DDR3 vs DDR4 vs DDR5 RAM: Which Is The Best?

Most people don’t spend a lot of time thinking about RAM . It’s not as sexy as the CPU or GPU after all. For the most part, all anyone cares about is that there’s enough of it for their needs. However, the truth is that there’s much more to RAM than pure capacity.

Improvements in memory technology are a key part of why computer performance is so good. The fastest CPU in the world can only work at a snail’s pace if it’s being fed data by slow, obsolete RAM. At the time of writing, there are three types of RAM to contend with when building or buying a computer. 

There’s DDR3, which is well over a decade old but still present in plenty of computers in use today. Then there’s DDR4, which is the current standard for new computers. DDR5 isn’t yet to be found in a computer you can buy, but the standard was officially released in mid-2020.

Which means it won’t be long until actual DDR5 hardware starts to ship. So, what’s the difference between these generations of RAM and which one is best for you to choose today?

What Is DDR?

Before we dive into the generational differences between the different DDRs, it’s worth explaining what “DDR” is in the first place. It’s not Dance Dance Revolution, in case that’s where your mind immediately went. Not that we’d know anything about that!

No, DDR is short for Double Data Rate and refers to the special method that this memory technology uses to perform an operation at both the peak and the trough of its clock cycle. In other words, a DDR memory chip running at 100Mhz does the same number of operations as an SDR (Single Data Rate) chip running at 200Mhz.

This is why the DDR memory speeds are written at twice the actual clock speed of the module. For example, DDR3 1600 RAM actually runs at 800Mhz.

Bandwidth Differences

One of the key differences between the different generations of DDR is the amount of bandwidth they offer. Each successive generation has offered a significant jump in data transfer rates. Of course, you can buy high-end DDR3 that comes close to the lower end of DDR4 and the same will likely be true for DDR5. 

There’s bound to be some performance overlap at the edges of the product spectrum. However, unless you’re aiming to build a system for the lowest price, each new generation should be significantly faster than the last.

How much of a difference does increased bandwidth make? 

In general it’s better to have a higher amount of slower RAM than a smaller amount of fast RAM. However, in the age of NVME SSDs and CPUs with many cores , it’s becoming more important than ever.

Within the DDR generation that a given CPU supports, bandwidth differences are less important, but what does matter is making use of multi-channel memory. In other words, if your motherboard supports dual (or more) channel memory, make sure you have the right number of modules in the right slots to enable it.

Power Consumption

With every new generation of RAM, performance goes up and power consumption goes down. This is especially beneficial when considering mobile computers, but less power consumption with better performance is never a bad thing in any context. 

While RAM isn’t the most power-hungry component by far, combined with power savings in other components it all adds up to a big drop in energy needs for modern systems. 

The bottom line is that a DDR3 system is likely to be harder on your battery or electricity bill, because components designed to work with that generation of DDR will consume more power by virtue of their era.

Prefetch Buffer Sizes

The prefetch buffer is an area of RAM where data is loaded before being handed over to the CPU. The original DDR standard could fetch one unit of data, but DDR could do twice as much at a time. DDR3 and DDR4 can do an impressive eight units at once and DDR5 can go up to 16, depending on the specific model. 

The bigger the prefetch buffer is, the more efficient the RAM is. This is because there’s a larger chance that the buffer contains the data that the CPU needs next if it’s bigger. 

DDR3, DDR4 and some DDR5 modules all have a buffer size of eight units. So there’s nothing to separate them in terms of efficiency. DDR5 memory with a 16-unit buffer size represents a huge leap on paper, but it’s still not clear if it’s a noteworthy upgrade in real-world computing for most users.

Physical Differences

By deliberate design, different generations of DDR have different hardware form factors. They all come in the form of a DIMM (Dual Inline Memory Module), but the notches on the connector edge are in a different place.

This makes it impossible to slot memory into the wrong slot. That would be especially problematic since older DDR standards use so much more voltage than the newer technologies. Poof!

What’s LPDDR?

There’s a type of DDR you’ll find in ultrabooks and other devices that need to run for long periods of time from battery power. 

Low Power DDR (LPDDR) was initially a modified version of DDR1, but since then has diverged more and more as a ground-up type of mobile DDR. So don’t think of LPDDR 3,4 and 5 as mobile versions of their desktop namesakes. Instead, they are aggressively power-efficient memory technologies with a significant amount of their own unique DNA.

Latency Issues

You may have heard that DDR 4 has more latency than DDR3. That is, it takes DDR4 longer to respond to requests to read and write from and to its memory cells. This is true on paper, but makes no perceptible difference in real life. DDR4 is so much faster in other respects that it still outperforms its predecessor overall. DDR 5 may improve on the latency issue, but even if it doesn’t, it will also outperform DDR 4 as a whole.

Which DDR Is Best?

This question isn’t all that straightforward to answer, because it depends on your starting position:

  • If you’re buying or building a new computer as of this article’s publication, then DDR4 is the way to go.
  • If you have a computer running DDR3, then only consider upgrading if you reach the limits of your CPU and GPU. DDR4 by itself is not a good enough reason to move on to a new system.
  • DDR5 will remain expensive and poorly-supported for some time, so it’s worth waiting for mainstream motherboards and processors that support it before jumping ship.

Then there’s the issue of memory bandwidth versus capacity. For most users it’s better to have more slower RAM than less faster RAM, as mentioned before. That being said, you should get the fastest memory you can afford for the capacity you need. Putting too much RAM in a system that doesn’t need it will do nothing for performance. 

That extra RAM will therefore go unused and be a waste of money. For example, most gaming systems will do with 16GB of RAM, so putting in 32GB will offer diminishing returns. The best strategy is to determine what total amount of RAM is best for your needs and then get the fastest version of that RAM size you can afford.

How to Undervolt a CPU on Windows 10

As magical as our computers may be, they don’t run on unicorn kisses and fairy dust. In the end, there’s good old electricity running through your PC’s electronic veins. Just like any electronic device, the components inside your computer run at specific voltages. That is, the amount of pressure pushing electrons through the circuits inside your computer. 

Your CPU is designed to run at a specific voltage, but you can adjust that number to be higher (overvolting) or lower (undervolting). It’s the latter (undervolting a CPU) we want to discuss in this article, and we’ll start with the most important question first.

Why Undervolt a CPU?

Electronics are not 100% efficient. Which means that some of that electrical energy running through your CPU is turned into heat. That’s why your CPU needs a heatsink and fan assembly so it doesn’t overheat. Reducing the voltage of a CPU also reduces the amount of electrons flowing through the system. This translates to less heat. 

The first benefit of this is that a cooler CPU will have a longer lifespan. Also, reducing the CPU voltage also means the CPU will use less power. So for devices that run from a battery, undervolting can be a way to extend battery life. 

Undervolting can also be a way to achieve higher clock speeds in some cases, where high temperatures are limiting overclocking efforts. However, it’s usually overvolting that allows for stable overclocking , so undervolting a CPU is not the go-to method for performance junkies.

