The new year is upon us, and before you know it, we’ll be deep into 2012.  One month has already passed.  Now is the time to make sure that some basic checks on your computer and setup have been done.  There is nothing quite like big failures to bring your productive day or week to a screeching halt.


1. Clean it out

Computers have fans to keep them cool.  These fans suck in dust.  That dust collects on things inside the computer.  Over time, it can build up.  Computers need to be cleaned out periodically to keep them from running too hot.  When computers get too hot, they start doing things like shutting down randomly, failing, not turning on correctly, etc.

 A way to keep this from happening is to clean them out on a regular basis.  Your environment will dictate how often that needs to happen.  If you have a desktop computer (or tower) and feel comfortable taking the side off, take the computer outside and go to town with some canned air.  Don’t worry, you can’t hurt anything.  Get it from all angles, the dust bunnies love to hide everywhere!

 If you have a laptop, the best thing to do is locate the vent slots in the side or rear and blow canned air through those slots.  You should hear the little fan in the laptop spin up really fast if the air going all the way through.  If you can’t hear/see the fan spin at all, then you need to take it to your favorite computer repair shop to have it disassembled and cleaned out.

 Of course, if you aren’t comfortable with doing any of this, your favorite computer repair shop can do it for you.

 Also, here’s an extra tip.  Get that desktop/tower computer off the floor.  Being at least 6-10 inches off the floor will make a world of difference in the amount of dust pulled into a computer.


2. Get a UPS

 Ever see your lights in your office flicker?  Lawrence has some bad power issues in some parts of town, and computers absolutely hate these power issues.  Computers are designed to run on a very specific amount of power that is clean and stable.  They do this through their own internal power supply, converting the power from the wall to the consistent power that a computer needs to operate.  When that power flickers, the computer is not happy.  It can have effects such as blown capacitors, failing power supplies, bad memory, data loss on the hard drive, you name it.  At the end of the day, it can just create a huge headache.

 There is a simple solution to this problem. Get a UPS.  UPS stands for Uninterruptible Power Supply.  It’s like your standard power strip with a big battery in it.  It serves two functions:  1. Regulate power coming to your computer to what it wants to see all the time, regardless of what the wall is providing, and 2. Give you enough time to save your work and shutdown your computer in the event of a total power failure.

 UPSes are not very expensive and can save you hours or days of headaches getting your computer repaired because of bad power.  Remember that they should be replaced every 2-3 years, (or at least replace the batteries in them) as the amount of time they will run the computer in the event of a power failure goes down over time (just like a laptop battery.)


  3. Antivirus Subscriptions and Windows / Mac updates

The #1 repair we do at UNI Computers is virus removal.  It is almost 50% of our walk-in repair business.  A fair number of these were due to expired antivirus subscriptions or no antivirus protection at all.  Keep it current to keep it protected.

The same thing goes for Windows (or Mac) updates.  Microsoft and Apple put these out for a reason.  They discovered a problem, or exploit, and an update is put out.  Install these sooner rather than later.  Many a problem have been fixed by simply having Windows or Mac OS be up to date.  Some of these updates even fix holes in the system that viruses use to get in.  Don’t ignore them.

 4. Hard Drive age

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  That works for a lot of things in life.  Hard drives are NOT one of them.  Hard drives have moving parts in them.  This means they wear out.  And fail.  Sometimes without warning.  When your hard drive fails, it usually means restoring your system from your latest backup.  For a lot of people, they are still going to have to reinstall the operating system, all of their programs (Microsoft Office, Adobe Reader, etc) and THEN put all their data back in.

This can be alleviated to a certain extent by not letting your hard drive get too old before you replace it.  Most computers purchased have a 1-3 year warranty.  Hard drives should last this entire time, but sometimes they don’t.  Unfortunately there is no way to really tell whether or not it is going to fail soon if it is running fine currently, but if you make a plan to replace it every 2-3 years without fail, then you drastically cut down the chances of having a failure.  I personally change out my hard drives in my home desktop computer every 2 years, and I haven’t had a failure in 10 years.

 5. Backups

Honestly, this shouldn’t even have to be here.  This should be as ingrained in people as putting gas in your car.  But it isn’t.  We still have people coming in all of the time that have a failed or failing hard drive that never backed up.  Or they thought they were backing up but never checked to make sure it was actually working.

Backups are a critical thing, because like I said in the previous point, hard drives fail, sometimes without warning.  Make sure you have backups of your critical files at the least.  Even better would be to have a full system image backup, which makes restoring to a new hard drive a point and click affair that only takes a few hours, instead of days reinstalling software.  Also, make sure you TEST your backups.  Check them out; make sure they actually contain the data they should.  Backups are not fire-and-forget; they need to be checked.  For most people their business is on the computer, and a failure is a big deal.  Make sure those backups are happening.

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