Steps to Maintaining your Personal Computer

By: Daniel Hight

1. Safety First!! - Protect your computer from viruses and spyware.

Many PCs will come with a free trial version of an Anti-Virus Software. However, once this trial expires, what should a basic home user do?

It is very common for people to either choose to go without Anti-Virus, or to pay for a subscription to Norton. However, Norton produces annoying pop-ups and warnings, and also takes up so much of a computer's RAM that it will actually slow down the PC's performance.

I recommend AVG's Anti-virus. It is a free program that provides very sufficient protection for your computer. It can be downloaded here. AVG should be updated and a scan should be performed AT LEAST once a week.

Additionally, you must protect your computer from spyware. According to Microsoft, "Spyware is a general term used to describe software that performs certain behaviors such as advertising, collecting personal information, or changing the configuration of your computer, generally without appropriately obtaining your consent first." It can be very harmful and is commonly overlooked when basic users are protecting their PC.

A very useful program to sweep your system of spyware is Spybot Search & Destroy. It is also a free program and can be downloaded here. It should be updated and a scan should be performed once every couple of weeks.

2. Don't make your hard drive work too hard.

Like any car or home appliance, a computer's hard drive will suffer from "wear and tear." You can usually expect a hard drive to last 4-5 years but that can be greatly increased by giving your hard drive the occasional tune up.

The first step of doing this is running the Windows Disk Cleanup Tool. This is done by clicking Start --> All Programs --> Accessories --> System Tools --> Disk Cleanup. It will scan your computer, and provide you with a list of files you can choose to remove. This will remove any files on your computer that may not be needed and are simply taking up space. Disk Cleanup should be performed approximately once a month for the average user.

Next, you should run the Disk Defragmenter. The hard drive can become fragmented with a greater frequency of new software installations, internet downloads of movies or music, or simple creation of files. Fragmenting of a hard drive occurs because all files are stored in sectors and when a file is opened a needle has to find all parts of that file on the hard drive. When a file is created it won't be one large package, but many small packages that make up the whole. When these packages are stored, they will be placed in the first open area on the hard drive. If a hard drive is fragmented, the packages will not be placed together and will force the drive to work harder to build the file. This can decrease both the lifespan of the drive and the speed of your computer.

Defragmenting simply places all of the files in a position that relieves the stress on a hard drive. It can be done by clicking Start --> All Programs --> Accessories --> System Tools --> Disk Defragmenter. You can then click analyze in Windows XP and it will give you a response on whether or not you should defragment. Windows Vista now allows you to schedule how often you would like to defragment. This should be done AT LEAST quarterly for an average user but might need to be done more often for some.

3. UPDATE!!

Windows allows a user to permit automatic updates, so take advantage of it. This can be done by clicking Start --> All Programs --> Windows Update. It should be set to automatic so that you can be as up to date as possible on the built in security measures that windows has already installed.

It is also a good idea to check on updates for any programs that you have installed. This is not necessarily needed but is recommended to get the most out of your programs. It can usually be done by opening the program and then looking for "Update" in the Help Menu.

4. Do Some Spring Cleaning

All computers have fans that encourage air flow through the tower to ensure that the processor runs at a cooler temperature. Dust and pet hair can clog these vents and overheat your processor. This must be cleaned to prevent a very expensive repair. Every computer technician has a story about a computer that they opened up and everything was caked in dust. Don't let this be you. It may be intimidating to some to open up the computer's case, but it is quite simple.

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