Some people don’t know how to properly maintain their computer and don’t understand what’s happening when they boot it up one day and find that it crawls into windows, takes forever to open programs and screeches to a halt for “no reason”. Just like a car stops working for “no reason” when you don’t maintain it. I want you to be your own mechanic in this case and understand some of the easier maintenance tips. The only tools you may need are a phillips head screwdriver a can of compressed air and a little commonsense. Let’s get started talking about the computer’s most common arch enemy.
Dust is a computer killer and many people overlook or just plain forget about it all together. Dust wouldn’t be so bad if it was just standard mold spores and dirt, but unfortunately it contains hair and dead skin cells that are oily and stick to things. Have you ever seen what happens to a ceiling fan after a few months of running without being cleaned? Now imagine that same situation in your computer.
Your computer has to remain cool in order to function. When a computer get’s too hot it will do one of three main things.
1. Shut down to protect itself.
2. Burn up and stop working.
3. Lower the voltage to your processor making it run slower and slower and slower in an attempt to stay in the “safe zone”.
So when your computer mysteriously shuts itself down after running for 5~10 minutes everytime you use it, I would say check your CPU fan and heatsink first, followed by your power supply. If those appear to be relatively dust free and in working condition, boot into safe mode and try running a few scans for malware.
Before attempting the next step make sure you have shut down windows and unplugged your computer from the outlet.
Normally the side panel of a computer case is held on with a screw or two, sometimes they are thumb screws and sometimes it’ll just be a sliding lock. Regardless of the method the panel is held on with you should open it up and spend a minute or two just looking around at what makes your computer tick. You should see a fan of some sort centrally located on the motherboard, there will also be some aluminum fins that this fan is either sitting on or touching in some other way. Those fins are called the “heat sink” and are used to pull the heat from the CPU like a radiator while the fan keeps the fins cool. Those fins can easily become clogged with dust, which causes poor air flow, which in turn causes heat to build up. Blow out the dust using canned air follow the instructions on the can. You may also want to go outside because the dust will be incredible. Go ahead and dust everything off while you’re in there. Some computers don’t have CPU fans anymore, but will generally have a fairly decent size heat sink.
Processor = CPU
I see a lot of people who cram their computers under the desk in those tiny cubby holes that have very little ventilation. That may be fine for a typical home office computer, so I won’t gripe, but if you have invested some serious money in tons of LEDs and bought a mega gaming computer for $2,000 from DELL, give it room to breathe. Make sure all the fans are free of obstructions and try to keep the exhaust vents from venting into the same are as the intake vents. You can turn your gaming machine into a really expensive space heater in no time flat by providing poor air circulation.
Security risks are nothing new to computer savvy individuals, viruses, spyware, exploits and phishing just to name a few of the risks out there. The differences may be hard to see from the perspective of a novice user, but power users understand the differences very well. The risk is there whether you know what it is or not.
Exploits are like a hole in a system that wasn’t intended, but becomes painfully obvious once used. A perfect example of this is buffer overrun attacks. These are generally intended to leave a hole in your security to allow access. Every time I go to windows update it’s Buffer Overrun this and Buffer Overflow that. Those updates are the patches that cover those security holes to prevent access in the future.
I’ve been over viruses and spyware in the first part of this series, but needless to say an Anti-Malware program that is out of date isn’t going to catch the most recent threats on the Internet. Phishing is normally a commonsense issue, but keeping yourself updated on phishing attempts will give you more to work with in that battle.
To keep your computer running like it should you also need to make sure that your hardware drivers are up to date. Drivers let your hardware devices communicate with one another. The most common drivers for an average user will be video, sound and networking. A corrupt driver causes all kinds of lovely issues like Blue Screens of Death, horrible performance or even no performance. Update your drivers occasionally by either going to your computer manufacturer’s website or the component manufacturer, normally the drivers will be found under a “Support” link then under “downloads”, but of course it may vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.
I normally update my drivers about once every 3-4 months if needed, my virus and spyware definitions about once a week when I scan and go to windows update about once a month just for the heck of it. Oh, but wait, you can’t use Windows Update site with Firefox. I use WinDiz Update, the Windows Updater for non Microsoft browsers and now you can too.
Keeping your software updated and your computer clean will make your experience with your computer much more enjoyable. It will also save you money in costly unnecessary repair bills. I know people who charge or have been charged upwards of $80 an hour to do simple stuff like this and they even count the time Windows update runs it’s installer! That can be $80 or more just for it sometimes! So buy a $6 can of air and get busy!
Be sure to check out parts 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 of this series.