Basic Computer Care
- Virus and Spyware/Adware Protection
- Hard Drive Care
- Buying A Computer
- Troubleshooting & Problem Prevention
The next 10 minutes spent reading this article will give non-expert computer users some basic tips and free utilities that can help keep your computer running smoothly. No computer is immune to problems, and the more your computer gets used the more you’ll notice little problems, quirks, slow-downs and headaches.
Sometimes major problems occur and you’ll need to bring your computer in for service, but these general tips can help keep things running smoothly. Remember: Always, always, always make regular backups of your important files, images and documents. I strongly recommend that you have a CD or DVD burner handy, or at least a couple of USB memory sticks. Every few months backup your saved emails and all your files. When my hard drive died, I REALLY regretted the fact that I didn’t have a backup! Shame on me… I learned my lesson.
Virus and Spyware/Adware Protection
Every computer (and ESPECIALLY those connected to the Internet) should have an anti-virus program installed and an anti- spyware/adware program. There are two FREE tools available that I use and have so far had great results with them. Warning… there is a common myth that if you PAY for your anti-virus program it must be better than a free one. Don’t believe it. Some of the commercially available programs are a pain to un-install. Make sure you search your hard drive for any leftover junk that didn’t get removed.
Grisoft’s AVG Anti-Virus program has a free edition for personal use that comes with regular updates. It can be downloaded here (choose free edition from the menu).
Lavasoft’s Ad-Aware is a free anti adware/spyware program that also comes with regular updates. It can be downloaded here.
Having these 2 programs, or similar ones, installed is not enough. You should run the updates for each of them once or twice a week. Then have them each do a full system scan every couple of months, or if you notice your computer doing anything odd. If you do a lot of downloading of programs or music, you should run a scan every couple of weeks.
Viruses and loads of spyware, are two very common causes of a wide variety of problems. Internet connection problems, programs acting strange, slow-downs, crashes and more. These 2 types of programs are a MUST.
Use a new web browser: Firefox for example. There are many security problems with the browser (Internet Explorer) that comes with your computer. Other browsers often have more handy features too.
Hard Drive Care
Almost everything you do to your computer happens to the hard drive. These days larger hard drives are encouraging people to install every little thing they come across and to forget about it when they stop using. Who cares when you have 120 Gigs of space right? Wrong. Your hard drive takes a beating. It’s also one of the few moving parts in your computer. Here are some important tips:
Every several months, run a scandisk and defragmentation on your hard drive. You can find these two utilities under your drive’s properties, or somewhere in the control panel or start menu. If you can’t find them, consult your manual. Scandisk will check your drive for errors and will attempt to fix them. Your hard drive stores information with magnetism, and sometimes the magnetic bits of information get messed up. Scan disk can often correct these errors. Defrag will re-arrange the bits of data for your files to make sure they are all next to each other. This means less work for your hard drive to read information.
When you install programs, be aware of where they are being installed. Don’t let things get ‘lost’ on your hard drive, and if you’re done with them, un-install. Force all new program installations to go to the same location, like your ‘program files’ folder.
Don’t install junk. If you’ve never heard of a program before, read about it. Run a virus scan on the install file. Find out what other people say about it. A quick search on an Internet search engine should bring up any praise or complaints that people have.
DO NOT open, run, or install programs that strangers send you in email. This is dangerous email spam. These so-called ‘useful’ programs are likely viruses.
WORDS TO THE WISE: Back up your files regularly. I know I already mentioned this but it is so important. Hard drives are one of the few moving parts in your computer. They fail. Often. A hard drive that lasts more than 2 years these days is rare.
Don’t let your hard work, and precious photos and important files become as useful as a brick. Programs can always be re-installed, but some files can’t be replaced. Back it up. Often. Believe me when I say… a dead hard drive really sucks.
Buying a Computer
You get what you pay for. For most of us a couple thousand dollars is a major purchase. Here are some basic tips for buying a computer:
Treat it like buying a car. Don’t go with a dealer you’ve never heard of, or one who hasn’t been around for very long. Don’t buy online or by mail. Make sure the dealer has a local location that you can physically visit.
There are a lot of ‘good deals’ on big name computers that are often too good to be true. HP, Dell, Gateway, Toshiba, etc. all have cheap pre-built machines for less than a thousand dollars. If money is the biggest issue, then this might be your option. But if you can afford to spend a little more, you can get a much better deal. Buy from a local company with a good, long-standing reputation in your community. Make sure that they assemble the computers themselves. Make sure they offer local service: you don’t want the hassle of shipping your computer somewhere if something goes wrong- and you don’t want to spend hours on the phone talking to technical support people who are on the other side of the world. Waiting on hold isn’t fun.
Ask around, find out if the dealer has a good reputation and if they provide good service and quality parts.
