Your computer might not come with as high of a price tag or as many moving parts as your car, but laptops and desktops require just as much regular maintenance to keep running efficiently and securely. Desktops come with lots of peripherals that need regular upkeep and cleaning, and compact laptops are vulnerable to trouble caused by everything from dust to accidents.
Whether you primarily use your computer for work or for leisure, you invested plenty of money in a high-tech machine. While you know the technology may eventually be too old to keep using, you want to maximize your equipment’s life in the meantime. If you fail to keep up with maintenance and instead operate a slow, dirty machine, it will be vulnerable to damage and hacks, and you’ll be more prone to making mistakes.
To avoid trouble, stay on top of regular maintenance and follow these seven vital steps for healthy computers.
Help Your Hardware
1. Clean your computer and keyboard
Static electricity makes computers a magnet for dust, dirt, and debris. With all the crevices that come with keyboards and processing units, dust can be tough to reach, and it may gather for months before you even notice a problem. These particles aren’t just unsanitary; they also clog up your cooling fans and keyboard, two of the most important moving parts of your machine.
If you already own an air compressor, you can use it to quickly and conveniently clear the dust out of your computer parts. If not, you can buy cans of compressed air at any office supply store (the GUST Easy Air Duster is less than $10 on Amazon). Don’t let more than a month go by without blowing away everything that is not screwed down. Even if you can’t see the dust at a glance, it’s in there.
2. Clean your monitor
Hopefully, you don’t ever touch your screen, and you encourage others to keep their hands off your monitor too. Fingers always have oil and dirt on them, and leave nasty smudges on computer screens. Even if you, your friends, and your family treat your screen right, monitors always find a way to gather dust nonetheless.
While smudges and stains might seem like minor annoyances, improper care can turn them into major problems. Don’t just grab the glass cleaner from under your sink and spray down your screen. You can’t simply take a paper towel to your monitor and think it won’t get scratched. You paid a lot for that high-resolution flat screen for presentations, DVDs, and games, so clean it with a proper kit designed for LCD displays. You can get a cloth and spray for under $10 (e.g. Vivitar LCD Screen Cleaner for $8), or pick up an eight-pack of disposable wipes designed for monitors. Clean your screen as needed, or at least monthly.
3. Organize your cords
Unless you splurge on wireless Bluetooth devices, every time you add a new peripheral to your computer, you end up with more data cords. Even if you buy wireless equipment, you’ll still need to connect more power supplies. Printers, scanners, speakers, microphones, and cameras just keep contributing to cord clutter. Eventually, you’ll have a huge pile behind your computer, and it’ll be ugly, restrictive, and dangerous.
To truly get a handle on this wire wreckage, set aside ten or fifteen minutes to shut down and unplug everything. Separate all of the cords, and you’ll probably find one or two that you don’t even use. Group them all based on which direction they run, and bind the cords together. You can use a twist-tie or rubber band, but I prefer cable housings that are split along their length. Unlike other cable ties, you can add and remove cords from the bundle without removing and replacing each tie. Using reusable velcro ties is also a good solution. If you feel like you’re running too many peripherals to control the maze of cords, invest in a USB hub or router so everything runs to one compact, central location.
4. Do a full scan for viruses and spyware
Software maintenance can get complicated, but one of the easiest ways to take care of your system is to run conventional virus protection and spyware detection software. Mainstream programs will safely run as background processes, protecting your computer whenever you have it on. Every two to four weeks (more frequently if you’re extra-vigilant), you should open up your virus protection software and manually run a full scan for viruses and spyware.
Microsoft offers their Security Essentials suite for users of registered copies of Windows, and most Internet service providers offer their customers free anti-virus tools. Finally, you can trust established products like Symantec’s Norton AntiVirus and McAfee. All of these programs will walk you through the step-by-step process for performing a scan.
5. Uninstall any programs that you don’t use
If you’re fortunate enough to keep your personal computer running for many years, you’ll gather all sorts of programs that you may have needed at one time or another. Sometimes you may not remember or even realize that you’ve installed them. Eventually, you’ll find that you do not even recognize, let alone use, all of the programs installed on your computer. Each one of them, however, is taking up memory and processing time, so cleaning out your system will make some room for new programs and speed up your computer too.
Audit your applications every three to six months. The location of your list of programs will vary depending on your operating system, but every computer has an easily accessible list of all installed programs. You’ll even see how big the files are and the last time you accessed the programs, so you can decide if you really need to keep each one around. You’ll find a relatively simple interface that lets you uninstall and remove unwanted software. Whether you remove two programs or twenty, you should notice an overall difference in your everyday experience.
6. Check for updates on all of your programs
Now that you’ve narrowed down your list of installed programs, you can benefit from getting the latest versions of the ones you kept. Especially for programs you use frequently, click the “About” menu item or go to the manufacturer’s website to get the latest downloadable patch to upgrade each program. From your main operating system to your everyday office software, the new versions will have beefed up security as well as major and minor bug fixes that can improve processing times. If you’re a Microsoft user, for example, you can go to the Windows Update site to scan your system and install updates.
7. Reinstall or upgrade your operating system
Every time you install, update, or uninstall a program, your operating system changes in barely detectable ways. Viruses, spyware, and data corruption can further degrade your system’s performance. Then, after several years of use, you’ll notice your system running slowly and frequently freezing. If you’re an expert owner, you can run disc defragmentation programs, but if you’re like the majority of users and are uncomfortable with that level of maintenance, you’ll eventually have no choice other than to reinstall your operating system. If you reach that point, back up all of your data on an external hard drive, locate all of your original installation discs, format your primary hard drive, and reinstall your operating system software.
While this installation is cheaper and easier than buying a new machine altogether, it isn’t a job for beginners. If you’re not familiar with backing up your files or starting your system over from scratch, talk with an expert. Alternatively, if your budget allows it, you can take the opportunity to upgrade your operating system to the latest version. Installing Windows 7, for example, is surprisingly quick and easy.
If you’ve never had a frustrating moment with your computer, then you’re one of the fortunate few. Most people face inexplicable slowness and mind-boggling freezes at more than one point with every machine they own. While these troubles may seem inevitable, you can avoid them or at least cut back on their frequency. Just remember that your computer needs care and maintenance just like any other piece of technology.
By taking the time to clean and organize your hardware and software, you can be sure that your computer is there for you when you need it. By getting more involved in computer care, you’ll have the added benefit of a chance to learn more about your machine and how it works, making you an even more educated user. As you continue learning about your system, you’ll discover new ways to take care of your machine, and following these seven tips will get easier.
What maintenance tools have you been using to speed up your computer and help it last longer?