Google Stadia Bundle: What’s in the Box and How to Get Started

Google Stadia Bundle: What’s in the Box and How to Get Started

A $129 bundle comes with a controller, Chromecast Ultra and three free months of Stadia Pro. Here’s what’s inside the box and a quick explainer on Google’s game-streaming service.
Google Stadia Founder's Edition Unboxing

Google Stadia, which launches next week, lets you play console- and PC-quality games on your TV, phone, or in a Chrome tab. No need for any specific hardware besides your Google Pixel phone, Chromebook, PC, or Mac.

It works best, however, with the Stadia controller, a $69 gamepad available from Google. A $129 bundle known as the Stadia Premiere Edition adds a Chromecast Ultra and three free months of Stadia Pro; it’s available for pre-order now.

Premiere is largely identical to the Founder’s Edition that Google made available to early adopters in June, save for the controller color. Google sent us a Stadia Founder’s Edition ahead of the launch, so let’s take a look at what’s in the box.

What Is Google Stadia?

Google Stadia is a game-streaming service. This means you can play games that run on Google’s servers rather than your own local console or PC, which are then streamed to your platform of choice. It lets you play modern console and PC games on your phone or in a Chrome tab. The Stadia controller works best, but you can use a DualShock 4 or Xbox Wireless Controller, or even a mouse and keyboard for some games.

The closest thing to a console Stadia has is the Chromecast Ultra, which you can pair with the Stadia controller wirelessly and use it to play Stadia on your TV. For now, you need the Ultra that comes with the $129 Stadia bundle. Existing Chromecast Ultra devices will get an over-the-air update so they work with Stadia, but not before next week’s launch, Google said in a recent Reddit AMA.

You also need a very fast internet connection (Google recommends at least 10Mbps), and a wired connection if you want to play games on anything besides the Chromecast Ultra. The Stadia controller can wirelessly sync with the Chromecast Ultra, but that’s it. If you want to play on your phone or PC, you need to use a USB cable to physically attach the gamepad to it (though compatible Bluetooth controllers can work wirelessly with your PC).

That’s why Google sent us an unbranded phone clip that attaches to the controller, and a short USB-C-to-USB-C cable; for convenience. Curiously, the Stadia controller clip isn’t included with the controller; we reached out to Google to find out if it will be offered separately or in any bundles.

Google also sent us a Pixel 3a XL phone because if you want to play games on Google Stadia with your phone, you need a Pixel 2, 3, 3a, and 4, or the XL version of any of those phones. Sorry, Samsung Galaxy, OnePlus, and other Android phone owners. Stadia will work with iOS 11+ devices, and an iOS-compatible test app was provided for testing, but it will also not be available at launch.


What Does a VPN Security Audit Really Prove?

What Does a VPN Security Audit Really Prove?

Knowing which VPNs you can trust is hard for experts, let alone consumers. Can security audits help the situation? Maybe, but only if you understand how to interpret them.
What Does a VPN Security Audit Really Prove

For years, users relied on nothing more than reputation and trust when it came to evaluating claims made by VPN providers. But more recently, VPNs have been getting independent security audits to back up their privacy and security promises with something other than marketing buzzwords.

“A security audit is one tool that demonstrates the health of a project overall,” said Harlo Holmes, Director of Digital Security at Freedom of the Press Foundation. Jon Callas, senior technology fellow for the ACLU, describes security audits as a second set of eyes. Audit firms can see whether or not a VPN is living up to its intent. But VPN audits aren’t foolproof and they’re not all the same. The question is, what does a VPN audit prove, and how can users judge the value of any given audit?

Published or Unpublished

VPNs often promote their own audits as a way of engendering (or regaining) trust from their users. NordVPN, for example, announced it was commissioning a new audit soon after news of 2018 breaches was recently made public.

Not all companies allow the public to access the results of these audits, however. Simon Migliano, Head of Research at PrivacyCo. (the parent company of Top10VPN) says that VPNs need to publish the audits online without restriction to “embrace the spirit of doing these audits” rather than going through what he sees as essentially an empty gesture. “I don’t think it adds a lot of value for users for them to put a blog post out saying, ‘Hey we’ve done an audit by a company,’ quote one or two paragraphs of supposed findings and then be like, ‘Oh, now you can trust us,'” he said.

It’s not always easy to tell which audit firms themselves are trustworthy, but many have websites that list their auditors, their credentials, and how long they’ve been in the industry, which can be a good starting point. Also, look for audits by firms that independently publish their findings. PricewaterhouseCoopers is a well-known name, and that may inspire some confidence in an audit. Cure53, another name that comes up in connection with security audits might be less well known outside the industry, but it’s more specialized in cybersecurity.

“If [an audit] was only released by the VPN’s PR team, and the independent auditor did not give them permission to use their name, and they didn’t independently publish it, that, in my mind, would raise some questions of how legitimate and how intense that audit was, or how bad were the findings were, and which ones weren’t fixed,” said Jon Camfield, Director of Global Technology Strategy at Internews.

Types of Audits

The two most common VPN audits are privacy audits (which center on verifying the organizations’ logging practices) and more comprehensive security audits (which take a broader look at the company and its security practices). The latter is the type of audit NordVPN says it’s undertaking.

“There is a deliberate muddying of the water at times from the slightly less ethical providers about what they have done when they communicate to their users,” said Migliano. “There seems to be a tendency to use the term ‘independent security audit’ as a catchall for ‘hey, now you can trust us,’ which I don’t think is a good thing.”

Although looking at whether a VPN’s logging policy matches its practices is important, Migliano said, he sees it as incomplete. Companies need to allow auditors to look at “the full spectrum of clients and applications and backend infrastructure and core services” too, he said.