Why Does Undervolting Work?

You might wonder why manufacturers set their CPUs to a certain voltage when they’ll work at a lower one. After all, if undervolting is so great, why not ship the CPUs at the lower voltage? The answer to this is that CPUs are each a little different. 

Two identical CPUs can have different outcomes at those low voltages. The approved voltage is one that’s guaranteed to work with the largest percentage of processors. In some cases a given individual CPU will really only work with the official voltage, but for the most part you’ll find that you can bring it down at least a little without any negative effects.

Is Undervolting Dangerous?

The answer to the question of whether undervolting is dangerous depends largely on what you consider to be dangerous or what sort of risks you are comfortable with. Reducing the voltage of a CPU won’t hurt the CPU or any other components. However, it can create system instability, which can in turn lead to data loss. When undervolting it’s important to test and validate your lower voltage setting before doing anything remotely important with your computer.

Apart from potential data loss, another real danger when it comes to undervolting is that you accidentally overvolt your CPU. Too much voltage is a fast and effective way to permanently fry a CPU, so make 100% sure that you’re turning the voltage dial in the right direction!

Undervolting Through the BIOS

The purest way in which to undervolt your CPU is the BIOS. That’s the firmware that makes your computer run before the operating system even kicks in. Each motherboard has slightly different BIOS menus, names and steps. So you’ll have to refer to your motherboard manual to know exactly where to go in order to change the CPU voltage in the BIOS. 

While this is a legitimate way to undervolt a CPU, using the BIOS can be incredibly tedious. Since after every adjustment you’ll need to boot into Windows, run a test and then adjust again. This lengthy process of validation is why most people use a software utility to mess with their voltages.

Be aware that if you don’t have a performance-oriented BIOS, it’s possible that there are no CPU voltage controls for you to tweak.

Undervolting a CPU With a Software Utility

There are two popular utilities that avid undervolters use to wean their CPUs off the juice. If you’re using an Intel CPU, then the Intel Extreme Tuning Utility (XTU) is a good choice. No one knows Intel’s CPUs better than Intel, after all.

Sadly, the program isn’t the most user-friendly in the world and it has a heap of settings and sections that can be confusing if you aren’t familiar with all the CPU jargon. Luckily for undervolting we only have to care about a small number of settings. In XTU these are all under the “core” section of the app. What matters is “core offset voltage”.

Modern CPUs, especially those in laptops, don’t use a static voltage. Instead, the voltage is adjusted as per the amount of load in the CPU. This is one of the reasons undervolting doesn’t get quite the results it used to, since the CPU is actually undervolting itself when idle. By adjusting the voltage offset, we change the minimum and maximum voltage range the CPU will use.

NOTE: If you see that Core Offset Voltage is greyed out, this is possibly due to a security patch that some OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) have implemented. This mainly affects laptops, but can also be true of certain prebuilt desktop systems.

This is thanks to a hacking exploit known as Plundervolt . The only way to get the function back would be to flash an older unpatched version of the BIOS, if available. We don’t recommend you do this unless you know exactly what you’re doing.

So, what about AMD users? We didn’t have an AMD machine to test, but the principle remains the same. The main issue is that XTU doesn’t work with AMD CPUs. The good news is that AMD have their own utility known as Precision Boost Overdrive .

The latest version of the software offers an adaptive undervolting feature which can have a significant effect on performance, heat and battery life. So if you’re using a recent AMD CPU definitely look into it.

Testing Your Undervolted Settings

With every new voltage setting you need to make sure everything is still working as intended. It’s inevitable that you’ll get a crash or system freeze at some point, which is usually an indication that you have to back off a notch or two. But even if everything seems fine, you’ll have to do a thorough job of validating your settings. Here’s the sequence of steps we recommend when undervolting a CPU:

  1. Before changing anything, run your CPU benchmark of choice and write down the score. Make a note of the peak temperature of your CPU. CPU-Z is a great program for that purpose.
  2. Reduce the voltage offset by 5mv. If you’re feeling brave you can get a headstart with a 50mv reduction, from there 5-10mv is the most sensible increment.
  3. After the reduction, run a stress test such as Prime95 or the built in stress test in XTU.
  4. Assuming the stress test passes, run your benchmark again. Performance should be the same or better.
  5. Repeat the process.

If your CPU becomes unstable or your performance starts to get worse compared to the previous benchmark, dial your voltage back to the last successful attempt and use that as your go-to setting.

Undervolting is Cool, Literally

Overclockers and other CPU mavericks have done a lot for the entire computing industry. Today CPUs are very good at overclocking themselves and the same is becoming true of undervolting.

Within a few years there won’t be much to gain from manually undervolting a CPU, thanks to sophisticated self-tweaking in new CPUs. However, it’s still worth doing on current and past computers. The best thing about it is that there’s very little risk. So why not give it a go?

How to Disable Touch Screen in Windows 10

Laptops with touch screen capabilities such as Microsoft Surface and other devices are pretty common these days. However, not everybody finds the touch feature necessary or useful for their day-to-day tasks.

On a Windows device, the touch screen function is usually enabled out of the box so that you can use your finger to navigate the laptop’s operating system.

If the screen is cracked , you find the feature too distracting, or you just don’t use the touch-enabled display on your laptop, you can easily turn it off and continue with your work.

In this guide, we’ll show you how to disable the touch screen in Windows 10.

How to Turn Off the Touch Screen (Windows 10)

While the touch screen function is quite useful for users with tablets like the Surface Pro , it may not always work as advertised. On certain occasions, you may want to turn it off to boost your laptop’s battery life when you’re on the go or troubleshoot something.

Whatever your reason, you can disable the touch screen with a few steps using Device Manager, Command Prompt, Windows PowerShell in Windows 10 or by editing the Windows registry.

Use Device Manager to Turn Off the Touch Screen (Windows 10) 

Windows Device Manager is a centralized utility in Windows 10 that offers an organized view of all the hardware installed in your PC . As an extension of the Microsoft Management Console, Device Manager manages devices like sound cards, hard disk drives, USB devices , keyboards and more.

You can use Device Manager to manage, update and roll back drivers , change hardware configuration options, identify hardware device conflicts, and enable or disable hardware.

Device Manager isn’t listed among your regular programs, but you can access it in different ways so as to disable your laptop’s touch screen.

  1. To get started, right-click Start and select Device Manager or type Device Manager in the search box and select it from the search results.

Note: Depending on your version of Windows, you can open Device Manager using the Control Panel. To do this, select the Control Panel from the apps screen or Start menu and then select Hardware and Sound.

Under Devices and Printers, select Device Manager to open it.

  1. Select the Human Interface Devices section to expand it.
  1. Next, select the HID-compliant touchscreen.
  1. Select Action tab and then select Disable device. A popup will appear notifying you that disabling the touch screen will hinder it from working. Confirm the action to disable the touch screen. 

The touch screen is now disabled and you can tap on the display to test it out. 

To re-enable touch screen, go back to the Device Manager and right-click on the HID-compliant touch screen option. Select the Enable device option and confirm your choice.