Consicer an extended warranty, ONLY if you don’t have the cash to handle unexpected mechanical problems. Make sure it covers everything, especially the hard drive. Make sure you are covered for at least 2 years after you purchase it.
Make sure the computer has everything you want and nothing you don’t need. If they custom build the computers then you can save money by getting less flashy gadgets. Most people really don’t need the biggest hard drive. Do you really need a DVD player in your computer? If you don’t play computer games or watch video then you probably don’t need a top of the line video card either. Save money where you can.
Get good devices. Monitor, keyboard, mouse, speakers. Buy good brands, especially the monitor. Make sure your monitor has a warranty. If you take good care of your monitor, it may last you for your next computer too.
Make sure that you get the actual legal CDs for your operating system. You’ll need these if your hard drive ever dies. Or if you need to do updates.
Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions. Don’t get pressured into buying what you don’t want. Ask. Don’t leave the store with a single question in mind. Most computer people love talking about the products they sell, and will be willing to explain the differences between brands and such. If you don’t know what something does, ask. You won’t be the only one to have asked that question. A good dealer will explain everything in a friendly manner and help you feel confident about your purchase.
What to do with your old computer? Never throw it out. If you can’t sell it, there are many organizations that are looking for donated computers to go to the needy. As a last resort, make sure it is taken to an electronics recycling center because computers should never be thrown in a landfill.
Troubleshooting & Problem Prevention
Problems will happen. Sometimes you’ll need help from the pros… and sometimes it will be an easy fix. Most computer problems come from users who don’t know how to take basic care of their computers. They install just about anything they think sounds fun, they don’t protect themselves from viruses, and they don’t realize that a computer a complex piece of precision equipment. Professional service for your computer will cost you $40-$100 per hour- so it’s worth it to take care of your machine.
The best advice I can give you is this: be protective of your computer. Don’t install everything you hear about. You wouldn’t eat just any food you found lying on the street would you? If you want to install a program, first do some research. Visit an internet search engine like Google or Yahoo and search for the name of the program, plus words like ‘trouble’ or ‘problems’. For example if your program is called whatsit, search for: ‘whatsit problems’ or ‘whatsit spyware’ (without the quotes) and see what other people online are saying about the program. Does it contain spyware (programs that send your personal info to others)? Hunt down feedback from other people who have used it. Be picky about what you install and download. If you download music or other media, be aware that a music file might not be a music file. It could be a virus. Be suspicious.
If you’re getting an error message, search for it at an Internet search engine. You’ll find TONS of free help online, but be wary. Always backup any file before you change it… and make sure the same advice is given from multiple sources. There are many people who think they can help, but might make things worse. If you’re unsure, or think it’s serious… let the pros handle it.
A funny tip that some people ignore: if you’re hearing a funny sound or smelling a funny smell- turn your computer off right away! Unplug it from the wall and bring it in for service. Computers are electrical devices that can be dangerous if they aren’t working properly. Never use your computer during a lightening storm, and always make sure the power and phone lines it uses are connected to a surge protector. Keep your computer in a cool, dry, well ventilated place. Don’t close it in a cupboard, or keep drinks on top of it. Don’t kick or drop it. Try to keep the inside free of dust, but don’t scrub it with anything! I once heard of a person who cleaned everything inside his computer with bleach!
Tip: The best way to clean dust out of the inside of your computer is with a can of compressed air that you can buy at a computer store. Always make sure the power switch on the BACK of the computer is off before you open the case, and that you yourself are properly grounded.
Some regular maintenance can go a long way. You don’t have to be an expert to do the basic things that every computer needs. And aside from keeping your computer running smoothly, it will also save you money in the long run.
Tip: The number one cause of computer problems is downloading files that contain viruses. Be careful when getting software off the Internet. Get it from reputable websites. Be careful of download services like Limewire.
Computer prices are dropping and user-friendliness is increasing. As a result, non-technical people are buying and setting up their own computers, connecting themselves to the internet and using their computers on a daily basis, all without any advice or training. This is a good thing! But a computer is not like a toaster. You don’t just plug it in, use it and forget about it. They require responsible treatment, ongoing maintenance, and a fair amount of foreknowledge. If you don’t know what you’re doing, ask someone who does. Get some basic lessons before you get yourself into an expensive mess- and your computer user experience will be much more positive. Take care of your computer and it will last longer and give you less trouble.
A computer that is taken care of, will likely last you at least 3 years. I know many computer users with 4-6 month old computers that are crashing, running slow and giving them no end of problems. They spend a lot of money for repairs or a new computer then a few months later it’s acting up again. These people usually blame their computers for their problems. A little information and some responsible habits would have protected them from the stress and expense. If you take your computer use seriously and responsibly, you’ll enjoy it SO much more. I hope these tips will help you have a great computer experience. Don’t be scared- anyone can do it!