What About Open Source?

Some VPNs that haven’t had their own independent third-party security audits argue that they’re unnecessary because their products use audited open-source tools and libraries. But experts say that’s not enough. “What’s not open is how exactly they tie them together,” said Camfield. “Did they configure them according to industry best practice, or even cryptographic best practice? That’s something that’s super useful for the audit to go in and look at.”

Tools built on audited and open source tools could interface with your system in an insecure way, be implemented incorrectly, have misconfigured code, or incorrectly log or store accounts. “There’s a lot more than just, ‘Oh, we use these open libraries.’ Well, did you use them correctly?” Camfield said.

The Scope of an Audit

Audits typically have a scope, which touches on what exactly is being audited, the methods used, and how comprehensive the engagement is, as well as how many people are auditing the app and how long they have. “If somebody is wanting to game things, they could certainly game it by scoping down the audit to things that they know they’re going to pass,” said Callas.

An audit may, for instance, only cover mobile apps or browser extensions rather than the full VPN you’re planning on using. Sometimes, understanding the scope might require a bit of reading between the lines. “An audit might obfuscate the fact that important things haven’t really been audited,” said Holmes. “For instance, if you have someone audit the GUI, does it actually include the underlying protocol, or the selection of protocols or which encryption protocols are offered and how configurable that is? That actually makes a huge difference.”

A glowing audit with a limited scope doesn’t tell you much about the privacy and security of a VPN at all. For example, a limited scope may only allow auditors to look at source code rather than digging through VPN systems and copies of (or even real) production servers. “Your code could be amazing, but if your backend servers weren’t included in the audit, it isn’t actually holistic or useful in any form or fashion,” said Camfield.

When evaluating audit reports and their scope, Holmes additionally looks for whether auditors implement reproducible building protocols, “so that they can, to a higher degree, prove that what you’re actually downloading and installing matches what the developers actually intended.”

Report Findings

Audit reports are technical documents that lay out what vulnerabilities have been found in the VPN that was evaluated. An audit that shows a VPN had some bugs isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it’s actually good news when auditors find problems that get corrected.

“My view on any sort of bugs and reporting is that the mark of what makes a good company is how they deal with the issues, which includes how fast they fix them, and whether or not they try to weasel out of it being a problem,” Callas said.

Audit reports should include information about fixes during a follow-up engagement when the auditors checked back in. Because security audits only reflect a moment in time, they should be something a company invests in periodically. “You’re not supposed to have an audit once and then never have one again,” said Holmes.

VPNs are updated quite frequently and security bugs are discovered all the time, so more often than not, what’s been audited is not the tool you’re using. “The perfect is the enemy of the good,” said Camfield. “In some idealized perfect world, all the code would be open, the builds would be reproducible (which means you can verify that the open source that everyone can see is exactly what generated the tool that you’re actually using on your device) and each new release would be audited independently.”

“The overhead and the restrictions that would place on tool development are not insignificant,” said Camfield. “So I really see it as, at least do something. Sure, it’s a snapshot in time, but I would much prefer to see everyone go through an annual audit or biannual audit than nothing.”

Not every potential VPN user will bother to scrutinize audits before subscribing. Sometimes you just want to unblock Netflix. But if, say, you’re looking for a VPN to keep you safe and private in an unfriendly environment, it’s probably worth your while to take this sort of thing seriously. And no matter what kind of VPN consumer you are, it can never hurt to be better informed.


9 Ways to Make Customers Want to Open Your Emails

9 Ways to Make Customers Want to Open Your Emails

Productivity Expert Jill Duffy explains how to get more recipients to actually open those critical messages, whether they’re marketing, sales, or any other kind of list-based emails.
9 Ways to Get More People to Open Your Emails

How many people open the email you send? If you maintain an email list for a business, brand, organization, or personality, you can improve your emails to make them more enticing to open. The same can be said for anyone who has to cold-contact people for sales, PR, or other opportunities.

If you’re running an email list, you’ll need email marketing software to start. Email marketing software helps you send a message to large numbers of people, as well as collect statistics about how many people open the message, click links in the email, and so forth. Some professional email marketing tools also let you run A/B tests, so you can find out whether changing something about your message, such as the day of the week you send it, has a significant effect on your open rate.

Here are some tips for improving your email open response rate.

Get Organized stock photo Neonbrand Unsplash

1. Review the Rules

Before you do anything with an email list, make sure you’re in compliance with all applicable laws. The laws vary by region. For example, in the US, the CAN-SPAM act outlines all the rules for commercial, relationship, and transactional email. It says you can’t use false or misleading headers or subject lines, and if the email is an ad, it must be identified as such. You have to give people a way to opt out as well. There’s more. Read it.

Residents of the EU are covered by GDPR’s regulations for email, even if the company sending the mail is registered in another country.

Make sure you know the rules so that you don’t violate them when trying to improve your email open response rate.

2. Run Maintenance on Your Subscriber List

Having a lot of duds on an email subscriber list lowers your open rate. Clean up your subscriber list from time to time by removing dead addresses (those that have sent a bounce-back message) as well as anyone with a track record of not opening your messages (say, anyone who hasn’t opened an email in six months or a year).

3. Give People More Ways to Join Your List

People who actively signed up to receive your emails are more likely to open them than someone who was added without their knowledge. So while some organizations may buy lists of email addresses for distribution, the best subscribers are those who want to receive your messages. Give those people several ways to sign up.

Get Organized email signup from builder

Promote your email list on your organization’s website, social media accounts, and other places where you can pick up eager new subscribers. You can use simple and free form builders, such as Google Forms, where available, or look for specialized ones for your platform. For example, there are plug-in form builders for people getting started with WordPress, some of which include easy drag-and-drop options for compliance issues such as GDPR.

