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How to Force Graphics Options in PC Games with NVIDIA, AMD, or Intel Graphics

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PC games usually have built-in graphics options that you can change. However, you’re not limited to the options built into games — the graphics control panels bundled with graphics drivers allow you to tweak options from outside PC games.

For example, these tools allow you to force-enable antialiasing to make old games look better, even if they don’t normally support it. You can also reduce graphics quality to get more performance on slow hardware.

If You Don’t See These Options

If you don’t have the NVIDIA Control Panel, AMD Catalyst Control Center, or Intel Graphics and Media Control Panel installed, you may need to install the appropriate graphics driver package for your hardware from the hardware manufacturer’s website. The drivers provided via Windows Update don’t include additional software like the NVIDIA Control Panel or AMD Catalyst Control Center.

Drivers provided via Windows Update are also more out of date. If you’re playing PC games, you’ll want to have the latest graphics drivers installed on your system.

NVIDIA Control Panel

The NVIDIA Control Panel allows you to change these options if your computer has NVIDIA graphics hardware. To launch it, right-click your desktop background and select NVIDIA Control Panel. You can also find this tool by performing a Start menu (or Start screen) search for NVIDIA Control Panel or by right-clicking the NVIDIA icon in your system tray and selecting Open NVIDIA Control Panel.

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To quickly set a system-wide preference, you could use the Adjust image settings with preview option. For example, if you have old hardware that struggles to play the games you want to play, you may want to select “Use my preference emphasizing” and move the slider all the way to “Performance.” This trades graphics quality for an increased frame rate.

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By default, the “Use the advanced 3D image settings” option is selected. You can select Manage 3D settings and change advanced settings for all programs on your computer or just for specific games. NVIDIA keeps a database of the optimal settings for various games, but you’re free to tweak individual settings here. Just mouse-over an option for an explanation of what it does.

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If you have a laptop with NVIDIA Optimus technology — that is, both NVIDIA and Intel graphics — this is the same place you can choose which applications will use the NVIDIA hardware and which will use the Intel hardware.

AMD Catalyst Control Center

AMD’s Catalyst Control Center allows you to change these options on AMD graphics hardware. To open it, right-click your desktop background and select Catalyst Control Center. You can also right-click the Catalyst icon in your system tray and select Catalyst Control Center or perform a Start menu (or Start screen) search for Catalyst Control Center.

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Click the Gaming category at the left side of the Catalyst Control Center window and select 3D Application Settings to access the graphics settings you can change.

The System Settings tab allows you to configure these options globally, for all games. Mouse over any option to see an explanation of what it does. You can also set per-application 3D settings and tweak your settings on a per-game basis. Click the Add option and browse to a game’s .exe file to change its options.

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Intel Graphics and Media Control Panel

Intel integrated graphics are nowhere near as powerful as dedicated graphics hardware from NVIDIA and AMD, but they are improving and come included with most computers. Intel doesn’t provide anywhere near as many options in its graphics control panel, but you can still tweak some common settings.

To open the Intel graphics control panel, locate the Intel graphics icon in your system tray, right-click it, and select Graphics Properties. You can also right-click the desktop and select Graphics Properties.

open-intel-graphics-control-panel

Select either Basic Mode or Advanced Mode. When the Intel Graphics and Media Control Panel appears, select the 3D option.

You’ll be able to set your Performance or Quality setting by moving the slider around or click the Custom Settings check box and customize your Anisotropic Filtering and Vertical Sync preference.

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Different Intel graphics hardware may have different options here. We also wouldn’t be surprised to see more advanced options appear in the future if Intel is serious about competing in the PC graphics market, as they say they are.


These options are primarily useful to PC gamers, so don’t worry about them — or bother downloading updated graphics drivers — if you’re not a PC gamer and don’t use any intensive 3D applications on your computer.

Image Credit: Dave Dugdale on Flickr


    






Latest Technology, Tips & Tricks

Information to Use a Bluetooth Keyboard with Your Android Instrument

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Android devices aren’t usually associated with physical keyboards. But, since Google is now bundling their QuickOffice app with the newly-released Kit-Kat, it appears inevitable that at least some Android tablets (particularly 10-inch models) will take on more productivity roles.

