Sunday, January 30, 2011

Compute Long and Prosper; 18 Ways to Keep your Computer Healthy

by Jacob Gutnicki

Since the dawn of the computer age we have often complained about computers that are non-responsive, crashing constantly, and susceptible to all the other technical glitches that are a part of a computing life. Despite all of our computing advances, it seems that viruses, trojan horses, and corrupt flash drives still rampage our desktops and laptops.
I often get phone calls that include the following talking points; “How did this happen? My computer used to work great. Why does my computer stutter when I play my favorite Flash game or You Tube movie? I only purchased that computer 3 years ago! Help!!!”
In truth, there are a number of simple techniques that can great improve your computing experience. With this in mind, I will share with you a few of these techniques.
Buy a Mac- At first glance; many people will shake their head at this advice. Aren’t Macs costly? While this is true, one must carefully analyze the total cost of ownership. Total Cost of Ownership studies will often look at the shelf life of the computer, break/fix issues, as well as other items. With this in mind, consider the following;
o Macs by in large typically outlive their PC counterparts by a ratio of 3:1.
o Macs (for the most part) do not fall victim to the assortment of viruses, Trojan horses, and malware prevalent in the Internet age.
o The standard and 3 year warranty services for Mac computers have been rated higher than its PC counterparts for the past 10 years. For more on this story read
Avoid the Warm Reboot- What would you do if your computer crashes or appears to be crashing? Do you hold the power button forcing it to reboot? Hopefully not. Do you Force Quit the application? Perhaps. Are there other considerations to make? Start by taking a deep breath and not panicking. Carefully, determine the source of the alleged crash. Are you on the Internet? If you are on the Internet, wait one moment. Perhaps the computer is responding slowly to a media rich web site. Usually, patience with the web site will resolve that problem. If the application is still not responsive, try holding down the Control Key down and toggling through the applications using the Tab key. (Mac users should hold down the Apple key and toggle through the applications using the Tab key.) If this does not work, one can proceed to Force Quit the application using the Control- Alt-Delete combination for Windows users and Apple-Option-Escape for Mac users. Hopefully, the Force Quitting technique will work. If it does work, do not re-launch the application. Instead, restart the computer as applications that are re-launched after a crash are usually in a volatile state.
Avoid the Cold Reboot!!- A cold reboot occurs when someone pulls the plug out of the computer and plugs it back in. Seriously, didn’t your parents tell you to not play with electricity?
Don’t Yank The Flash Drive- Computer users frequently do not properly remove their flash drive. They tend to yank the drive out and wonder why their files become corrupt.
Back Up Your Work- The cost of portable flash drives continue to drop. With this in mind, get into the habit of backing up your work. If you forgot your flash drive, you can still back up your work using Drop Box. What is Drop Box? Drop Box provides you with a 2 gigabyte web based account for storing your files; free of charge. Drop Box can be accessed at
Purchase a boatload of memory- Whether you purchase a PC or Mac, do not skimp on memory. I usually increase the memory by a factor of 4. For example, nowadays-standard units include 1 GB of memory. Therefore, I recommend 4 GB of memory. This in turn will allow your computer to use real memory as opposed to virtual memory thereby improving your computing experience. This will also assure that your machine will continue to perform well; even in its twilight years.
Use a Powered USB Hub- Thanks to the advent of USB we enjoy peripherals such as printers, scanners, cameras iPods, and other devices that are minimal in its cost. This is made possible by the low power structure inherent in the USB architecture. However, low powered devices are prone to crashing and corruption. If a Flash Drive is connected to a USB powered hub, your flash drive or USB peripheral is far less likely to lose power and become corrupt.
Check your Cable Connections- Sometimes a mouse or keyboard cable becomes loose during active use. It is always worth checking before panicking.
Clean your Peripherals- Over time our computers tends to gather all kinds of dust and gunk that even impact the responsiveness of the optical mouse. So… get a dry cloth and start cleaning!
Limit your Upgrades- As a general rule; it is not a good idea to upgrade your machine’s software more than 2 major versions. If your machine has limited RAM; it is not a good idea to upgrade your machine’s software more than 1 major version. It is also a good idea to check the manufacturers recommendations prior to upgrading software on your machine. For example, my G5 tower from 2003 is running Photoshop CS3, iLife 06, Tiger 10.4.11, and so on. In each case, I did not upgrade any software more than 2 major versions. The notable exception is the Internet browser, iTunes application, and Acrobat Reader. However, I did check hardware and memory requirements prior to installing the software. This in turn has enabled my G5 to continue performing effectively even during its eighth year of service.
Install the Latest Updaters- Software programs like MS Office tend to release updaters on a regular basis that address software bugs and security issues. Needless to say these updaters help improve the computer’s performance.
Shutdown the Computer at Least Once a Week- Regardless of your computer’s age and operating system all computer systems suffer from what is called a “memory leak”. Simply put, as a user opens and closes applications the computer is supposed to return the memory being used. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Computers used for a sustained time leak memory thereby slowing its responsiveness. This holds true for both Mac and Windows machines. That being said, hit the RESTART button.
Computers and Coffee are not a good idea- I think this one is self-explanatory. So… please, have some mercy on your computer.
Provide adequate power to your computer- If you are a teacher in a computer lab and your computers are involuntary powering down its time to examine the wiring in your room and check whether you have too many devices connected to one power source. If the problem still persists, your classroom might need an electrical upgrade.
Don’t Open Strange E-Mails- If you do not know the person, hit DELETE. If the e-mail is titled “Check this Out”, hit DELETE. Even if you know the person, hit DELETE as they probably were scammed with the same e-mail.
Look, before you Install- Most software packages will include a description of hardware requirements as well as a ”Known Software Problems” document. Read this document, it could save you some misery.
Practice Caution with New Technology- New products typically are inundated with hardware problems. For example, the iPhone4 initially had many problems with dropped phone calls. Similarly, iPads still have problems with its printing feature as it only supports select printers. With this in mind, it is always a good idea to wait a minimum of 3 months before buying a new product. Of course if it is a Microsoft product wait 3 years. (just kidding… or maybe not)
Be Careful About What You Download- Simply put, downloading software, media, or documents from an unknown file sharing site is a terrible idea. It is both illegal and an invite to hackers to infect your computer.
Editor’s Note- These are some tips that can promote healthy computing. This is by no means a complete list and with that I encourage to add your own ideas via the comments link below.


  1. Great stuff, thanks. How about a hard shut down form time to time. Supposedly this helps to extend the life of the computer.

  2. Alex, I agree with you. This should be done every 1-2 weeks depending on the level of usage.