Note: In the event that touch screen isn’t working after enabling it, restart your laptop and see if it works again.

How to Disable the Touch Screen Using Command Prompt

You can also disable the touch screen in Windows 10 using Command Prompt.

Command Prompt , sometimes referred to as CMD prompt, cmd.exe or command shell is a command line interpreter in Windows 10 that executes any commands you key into it. The commands use scripts and batch files to automate tasks , troubleshoot or solve certain Windows issues, and perform advanced administrative tasks.

If your mouse isn’t working or your laptop isn’t working properly, you can use Command Prompt to disable the touch screen in a Windows 10 PC.

  1. To do this, enter CMD in the search box and select Run as administrator in the Command Prompt search results.
  1. Enter the command: devmgmt.msc and press Enter.

The Device Manager screen will open, and you can disable the touch screen using the same steps in the Device Manager method.

Use Windows PowerShell to Disable the Touch Screen 

Windows PowerShell is a cross-platform command-line shell and scripting language introduced in Windows 8, which offers a simple way to automate tasks and access system and management tools.

  1. To turn off the touch screen using Windows PowerShell, right-click Start and select Windows PowerShell (Admin). Alternatively, you can use the WIN+X keyboard shortcut to quickly open PowerShell if your mouse isn’t working.
  1. Next, enter the command: Get-PnpDevice | Where-Object {$_.FriendlyName -like ‘*touch screen*’} | Disable-PnpDevice -Confirm:$false

The touch screen will be disabled and you can test it out to confirm.

Turn Off the Touch Screen Using Windows Registry

Another way to turn off the touchscreen on your PC is via the Windows Registry using these steps.

A Word of Caution About Editing the Windows Registry: If you’ve never edited the Windows Registry before, find an expert to do it for you because one wrong entry can render your computer unusable or unbootable. If you’re comfortable with this method, backup the registry first and then follow these steps: 

  1. Select Start > Run and enter regedit in the Run dialog box.
  1. Go to the registry key: Computer\HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Wisp\Touch

Image: 14-how-to-disable-touch-screen-in-windows-10-registry-key

  1. Right-click to create a new DWORD 32-bit entry in the right-hand pane and label it TouchGate.
  1. Double-click on the new DWORD you’ve created and then change the entry value to 0 and then restart your PC.

To enable touch screen, go back to the registry key, and change the TouchGate value to 1, or delete the TouchGate entry altogether.

Turn Touch Off in a Few Quick Steps

We hope this guide helped you disable the touch screen on your Windows 10 device. Check out other Windows 10 unnecessary services you can disable safely , and our guides on how to turn off indexing to save CPU and RAM resources or how to disable Cortana to protect your privacy and personal data. 

How to Repair an Outlook PST File That’s Damaged or Corrupt

Issues with Microsoft Outlook’s Personal Folders File format—commonly referred to as PST—have been a huge problem for years. Microsoft knows that, which is why Outlook comes with a built-in tool called Inbox Repair to help you fix corrupted PST files.

In most cases, simply running a damaged PST file through the Inbox Repair tool should be enough to patch it up. But sometimes, you must take extra action to recover lost items.

How Outlook PST File Repair Works

Outlook’s Inbox Repair tool is buried deep within the Microsoft Office installation folder on your computer, so you need to do a bit of digging to get to it. Once you’ve located and launched Inbox Repair, all you need to do is select the damaged PST file to repair it. 

Important: Inbox Repair provides an option to create a backup of the damaged PST file. Make sure to select it since you may need a copy to retrieve missing data later on.

1. Completely exit Microsoft Outlook.

2. Open File Explorer. Depending on the version of Windows that you use, navigate through the following folders:

  • Windows 64-bit: Local Disk (C:) > Program Files > Microsoft Office > root > Office16
  • Windows 32-bit: Local Disk (C:) > Program Files (x86)> Microsoft Office > root > Office16

Note: The folder paths above apply to Outlook 2016, Outlook 2019, and Outlook 365. If you use an older version of Outlook, you must select the Office15 (Outlook 2013), Office14 (Outlook 2010), or Office12 (Outlook 2007) folder instead.

3. Locate the file labeled SCANPST and run it as an administrator.

4. Use the Browse button to select the Outlook PST file that you want to repair.

If you don’t know the location of the PST file, press Windows+S to open Windows Search. Then, search for it by name and include the .PST file extension. You will see the file location within the search results.

Alternatively, open Outlook and go to File > Account Settings > Data Files to view the PST file’s location. Make sure to close the application after that.

5. Select Start. The Inbox Repair tool will check the PST file for issues. That should take some time.

6. Check the radio button next to Make backup of scanned file before repairing and select Repair.

7. Select OK to finish repairing the PST file.

Open Microsoft Outlook and it should automatically start using the PST file without issues. You will find a copy of the corrupted PST file (with the .BAK extension) in the same location as the repaired original.

Recover Lost and Found Files

Sometimes, Microsoft Outlook’s Inbox Repair tool may end up repairing a severely damaged PST file. Suppose the tool fails to place any repaired items in their original folders or locations. In that case, it will lump them into a Lost and Found folder or a set of folders under the Recovered Personal Folders label. 

You can recover these items by creating a new PST data file in Outlook and moving the contents from Lost and Found or Recovered Personal Folders into it.

1. Open the Home tab in Outlook. Then, open the menu next to New Email, point to More Items, and select Outlook Data File

2. Pick the Outlook Data File option and select OK.

3. Specify a location on your computer, enter a name for the new PST file, and select OK.

4. Select the More icon (three dots) to the Outlook window’s lower-left corner and select Folders to switch the Outlook sidebar to Folder List view.

5. Drag the contents within Lost and Found or Recovered Personal Folders into the new data file.

Once you’ve done that, you can choose to remove the Lost and Found folder or the Recovered Personal Folders data file from Outlook.

Recover Additional Items from PST

Suppose you notice any missing items within the repaired data file. if you also can’t find them inside the Lost and Found folder or under Recovered Personal Folders, you can try retrieving them using the backup copy of the original. Basically, you try to import the contents within the file without duplicating any items that the Inbox Recovery tool has already recovered.

1. Copy the corrupted PST file backup to your desktop. 

2. Change the .BAK extension at the end of the file name to .PST.

Note: If you can’t see the file extension, open the File menu in a File Explorer window and select Change folder and search options. Then, switch to the View tab and uncheck the box next to Hide extensions for known file types.

3. Open the File menu in Outlook and select Open & Export > Import/Export.

4. Select Import from another program or file and select Next.

5. Select Outlook Data File (.pst) and select Next.

6. Select Browse and select the backup copy of the corrupted PST file (the one that you just renamed). 

7. Select Do not import duplicates and select Next.

8. Check the box next to Include subfolders. Then, select Import folders into the same folder and pick the account or data file that you want to import the items into.

9. Select Finish.

Once Outlook finishes importing any items, you must manually confirm if the previously missing items are now present. If not, try running the Inbox Repair tool another time.