In recent years, physical keyboards have been rendered obsolete by swipe-style input methods such as Swype and Google Keyboard. Physical keyboards tend to make phones thicker, and that won’t fly today when thin (and even flexible and curved) is in vogue. So, you’ll be hard-pressed to find smartphone manufacturers launching new models with physical keyboards, thus rendering sliders to a past chapter in mobile phone evolution.

It makes sense to ditch the clunky keyboard phone in favor of a lighter, thinner model. You’re going to carry it around in your pocket or purse all day, why have that extra bulk and weight? That said, there is sound logic behind pairing tablets with keyboards. Microsoft continues to plod forward with its Surface models, and while critics continue to lavish praise on the iPad, its functionality is obviously enhanced and extended when you add a physical keyboard. Apple even has an entire page devoted specifically to iPad-compatible keyboards.

But an Android tablet and a keyboard? Does such a thing even exist? They do actually. There are docking keyboards and keyboard/case combinations and the Asus Transformer family. Logitech markets a Windows 8 keyboard that speaks “Android”, and these are just a few examples.

So we know that keyboard products that are designed to work with Android exist, but what about an everyday Bluetooth keyboard you might use with Windows or OS X? How-To Geek wanted look at how viable it is to use such a keyboard with Android. We conducted some research and examined some lists of Android keyboard shortcuts. Most of what we found was long outdated. Many of the shortcuts don’t even apply anymore, while others just didn’t work. Regardless, after a little experimentation and a dash of customization, it turns out using a keyboard with Android is kind of fun, and who knows, maybe it will catch on.

Setting things up

Setting up a Bluetooth keyboard with Android is very easy. First, you’ll need a Bluetooth keyboard and, of course, an Android device, preferably running version 4.1 (Jelly Bean) or higher. For our test, we paired a second-generation Google Nexus 7 running Android 4.3 with a Samsung Series 7 keyboard.

In Android, enable Bluetooth if it isn’t already on. We’d like to note that if you don’t normally use Bluetooth accessories and peripherals with your Android device (or any device really), it’s best practice to leave Bluetooth off because, like GPS, it drains the device’s battery more quickly.

To enable Bluetooth, simply go to “Settings” -> “Bluetooth” and tap the slider button to “On”. To set up the keyboard, make sure it is on and then tap “Bluetooth” in the Android settings.

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On the resulting screen, your Android device should automatically search for and find your keyboard. If you don’t get it right the first time, simply turn the keyboard on again and then tap “Search for Devices” to try again. If it still doesn’t work, make sure you have fresh batteries and the keyboard isn’t paired to another device. If it is, you will need to unpair it before it will work with your Android device (consult your keyboard manufacturer’s documentation or Google if you don’t know how to do this).

When Android finds your keyboard, select it under “Available Devices” …

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… and you should be prompted to type in a code:

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If successful, you will see that device is now “Connected” and you’re ready to go.

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If you want to test things out, try pressing the “Windows” key (“Apple” or “Command”) + ESC, and you will be whisked to your Home screen.

So, what can you do?

Traditional Mac and Windows users know there’s usually a keyboard shortcut for just about everything (and if there isn’t, there’s all kinds of ways to remap keys to do a variety of commands, tasks, and functions). So where does Android fall in terms of baked-in keyboard commands?

The answer to that is kind of enough, but not too much. There are definitely established combos you can use to get around, but they aren’t clear and there doesn’t appear to be any one authority on what they are. Still, there is enough keyboard functionality in Android to make it a viable option, if only for those times when you need to get something done (long e-mail or important document) and an on-screen keyboard simply won’t do.

It’s important to remember that Android is, and likely always will be, a touch-first interface. That said, it does make some concessions to physical keyboards. In other words, you can get around Android fairly well without having to lift your hands off the keys, but you will still have to tap the screen regularly unless you add a mouse. For example, you can wake your device by tapping a key rather than pressing its power button. However, if your device is slide or pattern-locked, then you’ll have to use the touchscreen to unlock it – a password or PIN however, works seamlessly with a keyboard – other things like widgets and app controls and features, have to be tapped. You get the idea.

Keyboard shortcuts and navigation

As we said, baked-in keyboard shortcut combos aren’t necessarily abundant nor apparent. The one thing you can always do is search. Any time you want to Google something, start typing from the Home screen and the search screen will automatically open and begin displaying results.

