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PC MAINTENANCE FOR BEGINNERS / HOW-TO GEEK SCHOOL

How-To Geek

Lesson 4: Keeping your PC Updated and Running Smoothly

PC Maintenance 4

Today we’re going to talk about improving your PC’s performance beyond the basic steps we’ve already covered thus far. Chances are your computer runs perfectly well until you start stressing it, and then it will obviously slow down as it is given more demands.

Yet, there’s still those times when your system just bogs down and doesn’t seem like it wants to budge – like it’s stuck in mud and switching between apps seems to take an age. If your system feels slower, then it most likely is.

Many performance problems can simply be tracked down to too much overhead and too few resources. In other words, your computer can only handle so many simultaneously running processes before it starts to show signs of strain. This may manifest as long load or boot times, or applications may hang or stall, or the computer may exhibit signs of instability such as blue screens or sudden restarts.

This is the practical advice lesson and it will be here that we talk about improving your diagnostic skills with the all-powerful “Task Manage,r” which is far more useful than its simple name would imply.

Before we do that, however, we’re going to delve into something very important which is very often neglected by a vast number of PC users: updates.

Keeping Things Properly Updated

If your system isn’t regularly updated, it could be compromised and open to attack from hackers. Microsoft regularly issues patches and security updates and if your system isn’t set to download and automatically install them, or you’re not super diligent about checking for, downloading, and installing these updates, then you put your system at risk.

Perhaps even more important, however, are those other little programs that don’t always get star treatment: Oracle Java, Adobe Flash, and Adobe Reader. While we did cover these plugins in the previous chapter, we want to stress again how important it is that these types of programs, any program really, are kept up-to-date.

Windows update

Windows provides a utility, aptly named, “Windows Update,” that allows you to keep your system patched and secure (to an extent) from any malicious attempts to gain access and seize control of your computer.

When you first create a master or administrator account on a new Windows install, you will be asked whether you want updates to download and install automatically, or if you want to do this manually. We highly recommend you allow Windows to take care of updating itself.

Nevertheless, if you think you want to handle this portion of PC maintenance, then you need to know how to use “Windows Update” so you never miss a critical update.

To open “Windows Update” you will need to open the Control Panel. This is true whether you’re on Windows 8.x or Windows 7. In Windows 8.x, you can also update your system via the “PC settings” in the Metro interface under “update and recovery.”

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For the sake of consistency, let’s stick to the desktop version. Once you’re familiar with that, the Metro version is pretty much the same thing.

When you first open “Windows Update” you will see its status, such as whether “you’re set to automatically install updates.” In the following screenshot, we see we have 3 three optional updates available, but we also initiated a manual “check for updates” and we see we have one important update too.

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You can click on the links to see what these updates are. You should install whatever important updates are available, but you can be a bit pickier about optional updates.

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In fact, you can even right-click on an update and hide it, so it no longer shows up in “Windows Update.”

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Worry not, if you find you really need the “Bing Bar” or “Bing Desktop” or some other hidden update, you can use the “restore hidden updates” function.

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All-in-all, “Windows Update” is a cinch to use, so if you decide to attend to your own updates, it’s usually a matter of remembering to install them. Luckily, you can set the level at which important updates occur with “Change settings.”

“Windows Update” not only handles important updates, but recommended updates, and updates for other Microsoft products like Office. You can disable these later two if you don’t want to receive them through “Windows Update”.

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With regard to “Important updates,” you choose between one of four different configurations giving you the full array of control over your updating process. You honestly don’t want to turn off automatic updating completely, but you can choose whether it notifies you that updates exist and then give you the choice whether to download and install them, or download them and then install them.

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Note at the bottom of the important updates section there’s a link “updates will be automatically installed during the maintenance window.” Click on this and you will be able to decide when Windows Update runs. By default, it’s set to run daily at 3 AM and will wake up your computer, if necessary.

If you don’t want “Automatic Maintenance” waking up your computer at 3 a.m., either uncheck the box next to “Allow scheduled maintenance to wake up my computer …” or change the time to when you know the computer will be on.

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Java, Flash, and Reader

While Java, Flash, and Reader only represent a small drop in the bucket when it comes to applications, they’re often the most common entry points for many types of malware, especially Java, which is said to be responsible for HALF of all security exploits.

Don’t stop reading here, because we’re about to cover how to make sure you are protected!

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Living just north of the border, in what he calls Practically, Mexico, Matt spends his days scouring the latest tech news, writing e-books, and attempting to create the perfect breakfast burrito.

  • Published 03/13/14

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