Third-Party Outlook PST Repair and Recovery Tools

A cursory search online will reveal lots of paid third-party tools that claim to repair damaged or corrupted Outlook PST files. In almost all cases, though, the Inbox Repair tool should be more than good enough for the job. 

Only use a third-party recovery program if Inbox Repair fails to retrieve your data, and do your due diligence by checking online reviews thoroughly before spending any money on them.

Before we wrap up, here’s an interesting tidbit: the Inbox Repair tool also allows you to recover deleted items from Outlook .

How to Fix a WHEA Uncorrectable Error BSOD

There are as many BSOD (Blue Screen of Death) errors than we can count, yet some of them will show up with more frequency and vengeance than others.

The WHEA ( Windows Hardware Error Architecture ) uncorrectable error is one of those unwelcome visitors and can be incredibly frustrating to solve, but with some systematic sleuthing you can track down the source of the problem and troubleshoot your PC sooner rather than later.

What Is WHEA?

As mentioned above, WHEA is short for Windows Hardware Error Architecture. It’s a software system built into Windows that lets the operating system communicate with hardware and interpret errors from that hardware when things go wrong.

WHEA lets the computer log and organize errors from your hardware, with standardized report formatting and content and plenty of technical detail. Of course, none of this is helpful to the average user. 

The most important bit of information you need to take from all of this is that a WHEA error happens when the physical hardware of your computer reports an error, which is then detected by WHEA.

In the case of the uncorrectable BSOD, the error is so serious that the computer has to stop in order to protect your data and hardware. Now that we have a clear idea of what this BSOD is and why it happens, let’s look at some steps you can take to try and fix it.

Update or Roll Back Drivers Using Safe Mode

If you’re lucky, the “hardware” error is actually the result of faulty drivers. So you can try booting into Safe Mode, which loads basic safe drivers and then roll back the last drivers that were installed for your major hardware components. 

Check out How to Restart Windows in Safe Mode in case you don’t know how and also How To Roll Back A Driver In Windows 10 for the sequence of steps you need for this fix.

Turn Back the Clock on Windows Updates

One of the worst things about Windows 10 is that every major update feels like a roll of the dice. It’s not that uncommon to go to bed with a working computer, but wake up to a broken one thanks to an overnight update.

While there’s no guarantee that your latest update is related to your new hardware error, you can uninstall Windows updates to see if that makes the issue go away. If it does, then you should wait for a fix from Microsoft before updating again.

Test Your RAM

One common reason for this BSOD is the presence of one or more faulty RAM modules. This is particularly likely if the error is seemingly random and intermittent. That’s because the specific memory module that’s failed won’t be asked to store data every time you use your computer or repeatedly under the same workload.

The good news is that you can test your RAM in a systematic way that’s guaranteed to uncover any memory chips that have gone bad. 

Read How to Diagnose, Check, and Test for Bad Memory for the exact info you need to detect bad memory.

Undo Overclocking and Other Mods

If you have a computer that’s been modified or is running out of spec in terms of its settings, your first step should be to undo that. The exact method will vary from one computer to the next, but generally you’ll enter the BIOS by pressing a keyboard shortcut at boot. The specific keyboard shortcut will be detailed in your motherboard’s manual.

Once in the BIOS, simply select the option to reset the BIOS to default and then reboot. Sometimes an issue with your hardware may prevent you from booting into the BIOS to reset the settings. You may be forced to manually reset your BIOS. Some motherboards have a physical button or switch that you can use to reset BIOS settings. 

As a last resort, you might consider removing the CMOS battery (a circular battery cell on the board) with the computer unplugged. This will make the BIOS lose its settings and you can then replace the battery after a minute or two and attempt another boot.

Disable Performance Enhancing Features

While this is not a final fix, it seems that the built-in turbo modes in modern CPUs can cause this error, most likely because they push it past a point where other hardware should have still supported that performance level. 

If turning off your processor’s automatic turbo mode in the BIOS makes the error go away, that’s a clue that another component isn’t taking the strain of those higher performance levels.

Check Your Computer for Cooling Issues or Damaged Components

With a WHEA uncorrectable error it’s worth cracking open your computer and giving it a good inspection. Check that every connector is properly inserted. Make sure that there’s no obvious damage on cabling or components. Look out for swollen capacitors or anything else that looks out of place. 

While most physical hardware damage is invisible to the naked eye, sometimes it’s something you can see as plainly. If a component looks damaged, you’ll need to get it checked out by a professional.

Start your computer up with the cover off and check that every fan is spinning properly. Are any heatsinks loose? Fans that are not spinning need to be checked to see if their power connection is good. If a fan has failed, it needs to be replaced.

Make Sure Your CPU, GPU and RAM are Connected Properly

In some cases, a bad connection between major components is to blame for hardware errors. The simplest way to check for this, is to remove and reseat these components. That means taking your GPU, CPU and RAM out of their sockets and then putting them back properly. 

This is simple enough when it comes to your graphics card or RAM, but it’s trickier with your CPU. To remove the CPU and reseat it, you need to remove the heatsink. Whenever you remove your CPU heatsink, you need to clean off both the top of the CPU and the bottom of the heatsink. Then apply new thermal paste before putting it all back together. 

Look for an instructional video showing the process for your particular CPU or get an experienced technician to do it for you. Since you can damage the CPU during this process, we don’t recommend trying it without help.

Beating the BSODs

Being blindsided by a BSOD is never fun, especially when it suggests that one of your precious hardware components has gone bad. While the tips above are likely to help resolve a WHEA uncorrectable error, no one can ever provide an exhaustive list of fixes that will work for everyone.

If you’ve tried the most likely solutions in this article and still can’t get to the bottom of the issue, it’s time for more detective work. A good place to start is our Blue Screen of Death Troubleshooting Guide for Windows 10 , which will equip you with the sleuthing abilities you need to handle any type of BSOD.

The Best Windows Command Line Network Commands

Windows comes packed with several useful network utilities. These programs can get you critical information about your network connection and help diagnose problems. There are four TCP/IP network utilities that every Windows user should know about:

  1. Netstat
  2. Tracert
  3. IPconfig
  4. NSlookup

Let’s see what these utilities do and how they’re commonly used.

A Refresher on TCP/IP

All four utilities are TCP/IP network programs. What does that mean? 

TCP/IP is short for Transmission Control Protocol Internet Protocol. A protocol is a set of rules and specifications that determine how a process works. 

For example, at work it might be protocol to first make an appointment with your boss’ personal assistant instead of barging into their office at random times of day. Similarly, TCP/IP describes how the various devices connected to each other on the internet can communicate in an orderly fashion.

Learning to Love the Command Line

While 99% of computer interfaces these days are graphical, there will always be a need for text-based command line tools. For the most part, these TCP/IP utilities work through the command line. That means you need to type in the name of the utility and the action you want it to take.

In Windows this has always been achieved through the Command Prompt , but that’s being phased out. The preferred command line interface today is Windows PowerShell. 

