Computer Maintenance Tips #1: Fix Error Messages
I hate computer error messages—and I was once paid to write them. They’re usually confusing and often useless, but if you ignore them, you shouldn’t be surprised if your computer starts to slow down.
An error message tells you that something is wrong. If you don’t take the time to figure out what is wrong, you’ll probably suffer for weeks before spending just as much time tracking down the problem later.
Too often I get called in by an angry user complaining of a slow computer only to find out that the user has been ignoring the same error message for weeks or months. All that suffering could have been avoided with a simple fix to the obvious error message.
If you want to avoid a slow computer, this is one computer tip you should never forget: fix error messages right away. Happily, you’re already on the site that will help you fix even the most confusing error messages.
Computer Maintenance Tips #2: Remove Unused Programs
In theory, unused programs shouldn’t affect your computer—they’d just take up a little extra disk space. But too many unused programs, especially ad-ware, install extra features on your computer that slow you down.
For example, some unused programs install small programs that run when your computer starts up. Each of these programs takes up a little bit of your computer memory and a little bit of your computer processing (CPU); they may also “ping” other computers on the Internet, taking up a little bit of your network bandwidth.
A few extra programs won’t slow down your computer much, but what happens when you get a dozen or more? These unused programs begin to use too much of your computer’s resources, slowing you down.
The solution is simple: uninstall programs you’re not using. Go to the Control Panel, open the Add/Remove Programs console, highlight any programs you don’t use, and click Remove. After you remove all the programs you don’t need, reboot your computer to kill any old startup programs.
Computer Maintenance Tips #3: Defragment
Microsoft designed Windows over 20 years ago to work on computers so slow you can barely imagine them any more. (The first computer I ran Windows on had an 11 MHz processor—you read that right, just eleven megahertz.)
Those ancient computers needed all of the help they could get, so Microsoft designed Windows to save files as quickly as possible. Saving files was fast because Windows would split files into several smaller pieces and write them on separate parts of the disk.
Those small pieces of the files are called fragments, and reading fragments makes your computer take longer to open files. Microsoft suggests that you speed up your computer by removing the fragments and turning the pieces into whole files again—a process called defragmentation. You should run the defragment tool from the control panel at least once a month on an active computer.
Computer Maintenance Tips #4: Clean The Registry
You probably keep all of your paper records in a file cabinet. When you need information from an old credit card statement, you open your file cabinet, flip through all the old folders until you get to the credit card folder, find the specific statement, and pull it out.
Windows does the same thing when it needs some information about a piece of software, except it uses the Windows Registry instead of a file cabinet.
The problem is that Windows checks the Windows Registry hundreds or thousands of times a day. Imagine if you had to check your file cabinet hundreds of times a day—you’d quickly realize how much time you’re wasting flipping though old folders. You’d probably take a moment and throw out those old folders. That’s what I suggest you do with the Windows registry—throw out old registry entries using a program called a registry cleaner.
A quick Google search for “registry cleaner” turns up dozens of useful programs. Find registry errors with a free scan from PC Matic.
Computer Maintenance Tips #5: Get Better Anti-Virus Software
I remember getting a new laptop one time and being impressed at how fast it ran. Then I installed the anti-virus software and it seemed like all I ever saw was the “please wait” hourglass.
Every anti-virus program will slow down your computer, but the best anti-virus programs will slow it down the least because they’re optimized. If you aren’t happy with your anti-virus program, don’t just keep using it—look for alternatives. Remember that most good anti-virus programs have free trials. See our virus removal software page for some great ideas.
Computer Maintenance Tips #6: Check The Disk
Engineers love saying that all moving parts fail, and no part on your computer moves more than your disk drive.
Your disk drive will fail, and it will probably fail sooner than you expect. But, before it fails, it will probably slow down—I mean that it will physically slow down. The “disk” part of the disk drive will stop spinning as fast.
The disk drive will slow down gradually, so you probably won’t notice when it starts happening, but you will notice your computer start to take longer booting, opening files, and saving files.
You can install software which will run diagnostics on your disk drive to tell you that it’s slowing down and that it’s getting closer and closer to failure. For details, see why your computer is running slow.
Computer Maintenance Tips #7: Scan For Bad RAM
The part of your computer most likely to start failing without you noticing it is your computer memory (RAM). Your computer can recover from most RAM failures, but recovering from a failure takes time, and the worse your RAM gets, the longer it takes to recover each time.
Eventually, if your RAM keeps failing, programs will start to crash with weird error messages or your computer won’t boot sometimes.
Running a simple RAM scanner like the free memtest86 every few months can help you avoid computer slowdowns and crashes.
Computer Maintenance Tips #8: Check The Cords
More and more people are using external disk drives these days, as well as people using digital music players, cell phones, and cameras which do the same thing.
If you copy files to or from these devices, you should occasionally check to make sure the cords are plugged in fully. When the cords aren’t plugged in correctly, not all of the data gets sent. Worse, the computer sends data in chunks, and when a part of the chunk doesn’t arrive, the computer has to throw out the whole chunk (kind of like how you might throw out a whole loaf of half-rotten bread). So a 1% data error rate can slow down your transfer by 50% or more.
You should also check the (usually blue) Ethernet cord plugged into some desktop computers to maximize the speed of your Internet connection for the exact same reason.
Computer Maintenance Tips #9: Clean Inside The Case
Did you know that electricity travels further over cold metal than it does over hot metal? This is important to your computer because its Computer Processing Unit (CPU) uses millions and millions of tiny electrical pulses to do all of its processing.
(Nifty fact: in computer terminology, a Hertz (Hz) is 1,000 computer processor operations a second. A gigahertz (GHz) is 1,000 Hertz, or in other words 1,000,000 (one million) operations a second. So a quad-core 1.6 GHz computer does 4 times 1.6 times 1,000 times 1,000 operations—that’s 6.4 million operations every second.)
When your CPU gets hot, the electricity can’t travel as far, so your computer can’t process information as well. (And when it gets too cold, it can’t process information at all.)
Small amounts of household dust gets inside your computer every day, and as it builds up, it blocks your computer’s air vents, making your computer hotter than it should be. If you want your computer to keep running fast, you should take five minutes every year to turn off your computer, buy a bottle of compressed air from the supermarket or Wal-Mart, open your computer case, and clean out all of the dust. Smokers may want to clean twice a year.
Please note that you need to know how to open computer cases correctly and please do not breathe any dust in while performing this job.
Computer Maintenance Tips #10: Use Your Senses
The simplest on-going maintenance you can do for your computer is to pay attention to it. Notice when it starts making a new sound or when it starts getting hotter than usual. Treat your computer like a car and investigate any change in its behavior. Remember that problems are usually easiest to fix the sooner you start working on them. Even the best computer maintenance tips are no substitute for fixing current problems.
Not interested in doing all this computer maintenance yourself? Hmm neither am I.
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