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Do-it-yourself Maintenance

Memory
First, let's start out by making a distinction between memory and hard drive storage - memory is the function that the computer uses to balance current and active jobs. Not unlike your own short term memory - you have a certain allotment of resources to apply to tasks that you are doing. The more tasks you are trying to do at once (multitasking), the more resources you need. Likewise, you may only be doing one task, but if it's particularly difficult, large, or complex, you will have to use a lot of memory to accomplish it. The computer works exactly the same way. Specifically, it uses RAM (Random Access Memory) to juggle a variety of tasks. Every program, every print job, every Instant Messaging session, takes up some amount of RAM. The more RAM your computer has, the more things it can do at one time, and the faster it can do them.

To see how much memory your computer has, right click on "My Computer" and then click on "Properties." In the General section of the system properties, you will find the amount of RAM in your computer. Your computer may have 128, 256, 512 MB, or more of RAM. Maintenance tasks directly related to the memory of a system include cleaning the system tray, cleaning the start menu, and learning how to keep unnecessary programs from running when the computer starts. If your system is running more slowly than you think it should or if programs often slow down noticeably in the middle of a task, you may have a memory problem. Viruses and spyware can also slow down performance.

The hard drive & data storage
The hard drive is the device in your computer where data is stored, not unlike your long-term memory. Often labeled as the C: drive (though not always), the hard drive is where all data, including program files, personal documents, the operating system, and anything you have ever told the computer to save is kept.
The hard drive is the heart of the computer; keeping current and complete backup's of your data is one of the most important things you can do. Data is stored to the hard drive by using several magnetic disks, which are separated by a small amount of space, and which the computer reads from. The data is not saved as a continuous stream, rather, it is saved in discrete lumps called sectors. A single file may be saved in many sectors, and these sectors can be spread around the disk in many places. As data is erased and rewritten, the data in files may become more and more spread out, as it is removed and replaced in different places all over the disk. This is referred to as fragmentation. Except in very severe cases fragmentation doesn't hurt the hard drive, but it can make it take longer to open and save files, as the computer searches for all the different sectors it needs. Data is stored in a similar way on both floppy and Zip disks, which also use magnetic media.

The hard drive is one of the more fragile parts of the computer, and can be damaged by too much jostling or bumping, as well as magnets (which erase or change the data on the disk). If your computer is crashing more than normal, the problem could possibly be with the hard drive. Maintenance tasks for cleaning up the hard drive include defragmenting, scan disk, disk cleanup (removing unnecessary files), uninstalling unused programs, and running a virus scan.


Microsoft
® Windows® Updates
Microsoft® Windows® updates are critical and must be done frequently. There are a couple of ways to update but the primary way is to use www.windowsupdate.com You could also enable your Microsoft® Windows® XP operating system to automatically update (Right-click My Computer, click properties, on the Automatic Updates tab, click Keep My Computer Up To Date).

Virus scans
Viruses can be obtained a number of ways, including e-mail attachments; swapping disks from an infected
computer to a non-infected computer; downloading from the Internet; and, in the case of a few newer
viruses, by simply visiting infected Web sites. Because new viruses are written almost daily, it is important
to frequently update your virus definition files, which tells your virus scanner what to look for.


Spyware
Spyware, and its closely related cousin adware, are programs that come bundled with other software and
then either send out information about you and your computer or advertise to you while you work. They are mainly created by marketing agencies to collect data about your web browsing habits and/or to try to
advertise various products. Often, when you download free software like Kazaa, Bear Share, Snood, Real
Player, or other games and software, a little spyware program comes along with it. The problem with these programs, in addition to being intrusive, is that if you get enough of them they will eat away your system resources until your computer begins to drag along at a painful rate. There are programs you can download to remove these programs - Spybot is one program that finds and removes spyware from your computer.
Read more about spyware and adware here.

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Defrag the hard drive
Defragmenting the hard drive reorders the sectors, tightening up how the data is stored on the drive .Keeping your drive defragmented helps it to run more efficiently. The more you use the computer,
particularly if you save or delete things a lot (like games), the more often you should defrag.
Defragmenting is under Programs>Accessories> System Tools. For optimal performance, you should
disable your screen saver and virus software before beginning.


ScanDisk
ScanDisk checks your hard drive for errors, both physical errors and file system errors. If your computer
has been behaving very badly, it might not hurt to run Scan Disk. It is a good idea to run a ScanDisk every
so often. Open My Computer > Right Click on your local hard drive (C:) and select Properties. Select the
Tools tab and under Error checking, select Check Now.


Disk Cleanup
Disk Cleanup deletes extraneous files that sometimes have a habit of piling up in your computer. Deleting
these files frees up extra space on your hard drive. Open My Computer > Right Click on your local hard drive (C:) and select Properties. Select the the Disk Cleanup button. For optimal performance, you should disable your screen saver and virus software before beginning.


Uninstalling programs
Occasionally you may find the need to remove programs that you no longer use - a demo program that
doesn't work anymore, the old version of Word that you've replaced with a newer one. Unused programs
waste space on a hard drive. Sometimes they come with a handy uninstallation button and that should be
used to remove the program. But for those that don’t have that button you can follow these steps to
remove unused programs.


1. Go to Start Menu, Settings, Control Panel, and click on the icon for Add/Remove Programs.
2. Click once on the program name you want to remove.
3. Press the Add/Remove button, and the program should be removed. Sometimes you will be lead
through an uninstallation wizard that will ask you a variety of questions about removing the
program. Simply follow the instructions that you are given in order to finish uninstalling.


