How-To Geek

Ask HTG: Trouble Shooting Monitor Bars, Retrieving a File from System Restore, and Finding Duplicate Files


Once a week we round up some of the reader questions we’ve answered and share them with the greater How-To Geek audience. This week we’re looking at trouble shooting a monitor with black bars, how to retrieve a file from a system restore point, and finding duplicate photos.

Why Does My Dual Monitor Setup Have Black Bars On The Sides?


Dear How-To Geek,

I love your blog and I know you can help me! Here’s my problem: I have a dual monitor setup on a Windows 7 64x machine. One monitor is an Acer X233H and the other is an Optiquest A201wb. When they are both hooked up in the dual-monitor configuration with the Acer as the main screen there is a black band around the sides and bottom of the Acer monitor but the Optiquest monitor looks fine. I’ve downloaded new drivers for the video card, new drivers for the monitors, and made sure Windows is up to date. I’ve read over the manuals for the monitors and found nothing that would help me. I’d really like to use all the screen space I paid for! Help!


Asymmetrical Screens in Sacramento

Dear Asymmetrical,

Barring some sort of strange hardware issue, it sounds like your need to make sure that your monitors are set to equal resolution or, at minimum, resolutions with the same aspect ratio. If you set the monitor resolution to a non-native and/or mismatched aspect ratio then you will have black bars on the sides (and sometimes on the top). While you’ll never get a perfect match with two different sized monitors (you’re rocking a 20” and a 23”) if you have matching aspect ratios you’ll at least get full use of the screen real estate.

Pull up the start menu and in the quick launch box type “screen resolution”. Click on “Adjust screen resolution”. From within the screen resolution menu check the resolution settings for both your monitors. If you can set them both to a matching resolution that would be great (i.e. 1920×1080). Barring that you need to make sure they have the same aspect ratio. Thus if you set the Acer at 1920×1080 (a 1.77 aspect ratio), whatever you set the Optiquest to should also have a 1.77 ratio.

How Can I Retrieve a File from a System Restore Point?

Dear How-To Geek,

I need to recover a file that I know is included in a past system restore point in Windows. The problem is that I don’t want to roll back to that restore point (and make a bunch of system changes in the process) just to get to that file. What can I do? Surely there has to be a way to pull a single file out of the restore point?


Recovering in Reno

Dear Recovering,

You’re not the first person to run into this problem and, thankfully, there’s a free tool to help you: System Restore Explorer. The app allows you to mount a system restore point like you’d mount a hard disk. Once mounted you can browse around inside and copy the file you need (all without having to roll back to that previous restore point). Check out our guide to using System Restore Explorer here.

How Can I Find Duplicate Photos On My Hard Drive?


Dear How-To Geek,

I’m really good about backing up my digital photos and keeping multiple copies on my various system drives. The only problem is I think I’ve gotten a little too redundant and made too many local copies. How can I sort through all these pictures and get rid of some of the duplicates? I really don’t need 10 copies of the same file stored on the same computer!


Copy King from Canada

Dear Copy King,

We have two programs you can trot out to help with your bounty of files. The first one works with any duplicate files, not just photos. Duplicate File Finder is a robust Windows-based file finder that scans the directories/drives you specify, compares files, and even has a file preview so you can double check file contents before deleting.

SimilarImages is a duplicate file finder focused on photos. Instead of giving you a massive file list (like Duplicate File Finder), SimilarImages displays the dupes side by side so you can make sure you’re deleting the right one. It’s slower to run (although it maintains an internal database so it won’t take as long to run the second time you use it) and slower to use (you’re comparing the photos in more detail than you would a simple file list) but if you’re nervous about deleting your photos it’s a more thorough way with less chance of user error. 

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Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 12/26/11

Comments (8)

  1. HappyNewYears

    @ Asymmetrical Screens in Sacramento

    Ignore HTG’s lazy, stupid man’s advice to you. From what you’ve described I am 99.9% sure you are using a combination of 1 DVI and 1 HDMI ports for your dual monitor setup. I’d also bet money that the monitor on the HDMI port is the one with banding.