4. Deliver What You Promise, and Be Consistent

People sign up to receive emails for a reason, whether to get news summaries, exclusive deals, coupon codes, or inside information. Make sure you deliver what you promise the first time and every time you send an email.

Be consistent in other areas, too. Use a consistent voice. Match the style and tone of the email to the brand, product, or organization. If your messages are informational in nature, send them at a consistent time, such as once per week on the same day and time every week.

Speaking of when to send a message, there is no “right” time or day. It depends on your audience, the type of email you send, and other factors. Use that A/B testing I mentioned earlier to see if you get better results on different days and times.

5. Spend Time on Your Subject Line

The subject line may be the most important asset within your control influencing whether someone will open your email. Spend time on it and try several variations.

Get Organized email subject line

Make the subject line accurate to the subject matter. Avoid putting questions in the subject line. Keep it short and catchy. Exactly how many words or characters should you use? Advice ranges from about 45 to no more than 100 characters, mostly to keep the subject line visible on mobile devices. Six to 10 words should do the trick.

I recommend brainstorming five or so possible subject lines for every email you send. Ask your colleagues which one is most compelling. And always ask yourself what would make you click to open it.

6. Carefully Craft the First Line of the Body

Everyone who receives your email will, in theory, see the subject line. Many recipients will also see the first few words of the body in preview. So if the subject line hooks them, the first line needs to reel them in. Put in some effort into crafting it.

Write the first line of the body so that it adds to the subject line rather than repeats it. Keep it accurate (don’t write clickbait) and get to the point. Deliver what you promised!

7. Customize the ‘From’ Name

Who sends your emails? If it’s Rose or Julio from the marketing department, consider putting their name in the ‘from’ line to give your emails a personal touch, if it’s appropriate based on the content. Rose@companyname.com is friendlier than news@companyname.com.

If it doesn’t make sense to use a human name, at the very least, use something other than noreply@companyname.com.

8. Proofread Before You Send

Keep your audience interested in opening future emails by delivering professional content. Have another person proofread it, not only for typos, but also for meaning, readability, and factual errors.

The proofreader should pay close attention to the subject line and first line of text for length and to assess whether they deliver on whatever promise you’ve made to your audience. Proofers should also click all links to verify that they work. Proof emails on a desktop computer and a mobile device, or in previews of those platforms if your email marketing tool offers them.

9. Get to the Point

Another way to keep people interested and increase the odds that they open your future emails is to cut to the chase. For example, if your email has news of a sale, tell people what’s on sale (with pictures when applicable), how much the discount is, and how they can get the sale prices. If your email is pitching a product, give the name of the product, a single description of what it does, the availability, and a link to the product’s website with more information.

The more you get to the point and give people what they want, the more likely they are to trust your emails and open them again in the future.

More Email Marketing Tips

Every email list has its purpose and audience, both of which affect how you should go about increasing your email open response rate. Whenever possible, collect data and make changes in a conscientious manner so that you can track the results.



AMD Ryzen 5 3600X

AMD Ryzen 5 3600X

  • PROS

    Multithreading support. Overclockable. Robust management software. Backwards-compatible with older AM4 motherboards. Included cooling fan.

  • CONS

    No integrated graphics. Hampers performance on some demanding games.


    The six-core AMD Ryzen 5 3600X is an excellent mainstream CPU, offering proficient performance, multithreading, and overclockability.

The third generation of AMD’s Ryzen CPUs brings the incremental improvements to clock speeds that you’d expect of a new processor architecture. It also offers significant ancillary benefits—much larger caches and PCI Express 4.0 support—that will appeal to upgraders and system builders who seek a degree of future-proofing. One of the sweet spots of the new lineup is the Ryzen 5 3600X ($250). Like most AMD chips, it lacks integrated graphics, but it makes up for it in terms of multithreading and easy overclocking, two features that some of its Intel competitors lack. It’s an excellent choice for a mainstream or entry-level gaming PC.

Sizing Up Specs

There are currently two third-generation Ryzen 5 chips based on AMD’s latest Zen 2 microarchitecture, the Ryzen 5 3600X and Ryzen 5 3600. Both have six cores with multithreading support, which means each processing core can handle two instruction threads at a time for a total of 12 threads. The Ryzen 5 3600X tested here is a 95-watt chip with a 3.8GHz base and 4.4GHz boost clock. The $199 Ryzen 5 3600, meanwhile, is a 65-watt part that comes in at 3.6GHz base and 4.2GHz boost. (A third Ryzen 5 CPU, the Ryzen 5 3400G, is technically part of the third generation but costs less and uses the older Zen+ microarchitecture.)

AMD Ryzen 5 3600X-3

Compared with their predecessors’ specs, these improvements are slight. The second-generation Ryzen 5 2600X is also a six-core, 12-thread, 95-watt chip. The main differences are its base and boost clock speeds of 3.6GHz and 4.2GHz respectively. In addition to the small clock speed uptick, however, the third generation boasts a major cache improvement: The Ryzen 5 3600X carries a considerable 35MB Level 3 cache, a capacity it shares with the Ryzen 5 3600. That’s more than double the 16MB of the preceding Ryzen 5 2600X and Ryzen 5 2600.

