GEEKNOTE: Daylight Savings Time comes to an end in the US two weeks from today. A standard reminder is to change the batteries in your smoke detectors when you change the clocks.
I recommend adding some easy semi-annual maintenance steps to keep your personal computer running in top form. None of them are terribly difficult, but if you aren't comfortable with any of them, let your favorite geek take care of them for you. Here is my list:
1. Turn the computer off.
2. Open the case and then turn the computer back on. Check to make sure all of the fans are spinning. If they are not, they will need to be replaced.
3. Turn the computer off and unplug the power. Inspect the inside of the computer. If the heat sink (that big fin thing with a fan on top) is caked with dirt or pet hair, it needs to be cleaned. You can use compressed air from a can of air or a small air compressor to blow out all the dust bunnies. Look for and blow out any other dirty components (eg. the power supply). Needless to say, live bugs are not a good sign, but do NOT spray bug spray in the computer.
4. Close everything, plug the computer back in and turn it on. Check the date & time. If your computer thinks it is living in the past, you need a new BIOS battery. This battery is mounted on the computer motherboard and replacements are about five bucks at the local drug store. These are easy to replace, but again, if you aren't comfortable doing it, have your geek do it for you.
5. Check your antivirus software and make sure it is up to date. Do a full scan and let it remove anything it finds. If you don't have AV software, or it has expired, replace it. I'm partial to F-Secure's products for a number of reasons and run them on all of my computers, but there are other products on the market that are also very good. (Disclaimer: We sell F-Secure products.)
6. Clean out your temporary files and defragment the disk. To defragment the drive, open "My Computer", right click on the "C" drive and select "properties" and then "tools". You'll see the defragment option there. You do NOT need to defragment solid state drives, but you absolutely want to defragment any conventional hard drives. While you are on the same screen, you ought to go ahead and check the drive for errors as well. Checking for errors will typically require you to reboot the machine and will take a while, depending on how big your hard drive is. If the system finds a bunch of disk errors, it is probably time to take the machine in for service.
7. Go into the Control Panel and check for Windows Updates. I recommend setting Windows Updates to download and install automatically.
8. Right click the task bar at the bottom of your screen and click on "Task Manager". On the "Performance" tab, you can see how much physical memory your computer has and how much you are using. Ideally, you won't be using more than 50-60% of the physical memory available. If you are using 80% or more, your computer is likely a candidate for a memory upgrade. Memory upgrades are generally very inexpensive.
9. Check and make sure that you have your system set up to automatically create restore points.
10. Verify that you have recovery disks for your computer. Many new machines do not come with these and you need to create them. You do want to put these recovery disks where you can find them in the event your hard drive fails.
11. Back up all your pictures and other valuable files. Make sure you can READ your backup. You can do this at low cost by burning your pictures to CDs or DVDs, or you can subscribe to an online backup service, such as Carbonite or F-Secure Online Backup. I like the online backup options as they run all the time and are fairly idiot-proof. Figure $50-60 a year for an online backup subscription. If you have multiple machines at home, you might look at one of the home network backup systems. They are typically a few hundred dollars.
12. Finally, look at all the stuff you've got stored on your computer. Computer hard drives are a lot like garages: The junk expands to fill the available space. If you've got a bunch of old stuff on your computer that you never use or even look at, get rid of it.
That should do it. Unless you've got long hair pets, twice a year should work fine. If you find your computer full of pet hair each time you open it, consider going to a quarterly schedule.
Got a computer question? Feel free to drop me a note or leave a comment here if you have any questions about your computer or your office network.
Rob Marlowe, Senior Geek, Gulfcoast Networking, Inc.
(Rob also serves as deputy mayor of the City of New Port Richey. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not necessarily represent the position of the city.)