Care and Feeding of Your Computer

Here is a list of what I consider to be the top 12 things you can do to keep your computer, whether it runs the Mac or Windows OS, in tip-top shape. By the way, you'll be happier, too!

1. Back up!

Backing up your data is probably the one piece of advice that most people already know. It is also the most often ignored piece of advice. How often should you do this? Well, it depends on how important your data is. I recommend backing up your documents area on a monthly basis at a minimum. For "mission-critical" files, more often is better. And, the best backup routine calls for storing those copied files at another site. If you own a small business that means taking the initiative of getting an external hard drive or a couple of thumb drives and taking them home. If something happens at the workplace, then you have an off-site backup available.

2. Check for software and system updates

Based on the frequency you set up, your computer can check in with Apple or Microsoft regarding updates to the operating system. This is particularly important when security updates are available. Keeping your operating system up-to-date within the version release is highly recommended. For Mac users that means if you have 10.3, be sure you have the latest variant. If it's 10.4, the same rule applies. With Windows that means getting the minor updates in between the Service Pack releases as well as the Service Pack itself.

3. Occasionally shut down your computer

For you Mac users I recommend doing this about once a week or so. Just do a total shut down or a restart. And, after updates are made, go one step further -- restart twice just to be sure things that should have been deleted really get deleted. This resets the VRAM and responsibilities of the OS. For Windows users you may find this advice a bit odd since you may be restarting more than once a week already. But, if your use of the computer is light and you don't face frequent restarting just initiate one yourself.

4. Remove outdated, upgraded or unused applications

A bit of housekeeping can usually help. If you’ve upgraded an application and the old copy remains, you can usually safely un-install or delete that application. I don't mean to suggest that you remove basic system applications or utilities (they may be needed later for support). But, you can remove old applications or extra utilities you don't use anymore. Your computer would probably appreciate having the space on the hard drive for storing temporary files. And this leads me to my next suggestion.

5. Keep five to ten percent of your hard drive available

That means you should delete, or burn to CD, files that you aren't actively using if you're running out of space. Why? The operating system needs that space for managing the virtual memory that it temporarily writes to the hard drive. For instance, if you have an application open but not in active use, the operating system will gently but quickly move that code from the RAM chips to an area on the hard drive that it tries to retain for inactive but open applications and files. If you fill up the hard drive with music, movies, photos, and other files you'll be choking your computer sooner or later. If you have an 80GB hard drive, keep 4GB free of use.

6. Cleanliness is next to Godliness

Especially important to tower computers is keeping the insides clean and dust free. Since they tend to sit on or near the floor, make a conscious effort to clean around the computer regularly. Don't just stick the cabinet back in a corner or under a desk to deal with dust on it's own. And, if the janitor won't do it, do it yourself. When it comes to cleaning the inside of the computer use an electronics dusting spray and not your vacuum cleaner. The vacuum can be used on the case and on the opening where the air exits through the fans. As I've always told people, dust is an enemy to computer chips. When dust collects on those chips it becomes an insulator and may cause premature failure from being overheated. Be happy, stay clean.

7. Put nothing in the Root directory

This is the ‘top Level’ of your primary hard drive. Nothing should ever be saved or stored there. Keep things in your own user area. And, don't clutter up the desktop. Keep things in the Documents or My Documents folder. The only things that go at the top (root) level should be the folders that the operating system puts there during installation.

8. Perform a ‘clean’ install of your OS once a year

OK. So I'm going over the edge here. Still, it's good advice. Once a year or so, back up your computer and perform a ‘Clean’ installation of your system software.

9. Leave your computer awake overnight to run its internal maintenance scripts

Apple's Mac OS X has certain internal maintenance scripts that it runs while you are away. This means the computer needs to stay awake (not in sleep mode) for them to run. So, if you can, leave your computer on overnight at least once a week. Let the screen saver come on but keep the computer from going to sleep. Windows users you can do something similar but different, run the Disk Cleanup application every month or so. Then, run Disk Defragmenter. Both are located in Programs\Accessories\System Tools.

10. Get virus protection

If you have a computer running Windows and haven't done this yet then consider yourself a real foolish person or one who likes living on the "edge". The reason this suggestion is so far down the list is that you should know this already. If you haven't gotten one, do it and get someone that knows what they're doing to eliminate the viruses, malware, trojan horses, and adware on your computer ASAP. Your computer will reward you by running faster. I promise.

11. Repair permissions

This is specific to Mac users. Use the program that comes with Mac OS X, Disk Utility, to highlight your disk drive and click the ‘Verify Permissions’ button and when finished the ‘Repair Permissions’ button.

12. Remove foreign fonts and localization files

Mac users can download the free application ‘Monolingual’ and use it to remove foreign fonts and localization files from your Macintosh. It's available at I'm looking for something equivalent for Windows but have yet to find something suitable. If you know of something, let me know.