To access the Powershell:

  1. Right-click on the Start Button
  2. Select Windows PowerShell (Admin)

Now you can type your commands into the command line in PowerShell to your heart’s content. If you want to walk the path of the PowerShell master, it begins with a single step. That is, Using PowerShell for Home Users – A Beginner’s Guide by our very own Guy McDowell.

Now let’s begin to know them better.

What is Netstat?

Netstat or Network Statistics is a powerful information utility that gives you important insights into what your network connection is doing at any given moment. It gives you basic statistics on key network activity. This includes which ports are open and in use and what connections are open and running.

Netstat isn’t just a Windows application, it’s on Linux, Unix and Mac as well. It started life on Unix and has become a fundamental weapon in the network administrator’s toolbox. 

There is a graphical alternative in the form of Microsoft TCPView , but knowing how to use netstat will always be useful. There are many use cases for the program, but one common purpose these days is the detection of malware. Malicious software such as trojans often open a port and wait to be contacted by their creators for further instructions. With netstat you can quickly see if there’s a suspicious connection from your computer to the network.

Important Netstat Commands

Netstat is one of the easiest TCP/IP utilities to use. All you have to do is type “netstat” (without the quotes) and you’ll get the standard list of active connections. Which should look something like this:

This is fine for a normal overview of your network connections, but you can modify the output by using modifiers. For example, “netstat -a” displays all active ports and “netstat -b” will show you the executable file responsible for each listening port. Here are more key commands:

  • Netstat -e – displays details of packets that have been sent
  • Netstat -n – lists currently connected hosts
  • Netstat -p – allow to specify what type of protocol you want to check
  • Netstat -r – provides a list of routing tables
  • Netstat -s – gives statistics on IPv4, IPv6, ICMP, TCP, etc

What is Tracert?

Tracert is short for traceroute. It’s a network utility that shows you information about every stop along the way from your computer’s network interface to the destination device.

When you use Tracert, the application sends special Internet Control Message Protocol (ICMP) packets which compel the devices at each hop to send back information. Specifically, it asks them to relay the exact time the packet arrived and then uses that information to calculate the travel time between each hop.

There are three main uses for Tracert:

  • To see where a packet gets lost.
  • To determine where packets are delayed.
  • To see the IP addresses of each hop along the packet’s route.

Next, let’s see the Tracert command in action.

Important Tracert Commands

The most basic form of the Tracert command requires the name of the utility as well as the network destination. The destination can be expressed as either an IP address or a website URL. For example: Tracert www.google.com .

The output of the command looks like this:

Tracert also has a small number of options, here’s the list:

  • Tracert -d: Tells Tracert not to resolve addresses to host names
  • Tracert -h: Maximum_hops – lets you change the default number of hops, e.g. -h 30
  • Tracert -j host-list: Specifies the LSR ( loose source route ) along the host list
  • -w timeout: Lets you set how long Tracert waits at each hop before considering it a timeout. E.g. Tracert -w 1000

It’s a simple tool, but can be incredibly useful if you’re playing network detective!

What is IPconfig?

One of the most useful network TCP/IP utilities, IPconfig shows you the current configuration of network devices in your computer. It can also be used to manually force certain actions relating to your network connections.

IPconfig is particularly useful if your computer has an IP address assigned to it dynamically. Since it lets you quickly see what IP address your system currently has.

Important IPconfig Commands

IPconfig is generally used with a parameter, which either displays network information or performs a network-related task. Here are some of the most important commands to know:

  • IPconfig /all: Shows you all physical and virtual network adapter connection information.
  • IPconfig /flushdns: Resets the DNS resolver cache. Good for solving DNS-related problems.
  • /IPconfig /renew: Forces a new IP address to be assigned.

IPconfig is the go-to utility for general internet connection troubleshooting, so it’s worth memorizing its key commands.

What is NSLookup?

NSlookup is short for nameserver lookup. A “nameserver” is a key type of server in the DNS (domain name system). It is in effect a DNS server and that means it’s a network device that connects the URL you type into your browser with the IP address of the server that hosts the content.

Usually this process is hidden from you as the user, but NSlookup lets you do two things:

  • Find which IP address is behind a particular website address.
  • To find the URL connected to a specific IP address.

So if you only have either a web address or an IP address, you can use NSlookup to find the other part of the puzzle. You can combine this with the information from other tools, such as Tracert or Netstat to determine which web servers are attached to the IP addresses they report.

Important NSLookup Commands

There are three main NSLookup commands you should know. The first is just “nslookup”. This shows you the current name server and its IP address.

Note that NSlookup is still running and you are at its command line, not PowerShell. If you want to go back to PowerShell, type exit and press enter.

However, let’s stick around for a second and ask our nameserver to give us the address for Google.com. Just type google.com and press enter.

As you can see, this gives us the IP address 172.217.170.46. Type that into your web browser and you’ll be taken straight to the Google search engine. You can also do a reverse search and enter an IP address, which should then return the URL of the server associated with it.

Now you’re familiar with four of the fundamental TCP/IP utilities that will help you understand what’s going on in your network and pull back the curtain on the mystery that is the internet. Have fun!

How to Make Portable Apps That Run Off a USB Stick

A USB stick (or flash drive) is a useful tool. Not only is the file transfer speed far greater than that of CDs, but the portability of these drives make them useful when you can’t send a file over Bluetooth to your phone. 

In many cases, it’s easier to load a program off a USB stick than off a CD. Useful utility applications and sometimes even entire operating systems like Linux can be booted directly from a flash drive. If you need to create a portable version of an application, here’s how. 

Check for a Portable Version

The most useful applications usually have a portable option—you just have to know where to look. Sites like PortableApps act as a collection of different portable apps that already have portable options. The site allows you to download individual applications, or you can opt for a 37 gigabyte file that includes every portable application in a single location . 

That’s more than 400 different portable apps. You can also check sites like PortableFreeware , Portapps , or LiberKey . You can find dozens, if not hundreds, of different applications that can be downloaded and run directly from a USB stick. 

If you can’t find the program you’re looking for, then good news: creating a portable application to run off a USB stick is simple. Here’s how. 

How to Make a Portable App that Runs Off a USB Stick

The actual process may seem intimidating, but it’s deceptively simple. The first thing you’ll need to do is download the proper application for this task. There are several options available on the internet, but we used Enigma Virtual Box . 

Download the application and install it. Open the application. You’ll see a screen that looks like this.

At the top of the window, click Browse beside Enter Input File Name. This will be how you select the application you want to make portable. Note that the application needs to exist on your machine already; if you haven’t downloaded the application, go do that.

Once you have downloaded the program, click Browse and navigate to the .exe file. In the following example, we are creating a portable ver s ion of ImgBurn . 

Once you have chosen the right .exe file, click Open. Now that file alone isn’t enough to run the program. You will need any dependent files that go along with it. 

To do this, return to the main Enigma Virtual Box screen and click Add > Add Folder Recursive.

Browse through the files and select the main ImgBurn folder, and then click Okay. This will add any necessary support files to the folder. 

