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pc maintenance tipsPCs 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 If you’re running an unpatched version of Windows, outdated version of Firefox, or vulnerable version of Java Is Java Unsafe & Should You Disable It? Is Java Unsafe & Should You Disable It? Oracle’s Java plug-in has become less and less common on the Web, but it’s become more and more common in the news. Whether Java is allowing over 600,000 Macs to be infected or Oracle is... Read More , your computer is at risk.

Be sure to keep your software updated Why Do Apps Nag Me To Update & Should I Listen? [Windows] Why Do Apps Nag Me To Update & Should I Listen? [Windows] Software update notifications seem like a constant companion on every computer. Every app wants to update regularly, and they nag us with notifications until we give in and update. These notifications can be inconvenient, especially... Read More . 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.

pc maintenance tips

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.

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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 How To Fix An Overheating Laptop How To Fix An Overheating Laptop Read More 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.

common pc error messages

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 Did You Know Windows 8 Has a Built-In Time Machine Backup? Did You Know Windows 8 Has a Built-In Time Machine Backup? We sometimes forget with all the focus on Windows 8's new "Modern" interface, but Windows 8 has a variety of great desktop improvements. One of them is File History, a built-in backup feature that functions... Read More that functions similarly to Apple’s Time Machine, while Windows 7 has its own backup feature How To Set Up & Use Windows 7 Backup & Restore Feature How To Set Up & Use Windows 7 Backup & Restore Feature It's hardly a secret when I tell you that sooner or later you will need a backup of your personal data. Do you have one right now? What keeps most people from preparing regular backups... Read More .

Many people ignore backups until they lose their files. Don’t become one of them — start backing up your files before you lose them.

common pc error messages

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 Getting A New Computer, Part 4: How To Properly Protect Your Laptop Getting A New Computer, Part 4: How To Properly Protect Your Laptop A lot of research is involved in choosing the right computer. Should you go with a laptop or desktop? If you decide on a laptop, how do you choose which one? In all of these... Read More .

common pc error messages

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 3 Top Tips To Maintain Performance & Extend The Life Of Your SSD 3 Top Tips To Maintain Performance & Extend The Life Of Your SSD For years, standard hard drives have been the speed limiting factor in overall system responsiveness. While hard drive size, RAM capacity, and CPU speed have grown almost exponentially, the spinning speed of a hard drive,... Read More .

common pc errors

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 What Is The Benefit Of An Online/Cloud-Based Anti-Virus? What Is The Benefit Of An Online/Cloud-Based Anti-Virus? It seems like all the apps we use on our computers are migrating to the cloud these days. Email, chatting, editing documents and pictures – increasingly, we're using cloud-based solutions for almost everything.. There are... Read More .

common pc errors

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 Using Registry Cleaner: Does Is It Really Make a Difference? Using Registry Cleaner: Does Is It Really Make a Difference? Advertisements for registry cleaners are all over the Web. There’s an entire industry out there bent on convincing inexperienced computer users that their registry needs fixing, and that, for ten easy payments of $29.95, their... Read More . 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 5 Ways To Clean Up Your Computer With An Automated Script [Windows] 5 Ways To Clean Up Your Computer With An Automated Script [Windows] Computer maintenance isn't exactly something that most people remember to do. For the general user that isn't exactly tech savvy, when a computer doesn't work, they either call for help or simply buy a new... Read More included with Windows or use the free CCleaner utility Optimize Your System To Run At Its Best With CCleaner Optimize Your System To Run At Its Best With CCleaner Over the last two years, CCleaner has changed quite a bit in terms of version numbers...up now to version 3.10 at the time of this writing. While visually the program actually hasn't changed much (it's... Read More . Avoid the paid PC-cleaning apps.

common pc errors

Obstructing Air Flow

Your computer needs proper cooling How To Install A New PC Cooling Fan How To Install A New PC Cooling Fan Computers have changed a lot over the last decade, but one thing remains the same – the need for cooling. Efficiency has pushed temperatures down but hasn’t eliminated heat as an issue. That’s particularly true... Read More . 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.

computer-case-fan-with-leds

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 How To Do Your Research Before You Download Free Software How To Do Your Research Before You Download Free Software Before downloading a free program, you should be sure it's trustworthy. Determining whether a download is safe is a basic skill, but one everyone needs -- particularly on Windows. Use these tips to ensure you... Read More . Don’t install programs that look scammy. Be careful when you install software A Simple Checklist To Safely Installing Free Software Without All The Junk A Simple Checklist To Safely Installing Free Software Without All The Junk Picture this - you've just found this awesome free software that you are stoked about because of all that it can do for you, but when you install it, you discover that it is packed... Read More 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.

installing software

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 What Is SLI & How Can It Improve Gaming Performance? What Is SLI & How Can It Improve Gaming Performance? Sometimes a niche term is taken for granted. We have some such terms in the world of computing hardware, and one of them is SLI. It’s been around for so long that geeks take it... Read More 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 How Much Does Your PC Cost To Run? How Much Does Your PC Cost To Run? Read More , in addition to eliminating the CRT monitor flicker that can cause headaches.

dual-graphics-cards

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!

