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Ten Steps to Trouble-Free Computing

These computer maintenance tips are curtesy of Sandra Schugren, the Technology Director for the Peninsula School District in Gig Harbor, Washington.

Step 1. Know Your System

The first preventative step you need to perform is to take an inventory of your computer system. This information will be vital if you later have to contact technical support or have your system serviced. Start by noting your serial number and model number. With this information, the system manufacturer or technician can determine the components of your system. If you add components to your system, note the model and version numbers of the components. Beyond the basics, you need to get details of your system's configuration. On the laptop, this means copying and printing a few important system files that will come in handy if you later have a problem or need to speak to a technician. The simplest way to preserve your system configuration files is to run the Sysedit program. With Windows95, start Windows Explorer and click on the System subdirectory of your hard disk. Double-click on the Sysedit file. It will bring up all your systems files - from Autoexec.bat to System.ini - in Wordpad windows. From there, you can save them to a floppy disk and print them out. If you use passwords, write them down in the same place that you keep the system information. Forgetting passwords is very easy to do! Update this file anytime you change a password.

Step 2. Make an Emergency Boot Disk:

If your computer develops a problem that keeps it from accessing your hard drive, you need some other way to boot your system. The answer is an emergency boot disk. Select Control Panel, then Add/Remove programs. Select the Startup disk tab, and you're led through the process.

Step 3. Tune Your Hard Drive Regularly
Because it is the place where you permanently store your applications and, more important, your data files you create with applications. Your hard drive requires special attention to keep it operating at peak efficiency. Disk scans for "lost" files and bad sectors will prevent most drive problems before they occur, while running a disk defragmentation utility will improve the performance of your system. Make sure that you have backed up all your important files BEFORE you do a disk defrag; you can lose files in this process! Every day, you create new files, delete unwanted ones, and write updated versions of current files to your computer's hard drive. Because of the way Windows assigns disk space to files, your hard drive can become fragmented over time ( i.e. your files get placed in pieces all over the hard drive because there is no contiguous space large enough to hold them) A fragmented hard drive slows drive access and makes it hard to recover from drive errors. To defragment a Windows95 hard drive, use the Disk Defragmenter program in Programs/ Accessories / System Tools. You should defrag your hard drive every six months. If you use your computer every day, defrag at least once a month. You should also defrag it after you have created or deleted a lot of files in a short space of time. Occasionally, a storage area called a sector on your hard drive goes bad. A utility called a diskscanner detects such errors and keeps a table of such sectors so that your operating system doesn't try to use them to store files. In addition, a disk scanner detects " soft" errors, where the operating system has lost track of pieces of one or more files. ScanDisk ( found in Programs / Accessories / Systems tools) is Windows95 built-in disk scanner, and it detects both hard and soft errors.

Step 4. Store With A Plan
You have lots of reasons to keep the files on your hard drive organized. First, it makes it easier to do a "housecleaning" - deleting files you no longer need. Second, keeping data files in their own well-labeled folders reduces the risk that you will inadvertently delete an important program or data file. Finally, a well-organized hard disk is easier and faster to back up. Create folders for each program and place only the appropriate data files in them. Alternately, create folders for each member of the family if more than one person uses the computer. Give the files and folders names that will make sense even when you have forgotten why you created them. In addition to organizing your files, at least every two months you should delete files you no longer need. A drive filled to within 5 percent of capacity is more prone to errors - and a lot slower - than one that is not so full. A good rule of thumb for minimum hard drive space: 2.5 x RAM = minimum hard drive space. Example: if your computer has 8mbs of RAM, you need a MINIMUM of 20mbs of free space on your hard drive.

Step 5. Back Up Your Valuable Data

Backing up your files simply means making a copy of them so that if the original is lost or damaged, you can use the copy. You can back up you hard drive to floppies, to a Zip disk, or to a tape drive. How often you back up depends on how valuable your time is. If you're working on an important file, save it to a floppy as well as to your hard drive. Back up the files in your data folders once a week, and perform a complete system backup every six months. You can back up your data files simply by dragging their folders to the icon for you floppy disk. You can also use Programs / Accessories / System Tools / Backup. This lets you check off the folders you want to back up. High capacity removable disks, such as those you use with the Iomega Zip Drive are great for backing up a hard drive, and they can help keep down the clutter on your drive. Zip drives come with their own backup software. A tape drive can hold from 400mb to 2GB of data.

Step 6. Keep Viruses At Bay

Though the threat posed by computer viruses is sometimes overblown in the popular press, it is still real. As online usage grows, you will become more vulnerable to viruses transmitted via Internet. Virus protection software works at many levels. It can scan every disk you put into your floppy drive and check every program for a hidden virus - before you run the program. It can even scan all the files on your hard disk for viruses. Unless you are a high risk user- one who downloads lots of files from the Internet or who swaps floppy disks a lot - you can get by with scanning for viruses once a month. High-risk users should configure their virus utility to run when they start up the computer.

Step 7. Stick With the Program
Once you've installed a program on a Windows system, don't rename the program's directories or move its files from one place to another on your hard drive. If you do, the computer will likely lose track of key files. You can put your data files - the ones you create with an application - almost anywhere. If you must change the location of an application or any subsidiary files, you should first uninstall the application and then reinstall it. Never try to manually delete an application on a Windows system. Most applications make additions to the system files when you install them, so it's best if the application has its own uninstall program. If an application doesn't come with an uninstall program, try the Windows 95 Add/Remove Programs in the Control Panel.

Step 8. Keep It Up-To-Date

Software drivers let your applications talk to important peripherals. It's a good idea to check with your computer's manufacturer at least four times a year for the latest updates. The easiest way to do this is to access the manufacturer's Web site; most companies normally make updated drivers available for download. Toshiba's web site is www.toshiba.com. In addition several other sites offer drivers and updates. You can access these sites through the web search function.

Step 9. Keep It Clean

Dust can make the chips inside your computer run hotter and also clog cooling vents. At least once a year, unplug your computer, open the case and low out the dust. Do not wipe it with a rag; use either your breath or an aerosol can of compressed air. Your mouse and keyboard will also require occasional cleaning. Use a commercial cleanser applied to a cotton swab to clean your keyboard and mouse. To clean your screen, use a clean,lightly damp (not wet) cloth. Then dry completely with a clean dry cloth. Do not apply pressure to the screen at any time.

Step 9. Keep It Clean
All computers need to be shut down properly or you risk damaging the hardware. Turning off the power while it is running or hasn't finished shutting down can spell disaster. Make sure that you select Start / Shut Down / Select Shut down computer ….and then wait until the computer is absolutely quiet or you are prompted to turn the computer off. With the laptops, the shut down is automatic, so you must be very careful to wait until it is completely done before shutting the lid and putting it away. PUTTING THE COMPUTER IN SUSPEND IS NOT A PROPER SHUT DOWN!

RECOMMENDED MAINTENANCE SCHEDULE

The year long schedule below lists the task you need to perform and when you should perform them. The number of times a month you should perform the specified task is indicated with a number. The number of times a year and which month is also indicated for each task.