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MONDAY, MARCH 19, 2007
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Spring cleaning
for your COMPUTER

By Danielle Komis
dkomis@decaturdaily.com · 340-2447

Computers can be our best friend, or our worst enemy. One minute, you’re in the zone creating a PowerPoint presentation, and the next you’re ready to chuck the stupid hunk of junk out your office window because it’s running so slowly.

So this spring, brave the mysterious inner workings of your computer for some serious spring cleaning. Your efforts will not only speed up your machine, but also save you money on anger management classes.

We consulted Decatur computer gurus Ron Stanley of Computer Zone and Mark Jones of Valley Computer Resources for some much-needed, “even-a-monkey-could-do-it” tips for speeding up your Microsoft Windows-based PC (most local computer shops do not deal with Mac). Specific instructions will work for most recent versions of Windows.

If you are nervous to do anything on your computer, or if it is seriously malfunctioning, let an expert look at it first.

Nurse your PC back to health!

Computer viruses will seriously cramp your computer’s speed. Make sure your antivirus software is updated and still running because a virus can infect your computer within seconds. Most antivirus software programs will remind you when your subscription to service will expire soon, so make sure to heed the reminders. If you don’t, you’ll be sorry later, Jones said.

Temporary files and
cookies that stick around

Anytime you connect to the Internet, data is cached to your local drive in temporary files to speed up the process of viewing Web sites, data and photos the next time you look at them.

“You’re done looking at it online, but it’s still on your computer,” said Ron Stanley of Computer Zone in Decatur.

Similarly, Web “cookies” are small files of your personal information stored on your computer for use the next time you visit a Web site, though there are tons of sites you may never revisit.

To rid your computer of this superfluous information, open your Internet browser and choose Tools ?Internet options where you can click Delete cookies and Delete files. To delete all temporary files and not just temporary Internet files, go to All Programs? Accessories? System Tools? Disc Cleanup. Select the items you would like to delete from the menu. If you don’t know what it is, don’t delete it.

Defragging

Don’t be afraid of this one. While the word sounds ominous, it simply describes the process that rearranges your computer files on the hard drive so they can be accessed quicker. You really don’t have to do much to make this happen, except navigate to the defrag function on your computer.

Spies, beware!

Spyware is a sneaky software program that can weasel its way onto your computer through free downloads, pop-ups, or even some bogus so-called anti-spyware programs you might find online. Why is it bad? Spyware programs monitor your Internet activity and then sell the data to various companies — while slowing down your computer.

“You now have a program running in the background,” which is why your computer slows down, said Mark Jones of Valley Computer Resources. To fix the problem, Ron Stanley of Computer Zone recommended downloading free anti-spyware software such as Spybot-Search & Destroy and Ad-Aware.

Head to All Programs→ Accessories→ System Tools→ Disk Defragmenter.

Sneaky startup programs

You probably aren’t aware that when you boot up your computer, multiple programs automatically start running.

For example, a media player or photo archiving software may be loading each time you turn on your computer, Jones said. These programs constantly run in the background and slow down your system. They can make your computer boot-up time so long that you have time to knit a scarf.

If you rarely use a program, then it shouldn’t be on the start-up program list. To remove a program from the startup list but keep it on your computer for when you want to run it, go to: Start menu→ Run→ type in “msconfig”→ Startup. Here you will find a list of programs you can deselect as startup programs.

“The beauty of it is you’re not deleting anything,” Jones said. “You can go back anytime and re-check startup programs.”

If you don’t use it, lose it

Deleting unused or rarely used programs is a good way to free up space on your computer and make it run faster. Many computers come up with tons of bells and whistles, which many people don’t need, Jones said.

So if you’ve never used the money management software that your father got you last Christmas, uninstall it. The best way to do this is to go the program and uninstall it through the program, rather than through the control panel, Stanley said.

If that doesn’t work, then try uninstalling it through the control panel. However, don’t just start deleting programs you’re not familiar with. The program may be something you use every day but just don’t know the name for, such as the driver for the modem. “If you don’t recognize it, don’t delete it,” Stanley said.

To delete programs via the control panel, go to Start→ Control Panel→ Add or Remove Programs and select programs you’d like to delete from the list.

Clean out dust bunnies

While it’s important to keep the inner workings of your computer clean, it’s important to keep the outside clean as well. At least once per year, use a can of compressed air designed for computers (you can purchase them at major retailers for around $10 to $15) to clean out the vents, ports and fans of dust and lint, computer experts say.

But before you make any sudden moves toward your computer, power it down first. Then, take it outside on the driveway or in the garage, remove the case lid and carefully spray the vents, heat sink and fans with the compressed air.

“Just like under your bed, you can get dust bunnies in the bottom of your computer,” said Mark Jones, manager of Valley Computer Resources in Decatur. Those dust bunnies can clog fans and vents, preventing airflow into the machine. Eventually, the temperature may get hot enough to seriously damage parts.

However, don’t get overzealous with the compressed air and hold it on the parts for more than several seconds or they could become cold enough to develop condensation on them, Jones said.

To prevent dust buildup in the fans in the first place, elevate your computer from the floor about 6 inches, said Ron Stanley, systems manager at Computer Zone in Decatur. Also, vacuum regularly around your computer.

To clean your LCD or CRT computer screen, buy specially designed cleaners or wipes for electronics. Avoid mainstream cleaners such as Windex, because the ammonia base can take the anti-glare coating off the screen and scratch the screen, Stanley said.

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