Top Twelve Tips

The secret to maintaining a reliable computer is regular maintenance and also to have a basic understanding of how problems occur such as virus's and spyware. This guide will give some tips to keep your machine running smoothly.

Top Twelve Tips

1. Defragmentation
Fragmentation on your computer hard drive is the process where data blocks on your hard drive get split up and scattered onto different sections of the hard disk. This makes accessing programs slow as the hard disk has to read and skip to different fragments stored at different locations.

It is recommended that periodic defragmentation of your hard disk is performed. The process of defragmentation will make your disk less fragmented and speed up read and write and also loading of programs. Defragmentation in general should not be done if there is less than 15% hard disk space as it is a memory intensive operation.

2. Scandisk
Sometimes sectors on your hard drive can become corrupt, especially after improper shutdowns or power outages. To find such corruption errors, Scandisk should be run monthly, running scan disk will allow the computer to find these errors and possibly fix most errors. A disk with many errors may impede the performance if the computer and affect the integrity of your data.

3. Lack of hard disk space
The hard disk should have a reasonable amount of space left for your anticipated future file storage. The more space that is used on a hard drive, the more slower it will be when it comes to reading and writing data and also launching applications.

The hard disk is also used as "Virtual Memory" which is where it will place data when the RAM is full. Sufficient hard disk space is needed for this operation. You will experience problems such as sluggish operation, unable to save files etc. when you have very low disk space.

There are a few ways you can reclaim some hard disk space, these include:

  • Deleting temporary internet files
  • Empty your recycle bin
  • Deleting Temporary files
  • Deleting unnecessary log files
  • Removing unused programs
  • Removing other unnecessary files
  • Large email inboxes: archive older messages to a CD/DVD or other media to free up some hard disk space

4. Lack of RAM
Random Access Memory (RAM) is memory that temporarily stores data in your computer for quick access by applications. It is recommended that at least 512 Megabytes of ram is installed in computers running windows XP. This amount of ram should allow comfortable performance of common tasks such as web browsing, email, office applications etc.

An upgrade in RAM is recommended if you need to have many applications open at the same time and experience a significant slowdown in operations or if you use memory intensive applications such as graphics, video editing software.

5. Unnecessary programs on Start-up
After installation of some programs, an option within the program that allows it to "Start on Windows Start-up" may be enabled by default. Depending on whether you want such a program to launch automatically when windows boots is up to you, but the more programs that you have the slower your computer will take to boot up and its normal operations may be sluggish.

To resolve such issues, it's recommended you go to the settings menu of the offending program and un-tick the option that allows it to start with Windows.

Sometimes there may be no such option to directly stop a program from launching at start-up. This is when you need to enter "msconfig" and un-tick the programs which you Don't want to run.

6. Viruses
Viruses can cause your computer to become sluggish and perform abnormally. If you do find that this is the case, a virus scan should be performed. If there is no virus scanning programs installed on your computer, you can perform a web scan through vendors such as Trend Micro and McAfee.

There are things you can do to prevent getting a virus:

  • Don't open any attachments in emails from an unknown or suspicious source, and any other attachments which look suspicious
  • Don't download untrustworthy files, especially in Peer to Peer programs
  • Don't install applications which are suspicious, research the application first to make sure it's legitimate.
  • Install antivirus and update it regularly and scan frequently
  • Keep your operating system up to date

7. Spyware and Adware
Spyware are programs that monitor and can intercept the operation of your computer. Spyware and adware could compromise your security by logging your browsing habits, logging passwords, launching pop-up ads, using CPU resources and taking up your internet bandwidth.

Spyware and adware may be installed on your machine without you even realising it. Some spyware programs install themselves by "piggybacking". That is when it gets installed simultaneously with another program you have downloaded and installed.

Another way spyware could get onto your computer is by you accepting "Security Warning" pop-ups in your web browser that asks you to install a specific program. Some of these may be from legitimate vendors such as Adobe, Macromedia, but sometimes it may be from a spyware vendor. So accept these security warnings with caution.

There are many programs which, like antivirus scanners, will scan your computer for spyware and adware, an example is Adaware by Lavasoft. A program such as Adaware should be installed and a scan should be run often to detect any suspicious activity and programs. (Please read the End User Licence Agreement before installing such programs, as most programs are free for personal use only, though business users can purchase licences)

8. Memory and CPU hog programs
Some programs may take up the majority of your RAM space and also use up a large amount of CPU power, leaving fewer resources for other programs to run smoothly. It is possible to pinpoint the amount of resources a program is using by using the task manager.

If a program does tend to use up the majority of RAM, then an upgrade in RAM is recommended. Programs that are CPU intensive and take a considerable amount of time to perform tasks may benefit from a faster processor.

9. Keeping applications system up to date
Your applications should be kept up to date to prevent security issues which may allow things such as viruses to attack your computer through vulnerabilities in the software. It is important that any updates are tested with your third party applications prior to installation.

10. Cleaning the registry
Note: The registry should not be modified unless you have knowledge of exactly what you are doing.

Sometimes the registry may get cluttered with unused entries which may slow down the computers operation. Cleaning these out may be of benefit, there are some registry cleaning programs on the internet such as CCleaner. Care must be taken so that no important registry entries are deleted.

11. Screen Savers
Some third party screen savers may crash a computer due to high CPU utilisation to render complex graphics, so it is recommended that the screensavers that come installed with windows be used. Some third part screensaver packs may also have viruses embedded in the installation files, so care must be taken if using third party screen savers.

12. Desktop Icons
Don't clutter the desktop with too many icons as the computer has to refresh all these icons, it may take up resources if has to display many icons.

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