CNET Do-It-Yourself Laptop Projects: 24 Cool Things You Didn't Know You Could Do! Review

CNET Do-It-Yourself Laptop Projects: 24 Cool Things You Didn't Know You Could Do
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I like the subtitle: 24 cool things you didn't know you could do! This book is a useful checklist of things you can do, and not just with laptops.

The first project suggests the audience: "Make a Killer Car Stereo." In other words, teens and twenty-somethings. It starts with Easy projects--fun stuff like "Make Free Phone Calls" (use Skype). Then it takes up Challenging and Advanced projects that are mostly not-fun but practical (and not so challenging), like "Protect Your Laptop from a Data Disaster" (back it up) and "Make Your Laptop Safe for Surfing" (use anti-virus and other security software). This is either padding or useful beginner's stuff, depending on how you look at it.

I bought the book for Project 7: "Transfer an LP or Cassette Tape to CD." I liked the approach: download a crippleware application, hook up the laptop to your amp, play and record, test, then decide if you want to upgrade the software to the full version. It's a good way to find out if you really want to do this stuff. (And, by the way, it's Chaka Khan, not Chaka Kahn.)

There was one problem in Project 7, though, and it foreshadowed perils to come. The note on p. 55 reads: "If you have a standalone turntable, you can't just connect it directly to the laptop. . . . Your record player is probably already hooked up to a stereo receiver or amplifier, so just connect the laptop to the receiver's RCA output jacks. Alternatively, you can get an inexpensive preamp that will do the job."

There's a better way to put this: "Almost all modern amplifier/receivers have no phono inputs at all, i.e. no built-in phono preamp. So if you're going to rip your old LPs using your old turntable, use your old amplifier/receiver, or buy a $25 preamp from Radio Shack." And this should have been on the first (project) page, so you don't gallop past it. For most interested parties, it's a constraint, not a casual comment.

The perilous projects come at the end: "Upgrade Your Operating System," "Upgrade Your Memory," "Upgrade Your Hard Drive," "Upgrade Your Processor." Yeah, you can do it. I've done some. I'm interested in doing others. But this is NOT the place to find out how.

I'm certainly interested in upgrading my hard drive, and this book tells me how to take my laptop apart sufficiently to view, remove, and replace the part. It tells me to have my Windows operating system reinstallation disks handy and to do a full backup of all my data. And it reassures me: "Once you've installed the new hard drive, you'll still be able to access your old drive using an external USB enclosure."

Frankly, I'm not greatly confident that eight pages of instructions and nine steps are going to tell me everything I need to know to expand my mission-critical laptop, especially when Step 8: "Bring Back Those Apps" tells me to "grab all those old installation CDs and reinstall all of your applications." I have good reason to expect that I will run into innumerable licensing and configuration problems, lose the old applications that I can't replace or can't afford to update, and be forced to spend loads of money for new copies of essentials.

In sum, it's a Hansel-and-Gretel story: go out for a romp in the woods, wander deep into the forest, and find a pretty gingerbread house.

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Product Description:

Trick out your laptopTake your laptop to the limit with the fun and practical projects packed inside this easy-to-use guide. Produced in conjunction with, the place you go for the latest in tech and consumer electronics, this book shows you how to do all sorts of resourceful things with your laptop, like use it as a car stereo, broadcast a podcast, navigate a road trip, and more. Inside, you'll find 24 self-contained projects, step-by-step instructions, a list of tools needed at the beginning of each project, and hundreds of clear photos and screenshots. With CNET Do-It-Yourself Laptop Projects, you'll discover that you can get more out of your laptop than ever before.


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