PC Power Supply Buyer’s Guide

How to Make Sure You Get the Right Type of PSU to Match Your Needs

Power supply units (PSUs) are often overlooked when building a desktop computer system. A poor quality power supply can greatly reduce the life span of a good system or cause instability. A high quality one can also help reduce the noise or heat generated within a computer system. Whether you are buying one for a new computer or replacing a old unit, here are some tips for purchasing a desktop PC power supply.

Avoid Power Supplies Under $30

Most power supplies that are priced below $30 generally do not meet the power requirements of the latest processors. To make matters worse, the components used in them are of inferior quality and more likely to fail over time. While they may power the computer system, inconsistencies in the power to the components will tend to cause instability and damage to the computer over time. Because of this, I generally do not recommend they extremely low cost power supplies.

ATX12V Compliant

Developments in processors, the PCI Express bus and graphics cards have all increased the amount of power required to operate them. To help provide this extra power, the ATX12V standard was developed. The problem is that it has been revised over time with various different power supply connectors to meet the necessary specifications. Make sure that it comes with the proper main power leads that you need for your motherboard.

One way you can tell whether a power supplies is compliant with your computer components is to check the type of power connectors are supplied to the motherboard. If it is missing one of the connectors your motherboard needs, it probably does not support the proper ATX12V standard.

Knowing the Wattage Ratings

Wattage ratings on power supplies can be deceptive as this is the total combined wattage of all the voltage lines and generally under peak rather than sustained loads. With the increased demands by components, the total required output particularly for the +12V line has become increasingly important especially for those that are using dedicated graphics cards. Ideally a power supply should have at least 18A on the +12V line(s). The actual load you need will vary depending upon your components. If you are not planning on using a graphics card, a 300 Watt power supply is probably sufficient but if you are running one or more graphics cards, be sure to check out the manufacturer’s recommended PSU wattage.

Having the Right Type and Number of Connectors

There are a variety of different power connectors that come off a power supply. Some of the different connectors include 20/24-pin power, 4-pin ATX12V, 4-pin Molex, floppy, SATA, 6-pin PCI-Express graphics and 8-pin PCI-Express graphics. Take stock of what power connectors your PC components require to ensure you get a power supply with the appropriate connectors. Even if it might lack some connectors off the power supply, check what cable adapters the power supply may include to mitigate the problem.

One other thing to consider is modular cables. Higher wattage power supplies tend to have a large number of cables running off of them. If you have limited space within your case, this may cause issues as you have to bundle the cables up. A modular power supply offers power cables that can be attached only if you need them. This helps reduce cable clutter which can restrict airflow and make it difficult to work within a computer.

Physical Size

Most people don’t give much consideration to the actual size of the power supply. After all, are they not all a standard size? While they are general guidelines for the size of the units, they actually can vary a good deal and make it difficult to git within your computer case.

For instance, higher wattage power supplies tend to be a bit longer to hold the additional power components they need. This may cause issues with cable routing or even fitting in other internal components. Finally, if you are using a small form factor case, it may require a specialized power supply such as SFX rather than ATX.

Low or No Noise

Power supplies generate a lot of noise from fans used to keep them from overheating. If you don’t want a lot of noise, there are a number of options available. The best choice is for a unit that either uses larger fans that move more air through the unit at slower speeds or to get one with temperature controlled fans. Another option is fanless or silent power supplies that generate no noise but these do have their own drawbacks.

Power Efficiency

Power supplies convert voltages from wall outlets to lower levels used by the PC. During this conversion, some power is lost as heat. The efficiency level of the PC determines how much extra power must be put into the power supply to run the PC. By getting a more efficient power supply, you end up saving money through the use of less overall electricity. Look for a unit that has the 80Plus logo showing that it has passed certification. Just be warned that some of the highest efficiency power supplies may cost so much more that the power savings does not match their increased cost.

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Cold Weather Can Mess With Your Phone. Here’s How to Protect It

Apple says its iPhones are made to operate in temperatures above 32 degrees. Much of the country won’t even creep above that mark until the second week of January – and tens of millions of Americans are enduring lows in the negative double digits.

