Preventative Maintenance Tips for Your PC
The average PC user doesn’t think much about problems that can arise with a computer until a problem actually occurs in the system. Once a failure happens, repairs can be both costly and time-consuming. The good news is that there are some preventive measures that you can take to decrease the likelihood of running into problems with the computer’s smooth and efficient operation and also to lessen any damage that does occur despite best efforts to avoid failures.
Why Computers Fail
Computer failures occur for a variety of reasons, sometimes because of human error and sometimes because of factors in the environment that cause a computer to malfunction — or a combination of both. These factors can include excessive buildup of dust, heat or magnetism; viruses picked up from the Internet or from storage media shared between different computers; static electricity shocks or power surges; carelessness, such as spilling liquids into a computer or bumping or dropping the hard drive casing; software that has not been configured correctly or a PC’s setup that has been handled incorrectly, such as incorrect handling of upgrades. The following tips are a basic guideline that you can use to keep your PC maintained to run efficiently, increase component lifespan and also help lessen the overall likelihood of PC failure:
Operating & Environment Conditions
Do not place a PC directly near a heating or cooling source, such as heating vents or air conditioners. Both excessive heat and cold can damage a PC. This includes putting the PC in the path of direct sunlight. Manufacturers often recommend that PCs be in a humidity-controlled environment, but again the PC should not be positioned so that an air conditioner is blowing cool air directly onto the unit (as temperature drops, the likelihood of static electricity increases). Keep the PC’s air vents and fans unobstructed and free of dust. Do not smoke around a PC. Cigarette smoke can damage exposed metal contacts. Do not place a PC near water sources that can splash onto the components or drip down into them. This includes open windows through which rain can come and also under plants than can drip water down into them. Do not connect power sources directly into wall outlets but rather connect them first to some form of surge protector. Surge protectors prevent electrical surges from destroying hard drives and erasing data. Buildup of dust can seriously hamper a PC’s capability to cool down, and even if you never open your computer’s case dust can still get in through the drive openings. Dust also compromises the lifespan of your PC’s hardware. An efficient way to clean dust from the inside of a computer is with compressed air, blowing dust away from the motherboard and other components. You should never blow air directly into a floppy drive as this can cause dust to lodge in the drive and cause it to malfunction. Users who are not familiar with working inside a computer case should take the unit to a professional for cleaning because it is possible to do more harm than good to a computer if you do not know how to safely work inside of a case. Always turn off and unplug the system before you clean any of the components inside the case. It is also important to ground yourself to prevent static electricity discharge before touching any components inside. Be extremely careful when moving a PC from one location to another. Even small jolts can dislodge chips and expansion boards, so be sure to power off the system before moving it — even if it’s only going from one side of your desk to another. Save all documentation that comes with your PC and its components. You may need to refer to the documentation if something goes wrong. Always shut your system down properly (in Windows use the Start –> Shutdown method) whenever possible. It is also important to respond to warnings and error messages to prevent possible data loss or corruption.
Operating System & Data Maintenance
Always ensure you have downloaded and installed the latest patches and service updates for your operating system, especially on a Windows-based PC. These updates will fix bugs and security exploits. Keep the root directory organized. Only keep your system’s startup and software initialization files in the root directory. Application files and their data belong in a separate directory from the root directory. Do not store data files in the same directory that you store the software. This will eliminate the possibility of accidentally erasing or overwriting a software file. Keep a set of backup rescue disks for the operating system. Keep meticulous records of default settings, any changes you make in a system’s CMOS setup that differ from the default settings, and any maintenance you perform on the system. You can often use this record to backtrack when you are troubleshooting a problem and will become valuable if you decide to upgrade any of the system’s components. It is also possible for the CMOS to lose settings and you will want a record of the setup to reconstruct it. Keep backup copies of any important data on a removable medium. Hard drives can fail and having important data on more than one medium can save a lot of stress and headaches. If possible use a secondary hard drive in your system for saving files. Your main drive, which is accessed more frequently is prone to mechanical drive failure sooner than your less frequently accessed secondary hard drive would be. Over time when you add and remove software, devices and drives, you’ll be left with extraneous system registry entries, which can lead to slower performance. You can use system utilities (purchased or good shareware) that will help you keep your Windows system registry cleaned. TIP: Windows Live OneCare offers a free tune up scan which can help you optimize your PC’s performance. This scan will help you determine what basic system maintenance tasks need to be run on your computer.
