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October 29, 2010

Ask Ben Anything October Edition: window management, third-party PC advice, and laptops for high schoolers

This month I thought I’d answer some of the questions I received this month about how to make your PC run better, and how to find the best objective advice (outside of my columns, of course) on finding the right PC.

Remember, you can Ask Ben Anything by posting a question in a comment, hitting me on Twitter, or emailing me at my Ask Ben email address.  Keep those questions coming!

(Note on this month’s column: I’ve been asked by some askers to not include names, even first name/last initial like I have been doing, so from now on I will not be posting names with questions.)

Ben, I keep a ton of windows open on my desktop. Do you have any advice on how to manage them? I’m working on a 14” Dell Inspiron so I don’t have that much screen space to work with.

For me, nothing is better at window management than Snap, Windows 7’s super-useful feature that lets you get the most out of your screen real estate by pinning application in windows to the sides or top of the desktop.  Drag a window to the top of the desktop and it instantly goes full screen, drag it to the side and it instantly fills half the screen so you can see two windows side-by-side. It’s really handy particularly if you’re writing and need to pull content from a website.

That being said, dragging windows all over the place is kind of pain if you’re working on a laptop, even one with a great trackpad, so I suggest you use keyboard shortcuts to activate snap.  Here’s how to make it work – after few days of working with Snap this way, you’ll wonder how you lived without it!

    1. Windows Key + Right Arrow:  Snap a window to the right of the desktop
    2. Windows Key + Left Arrow:  Snap a window to the left of the desktop
    3. Windows Key + Up Arrow:  Make your active window full-screen
    4. Windows Key + Down Arrow:  If a window is in normal “window mode”, this combo will minimize the window.  If your active window is snapped to the side or top of the desktop, this combo will return it to “window mode”.

    Best non-Microsoft sites to get help on finding the right PC?

    Are you saying that my hands-on reviews aren’t enough for you? Seriously? I’m crushed!

    Ok fine….

    There are a ton of great sites out there that do very objective, comprehensive reviews of PCs. I often point people to CNET (which has a really nice laptop buying guide), Laptop Magazine, and Notebook Review. Their reviewers are thorough and cover everything from performance to battery life to system temperature to durability. I’m also a daily reader of both Gizmodo and Engadget – both have wicked smart writers and have a more casual approach to their PC reviews.


    My son is a sophomore in high school and we’re in the market for a new laptop for him. I don’t want to spend a ton as I am guessing that we’ll want to upgrade him in 2 years when he goes off to college. Suggestions? I’m trying to keep it as far under a grand as I can.

    I’m going to offer up two suggestions for you. If you’re looking for a workhorse laptop that he’s going to use solely for school work, you can’t go wrong with the Dell Vostro v13. It’s lightweight, has a great design, very comfortable ergonomics for typing, and you can get one starting at $499. It’s technically designed for small businesses, but as I mentioned in our Windows 7 anniversary post, it’s a great choice for students, too.

    If you’d like to get him something that he can use for entertainment as well as homework, check out the Gateway NV5929u. It’s a value priced (i.e., under $700) 15” PC that has an excellent design, and good specs – Core i5, 4GB of RAM, Intel HD graphics – that will be great for schoolwork and for relaxing when its done.