In conditions like these, many smartphones will be start experiencing problems like shutting off, shortened battery life, display problems or even the glass shattering. Most smartphone batteries are lithium-ion, which can stop discharging electricity in extremely cold temperatures, Roger Gurney, owner of Arctic Tech Solutions, explained to USA Today. Here are a few tricks you can use to keep your phone working in Arctic temperatures.

Keep it in your your pocket

Even something as simple as keeping your phone in your pocket or bag can help shield it from icy temperatures. Keeping your phone in your pocket will also allow it to benefit from your body heat to help keep it close to optimal temperatures.

Smartphones are most vulnerable when left out in the cold or without heat for extended periods of time – so avoid leaving them in parked cars.

Use a special case

If you absolutely need to keep your phone out in the cold weather, there are a few cases that are specially designed to keep phones warm. Makers include ClimateCase, Burton Antifreeze and Salt Cases.

ClimateCase uses insulated neoprene to keep the cold out. It also comes with an extra pocket for storage and it’s machine washable. Burton’s case also uses insulation to keep phones warm and offers an extra pocket for cards or cash you may want on hand. Salt Cases are insulated against the cold, but use more traditional phone case style that can be kept on during use. They also have laptop and tablet designs.

Wait to charge your phone

While most performance issues related to cold weather are temporary, Apple warns that charging iOS devices in extreme temperatures can damage the devices further.

Turn your phone off

iPhones, iPads, iPods and Apple Watches all have a working temperature range of about 32 to 95 degrees. However, when not in use the safe range increases to -4 to 113 degrees.

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Wear Headphones

No matter what kind of headphones you’re using, they may take a bit of adjustment to get the perfect fit. On-ear and over-ear headphones are the most traditional, with the ear cups fitting snugly over each ear. In-ear headphones and earbuds need to be placed inside the ear hole.

1.Wearing On-Ear and Over-Ear Headphones

Plug the headphones into your audio device. Your device, whether it’s laptop or smartphone, has an audio input that your headphone jack should fit into perfectly. For a laptop or larger device, you may need to check around the perimeter and on the back to find the right audio input. Check for “L” and “R” labels near the ear cups. Many headphones specify which ear cup goes over the left ear and which one goes over the right. Check around your ear cups for the “L” and “R” markings, which mean “Left” and “Right.”Slip the headphones over your head. The band that connects the cups should fit snugly over the top of your head. Most headphone bands are adjustable, so if the fit isn’t comfortable, try adjusting it. Tug at the band to see if it gets smaller or larger, then adjust as needed. Place the ear cups directly over your ears. Adjust them a bit so that the cups cover your ears comfortably. Over-ear headphones, which have large cushions as ear cups, create a slight seal effect over each ear, which cancels out noise during use. On-ear headphones are smaller, and the cups are usually around the size of your ear. They will fit directly over the ear hole.

2.Wearing Ear Buds

Check for “L” and “R” labels on your ear buds. Some ear bud brands may specify which speaker goes into which ear. “L” means left ear, and “R” means right. The most common kind of ear buds, such as those made by Apple that come with iPods, usually do not have this. Hook the first bud into your left ear hole. Situate the bud in your ear by hooking it into the ear hole. The plastic stem connecting the bud to the wire should line up in the same direction as your jawline. Do not push it into your ear canal. It should hang in the crevice in the outer part of your ear-fold. Repeat with the right ear hole and adjust as necessary. Repeat the same action for your right ear by gently situating the rounded bud into the outer part of your ear hole. Adjust carefully and avoid pushing the ear bud into your ear canal. Look into accessories if you’re having trouble with the fit. Ear buds are notorious for falling out of the ears, especially during exercise. If this is happening to you, search online for accessories that you can pair with your buds to keep them in place. There is a wide range of different approaches to this, so do a little research and choose the accessory that best addresses your issue.