Clean the System Tray
The tray in the lower right hand corner of the screen that contains several icons is referred to as the System Tray. Each of the icons in the tray represents a program that begins running when you start your
computer. The more icons in the tray, the more memory is used by programs that are running in
the background but are not actually being used. Technically, there are no programs which are required to run in the System Tray, although if you have scheduled tasks using the Task Scheduler, this should remain in the System Tray. Otherwise, the only purpose to having an item in the start tray is that it will start when the computer boots. This is important for virus software or firewalls, networking, but not most software. Programs which are notorious for running in the system tray include Real Player and any messaging services. There are several ways to remove programs from the System Tray. The easiest is to right click on the icon in the tray and look through the options for something along the lines of "remove from system tray" or "disable start center." Some programs do not offer this simple approach, and you may have to open the program itself and look through the Preferences or Options menu for a choice concerning the "start center." If this does not work, the next two maintenance tasks (concerning StartUp and msconfig) may solve the problem, as editing them can affect the Start Tray.


Startup programs
Similar to the System Tray, Startup contains a list of programs which are turned on when the computer boots. Having too many programs at startup can slow down the computer, as it requires a lot of
memory. To view the Startup items, go to Start Menu, Programs, Startup You can right-click on any
programs you do not want to leave in the Startup folder, then select delete. This does not delete the
program itself, only removes it from the Startup folder.

MSConfig
MSConfig is a program that can be used for troubleshooting your computer if it is experiencing problems.
While this is only recommended for advanced users, intermediate users can use it to stop unnecessary
programs from starting when the computer is booted up. Many of the programs you find here belong to
such things as messenger services, performance "improvers" for Internet browsing, or virus scan files.
Many of these do not have to run on startup, though, as you can open them yourself when they are needed. The shorter you can make this list, the faster your computer will run.

1. To run msconfig, go to the Start Menu, select Run, and type "msconfig" (w/out the quotes) into the
Run box. Click OK.
2. Select the tab labeled Startup. You will see a list of all the programs that run when your computer is turned on. The longer the list, the more slowly your computer probably runs.
3. Uncheck the boxes next to the programs that you do not want to run on startup. Technically speaking, the only programs absolutely necessary are Taskmonitor and SystemTray, so you should never uncheck these. Some of the other programs may be useful, however, so it is recommended that you leave something checked if you don’t know what it is for. It is a good idea to make a list of what you remove, so that if you discover performance to be adversely affected by any changes you make, you can unmake them later.


Internal cleaning
Cleaning the inside of the computer in spite of all the other things mentioned to you, the most important one is probably giving the occasional dusting to the inside of your PC. The most harmful thing your computer can face is heat - it degrades the electronic components and can cause them weaken and eventually burn out. The computer should normally be stored with about 3 to 4 inches of free space around it, particularly the back, where a fan disburses heat. As the fan runs, however, it will suck in a bit of dust and dirt, which will settle on the inside of the computer, insulating the parts so that they retain heat. If you can see any dust at all, it is enough to adversely affect the computer. Every couple of months you should turn the computer off and remove the outside casing (this is not recommended for laptops). Without touching the internal components, use a can of compressed air (you can purchase this at any office supply store) to blow the dust out. Allow a few minutes for the dust to clear, and then apply another brief burst of air to remove the remaining dust. Pay special attention to the fan on the back of the computer - it will usually be covered in dirt and requires extra cleaning. When finished, place the cover back on the computer.

Common Pitfalls

Powering off incorrectly
When a computer is being used, it often reads and writes to the hard drive, rearranging data as needed to
help the computer run more efficiently. The data is arranged depending on what you have open at the time,
rather than in a manner which is always efficient. Turning the computer off by hitting the power switch
shuts it down while this data is arranged for what you are doing then, and sometimes this arrangement can
be bad for the computer on the whole. The next time you start up, the data will still be arranged in this
undesirable manner. The more you shut down your computer incorrectly, the more jumbled your data
becomes, until you may end up crashing or destroying data on the hard drive. You should always shut down the computer by clicking on the Start Menu and selecting Shut Down.


Ejecting disks before the activity light goes off
Exactly the same as powering off your computer correctly, is the idea that you should leave the disk in the
drive until the activity light goes off. When you save a file, even if the computer is not making a whirring
sound, and even if it has told you that the file is saved, wait until the light goes off to eject the disk. If the
disk is ejected while it is still being written, the file can become corrupt and the data will be lost.


Too many programs running
Each program takes memory. The more programs you have open, the harder it is for the memory to keep
up, and the computer may begin to slow down. Switching between programs takes memory as well, and
you should switch between them slowly, allowing something to open fully before opening something else.
If you overload the computer with demands, it may freeze or crash. Likewise, you may have only one
document open, but if it is 300 pages long it will take the memory time to sift through it.


Deleting unknown files
In your quest to make your machine lean, mean, and fast, you may be tempted to delete files that seem
unnecessary. Common sense should tell you, however, that if you don’t know what a file is for, you should
leave it alone. You could inadvertently delete something that is vital to the performance of the operating
system.


Opening unknown e-mail attachments
The cardinal rule of virus protection is to leave unknown e-mail attachments alone. If you receive an
attachment from a person you do not know, and you cannot tell what it is, you are better off deleting it.
Even an attachment that you are not expecting from someone you do know should be suspect. Almost all
viruses that are sent through e-mail come in attachment form, but they will not work unless you open the
attachment first. If in doubt, you can try running a virus scan just on the attached file.


Technical support
Support Web sites are useful if something is going wrong with your computer, and you want help. You can
also download updates or drivers for your computer.
http://support.dell.com - Dell support
http://www.gateway.com/support - Gateway
http://www.ibm.com/support - IBM
http://support.microsoft.com - Microsoft®
http://welcome.hp.com/country/us/eng/support.htm - Hewlett Packard


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