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10 Simple Ways To Keep Your Computer Going

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Publication Number: P2669
View as PDF: P2669.pdf

Counting the Cost to Replace and Repair

Technology is great when it works. When it doesn’t...well, that’s another matter all together. Replacing a computer can cost anywhere from $500 to $1500, depending on the technical specifications of the computer you need to purchase.

Computer repair (when you can find someone to do it) can take anywhere from one day to two weeks, depending on the repair shop you choose. On average, a repair shop will charge $125 to reload a computer. Reloading means formatting your hard drive, which deletes everything on the computer, and reloading your operating system. A reload does not include any attempt to recover your data. The average repair time is three to six days. If you want the technician to try to save your data, it will cost about $175, with no guarantees. Your wait time will probably be six to ten days.

And if you don’t repair or replace your computer, dealing with one that is running slow may be enough to make you bang your head against the desk in frustration. However, most computer problems can be avoided by following 10 simple steps that anyone can do.

Computers are not malicious by nature. They simply do or don’t do what you ask them to do. Here’s the bottom line: the health of your computer is a reflection of you and your computer habits.

Many computer repair issues are virus-related. Virus-related computer issues are usually 100 percent preventable, but you must be vigilant and take the necessary steps to protect your computer. In this publication, you will learn 10 simple ways to keep your computer going.


Update Anti-Virus Software


No computer should be on the Internet without anti-virus protection. Antivirus software works in two different ways, depending on the software.

The first method uses a virus dictionary. The software has a dictionary of known viruses. Anytime a new file is opened, the software compares that file to known files listed in its virus dictionary. If the opened file is found in the dictionary, the software may then delete or quarantine the file. The virus dictionary must be updated often so it will have the latest virus definitions.

The second method monitors all computer programs for suspicious behavior. Once the computer identifies the suspicious behavior, it alerts the user to the behavior and asks the user what to do.

Some examples of anti-virus software are Symantec/Norton, McAfee, and AVG-Antivirus. All antivirus programs can be set to update automatically. However, if a virus, Trojan, or spyware infects your computer, it can cause the antivirus program to quit updating.

If your computer is running slowly or acting oddly, check to make sure your antivirus software is current or that it will do a manual update. This is a quick way to see if something serious is going on with your computer. The first thing a virus will attack is the antivirus software. If it can disable the antvirus software, it can install more malicious software on your computer.


Run Windows Critical Updates

Every Two Weeks

The Microsoft Windows Operating System is the most widely used operating system in the world. For this reason, many hackers write software programs that attempt to harm computers that use it. When Microsoft discovers a vulnerability in its operating system, the company releases a “patch” to update the operating system and protect it from hackers.

You should check for Windows Critical Updates every other week. To check, open Internet Explorer and left-click on the Tools button. In the drop down menu, left-click Windows Update. In the update screen, left-click Express and follow the on-screen prompts.


Delete Cookies

Once a Month

A cookie, also known as a tracking cookie, stores small pieces of information on your computer every time you visit a website. Have you ever created an account online? Perhaps you have bought something at If you have, then you have cookies on your computer that help the computer remember the account or the information you have stored on the website.

Most cookies are good and can help you perform tasks quickly, but some cookies are harmful. They can store information you do not want to keep. They can become corrupt and cause problems when you try to retrieve information from the web. Every time you go online, you acquire cookies on your computer. Over time, you can accumulate thousands of cookies, which can slow your computer down. Deleting cookies once a month is a great way to help your computer keep going.

To delete cookies, simply open Internet Explorer and left-click on Tools. In the drop down menu, left-click Internet Options. In the Internet Options window, locate browsing history and left-click the delete button. Next, left-click Delete Cookies.


Get Rid of Temporary Internet Files

At Least Once a Month

Every time you visit a website, it stores a copy of the images and frames for the website on your computer. It stores them so that the next time you visit the website, it will load more quickly. The only problem is that if you visit a website with a virus or spyware on it, that can also be saved to your computer.

If you have ever had pop-ups appear on your screen for no apparent reason, there is a good chance it is due to an infected website that is stored in your temporary Internet files. Deleting your temporary Internet files once a month or after you have visited a suspicious website is an easy way to speed up your computer.

To delete temporary Internet files, open Internet Explorer and left-click on Tools. In the drop down menu, left-click Internet Options. In the Internet Options window, locate browsing history and left-click the delete button. Next, left-click Delete Files. It may take several minutes to finish if you have not done it in a while.


Run Spybot Search & Destroy

Once a Month

Spybot Search & Destroy is freeware that can be downloaded from Spybot looks for spyware on your computer. Spyware is a piece of software that downloads itself to your computer without your permission and then reports back to a third-party on your computer activity. Spyware can be used to report your Internet habits so that advertising can be customized to your purchasing habits, or it can be malicious, where it records every keystroke (including passwords and usernames).

Like antivirus software and Windows updates, Spybot must be updated before you run a check of the computer. After you check for updates, you can search for problems. It will take 10–15 minutes to complete the scan. When it is finished, it will report what spyware it finds on your computer. Select “fix selected problems” to remove the spyware.

If Spybot has errors or simply will not run, spyware or malware (malicious software) may be running on the computer and preventing Spybot from working. You can try to run Spybot in your computer’s safe mode to see if it can remove the spyware. In safe mode, many applications do not run. Safe mode can allow Spybot to find the spyware that is preventing it from running in normal mode.


