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How to make your computer run faster and last longer

Computer is just like any other instruments. If you take good care of its hardware and software, it will run smoothly, faster, and last much longer.

I assembled my current home computer in early 2005 and it still runs 24x7 all along without a hatch. Over these years, I have set up routines to maintain hardware and software as well as critical data on regular basis.

Some background information about my PC and software installed:

  1. CPU Celeron with Intel motherboard.
  2. Two hard disks (master and slave) - 42G Seagate bought in 2005, 13G IBM disk bought in 2000.
  3. Windows XP with service pack 3 (upgraded from Windows 2000 in 2007)
  4. Microsoft Office
  5. WAMP environment (Windows, Apache, MySQL, PHP/Python) for web development.
  6. Microsoft Visual Studio (for C# development).
  7. Microsoft SQL Server
  8. JDeveloper for Java programming.
  9. SQLite database engine.
  10. A whole bunch of free software to make my life easy and happy.
  11. Runs almost 24x7 since 2006 (not as a server).

As you can see above, my PC is just a normal Windows computer for home and personal use. Most people will have similar or better hardware setup. So I summed up this maintenance list to share with you what I have done to keep my computer going in full health mode over these years. This list is suitable to be used as guidelines for general purpose home computer only. As I don't play games on my PC, it may have helped it run better and longer.

#1. Always run computer on a power board that has electric surges protection.

For a power line, a sudden surge in electrical charge (high voltage) that is caused by lightning, or the use of other high-powered devices such as air conditioners can damage your computer and anything that computer uses permanently.

It's a good idea to plug your computer, modem, and anything they use into a surge protector.

#2. Clean computer every 6 months.

Most people don't clean their computers because they don't feel confident enough to open the case like a computer technician. Actually, you don't need to be a professional for computer cleanup. I mainly clean the dust that is accumulated inside CPU fan, power supply, and those on the back of the case, but the main thing is CPU fan.

It's critical that CPU fan must run as smoothly as possible to prevent CPU from over heating. Note that power supply has a built-in fan as well. It is used to cool down the temperature inside the computer case.

Make sure that you completely disconnect the power from the back of your computer before you open its case.

#3. Keep the computer room's temperature comfortable.

It's better to run your computer in a room fitted with air conditioner, especially during summer times. If you don't have air con and when room temperature is getting too hot in summer, shut down your PC.

#4. Turn on Windows automatic update.

This is what Microsoft says:

When you turn on Automatic Updates, Windows routinely checks the Windows Update Web site for high-priority updates that can help protect your computer from the latest viruses and other security threats. These updates can include security updates, critical updates, and service packs. Depending on the setting you choose, Windows automatically downloads and installs any high-priority updates that your computer needs, or notifies you as these updates become available.

Note that, to turn on Automatic Updates, you must log on as administrator to complete this procedure.

To turn on Automatic Updates, do this:

(1) Go to your computer Desktop.
(2) Right click on My Computer and select Properties from the pop-up menu.
(3) Select Automatic Updates tab.
(4) Click Automatic (recommended). Then select the day and time you want Windows to install updates.

#5. Scan computer ports once a month.

Computer ports are the places where data come in and go out of your computer. Opened ports can be used by hackers to access your computer without your knowledge. I use Shields Up Internet Security Detection System to scan all my computer ports once a month.

To close open ports, use firewall. Windows XP comes with a built-in software firewall. Also nowadays most routers come with hardware firewall.

#6. Do anti-virus scan once a month.

I use free anti-virus software avast. It's free for non-commercial use. avast is probably the most popular anti-virus software with over 100 million people using it worldwide.

Normally avast's real-time monitoring stops all the viruses from infecting my PC, but just for a peace of mind, I also manually run it to scan my computer once a month.

#7. Update anti-virus software every day.

Keeping avast virus database up-to-date helps it in real-time monitoring. avast can be configured to automatically update its virus database.

#8. Run anti-spyware every two weeks.

For anti-spyware, I use freeware Spybot - Search & Destroy. I manually run a complete scan about once a fortnight.

#9. Update anti-spyware once a week.

This is normal updates only. If you do a major upgrade of the anti-spyware, you'd better read below.

I had experienced twice Windows XP Logon - Logoff loop problem after I had major upgrades of Spybot. What I did was after upgraded the anti-spyware and restarted computer, I logged in as normal but it immediately logged me out. Luckily, I restored my Ghost backup version of my computer. There are people that didn't have this luck and they went thru the pain to regain their PC - see this page for details.

