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PC MAINTENANCE FOR BEGINNERS / HOW-TO GEEK SCHOOL

How-To Geek

Lesson 1: Don’t Spend Money, Cleaning Your Own PC is Easy

There are also those little programs that start whenever you boot your computer. Ever looked at the tray on a Windows system and wondered what all those icons are for? We call that stuff “tray lint” because it collects and sticks there and decreases your computer’s efficacy. This stuff usually serves no purpose than to give you access to things you could just as easily use a shortcut for.

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All this combines to slow your computer down. In fact, you may not even know how fast your computer really is. If you buy a new name-brand model, for example, it may already come installed with a ton of software. Judging by the nicknames we give this software – bloatware or crapware – it’s of limited to no value.

As such, we cover computer cleanup to a large extent including removing software you simply don’t need or want any more.

Disk Maintenance

We also take you through hard drive maintenance, whether or not you should defragment, and the difference between hard disk drives and solid state drives. We’ll take a look at disk maintenance as it exists today’s Windows systems, and how you can help prolong the life of your storage medium.

Dusting

It’s not simply enough that you perform internal maintenance. You should definitely crack open the case and dust. There’s not a whole lot of technical prowess you need for this, other than understanding how to open your computer, you don’t need to know what is what or necessarily remove any components. Most likely, it’s a matter of clearing dust and hair out of air intakes and exhaust ports, as well as fans and heatsinks.

Don’t worry, we’ll guide you to the resources you need to make quick easy work of that.

Lesson 3 – Security

After you get your computer cleaned up and running better, it’s time to turn your attention to security. Hopefully, you already have something installed that will protect your system from infections but if you don’t, then it’s high time to get started!

Though it’s 2014 and malware is a fact of life, all virus scanners are not built the same. The fact is, Microsoft Security Essentials and Windows Defender (enabled by default on all Windows 8.x installations) may not fully protect your system or prevent all infections.

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Still, you have to use something. There are simply too many threats out there to ignore. So we tell you which virus scanner we think will work best for you. We also recommend you install a secondary piece of software to supplement your full time scanner.

Browser Issues

Browsers are another source of danger to your system’s security. We’re not simply talking about the stuff you download, we mean plugins and extensions as well. As we have detailed previously, browser extensions are particularly insecure, and your plugins can expose vulnerabilities that open you risk.

So it’s very important that you audit your extensions, which includes updating good extensions, disabling unused extensions, and removing malicious extensions. We’ll show you how to do that as well as how to check your plugins, disable them and make sure they’re up-to-date.

Passwords

Having a great password is definitely one of those things you might not think is necessary to PC maintenance, but without a password, let alone a strong one, you might as well leave the front door of your house standing open. And we all know how quickly your house would last if you left the front door open.

This goes for any device, be it your phone or tablet, not simply your computer. Taking the time and making the effort to create a strong but easily memorable password can go a long way toward ultimately maintaining your system and preventing disaster.

Lesson 4 – Keeping your PC Updated and Running Smoothly

PC performance, or rather the lack thereof, is often the biggest complaint we hear from users. Everyone has experienced the slow decline in their system’s speed over time. This can most often be attributed to increasing system overhead versus finite resources.

Think of it this way, you buy a car with more than enough horsepower and it goes fast when you first buy it, but let’s say you skip an oil change, your air filter is dirty, and you buy low quality gasoline. Today is also the day you need to go to the store and buy 10 bags of concrete mix, which just barely fits in the trunk. It’s also summer time, and it’s really hot, so you need to run the air conditioner, especially after loading all the concrete into your car.

So now your automobile is loaded down with a quarter ton of concrete, you’re running the AC compressor, and operating on dirty oil, air filter, and bad gas. What this means is your car isn’t going to run at peak efficiency and perform optimally.

Like cars, computers need to be cared for and worked on. If you install bad software onto it, that’s going to slow it down, similarly, if you have a lot of stuff running at once that too will severely impact performance, as will a lot of stuff in your startup routine.

Keeping your computer properly maintained is a lot like giving your car a tune up. It will feel faster, run more efficiently, and longer.

Operating System Updates

Anyone who uses a computer can attest to OS updates being a regular part of life. Microsoft is notorious for their Patch Tuesdays, which “occurs on the second Tuesday of each month in North America, on which Microsoft regularly releases security patches.”

Operating systems, OS X and Windows in particular, are pretty good about taking care of updates behind the scenes, but that’s not to say you can’t play a role in ensuring your system is always up-to-date. Regardless of whether you have Windows Update set to automatically download and install updates, or you want to be involved at each step of the process, you should know what Windows Update is and how to use it.

Java, Flash, and Reader

Also very important are the unholy trinity of software add-ins: Oracle Java, Adobe Flash, and Adobe Reader. These three items are usually found on nearly every system, and represent serious risks to system security. We’ll tell you how to keep them updated so you don’t have to worry (as much) about them compromising your computer.

Drivers

Drivers are the little bits of code hardware manufacturers write to get their devices and peripherals to work on a computer. Nowadays, driver maintenance is almost unheard of. Microsoft maintains a massive repository of drivers on Windows Update and nearly everything you use with Windows will typically be recognized and installed in a matter of minutes.

That said, you may not always automatically receive the latest driver updates along with your regular updates. We explain the difference between “Important” updates and “Recommended” updates, and how to ensure all your system drivers are the latest versions.

Lesson 5 – Protecting your data

Finally, we explore the myriad ways you can protect your data from disaster. One might not think of backups as “PC Maintenance” but it most assuredly is. By protecting your data with regular backups, whether they’re offline, using an external hard drive, or online using a cloud-based service, you are securing your digital life from catastrophic loss.

If you back up your stuff, and your computer fails, you can simply replace the part that broke or at worst, the computer itself. Think then how easy it is to get back to the place where you left off. Now imagine or recall how it can be if you don’t back up your stuff – suddenly your poor computer and data management become a very stressful problem.

Thus, by making sure your stuff is backed up, you’re maintaining the integrity of the most important aspect of your PC – everything that is stored on it.

Backup Methods and Mediums

Backing your data up can be accomplished through various methods and across many different mediums. We want to try to cover as many of them as possible including, of course, local backups such as to hard drives and DVDs, but also online or cloud backups, such as with Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive or even Dropbox.

In reality the steps to making and maintaining backups have become easier than ever, especially if you know exactly what to back up. Rather than making full system backups, you can save time and storage space by backing up only a few select locations such as your pictures, documents, and music.

We’ll show you how to do both.

Coming up Next …

Join us tomorrow as we talk about computer cleanup, specifically, the various ways in which you can tidy up your system, disks, and blast all that dirt coating your computer’s internals.

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Born and brainwashed an Ohio State Buckeye, Matt now lives a warm, snow-free life just north of the Texas/Mexico border. He fancies himself a modern-day jack-of-all-trades; favorite conversation starters include operating systems, Android, BBQ, quantum physics, and roller skating.

  • Published 03/10/14

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