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Apple Confirms All Macs and iOS Devices Are Affected by ‘Meltdown’ Chip Flaw

Apple Inc. said all Mac computers and iOS devices, like iPhones and iPads, are affected by chip security flaws unearthed this week, but the company stressed there are no known exploits impacting users.

The Cupertino, California-based company said recent software updates for iPads, iPhones, iPod touches, Mac desktops and laptops, and the Apple TV set-top-box mitigate one of the vulnerabilities known as Meltdown. The Apple Watch, which runs a derivative of the iPhone’s operating system is not affected, according to the company.

Despite concern that fixes may slow down devices, Apple said its steps to address the Meltdown issue haven’t dented performance. The company will release an update to its Safari web browser in coming days to defend against another form of the security flaw known as Spectre. These steps could slow the speed of the browser by less than 2.5 percent, Apple said in a statement posted on its website.

Apple shares rose less than 1 percent to $173.56 in early trading Friday in New York.

Intel Corp. on Wednesday confirmed a report stating that its semiconductors contain a vulnerability based around a chip-processing technique called speculative execution. Intel said its chips, which power Macs and devices from other manufacturers, contain the flaw as well as processors based on ARM Holdings architecture, which is used in iOS devices and Android smartphones.

In December, Apple came under fire for iPhone software changes that reduced the performance of some older models of its smartphone. Alongside an apology and an explanation that a software change was implemented to balance out the effect of aging batteries, the company reduced the cost of replacing the power units from $79 to $29 through the end of 2018.

Security experts have said highly regulated sectors of industry, such as government offices and public health institutions, are most at risk of compromise as a result of the chip security vulnerability.

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How to type?

Impress your friends and family by learning how to type faster! The following steps will increase your ability to touch-type at a faster speed. If you follow the steps in this article, over time you will become a better typist, able even to correct errors while looking at the screen instead of the keyboard.

Leaning to type

Place your fingers in the “home” position. That’s the position in which your fingers will rest between keystrokes. No matter what part of the keyboard you’re using, your fingers will always come back to rest in this position. Place your right index finger on the “J” key and let the other three fingers fall naturally onto the “K”, “L” and “;” keys respectively. Place your left index finger on the “F” key and let the other three finger fall naturally onto the “D”, “S”, and “A” keys respectively. Both thumbs should rest on the space bar, but only the right thumb should key it.

You should feel a raised bump on both the “F” and “J” keys. These will allow your fingers to find the home position without having to look at the keyboard. Type each key from left to right. Type each letter covered by the fingers in the home position, going from left to right: a s d f j k l ;. You shouldn’t have to move your fingers from their home positions. Just press the keys they are resting on. Repeat, but this time capitalize. Repeat the step above, but this time in capital letters: A S D F J K L :. Use the shift key to capitalize rather than the caps lock. Push the shift key by moving only your nearest pinkie finger and pressing and holding it while pushing the desired letter with your other hand.

In other words, when the letter you would like capitalized is typed with your left hand, you press the right shift key with your right pinkie. When the letter you would like capitalized is typed with your right hand, you press the left shift key with your left pinkie. Become familiar with the rest of the alphabet. Learn where each letter is positioned on the keyboard, and use the nearest finger to contact each key.

“q” “a” and “z” are typed with the left pinkie, and so are the tab, caps lock, and shift keys. “w” “s” and “x” are typed with the left ring finger. “e” “d” and “c” are typed with the left middle finger. “r” “f” “v” “b” “g” and “t” are typed with the left index finger. Your thumbs should never leave the space bar. “u” “j” “n” “m” “h” and “y” are typed with your right index finger. “i” “k” and the keys with “,” and “<” are typed with the right middle finger. “o” “l” and the keys with “>” and “.” are typed with the right ring finger. Your right pinkie finger is used for typing: “p”, “;”, “:”, “‘”, “””, “/”, “?”, “[“, “{“, “]”, “}”, “\”, “|”, and is used for pressing the shift, enter, and backspace keys.

