Monday, September 15, 2008

9 Most Common Things That Will Kill Your Computers - STONE COLD!

There are at 9 surefire ways to put your computer on its knees. Industry secrets that Agency Technologies, Inc. reveals for you!

1. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Housekeeper
Cleaning your PC is part of the maintenance job. Computers aren't big enough for dust bunnies, and unknown to most of the world, lint and fuzz can and often do conduct electricity or hamper performance. Computers collect a lot more fuzz than you might imagine. It can eventually cause overheating (discussed in the next section) which is a nemesis for anything electronic. Overheating WILL cause failure. Read on for instructions on cleaning your computer, it will love you and it may help you to add this in with the “other housekeeping chores.”

2. Heat
We all know that computer hardware’s number one enemy is heat. What can a user do about this? The first thing I recommend is to keep it clean. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Housekeeper, is a great place to get started. One of the biggest problems I usually see when dealing with a heat issue is the placement of the computer. Computer desks that hide your system behind a door look great, but where is all that heat actually going? Most desks I found have a small hole in the back for your wires. In no way is this acceptable for keeping a computer running smoothly. Several months ago I went to a client’s house to help with a continuous rebooting issue. One of the first things I noticed was that they had purchased a new computer desk. Yes it had a door to hide their computer and all the cables. The first thing I did was open the door where the computer sits. I rebooted the machine to bios to check what the processor temp was. I was kind of shocked at the results…72C or 161.6 Fahrenheit. That’s pretty hot for a Pentium 4 system. So I pulled the machine out to check the processor fan, of course it was filthy. The fan was spinning properly but the heat sink was full of dust. I cleaned out the heat sink and other components and then checked the back of the desk. One small hole, the diameter of the monitor plug, is all that they had opened. The desk had pop outs for a larger opening area so we opened the largest area we could. I started the PC back in the bios and it read 45C or 113 Fahrenheit! That’s a pretty big change, but with no programs running on the system it was hard to tell where we actually would be under more “normal operating conditions.” I booted the pc into windows and told it to scan for viruses. After 45mins the scan completed and I rebooted to bios to check the temperature. It read 52C or 125.6 Fahrenheit, still this was not perfect but well within the means of the manufacturer’s guidelines. Another bad spot for your computer is right in front of the heat vents, or in front of any other home heating device. We helped a guy that had his computer right up against the only heat source for the room. The case was hot enough we couldn’t touch it.

3. Filling the hard drive to capacity
Even though this does not sound like a major problem, it severely deteriorates the system’s performance. It will not kill your computer physically, but it will make it extremely slow. I see this most often with a family or business with 1 computer with multiple profiles. You have a couple of kids or coworkers downloading music or documents like .pdf’s to their own profile and it eats the space right up. The reason this impacts the performance of you computer is due to the “swap space” your computer uses to help programs load faster. Even if you leave about one gigabyte free you will still save some on performance. If you ask a user about their hard drive utilization, most don’t really know how much they have left. Keep an eye on it and clean up any unused programs and your internet cache, or lower your cache setting threshold. You will be surprised on how much space these take up. If you find yourself with a full hard drive you have a couple of options. Add a second drive to your machine to store all that information on or buy an external hard drive.

4. No Protection… In more ways than one…
If you live in an area that is prone to summertime thunderstorms this is for you. Do you have a reliable surge protector that your computer is plugged into? I would imagine 50% of you probably don’t. My 2 friends who own insurance businesses have had literally hundreds of claims last year alone. Guess what? All those clients use quality surge protectors now. I know they can be expensive but when it comes down to it, most quality surge protectors have some sort of “Connected Equipment Protection Policy” on devices plugged into them. The one my wife and I have at home insures anything up to $400,000 per item for example times all 6 plugs. So, that makes my policy (from the surge protector manufacturer) actually up to 2.4 million dollars in equipment replacement. Surge protectors are a small price to pay for that extra bit of insurance.