Both of the third-gen Ryzen 5 chips feature 24 CPU-based PCI Express 4.0 lanes and 16 chipset lanes. For now, the third-generation Ryzen CPUs are the only ones to feature PCIe Gen 4. This enables much faster data throughput for solid-state drives, and could also improve the performance of future graphics cards. If you’re planning on installing a PCIe Gen 4 SSD in your new Ryzen 5 3600X build, you’ll need a motherboard that supports PCIe Gen 4 as well. If not, you can choose from nearly any AM4 motherboard, since the Ryzen 5 3600X is backwards-compatible (though some boards may need a BIOS update before you install the chip).

How Intel Compares

Intel’s latest tenth-generation chips aren’t available in mainstream desktop form yet, so the company’s chief competitors to the Ryzen 5 3600X are CPUs from the ninth-generation “Coffee Lake” Core i5 family. These include the Core i5-9600K, a six-core chip that at $263 costs roughly the same as the Ryzen 5 3600X. Its clock speeds are similar, at 3.7GHz base and 4.6GHz boost, and it has the same 95-watt rated power consumption. It’s also overclockable, like the AMD part.

AMD Ryzen 5 3600X-2

The Core i5-9600K, however, lacks support for both PCIe Gen 4 and Hyper-Threading (Intel’s marketing term for multithreading). This could significantly impact performance when running apps such as modern multimedia content creation programs that are designed to take advantage of as many cores and threads as a processor has to offer. The Core i5-9600K also has a much smaller 9MB L3 cache. The cache size is important for apps that need fast access to a system’s memory, a category that includes many graphics-intensive PC games.

If you’re building a PC from scratch, the Core i5-9600K’s lack of an included CPU cooling solution also counts against it. AMD provides a very capable Wraith Spire cooling fan in the box with the Ryzen 5 3600X, which will likely provide all the cooling you need to run the chip at its stock clock speeds. The fact that the Core i5-9600K includes no stock cooler or heatsink means you’ll have to budget extra to buy a third-party one, unless you’ve got an unused one lying around.

Other Included Extras

To help you fine-tune the performance of the Ryzen 5 3600X, AMD offers the Ryzen Master software utility, which is compatible with all Ryzen CPUs. It accomplishes many tasks, including adjusting clock speeds and memory profiles, without needing to boot into the BIOS. Its closest equivalent is Intel’s XMP app, though the latter is primarily intended for overclockers and I don’t find it as robust as Ryzen Master.

AMD Ryzen Master 2.0

AMD also currently includes three free months of Xbox Game Pass for PC with the Ryzen 5 3600X. Both the Ryzen 5 3600X and Core i5-9600K come with three-year warranties.

Excellent Everyday Performance

To judge the Ryzen 5 3600X’s performance, I compared its results on our benchmark tests with several of its Ryzen alternatives, as well as a few older Intel competitors. These include the Ryzen 5 3600 and the preceding Ryzen 5 2600X.

I’ve also included AMD CPUs one rung above and below the Ryzen 5 3600X. The Ryzen 5 3400G is a $149 chip that has fewer cores and a lower TDP, while the Ryzen 7 3700X is an eight-core, 16-thread chip that is our Editors’ Choice winner for best mainstream CPU. It’s always helpful to see what kind of performance you can expect by slightly increasing your CPU budget, since the processor is often the most important component in a PC build.

Because PCMag hasn’t yet tested the Core i5-9600K, I’ve instead included performance numbers from the older Core i5-8400 and Core i7-8700K$379.99 at Newegg.

Our Cinebench test is one of the best predictors of performance on resource-intensive tasks such as rendering a 3D image. The Ryzen 5 3600X did admirably here, besting all comers except for the Ryzen 7 3700X on the all-cores Cinebench test. When running on just a single core, the Ryzen 5 3600X was a tad slower than both the Ryzen 7 3700X and the Core i7-8700K.

AMD Ryzen 5 3600X Performance Chart

Single-core performance is important if you’re relying on older software that’s not optimized for today’s many-core CPUs, and it’s an area in which Ryzen chips have historically lagged compared with their Intel competitors. Our audio encoding test, which uses the already-obsolete Apple iTunes software, offers a closer examination of performance on single-core tasks. On this test, the Core i7-8700K demonstrates a clear advantage.

AMD Ryzen 5 3600X Performance Chart

At the opposite end of the spectrum, our video encoding test offers a glimpse at expected performance while using Handbrake, a modern open-source app designed to scale with more CPU cores and threads. The results are predictable but the differences are even more pronounced, with the Ryzen 5 3600X far outpacing the less expensive Ryzen 5 3400G.

AMD Ryzen 5 3600X Performance Chart

Almost every PC user will need to compress or unzip files at some point, a CPU-intensive task that we simulate with our 7-Zip benchmark. Here, the results closely mirrored those of the Cinebench all-cores test, with the Ryzen 5 3600X faster than all but the Ryzen 7 3700X and the Core i7-8700K.

AMD Ryzen 5 3600X Performance Chart

Gaming Performance Occasionally Suffers

While a PC’s GPU is the most important factor in determining its performance on demanding AAA games, the CPU can also play a role. This is especially true when you’re trying to eke out every last frame per second (fps) while playing at full HD (1080p) resolution. On the in-game benchmarks of popular titles like Far Cry 5 and Hitman: Absolution, the Ryzen 5 3600X significantly underperforms when compared with more expensive CPUs like the Intel Core i9-9900K and Ryzen 9 3900X$499.99 at Newegg.

On the other hand, some games aren’t as limited by CPU performance, such as Counter Strike: Global Offensive. On this title, nearly all the high-end and mainstream CPUs we’ve tested achieved frame rates around the 400fps mark at 1080p. And if you’re planning on playing at 4K resolution, the graphics card is by far the more limiting factor. On Far Cry 5, all the processors managed approximately 70fps at 4K resolution.

