Computer Upkeep and Upgrades

Michael Richards Comments
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When they think about facility maintenance, most self-storage operators forget about their computer and related equipment. But these important items need preservation, including physical cleaning and the upkeep of system software. Proper maintenance will help ensure your computer functions correctly for as long as possible. It’s quite easy and takes very little time.

Below is my “Top Ten” list for computer care. First, here are some things you should never do:

  • Don’t use a vacuum to clean your computer. Vacuums create static electricity, which can instantly destroy the chips inside your machine.
  • Do not open your monitor. Even unplugged, monitors have capacitors that can store very high voltages, so they should only be maintained by professionals.
  • Do not vacuum or blow dust out of your laser printer. Its ultra-fine powdered toner is so small it will go right through a conventional vacuum-cleaner bag, and you’ll end up breathing that harmful dust for the next several hours.

The Computer-Maintenance Top 10

Some great articles and tips on computer care can be found at www.ehow.com/list_1013.html. The following list covers some essentials.

1. Keep your computer clean and dust-free. Dust is the enemy of computers. It causes them to run hot, which burns out chips and ruins circuitry. Use a cloth lightly dampened with warm water to clean the outside of your computer at least once a week, wiping around, behind and underneath all equipment.

2. Keep the keyboard, monitor screen and mouse clean. Keeping these items dirt-free will extend their life—and be much healthier for you. The keyboard and mouse are havens for germs and who knows what else, especially when the computer is shared. All you need to keep them clean are a soft cloth (lightly dampened with warm water) and cotton swabs. Always disconnect them from the computer before you wipe them.

Tip:When assembling your computer systems, use long wiring and cables to connect everything. This will make it easy to move the equipment around—cleaning over, under and around it—without having to unplug or detach components. (Turn the computer off before you move it, of course!) You can purchase inexpensive extensions for any wiring that is too short.

3. Clean the inside of the CPU at least once a year. This isn’t hard to do, but if you feel uncomfortable, hire a professional to do it for you. Basically, you unplug all the wires, take the machine outside, unscrew the casing and lift it off the base, and blow out all the dust with a can of air. For a great step-by-step guide, see this article: www.informationweek.com/story/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=60403472.

4. Use Windows XP. If you use a version of Windows that is not XP, I recommend upgrading immediately. XP is easier to use, easier to maintain, and much more secure than earlier versions, which leave you susceptible to hackers, viruses and other disasters. For your business, buy the Professional Edition, not the Home Edition. For more information, visit www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/default.mspx.

5. Keep Windows updated. Security patches, minor enhancements, and bug fixes are made available for Windows regularly. Configure your operating system to automatically download and install these updates. For instructions on how to do this, visit the link to Microsoft provided in item No. 4.

6. Use the Windows “Disk Cleanup” utility. Disk Cleanup rids your computer of the miscellaneous detritus it accumulates, such as temporary files of all sorts and old setup files. The cleanup tool is found by clicking “Start,” pointing to “All Programs,” then “Accessories,” then “System Tools,” and then clicking “Disk Cleanup.” Run this utility regularly.

7. Use the Windows “Disk Defragmenter” utility. Over time, files tend to get spread out in little pieces all over your hard drive, which can cause extreme slowdowns. “Defragging” puts all of those pieces together so files can be retrieved faster. Retrieving information from the hard drive is by far the slowest link in the computing chain, so using this tool can make a big difference. Do not use your computer while it is defragging.

Tip:You can set up Disk Cleanup and Disk Defragmenter to run automatically during your business’ off hours (I recommend once a week) using the Windows Task Scheduler. For instructions, visit www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/using/setup/expert/crawford_october08.mspx.

8. Back up files and settings. I sincerely hope you back up your self-storage management data every day. This is vital to the operation of your business. If don’t complete regular backups, begin doing so immediately.

While not as critical, you should also back up other files, such as those in your “My Documents” folder and your Windows settings. Use the Windows “Backup” utility to copy these files to CD, DVD, zip disk or a flash drive (memory key). A flash drive is a small device that stores a lot of information and plugs easily into the USB port on your computer. It’s even tiny enough to attach to your key chain.

For details on using Windows Backup, go to www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/using/setup/learnmore/bott_03july14.mspx. There are many other programs that provide excellent backup and recovery utilities. One of my favorites is Norton Ghost (www.symantec.com/sabu/ghost/ghost_personal).

9. Properly maintain your printer. Printers will wear out and their print quality will deteriorate if not properly maintained. Printer care is generally easy, however, see No. 3 in the “never do this” list above. Every printer varies, so follow the manufacturer’s instructions for proper cleaning and maintenance. The following websites are specific to Hewlett-Packard, but the principles can be applied to any inkjet or laser printer. For inkjets, visit http://h71036.www7.hp.com/hho/cache/8917-0-0-225-121.aspx. For Laser printers, visit http://h71036.www7.hp.com/hho/cache/8929-0-0-225-121.aspx

10. Keep anti-virus software updated. Anti-virus software ensures you are continuously protected against new threats (approximately 250 new viruses are unleashed every month). It is sold on a subscription basis—you have to renew your subscription every year, or you’ll only be protected against old viruses. Also make sure your software protects you from other dangers, such as Spyware, or get separate anti-Spyware software like Pest Patrol (www.pestpatrol.com).

Computer Upgrades

We tend to think of computers like we think of cars: We use them until the cost of maintenance exceeds the cost of buying something new. However, this doesn’t work for computers, as they are infinitely more complicated. To switch to a new car, all you need to do is move over your personal items, get in and drive. Switching to a new computer is a whole different ball of wax.

First, you need to set up Windows, reinstall all your software, restore all data from the old computer, reset your Internet access, reset your e-mail settings, and so on. This can be time-consuming when your old computer is still accessible; it can be a nightmare if your old machine has died. Plan upgrades so you can complete them on a schedule, not when your system fails. The Windows “File and Settings Transfer Wizard” can simplify the process.

A good rule of thumb is to upgrade your computer and printer every three years. In between, you can breathe new life into your machine with other small improvements. Probably the easiest, most effective, economical upgrade you can make is to add memory (RAM). Today’s standard is to use 512 MB or more.

These steps will help ensure your computer runs trouble-free throughout its life and you can smoothly upgrade to a new system every few years. Use the links above to learn more about your computer and gain confidence in your ability to maintain your equipment and software.

Michael Richards is the president and founder of HI-TECH Smart Systems Inc., which has provided management software to the self-storage industry for more than 20 years. The company’s flagship product, RentPlus, is in use in thousands of facilities in more than 20 countries. Mr. Richards has been involved in the self-storage industry since 1980. For more information, call 800.551.8324; visit www.hitechsoftware.com.

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