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Care and Feeding of a Healthy Computer
Guest blog by Shep Bostin
One complaint I hear all the time about computers versus other sorts of appliances and machines in our lives is that they don't come with any sort of owner's manual or maintenance guide to tell you how to keep them running smoothly year after year. While I doubt this is a complete list, here are some of my most important recommendations for things you should do regularly to maintain a healthy computer:
- Daily: Back up your data EVERY DAY. There are two kinds of data - the kind you back up, and the kind you will eventually lose. One of the easiest ways to do this is to use Mozy (www.mozy.com; up to 2GB FREE, additional storage plans start at about $5/month). Mozy will back up changed files to "the cloud" every day, and makes it easy to restore data from your backup when needed. Got high school or college aged kids? Save yourself some potential pain and tears by putting Mozy on their laptops!
- Weekly: Scan your system for malware (viruses, spyware, etc.). I use AVG Anti-Virus FREE on most of my computers, but any leading anti-malware product (Norton, Trend, eSet, etc.) will offer a scanner. Even though these products protect you all the time in the background, it can't hurt to get a second opinion once a week by running a complete scan of your system. I find that Saturday night is a good time to do this since I am usually not sitting on my computer then! (Be sure to close ALL programs before running a scan so that infected files may be removed easily and automatically if found.)
- Monthly: Make a complete backup image of your system to an external hard drive and take it somewhere else (safety deposit box, relative's house, lawyer's office, etc.). This is important because your daily backups do not save programs, just data. While this doesn't seem important if you have all the official CDs for your software, think about how LONG it takes to reload all that software, printer drivers, etc. My favorite software for this is Acronis True Image, which costs $40 to $50 for the Home version. But there are some free products out there with a few less bells and whistles that do the same thing. I'm so paranoid that I actually do DAILY onsite image backups as well as monthly offsite image backups.
- Quarterly: Scan your hard drive for errors (problems with the disk drive itself). Go into My Computer, right-click on your C drive, choose Properties, then click on Tools. When you click the "Check Now" button, you will be prompted about completing the check next time you reboot. Go ahead and schedule that, but be sure not to forget to reboot your PC when you are done for the day since the disk check can take a while. Oh, and ALWAYS do your monthly image backup BEFORE running a disk check! You have been warned...
- Every six months: Physically clean the inside of your machine using a can of compressed air. NEVER vacuum the inside of a computer! ALWAYS blow out the inside of a computer outdoors or in a very well ventilated basement or garage area. The dust and grime inside a computer is not healthy for breathing by humans or pets. For a more detailed look at how to clean the inside of a computer, see this excellent article: http://lifehac.kr/flQxZs
Following the suggestions above will help keep your computer running smoothly, and will protect your data in the event that a catastrophe occurs. Do you have a favorite suggestion that you think I missed? Share it with everyone by posting a comment below!A word about defragging: Back in the 'old days' of personal computers...about ten years ago...lots of people defragmented their hard drives to improve performance. In those days, hard drives were much smaller and slower than they are today, and files would get split into chunks as they were saved on your hard drive. This splitting or 'fragmentation' would increase over time as the hard drive got more and more full, ultimately affecting performance. Today's hard drives are large and fast, and fragmentation is rarely an issue. In fact, in Windows 7 the system performs steps automatically to keep files less fragmented. Some research has found that defragging your hard drive in Windows 7 can actually be harmful in some cases! So the bottom line is that you do NOT need to worry about defragmenting newer computers.
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