Image Credit: Serviceman Testing Computer via Shutterstock, versageek on Flickr, Electric Power Bar via Shutterstock, Paul Sullivan on Flickr, foskarulla on Flickr

  1. illegal3alien
    June 24, 2013 at 10:52 pm

    To anyone who thinks installing updates isn't important:

    You use this to create a fake network that the victim automatically connects to:
    http://hakshop.myshopify.com/products/wifi-pineapple

    You then use something like Metasploit to gain access (since you have now tricked someone into connecting to your network you can also intercept the webpages they are trying to visit):
    http://cyberarms.wordpress.com/2013/01/14/java-releases-0-day-patch-why-you-need-to-install-it-now/
    http://cyberarms.wordpress.com/2013/01/08/latest-internet-explorer-zero-day-exploit-walkthrough-using-metasploit/

    Then you install malware/spyware/viruses or whatever else you want. Additionally someone could setup a webpage and install something nasty over the internet instead of creating a fake network.

    • Chris Hoffman
      June 27, 2013 at 5:39 pm

      Thanks for the comment. I'm not sure why people are so resistant to updates -- they're critical for security. It's rather frustrating to see people clinging to insecure, buggy software.

      • sl0j0n
        July 13, 2013 at 7:34 am

        Hello, Mr. Hoffman.
        You wrote; "I’m not sure why people are so resistant to updates".
        The fact is, there are entire companies built on the premise that "updates" break software, even the OS.
        Go to http://patchmanagement.org/,
        subscribe to the mail list,
        & learn about the incredible problems [& opportunities]
        that "software updates" cause.
        BTW, some of the 'recommendations' are somewhat unfounded.
        The built-in defrag utility in windoz is not a very good defragger.
        Defraggler is better, & Puran is much better.
        There are others that superior to the windoz ute.
        Also, everyone should uninstall Java,
        Adobe Acrobat [plenty of free alternates],
        & who knows how many others.
        JM2¢, YMMV.

        Have a GREAT day, neighbor!

  2. Onaje Asheber
    June 24, 2013 at 4:28 pm

    Dust, Dust, Dust!!! Clean That dust!

  3. mamangalika
    June 24, 2013 at 1:24 am

    Good Article and best maintains on your systems, can you get best performance your systems.
    Cleanup fan and hit-sink dust.

  4. Sam Rosario
    June 22, 2013 at 5:01 pm

    I am done reading these kind of articles frankly. I have read so many articles like this. Some say cleaners are good, some not. Some say automatic win updates are good, some not. If you go and ask Microsoft they say dont use ccleaners and tune up, others say they are good. Can each of the pc manufacturers come out with an official announcement on what is good for their system and what not. Else we as customers will always be 50-50 on what we need to do and what not. No hard feelings towards these articles and the authors who write it. I know every person on earth will have a different opinion. But the truth is each and every person has a different kidn of pc and it all boils down to how we use our system. As for me what i have learnt is below:

    1) Avoid installing and playing around with your system by installing and unistalling softwares. I know a windows pc is supposed to handle installation and deletion of softwares but that harms your pc more than anything else.

    2) Have been using cccleaner since a year and it is the only software which actually speeds up my pc. I am using ashampoo's pc tune up utility. But it doesnt speed up my pc.

    3) Do not place your system where there is a lost of dust. If you stay nearby a dusty highway or road, then take care of your system. The other day my pc technician brushed

    • Chris Hoffman
      June 27, 2013 at 5:39 pm

      Understandable. Writers are all over the place, but you're getting different writers' perspectives. Personally I'd say that it's very clear automatic windows updates are good and that cleaners won't massively speed up your PC, but can delete files and free up space.

  5. nigel hewitson
    June 22, 2013 at 3:40 pm

    What do you do about dust when you have a laptop and don't have the technical smarts to open it up and clean out yourself ? I'm on a limited income and computer maintenance shops charge a fortune for the slightest thing. so am I stuck with my dust ?

    • Chris Hoffman
      June 27, 2013 at 5:38 pm

      Yes, that's a problem -- hopefully dust hasn't built up too much, but just blowing some air in the vents might help loosen it up a bit. There's not a lot you can do without opening the laptop.