Now that you’ve done this, you can choose where you want the resultant file to end up. You can save the portable version to your drive and then move it to the USB stick, but we chose to save the file directly to the flash drive. Just click Browse beside Enter Output File Name. 

Now that you’ve arranged everything, click Process. This will create the portable version of the drive. 

Once this has completed, voila! The process finished. Now to test the application. Navigate to the flash drive and look for its contents. 

Select ImgBurn_boxed and double-click to run the application. If it boots up, congratulations–you’ve successfully created a portable application.

You can repeat this process for any compatible application. There are quite a few that are tremendously useful to have on a USB drive . If you aren’t sure which programs would be the best fit, we’ve compiled a list to help you out. 

Best Portable Apps for Flash Drives

There are some apps that lend themselves particularly well to running from a USB stick–especially those that are used for system maintenance. Here’s a list of portable apps you should consider keeping on a spare drive.

CCleaner

CCleaner is a free application that can clean out temporary files, cookies, and other files that are the equivalent of digital clutter. When you download the application, you can choose both the 32-bit and 64-bit versions so it can work for nearly any PC.

CCleaner is a great maintenance tool for adding a bit of life to a system that is running slowly. Think of it like a portable cleaning kit.

Kaspersky Portable TDSSKiller

Rootkits can lay claim to your system , hold it hostage, and steal valuable personal information for a long time before you’re even aware a problem exists. The Kaspersky Portable TDSSKiller eliminates rootkits and bootkits from your system.

It’s not a full-blown antivirus, but more of a specific tool with targeted applications. It isn’t something you will (hopefully) need often, but when you do you’ll be glad it’s there. 

rcvPortable

Everyone knows the pain of losing important files , whether a document or a photo. rcvPortable is freeware that can recover lost files. Think of it as the first step in data recovery before taking your machine to a professional.

Of course, if your hard drive has corrupted, your best option is to boot from a USB stick. rcvPortable is a great tool that you should keep on hand for emergencies. After all, if you only have one copy of those family photos, you don’t want to lose them.

A USB stick is for more than just transferring files from one place to another. If you keep a USB stick filled with portable apps on-hand, you’ll have the perfect tool for the job, no matter the situation.

How to Fix a Windows 10 Restart Loop

If you’re trying to use your Windows computer and find that it’s stuck in an infinite reboot loop, it can be frustrating to deal with especially if you don’t know the cause.

The Windows 10 restart loop happens when there’s a failure to boot up the operating system correctly.

Previous Windows versions would need a full reinstall to resolve the restart loop. However, with Windows 10, you can quickly troubleshoot and fix an endless reboot loop plus any other problems you may be experiencing.

This guide looks at the causes of the Windows 10 restart loop and how you can fix it.

What Causes a Windows 10 Restart Loop?

There are several reasons why your computer is stuck in a restart loop, which is characterized by failure of Windows to load up correctly once you power on your PC.

Instead of booting normally, the PC will fail to reach the logon screen before it resets to the boot screen and tries to load Windows. From here on, the operating system is caught in an endless loop of booting and crashing, rendering your PC impossible to use.

Some of the causes of the Windows 10 restart loop include:

  • New Windows driver or recent driver update
  • A Windows Update
  • Problems with the Windows system registry
  • New software installation

How to Fix Windows 10 Stuck in Restart Loop

1. Unplug Peripherals and Hard Reset Your PC

A piece of hardware that’s connected to your computer such as your printer , digital camera or video recorder , USB storage device or media card reader may interfere with the normal Windows booting process.

Unplugging all such peripherals from your PC and performing a hard reset may help resolve the infinite reboot loop. You can leave only your keyboard, mouse and monitor and then unplug your PC from the power outlet. 

If your computer comes with a removable battery, remove it and then hold the power button down for about 15 seconds until it goes off. Put the battery back in, plug the wall power back into your PC and try to restart it.

2. Bypass the Restart Screen

If Windows 10 is still stuck in a restart loop after unplugging peripherals and performing a hard reset , you can try to bypass the restart screen using the Function (FN) key.

Hold the FN key down as you power on your PC, and while still holding the key, tap the Windows key to bypass the restart. If this works, you should see the login screen and you can continue using your PC normally.

3. Use Windows 10 Automatic Repair

Automatic Repair is a recovery feature in Windows 10 that kicks in when the operating system is unable to boot or startup and tries to diagnose and fix the problem. The feature scans system files , configuration and registry settings among other things and then tries to fix the issues that prevent your PC from working normally.

Automatic Repair usually sets in without you prompting it, but typically, it happens after several restarts. If you find Windows 10 stuck in restart loops and within 15 minutes you don’t see the Automatic Repair option, it’s probably not going to happen.

Note: You won’t lose any data if you perform an Automatic Repair.

You can also perform an Automatic Repair with your Windows 10 installation USB or disc.

  1. To get started, wait for the PC to start and display the manufacturer logo, and then check the boot menu option (F12). If you don’t see it, refer to your device user manual.
  2. Next, reboot your PC and when you see the manufacturer’s logo, press the Boot menu option severally to enter the boot menu. Select CD/DVD ROM or USB.
  1. Once your PC starts up using the System Repair disc or Windows DVD, you’ll see a black screen with a message saying “Press any key to boot from CD or DVD”.
  1. Press any key and then select the keyboard type and correct time.
  2. Next, select Repair your computer at the bottom left side of your screen.
  1. Select Troubleshooting > Advanced Option.
  1. Finally select Startup Repair.

If using the Automatic Repair feature doesn’t help fix the Windows 10 restart loop or startup files, try using Safe Mode.

Using Safe Mode to Fix Windows 10 Stuck in Restart Loop

In Safe Mode, you can access Windows 10 and uninstall the Windows Update , drivers or software that may be causing the Windows 10 restart loop issue. Once in Safe Mode, you can perform a System Restore and then reinstall Windows 10 if all else fails and you don’t mind losing any data.

If your computer has multiple Windows versions, wait for the operating system selection screen and then choose Change defaults or choose other options instead of selecting Windows 10.

The next step will be to access Safe Mode, which will depend on how the boot loop is presenting and whether it’s triggered when specific hardware is connected or when you launch a specific app.

How to Manually Boot into Safe Mode

Before the restart, you can reboot in Safe Mode using three different options:

  • Hold down the Shift key and then select Start > Restart to boot into the Advanced startup options. This is probably the fastest option to access Safe Mode.
  • Press Win+I to open Settings and then select Update & Security > Recovery > Advanced Startup > Restart now.
  • Alternatively, open Command Prompt (Run as administrator) and then enter shutdown /r /o to restart in the Advanced Boot options.

How to Access Safe Mode Using Installation Media

You can also use installation media to access Safe Mode if you have a recovery partition on your PC’s hard drive. If not, you can download the Windows 10 installation media on a different computer and save it in a USB or DVD.

Once you have the installation media, insert it into your PC and follow the steps in Automatic Repair to fix the restart loop problem.

