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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Clean Up and Maintenance of Your Computer

This is one of those important things that no one tells you to do and you always feel uncomfortable knowing that there is probably something you should be doing. Then if your computer breaks down one day you think it must be your fault. 

Actually taking good care of your computer is not too difficult or confusing. There are things that you can do beyond what I talk about here, but they are not necessary for most home users. See links below if you want to know more.

There are things that EVERY computer owner should do regardless of if you are using Mac or PC and then a few specific things to each operating system.

  1. The MOST important thing to do for any computer is to BACK UP regularly. It can (and does) happen that your computer completely shuts down. You do not want to lose all of the files that you have on your computer, so it is important to have a second copy. You can use an external hard drive, a CD or DVD, or somewhere on the Cloud using a service like Dropbox, iCloud, SkyDrive, Google Drive or one of the many others. Here  is a link to several reviews of free back up software.  When you back up your files are all backed up so that you can get to them again, but not your programs. If you want to have a backup of all of your programs so that you do not have to download them individually again you can use Acronis or Norton Ghost which will "take a snapshot" of your whole hard drive. 
  2. Physical cleaning of the outside of your computer. This is important because the crumbs that get into your keyboard, the dust that gets into the fan and the general grime can cause your computer not to work as well as it can. Here are suggestions for each of the parts.
    • Screen - Use screen cleaner that does not have ammonia or alcohol. For a laptop, set the back of the screen onto a towel or something soft on a table while holding up the keyboard with one hand. Spray the cleaner onto a soft cloth and clean the screen gently with a circular motion.
    • Keyboard - Using a similarly damp cloth clean the outside of the keys. Use compressed air to clean out the crumbs and dust that collects under the keys. You can use an antibacterial wipe on the keys since lots of hands touch a keyboard.
    • Wipe outside with the damp cloth.
    • Clean up the files on your desktop by either putting them into folders that are meaningful OR moving them to other folders in your file system. Each thing on your desktop takes up some of the memory that your computer needs to run. Your computer can slow down if there are too many things just left on the desktop.

    Always do the updates that your computer recommends. Most of the time a window will pop up saying that you should update something and you can press OK or cancel. If you always cancel these things you may be stopping your computer from doing some things that can really help.

    One more good habit to get into is to empty the trash weekly or even daily depending on how much you use your computer. Everything in the trash is taking up some of your memory until you empty it out. The whole reason that the trash can exists is so that you can change your mind and drag something back out of the trash if you decide that you need it. Once you are sure that everything is not needed empty what is there so that it does not take up space.

    Use a surge protector for plugging in your computer. If the electricity is interrupted (like when you are struck with lightening) it will protect your computer from burning out.

    Completely shut down and restart your computer regularly (maybe overnight?). When your computer shuts down and restarts many things happen in the background that clean up some of that background stuff that the computer automatically does.

    PCs (by this I mean any computer that is not a Mac. It could be IBM, HP, Dell or one of many other companies. You should add these practices to the above in order to maintain your computer. 
    • Make sure you have a good Anti-Virus program and that you keep it up to date. There are lots of Anti Virus programs that you can download and you probably have one that came with your computer. There are free ones and also ones that you can pay for like Symantec, Norton or Barracuda. Do not load more than one on your computer because they can conflict with one another and will not be effective. 
      • Regularly download updates because hackers are always busy creating new ways to get into your computer. If you want to avoid getting a virus there are a few things that you can regularly do. 
      • NEVER open links from email if you don't know the person or even if you know them and they JUST sent a link with nothing else. There are hackers that send out email with a link and make it look like it is coming from someone safe. The link might open to a website with an automatically downloading virus 
      • Do NOT trust any email from a bank, PayPal, Amazon, Western Union, or any company that looks legitimate, but tells you to give them an account number, send them money or anything that sounds fishy. It probably is a scam. There are lots of these going around and it is REALLY easy to click on a link from one of these to find out more, but it is better to just delete them. If it is from a real company they will NEVER ask for personal information like account numbers in email. You can often look in the TO: section at the top to see who it was sent to. If it was sent to a bunch of people that you do not know it is spam.
    • Defragment your computer hard drive monthly. As you save, delete and move your files around they create gaps in the hard drive space which are not used because they are small bits stuck inbetween other stuff. Defragmenting pushes all of the stuff together creating more open space. This is less important than it used to be since Hard Drives are bigger than they used to be, but it might help if your computer is running slowly. The Defragmenter is on your computer. Most likely you will find it under System Tools-disk defragmenter.

    On a Mac
    1. Remember the things above that appled to both computers. Macs have TimeMachine installed which can do your back ups on a regular basis. There are some features of other programs that you can pay for which TimeMachine does not have. Macs get fewer viruses, but it can still be an issue. You can pay for a virus protection program or get one free. Here is a link to a free one:
    2. If your Mac gets slow and bogged down there are a few things you can try to see if they will help. Your Mac has something called Disk Utility which is a program that you can run to see if there are any problems on your hard disk and it will fix them. You can find it by clicking on Mac HD, in the Applications File under Utilities. You can also run a program like Onyx which can clean off the HD of any issues that are slowing it down. Some articles I read called for using the Disk Utility regularly, like every three months. 
    MacWorld's Maintenance Calendar - MacWorld offers a free download of a calendar to remind yourself when to do different maintenance tasks.

    For even more on cleaning your mac look at this MacWorld article:

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