14 Easy Steps to Computer Care: Tech Support Cheat Sheet

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

Whether it’s a fresh out of the box desktop or a well-loved, five-year-old laptop, computers need a little care to run efficiently. Basic computer care is simple and extends the life of your computer. When we say computer care, we’re talking about both software and hardware. This list covers the basics to keep your machine running as well as possible.

1. Get antivirus software to secure your computer from the inside

virus scan

Software is the programming side of the computer, the data that makes up what you see on the screen, your files, etc. Antivirus software helps catch viruses in suspicious downloads or the occasional website that looks too good to be true. While antivirus software isn’t always cheap — though there are some free programs available — $50-$100 a year is a lot cheaper than potential identity theft or damage to the computer’s hard drive. Also, this does not apply to only PC users, Macs need protection from malware, too. CNET has downloads available for a vast array of security software.

2. Perform regular software updates to help it run smoothly

windows update

Keeping the software on your computer up to date helps it run better because updates often contain fixes for bugs and glitches of the previous version. They also improve security. However, if you know you’re on a stable version of a software, it can sometimes be a good idea to wait just a little bit to update, as sometimes new bugs, glitches, or security vulnerabilities are introduced inadvertently with an update. That said, don’t wait too long — if anything is glaringly wrong with the software, you may hear about it within a couple days of the updates release.

Updating is also important for your web browser. Nothing slows down an Internet connection on a computer or puts it at risk like an out-of-date, old browser. Update to the latest version of your preferred browser for better speed and safety. Many software programs including browsers can be set to update automatically.

3. Do your computer maintenance regularly

Depending on your computer, this is a vital step. On PCs this means defragmenting your computer and cleaning the registry regularly, fortunately this entails little more then going into your computers control panel, and telling your computer to perform these tasks on itself. PC users can also use programs like Advanced SystemCare. For people on both sides of the PC versus Mac divide, this means regular scans and updates.

4. Secure the Wi-Fi

Wi-fi is that magical Internet source that allows you to stream Netflix on your laptop while in bed. Make sure your system is safe by giving it a good password. A good password has more than just letters so throwing in some capital letters, numbers, and special characters is a good idea.  Also encrypting it — if possible — is a good step. Another, even more secure option is to set up your router not to broadcast it’s SSID, so users who don’t know the name of the router don’t still see it and won’t try accessing it.

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

5. Eject devices, drives, and other media before removing it

We’re all guilty of this one, but removing a smartphone, camera, or disk before ejecting it is bad for the device, causing possible corruption of the data on it. Take the extra few seconds before ejecting the device to prevent issues down the line.

6. Back up your files

While backing up the computer is often thought to be primarily a hardware issue involving external hard drives, software-based backups are also useful. On Windows, creating System Restore points can prevent you from losing data in the event of a system glitch by creating spots in your computer’s timeline it can return to. Set them to be created as frequently as possible to minimize data loss.

Cloud-based backups are also useful. On Macs, this is backing up to the iCloud, a feature available to anyone with an Apple account.

Google Drive and Dropbox can also be used to back up media to prevent losing it in the event of a hard drive crash. Even if you have an external hard drive, having multiple backups is always a good idea.

7. Make an external hard drive or other external storage your best friend

Hardware is the physical side of your computer, the parts of it you touch and see in real life. While an extra $100 on top of a new computer seems like a lot of money, an external hard drive is worth the price. When you back your computer up, it contains everything on your computer at that moment, but it’s more than just a snapshot. If the hard drive is wiped clean, you can use the version of your computer to restore your computer to its former glory. It’s also handy to keep your built-in hard drive clear of files you don’t need constant access to, as a crammed hard drive isn’t going to work as efficiently as one with less on it.

8. Please, don’t eat that over the keyboard

In an incident of “do as I say, not as I do,” avoid eating by your computer. Crumbs in the keyboard are more than just annoyances, as they can damage a computer’s keyboard. If you do get food in the keyboard or notice some dust, PCWorld has a great guide to cleaning your keyboard.

9. If you exist or breathe near your computer, you need to clean the screen

Computer screens are monitors, frequently LCD screens in the latest generations of computers. Like any other screen, they need regular cleaning, but keep the window cleaner far away. Instead use a soft cloth or special wipes meant for electronics to clean the screen. This tip may be more about aesthetics, but if your screen is getting dirty often, it’s likely the rest of the computer is, too.

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

10. If your computer’s really hot, check out the fan or vents

If you’ve ever heard what sounds like the low sound of a fan whirling when using your computer, it is likely the fan inside trying to keep your computer from overheating. Alternatively, if your computer is very hot but silent, it may be time to check the vents and listen to see if the system is working. As dust collects in your computer, some of that will get in the fan and start to bog it down. Luckily, that can be cleaned out — you can do it yourself if you’re brave, or take it to a computer shop that does tech service. On a similar note, if you don’t have a pad for your laptop, be careful where you set it, as you can easily cover the vents with a blanket, soft carpet, or even your own legs, and this can make the computer overheat.

11. Use a surge protector when possible

All it takes is one power surge to fry your computer while charging (or any electronic device.) When possible, plug your computer into a surge protector or bring one with you.

12. Carry laptops in cases

Laptop and notebook computers are meant to travel but need protection. Make sure they arrive safely by carrying them in a case or laptop bag or even a case in a laptop bag. This way the computer is protected from bumps or drops. This can also help keep small objects, like paper scraps, from getting into your computer.

13. Avoid extreme temperatures

A computer fares best in moderate temperatures. Computers should be ideally kept in rooms between 68 to 71 degrees Fahrenheit, but no lower than 50 degrees nor above 82 degrees Fahrenheit.

14. Don’t be afraid to contact the professionals

While no one enjoys being on hold while waiting for tech support to answer your call, they may be able to help you fix your computer over the phone or to recommend further steps before it becomes necessary to run out to Best Buy, the Microsoft Store, or the Apple Store for an in-person appointment.

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