PC Health

These are some very useful tips and reminders offered from PC Pitstop Newsletter that every PC owner should keep handy. You can select the tips that are most important and apply to your needs.

Tip 1 – Set up a monthly backup prodedure for important data.  Just make sure you grab anything important and back it up in case of a computer crash. Usually copying the My Documents folder is enough, but if you want to go a step further, open My Computer, click the C: drive and copy the Documents and Settings folder for the users you want to backup. We recommend using an external USB hard drive for this.

Tip 2 – Now that the backup is done, you need to make sure you have all of your security updates. Visit Microsoft Update by clicking on the start button. You can normally find a link to Microsoft Update right in the Start menu. If not, visit the Microsoft Update website. Download and install all critical updates. This will probably include Internet Explorer 8 and a service pack or two, depending on what Operating System Version you’re running.

Tip 3 – Install and update your Antivirus. If you do not have one, you can use Free AVG or Microsoft Security Essentials. Once you install one of these, be sure to scan your hard drives. Another good Antivirus that I use personally is ESET Nod32 with an annual user and update fee. You can get the ESET Nod32 version good for 3 computers at once.

Tip 4 – Run Disk Cleanup to get rid of temp files and other junk that is cluttering your hard drive. Start>All Programs>Accessories>System Tools>Disk Cleanup.

Tip 5 – Defrag your hard drive. Now that you have run Disk Cleanup, run Disk Defragmenter from the same System Tools folder as above and it will re-organize your drive and speed things up.

Tip 6 – Uninstall any unnecessary programs. Depending on how old your PC is, you probably have a lot of programs installed you never use. These programs could be an unnecessary security risk if they have not been updated. You can remove them via the Control Panel’s Add Remove Programs section. If these are programs you have purchased, you might want to make sure you have the serial numbers and disks in case you want to reinstall them later.

Tip 7 – Download a second web browser. Having Internet Explorer alone is dangerous. If it quits working, you may lose access to the Internet. Having a couple extra choices, like Firefox and Chrome could save you. Download and install them, even if you never plan on using these browsers.

Tip 8 – Run CCleaner, a free program to clean your computer registry while making it faster and more secure.

Tip 9 – Change your passwords. You don’t need to be a security fanatic. But you really should change your passwords every few months. Develop a password strategy that works for you.

Tip 10 – Reboot your computer. If you’re the type of person that leaves your PC on 365 days a year, take a moment to reboot.

Tip 11 – Clear your web browser’s cache. The process will differ slightly depending on what what browser you use. In IE, open the browser and go to Tools, Internet Options and under the General tab, look for Browsing History and click Delete. You will see several options. Check Temporary Files and History. Cookies are optional, as these contain information you may or may not want removed.

Tip 12 – Run a thorough scan of your hard drive. You hard drive might be failing and you don’t even know it! Windows comes with CHKDSK, a built-in tool that looks for file-system and physical defects on your computer’s drive. Access it by opening my Computer and right-click the C: drive. Click properties, then select the Tools tab. Under Error Checking, click Check Now and select bot options to repair and scan. It will ask to reboot to perform the scan. Do it before bed, as it could take an hour or more.

Tip 13 – Remove unnecessary startup programs. Go to Start>Run and type msconfig and hit OK. Under the start-up tab, uncheck any programs you know do not need to start each time your computer boots. This will not remove them, only prevent them from leeching memory. You can always launch those programs manually if you need to.

Tip 14 – Visit Microsoft Update. You should configure Windows to automatically download and install updates. If you choose not to do this, make sure you visit update every couple of weeks. Typically, they patch on the second Tuesday of each month, but you might be missing a critical update that was pushed through early.

Tip 15 – Install a limited user account for your kids. You can configure Parental Controls to limit their access to bad websites. The limited user account will thwart them from changing the settings back. The Parental Controls are under User Accounts in the Control Panel. You must be an Administrator and the user must be a limited user account to enforce this correctly.

Tip 16 – Reboot your router and modem. Shut down your PC, then unplug your router and modem. Wait a few minutes, then plug them back in starting with the modem, then the router. Power up the PC. You have just power cycled your network.

Tip 17 – Blow out your fans. The front grill of your computer case will eventually get clogged with hair and dust. You should vacuum this are off, then take a can of compressed air and blow out your CPU, Video card and power supply fans. This can prevent your computer from locking up, running sluggish due to heat and extend the life of your computer.

Tip 18 – Download Java and Adobe Reader updates. These programs will frequently have security issues. You can launch Adobe Reader through your Start menu and look under Help to search for updates. You can launch the Java control panel from your Windows Control Panel and look for the update tab.

Tip 19 – Consider investing in an offsite backup company. Depending on your needs, use a service like Carbonite or Mozy to backup your computer online automatically. The price is around $5.00 per month. But it is well worth the money.

Tip 20 – Create a System Restore Point.  A System Restore point can revert your system back to that very point in time in the event your computer crashes due to a serious file system or driver error. Manually creating a System Restore point when things are running smooth ensures you have a safe place to return to in a dire situation.

Tip 21 – Look into OpenDNS. Your router uses your ISP’s Domain Name Service, which is the Internet’s way of matching up IP addresses with website names. OpenDNS gives you control of this service. You will have the ability to set times of day the Internet is used, the websites that are allowed, etc. Some even say it’s faster. If you decide to switch, you can optain the OpenDNS server numbers from them after you create your free account.

Tip 22 – Scan for spyware. Despite our best efforts, you may have spyware residing on your computer. Download the free version of Malwarebytes and run a scan to make sure you’re clean.

Tip 23 – When it’s that time of the month again. remember to do a current backup. After you have run your current backup of My Documents folder to your external hard drive, do an extra backup to a CD, a DVD or a thumb flash drive and keep it at work or somewhere safe outside your home as a precaution against fire or other damage to your entire computer system.

Tip 24 – Organize your Desktop. Remove shortcuts, create new folders and put icons in them that relate to one another. A Desktop is a beautiful thing when it is well organized.

Tip 25 – Run Disk Cleanup again. You probably have temp files and a Recycling Bin filled with trash since your last cleanup. Disk Cleanup should be run twice a month. Run Defrag every three months, however I personally like to run Defrag at least once per month or on a regularly scheduled basis.

Tip 26 – Get a SPAM email account. If you use your standard–issue email account given to your by your ISP, consider having a couple Internet email accounts. Yahoo Mail and Gmail are the best. You can dedicate one of these to a personal email, and a second to SPAM. Whenever you need to sign-up for something online, give them the address of the second account to spare your Inbox from onslaught.

Tip 27 – Phishing is a ploy used by SPAMmers to trick you into clicking links in emails. These links appear to go to legitimate websites, but really attempt to steal your information or install viruses on your computer. If you see these emails, remove them from your Inbox and alert family members and friends, as these often come in spurts that hit everyone.

Tip 28 – Download OpenOffice if you do not have Microsoft Office. Applications like OpenOffice and Gimp are great alternatives to expensive commercial programs like Office and Photoshop.

Tip 29 – Clean your mouse, your desk and your printer. Seems like something you probably already do, but have you looked behind your monitor lately? Keeping dust bunnies out of your components will save you time and effort later.

Tip 30 – With all this talk about backing up, updating your computer and general security tips, integrating these practices into your daily computing life will make you a better computer user and a responsible Internet user, as your computer will be more secure and not an unknowing participant that infects other computers.

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