Ask the lab

The GCN Lab tests hundreds of products each year. The staff has scoured more help files, user manuals and FAQs than many users will read in a lifetime. And they're happy to answer almost any technical question that's thrown their way. A recent look at their in-box provided these samples:

Henry from St. Louis:

I work at a state agency, and we recently had an employee leave under less-than-ideal circumstances. When we reclaimed his PC, we found it was secured with a boot password. We have no way to contact this person and would like to get some data off his system. Can this be fixed?

Greg Crowe, GCN Lab analyst: Boot level passwords, also called BIOS passwords, are a great way to secure a system because they kick in before any OS loads, making them more or less hacker-proof. However, they are not impossible to get around.

If you have an older system, it probably has a back-door password you can use to get around the BIOS password. If you do a Google search for 'Bios default passwords,' you should find plenty of leads. Find the right password for whatever system you're using, and it might work.

Another workaround would be to open up the system (after first unplugging it from the wall) and pop out the CMOS battery. Wait 10 minutes, pop it back in and see if the password has been cleared.

John Breeden, GCN Lab director: We actually had a similar situation several years ago when a reviewer left and forgot to tell us his BIOS password. The best way to get around this is to flip the correct dip switch or change the jumper settings on the system's motherboard. A dip switch looks like a series of very tiny switches and may require a special tool like a toothpick to throw the correct one. A jumper setting looks like a small rectangular connector sitting on pins. You have to pull it off one pair of metal pins and put it back onto another.

Notebook PCs almost always have dip switches, never jumpers, located under the keyboard or on the back panel in the memory compartment. On a PC, the right place is normally on the motherboard near the battery or processor.

The documentation that came with your computer should have a layout of the dip switches and jumper settings. The one you want to throw or switch is most often labeled something like 'Clear,' 'Clear CMOS,' 'CLRPWD,' 'PASSWD' or 'PASSWORD,' but I've seen it called a few other things.

After you make the switch, boot the computer and the password should be gone. If you ever want to use a BIOS password again, simply turn the computer back off and return the switch or jumper to the original position. This will let you assign a new password.

Steve from Shawnee, Okla.:

After I use the Find/Replace function in Microsoft Word, the page up and down buttons in the lower right corner turn blue and don't work as page up/down buttons until I restart my computer. Why is that?

Crowe: Microsoft Word, especially later versions of it, relies heavily on macros. You may not know it, but when you're using Find and Replace, you're actually reprogramming those buttons on the lower right of the screen. They turn into Find/Replace buttons for taking you to the next instance of the word to be replaced.

Breeden: If you look at those up and down arrows, there's a tiny button in between them. Left click on the button to bring up a variety of ways to browse document. If you select Browse by Page, the buttons will go back to working as the default page up/down arrows. Congratulations, you've just reprogrammed the macro.

Angela from D.C.:

Our agency is finally moving from CRT monitors to LCDs. But what do we do if the screen gets dirty? Can you just spray on Windex and wipe them off like we used to?

Breeden: You don't want to be spraying any liquids on LCD screens. Your old CRTs had glass panels, so they were pretty much like TVs. You could spray on harsh cleaners without much worry. With LCDs, however, the front is actually a film.

The best way to clean the panel is with a soft cotton cloth, or you can buy special pads designed to wipe off smudges. Don't push too hard or you might damage the monitor. If the cloth doesn't work, you can try pouring rubbing alcohol directly onto the cloth and wiping again. Rubbing alcohol is not harsh and evaporates quickly.

Also, don't use a paper towel. Besides breaking up and leaving little particles behind, they can scratch.

Crowe: LCDs don't generate the same heavy static that CRTs do. Therefore they're not normally subject to excessive buildup of dust and other airborne particles. But you have to train your users not to touch the screen. With a CRT you could use your finger to point things out, but with LCDs you should keep hands off.

No tech question is too big or too small for the GCN Lab. Ask them about what's on your mind at [email protected].

About the Authors

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

Greg Crowe is a former GCN staff writer who covered mobile technology.


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