Crash course in computer maintenance
By By Rachel Smith, New York University
By Rachel Smith, New York University
Not exactly tech-savvy? Fear not! It only takes a minimal amount of effort to keep your computer functioning, fast and clean. Check out our tech tips to prevent tech headaches ’til graduation… and beyond.
Computer Maintenance Lesson No. 1: Back it up.
The most important lesson any computer owner must learn is: back up, back up, back up! Jamie Pascarelli, a senior at the University of Richmond, learned this lesson through a close call: “Freshman year, when I tried to install some software for a class, my teacher had mistakenly told us it was compatible with both Macs and PCs, and my computer shut down the hard drive. Luckily, they were able to recover most of my data at the help desk. But they said I was in the minority to get my information back.” Prevent this from happening to you by looking into a(n):
External hard drive: The simplest, most thorough way to back up is to invest in an external hard drive and periodically copy all your computer files to it. (Some people use external drives to store large collections of media, such as photos, music and movies.) Though this solution is quite common, it can be pricey.
Online storage solution: If you’re only looking to back up a few very important small files, such as Word or Excel documents, free online document storage services could be for you. “Dropbox or other free online backup services are really great if you only need a small amount of space,” says Dan Behrman, operations analyst at Taleo, a Florida-based software company.
Thumb drive: This is another cheap alternative suggested by Behrman. “Never underestimate a good thumb drive. Any way you can physically copy important files is a great way to back up,” he says. Thumb drives are super-handy for transporting files around campus. But they’re also small and easy to lose or misplace, so be careful.
Computer Maintenance Lesson No. 2: Protect it.
College can be an especially hazardous environment for computers — especially laptops. Just ask George Washington University sophomore Katie Smith. She knocked an open, full bottle of water across her laptop during a crowded party in her freshman dorm room. “I had to buy a brand-new laptop a month after I got the first one,” she laments. Protect your computer by investing in a:
Laptop cover: To protect against spills, keep your laptop in an inexpensive plastic cover whenever it’s not in use. But don’t stop at the surface; protect the whole thing with a …
Laptop lock: Almost all laptops have a small built-in dock for specially designed locks that connect a bike-chain-like cord to the computer’s frame. When transporting your laptop around campus (to the library, to class, etc.), slip the cord around something unmovable to ensure its safety.
Surge protector: Also, pick up a power strip with surge protection at any office-supply or electronics store. It’s a cheap, no-fuss way to avoid toasting your circuitry in case of a storm or electrical problem.
Computer Maintenance Lesson No. 3: Clean it.
Matt Gaskin, a senior at Middlebury College, knows the importance of a dust-free computer: “I’ve had two graphics cards melt because my laptop’s vents became clogged with dust. Fortunately, it was covered by warranty. But the moral of the story is, blow out your vents every so often.” Keep your computer clean by:
Using pressurized air: “I’ve had more than one computer bust because of dust in the fan, and it’s so simple to clean,” says Behrman. “There’s really no excuse for that mess-up.” Get a can of pressurized air that’s specifically designed to blow away the accumulated gunk on your keyboard, screen and fan vent — without having to use water.
Tidying your files: More important than a clean screen is a clean hard drive. The single best thing you can do for your computer’s processing speed is dump anything you don’t need or use. That means unused programs and documents — especially large files like music and video downloads. You’d be surprised how much garbage accumulates on your hard drive.
Using virus protection: For PC users, it’s an extremely good idea to get virus protection. Not on a student’s budget, you say? Fortunately, there is some very good — and free — antivirus software out there such as avast! and AVG that should cover any problems a normal computer user would have. “There’s no real reason to buy virus protection if you’re a normal-use computer owner,” says Behrman. “There are fantastic free products out there.” However, if you do a lot of downloading or random clicking on sketchy websites, you might want to look into buying protection from a company like McAfee or Norton.
Computer Maintenance Lesson No. 4: Insure it.
University of Rochester senior and deejay Ezra McCabe says AppleCare is “absolutely necessary” for his Mac. “Since I use it in so many nightclubs — which are not exactly the ideal environment for a computer — a repair plan is more or less indispensable. Though the list of what it actually covers is pretty small, you can talk your way into a whole-system upgrade if you know what you’re doing.” Follow his lead by getting a:
Warranty: PC warranties vary widely brand to brand, but it’s definitely something to look into. Chances are that college will wreak at least a little bit of havoc on your machine, and you don’t want to be caught without support when it happens. If your computer doesn’t already come with some sort of warranty, it’s a good idea to look into purchasing one. For Mac users, that means AppleCare, which offers three years of repairs and technical support.
Renters’ insurance plan: Designed to protect valuables such as bikes, iPods, instruments and computers, renters’ insurance is relatively affordable. In big cities, it can be as low as $20 a month. Not a bad price to protect your most important and valuable gadget!
Rachel Smith currently works at NY1, a 24-hour local news station in New York City. In the past, she served as editor-in-chief at NYU’s daily student newspaper. She also has interned for several community newspapers, including The Boston Phoenix.
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