels. Thus, even if the lower figures are down by 30 per cent, the game is still just about playable. On the other hand, if two cards manage 100 fps and 120 fps, both of them will be equally good with that particular game. The card that does 120fps just has more reserve power for more demanding games.

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The latest, fastest video card is required to enjoy PC gaming: The fastest video card is like a mirage for most people — can only been seen but not acquired. Thankfully, you don't always need the newest and more expensive video card to run games satisfactorily. A mid-range card that costs about 40 to 60 per cent less than the flagship model will often suffice for playing current generation games at medium to high quality settings at an acceptable 1024 x 768 resolution. There are exceptions, of course, like that of Crysis, a game that gave a tough time to even top of the line hardware when it was launched. But what we are saying here holds true in most, if not all cases. If you find that your card is unable to handle current generation games, you can always switch to slightly older titles which will still be playable. This is a compromise, no doubt. But there are enough and more game titles out there. Also bear in mind that even if you empty your bank balance for the newest and best video card that there is, it is very likely to be outclassed by another model in a few month's time.

Gaming is addictive, distractive and kills productivity: The above statement can be true. But then, the same can be said about any activity that people enjoy — watching TV for instance, or even reading. Gaming can get more involving as it is interactive. But that in itself is not a reason to deny yourself the gaming experience. Anything can get harmful if taken beyond moderation. Gaming can be de-stressing and relaxing as well! On a side note, some companies are trying a team building activity that involves people working together as teams in strategy games.

Games are too violent for children: This is a sweeping statement made by those who do not understand that gaming comes in several genres. While some games do contain explicit violence (mutilation, blood splatter, cries of pain, etc.), these are mostly First Person Shooter (FPS) games in which the player actually 'shoots' the enemy. There are other genres like RTS (Real Time Strategy) in which the player has to think and plan his approach to the game. Then there are racing games in which the player has to drive a car. These kinds of games generally have very less explicit violence, if any. If you are worried if a game is suitable for a child, look for its ESRB age rating. If you cannot find it on the cover, look it up on the Internet.


Smart phones are slow, bulky: Two years ago, this was largely true. A smart phone runs a small operating system, much like your PC (but lighter and less featured) that gives it all the features that the device boasts of, and the ability to install applications to enhance usability. This, of course, requires higher computing power as well as electrical power from the battery. As a direct consequence, the devices were both slow and heavy. But now, paired with power efficient and faster processors, smart phones are lighter and almost as fast in response as a less featured phone.

A secret key combination unlocks reserve battery power: You really did not think this could be true, did you? After all, if at all such a feature did exist, the manufacturer would have specified it in the manual to help users in an emergency. E-mails are floating around claiming this to be true and even specify a key combination, which does, well, nothing. Remember to keep your phone charged — there is no reserve power to bail you out!

A 5.1 sound system enhances the listening experience: Again, this is one of those concepts that is actually true in theory but unless implemented properly, has next to no benefit. Configured properly, the surround set up can provide a directional feel. But for this, you will either need to place the speakers at specified distances from your seating area, or configure their individual levels to match your seating location. The latter is not such a simple task. Besides, the sound source must be encoded in a surround sound format — ordinary stereo will not give you surround experience. This excludes audio CDs, television (even satellite TV) and MP3s — a big chunk of what most people use their surround systems for. It is only with 5.1 channel DVDs or games that such speakers deliver true directional feel.

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Playing a scratched disc can damage the player: This is actually true for some optical drives/standalone players. Some models have a mechanism of increasing the laser beam intensity if a disc is not readable at normal intensity. A stronger beam means more heat and more wear and tear on the components. Hence, repeatedly playing scratched discs can potentially cause damage. If your favorite disc is scratched, it is time for you to make a backup. We decided to include this in the list despite the statement being true, as much confusion prevails on the topic.

A Blu-Ray disc will look better than a standard DVD: This really depends on the source from which the movie has been mastered before being put on a Blu-Ray disc. If it's an old movie and the source is an old generation digital or converted from a film print, then the Blu-Ray disc is not going to offer any higher quality as the original itself is of lower quality. For new movies shot and mastered with current generation equipment, you should see benefits with a superior Blu-Ray disc.