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Other than that, here is what we were able to figure out:

  • ESC = go back
  • CTRL + ESC = menu
  • CTRL + ALT + DEL = restart (no questions asked)
  • ALT + SPACE = search page (say “OK Google” to voice search)
  • ALT + TAB (ALT + SHIFT + TAB) = switch tasks

Also, if you have designated volume function keys, those will probably work too. There’s also some dedicated app shortcuts like calculator, Gmail, and a few others:

  • CMD + A = calculator
  • CMD + C = contacts
  • CMD + E = e-mail
  • CMD + G = Gmail
  • CMD + L = Calendar
  • CMD + P = Play Music
  • CMD + Y = YouTube

Overall, it’s not a comprehensive list and there are no dedicated keyboard combos for the full array of Google’s products. Granted, it’s hard to imagine getting a lot of mileage out of a keyboard with Maps, but with something like Keep, you could type out long, detailed lists on your tablet and then view them on your smartphone when you go out shopping.

You can also use the arrow keys to navigate your Home screen shortcuts and open the app drawer. When something on the screen is selected, it will be highlighted in blue. Press “Enter” to open your selection.

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Additionally, if an app has its own set of shortcuts, e.g. Gmail has quite a few unique shortcuts to it, as does Chrome, some – though not many – will work in Android (not YouTube, for instance). Also, many “universal” shortcuts such as Copy (CTRL + C), Cut (CTRL + X), Paste (CTRL + V), and Select All (CTRL + A) work where needed – such as in instant messaging, e-mail, social media apps, etc.

Creating custom application shortcuts

What about custom shortcuts? When we were researching this article, we were under the impression that it was possible to assign keyboard combinations to specific apps, such as you could do on older Android versions such as Gingerbread. This no long seems to be the case, and nowhere in “Settings” could we find a way to assign hotkey combos to any of our favorite, oft-used apps or functions.

If you do want custom keyboard shortcuts, what can you do? Luckily, there’s an app on Google Play that allows you to, among other things, create custom app shortcuts.

It is called External Keyboard Helper (EKH), and while there is a free demo version, the pay version is only a few bucks. We decided to give EKH a whirl and through a little experimentation and finally reading the developer’s how-to, we found we could map custom keyboard combos to just about anything.

To do this, first open the application and you’ll see the main app screen. Don’t worry about choosing a custom layout or anything like that, you want to go straight to the “Advanced settings”:

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In the “Advanced settings” select “Application shortcuts” to continue:

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You can have up to 16 custom application shortcuts. We are going to create a custom shortcut to the Facebook app. We choose “A0”, and from the resulting list, Facebook. You can do this for any number of apps, services, and settings. As you can now see, the Facebook app has now been linked to application-zero (A0):

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Go back to the “Advanced settings” and choose “Customize keyboard mappings”:

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You will be prompted to create a custom keyboard layout, so we chose “Custom 1”:

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When you choose to create a custom layout, you can do a great many more things with your keyboard. For example, many keyboards have predefined function (Fn) keys, which you can map to your tablet’s brightness controls, toggle WiFi on/off, and much more.

A word of advice: the application automatically remaps certain keys when you create a custom layout. This might mess up some existing keyboard combos. If you simply want to add some functionality to your keyboard, you can go ahead and delete EKH’s default changes and start your custom layout from scratch.

To create a new combo, select “Add new key mapping”:

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For our new shortcut, we are going to assign the Facebook app to open when we key in “ALT + F”. To do this, we press the “F” key while in the “Scancode” field and we see it returns a value of “33”. If we wanted to use a different key, we can press “Change” and scan another key’s numerical value.

We now want to assign the “ALT” key to application “A0”, previously designated as the Facebook app. In the “AltGr” field, we enter “A0” and then “Save” our custom combo.

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And now we see our new application shortcut. Now, as long as we’re using our custom layout, every time we press “ALT + F”, the Facebook app will launch:

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External Keyboard Helper extends far beyond simple application shortcuts, and if you are looking for deeper keyboard customization options, you should definitely check it out. Among other things, EKH also supports dozens of languages, and allows you to quickly switch between layouts using a key or combo, add up to 16 custom text shortcuts, and much more!

It can be had on Google Play for $2.53 for the full version, but you can try the demo version for free. More extensive documentation on how to use the app is also available.

