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Tips for Computer Survival

Keeping your programs and operating system up to date will help keep your OS running smooth and error free. Many computer problems can be solved by getting the latest patches or updates. Also, make sure to regularly "defrag" the hard drive using either Windows Defragmentation Utility or Norton's Speed Disk or some other "defrag" program. Try to keep your hard drives' fragmentation below 10% for best results. Also, run disk clean-up on a regular basis to keep your clutter to a minimum.

There are other things you can do to help minimize errors and the headaches associated in solving them. To a point, the more RAM the computer has the better; and the less frequently these problems will occur. Programs from different manufacturers compete for RAM along with hardware and the operating system, and Windows XP/7/8 memory management is less than desirable. RAM problems are quit often the cause of the blue screen of death, which is most often an Illegal Operation error, General Protection Fault or some other memory error. Even though some operating systems are supposed to warn you when memory is low, things happen so fast that even the computer gets lost and doesn't know what to do, it just gets overloaded.  For most home users, 2GB of RAM will be more than enough, although Windows XP/7/8 will run even better at 4GB or more. Don't go crazy with RAM though, it is inexpensive now, but unless you are intensely multi-tasking 15 or 20 programs at once, you won't need hundreds of megabytes of RAM.

How to Fix: Back Up and Restore

First of all, you should create a Windows Startup Disk if you do not already have one, and update it anytime you have made any significant changes or updates to Windows or installed any new software. It only takes a minute or two for creation or updating and the benefits of a current start up disk is well worth the effort. If one day Windows will not start, you can boot the system with the start up disk you created and often times Windows will recover by replacing corrupt files from your Windows CD or from backup directories on your hard drive.  To create a Windows Start Up disk, just go to Start>Control Panel>Add/Remove Programs and click on the Start Up tab.

The second thing you should do is get a good utility program.  These programs are usually better at fixing Windows than Windows itself and they also include Recovery Disk Creation tools.

The third and probably most important thing you can do is have a good backup system. With a good backup system you can fix most of your own computer problems so long as you don't have any critical hardware failures.

Once a week I do a differential backup, it too is appended to the full backup on tape one. The differential backup only backs up those files that have been created or changed since the last full backup. At the beginning of the next month I start the whole procedure again using tape #2. You can use both tapes each day and do combinations of incremental, full or differential backups, but it is usually not necessary to do all that extra work.

When you encounter a problem, like a corrupt or missing file for instance, all you have to do is restore the most recent copy of that file from your backup tape. If your email program crashes, just restore all the files in the email program directory, there is no need to restore everything, just the programs that are no longer functioning or individual files that got lost in cyberspace. If the problem is more severe, and your basic Norton, McAfees or Windows Recovery Disks don't work for some reason, you can do a Full Restore from your tape backup. The Iomega Ditto Tools software that I use includes an Emergency Recover Utility. Using the tape backup system and a bootable floppy that it creates for you, you can restore a corrupt operating system in minutes without the need of a computer expert. if you do not have a mechanical backup system that is separate from the hard drive, the next best thing is a program like Roxio or Norton's "Go Back". Windows ME and XP come with Microsoft's "Restore" utility (works just like GoBack) and these programs can save you a lot of headaches unless you have a serious hard drive failure.

Power Considerations

Another important and often overlooked tool is the use of an Uninterruptible Power Supply. The lights in your home may never blink, giving you the false impression that your house has reliable commercial power coming to it from outside. While that may be true for most dumb home appliances, computer equipment require much cleaner power to operate properly. The slightest deviation in frequency from 60 hertz or a sudden voltage drop or spike can cause data loss - not to mention fried electronics - if your hard drive or CPU are working when the power anomaly occurs.  A UPS will prevent that from happening by supplying conditioned power to your computer at all times; and, it will also keep your computer running long enough for you to save your data and turn the computer off in the case of a sustained power outage.

Modern Uninterruptible Power Supplies have an interface cable and software that links your computer and UPS allowing it to automatically shut down the computer for you if you are away from it. The UPS battery that runs the computer during all outages or power fluctuations can last anywhere from 5 to 50 minutes or longer depending on the capabilities of the particular brand and model. I recommend at least a 1500 Watt model for most home or small business users.  A good UPS should have more that one outlet, so you can also protect your monitor, tape backup (external), printers, scanners or other peripheral devices. 

Your computer's NIC is also susceptible to line noise and electrical spikes that occur on the network line that it is connected to. Like the rest of your computer, NIC's are easily fried by lightning strikes or other power issues. Most newer Uninterruptible Power Supplies also have line and phone jacks built into them along with the regular 120 Volt plugs for your computer. Using the LAN/phone line jacks on a UPS will keep help keep your NIC alive and also do a good job of filtering out the line noise that can inhibit connection and download speeds. Utilizing a good backup system along with clean uninterrupted power for the computer, NIC and other components will save you a lot of time, headaches and money.

Last updated: December 2014
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