Table of Contents
1. Back up your data.
Think about that for a second. Now, go create a backup.
If you don’t know how, don’t have a regular plan, or just want to see what’s new in the field, Consumer Reports has a good overview of the most common options. Personally, I have very little media on my computer, so I burn my files to CD once a year or so, and copy files to a flash drive in between. It’s quick, inexpensive, and secure enough for my needs.
Another decent solution is to use a program like Foldershare to synchronise your files between two computers (even better, two locations).
If you have the opportunity, make a full disk image (a ‘snapshot’ of your entire hard drive) immediately after reloading the OS and all your programs. This gives you a clean starting point to go back to if you need to reload everything again, and will be much faster than redoing everything manually. Acronis True Image 11 is good for the job.
2. Clean dust from your computer.
Beyond just getting the dust out, here are some other steps to consider: Dust often collects inside the CPU and video card heatsinks, consider disassembling and cleaning them if you’re comfortable doing so, or at least using compressed air to specifically blow them out. While the case is open, plug in the computer and turn it on long enough to make sure all the fans are still spinning. Replace any that are dead or noisy (a common sign of a worn-out fan). If there is sticky residue or dirt on the circuit boards, it can be removed with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol, which will evaporate cleanly. (Make sure the computer is unplugged first!) If you’re not comfortable with working inside your computer or suspect your computer has chronic overheating issues, Puget Systems or another professional repair service can help you out.
3. Clean up your cabling, and everything else too.
- While you’re wiping down your desk, wipe down the monitor too. CRT screens can be cleaned with any mild glass cleaner, but LCD screens can’t tolerate it. Use a dampened cloth or a product specifically made for LCD screens.
- Keyboards can be turned upside down to dump out crumbs and dirt, or keys can be pried off and the whole assembly cleaned with compressed air. There are some good step-by-step guides available on Lifehacker. Take a picture first so you can put the keys back in the right place! If you’re feeling adventurous (or just have a really disgusting keyboard), some people advocate running it through the dishwasher.
- This is a good time to take a look at where your computer is located. Is there adequate ventilation? Is the computer out of direct sunlight, and away from heat sources? What is it plugged in to? There’s no excuse for not having a good surge protector (not just a plastic power strip!), and battery backup units have become affordable for most users. This will affect the lifespan of your computer.
- Smoking will make a mess of a computer faster than anything else I know of. While we at Puget Systems have never seen one quite this bad, we can always identify a smoker’s computer as soon as we unbox it. Electronics absorb the smell very easily, and even an all-metal case will retain the odor after all the components have been removed. Plus, there’s usually a layer of dust and tar on the circuitry that tends to be a giveaway as well. Please, if I can’t convince you to quit smoking all together, at least take it somewhere away from the computer!
4. Organize your installation disks
5. Run antivirus and spyware scans regularly.
Some antivirus programs also protect against adware and spyware, but not all. If yours doesn’t, or if you just want an extra layer of security, AdAware and SpyBot are two of the best known (and free!) products available. While they may not be as destructive as viruses, adware and spyware will compromise privacy and slow your computer drastically. Run scans for them at the same time as your antivirus.
6. Clean up your software.
There’s an excellent scanning utility on Steffen Gerlach’s website that gives a graphical representation of the data stored on your hard drive. This will give you a good idea of just how much room your music collection really takes, or how much space is going to old games.
7. Clean up your OS
8. Update everything
The exception to this is motherboard BIOS updates. Flashing a BIOS can be difficult, and if it’s done incorrectly you may need to send the computer for professional repair to get it working again. If the update was specifically released to address problems that you’ve been dealing with, it’s probably worth it. Follow the manufacturer’s directions carefully! Otherwise, leave it alone.
10. Read more articles like this one
We at Puget Systems always encourage our customers to learn about computers in general and their system in particular. Well educated users tend to have fewer difficulties with their system, and besides, we love computers and think everyone else should too! Our commitment is to create a computer to meet your needs and budget, using our experience to assist you every step of the way from the first visit to our website to tech support calls two years later. We accomplish this in part through friendly sales and support reps, an informative website, and publishing articles on a regular basis. Give us a call or email, we’d love to hear from you!