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Keeping Your Computer Happy

Simple Windows tips and tools can prevent hardware headaches.

by Paul Moore
November 27, 2004

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I have been fixing computers for years. Through those years very rarely were the problems anything that could not be prevented or solved by performing some simple monthly tasks on your machine. I have chosen to ignore this fact for a long time because it allowed me to continue to earn a profit. However there are a large number of people who have computer problems and just accept them. They accept them until they feel the problems are so bad that they need to buy a new system, so my opinion has changed. My last article was about getting something for nothing with the now commonplace Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2). So let me expand on this by saying that you, no matter your level of computer knowledge, can fix most problems on your computer. There are many things that can be done at no cost to you, but in this particular article I would like to cover things that you can do yourself. In my next article, I will cover third party programs that can help you with computer problems.

1. Windows Update

Most of these issues can be helped or even solved by using Windows Updates, which I covered in my last article. I covered the security enhancements in SP2 in detail and hope those who read the article decided to join the 100 million people who have downloaded the update. SP2 takes the work out of doing updates because it will download them automatically. Those of you stuck with an older version of Windows you can still find all the updates available for your version at http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com. These updates fix many security and performance problems that exist with the boxed version of Windows that you have (hopefully) purchased at one time or another.

2. Scan Disk and Disk Defragmenter

Now, let’s move to performance and stability in regards to what comes standard with Windows (from 95 onward). Scan Disk and Disk Defragmenter can be found by clicking on your Start menu and navigating from Programs, to Accessories, then System Tools. Under the System Tools menu there are many programs but the two most important are Scan Disk and Disk Defragmenter. These may be under slightly different names depending on your version of Windows. Running these programs once a month can help performance and overall stability of your system. Without going into a lot of confusing detail about what they do, Scan Disk simply fixes corrupt or bad windows files. Disk Defragmenter makes sure all these files are in proper order (like a well-kept filing cabinet).
 
A quick note: XP and later versions of Windows do not have Scan Disk in a easy to find place, but will run it automatically if something bad happens to your computer (like being shut off unexpectedly). If you want to run Scan Disk manually in XP you will have to navigate to My Computer. Once there, you will see your main Hard Disk (usually labeled “C:”). Right click on the hard disk icon. On the menu select Properties. A window will pop up with some information and a pie graph, near the top of the window there are some tabs, namely General, Tools, Hardware, Sharing and Quota. Scan Disk (on XP it is simply referred to as Error Checking) can be found under the Tools tab. From there it is just as straight forward as the Defragmenter tool. If Windows won’t allow you to run Scan Disk when you try to run it, simply click on the “perform at startup” option and next time you start your computer it will run the program.

3. Disk Cleanup (Windows XP only):

Windows XP has an enhanced disk defragmenter but it also has a new program under the system tools menu called Disk Cleanup. This program will scan your hard drive for what Windows deems as unnecessary files. These includes all the random images and web pages stored from browsing, left over files from old programs, and many other random items on your computer. Once you run the program it will come up with a checklist of things you can clean up and how much space you will save. I recommend checking all except compress old files, as this can cause some unwanted problems.

***

After running these programs, things should be running a little better than they were. If not, extra outside programs may be needed, and I will cover a good deal of them (and explain why they are important) in my next article. On a closing note, an important thing you can do to keep your system running better (and quieter) is to keep it dust free. Buying a can of compressed air for about a dollar and using it to remove dust from the inside of your computer case can be a huge help. Be careful if you have allergies though, as computers can build up a lot of dust. Stay tuned to The Partial Observer for more helpful information on how to keep your computer running smoothly.

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