Type your first sentence. Starting from the home position, type: “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog”. This sentence contains every letter in the alphabet, so it’s a perfect sentence for practicing the correct finger positioning. Type the sentence over and over, watching your fingers to make sure they go to the right keys and immediately return to home position. Once you begin to feel comfortable with the way your fingers are moving, try to look at the screen while you type rather than looking at the keyboard. This is known as touch typing.

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Acer’s Chromebook 11 brings USB-C charging to entry-level laptops

Acer’s hiding a quiet revolution in its mainstream Chromebook 11: two USB 3.1 Gen 1 (5Gbps) Type-C ports, which work for connectivity and for charging. Don’t run in a panic to the dongle store—you still get two USB 3.0 Type-A ports (whew!). But USB-C has remained rare in entry-level machines like the Chromebook 11. This tells us the tide is turning, and all the benefits of USB-C will soon be available even at budget levels.

Chromebook 11 specs and features

The Chromebook 11 CB311-8HT and CB311-8H, announced Saturday at CES and due to ship in April, otherwise represent a simple refresh of the company’s longstanding and popular product line. The pricing will start at $249. Here are the specs and features we know.

CPU: Intel Celeron (part numbers were not specified)

RAM: 4GB is the only amount offered.

Display: 11.6-inch, 1366×768 IPS in touch (CB311-8HT) or non-touch (CB311-8H)

Storage: 16GB or 32GB eMMC

HDR webcam (high dynamic range, which should deliver better image quality) with integrated microphone

Connectivity:

  • Ÿ Two USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C ports
  • Ÿ Two USB 3.0 Type-A ports
  • Ÿ One microSD card reader

Weight: 2.43 pounds

Thickness: 0.71 inch (no other dimensions were provided)

Battery life: Up to 10 hours

As with other recent Chromebooks, the Chromebook 11 supports the Google Play Store, so you get access to all the Android apps you could possibly want. Google’s still working on making these apps more Chromebook-friendly, but their simple availability has increased the usefulness of Chromebooks beyond education and basic web browsing.

Acer’s Chromebook 11 is so mainstream you might overlook it. This year, with Android app support and especially USB-C, it’s a sign that the average computing experience is moving forward—but gently, so you’re not shut out of your precious USB-A peripherals  just yet.

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How to protect your PC from the major Meltdown and Spectre CPU flaws

A pair of nasty CPU flaws exposed this week have serious ramifications for home computer users. Meltdown and Spectre let attackers access protected information in your PC’s kernel memory, potentially revealing sensitive details like passwords, cryptographic keys, personal photos and email, or anything else you’ve used on your computer. It’s a serious flaw. Fortunately, CPU and operating system vendors pushed out patches fast, and you can protect your PC from Meltdown and Spectre to some degree.

It’s not a quick one-and-done deal, though. They’re two very different CPU flaws that touch every part of your operating system, from hardware to software to the operating system itself. Check out PCWorld’s Meltdown and Spectre FAQ for everything you need to know about the vulnerabilities themselves. We’ve cut through the technical jargon to explain what you need to know in clear, easy-to-read language. We’ve also created an overview of how the Spectre CPU bug affects phones and tablets.

The guide you’re reading now focuses solely on protecting your computer against the Meltdown and Spectre CPU flaws.

How to protect your PC against Meltdown and Spectre CPU flaws

Here’s a quick step-by-step checklist, followed by the full process.

  • Update your operating system
  • Check for firmware updates
  • Update your browser
  • Keep your antivirus active

First, and most important: Update your operating system right now. The more severe flaw, Meltdown, affects “effectively every [Intel] processor since 1995,” according to the Google security researchers that discovered it. It’s an issue with the hardware itself, but the major operating system makers have rolled out updates that protect against the Meltdown CPU flaw.

Microsoft pushed out an emergency Windows patch late in the day on January 3. If it didn’t automatically update your PC, head to Start > Settings > Update & Security > Windows Update, then click the Check now button under “Update status.” (Alternatively, you can just search for “Windows Update,” which also works for Windows 7 and 8.) Your system should detect the available update and begin downloading it. Install the update immediately.

