Tackling Computer Maintenance

Tredd Barton Comments
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Discussions of self-storage maintenance usually center on doors, roofs and landscaping. But every operator should also be concerned with keeping computer systems primed and running as smoothly as possible.

Computer maintenance entails a four-fold attack against deterioration of hardware, security threats, software bugs and performance degradation. Each can seem overwhelming or even insignificant, but considering the importance of computer systems to operations, the cost and time are trivial compared to the hassle of getting a system up and running after a crash.

A New Drive

Most people understand the importance of getting a vehicle’s oil changed every 3,000 to 5,000 miles. But when I ask people about the last time they had their hard drive replaced to maintain their computer, I normally get a blank stare. “People do that?” they’ll ask.

No, they typically don’t, and that’s one reason for a billion-dollar computer resolution industry devoted to solving IT issues. A new hard drive costs less then $100 and an experienced IT professional can swap drives and data within a couple of hours. When you turn on your updated computer, it will have exactly the same software, settings and data as before. The cost? Less then $300.

The reaction here is usually: “Why don’t I just buy a new Dell for a little over $300?” You can. In fact, you should upgrade the entire computer every three years or so, but you’ll have to transfer all the data and software from the original computer, whereas a hard-drive swap is a transparent upgrade.

How often should you replace the hard drive? It depends on how important you consider your computer system. Our company replaces every drive in every computer once a year as part of normal maintenance. Today’s high-speed computers use multiple fans to prevent components from overheating, so we also verify all fans are in working order.

Software designed to warn users of impending hard drive crashes is another low-cost option for computer maintenance. Some hard drives manufactured in recent years include self-monitoring analysis and reporting technology, or SMART, developed by major hard disk-drive manufacturers to increase reliability. It enables computers to predict future hard disk-drive failures and report them to monitoring software. Through SMART, many potential problems are flagged, allowing users to repair or replace them before any data is lost or damaged.

Security

Books have been written on this topic, but I’ll be brief. Minimally, your computers should be running active firewall and antivirus software packages. “Active” means the software is loaded at startup and is continually securing your computer system from outside intrusion of viruses, Trojan horses, spy-ware, ad-ware and worms. A common misconception is computers not accessing the Internet don’t need security software. Viruses can travel inside Excel spreadsheets sent by your business associates or even through a free game your son installed on “Bring Your Kids to Work Day.” Active security software stops these intrusions and saves your computer system from being compromised.

Software Updates

Keeping up to date with the latest software patches and upgrades, especially with security software, is hugely important. Firewall and antivirus software without updated virus definition files are nearly useless in protecting your computer system, which is why I recommend you update security software weekly. Many software packages have an option for automatic updates with no user interaction required; choose this option and leave the rest up to your computer.

The second stop for software updates should be the website for your manufacturer’s operating system. This holds true whether you’re running Windows, Mac OS or Linux. Microsoft and others understand the importance of fixing bugs and security flaws in operating systems, thereby offering free updates to maintain software. Many viruses enter businesses not because they are unknown to the software companies, but because the business didn’t update its software to block known threats. Check for OS updates monthly.

Finally, update research updates for each of your computer’s commonly used software. Most manufacturers allow you to download minor upgrades for free, charging only for major upgrades. Some charge for every upgrade or offer a maintenance plan that includes software updates as part of the package. Do you need to upgrade all your software packages? No, but you should do a little research into what new features or bugs have been fixed since your last version. This will reveal whether any annoying software issues have been resolved on your current version or a requested feature has been added. Check software updates quarterly.

Performance Degradation

Computers often have too many temporary files cluttering the system, a fragmented file system, viruses/spyware/ adware, and unnecessary programs running on startup. Windows XP has several software packages to help clean up systems, including Disk Cleanup, Disk Defragmenter and ChkDsk. Each speeds up computers and is easily used by novices.

Another useful Windows program is the MsConfig utility, offering the option of turning off auto startups of many programs; however, novices should beware that turning off too many auto startup programs can leave computers in startup limbo.

Also, don’t forget to put “dusting” on your to-do list. Excessive dust buildup inside your computer can cause overheating, which degrades performance as well accelerates wear and tear on interior parts. If you’re not already familiar with opening your computer to do a little dusting, hire an IT professional for a thorough cleaning job. The cost should be minimal, especially if you request it during the yearly hard-drive swap.

If your computer is still operating slower than expected, look into software packages to run deep checks of entire systems, inspecting its registry, missing shortcuts and Windows files. These programs can increase system performance by removing thousands of unneeded registry settings from uninstalled software, cleaning up unnecessary programs from startup, and removing the deluge of temporary files stored on everyone’s computer.

Spend some time and money taking care of your computer system and it will reward you with years of reliable service. 

Tredd Barton owns Tredd’s Software Solutions, a developer of self-storage software for nine years. His company just released version 6.2.9 of its software and recently hired a new sales and marketing manager to accommodate expanding business. For more information, call 724.484.7801; e-mail sales@tredd.com; visit www.tredd.com

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