AMD Ryzen 5 3600X Graphics Performance Chart

Finally, the Ryzen 5 3600X is no substitute for a high-end CPU of the type you’d expect to install in a serious gaming rig or multimedia editing workstation. That’s clear from the results of our POV-Ray and Blender tests, which use popular content creation apps to simulate workflows typical of game and visual effects studios.

AMD Ryzen 5 3600X Performance Chart

AMD Ryzen 5 3600X Performance Chart

There are some slight variations, but the Ryzen 5 3600X and other chips performed roughly equally, especially on the Blender test. If you’re building a powerful PC to perform these tasks, you’ll want to invest in a far more capable processor, such as a Ryzen Threadripper or Intel Core i9.

With Great Specs Come Great Capabilities

The Ryzen 5 3600X’s multithreading support and newly increased cache size help it achieve excellent mainstream performance. In most cases, the Ryzen 7 3700X slightly exceeds that performance, which is why it retains our Editors’ Choice for best mainstream CPU. If you don’t want to pay the $80 premium for the Ryzen 7 3700X, however, the Ryzen 5 3600X is an excellent option.

The only PC builders who should probably shun the Ryzen 5 3600X are gamers or content creators whose workflows call for voracious computing resources. If you really want to eke out the fastest frame rate, it’s worth investing in a more potent Ryzen 9 or Core i9. On the other hand, if you’re a casual gamer uninterested in a discrete GPU, you’ll want a CPU with a capable built-in graphics processor like the Ryzen 5 3400G.

AMD Ryzen 5 3600X-1

Finally, no matter what your reason for buying a new CPU, it’s hard to argue with the Ryzen 5 3600X’s backwards motherboard compatibility and support for the cutting-edge PCIe 4.0 standard. The Intel competition currently lacks this last feature, and combined with multithreading support, it firmly tips the scales in the Ryzen 5 3600X’s favor, at least in the eyes of the future-proofing enthusiast.


10 Ways to Boost Your Wi-Fi Signal

10 Ways to Boost Your Wi-Fi Signal

Check out these quick tips to boost your wireless signal from your router, extend and optimize your Wi-Fi coverage, and speed up your surfing.
10 Ways to Boost Your Wi-Fi Signal

Browsing slowing to a crawl, the inability to stream, dropped Wi-Fi signals, wireless dead zones—every one of these problems is maddening in a world where getting online has become, for some, as necessary as breathing. (Well, maybe not that critical…but important.)

If you feel like your Wi-Fi has gotten sluggish, there are many tools you can use to test the speed of your internet. However, if the only way you can get decent reception is by standing next to your wireless router, these simple tips can help optimize your network.

1. Update Your Router Firmware

Perhaps your router just needs an update. Router manufacturers are always tweaking software to eke out a bit more speed. How easy—or how hard—it is to upgrade your firmware depends entirely on your device manufacturer and model.

Trendnet firmware update

Most current routers have the update process built right into the administration interface, so it’s just a matter of hitting a firmware upgrade button. Other models, particularly if they’re older, still require you to go to the manufacturer’s website, download a firmware file from your router’s support page, and upload it to the administration interface. It’s tedious, but still a good thing to do since it would be such a simple fix.

In fact, even if your wireless network isn’t ailing, you should make it a point to update your firmware on a regular basis for performance improvements, better features, and security updates. (Here’s how to access your router’s settings.)

2. Achieve Optimal Router Placement

Not all rooms and spaces are created equal. The fact is, where you place the router can affect your wireless coverage. It may seem logical to have the router inside a cabinet and out of the way, or right by the window where the cable comes in, but that’s not always the case. Rather than relegating it to a far end of your home, the router should be in the center of your house, if possible, so its signal can reach as far as possible.


(Casezy idea/shutterstock.com)

In addition, wireless routers need open spaces, away from walls and obstructions. So while it’s tempting to put that ugly black box in a cabinet or behind a bunch of books, you’ll get better signal if it’s surrounded by open air (which should prevent the router from overheating, too). Keep it away from heavy-duty appliances or electronics as well, since running those in close proximity can impact Wi-Fi performance.

If your router has external antennas, orient them vertically to bump up coverage. If you can, it even helps to elevate the router—mount it high on the wall or on the top shelf to get a better signal. There are plenty of tools to help you visualize your network coverage. Personally, I like Heatmapper or our Editors’ Choice inSSIDer, which shows you both the weak and strong spots in your Wi-Fi network. There are plenty of mobile apps, too, such as Netgear’s WiFi Analytics.

3. What’s Your Frequency?

Take a look at your network’s administrator interface, and make sure you have it configured for optimum performance. If you have a dual-band router, you’ll likely get better throughput by switching to the 5GHz band instead of using the more common 2.4GHz band.

wireless router frequency

Not only does 5GHz offer faster speeds, but you’ll likely encounter less interference from other wireless networks and devices, because the 5GHz frequency is not as commonly used. (It doesn’t handle obstructions and distances quite as well, though, so it won’t necessarily reach as far as a 2.4GHz signal does.)

Most modern dual-band routers should offer you the option to use the same network name, or SSID, on both bands. Check your router’s administration interface, look for the 5GHz network option, and give it the same SSID and password as your 2.4GHz network. That way, your devices will automatically choose the best signal whenever they can. (If your router doesn’t offer you the option to use the same SSID, just give it another name—like SmithHouse-5GHz—and try to connect to that one manually whenever possible.)

4. Change That Channel

Interference is a big issue, especially for those who live in densely populated areas. Signals from other wireless networks can impact speeds, not to mention some cordless phone systems, microwaves, and other electronic devices.

