computers, like people, need maintenance. the more you use your computer (deleting files, extending files, creating new files), the more these files become scattered about on the hard drive. this can degrade performance as some operations require the ability to access files in a single block. you should scandisk/defrag your computers hard drive on a semi-regular basis to resolve this problem; at least once a month would be good. occasionally, you should also check for any driver upgrades; a drivers cd likely came with your computer but if not you can check the manufacturer's website. drivers somewhat "drive" your software so to speak to communicate with the hardware, and failing to keep up with the latest drivers could cause operations to crash or bump into one another. every comp has a unique personality. buying a used comp will definitely require some tough love.
they say that a brand new computer hooked up to the internet will become the target of attack in less time than windows can even download the latest security updates. from the time it shipped until it reaches your home, new vulnerabilities have already been exposed. just because your computer is brand spankin' new doesn't mean you don't have anything to worry about, and buying a new computer to replace one you've given up on is not a reasonable solution. this is probably the one and only case where your computer could be infected and it not be your own fault. the safest thing to do in this situation would be to get the latest updates from a friend on disc, and implement them prior to connecting your new machine to the internet. see that? now it is your fault if you don't do it. the laws of society don't tolerate ignorance and neither do computers.
always make sure you've got the latest windows updates.
windows should be configured by default to download automatic updates: to make sure, log into your computer with an administrative account and open start > control panel > system. click the "automatic updates" tab and configure the settings here; you can also disable the settings this way. some people prefer to disable it, or have it prompt them before installing updates because they are paranoid about what microsoft is trying to put on their computers.
scan your hard drive for errors and defrag at least once a month.
to properly scan drive c: (which is the drive you normally use) it can't be in use, therefore we'll need to schedule a scan for the next time you restart your computer. press win+r to bring up the run option, type "cmd" or "command", and click ok. this should bring up a dos (disk operating system) prompt, which we will cover later. in the dos window, go ahead and type "chkdsk c: /f" and press enter. it should return a message saying that it cannot run the scan because the drive is currently being used. type "y" for yes and press enter to schedule a scan for when you reboot, as it suggests. then reboot.
defragmenting your hard drive is best done in safe mode. to start your computer in safe mode, reboot, and when you see the first screen come up, press and hold the f8 key until you're prompted with a few different options. the option you'll choose is to start up in safe mode. safe mode is also good for troubleshooting any problems that you might be experiencing with your computer, because safe mode only allows you to load the most basic system files. after your computer is up and running in safe mode, be sure to disable anything that might automatically start running and interfere with the defragmenting process (such as screen savers, virus scans, etc). defragging can take up to several hours or more too complete, depending on how large your hard drive is.
once you're all ready… go to:
start > all programs > accessories > system tools > disk defragmenter
make sure drive c: is selected. analyze, and then defrag. once you're all done, don't forget to re-enable your screen saver or whatever else you disabled. just reboot and you're all set.
you could also schedule defrag to run automatically from your control panel. open "scheduled tasks." double-click "add scheduled task" and use the wizard to set it up; the defrag program can be found in your main windows folder (c:\winnt\system32\defrag.exe). check the box for "open advanced properties for this task when i click finish" and on the "run" line, add the drive letter for the drive to be defragged. for example: "%systemroot%\system32\defrag.exe %homedrive%". it should automatically replace "%systemroot%" with your main windows folder and "%homedrive%" with your main drive. although it would be easier to schedule this, i still recommend doing it manually to make sure the process isn't interrupted.
check occasionally for any driver updates.
insert the drivers cd that came with your computer. if it doesn't run automatically, you can open it manually by going to start > my computer, double-click whichever drive runs your cds, and then find the exe (executable) file. there should be instructions provided on the disc's software on how to check for and download updates; it should be pretty straightforward. if you don't have a drivers cd, contact your computer's manufacturer or whoever built your computer for further instruction.
create restore points (so you can take your computer back in time if it goes bad).
system restore is easy enough… go to:
start > all programs > accessories > system tools > system restore
check the radio button to create a system restore point, and follow the instructions. please note while you're here that you also have the option to restore your computer from a previously saved restore point, should the need ever arise.
if you're suspicious of something, run a scan for viruses and hidden programs.
your computer should have come with some type of anti-virus software already installed, more than likely with a free "trial period" before you may need to make some sort of investment to keep current. there are cost-free web-based options available where a website can scan your computer for viruses; however, if you can afford it, make the investment as it would be well worth it. or just don't download anything stupid.
other programs exist, both freeware and charge-ware that are specifically designed to look for piggy-back programs that attach to other programs (ad-ware, spy-ware) or the like. it's hard to really recommend any particular tool, as the internet has a habit of changing on a fairly regular basis. what's free today might cost money tomorrow, or a good website today might be horrible tomorrow. if you don't have a techy mentor who can make a good recommendation for you, then try the website www.download.com, as they've been around for quite a while and provide access to a lot of free software with user submitted reviews.
some viruses (such as rootkits) are nearly impossible to detect unless you're physically (as opposed to programmatically) looking for them. if you think you have a rootkit, your best bet is to re-install your operating system.
now, i'm not going to even bother going into all of the extra steps it would take to take care after your computer if you're using aol, but i guarantee it would be a whole extra chapter. instead, i'm going to tell you of one way to care for your computer if you're using aol; un-install it.
don't trust anything sent to you by strangers, or even your friends. scan everything you download prior to opening it, and if you don't know what something is, don't download it to begin with. even if it's something as simple as a family member trying to get you to visit a website and the address looks funny, don't click it; not unless you're confident that they are proficient with computers. with that said, don't presume to be confident that they are proficient with computers unless you are proficient enough to know the difference.
don't bang on the keys. don't smack your machine. don't eat while leaning over your keyboard or set open drinks next to it. it is okay to growl every once in a while but not too often. you can kiss it but be careful not to shock yourself. keep the monitor out of the sunlight. some people believe that excessive smoking can damage the internals of a computer, but not in your lifetime so don't worry about that (especially since you won't be living long anyway haha, haa…) always keep your computer equipment, cds, etc in one safe spot, and don't forget: it never hurts to make a backup of your important files.
drive imaging is a good backup method, which is pretty much taking a snapshot of your hard drive. once you have the snapshot, you can burn it to disc: the only problems here are that as soon you update anything the backup becomes outdated; not to mention the image file can be extremely large. on xp pro you can access the backup utility by going to start > all programs > accessories > system tools > backup. xp home users will need to install the backup utility from your xp cd. the wizard is pretty straightforward: you select the files to archive, choose a location to save it, then after you've exited the wizard you can burn it to disc (or to several discs depending on how big it is). using the advanced mode of the wizard allows you to schedule your backups to run periodically and overwrite older copies. if your system ever crashes to the point you need to reinstall windows, just grab your backup cd and you'll be back to normal in no time.
you can download image files too (or .iso files) and then burn them to disc to reveal the contents. it's a great way to share software. drive-imaging is safer than setting occasional system-restore points because it allows you to keep a backup off-line in the case your hard-drive dies.
an alternative and popular method for the super paranoid is called "mirroring." mirroring is when an identical copy of data is created and updated on-the-fly somewhere else (such as another hard drive). while extremely useful for backups, websites also use mirrors to redirect visitors to closer servers, reducing server stress and making downloads faster. if one server goes down, the mirror can take over, and you can have as many mirrors as you want provided you have sufficient resources. software is available on the web to make this process easier, plus you'd need to have an extra computer lying around.