  6. GF
    June 22, 2013 at 2:40 pm

    > Plugging your computer directly into the power outlet could result in a power surge damaging it

    Yes, however the situation is not hopeless. In fact into the power supply of our PC there is already a surge protection. As far as I have seen, there is a varistor and it's even medium sized, it's not the least available from manufacturers. Therefore we have already a certain protection from surges.
    Just for information only.

    • Chris Hoffman
      June 27, 2013 at 5:37 pm

      Certain, but not necessarily enough -- and it may damage other devices plugged in. Using a decent surge protector is always a good idea.

  7. GF
    June 22, 2013 at 2:28 pm

    > Many power bars have built-in surge protectors

    Yes, and it's necessary to verify how much powerful is that protection. A cheap power bar may have a poor 7 mm varistor...

  8. Elrick Browne
    June 21, 2013 at 10:24 pm

    Also not destatisizing (removing static, is that even a word lol) yourself and going to replace a component or clean the inside of you computer and touch something thats sensitive to static electricity and killing it

    • Chris Hoffman
      June 27, 2013 at 5:37 pm

      That's a really great point that I should have included! Static electricity is terrifying.

  9. Mauricio A
    June 21, 2013 at 10:15 pm

    These l10 little yet big things are the main reason why pc techs, like me, make our money. if the general public knew out secrets then we would be out of business.....#irony don't you just love it?

    • Daniel J. Karas
      June 26, 2013 at 5:17 am

      Mauricio, I've found that most people that this applies to, won't take the time or devote the energy to do it for themselves. So our jobs are safe :)

      • Mauricio A
        June 26, 2013 at 5:20 am

        I'll give you that, but seeing as that times are changing, the demand and job market for PC Techs will downgrade and eventually fade. Yes, we may transition into other technological areas but the PC (Desktop/Laptop) Techs days seem almost over.

        • Chris Hoffman
          June 27, 2013 at 5:36 pm

          Good points. There will probably always be room for techs but devices are being made easier to use, which is good for society and everyone in the long run. Can't stop progress, so try to enjoy the ride...

        • Mauricio A
          June 28, 2013 at 2:26 pm

          Amen to that. Too bad the good old days when Techs like us actually received and charged payment on our skills; nowadays most people only call techs whenever they realize that GeekSquad is overpriced and CraigsList Fails

  10. dragonmouth
    June 21, 2013 at 9:10 pm

    I must take issue with some of the statements you made.

    "Don't disable auto-update" - updates from Microsoft are a crapshoot. Too often they cause more problems than they solve and have to be backed out. Let the system notify you of updates then apply them manually. No amount of updates will ever make Flash and Java secure. Whether intentionally or by error, they were created full of security vulnerabilities.

    "Defragmenting when unnecessary" - when using OS x or *nix you're right. When using Windows, regular defrag is required. Run the Analyze option of Disk Defrag right after Windows is done with its self-defrag and you'll find hundreds of files in hundreds of pieces. The graph looks like a picket fence. Not too good for efficient reading and writing of files.

    "Using a registry cleaner or a PC cleaning app" - Windows is notorious for not doing clean uninstalls. There always is flotsam and jetsam left behind, both in the Registry and in the folders. I agree that inexperienced users should not muck about in the Registry. However, a reputable cleaner can get rid of hundreds, if not thousands of leftover keys. Might not speed anything up but it will make things cleaner. Same goes for cleaning out temporary files such as cookies or other Internet debris. I've seen PCs with 800,000 and more cookies and TIFs and they were slower than molasses at the North Pole. After couple of passes with CCleaner, they perked right up.

    • Naz Lazar
      June 23, 2013 at 5:05 am

      I agree with all three points, especially the last. CC cleaner and Glary Utilities have worked well for me and the computers I've ran them on.

      I really don't buy the placebo effect or that it's just a coincidence. I am not just talking about the registry cleaner but the whole cleaning modules that have definitely shown improvements that I've witnessed.

    • Chris Hoffman
      June 27, 2013 at 5:35 pm

      Interesting points. Even though Java in particular will always be full of holes, if you DO have Java installed, you should keep it updated so it's as secure as possible.

      Defragmenting manually is necessary sometimes, but most of the time Windows will do this for you.

      I suppose if your computer really is jammed full of temporary files you can get a speedup, but still -- stick with CCleaner. I was mostly trying to warn users away from the $50 scammy PC cleaning apps you see ads for all over the web.

  11. David Wheeler
    June 21, 2013 at 7:31 pm

    I use a hair dryer on cool settings to blow dust out of my tower after taking the panel off.

  12. Pam Deyerle
    June 21, 2013 at 6:34 pm

    Great article. Most of these I'm okay on, some I didn't know.