Ever play with walkie-talkies as a kid? You may remember how the units needed to be on the same “channel” in order for you to hear each other. And if you happened to be on the same channel as your neighbors, you could listen in on someone else’s conversation, even if they were using a completely different set.

In the same vein, all modern routers can switch across different channels when communicating with your devices. Most routers will choose the channel for you, but if neighboring wireless networks are also using the same channel, then you are going to encounter signal congestion. A good router set to Automatic will try to choose the least congested channel, but many cheaper routers will just choose a predefined channel, even if it isn’t the best one. That could be a problem.

Change That Channel

On Windows-based PCs, you can see what channels neighboring Wi-Fi networks are using. From the command prompt type netsh wlan show all, and you’ll see a list of all wireless networks and the channels being used in your vicinity.

At PCMag, for instance, most of our networks and those of our neighbors are using channels 6 and 11. In general, for 2.4GHz you want to stick to channels 1, 6, and 11 since they’re the only ones that don’t overlap with other channels (which can degrade performance). 5GHz generally uses non-overlapping channels, however, which should make selecting the right one much easier.

If you find the Auto setting isn’t working well for you, sign into your router’s administrator interface, head to the basic wireless category, and try selecting one manually (ideally, one that isn’t in use by many networks in your area). See if that provides a better signal and faster speeds over the Automatic setting. Keep in mind that channel congestion can change over time, so if you choose a channel manually, you may want to check in once in a while to make sure it’s still the best one.

It’s also possible the problem isn’t interference or other networks. Is there a chance you have unwanted guests piggybacking on your network? These tools can help you find a list of devices on your Wi-Fi to sniff out uninvited neighbors. If it’s an open network, close it and set up a strong password—preferably WPA2, as WEP is notoriously easy to crack—so others can’t join in.

5. Control Quality

Most modern routers come with Quality of Service (QoS) tools to limit the amount of bandwidth that apps use, like the Netgear menu below.

QoS Priority Rule

For example, you could use QoS to prioritize video calls over file downloads—that way, your call with grandma won’t drop just because someone else is grabbing a big file from Dropbox. (Sure, their file will take longer, but grandma is more important.) Some QoS settings even allow you to prioritize different apps at different times of day.

QoS settings can typically be found under advanced settings in the network’s administrator interface. Some routers may even make it easier by offering a one-click multimedia or gaming setting, so you know those applications will be prioritized.

6. Don’t Rely on Obsolete Hardware

It’s a good idea to get the most out of your existing equipment, but if you are running old hardware you can’t expect the best performance. We have a tendency to subscribe to the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality with back-end devices, especially networking gear. However, if you bought your router years ago, you might still be using the older, slower 802.11n standard (or God forbid, 802.11g).

These wireless standards cap at fairly low bandwidths. Thus, all the tweaking we’ve outlined above will only get you so far—the maximum throughput for 802.11g is 54Mbps, while 802.11n caps out at 300Mbps. The latest 802.11ac supports 1Gbps, while next-gen Wi-Fi 6 routers can theoretically hit 10Gbps, but it’s early days. Our list of the best wireless routers is a good place to start the search for a faster router.

Routers circa 2013

Even if your router is new, you might have some ancient devices that are falling back to older, slower standards. If you bought a PC within the last couple of years, you likely have an 802.11ac wireless adapter, or at least 802.11n. But the older your devices, the less likely they are to have modern tech built in. (You might be able to buy a USB Wi-Fi adapter that makes things a bit better on those old machines, though.)

Remember, a higher-quality router won’t just support those faster standards—it’ll also do all the things we’ve outlined above better. It’ll perform better channel selection, band steering for 5GHz devices, and have better QoS features.

Others may have features like Multi User-Multiple Input Multiple Output (MU-MIMO), like the Netgear Nighthawk X10 AD7200 Smart WiFi Router. MU-MIMO routers can send and receive multiple data streams simultaneously to multiple devices without bandwidth degradation and require specialized testing with multiple clients, but the clients need to be MU-MIMO compatible.

7. Replace Your Antenna

If your router uses an internal antenna, adding an external one would be a good idea, as the latter tends to send a stronger signal. Your router may have come with antennas you can add on yourself, but if not (or if you threw them away long ago), many router manufacturers sell antennas separately.

The Best Wireless Routers of 2018

In many cases, you can choose between omnidirectional antennas, which send a signal to all directions, or directional ones, which send a signal in one specific direction. Most built-in antennas tend to be omnidirectional, so if you are buying an external one, it should be marked “high-gain” to actually make a difference.

A directional antenna tends to be a better option, since odds are that you aren’t experiencing weak spots in your network in every direction. Point your external antenna in the direction of your weak spot, and it will broadcast the signal accordingly. Check your router manufacturer’s website for details on what to buy.

8. Set Up a Wireless Range Extender

Distance is one of the more obvious problems—there is a certain optimal range that the wireless signal can travel. If the network has to cover an area larger than the router is capable of transmitting to, or if there are lots of corners to go around and walls to penetrate, performance will take a hit.

If all of the above fail, it’s possible that your house is just too big for a single router to send a good signal everywhere. All routers are only capable of broadcasting reliably up to a certain distance before the signal gets weak. If you want to extend your signal beyond that, you’ll need a range extender of some sort.

Best Wireless Range Extenders

Range extenders looks similar to standard routers, but work differently. For starters, they pick up the existing Wi-Fi signal from your wireless router and simply rebroadcast it. As far as your network router is concerned, the range extender is just another client with an IP address, much like a laptop.

Even though it’s not a router, you should still use the same rules for figuring out placement; the extender should be close enough to your main network router to pick up a solid signal, but close enough to the weak spot so it can do its job of, well, extending that signal.

