57 amazing things you didn't know your tech could do!

We've worked long and hard to come up with the best tips and tricks for your PCs, smartphones, cameras, game controllers, music players, and the Web

Do you often wish that the tech you own or use had superpowers, or that you could transform ordinary gear into something really great--possibly for free? With our amazing instructions, you can!

In this package of six articles, we have 57 tips on getting the most out of your hardware and the Web. Many of the useful features we describe are undocumented; others you can enable with an extra tweak.

We'll show you how to transform your netbook into an e-book reader, how to use body warmth to squeeze out one more message from a dead cell phone battery, sling files from PC to PC with Bluetooth, and all sorts of ways to improve your use of Gmail, Google Maps, Google Search, and much more!

This story centers on five tricks that will enhance your use of your desktop or laptop, with two networking tips thrown in for good measure. Check out the other articles in the series:

TiVo, Wii and Xbox 360 controllers: 8 clever tricks

3 entertaining tips for iTunes, iPods, and other digital music players

Gmail, Google Maps and Google Search: 19 cool tips

Smartphones: 14 great things iPhones and BlackBerrys can do

6 crazy tricks for digital cameras and photos

Use Old Internal Hard Drives for Free Storage

Have an unused internal hard drive sitting around? Maybe you upgraded a laptop hard drive to a bigger capacity, or you pulled an internal drive from a desktop PC before selling it. You can put either kind back to work as extra, free storage.

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Inside a desktop PC: 2.5-inch laptop and 3.5-inch PC SATA drives use identical connections, which means that a recent laptop hard drive can work instantly.

If you want to install a laptop drive in a PC, remember that it won't fit correctly in the regular screw mounts. If you're attaching it permanently, position it so that the airflow is unimpeded--stick it against the inside of the case or in a free drive bay. Secure the drive with zip-ties or removable double-sided tape. Of course, you won't have such trouble with a 3.5-inch SATA drive, which will fit.

Then, connect either drive to a free SATA port on the motherboard (you'll likely need a SATA cable) and connect to a plug leading from the power supply. You can add a power adapter if the only free plugs are older and too big to fit the SATA power port. If you have no free power cables, add a Y-splitter to branch off from an existing, used cable. All of these parts are available for a few dollars.

An older ATA drive also will work in your desktop. Unlike with the plug-and-play SATA interface, with ATA you might have to adjust a jumper pin on both the extra and current drives; check your PC's instructions or browse online for help. A 2.5-inch ATA laptop drive needs a US$10 physical adapter to attach to a 3.5-inch drive's cable.

Connect the drive to a free power and data cable. If all the ATA interfaces are filled, consider connecting it in place of your floppy drive if that's an option.

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Outside any PC: To transfer files in a pinch or use an old drive as temporary external storage, use a universal USB drive adapter cable such as one from NewerTech. This type of cable works with ATA and SATA desktop and laptop hard drives, and it's also great for swapping files during a computer upgrade (or meltdown). Another quick and simple alternative is to use a universal docking station like the $60 NewerTech Voyager S2. If you know how to use a toaster, you'll know how to use the Voyager S2.

If you want to use the old drive on a regular basis but you've run out of ports inside your PC, you could add more ports with an upgrade card. But installing the old drive in an external case is an easier option--and as a bonus, you'll then be able to tote the drive between PCs to ferry large files or to add storage to a laptop.

Match the physical size of the drive with the case's specifications, and match the interface too (ATA or SATA). Double-check, as well, that the case will match your drive size in gigabytes; an old case might not recognize all of the available storage in a newer drive. Just as in the desktop installation described above, a SATA drive should work automatically, while you might have to adjust the jumper pin on an ATA drive. The drive case instructions should show you how.

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