Alternatively, tap Del or F1 when the system boots to access the UEFI/BIOS and then find Boot Manager. Select the recovery partition as the primary device and reboot your PC.

How to Fix Windows 10 Restart Loop Caused by Windows Update in Safe Mode

If your PC is in Safe Mode, you can prevent further restart loops by uninstalling Windows Updates or drivers in the Command Prompt.

  1. To resolve a reboot loop caused by a Windows Update, open Command Prompt (admin) and enter this command: net stop wuauserv.
  1. Follow the command with net stop bits
  2. Once you get a response, browse C:\Windows\SoftwareDistribution, erase all the directory contents and restart Windows 10. It should boot normally going forward.

When Restart Loop Is Caused by Safe Mode App Installations

If you had just installed an app before the Windows restart loop issue began, you can uninstall the software while in Safe Mode and Windows will start normally again.

To do this, right-click the application in the Start menu and select Uninstall.

When Restart Loop Is Caused by Hardware Drivers in Safe Mode

Hardware drivers may also cause the Windows restart loop especially if they’re outdated.

  1. To resolve this while in Safe Mode, right-click Start > Device Manager and look for the suspect device.
  1. Right-click the device, select Properties.
  1. Next, select Drivers and then select Roll Back Driver.
  1. If this fails, right-click the device, select Disable Device. Select Uninstall Driver and then reboot your PC.

How Resetting Windows 10 Helps

If you can’t access Safe Mode or the rest of the fixes aren’t working, try a reset to get your PC back to factory settings.

A Windows 10 reset reinstalls system files without damaging your data. If the restart fails after the third attempt, Windows 10 will boot automatically into the WinRE (Windows Recovery Environment).  

From here, you can follow the steps in our guide on how to reset Windows 10 . If you’re not the administrator of the PC you’re using, turn to our guide on how to reset Windows 10 without an admin password .

Get Your PC Running Normally Again

We hope you were able to fix the Windows reboot loop using any of the solutions listed here and your PC is running normally again. If so, check out our how to set up an automatic backup system for Windows guide and free system cloning apps you can use to backup your entire Windows system in case the restart loop occurs again.

You can also automatically backup important Windows folders with OneDrive and keep your information safely copied into the cloud.

How to Change Password in Linux

Without a secure password , your data is vulnerable. Easy to guess or previously leaked passwords make a hacker’s job easy—after all, it isn’t hard to breach a user account if “password123” is your password. That’s why it’s important to change your password regularly, even on a more secure operating system like Linux.

Thankfully, it’s an easy process to change your password in Linux. You can change your password (or other user’s passwords) from the terminal locally or remotely, or set expiration dates to force other users to change it themselves when they next sign in. Here’s what you’ll need to do to change a user password in any Linux distribution.

Why You Should Change Your Linux Password Regularly

While a Linux-based operating system offers greater security than a typical Windows installation, that doesn’t mean it’s infallible to hackers. One of the easiest ways for someone to breach your PC is through lax security, with easy-to-crack passwords at the top of the list.

Unfortunately, you should also expect that time is against you. Many of us use the same passwords for multiple accounts. If your email password is compromised , for instance, and you use the same password to sign into your Linux PC, then you’re putting your PC (and all of your saved data) at risk.

That’s why it’s important to consider changing all your passwords in Linux on a regular basis, including your account passwords on Linux. A good password consists of a number of letters (both upper and lower case), numbers, and special characters. It also requires the password to be of suitable length (at least 8 characters, if not more).

If you’re struggling to come up with a password you can remember, you can use a password manager to help you generate and remember it. You won’t be able to use this to fill out the login screen, but if you’re using a password manager like KeePass , you can quickly recall the password using the mobile app.

However, it’s probably best (and easiest) to create a password that you can remember. Dictionary words are off the menu for this one, but where possible, you should attempt to create a memorable password that no-one else could possibly know using the steps we’ve outlined above.

How to Change Your Password in Linux

While you should be able to change passwords using your distro’s desktop environment, those steps will vary significantly. If you’re using a headless version of Linux (without a GUI), you won’t be able to use a GUI to change your password at all. 

That’s why the best and fastest way to change your password in Linux is to use the terminal, regardless of the Linux distribution you’re using. 

  1. Open a new terminal window or make a remote SSH connection to your Linux PC or server. If you’re connecting remotely, you’ll need to type in your existing password to authenticate if you haven’t already.
  1. Once you’ve signed in (either remotely or locally), type passwd to begin the process of changing your password. The passwd command is common to almost all Unix-based operating systems, including Linux and macOS.
  1. To change your Linux password using passwd, type in your existing password first, then confirm your new password by entering it twice, selecting Enter to move to each new line. You won’t be able to see your input, so if you make a mistake during the typing process, select the Enter key on your keyboard at any point. This will cause passwd to fail, as it won’t be able to match the new passwords or authenticate using the previous one.
  1. If the process is successful, passwd will return a success message in the terminal. If it isn’t (for example, if you mistyped your password), you’ll need to repeat the process.

Changing Other User Account Passwords in Linux

If you have superuser or root access on your Linux PC or server (for instance, if you’re a system administrator), you can change the passwords of other local users. You may want to do this if someone has forgotten their password, for instance.

  1. To do this, open a terminal window locally or connect remotely using SSH. Once the terminal or connection is open, type su or sudo su to switch to the root user account. You’ll need to provide the correct root user password to be able to do this.
  1. Once you’ve switched to root using sudo su or su, you can begin to change another user’s password. To do this, type passwd user, replacing user with the username of the account you wish to change. If you’re unsure what the username is, type cat /etc/passwd instead. The first word in each line (for example, ubuntu) is a username on your PC.
  1. You’ll need to type in the new password twice, selecting the Enter key after each line.
  1. If you type the passwords correctly, passwd will return a success message. If you type the passwords incorrectly (eg. if the new passwords don’t match), you’ll need to repeat these steps to successfully change it.

How to Change the Root Password in Linux using Sudo

To help protect your system, many Linux distributions restrict normal user accounts by hiding certain access behind the root (superuser) account. When you elevate your terminal using commands like sudo su or su to grant root access, you’ll need to type the correct root password.

  1. To change the root password, you’ll need to open a terminal window or connect remotely using SSH. In the terminal, type sudo su or su to switch to the superuser account, then select the Enter key on your keyboard.
  1. With root access, type passwd and select the Enter key. You’ll need to provide a new password twice, selecting Enter after each line.
  1. If the command is successful, passwd will output a success message in the terminal. If it fails, you’ll need to repeat these steps to complete the process.

Setting a Password Expiry Date in Linux

By setting a built-in expiry date for passwords on your Linux PC, you don’t need to worry about manually running the passwd command on a regular basis. When the password expires, your PC will instruct you to change your password automatically.

  1. To set a password expiry date in Linux, open a terminal window or connect remotely using SSH. In the terminal, type chage -M 100 user and select the Enter key, replacing 100 with the number of days before the next expiration and user with your username. If you want to set expiration dates for other user accounts, type sudo chage -M 100 user instead, replacing the placeholder details with your own.
  1. With the details set, you can check the expiration date by typing chage -l user and selecting Enter, replacing user with the username you wish to check. 