Android? Keyboard? Sure, why not?

Unlike traditional desktop operating systems, you don’t need a physical keyboard and mouse to use a mobile operating system. You can buy an iPad or Nexus 10 or Galaxy Note and never need another accessory or peripheral – they work as intended right out of the box. It’s even possible you can write the next great American novel on one these devices, though that might require a lot of practice and patience.

That said, using a keyboard with Android is kind of fun. It’s not revelatory, but it does elevate the experience. You don’t even need to add customizations (though they are nice), because there are enough existing keyboard shortcuts in Android to make it usable. Plus, when it comes to inputting text such as in an editor or terminal application, we fully advocate big, physical keyboards. Bottom line, if you’re looking for a way to enhance your Android tablet, give a keyboard a chance.

Do you use your Android device for productivity? Is a physical keyboard an important part of your setup? Do you have any shortcuts that we missed? Sound off in the comments and let us know what you think.


    






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LG G Flex goes through the horror of a drop test

LG G Flex is one of its kind smartphone that comes with a truly flexible body, screen and even a curved battery. The folks at Android Authority have taken the shinning new device for a ride in their drop test to check out the durability of the smartphone.

LG G Flex has a unique ability to self-heal bruises and minor scratches, but is that and its flexible body enough to survive a crash against the pavement? Well, let’s find out.

As usual, the LG G Flex went down crashing against the pavement three times and you can check out the video below to know how the device performed.

Well, the LG G Flex is yet another smartphone that ended up with a shattered screen, but the good news is the device was still fully functional. The drop test also revealed that the magic back panel is only capable of healing minor scratches and nicks. So, if at all you managed to get hold of one of the G Flex, then make sure that you don’t drop it.

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SkyDrive for iOS gets a massive update with automatic photo upload

The SkyDrive app for iOS has just gotten better. The latest 4.0 version brings automatic camera upload, better Office for Mobile integration and brand new iOS 7-themed looks.

The automatic photo upload works both over Wi-Fi and 3G and you can restrict it to work only via Wi-Fi networks if you don’t have unlimited data on your plan.

SkyDrive gives you 7GB by default, which is more than enough to keep your photos and videos. And if you think those 7GB might not be enough for you, there is an option SkyDrive to automatically resize your photos in order to save space.

SkyDrive for iOS is compatible with iOS 6 or later running iPads, iPhones and iPods. It is a free app and you can have it right now. If your Dropbox storage wasn’t enough for you, and you didn’t get any of the 25GB for 2 years HTC or Samsung promotions, maybe this is what you were looking for.

Until now the automatic SkyDrive upload was exclusive only to Windows Phone devices. Now that it it available on iOS as well, I hope the Android users will get the same treatment soon.

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No, iCloud Isn’t Backing Them All Up: How to Manage Photos on Your iPhone or iPad

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Are the photos you take with your iPhone or iPad backed up in case you lose your device? If you’re just relying on iCloud to manage your important memories, your photos may not be backed up at all.

Apple’s iCloud has a photo-syncing feature in the form of “Photo Stream,” but Photo Stream doesn’t actually perform any long-term backups of your photos.

iCloud’s Photo Backup Limitations

Assuming you’ve set up iCloud on your iPhone or iPad, your device is using a feature called “Photo Stream” to automatically upload the photos you take to your iCloud storage and sync them across your devices. Unfortunately, there are some big limitations here.

  • 1000 Photos: Photo Stream only backs up the latest 1000 photos. Do you have 1500 photos in your Camera Roll folder on your phone? If so, only the latest 1000 photos are stored in your iCloud account online. If you don’t have those photos backed up elsewhere, you’ll lose them when you lose your phone. If you have 1000 photos and take one more, the oldest photo will be removed from your iCloud Photo Stream.
  • 30 Days: Apple also states that photos in your Photo Stream will be automatically deleted after 30 days “to give your devices plenty of time to connect and download them.” Some people report photos aren’t deleted after 30 days, but it’s clear you shouldn’t rely on iCloud for more than 30 days of storage.
  • iCloud Storage Limits: Apple only gives you 5 GB of iCloud storage space for free, and this is shared between backups, documents, and all other iCloud data. This 5 GB can fill up pretty quickly. If your iCloud storage is full and you haven’t purchased any more storage more from Apple, your photos aren’t being backed up.
  • Videos Aren’t Included: Photo Stream doesn’t include videos, so any videos you take aren’t automatically backed up.

