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For PCs, a Little Maintenance Goes a Long Way

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For years personal computer users, consultants, and manufacturers have
debated the best maintenance steps to take in protecting a PC and
prolonging its life. I don’t claim final authority, but here’s what
has emerged as the most commonly recommended procedures.

Powering Up You PC

Turn on your PC when you begin computing on any given day and don’t
power it off until you finish for the day, unless you need to keep
your PC on all the time.

Some people turn their PC on and off throughout the day. Big mistake.
This causes a computer’s innards to frequently expand and contract,
creating stress that can lead to premature component failure.

Protecting Your Precious Hard Drive

Defrag your hard disk periodically. The operating systems of typical PCs
and Macs scatter file fragments over the hard disk. Programs such as
Norton Utilities combine these fragments, which reduces hard drive
wear and tear and increases system performance.

Some programs signal you to defrag when your hard disk reaches a
specified level of fragmentation, such as 90 percent. Alternately, you
can defrag weekly, monthly, or semiannually, depending on how often
you use your PC.

Don’t use a program that defrags your hard disk continually — it will
create more wear and tear than it prevents.

Periodically scan your hard disk for file system errors and fading
magnetism with a program such as Nuts & Bolts. Do this once a week if
it’s critical that your hard disk be reliable, or once every month or
two otherwise.

Check for computer viruses. You’ll probably never experience one, but
why take chances? With a program such as McAfee’s VirusScan, scan all
programs you download from Internet file libraries and any floppy
disks you borrow from friends or co-workers.

You can’t catch a virus from reading e-mail, but be careful about e-mail
attachments. Many people delete an attachment if it comes from someone
they don’t know.

Unplug your PC and any phone line leading to it during a thunderstorm,
unless you need to keep your PC on for work purposes. A nearby
lightning strike will blow right past a typical surge protector and
can fry a PC. But use a surge protector for smaller surges.

Regularly back up any crucial data on your hard disk to a tape,
removable hard disk, or floppy disks. Back up daily or weekly,
depending on how much new data you create. Consider storing your
backups offsite in case of a fire or flood.

What About the Floppy Drive?

Use a floppy drive cleaning kit when you experience problems with your
floppy drive, or at most once a year as preventive maintenance. Don’t
use one of these kits every week as some kit manufacturers suggest —
this just overstresses your floppy drive’s read/write head.

Maintenance for CD-ROMs

Keep CD-ROM discs inside a caddy or jewel case when not in use to avoid
scratches. If dirt or fingerprints sully a disc, gently wipe it with a
soft lint-free cloth, or use an audio CD cleaning kit.

Extending the Life of Your Computer’s Monitor

Use a screensaver if you enjoy its entertainment value or modest
security features, but don’t expect it to prolong your monitor’s life.
Screensavers used to do this, but newer monitors prevent a stationary
image from burning permanently onto your screen.

On the other hand, take advantage of the energy-saving features of newer
monitors. By directing your monitor to automatically power down after
a specified period of inactivity, you’ll increase its life span.

Clean your monitor if it becomes smudged. But stay away from glass
cleaners — they can remove a monitor’s anti-glare finish. Use
isopropyl alcohol or distilled water along with a lint-free cloth. Wet
the cloth first, then the monitor.

Dust Busting

Periodically open up your computer’s case to clean out dust — every
year or two or more frequently if your PC is in a dusty area. This
will help prevent heat build-up, which can shorten the life of system

Use either a portable vacuum cleaner or compressed gas duster. To
minimize static discharge, avoid older vacuum cleaners and brush
attachments, and prevent the metal of any vacuum cleaner from touching
your PC.

After vacuuming the inside of your PC, vacuum the grille in front and
your keyboard.

Additional Tips

Before working inside a PC, ground yourself — turn off your computer,
leave it plugged in, and touch an unpainted metal surface inside the
PC. Your PC should be plugged into a three-pronged grounded outlet,
preferably on a dedicated circuit. Don’t move a PC or connect or
disconnect its cables while it’s on.

If your mouse starts misbehaving, take it apart and clean it. Shake out
dust, or use a cleaning swab or compressed gas.

Finally, don’t smoke around your PC. The same tar that gunks up your
lungs will also coat the innards of your PC, shortening its life.

Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book
Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at reidgold@voicenet.com or http://www.voicenet.com/~reidgold/.

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