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Basic Computer Maintenance
BY STEPHEN DYE
Many people buy a new computer and are simply amazed at its speed. After a period of about a year or so, this same computer grinds to a halt. Why? What makes such a fabulous machine turn into something much worse?
Most of the time these computers just need a little basic maintenance. Here I present a list of what you can do to return your computer to its glory.
1. Back up your data. This is the MOST important step, but probably the most ignored. If the hard disk inside a computer fails, you could loose everything stored on it. If you catch a nasty computer virus, you could loose access to your machine and never see those precious digital photos again. So, before you begin anything else, make sure to create backups of your data. What should you back up? Usually, anything you have saved in the My Documents folder, any special folders you have created on the root of the drive (C:) and program data like your internet bookmarks. If you use an email client like Microsoft Outlook Express, it is important to back up any emails you may have stored locally. One of the best ways to backup data on a modern computer is through the use of writeable CD or DVD media. They are both cheap and fast. Most computers made within the last four years or so typically have at least a cd burner. You may need multiple disks depending on how much data you have. If you have especially valuable files, such as rare family photos you have saved electronically, it is a good idea to make multiple copies and keep them at different locations. Heaven forbid that your house burn down, but its good to be prepared for situations like that.
2. Check for infections. Just like you need to visit the doctor every once in awhile, it is a good idea to check your computer for possible infection. Use your antivirus software to perform a full computer scan, after you update to the latest virus definitions. If you know your computer is infected, it is possible to use an online virus scanner to safely remove the infection (see my guide on virus removal). This is also a good step in which to check your computer for spyware infections. Spyware is not quite the same as computer virus infections, but they both have the same effect - slowing down your machine and possibly causing you to loose your data.
3. Uninstall any programs you no longer use. In the control panel (Start --> Control Panel) click on Add or Remove Programs. It may take a moment for the list to load. When it does, browse through and see if there are any programs or games you no longer use. Remove them if so. This will help to free up space on your hard disk.
4. Perform hard disk maintenance. Making sure your hard disk is optimized is an important part of computer maintenance. The hard disk is one object that can definitely affect a computer's performance. Click Start, and select my computer. Look for your Windows drive (usually C:). Right click on it and select properties. Click on the Disk Cleanup button. This will scan your computer for files that can be removed. When the list comes up review it and click on the checkbox for the things you want to delete. Note that you can safely delete anything in this list. Click OK when you are ready, and it will ask you to confirm that you want to delete the selected files. Click Yes to accept and allow the machine to clean out the trash. It may take a bit, especially if you have not done this in awhile. Once you are done with Disk Cleanup, click on the Tools tab of your C: drive properties dialog box. Click the button that says Check Now under Error Checking. It will ask you what you want to do. Select "Automatically Fix Errors" and click OK. It will warn you that Windows cannot complete the operation and ask if you want to do it at the next restart. Click yes, and then restart your machine, allowing Windows to check your hard disk for errors. Once this is done and your machine has restarted, go back to the tools tab and click on the button that says "Defragment Now." This will bring up the Windows Defragment Utility. Click on defragment, and let your system work. Please note that this can take a very long time, and you should not use your computer while this operation is in process.
5. Clean your computer. Shut down your machine and disconnect all cables, making note of where they go. Take your machine outside and remove its cover (usually one side will come off with a thumb-screw on the back). Use a can of compressed air to spray out any dust or dirt that may have built up, paying special attention to any fans. Once you are done with this, put the cover back on your computer and take it inside. Wipe down the outside of the computer case with a slightly damp cloth to remove any dust or stains that may have built up. Clean your computer monitor with an approved cleaning solution - I like those anti-dust wipes the best.
Congratulations! You have just performed basic computer maintenance on your machine. These things should help keep your computer's performance up and its physical components in their best working condition.
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