Defragment the Hard Drive*

Whenever You Add or Remove Software

Disk defragmentation is utility software that organizes all of the software and files on your computer. If you think of your computer as a disorganized filing cabinet, disk defragmenter comes through and organizes everything according to file type and size. It helps your computer find information faster so that it can retrieve it for you faster. You should run disk defragmenter every time you add or remove software.

Disk defragmenter is a standard program on all computers; it comes with your operating system. To run disk defragmenter, double left-click on the My Computer icon on your desktop. Next, double left-click on the C: Drive. In the C: Drive, left-click Search. Search for Disk Defragmenter. Once it appears, double left-click on it. Left-click Defragment. It may take 30 minutes to an hour to complete. When it is finished, it will display a window that says View Report. You may review the report or simply close the window.

* Do NOT run Disk Defragmenter on SSD (Solid State Drive). It will ruin the computer.


Empty the Trash

Once a Month

When you delete something on your computer, it goes to the recycle bin. The recycle bin is the last stop before permanent deletion. The recycle bin does not empty on its own; you must tell it to empty. Once you empty the recycle bin, the files are deleted. Do not empty the recycle bin if you are not absolutely sure you want the files to be deleted.

To empty the recycle bin, double left-click on the icon located on your desktop. Verify there are no files in the recycle bin that you need. Left-click Empty the Recycle Bin. A window will appear and ask if you are sure you want to delete these items. Left-click Yes. Close the recycle bin window. Be sure to empty the recycle bin once a month.


Keep It Cool

Computers can get very hot. If you have ever had a laptop sitting in your lap that got too hot for comfort, you know that firsthand. Desktop computers also get hot. Computers have two fans that run constantly to help circulate air through the computer. One fan sits directly on the processor, and the other fan sits at the back of the computer. The processor, or central processing unit, is the “brain” of the computer and processes information from the hardware to the software and back again. If your computer overheats, it will literally fry the motherboard.

Before it gets to that point, however, the computer will begin to slow down or do odd things. Make sure that there is at least six inches of space at the front of the computer and the back of the computer so that the fans can draw cool air into the computer to keep it from getting too hot.

Also, many people keep their computer on the floor. If the computer sits on the floor, it is more prone to suck in dirt, dust, and pet hair. All of these foreign materials can affect the computer. Keep the computer at least 6 inches off the ground.


Clean the Desktop Off

Shortcuts to files and folders are fine on the desktop, but you do not want to save documents or programs to the desktop. The more files you have saved to the desktop, the longer it takes the computer to boot up.

Software programs should be saved to the C:\Program Files folder. Documents and files that you create should be saved in the My Documents folder. If you have documents on the desktop that need to be moved to the My Documents folder, simply right-click on the document. A pop-up menu will appear. Left-click Send To. Another pop-up window will appear. Left-click My Documents. Clearing the desktop of unnecessary files will help make your computer faster.


If in Doubt, Don’t Click

The number one way people harm their computers is by clicking on something they shouldn’t have. People commonly contract a computer virus by clicking on video links in Facebook. Often, the link appears to be from someone you know. When you click on the link, it prompts you to download an update in order to view the file. When you click update, you download a virus to your computer.

The second most common way users infect their computers is by opening email attachments that contain a virus. Several file extensions to be wary of include: filename.exe (an .exe file means that it is an executable file that will run when downloaded), filename.pif, filename.vbs, filename.bat, and (both .bat files and .com files will execute a program when downloaded). You should always save the attachment by right-clicking on it from email and then left-clicking Save Target As. Saving the attachment allows your anti-virus program to scan it for possible infection.

A third way users harm their computer is by clicking on pop-ups. You should never click on a pop-up that just “appears” on your computer. Many times a pop-up will appear that tells you your computer is infected and you must download an update in order to protect it. In reality, that is the virus trying to trick you into downloading it.

You should never run your mouse over a pop-up, never left-click the red X in the right hand corner, or left-click close. Doing so often gives the virus permission to install itself on your computer. You can press the ALT key and the F4 key at the same time on your keyboard to close the foremost window on the desktop. Also, you can right-click in the task bar and then left-click Close.


Back Up Your Data

Backing up your data is easy to do and provides peace of mind for that “just in case the kids accidently clicked on something” emergency. USB jump drives, or flash drives, are relatively inexpensive and can hold large amounts of data. Jump drives also fit easily in emergency boxes or glove compartments.

To back up your data, simply right-click on the My Documents folder. In the pop-up menu, left-click Copy. Double left-click on My Computer. In the My Computer window, double left-click on the removable disk (or the name of the jump drive, often called drive: E). Left-click Edit from the main menu and left-click Paste.


Wrap-up Checklist

Following these 10 steps is an easy way to keep your computer going. Incorporate these steps into your computer routine, and they will save you time and money.

___ Install and update antivirus weekly.

___ Check for Windows critical updates once every two weeks.

___ Delete Internet cookies monthly.

___ Delete temporary internet files monthly.

___ Update and run Spybot Search & Destroy monthly.

___ Make sure your computer has at least six inches of breathing space at the front and back. Also, make sure that it is at least six inches off the floor.

___ Defragment the hard drive after installing or removing programs.

___ Empty the recycle bin monthly.

___ Clean off the desktop.

___ Resist the urge to click on pop-ups, links in Facebook, and so forth.


Publication 2669 (POD-09-16)

By Dr. Mariah Smith Morgan, Assistant Extension Professor, Extension Center for Technology Outreach.

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