The lesson I learned from the two incidents is that, before you do a major upgrade of any anti-spyware, uninstall it first. Sometimes the uninstallation does not delete the installation folder completely. So you need to manually delete the directory it used (normally within Program Files on C drive). After cleaned everything relates to the anti-spyware, do a fresh installation of the new version.

#10. Backup entire computer once a month.

Here I don't just back up my user files but system files as well. I use Norton Ghost to backup the entire disk of C drive, which is the Windows operating system. In the last few years, I have restored the backup version of my PC more than 5 times.

Here are the steps I normally do when making a Ghost backup:

  1. Before backup, scan computer for virus, spyware, and all ports. Run disk clean-up and registry clean-up.

  2. Then re-start computer to make sure I can log in successfully. I'm paranoid about Windows XP Logon - Logoff loop problem.

  3. Use Norton Ghost to back up C drive with password protection of the backup file.

  4. Store the Ghost backup file(s) on an external hard disk.

    Note that, if your external hard disk is formatted as a FAT32 system, the backup file is normally split into multiple files because the size of a single file on a FAT32 disk cannot be more than 4 GB. If your external hard disk is formatted as a NTFS system, the Ghost backup will be a single file.

  5. Encrypt the backup file by using TrueCrypt.

  6. Store the encrypted version of the backup somewhere outside home (so called off-site backup).

Please note that Windows Vista and Windows 7 have System Backup feature that creates a complete snapshot of your computer. It's probably similar to what Norton Ghost does but I have never used myself.

#11. Run disk clean-up once a week.

After computer runs for some time, it accumulates a lot of temporary files on hard disk. It's a good idea to keep the computer clean to save disk space but more importantly make the computer run faster. CCleaner does a good job.

CCleaner is a free system optimization, privacy and cleaning tool. It removes unused files from your system - allowing Windows to run faster and freeing up valuable hard disk space. It also cleans traces of your offline and online activities such as your Internet history.

#12. Clean computer registry once a month.

The Windows Registry is a crucial part of your PC's operation system. Frequent installing and removing software makes the registry fragmented and cluttered with obsolete and invalid data. Registry can also sometimes becomes corrupted by spyware and viruses.

Once again, CCleaner comes to the rescue. CCleaner contains a fully featured registry cleaner. It removes unused and old entries, such as File Extensions, ActiveX Controls, Uninstallers, Shared DLLs, Invalid Shortcuts, etc. CCleaner also comes with a comprehensive registry backup feature.

I once came across the Blue Screen of Death problem and most suggestions point to memory faulty chips. After I thoroughly cleaned the registry, the problem has not recurred. So do registry clean before you really doubt hardware problems.

#13. Back up important user files.

Everyone has some critical data saved on their computer such as banking and financial data. Keeping separate copies of these data is crucial. There are some free software that synchronizes files and folders of your choosing. I have used Microsoft SyncToy and SyncBack Freeware to automatically backup files to another disk.

#14. Hard disk monitoring

The oldest hard disk I'm still using is a 13G IBM disk that I bought in 2000. To predict hard disk failure and to monitor the general health of all my hard disks, I use freeware HDD Health.

HDD Health is a full-featured failure-prediction agent. After installed, it sits in the system tray and monitors hard disks for temperature, and alerts you to impending failure.

#15. Detecting and repairing disk errors.

Windows comes with a disk check utility that can be used to check and fix file system errors and bad sectors on a particular hard disk.

For example, if you want to check C drive, open Windows Explorer and then right click disk C drive letter. Then select Properties and then select the Tools tab. Locate and click Check Now... button. If you want to fix the errors found, check both boxes - Automatically fix file system errors, as well as Scan for and attempt recovery of bad sectors.

#16. Disable any unnecessary start up programs.

Do you experience sluggish computer start up? It may very well be caused by programs that automatically start when your computer starts up. Disabling some of these programs will dramatically improve the startup time.

Again, I use CCleaner to disable unnecessary startup programs.

#17. Defragment hard drive once a month.

Computer data storage may become cluttered in terms of space on the volume. It can slow down system read and write on files that are saved on these volumes. Regular defragmentation of hard disks can allow Windows to gain access to your files and folders and save new ones more efficiently. When Word, Excel, or other programs open slowly, it can be a sign of a fragmented hard drive.

I used to use Disk Defragmenter that comes with Windows to do the job but now I use freeware Defraggler.

Here comes the end of this computer maintenance list. I will update this page whenever I gain new experience on maintaining a computer.

Happy Maintaining!


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