It’s clear that iCloud’s Photo Stream isn’t designed as a long-term way to store your photos, just a convenient way to access recent photos on all your devices before you back them up for real.

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iCloud’s Photo Stream is Designed for Desktop Backups

If you have a Mac, you can launch iPhoto and enable the Automatic Import option under Photo Stream in its preferences pane. Assuming your Mac is on and connected to the Internet, iPhoto will automatically download photos from your photo stream and make local backups of them on your hard drive. You’ll then have to back up your photos manually so you don’t lose them if your Mac’s hard drive ever fails.

If you have a Windows PC, you can install the iCloud Control Panel, which will create a Photo Stream folder on your PC. Your photos will be automatically downloaded to this folder and stored in it. You’ll want to back up your photos so you don’t lose them if your PC’s hard drive ever fails.

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Photo Stream is clearly designed to be used along with a desktop application. Photo Stream temporarily backs up your photos to iCloud so iPhoto or iCloud Control Panel can download them to your Mac or PC and make a local backup before they’re deleted. You could also use iTunes to sync your photos from your device to your PC or Mac, but we don’t really recommend it — you should never have to use iTunes.

How to Actually Back Up All Your Photos Online

So Photo Stream is actually pretty inconvenient — or, at least, it’s just a way to temporarily sync photos between your devices without storing them long-term. But what if you actually want to automatically back up your photos online without them being deleted automatically?

The solution here is a third-party app that does this for you, offering the automatic photo uploads with long-term storage. There are several good services with apps in the App Store:

  • Dropbox: Dropbox’s Camera Upload feature allows you to automatically upload the photos — and videos — you take to your Dropbox account. They’ll be easily accessible anywhere there’s a Dropbox app and you can get much more free Dropbox storage than you can iCloud storage. Dropbox will never automatically delete your old photos.
  • Google+: Google+ offers photo and video backups with its Auto Upload feature, too. Photos will be stored in your Google+ Photos — formerly Picasa Web Albums — and will be marked as private by default so no one else can view them. Full-size photos will count against your free 15 GB of Google account storage space, but you can also choose to upload an unlimited amount of photos at a smaller resolution.
  • Flickr: The Flickr app is no longer a mess. Flickr offers an Auto Upload feature for uploading full-size photos you take and free Flickr accounts offer a massive 1 TB of storage for you to store your photos. The massive amount of free storage alone makes Flickr worth a look.

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Use any of these services and you’ll get an online, automatic photo backup solution you can rely on. You’ll get a good chunk of free space, your photos will never be automatically deleted, and you can easily access them from any device. You won’t have to worry about storing local copies of your photos and backing them up manually.


Apple should fix this mess and offer a better solution for long-term photo backup, especially considering the limitations aren’t immediately obvious to users. Until they do, third-party apps are ready to step in and take their place.

You can also automatically back up your photos to the web on Android with Google+’s Auto Upload or Dropbox’s Camera Upload.

Image Credit: Simon Yeo on Flickr


    






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Microsoft sells over one million Xbox One in under 24 hours

The next generation console war has officially begun and by the looks of it, it is off to a great start. After Sony announced last week that they sold over a million PS4 in the first 24 hours of launch, it’s now Microsoft’s turn to brag.

Turns out, the Xbox One also sold over a million units in the first 24 hours of the console going on sale. According to Microsoft, this is the biggest launch in the Xbox history. This is a good show considering the console has had a rough start from the time it was announced because of some of the decisions Microsoft made (most of which were eventually reversed), not to mention the $100 price premium over the PS4 considering it comes bundled with the Kinect sensor.

It remains to be see if the two consoles can maintain their sales momentum from this point onwards. Naturally, the sales in the first couple of months will be dominated by the fans of the consoles, who’d have bought them even if they had launched without any games. But later, it will be your average consumers who will be purchasing them and for them features and a good library of games is what will matter before making a purchase rather than the logo on the box. Both consoles have launched with a rather disappointing collection of launch titles. Hopefully, developers will pick up the slack and release some good games in the coming months that will decide the future of these consoles.

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