The extended signal will almost never be as good as the original, but it’s better than nothing—though if you can connect the extender with Ethernet or Powerline instead of wirelessly, it’ll be much better.

You don’t need an extender that is the same brand or model as your existing router, though in some cases, extenders of the same brand may offer extra features (like Linksys’ MaxStream routers and their “seamless roaming”).

Above all else, make sure you pick one that can broadcast an equivalent signal: don’t buy an 802.11n extender if your router is on 802.11ac. For more on how to choose and set up an extender, take a look at the best wireless range extenders we’ve tested.

9. Upgrade to a Mesh-Based Wi-Fi System

Range extenders help bring connectivity to dead zones, but wireless range extenders usually provide about half the bandwidth you’ll get from your primary router. Plus, they often require separate management from two different administration pages, and can even force you to use two different SSIDs, which is a huge pain. If you want seamless connectivity everywhere in your home, manageable from a simple smartphone app, consider upgrading your whole network a mesh Wi-Fi system instead.

Top-Rated Mesh Systems

Designed to cover every corner of your home, mesh Wi-Fi systems aim to replace your router rather than just extend it. You’ll connect one node directly to your modem, then place one or more satellite nodes around your house. The included app will walk you through the setup, ensuring each node is placed in the ideal spot for the best signal.

The resulting setup blankets your house with a single wireless network, which uses a single administration interface (in the form of a friendly mobile app), and often dedicates at least one wireless band to network backhaul, offering better performance than many extenders. Lots of mesh systems will even update your firmware automatically, so you always have the latest performance and security enhancements—no more downloading firmware from the manufacturer website.

The downside: mesh Wi-Fi Systems aren’t cheap, especially if you have a large home, which will require multiple nodes. But if you’re in the market for a new router anyway, they might be worth considering as an alternative. For more, check out our list of the best mesh network systems, as well as our guide for setting one up.

10. Get Into the Guts of Your Router

If you really want to get the most out of your current router, the adventurous should look at the open-source DD-WRT router operating system. Many major router manufacturers, such as Linksys, Netgear, and TrendNET offer routers that can run DD-WRT. Or you can simply download DD-WRT and install it on any compatible router you have lying around.

DD-WRT can ramp up performance and give you access to more advanced networking features including virtual private networking (VPN), security, and granular customization. You can even install one right onto your router.

For more tips to help speed up your surfing, check out How to Set Up and Configure Your Router. Having problems with even getting or maintaining a signal? Then Tips for Troubleshooting Your Internet Connection is worth a read. Once you’ve made all the necessary tweaks to optimize your wireless network, test your Internet speed below.


Facebook’s Fact-Check Scandal Is a Symptom of Something Bigger

Facebook’s Fact-Check Scandal Is a Symptom of Something Bigger

Facebook’s policy on political ads is no different than those of campaign commercials, but the social network’s size and scale makes the debate more serious.
Mark Zuckerberg at Georgetown, October 2019


On Oct. 23, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was summoned to Capitol Hill, ostensibly to give details about the company’s Libra cryptocurrency. Instead, questions from Congress ran the gamut and included a headline-grabbing exchange with Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez about whether Facebook fact-checks its political ads.

OpinionsOcasio-Cortez asked whether she could pay to target predominantly black areas, using location and demographic information held by Facebook, to advertise the wrong election date. Zuckerberg said such an ad would be taken down.

Ocasio-Cortez then asked whether she could theoretically run ads falsely claiming that certain Republicans had voted for the Green New Deal. “Probably,” Zuckerberg responded.

“In most cases, in a democracy, I believe that people should be able to see for themselves what politicians that they may or may not vote for are saying and judge their character for themselves,” Zuckerberg said. In essence, Facebook will remove ads that might incite violence or supress turnout, but will not fact-check ads from politicians.

This issue came up because the Trump campaign ran a digital ad last month, which falsely stated that “Joe Biden promised Ukraine $1 billion dollars if they fired the prosecutor investigating his son’s company.” Both Factcheck and Politifact had already said the claim was false, but because political ads are held to different standards, the ad remained on Facebook.

The criticisms with this policy are obvious. The electorate’s ability to fact-check information is a privilege, not a duty. Most people simply do not have the time. As we have seen before on Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp—from anti-vaccination content to dangerous misinformation—people can be easily taken in by fake news when they have more pressing daily responsibilities.

Since 2016, Facebook has collaborated with fact-checking organizations around the globe to flag and identify content that contains falsehoods. It does not use this service for political ads because it’s not an “appropriate role for us to referee political debates and prevent a politician’s speech from reaching its audience and being subject to public debate and scrutiny,” according to Nick Clegg, Facebook’s VP of Global Affairs and Communications.

Related Articles Facebook

Even if it did mark ads as false, it’s unclear whether that would have a huge impact. In 2017, the company began putting a large, red warning label underneath content it had deemed fake news. However, Facebook found that “putting a strong image, like a red flag, next to an article may actually entrench deeply held beliefs” rather than inform or change any minds.

And fact-checking really only scratches the surface of what’s posted to Facebook, which has 1.63 billion daily active users. UK fact-checking partner Full Fact said this summer that Facebook “need[s] to scale up the volume of content and speed of response.” Though Facebook is working on AI tools that could identify fake news at scale, Full Fact is doubtful that the data and rating systems required to train a machine learning algorithm would produce high-quality outputs.

Just Ban Everything?

Facebook could ban all political ads, as Twitter has done, but Facebook argues that such a move would “tilt the scales in favor of incumbent politicians and candidates with deep pockets.” In fact, it tried this in Washington state to avoid a campaign finance legal battle, but it “resulted in a tangle of uneven enforcement and confusing rules, making it a cautionary tale for what a poorly implemented ad ban might mean for the 2020 campaigns,” The Verge reports.