5. Spyware / Viruses
Okay so what virus protection are you running on your pc? When was the last time it updated? These are the first 2 questions I ask on the phone when the symptoms point to Trojan or virus activity. 30% of the people I visit have no clue what virus protection they are running, or if they do, “it’s the one that came with my computer.” Usually a dead giveaway they have limited or no protection at all. I really feel there is no excuse for this, with the wide variety of virus protection available including very good free alternatives you shouldn’t be without some protection. Check out “Free Antivirus for Everyone” if you’re in the market for some free virus protection.
Spyware is a class of software that is typically installed onto a user's computer without their knowledge or consent. (Sometimes the installer will trick the user with a message such as "your clock is wrong, click here to reset it to the proper time," with the "click here" actually being the command to install the software.) Typically, spyware pulls down advertisements to a computer (over the Internet) in the form of pop-up or banner ads, though many spyware applications actually redirect Web searches to pages owned by clients of the spyware vendor. Many spyware apps simply sit quietly in memory, keeping track of what you're doing and report back to some guy behind a curtain somewhere in a bunker under a mountain. It's nefarious. It's evil. And since it's not necessarily well written, spyware can slowly kill its host by slowing down your computer to a crawl and making it useless, or by causing frequent crashes. Sadly, there's no panacea for spyware removal. I use three different programs diligently: Ad-Aware, Spybot Search & Destroy and especially Windows Defender by Microsoft. Several spyware programs will not let you download anti-spyware tools. The only way around this is to download your anti-spyware tools onto a clean computer and move them over on a CD-ROM.

6. Mass Internet Usage
There are plenty of wonderful things on the Internet, but unfortunately there are plenty of bad things, too like I mentioned above -- viruses, spyware, etc., all on the outside, clamoring to get in. While it may be impractical to completely disconnect your machine from the Internet, do what you can to limit your Internet usage on the computer you use for editing. Specifically, try not to read mail or use a Web browser any more than necessary on your editing computer as these applications are the most often carriers of spyware and viruses. Keep your computer updated with all the new security patches by going to START and selecting "windows update".

7. Shutting Off Messenger Services
AOL Instant Messenger? Yahoo!? MSN Messenger? Turn 'em off. That doesn't mean just closing the window; you need to right-click on the icon in the bottom right tray and turn them off. You don't need a chat request from mom popping up on your screen while you're working on things that use a lot of computer memory such as programs or CD/DVD burning.

8. Not Defragmenting Your Hard Disk Drive
As files are written to and deleted from your hard drive, the system that the drive uses for indexing the stuff that's on it becomes complicated and disorganized. Files become "fragmented" with parts of them scattered around the hard disk drive. As files are loaded, the drive's read/write head (like the arm on a record player) has to physically lift up and move to find the next section. The less the read/write head has to move, the quicker your data will load and save. The disk defragmenter is found under start/run/accessories/system tools on windows XP. While you're at it, do a disk cleanup and make sure you have as much free disk space as you can. Windows will grind to a halt when disk space gets too low on your system drive.

9. Old Programs & junk
Periodically clean your hard disk from “temporary” and “junk” or orphan files. I’d use a program like CCleaner ( ) - a good free program to clean out your PC. Uninstall all the old applications that you do not use anymore. I myself experiment with new applications. When I find something that I think is better than the previous application I used that did the same thing, I uninstall it. You should, of course, only uninstall applications from the "Add or Remove Programs" in Control Panel…and DO NOT download or install programs if you do not know what they are. These can often be fatal for your computer and what seems like a simple mistake can cost you BIG MONEY, and lots of LOST TIME. Check with a trusted computer advisor who is certified and carries a license.

Don't Capture Video onto Your System Drive
Most computers out of the box today are fully capable of editing video. However, once they're out of the box, they can start to develop a myriad of maladies which will cause them to never be as fast or as smooth as that first day. Here is something to look out for: capturing and playing back video uses a lot of your computer's attention. So does the business of actually running your computer. For this reason, it's best to do your video work on one drive and your computer work on another. Of course, this only works if you have two physically different disks - one drive partitioned into two doesn't count.

Back up your files (and system)
The maintenance tools you're going to use are going to do some very "heavy lifting". You never know what's going to get dropped. Do yourself a big favor. Back up your critical files, and preferably, back up your entire system first.

Chris Hammond
A+, Network +, MCP, MCSA
513-200-6056 cell

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