A HTPC is complicated to operate: A home Theatre PC, once setup, is no more difficult to maintain or operate than any other PC. In fact, since not many programs are installed on it, it can actually be more stable! A dedicated PC that sits next to your TV in the living room can be operated with the help of a remote control to record TV programs, time-shift (rewind), schedule recording, etc. Also, you can play any media file from your PC on the TV, giving you that much more flexibility and make it an integral part of your entertainment setup.

Photo Facts

You need a DSLR camera to take great shots: Photography is as much about the photographer as it is about the camera. Framing, the right moment, controlling lighting and position of subjects (though not always possible), the right background, the ability to visualize what looks good through the viewfinder, are all essential factors. When choosing a camera, get one that gives you manual aperture and shutter controls — learn to use them and you can get some impressive photos. Many mid-range point and shoot cameras give you these manual controls.

An 8MP picture is twice as broad and tall as a 4MP one: A digital image is composed of a horizontal and vertical resolution and the MP count (that cameras specify) is the product of the two. For example, an 8MP camera outputs an image with the resolution 3264 (H) x 2448 (V) pixels, the product of which comes to around 8 million pixels (or 8 Mega Pixels). A 4MP camera similarly produces images produces a 2272 (H) x 1704 (V) image. The extra 4MP that the larger camera has is shared vertically and horizontally, hence along each dimension you will see a gain of 1.5 times rather than 2. So, when choosing between 6MP and 8MP cameras with otherwise similar features, the advantage of the 8MP model will be an 18 per cent larger image along each dimension. Now decide if the latter's higher price tag is justified.

Digital photography means any flaw can be fixed with software: While it is true that a lot of corrections can be made to digital photographs during post processing with relative ease, some fundamental elements of photography cannot be corrected or only very lightly touched upon. For example, there is nothing you can do about an out-of-focus subject. No sharpening filter in your image enhancement program is going to help you. Similarly, you cannot bring out details from a badly overexposed area of the picture — if there is a slight underexposure, this can be corrected though. A 'flat' and burnt-out look caused by a harsh flash is another example. What you can do is alter brightness and contrast, correct white balance errors, crop and remove unwanted elements in the frame.

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With improved cell phone cameras, point-and-shoot cameras are not required: As technology progresses, maybe this will come true in the future. But as of now, a mid-range point-and-shoot camera will outclass any production cell phone camera — 5MP sensors, 3x optical zoom and Carl Zeiss lens on expensive mobile phones notwithstanding. The reasons are pretty simple — the limited size and weight constraints in mobile phones impose a design restriction for putting in a capable camera. Remember that, an auto-focus camera is an electro-mechanical device that does take up some space and requires precision. In bright light, a really expensive camera phone will produce good results, but come low light and its small sensor and limited flash capability start acting up. But, it won't be long before camera phones evolve to a level where they can do nearly everything a simple dedicated point-and-shoot camera can.

HD camcorders record higher quality video than normal ones: If the only factor for video quality were to be the resolution, this statement would have been true. But, it is not. Similar to how a higher mega pixel number does not imply a better digital still camera. In a camera or camcorder, video quality is determined mostly by the optical properties of the lens, the noise levels of the sensor and its dynamic range and the kind of compression used. A HD (High Definition) or SD (Standard Definition) only specifies how large the video is going to look on a screen, but does not indicate how good or bad its quality will be. Manufactures are increasingly flaunting the 'HD' capability but entry level HD camcorders offer no significant quality improvements over non-HD models. In fact, an advanced standard definition model is in many cases better than a cheaper HD one.

A camera with higher ISO is better than one with a lesser number: In theory, higher sensor sensitivity, indicated by the ISO figure makes for better low light photography. With point-and-shoot cameras however, using a very high ISO number leads to extremely high noise in the images. So much so that if you use the ISO 1600 that some small cameras have, the resulting image will be so noisy that it is hardly usable. If all other features are equal, a higher ISO feature alone is not worth paying a heavy price for.