Hardware & Hard Drive Maintenance
Keep records of any expansion cards you install and the procedures you follow to install them. Windows has a disk clean up function which will remove temporary files created by programs. This can free up additional hard drive space. Defrag your hard drives. A PC runs better with regular disk Defrag. Defragging your hard drive organizes your hard drive so that access to files and programs is more efficient. If you are using a trackball mouse be sure to frequently clean the rollers inside to keep the mouse moving smoothly. Clean your CRT monitor with standard glass cleaner and a lint free cloth. Be sure to spray the cloth with cleaner and then wipe — do not spray cleaner directly on the monitor. Most LCD displays can be cleaned with isopropyl. However, you should check your manual for the manufacturer’s cleaning recommendations. Extend the lifespan of your computer monitor by shutting it off when not in use. Be sure to update drivers and software for your expansion cards, such as video or sound cards. By using updated drivers your hardware usually will run better. To access built-in Windows tools for disk clean-up and Defrag,
Keep a backup copy of original software, either on CD or DVD. This type of software copying is perfectly legal. Be wary of installing file sharing and other peer-to-peer software as they represent a security risk to your PC. While the software itself may very well be virus-free and not represent a security risk, sharing your files and downloading other users’ files can be. Purge your software. Getting rid of unused software frees up additional system resources and hard disk space. To uninstall software on a Windows PC, use the “Add/Remove Programs” function from the Control Panel. For better system performance avoid using shareware (or freeware) wallpaper, screensavers, and similar audio and visual apps. These will usually require extra system resources to run. Always uninstall programs by using the Add/Remove Programs in your Windows Control Panel
Install an antivirus program that automatically scans for viruses when the system boots. Once you have an antivirus program you will ned to update the virus definitions daily to ensure your system is protected against the latest threats. Do not download any files from the Internet unless you are certain the source is not transmitting a virus to you. Do not use any storage media that has been used in another computer unless you are certain the other computer is free of viruses and will not pass the virus on to your system. Never open e-mail attachments from people you don’t know; and don’t open any file attachment that ends in ‘.exe., All downloaded files should be scanned by your anti-virus application before you run or install it.
How To Troubleshoot a Computer That Shows No Sign of Power
Among the many ways that a computer won’t turn on, a complete loss of power is rarely the worst case scenario. There is the chance that your PC isn’t receiving power because of a serious issue but it’s unlikely. There are several reasons that your computer won’t power on so it’s very important that you step through a complete troubleshooting procedure like the one I’ve outlined below.
Important: If it appears that your computer is in fact receiving power (you see lights on the computer case, fans are running, etc.), How To Troubleshoot a Computer That Won’t Turn On guide for a more applicable guide.
Time Required: Anywhere from minutes to hours depending on why the computer isn’t receiving power
1. Believe it or not, the number one reason why a computer won’t turn on is because it wasn’t turned on!
Before starting a sometimes time consuming troubleshooting process, make sure you’ve turned on every power switch and power button on your computer:
o Power button/switch on the front of the computer
o Power switch on the back of the computer
o Power switch on the power strip, surge protector, or UPS (if you have one)
2. Verify that the power supply voltage switch is set correctly. If the input voltage for the
power supply does not match the correct setting for your country, your computer may not power on at all.
3. Check for disconnected computer power cable connections. A loose or unplugged power cable is one of the top reasons why a computer doesn’t turn on.
4. Perform a “lamp test” to verify power is being provided from the wall. Your computer isn’t going to turn on if it’s not getting power so you need to make sure that the power
source is working properly.
Note: I don’t recommend testing an outlet with a multimeter. Sometimes a tripped breaker can leak just enough power to show proper voltage on the meter, leaving you with the assumption that your power is working. Putting a real load on the outlet, like a lamp, is a better option.
5. Test your power supply. At this point in your troubleshooting, it’s very likely that the power supply unit (PSU) in your computer is no longer working and should be replaced. You should however test it just to be sure. There’s no reason to replace a working piece of hardware when testing it is fairly easy.
Exception: An ozone smell or very high pitched noise, combined with no power at all in the computer, is an almost certain indication that the power supply is bad. Unplug your computer immediately and skip the testing.
Replace your power supply if it fails your testing or you experience the symptoms I just described.
Important: In the majority of cases when a computer isn’t receiving power, a nonworking power supply is to blame. I bring this up again to help stress that this
troubleshooting step should not be skipped. The next few causes to consider aren’t nearly as common.
6. Test the power button on the front of your computer’s case. It’s not a very common point of failure but your computer might not be receiving power because the power button on the front of your PC is damaged and is not actually turning your computer on.
Replace the power button if it fails your testing.
7. Replace your motherboard. If you’re confident that your wall power, power supply, and power button are working, it’s likely that there is a problem with your PC’s motherboard and it should be replaced.
Note: While perfectly doable by anyone with some patience, replacing a motherboard is rarely a quick, easy, or inexpensive task. Be sure you’ve exhausted all of the other troubleshooting advice I’ve given above before replacing your motherboard.
Note: I highly recommend that you test your computer with a Power On Self Test card to confirm that the motherboard is the cause of your computer not turning on at all.
1. Are you troubleshooting this issue on a PC that you’ve just built yourself? If so, triple check your configuration! There is a decent chance that your computer isn’t powering on due to a misconfiguration and not an actual hardware failure.
2. Did I miss a troubleshooting step that helped you (or might help someone else) fix a computer that’s not showing any sign of power? Let me know and I’d be happy to include the information here.
3. Is your computer still showing no sign of power even after following the steps above? Let
a community of computer support enthusiasts help out! Post the details of your PC power problem in the PC Support Forum. Be sure to tell us what you’ve already done to try to
fix the problem.