    If I am right, don’t worry – it is a VERY common problem and has a solution. It is due to GPU scaling (specifically ATI Catalyst). You can just Google “monitor HDMI black sides” if you want a second opinion.I ripped the following from the Dell Forums but there are lots of anecdoes/solutions on NewEgg and Amazon too. (It presumes you download/install Catalyst Control Center which I assume comes on the CD with your video card)

    The Ati Catalyst scaling default is set to around 7.5 under scan which causes wide screen displays to show thick black borders around all 4 sides of the display.
    * Right click on the Desktop
    * Open Catalyst Control Center
    * Switch to Advanced mode
    * Click the Dropdown Menu Graphics in the top Right
    * Select Desktops and Displays
    * Right click on Currently Active Display. This part is very crucial. There is a little picture of a tiny Monitor and tiny Arrow at the far bottom left of the CCC menu. It is this tiny Arrow that you left click on by the button that says Basic and the button that says OK. When you click on the little black arrow (not the Big Black Arrow in the middle of the CCC window, you will get the option to click Configure. Then the following 6 buttons will be available to you:
    Avivo Color
    Scaling Options
    HDTV Support
    LCD Overdrive
    Pixel Format
    * Under Attributes, check the Enable GPU scaling box and the Scale image to full panel size
    * Click Apply
    * Select Configure
    * Click on the Scaling Options tab
    * Move the scale to the right until you get a full screen image 0%
    * Click OK

    Does this fix your problem?

    @ HTG

    Shame on you. You are usually so conscientious with your advice, but ‘monitor aspect ratios’ ? Really? What a lazy diagnosis. Banding on all 4 sides – not just 2 sides should have been a HUGE tip off.

  2. Urichhai

    Wow what a jerk. And you know that he has an ATI card and is using DVI/HDMI ports from what info he has given. You must be frackin psychic. They gave a basic generalized answer to a problem that really didnt have much info. Anyway hope one of your solutions works for OP.

  3. HappyNewYears

    @ Urichhai

    blah blah blah. I was perfectly correct in my assessment of the article’s feeble advice. HTG is supposed to be an expert blog. Instead it gave dime-store advice to a well known problem. Demonstration of only the most cursory investment in thought and research.

    No I am not ‘frakkin’ psychic. (If you’re going to use an obscure idiom at least get it right). 99.9% of reported problems identical to this are because of the cause I listed. If you bothered to investigate the matter before you opened your mouth, you would know this. Even if it turns out the problem is the 0.1% something else, I am still correct in the probability for the cause.

    Do you think the OP really wanted a generalized shot-in-the-dark answer to a question that ended in “Help!”?

    If I could figure out a better, more probable solution out with the same skimpy clues and 10 seconds of Google-fu, then shame on HTG for not being able to do the same. I do not expect them to know everything, but their lame answer was barely half-assed – like going to a doctor saying “I have trouble breathing” and the doctor saying “i’m not going to ask you any questions. Instead, i’ll just guess you have a cold and tell you to try eating chicken soup.” Lame.

  4. minnetonka

    HTG spends time trying to help people with problems and welcomes readers’ comments and additional helpful tips. Then comes what may be useful information, but due to poor or non-existent upbringing, HappyNewYears begins the post with, “Ignore HTG’s lazy, stupid man’s advice…” There is never a good reason to put others down to build your own credibility/ego. I shouldn’t even respond with a post that puts attention to such rudeness, but HTG doesn’t deserve to be flamed for any level of help and goes out of his way to not be condescending to his readers.

  5. squirrle

    Well if you’re such an expert why don’t u start your own advice blog and leave us alone. Instead of attacking HTG you could have just offered your advice you self righteous prick!

  6. Ringo2312

    Haven’t you guys/gals worked it out yet? These questions are hypothetical generalisations of real problems, faced by real people!

    There is no original poster. The people at HTG are offering advice to anyone that is in a similar situation, not definitive answers to a particular problem!

  7. Urichhai

    I know that its just that some self righteous jackass spouted off and now is even trying to show that he is smarter than everyone else. HappyNewYears is the kind of a-hole that makes me just nuts. His rant was unprofessional and seems kind of childish. We all know how to google a problem I just responded to him because of his I am god and you are stoopid remark. I have been a subscriber to HTG for a long time and find a lot of usefull info here. Also I would never be so rude as to belittle the Blog people. Sorry but he is just wrong and as I said A Self Righteous ASS. Have a great year HTG and keep up the great work.

  8. Mike J

    Not only is HappyNewYears unnecessarily rude, but also incorrect! If he had taken just a little time to read the reader’s letter he would have noticed that the computer screen illustration was a simulation of the problem, not an image of the reader’s actual setup. The illustration shows two identical monitors, not the two different monitors mentioned in the letter. Also the illustration shows banding on all 4 sides, but the reader clearly states that his problem is with banding on 3 sides only! So it’s “shame on HappyNewYears” for jumping in with a solution to a different problem from the one submitted.
    I’m not saying that his advice is totally worthless, just that it’s as lazy as he describes HTG’s solution.

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