Facebook could ban microtargetting of political ads, and its former head of the elections integrity team has suggested that custom targeting tools allow for an unequal playing field in exchange for cash.

Zuckerberg says “ads from politicians will be less than 0.5 percent of our revenue next year.”

No Power of Censorship

These challenges in the social media world are symptoms of a wider problem: political messages are not subject to fact checking at all.

Political advertisements are protected under the Communications Act, which states that broadcasters running political ads “shall have no power of censorship over the material broadcast.” This is underpinned by the First Amendment and the very notion of self-governance on which America is built. In theory, voters—given enough information—should be able to figure out who is most qualified to serve. As such, politicians are somewhat paradoxically allowed to lie to voters.

In 2014, Ohio passed a law making it illegal to broadcast “a false statement concerning the voting record” of a candidate. Nevertheless, when an anti-abortion group tried to put up billboards falsely claiming a congressman had voted for abortion funding by voting for President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, a federal District Court judge ruled against the law, reasoning that that “We do not want the government deciding what is political truth—for fear that the government might persecute those who criticize it. Instead, in a democracy, the voters should decide.”

Facebook point to the First Amendment too, and it’s what Zuckerberg leaned on when he said “we should err on the side of greater expression.” It’s also why he met with prominent conservatives like Tucker Carlson and Lindsey Graham; “hearing from a wide range of viewpoints is part of learning. If you haven’t tried it, I suggest you do!” he wrote. When asked whether Zuckerberg had met with any left-leaning personalities, Facebook did not say.

This issue is not unique to the US. Despite not having freedom of speech enshrined in the same way, political advertisements in the United Kingdom are also not subject to any standard of truth. Since 1999, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), the independent regulatory body for the advertising industry, has not been responsible for political ads because of concerns that the “independence of the system could be damaged by rulings for or against political parties.”

The UK, though, does not broadcast political ads on television; instead, parties make their case via party political broadcasts. But on social media, politicians on both sides of the Atlantic are playing the same game.

The Conservative Party, for example, put out an ad on Facebook claiming, inaccurately, that they were allocating double the amount of money to schools than they actually were. Following an investigation by Full Fact, Facebook pulled the ad—not because it was inaccurate, but because it violated Facebook’s Pages policy. At that point, it had been seen between 222,000 and 510,000 times.

It is obvious why political ads on Facebook should be held to a different standard than ads through traditional media, such as newspapers and broadcasts. Facebook content has the potential to reach millions of people in seconds, and can be tailored specifically to the person receiving it based on their location, interests, age, or gender. Moreover, we’ve already seen the impact of how the vast quantity of data collected by the social media site can be weaponized to influence elections. Facebook built the tools, and it should take some responsibility for the behavior of malicious individuals using them.

But ultimately, Facebook’s confusing arguments dig deep into the contradiction of free speech: it is there so that we may judge our politicians, but how beneficial is that to a democracy when politicians can use it as a shield for dishonesty? Facebook is not the problem when it is mirroring the philosophy of political ads, and political ads are not the problem when they are built upon this paradox. Yet it is a paradox that needs addressing—for the good of Facebook, politicians, and of democracy.


How to Get and Use Apple TV+

How to Get and Use Apple TV+

Apple offers a free, seven-day trial of Apple TV+, while those with a new Apple device get it free for a year. Here’s how to get Apple’s new streaming service.
 How to Get and Use Apple TV+

Apple has officially entered the video-streaming wars with Apple TV+, which debuts today on Apple devices and select Samsung smart TVs.

At $4.99 per month, Apple TV+ is cheaper than rival video-streaming services, but its library is quite limited compared to content powerhouses like Netflix and Amazon. Launch day titles include The Morning Show with Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston, and Steve Carell; See with Jason Momoa; and Dickinson with Hailee Steinfeld. You can binge-watch a full season of some shows, while others are debuting with three episodes and will add more over time.

To watch, you’ll need the Apple TV app, as well as a device running iOS 12.3 or later, tvOS 12.3 or later, or macOS Catalina. It’s also available on the Apple TV (4K, HD, and third-gen), as well as 2018, 2019, and newer Samsung smart TVs and select Roku and Amazon Fire TV devices.

Apple is offering a free, seven-day trial of Apple TV+. Those who buy a new iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, Mac, or iPod touch will get a year of Apple TV+ for free. Those who subscribe to an Apple Music student plan will also get free access to Apple TV+ for a limited time.

Here’s how to get up and running with Apple TV+.

View As:

Upgrade iOS and macOS

In this tutorial, we’ll sign up for Apple TV+ on an iPhone. But whether you do so from iOS, iPadOS, or macOS, make sure you upgrade your device. The Apple TV app will already be installed; launch it and scroll to Apple TV+; tap Try it free > Try Apple TV+ for Free.


Sign Up for Apple TV+

Tap “Start Watching.” (Those with new Apple devices might also see a prompt that tells them about the one-year deal.) You’ll be asked to confirm payment, which will kick in after a week for those who have older devices. You might also have to verify payment details.

Browse Apple Originals

Back in the TV app, you can now browse and watch Apple Originals. Scroll left or right to navigate through available episodes.

Download Apple TV+ Shows

If you want to watch on a plane or during a commute with spotty service, Apple TV+ allows for show downloads. Look for the cloud icon and tap it. Downloaded shows can be found via Library > Downloaded.

Cancel Apple TV+

To cancel Apple TV+ before you’re charged $4.99, navigate to Settings > [your name] > Subscriptions > Apple TV+ > Cancel Subscription.