Secret Tweaks

Illustration: Diego Aguirre

Your neighbors are doing it. Your coworkers are doing it. There's no shame in doing it--even in broad daylight. I'm talking about hacking: your digital camera, your MP3 player, your network, and of course your PC. If it has a plug, a jack, a battery, a cord, a chip, a disk drive, or a display, chances are it can be reprogrammed and tweaked in some way to give you more speed, advanced features, or greater storage--without your paying for a whole new unit.

Hacks can run the gamut from simple software downloads, to involved hardware swapping and modification that sometimes requires specialty parts. I'll point you in the right direction and walk you through the steps to get the goods, do the deed, and enjoy the secrets hidden within your gadgets. But first, a few important notes about safety and other considerations.

Hacking Caveats

Be aware that many hacks will probably void the warranty of your system or of specific components, so until you get comfortable it's best to start hacking on hardware you aren't too attached to. Also note that while some vendors are much more tolerant of hacks and tweaks than others--Intel and NVidia even provide you with some tools--many manufacturers take a harder line and try to make it as difficult for you as possible.

In any case, you'll want to take some precautions before you begin:

  • First, back up any data you have stored on the device, or start with a fresh system--hacking can render your PC useless in a nanosecond but cost you hours of restoration time.
  • Download and safely store the original firmware or drivers for a device, in case something goes wrong and you need to get your gadget back in working condition.
  • When tuning up your PC, measure and test your system before you start and as you hack so that you can tell whether you're doing more harm than good. Check out "PC Benchmarks Tell the Speed Story" in this article to find out what to test and how.
  • Disconnect the power before working inside the case of any device. Be careful not to drop or leave tools, screws, clips, loose wires, or extra brackets floating around inside the case; anything conductive could short out a critical circuit.

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