Securing a Linux System

Linux is well known as one of the most secure operating systems available, but without a secure password in place, you’re leaving your PC vulnerable to attack. There are other ways you can secure your system further, such as maintaining a secure local network and scanning your files for viruses that could infect other PCs.

You could also think about using a secure web browser to stay safe online, especially if you consider using a VPN to mask your IP address. Making efforts to protect your online privacy and security won’t stop hacking attempts, but it will add another layer of defense against it.

What Is a Headphone Amp and Should You Buy One?

Like most people, you probably don’t think twice about plugging your headphones directly into the headphone jack of your computer, laptop or smartphone. For the typical pair of mobile headphones this is acceptable, but as you move up the ladder of headphone quality the output from these devices just doesn’t cut the mustard. 

If you want quality audio and expect to be blown away, then a headphone amp might be just what you need.

What Is a Headphone Amp?

In essence any audio amplifier is a device that takes a signal which has relatively low strength and reproduces it at a higher power level. We perceive that higher power level as more loudness.

However, not all amplifiers are equal. A good amplifier does more than simply make your music louder. It will also try to preserve the detail and intent of the original signal. Good amplifiers won’t add noise and will work to clean up issues with the original audio.

There are many different approaches to the design of amplifiers and headphone amps are no different. 

For example, some only accept an analog input, which means your device’s own internal amp and audio hardware will have the first go at the sound. 

If your audio source is analog (e.g. vinyl records) then this isn’t a problem for the headphone amplifier, because you avoid unnecessary analog to digital conversion.

Then, there are headphone amps that have their own DAC (Digital to Analogue Converter) which connects to your computer via USB . These amplifiers have complete control over the audio, since they only receive digital audio data and handle every stage involved in getting it out of your headphone speakers and into your ears.

Many headphone amplifiers offer both types of input, which can be useful given that many mobile devices won’t work with an external USB DAC.

Why Do We Need Headphone Amps?

Whether in headphones or on a desk, speakers need electrical power to create the air vibrations we perceive as sound. If there isn’t enough energy on tap, then resulting audio is weak and quiet. As a result, it lacks detail and punch.

The internal amplifiers in smartphones and computer sound cards compromise. They have to fit into an incredibly tiny amount of space, shared with other components. In battery powered devices, amps have to be carefully designed and balanced so that they aren’t power hogs. Honestly, there’s a lot to admire about these devices, which manage to offer usable, pleasing audio despite seemingly impossible engineering obstacles.

It also helps that most headphones these days are explicitly designed to work with smartphones and other similar devices, so they are loud enough. This has to do with the sensitivity of a given headphone set. 

Headphones designed for mobile device use have a high level of sensitivity, which essentially means that they can achieve a given level of loudness using very little power. The downside of this is that high sensitivity levels tend to muddy audio, compromising the integrity of the sound. 

It’s not such a big deal if you’re listening to compressed streaming music while out for a morning jog, but for intentional listening the problems are there if you pay attention.

To fix this problem you have to reduce the sensitivity of the headphones, but the less sensitive the phones, the lower the volume you can achieve with the power output of a smartphone or computer.

Which Headphones are Suitable for Amps?

The short answer is that high-impedance headphones need a dedicated headphone amplifier to achieve their full potential. 

Impedance” is the resistance electrical energy encounters as it travels through the headphone wiring on the way to the speakers. Impedance is measured in Ohms and generally high-impedance, low sensitivity headphones have a rating of 25 Ohms and higher. Higher-end headphones tend to have more than 100 Ohms of impedance. 

So if your headphones have less than 25 Ohms of impedance, you don’t need an amp, the higher up you go from that number the more crucial an amp becomes.

Bluetooth headphones obviously don’t need an external amplifier because they have one built in, but some Bluetooth headphones also have a wired option. This option commonly bypasses the internal amplifier, so depending on their sensitivity levels an amp could be suitable there as well.

Headphone Amp Types

Internally, there are various ways in which amplifiers can be designed, which are discussed in excruciating detail on audiophile forums. However, for the rest of us there are two main types of headphone amplifier to consider: solid state amplifiers and tube amplifiers.

Solid state amplifiers use nothing but microchips in the chain of components leading to your actual eardrums. It’s all-digital, crisp, and, as some contend, cold. Solid state amplifiers are usually more affordable, durable and compact.

Tube amplifiers hark back to the days before transistors and integrated circuits overtook the audio industry. They are easy to spot thanks to the prominent glass tubes sticking out of the chassis. More expensive ones usually have more tubes, cheaper models tend to make use of solid state components in tandem with analog tubes.

Many audiophiles swear by the warm tone and coloration tubes give to music and sound, but it is very subjective. What’s not so subjective is that tube amps are generally more expensive, fragile and take up more space. The truth is that a good solid-state amp will be fine for most people, but you should sample tube amplifier audio to see if it tickles your fancy.

Headphone Amp Suggestions

So, if you’re set on investing in a quality set of cans and know that you’ll be needing an amp to make the best of it, what should you buy? 

We had a look at the best-selling headphone amplifiers on Amazon and found three options which look quite promising for someone looking to dabble in headphone amps. As a bonus, they also represent three distinct categories of headphone amp.

FiiO E10K USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier

The FiiO E10K headphone amp is a very affordable solid-state amp with a clean shell and minimal controls. All you have to do is plug everything in and crank up the volume to a comfortable level. 

The E10K only supports digital input via USB, but has a variety of outputs beyond just a headphone jack. If you hook this up to your computer and use it with high-impedance headphones, you should enjoy strong, detailed audio with low levels of noise and distortion. 

While it’s not going to make the mouths (ears?) of true audiophiles water, based on the many positive reviews of the amp it’s an affordable and effective upgrade for virtually anyone.

Neoteck Headphone Amplifier

The Neoteck amplifier doesn’t inspire much confidence at first with it’s poorly-translated marketing copy, but it’s a well-reviewed and undeniably interesting product. The big selling point of this amp is that it’s battery powered. 

Supporting headphones between 16 and 150 Ohm, there’s a large selection of mid-grade headphones that would benefit from a straightforward amplifier such as this one. 

If you’re looking for an amp to take on public transport or to use at work or school, it’s a very affordable option.

LOXJIE P20 Full Balance Tube Amplifier

Finally, we have the Loxjie P20 tube amplifier. It’s one of the cheapest entry-level tube amps we could find and represents a perfect way for you to dip your toes into the signature tube sound before buying something with a more serious price tag. 

You get to sample the warmth and smoothness of tubes and decide if it’s for you. Although most buyer’s seem blown away by the amp as a daily driver solution in its own right.

Do You Need a Headphone Amp?

Now it’s your turn to tell us what you think about headphones amps. Have you tried them? Are they worth it? Which ones would you recommend? Let us know in the comments!