Take Control of Your Computer

Trying to care for your computer can be intimidating if you’re not tech-savvy. Fortunately, with these simple tips you can point and click your computer to good working order in no time.

Take Control of Your Computer

Keep Up To Date To Save $$$

The first thing a computer repairperson does when he arrives onsite is to make sure your operating system is updated. If you’re like most people, you use Microsoft Windows. You can (and should) update Windows yourself, before the $95-an-hour IT expert arrives. And if you’re lucky, updating Windows might even solve the problem you called about. (If a plug-in, such as a digital camera, MP3 player, or printer isn’t working, it could be because your drivers are out of date. A Windows update will take care of this.) Think how great you’ll feel calling and canceling that appointment!

To update Windows, here’s what you do: Once you’re logged on to the Internet, open up your computer’s Web browser, go to the Tools menu at the top of the page, then click on “Windows Update.” You’ll immediately be taken to the Microsoft website, which will check to see if your computer needs any upgrades. If so, follow the prompts to download the upgrades.

If you have Windows XP or Vista, you can have your computer download the upgrades automatically. To do so for XP, click on the “Start” menu in the lower left corner of your screen, click on “Control Panel,” click on “Security Center,” then turn on “Automatic Upgrades.” For Vista, click on the “Start” menu in the lower left corner of your screen, click on “Control Panel,” click on “Security,” look under the “Windows Update Tab” to enable automatic updates.

Apples Are Healthier

Apple computers can be a little more expensive than most PCs. But since only 7.8 per cent of the American population uses Apple’s Macintosh computers to access the web, very few spyware and virus programs are written to affect them. So, if you’re having a lot of problems with spyware and viruses, consider buying a Mac next. The peace of mind might be worth the slightly higher cost.

If you’re determined to stick with your PC, make sure to update frequently. Also, check out Microsoft’s Security at Home for solid security tips and software.

Kick-Start a Failed Internet Connection

If your high-speed Internet service fails to work after a power loss or computer crash, it could be that some of your devices powered up in the wrong order. Instead of calling a computer consultant, save yourself some time and hassle by first trying the following:

Shut down the computer. Turn off or unplug your modem, the device that connects you to your cable or phone line. If you have one, turn off or unplug your router, the device that connects the modem and your home network. Wait at least 30 seconds. Now turn everything back on in the following order:

  1. Modem-it will send a message to your Internet service provider (ISP) saying you need a new connection.
  2. Router-it tells your modem to connect.
  3. Computer.

Nine out of ten times, this will fix your connection problem. If it does not, the problem probably has something to do with your Internet service provider, not your computer. At that point, it’s time to make a phone call.

Boost Your Computer’s Speed without Calling a Pro

All those software programs that come bundled on your computer take up valuable real estate. They also fight for your computer’s resources by constantly searching for updates of themselves, even when you don’t have the program open. What the computer companies don’t tell you is that when you buy one of their machines, it’s already running slower than it should because of all the extra programs. You can free up space and resources by removing all the programs you don’t use.

Just deleting the icon on your desktop will not remove the programs-you’ve got to uninstall them. If you use a Windows XP-based PC, you do this by clicking on the “Start” menu in the lower left corner of your computer screen. Next, click “Control Panel,” then “Add or Remove Programs.” Scroll down the list of programs and remove the ones you’re certain you don’t need. For Vista click on the “Programs” tab and follow the same procedure. The rule of thumb computer technicians use with clients who want faster machines: If you haven’t used a program in a year, you can delete it without worry.

Drain & Recharge Your Laptop Batteries

Sure, the computer salesman makes it sound like the world will stop turning if you don’t buy a second laptop battery. But you can do just fine without an extra, unless you travel frequently. A second battery is bulky and is almost never worth the money. Since batteries drain as they get older-after only a few years, a battery may only reach 95 per cent of its original charge-it’s best to stick with one battery and keep it healthy. The best way to keep it healthy is to only charge it after it has been fully drained. Leaving your laptop plugged into the wall all the time will actually make it weaker. Before a big trip, when you’ll need as much battery power as possible, drain the laptop battery completely (running a CD or DVD is a good way to quickly sap the power), and then rec­­­­­harge it completely.

Upgrade Your Desktop PC

Computer companies thrive on a marketing strategy known as planned obsolescence-the idea that today’s brand-new machine will be out of date in just a few years, thanks to ever-faster processors, bigger hard drives, and more memory. They figure most of their customers would never dream of tinkering with electronics the way they might replace a belt in their vacuum cleaner. But despite the ethereal nature of computer software, many desktop computer hardware parts fit together like high-tech Legos. Instead of buying a brand-new computer for $600 to $1,200, upgrade a few parts. Need more memory? Snap in a random-access memory (RAM) upgrade, which usually costs less than $100. Want to burn DVDs? Buy a DVD burner (another $100 purchase), and add it to one of the empty slots on the computer. This way, you can keep your old keyboard, monitor, and speakers, all of which work perfectly well.

Don’t know what to buy? Check out a techie site like cnet for product reviews, or browse one of the many techno-geek newsgroups on the net for an unsolicited inside scoop.