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Ask How-To Geek: Data Latency and Gaming, Laptop Screens as Second Monitors, and IDing Your Computer’s Components

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You’ve got questions and we’ve got answers. This week we take a look at data latency while playing computer games, how to use your laptop screen as a secondary monitor, and how to easily list and ID the components in your Windows machine.

Understanding Data Latency and Gaming

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Dear How-To Geek,

My daughter loves a game called Runescape (which I use to blackmail her into getting her homework done).  She plays this game on a dial-up account because she says the Wildblue satellite internet account has a big lag to it.   I have sort of verified this by watching when she clicks on the screen and watched her Runescape character move when she connects on dial-up and Wildblue.  Wildblue is definitely slower.  Yet, when we download on dial-up, dial-up is insanely slower.

This doesn’t make sense to me.  How can satellite internet be so much faster downloading than dial-up, but yet be so much slower when playing a game on it?

Sincerely,

Watching Lag in Wisconsin

Dear Watching,

What’s going on is this: there’s a big difference between total bandwidth (the amount of data you can download at a time), and latency (how fast each back and forth happens). Satellite internet is notorious for very long latency, but obviously can transfer a lot of data (like all your TV channels).

Imagine it like this: if you lived in a big city, you can hire a bike-messenger courier (low latency) to very quickly deliver letters and small packages from one place to another. Alternatively, you could hire a big truck (high bandwidth) to carry larger loads—but it would take a lot longer to load up the truck and make your way through traffic. That’s the difference between latency and total bandwidth.

Since online gaming requires a lot of quick back and forth, but not necessarily a lot of data, it’s best to have low-latency connections in order to keep the responses between the game server and your computer snappy.

Using Your Laptop Screen as a Second Monitor

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Dear HowToGeek,

I have heard that you can use a laptop as a second monitor for your desktop. Do you need another graphics card in the desktop or a special cord?

Sincerely,

Duel Screen

Dear Dual Screen,

You don’t need another graphics card or special cable—nor would you likely be able to find a cable as very few laptops have any sort of video-in capability—your best bet is to turn to a software solution. MaxiVista is a popular, but unfortunately not free, solution for Windows. It will set you back $40 but does come with a trial period. The application extends your desktop, over your network, to the screen of another computer (laptop or desktop). A less popular, but free, Windows solution is ZoneScreen. ScreenRecycle ($30) is an option for Mac and Windows users. To extend screens between Macs and between Mac and iOS devices such as the iPhone and iPad, check out Air Display ($20 and $10, respectively).

Identifying Windows Hardware Components

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Dear How-To Geek,

Is there an easy way to see all the hardware components in my Windows desktop computer?

Sincerely,

Curiosity Killed the Cat

Dear Curiosity,

There are two simple ways you can check out the hardware in your machine without having to crack open the case. If you’re running Windows Vista or Windows 7 you can open the start menu and type “System Information” in the run box. If you want a more detailed view you can also download the freeware version of System Information for Windows (SIW)—scroll down to the bottom of the page to get to the free version. SIW will give you as intimate picture of your computer as you can get without pulling it apart and checking every serial number of every component.


Have a question you want to put before the How-To Geek staff? Shoot us an email at ask@howtogeek.com and then keep an eye out for a solution in the Ask How-To Geek column.

Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 04/11/11

Comments (12)

  1. durr

    Magnets, how do they work?

  2. Hatryst

    “Identifying Windows Hardware Components”
    How about using Belarc? ;)

  3. TerryRay

    Jason, I thought you gave a great explanation of the difference between latency and bandwidth.

  4. Swinada

    For system information if you run XP and MS office. open Word -> Help -> About MS Word, on the new window that pops up click on system information. This will get you mostly any info you want for your system.
    This works in all versons of office one way or another. office 2007 click the ofice button choose Word options, recourses, About MS Office.

  5. Kellan

    Piriform’s Speccy is another great tool for identifying hardware components, from the makers of CCleaner.

  6. GeoManiac

    I agree with Kellan – Speccy is great

  7. Mastermind

    *ahum* A program called ‘Synergy’ is free, and works over multi-OS.

  8. Snert

    Belarc Advisor will tell you more than you want to know about your machine.

    Magnets are majik.

  9. gilteon

    @Mastermind I use Synergy all the time, but it’s not what “Duel Screen” was asking for. Synergy lets you use one keyboard and mouse with two (or more) computers, not use the laptop screen as a monitor for another computer.

  10. ProstheticHead

    Another way to identify hardware components, build your own. Nuff said.

  11. James Woollen

    I’m surprised noone mentions Windows’ built-in “dxdiag.” Just open a command line, (the easiest way is Windows Key + R,) and enter “dxdiag” without the quotes, of course.

    James

    Any landing you can walk away from is a good one as long as you have the money to fix the plane.

  12. Peorth

    and i’m surprised no one mentioned running systeminfo32
    it’s just a less pretty version of searching for system information but works just as fine

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