Computer Maintenance is defined as, “the practice of keeping computers in a good state of repair”. It’s a fairly simple explanation, but the actual practice of maintaining your computer can be difficult and encompasses everything from physically cleaning your computer to installing necessary OS updates and driver updates. The top killer of computers is bad computer maintenance. A computer is like a car in a lot of ways, you wouldn’t skip every oil change on your car and most people periodically give their car a bath and vacuum the inside. Computers need the same TLC to keep them running in tip top shape.
Your computer has four mortal enemies in the physical sense; heat, moisture, static electricity, and power surges all of which are preventable complications when you deploy the correct computer maintenance practices!
Preventative Computer Maintenance - External
Preventative computer maintenance helps stop problems before they even start. It’s like taking your car in for the 60k mile service to get the serpentine belt and water pump replaced before they break. Yes it’s an up front cost that nobody really enjoys spending money on, but it prevents the headache of a snapped belt which would result in major repair costs.
Think outside the box
Clean the clutter around your machine. Anything that has the potential to restrict airflow into and out of your machine should be removed. Don’t place your computer directly in the sun, this can cause temperatures in your computer case to increase quickly!
You can either use a can of compressed air, like Dust Off, or a full blown air compressor will work too (just make sure the PSI isn’t set to max). Blow off the outside of your case, remove as much dust as possible from the exterior of your case. Try not to blow the air into the ports and vents on your computer, we don’t want to force the dust inside the machine.
Grab your wipes and wipe the outside of the machine down. I like to start with Lysol wipes on the outside to get rid of fingerprints and any germs that may be lingering, then finish off with a little water on a paper towel to remove and residue from the Lysol wipe. Lysol wipes also have the bad habit of leaving behind fibers, so if you have a brushed metal case it may be visible, you can also use a coffee filter with sprayable Lysol, no fibers!
Preventative Computer Maintenance - Interior
Computer Maintenance on the inside of the computer (and we are talking physical inside of your machine) is generally the problem area. A lot of people are afraid to open the case at all. Computers are fragile, but they are not delicate – a computer can handle the shaky hands of a non-techophile. Getting the dust out of your computer on a regular schedule is vitally important to the longevity of your hardware. I recommend to most people to stick to a computer maintenance schedule of every three months or so to do a full cleaning.
Find a safe work area
Remember those mortal enemies to computers we talked about before, static electricity can wreak havoc on your machine. Ensure that you find a safe work location any time you open up your computer. This means don’t work on carpet! Find an area that has wood floor or concrete, these surfaces do not generate static electricity in your body as you move about. As an extra layer of safety, you can place the computer on an anti-static work mat, but this step is not necessary for a simple cleaning.
Cut the power
Ok, don’t actually cut anything, but you do want to make sure that your computer is turned off. If you have a power supply with an external switch, leave it plugged in and turn the switch off to make sure that there is no power. Leaving it plugged in will make sure that the machine is grounded before you begin your work. If there is no switch, unplug the machine from the wall.
Get in the case
First step of course is to open up the case. In most cases, there are two thumb screws that hold the side panel on which will give you access to the internal components. Some cases use a locking mechanism. If you are unsure about how to do remove the side panel, a quick Google search will usually get you the information you need.
Death to the dust bunnies
Get your compressed air and go to down on the dust, blow from the inside out. Make sure you use short controlled bursts and when the can becomes very cold, take a break. If there is a lot of dust build up, you can use a soft paintbrush (get a new one) to help remove the small particles of dust that may linger.
Preventative Computer Maintenance - Software
The most basic step to computer maintenance in regards to software is to be a diligent user. Don’t click on spammy (yes that’s a word) banners, buttons, or emails. This helps prevent the problems in the first place. Even if you never hook your PC up to the internet, you will have to do some housekeeping.
Sweep for viruses
Make sure there is no illegitimate or malicious programs running on your computer. These have a tendency to slow down your machine, or in some cases make it come to a screaming halt (literally). Personally, I like Bitdefender (free) for my virus protection, it’s minimalist and un-obtrusive to the user. Any of the top tier virus scanners will yield basically the same results.
Uninstall unused programs
If you have lot’s of programs on your computer that you don’t use anymore, a great way to save space and resources is by uninstalling them. Before you do that, make sure you back up and license keys you may need if you think you want to reinstall later on. Lot’s of programs have a tendency to load themselves with the boot of windows. By removing the programs, you can cut boot time, increase system resources, and clean up space on your HDD.
Tidy your registry
The windows registry per Wikipedia, “is a hierarchical database that stores configuration settings and options on Microsoft Windows operating systems. It contains settings for low-level operating system components and for applications running on the platform that have opted to use the registry.” In layman terms, the Windows Registry stores settings required for OS and application operations. When you uninstall programs and make changes, things tend to get left behind or become null and void. Use a registry cleaner like CCleaner by Piriform to do this dirty work for you.
Defrag your HDD
Defragging or defragmenting your Hard Disk Drive is a great computer maintenance practice. This doesn’t have to be done often, yearly in most instances will suffice; if you have a tendency to fill up the drive and then delete things consider doing it more regularly. Defraging works by rearranging the files on your drive in a more sequential pattern. This helps by keeping the read/write head from moving considerable distances on the platter during operation.
Preventative Computer Maintenance - Schedules
I like to tell people to stick to a computer maintenance schedule of around six months or so between complete PC cleanings. For most people this is not only a realistic goal, but a good schedule. There are things that can influence how often you perform this computer maintenance. For instance, if your computer sits in a dusty area or is not elevated off the ground, you may want to consider blowing out the machine more frequently. Computers sitting on the ground suck up more dust compared to computers that are elevated. If you frequently install and uninstall lot’s of programs, you may want to consider cleaning the registry and defragging your hard drive more often.
The best way to maintain your computer is by doing all of these things periodically anyway. For me, I’m installing new components and testing things out all the time, so it’s easy for me to bring a can of compressed air with me to the party! For those of you who don’t often open up your computer, plan on doing it at least every once in a while. It goes a long way in increasing the lifetime of your computer.