You might not see the update, though. Some antivirus products aren’t playing nice with the emergency patch, causing Blue Screens of Death and boot-up errors. Microsoft says it’s only “offering the Windows security updates released on January 3, 2018 to devices running anti-virus software from partners who have confirmed their software is compatible with the January 2018 Windows operating system security update.” Security researcher Kevin Beaumont is maintaining an updated list of antivirus compatibility status. Most are supported at this point. If your AV isn’t supported, do not manually download the Meltdown patch unless you turn it off and switch to Windows Defender first.

But machines with compatible antivirus still may not automatically apply the update. If you’re sure your security suite won’t bork your system, you can also download the Windows 10 KB4056892 patch directly here. You’ll need to know whether to grab the 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) version of the update. To determine if your PC runs a 32- or 64-bit version of Windows, simply type “system” (without the quotation marks) into Windows search and click the top listing. It’ll open a Control Panel window. The “System type” listing will tell you which version of Windows you’re running. Most PCs released in the past decade will be using the 64-bit operating system.

Apple quietly worked Meltdown protections into macOS High Sierra 10.13.2, which released in December. If your Mac doesn’t automatically apply updates, force it by going into the App Store’s Update tab. Chromebooks should have already updated to Chrome OS 63 in December. It contains mitigations against the CPU flaws. Linux developers are working on kernel patches. Patches are also available for the Linux kernel.

Now for the bad news. The operating system patches will slow down your PC, though the extent varies wildly depending on your CPU and the workloads you’re running. Intel expects the impact to be fairly small for most consumer applications like games or web browsing, and initial testing supports that. Our FAQ digs into potential PC performance slowdowns from the patches. You still want to install the updates for security reasons.

Check for a firmware update

Because Meltdown’s CPU exploits exist on a hardware level, Intel is also releasing firmware updates for its processors. “By the end of next week, Intel expects to have issued updates for more than 90 percent of processor products introduced within the past five years,” it said in a statement on January 4.

Actually getting those firmware updates is tricky, because firmware updates aren’t issued directly from Intel. Instead, you need to snag them from the company that made your laptop, PC, or motherboard—think HP, Dell, Gigabyte, et cetera. Most prebuilt computers and laptops have a sticker with model details somewhere on their exterior. Find that, then search for the support page for your PC or motherboard’s model number.

Update your browser

You also need to protect against Spectre, which tricks software into accessing your protected kernel memory. Intel, AMD, and ARM chips are vulnerable to Spectre to some degree. Software applications need to be updated to protect against Spectre. The major PC web browsers have all issued updates as a first line of defense against nefarious websites seeking to exploit the CPU flaw with Javascript.

Microsoft updated Edge and Internet Explorer alongside Windows 10. Firefox 57 also wraps in some Spectre safeguards. Chrome 63 made “Site Isolation” an optional experimental feature. You can activate it right now by entering chrome://flags/#enable-site-per-process into your URL bar, then clicking Enable next to “Strict site isolation.” Chrome 64 will have more protections in place when it launches on January 23.

Keep your antivirus active

Finally, this ordeal underlines how important it is to keep your PC protected. The Google researchers who discovered the CPU flaws say that traditional antivirus wouldn’t be able to detect a Meltdown or Spectre attack. But attackers need to be able to inject and run malicious code on your PC to take advantage of the exploits. Keeping security software installed and vigilant helps keep hackers and malware off your computer. Plus, “your antivirus may detect malware which uses the attacks by comparing binaries after they become known,” Google says.

PCWorld’s guide to the best antivirus for Windows PCs can help you find the best option for your setup—though note the section above where we discuss the compatibility issues some AV programs are having with the new Windows patch.

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Not us! Android makers say they never slow phones over battery problems

Android phone makers are responding to Apple’s recent public relations nightmare, after it was revealed the company slowed older iPhone models down to compensate for aging batteries, and to avoid any problems that may occur due to them. Samsung, LG, HTC, and Motorola have all made statements saying they do not use similar tactics.