    Just to expand on what you said regarding AV programs. Yes, very important not to have two resident AV programs (ones running all the time in the background). And I just want to emphasize what you said about "getting a second opinion." IMO it's extremely important to have more than that you can use manually in addition to the resident program that runs in the background all the time. No one AV or malware program can protect or find everything, and you can go overboard, but having one or two that you can run manual checks with in addition to the resident program is smart. (I've have one program find things another one didn't.

    • Elrick Browne
      June 21, 2013 at 9:14 pm

      like malwarebytes vs alot of other antivirus

    • Chris Hoffman
      June 27, 2013 at 5:33 pm

      Yup, it's not a bad idea to run the occasional scan with another program, just in case. The key is to use one that won't remain scanning in the background, as that could cause problems -- or they could interfere with each other and result in you having no protection.

  13. michel
    June 21, 2013 at 5:56 pm

    I really, really wish people would stop scaring users into enabling all those goddam automatic updates. First, in my experience, more than half of all computer problems are because of automatic updates that don't work or mess the system, Second, many of them are accomplished by slowing start up to a crawl and/or hogging resources.

    If the machine works, don't update it without good reason. Don't update to fix bugs that don't affect you. Most of all, don't update without backing up first.

    In all my years of computing, and I'm talking decades, I've been affected by maybe 2 malware, but have lost countless hours trying to recover from "security updates".

    • Elrick Browne
      June 21, 2013 at 9:10 pm

      yep i dont keep automatic updates turned on because one always mess up the system, so i have it notify me, and then i either make a restore point or harddrive back before i do it.

    • pceasies
      June 22, 2013 at 12:30 am

      Of course by not updating you're often leaving yourself vulnerable. When windows updates it is typically patching security holes. When it says the update fixes a vulnerability that allows an attacker "remote access" it is actually doing that. If you visit a web page on a vulnerable system you can be infected without ever knowing it. Of course most viruses and malware that silently install in the background target big business and government doesn't mean you still can't get one. On top of which it's getting more common for threats to bypass virus protection and remain hidden an active for a long time before anyone notices them. If you don't see any obvious side effects, how do you know to check for infections.

      • Chris Hoffman
        June 27, 2013 at 5:33 pm

        Yes, exactly. Using an outdated version of IE, Java, Flash, and Adobe Reader is a great way to get your computer infected.

  14. Prosthetic Lips
    June 21, 2013 at 5:40 pm

    Re: Surge protectors, I'm not a big fan of "just" a surge protector. Several places I have lived have had LOW power problems, too. I have everything electronic (that matters -- not my bedside clock) in a battery backup / UPS. They are really not as expensive as they used to be, and when the battery dies (3-4 years), most have easily-replaceable battery compartments.

    I will regularly be sitting at the computer, and the UPS clicks, signifying it is now on battery, and nothing else happens -- lights do not flicker, nothing else shows a problem.

    But, good tips!

    • Chris Hoffman
      June 27, 2013 at 5:32 pm

      Smart idea, if that's a problem for you -- I've been fine with a surge protector for all of my life, with the exception of the occasional power outage that didn't break anything. It will probably vary depending on where you live, the power lines, the wiring, and that sort of thing.

  15. Joel Lee
    June 21, 2013 at 5:31 pm

    Man. For the longest time, I downplayed the effects of dust buildup because I didn't think little particles could cause such a fuss. It wasn't until I built my own desktop computer that I was comfortable enough to start cleaning out the insides on a regular basis. All it took was a can of compressed air to reduce my core temperature from 55 C to 30 C.

    Great tips.

    • Daniel J. Karas
      June 26, 2013 at 5:05 am

      One thing that most people don't realize, though, is that using compressed air or canned freon to blow out dust, just temporarily relocates it outside the case. It's much better to use a vacuum of some sort (like a dust-buster, or a hose with a wand attachment) to physically remove the dust and debris. Easier of the lungs, too!

      • Chris Hoffman
        June 27, 2013 at 5:31 pm

        Using a vacuum may result in static shock, which is a bit scary. The key with compressed air is opening up the computer, then blowing the dust so that it comes out of the computer's case.

      • SirVirtual
        June 27, 2013 at 8:16 pm

        No.....no.....no..... I've the decades I've worked on PC's, I've never had a machine have an issue blowing out the dust. Take it outside! However.....I've seen 2 systems turn into paperweights using a vacuum. Yeah - I did 1 but not the second. :D

      • SirVirtual
        June 27, 2013 at 8:20 pm

        No......no.......no. In all the years I've worked on PC's, I've never had one die due to blowing the case out. Take it outside! However....I've seen 1 machine turn into a paperweight using a vacuum. And yes, I did 1. Another was performed by a friend. He only did that once also.

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