PCs still require maintenance, as much as we wish they were magic boxes that did all the work for us. Unfortunately, many people make mistakes when it comes to maintaining their PC. These mistakes could result in hardware damage, security breaches, data loss, money spent unnecessarily, and general system instability.
We generally cover lists of PC maintenance tips you should do, but knowing what not to do can be even more important. We’ll cover some of the most common mistakes so you can avoid them and keep your PC running like new.
Not Updating Your Operating System and Software
Keeping your computer’s software updated is important. Operating systems, browsers, and their plug-ins in particular are frequently updated with security fixes. If you’re running an unpatched version of Windows, outdated version of Firefox, or vulnerable version of Java, your computer is at risk.
Be sure to keep your software updated. Set Windows to automatically install updates or at least inform you of them, leave your browser set to automatically install updates, and ensure Flash, Adobe Reader, Java, and other browser plug-ins you have installed are set to update automatically. Don’t disable these auto-updating features — they help keep your PC secure.
Letting Dust Build Up
Dust builds up inside of your PC’s case over time. This dust clogs up fans, reducing air flow and increasing the temperature inside your PC. A large amount of dust build-up can result in problems with cooling, which could even lead to system crashes as your CPU’s temperature increases too far. If you’re playing demanding games on a PC that’s clogged with dust, the heat will have nowhere to go and may damage your hardware.
To help with air flow, you should open your desktop computer’s case occasionally and clean out the dust using a can of compressed air. Cleaning the dust inside your laptop will likely be more difficult, as laptop’s aren’t generally meant to be easy-to-open. Spraying compressed air into your laptop’s fan vents may help dislodge some of the dust, but you’d have to open your laptop’s case for a serious cleaning.
Not Backing Up Your Files
Your computer’s hard drive will fail eventually. It might even fail tomorrow. If your computer’s hard drive failed tomorrow, would you have backup copies of all your important documents, photos, and other files? Or would you lose lots of important data?
Create a backup strategy to ensure your files won’t go down with your computer, whether you make regular backups on a removable hard drive or cloud storage service. Windows 8 has a built-in backup tool that functions similarly to Apple’s Time Machine, while Windows 7 has its own backup feature.
Many people ignore backups until they lose their files. Don’t become one of them — start backing up your files before you lose them.
Plugging Directly into the Power Outlet
Do you have your desktop computer or laptop plugged directly into a wall outlet? You shouldn’t. You should have your computer plugged into a surge protector and the surge protector plugged into the wall. Many power bars have built-in surge protectors, but the cheapest ones just function as extension cords and provide no surge protection.
A surge protector ensures that power surges — which can occur during bad storms, for example — won’t destroy your computer’s hardware. Plugging your computer directly into the power outlet could result in a power surge damaging it. You can even get portable surge protectors for your laptop.
Defragmenting When Unnecessary
Windows automatically defragments your hard drive in the background, so most people should never need to open the Disk Defragmenter and defragment their hard drives manually. There are some exceptions — for example, if you’ve just installed a large game and you want maximum performance, you may want to defragment before you play the game.
However, most of the time, defragmenting your hard drives is probably unnecessary. On a solid-state drive, it can actually be harmful — you should never defragment a solid-state drive.
Running Multiple Antivirus Programs
You should only use one antivirus program on your computer. Antivirus programs hook deep into the operating system, checking programs before they run. If you have two antivirus programs attempting to do this at once, they can interfere with each other and cause your computer to crash. They may identify each other as malware or prevent each other from working.
Ensure you only have a single antivirus program installed and running in the background. If you want a second opinion, you can use an antivirus program that will just perform a system scan while not running in the background.
Using a Registry Cleaner or “PC Cleaning” App
Everyone wants to sell you a program that will somehow speed up your computer by deleting temporary files and cleaning up your registry. These programs are at best unnecessary, and at worst harmful. Either way, many of them will take a bite out of your bank account.
We’ve already covered why registry cleaners aren’t useful. A registry cleaner won’t speed up your computer, but it could cause damage to your registry.
The “PC cleaning” apps advertised on television at 3 a.m. and on banner ads all over the web are similarly unnecessary. If you want to delete temporary files, you can use the Disk Cleanup program included with Windows or use the free CCleaner utility. Avoid the paid PC-cleaning apps.
Obstructing Air Flow
Your computer needs proper cooling. In addition to ensuring that dust doesn’t clog its vents, you’ll want to ensure that the air vents don’t become obstructed. For example, if you have a desktop PC in a tower, ensure that its air vents aren’t pressed up against a wall. If you have a laptop with an air vent, don’t place it on a bed that it will sink into, causing the blanket to obstruct its air vents. Don’t put your laptop on your lap in a position that will result in the air vents being blocked, either. Always take cooling and air flow into account.
This is particularly important when playing a demanding game or otherwise stressing your PC. If you’re just browsing the web, your computer shouldn’t heat up too much. You can get away with having your laptop’s vents blocked for a short time during light usage, but don’t leave it that way for long.
Installing Dangerous or Annoying Programs
When installing programs on your computer, you should be vigilant. Judge the trustworthiness of each program before you download it. Don’t install programs that look scammy. Be careful when you install software so you don’t end up installing browser toolbars and other adware that will annoy you. Know the types of files that are dangerous and be careful when running them — for example, don’t download screensavers, which can contain viruses.
Using Power-Hungry Graphics Cards
Everyone likes powerful hardware, but most people don’t need it. If you’re building a PC for your parents or upgrading an existing PC, don’t just put the most power-hungry graphics card in it. More importantly, don’t just install two of the most power-hungry graphics cards in an SLI or Crossfire setup. The most powerful graphics cards can suck down a lot of electricity, even if they’re not being used heavily. Even if you got a great deal on that graphics card, it may not be worth installing — if you never play games, it will only increase your electricity bill.
Try to avoid using other hardware that sucks down too much electricity, too. For example, if you still use an old CRT monitor, you should upgrade to an LCD monitor — they take much less electricity to run, in addition to eliminating the CRT monitor flicker that can cause headaches.
We’re sure these aren’t the only widespread errors that people make. Leave a comment and share other bad PC maintenance habits people should avoid!