Motorola does not throttle processors inside its phones when the battery gets old, the company told The Verge, while HTC said something very similar. LG was even more forthcoming, saying it never has, and never will slow down processors inside its devices, because it, “cares what our customers think.”

Samsung issued a longer statement, saying that in addition to not slowing processors over time, it uses software and built-in safety features to “govern the battery-charging current and charging duration.” This suggests Samsung prefers to manage the battery as it starts to age, rather than temper the processor to reduce strain. We have contacted Huawei and OnePlus for comment, and will update when both respond.

While many will be pleased their Android phones won’t hit an artificial speed limit in the future, this doesn’t mean Android phones are immune to problems. The iPhone uses the same battery technology as every Android phone — therefore it degrades in the same way — and replacing the battery inside almost all flagship Android phones today is an equally awkward process, as well.

Reports of long-term system slowdown for Android phones aren’t rare either, and are usually caused by lack of storage space, memory fragmentation, or other system issues. Huawei is one company that has acknowledged this, and the company has made it very clear how it addresses the problem. Introduced in EMUI 5.0, it used machine learning to understand how you use your phone, then allocate resources intelligently to speed things up, along with new processes to manage memory. It promises EMUI 5 and above-equipped phones will remain fast even after 18 months of use.

Apple has responded to criticism by lowering the price of a replacement battery for the iPhone, which resolves any device throttling. Apple also went into detail about why it implemented these measures in the first place.

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Install Computer’s Power Supply

Teach you how to replace your computer’s internal power supply component.

Step 1.Find the power supply.

This supplies power to the other components, which is why it has so many wires coming out of it. It is usually positioned at the back top corner of the computer case. The power supply has a fan built into it to keep itself and the computer cool.

Step 2.Get into the tower.

To get into the tower, you will have to remove the panel which is on the right hand side when viewing the tower from the back. Open this side of computer case by removing the screws at the back of the tower which are holding it in place. Then simply slide the panel off.

Step 3.Disconnect the power cables.

Cable from the power supply should be connected to each component requiring power. These cables are easy to disconnect simply pull out the plugs from sockets on the back of the components. The plug and socket on the motherboard are a different shape from the normal type, but it should come out just as easily. It may be a good idea to write down how many sockets were disconnected so you can make sure they are all reconnected later with the new unit.

Step 4.Remove the power supply.

Remove the screws at the back of the power supply unit while supporting it with one hand. Once the screws are undone it should be easy to slip the old unit out of the tower.

Step 5.Power cable connection.

Screw in new drive then connect the power cables to every component that was originally connected. Remember if any components are left unconnected they will not work.

Step 6.Get it going again.

Switch the computer on, if all the components have been connected you should be ready to go.

Q&A

My PSU is on the top front of my case. Can you help me to remove it? It comes with a case so it’s generic?

Check for screws on the outside of the case, and inside of it. See where the PSU is being held into the case. I cannot help that much as I do not know what case you have.

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All the Sensors in Your Smartphone, and How They Work

Your smartphone is a remarkable feat of engineering. It’s half a dozen or more gadgets packed into a single slab. Much of it’s coolest feats are accomplished with a wide range of sensors — but what are they and what do they all actually do?

How does your phone count your steps and replace your fitness tracker? Does GPS use up your data? Which sensors should you make sure are in your next handset?

Here’s all you need to know.

Accelerometer

Accelerometers handle axis-based motion sensing and can be found in fitness trackers as well as phones—they’re the reason why your smartphone can track your steps even if you haven’t bought a separate wearable.

They also tell the phone’s software which way the handset is pointing, something that’s becoming increasingly important with the arrival of augmented reality apps.

As the name kind of gives away, accelerometers measure acceleration, so the map inside Snapchat can put a cute toy car around your bitmoji when you’re driving, plus a host of other actually useful applications.

The sensor is itself made up of other sensors, including microscopic crystal structures that become stressed due to accelerative forces. The accelerometer then interprets the voltage coming from the crystals to figure out how fast your phone is moving and which direction it’s pointing in.

