Caring for your computer

Caring for your computer

Even folks who get nervous around a screwdriver can take care of some preventive maintenance tasks that will keep a computer healthy. Just as your car will last longer and run better with good tyres and oil changes, your computer will profit from some tender loving care. None of these basic tasks requires you to even open the hood. So, even the timid can dive right in.

A good backup plan: Maybe you don’t think backing up a computer’s hard drive is part of a maintenance plan. But it’s the equivalent of making sure you’re driving with a good spare tyre and the tools to mount it. With a backup safely stored on an external hard disk, DVDs or CDs, you can restore things to normal even after some of the worst disasters. Both Windows XP and Vista come with backup programs. All you need to do is type the word “backup" into the Windows Help menu to get the directions.

Interior cleaning: Hard disks are like closets. We tend to save things that we’ll never need again. That includes programs that we haven’t used in years, 214 photographs of the family dog, tunes that you don’t like and videos from YouTube that don’t seem funny any more. Start by deleting the stuff you know is trash. If you’re in doubt, copy the data in a disk.

Hard disk check: Windows has an adequate defragmenting program. You’ll find it under the System Tools category. Unless you add and remove programs and data every day, you don’t need to defragment your hard disk more than once every three months or so. Defragmenting is just what it sounds like; it takes fragments of data—scattered around the hard disk—and reunites them. That lets you retrieve data faster. But there is another more important reason for defragmenting. If your hard disk does crash, then you’ll have the best chance of recovering data from a disk that’s in reasonably good shape. One way to check the health of your hard disk is to use tools that are built into Windows.

Virus prevention:Viruses can literally destroy your data. Adware and spyware are the most common causes of a slow computer. While you’re at it, make sure that the firewall that comes with Windows XP and Vista is enabled. If you need directions, just type the word “firewall" in the help menu. If you wish, you can use free programs for these chores, such as Grisoft’s Free AVG ( You can have several favourites when it comes to adware and spyware, but Windows Defender ( is a safe choice.

For advanced mechanics: OK, there’s one more step to take in our maintenance plan. But this one is just for the old and the bold.

Open up your computer’s case and use a can of compressed air—available at almost any photography shop and most computer stores—to blow out the dust. Dust? Yeah, there will be plenty of it inside your computer if it’s a year old or more.

The dust that blankets the circuit board is like the blanket on your bed—an insulator that holds in heat. And heat kills when it comes to computers. Just be careful that you don’t actually touch any of the computer’s innards with the metal tip of the air can. That can cause a spark of static electricity to jump to a component and fry it. If you follow my tips and even if you skip the last one, your PC should be good for another 10,000 websites.