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How do I maintain my Windows-based computer?

Written by
Webmaster, PC410.com
Westminster, Maryland

There are only a few things that you have to do as a computer owner to keep it running longer, reduce your repair costs, and avoid malware infections.

    • Keep the PC off the floor.

The floor is for the dog, and the vacuum cleaner, also known as Sir-Ram-a-Bot. Computers left on the floor, especially carpeted floors with pets, accumulate dust, lint, and random debris inside, run hotter, sometimes become more noisy as the system automatically adjusts the fan speed up, and generally fail more often.

However, don’t put a computer inside a cabinet if it wasn’t designed for it, using a ‘green’ processor and ‘green’ hard drive–these energy-efficient parts use less power, and run cooler. All cabinets used for computers should have an open back, and the computer should be pushed back enough to make the rear computer vents line up snugly with the open area.

  • Defragment spinning drives regularly.

Defragmentation is like moving the junk on your desk into a filing cabinet–it positions files on the hard drive as single items, not scattered fragments. (Hence the name.) Most Windows XP computers I see brought in for repairs haven’t been defragmented, ever, and they’re slow. Way slow, even if they’re not infected with malware. Fragmentation is not a problem on solid-state drives, so SSD drives should not be scheduled for automatic defragmentation, or manually defragmented.

Computers running Windows 7 and above defragment their spinning hard drives automatically on Wednesday mornings at 1AM, if they’re left on during that time. Notebooks with spinning hard drives, on ANY version of Windows, need manual defragmentation, because they sleep through that appointment.

Here’s how to defragment your PC’s Windows 7 drive, directions by Microsoft:
https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/help/17126/windows-7-improve-performance-defragmenting-hard-disk
If you still have offline Windows XP computers, here’s how to defragment them:
https://support.microsoft.com/kb/305781

  • Use Windows Update to keep Microsoft Patches up-to-Date

Windows and Microsoft Office are both patched frequently, usually every second Tuesday of the month for Windows, and most fourth Tuesdays for Microsoft Office. Your computer should be set to either automatically update, or at least to notify you to update when new patches are ready. Windows 10 doesn’t have the option to choose–all updates are automatic. These patches are fixes to errors in Windows, and safety updates to close security flaws (think torn screen doors…). Skipping these is not safe.

Here’s how to set your computer to install Windows patches:
http://support.microsoft.com/kb/306525

    • Update the Plugins, Browsers, and Everything that isn’t Windows

Plugins are the programs that run in the browsers. Browsers are Internet Explorer, Firefox, Google Chrome, Opera, Safari, and a few others. These plugin programs include Adobe Flash, Adobe Shockwave, Adobe Reader (it’s also a standalone program), Oracle’s Java, and Apple iTunes. Those are the most popular; there are many, many more.

These programs have to be kept up-to-date. The malware merchants (think bad guys) are using known bugs (think open doors) in many plugins to run install programs that add their evil wares to your computer. Under their influence, your computer becomes their worker, their spam-bot, and your doorstop. Not good.

If you are still keeping maintaining these programs manually, check them once a month. Many of the publishers match Microsoft’s ‘Second Tuesday’ release schedule.

Here are some ways to keep the plugins up-to-date without having to check them individually:

  • Patch Management by Science Translations
    410-871-2877 in the USA
    We can automate patch installation, in ‘quiet mode’ so that patch installations don’t pop up reminders while you’re working. The patch installer also will track hard drive health, recent serious Windows errors, and other problems, and notify us that service is needed.
  • PatchMyPC, on the ‘Free Updater’ page. Download, run, and click on ‘Install Updates’ to install multiple updates at once.
  • Mozilla‘s plugin-checking service for FireFox and Thunderbird. Automated listing of plugins, that will check your browser for you to see what’s installed, what’s up-to-date, and what’s old. This is the easiest option–go to the page, and look for the red Update buttons. Remember to visit this page with each browser you use–scans are done only for the current browser.
  • Flexera Personal Software Inspector, formerly known as Secunia PSI. It is very thorough in scanning for out-of-date programs with security issues. Recommended for system administrators; this program is not trivial to run.
  • Leave the Computer on? Or Not?

There’s a lot of information on the web about this that’s based on 1980’s electronics, and is flat out wrong. Turning a power supply on and off doesn’t break it or age it, unless it was junk to begin with; don’t buy no-name imports, and avoid that entire issue.

Basically, turn the computer off if isn’t working for you. Working includes installing updates (the evening of the second Tuesday of the month), defragmenting the spinning drives (Wednesday morning at 1AM), or backing up (on the schedule you’re created in BackBlaze). Other than that, turn it off–it’s burning from 60 to 120 watts of power, less in sleep mode, but more importantly, a power problem (lightning, ground faults, and so on) on a computer that’s turned off is less likely to destroy the computer’s circuits or your files.

Finally, don’t leave a computer turned on when you’re not home, unless it’s plugged into a UPS, an uninterruptible power supply, also known as a battery backup. You can’t predict power problems, and half of the Summer-time hardware repairs that I see are power-related.