From switching apps from portrait to landscape, to showing your current speed in a driving app, the accelerometer is one of your phone’s most important sensors.

Gyroscope

The gyroscope helps the accelerometer out with understanding which way your phone is orientated— it adds another level of precision so those 360-degree photo spheres really look as impressive as possible.

Whenever you play a racing game on your phone and tilt the screen to steer, the gyroscope rather than the accelerometer is sensing what you’re doing, because you’re only applying small turns to the phone and not actually moving through space.

Gyroscopes aren’t exclusive to phones. They’re used in altimeters inside aircraft to determine altitude and position, for example, and to keep cameras steady on the move.

The gyroscopes inside phones don’t use wheels and gimbals like the traditional mechanical ones you might find in an old plane—instead they’re MEMS (Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems) gyroscopes, a smaller version of the concept embedded on an electronics board so it can fit inside a phone.

The first time MEMS gyroscopes really hit it big was with the iPhone 4 in 2010. Back then, it was incredibly novel to have a phone that could detect orientation with such accuracy—nowadays, we take it for granted.

Magnetometer

Completing the triumvirate of sensors responsible for working out where a phone is in physical space is the magnetometer. Again the name gives it away—it measures magnetic fields and can thus tell you which way is north by varying its voltage output to the phone.

When you go in and out of compass mode in Apple Maps or Google Maps, that’s the magnetometer kicking in to work out which way up the map should be. It also powers standalone compass apps.

Magnetometers are found in metal detectors as well, as they can detect magnetic metals, which is why you can get metal detector apps for your smartphone.

However, the sensor doesn’t work alone for its primary purpose, which is inside mapping apps—it operates in tandem with the data coming from the phone’s accelerometer and GPS unit to figure out whereabouts you are in the world, and which way you’re pointing (very handy for those detailed navigation routes).

GPS

Ah, GPS—Global Positioning System technology—where would we be without you? Probably in a remote, muddy field, cursing the day we ditched our paper maps for the electronic equivalents.

GPS units inside phones gets a ping from a satellite up in space to figure out which part of the planet you’re standing on (or driving through). They don’t actually use any of your phone’s data, which is why you can still see your location when your phone has lost signal, even if the map tiles themselves are a blurry, low-res mess.

In fact, it connects with multiple satellites then calculates where you are based on the angles of intersection. If no satellites can be found—you’re indoors or the cloud cover is heavy—then you won’t be able to get a lock.

And while GPS doesn’t use up data, all this communicating and calculating can be a drain on your battery, which is why most battery-saving guides recommend switching GPS off. Smaller gadgets like most smartwatches don’t include it for the same reason.

GPS isn’t the only way your phone can work out where it is—distance to cell towers can also be used as a rough approximation, as Serial taught us—but if you’ve got some serious navigating to do then it’s essential. Modern-day GPS units inside smartphones actually combine GPS signals with other data, like cell signal strength, to get more accurate location readings.

The best of the rest

You’ve got plenty more sensors in your handset, though they’re perhaps not all as important as the four we’ve just mentioned. Many phones, including the iPhone, have a barometer that measures air pressure: it’s useful for everything from detecting weather changes to calculating the altitude you’re at.

The proximity sensor usually sits up near the top speaker and combines an infrared LED and light detector to work out when you have the phone up to your ear, so that screen can be switched off. The sensor emits a beam of light that gets bounced back, though it’s invisible to the human eye.

Meanwhile the ambient light sensor does exactly what you would expect, taking a measuring of the light in the room and adjusting your screen’s brightness accordingly (if indeed it’s set to auto-adjust).

Like the rest of the tech packed inside your handset, these sensors are getting smaller, smarter, and less power-hungry all the time, so just because phones five years apart both have GPS doesn’t mean they’re both going to be as accurate. Add in software tweaks and optimizations too and it’s more reason to upgrade your handset on a regular basis, even if you’ll almost never see these sensors listed on a specs sheet.

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