Warning: Always look at the date when you read a hardware article. Some of the content in this article is most likely out of date, as it was written on April 29, 2008. Check out our more recent articles.
Everyone loves computers when they work. Everyone screams at them when they don’t. Here’s ten ways to keep your computer running smoothly into its old age. While I can’t promise that these tips will keep your computer from ever having problems, it will at least help prevent them, and make recovery easier when they do occur.
|1. Back up your data.|
When was the last time that you backed up your data? Not ‘when was the last time you thought about it’, or ‘when was the last time you told someone how important it is’, but when was the last time you actually backed up your data? And how much will you lose if your current hard drive fails right now and you have to rely on that backup?
|2. Clean dust from your computer.|
Computers are some of the most efficient dust collectors known to man. Aside from looking gross and possibly being an allergy hazard, a dusty computer will trap heat, which can reduce its performance and lifespan. The easiest way to clean it is with compressed air – open up the case, take it outside, and blow the dust out. The exterior of the case can be wiped down with a damp cloth. Be careful about using household cleaners, as they can easily destroy circuit boards. For most computers, cleaning once every year or eighteen months should be adequate.
|3. Clean up your cabling, and everything else too.|
There are probably two things behind your computer: a mess of cables, and dust bunnies. If you’re moving your computer, take the opportunity to clean your desk and floor as well. While I can’t claim that a clean work area will improve your computer’s performance or lifespan, it will certainly improve your peace of mind, and clean cabling will help prevent snags and stresses on your computer ports. If you have a lot of peripherals, consider using cable management of some type. Twist ties work fine, or make a trip to any large office supply store. You can use a full out cable solution, but even a five dollar cable wrap can neaten up your desk considerably.
|4. Organize your installation disks|
Keep software, peripheral, and driver disks in a single location, preferably close to the computer. A shoebox works fine. Make sure you have them handy before attempting computer maintenance or repairs – it’s amazing what can become necessary in the middle of a lengthy troubleshooting session, and it is common to not know what you're missing until you need it!
|5. Run antivirus and spyware scans regularly.|
This item should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. Any computer that is connected to the internet needs to have some sort of antivirus software. There is a tremendous variety available, everything from AVG Free to enterprise-level solutions. Use whichever you like best. Most antivirus software will monitor the system for threats in real time, so a full daily scan probably isn’t necessary, but do make time to run a full scan every month at the least.
|6. Clean up your software.|
Every few months, look through the ‘Add or Remove Programs’ interface that is found in the control panel. If there’s software on there that you don’t use any more, remove it. This goes triple for browser toolbars, free games, and other resource-eating bits of fluff. Be a little cautious, though – some system drivers appear in this list, and can cause hardware to stop working if you remove them.
|7. Clean up your OS|
Windows is not the most efficient operating system, and sometimes needs attention itself. It saves a large amount of unnecessary information, mostly in the form of ‘temporary’ files (which never get deleted) lists of recently performed searches, and the like. There’s an excellent program called CCleaner, which will clear out most of the unneeded data automatically. If you’re interested in further optimizing your OS, there’s a wealth of information available online, including an article on improving XP performance available here on Puget’s website.
|8. Update everything|
Check for updates for your hardware and software. This includes running Windows Updates, checking for updated drivers, and checking for software patches. The easiest way to find these is to go to the manufacturer’s website, to their support section, and then look for a ‘downloads’ section or search for your product’s name. If you’ve been having problems with a piece of hardware or software, be sure to check for patches or updates – if other people have been having similar problems, it’s likely the manufacturer has released a fix for it.
Once your hard drive has been cleaned up, it’s a good time to defragment. This organizes your files, leading to faster disk access times and improved system performance. The Windows defragmenting tool (Start > All Programs > Accessories > System Tools > Disk Defragmenter) works well, or there’s a list of open source and commercial defragmenting software available on Wikipedia if you’d rather use something else.
|10. Read more articles like this one|
Last but not least, continue to read articles like this one, and anything else computer related that catches your eye. The computer industry is constantly changing – even if you have the same computer, there will be innovations that affect you. At the very least, you’ll go into your next computer purchase far better informed than you would be otherwise.