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Your PC's enemies are heat and moisture. Excess heat accelerates the deterioration of the delicate circuits in your system. The most common causes of overheating are dust and dirt: Clogged vents and CPU cooling fans can keep heat trapped in your system. Even a thin coating of dust can raise the temperature of your machine's components. Any grime, but especially the residue of cigarette smoke, can corrode exposed metal contacts. That's why it pays to keep your system clean, inside and out.

If your PC resides in a clean, climate-controlled environment, an annual cleaning should be sufficient. But in most real-world locations, such as dusty offices or shop floors, your system may need a cleaning every few months.

Cleaning Your Computer

Cleaning your computer serves a vital role in keeping your pc running smoothly and without errors. Accumulation of dust can act as an insulating barrier that could eventually lead to failure of fans, the power supply, or the CPU.

Getting Started

Before you begin cleaning your PC, it is important to have the necessary cleaning supplies. All you need are lint-free wipes, a can of compressed air, a few drops of a mild cleaning solution such as Formula 409 or Simple Green in a bowl of water, and an antistatic wrist strap to protect your system when you clean inside the case.

Start by cleaning the monitor, the keyboard, and the case. It's a good idea to turn the keyboard upside down and give it a good shake. You can pop off the keys and soak them in a solution of ammonia and water, but be careful as not all keys come off easily. If you feel resistance, stop. Optical mice will require little maintenance, but ball mice will need to be disassembled. Clean the ball itself as well as the X and Y axis rollers.

Unplug the computer from the wall. The computer will require the fans to be blown out. Some PCs have multiple fans in the case, one on the processor and one or two on the power supply. Clean them all.

You can pull the memory and other cards and gently rub a pencil eraser on the contacts before putting them back in.

However, don't pull any cards out unless you're having problems reaching certain areas.

Remember, never open a CRT monitor. Even when unplugged they retain enough current to cause serious injury.

Think Outside the Box

Before you get started cleaning, check around your PC for anything nearby that could raise its temperature such as heating ducts or sunshine coming through a window. Also clear away anything that might fall on it or make it dirty, such as a bookcase or houseplants.

Always turn off and unplug the system before you clean any of its components. Never apply any liquid directly to a component. Spray or pour the liquid on a lint-free cloth and wipe the PC with the cloth.

1. Wipe the case and clear its ventilation ports. Compressed air is great for this, but don't blow dust into the PC. Keep all the cables firmly attached to their connectors on the case.

2. When the pointer of your mouse moves erratically, itís time for a cleaning. Unscrew the ring on the bottom of the unit and remove the ball. Then clean the two plastic rollers that are set 90 degrees apart inside the ball's housing.

3. Turn the keyboard upside down and shake it to clear the crumbs from between the keys. If that doesn't suffice, blast it with compressed air. If your keys stick and your keyboard is really dirty, pry the keys off for easier cleaning. Computer shops have special tools for removing keys, but you can also pop them off by using two pencils with broken tips as jumbo tweezers. Just be gently.

4. Wipe the monitor case and clear its vents without pushing dust into the unit. Clean the screen with standard glass cleaner and a lint-free cloth. If your monitor has a degauss button (look for a small magnet icon), push it to clear magnetic interference. Wipe your LCD lightly. The underlying glass is fragile.

5. Reseat the cables plugged into your surge protector. Check the unit's warning indicator, if it has one. Surge protectors may power your PC even after being compromised by a voltage spike (making your system susceptible to a second spike). If your power protector doesn't have a warning indicator and your area suffers frequent power outages, replace it with one that has such an indicator and is UL 1449 certified.

6. Gently wipe each disc with a moistened, soft cloth. Use a motion that starts at the center of the disc and then moves outward toward the edge. Never wipe a disc in a circular motion.

Now for the Inside

Before cracking open the case, turn off the power and unplug your PC. Ground yourself before you touch anything inside to avoid destroying your circuitry with a static charge. If you don't have a grounding wrist strap, you can ground yourself by touching any of various household objects, such as a water pipe, a lamp, or another grounded electrical device. Be sure to unplug the power cord before you open the case.

Use antistatic wipes to remove dust from inside the case. Avoid touching any circuit-board surfaces. Pay close attention to the power-supply fan, as well as to the case and to CPU fans. Spray these components with a blast of compressed air to loosen dust. To remove the dust rather than rearrange it, you should use a small vacuum.

If your PC is more than four years old or if the expansion cards plugged into its motherboard are exceptionally dirty, remove each card, clean its contacts with isopropyl alcohol, and reseat it. If your system is less than a couple years old, make sure each card is firmly seated by pressing gently downward on its top edge while not touching its face. Likewise, check your power connectors, EIDE connectors, and other internal cables for a snug fit.

While you have the case open, familiarize yourself with the CMOS battery on the motherboard. For its location, check the motherboard manual. If your PC is more than four or five years old, the CMOS battery may need to be replaced. A system clock that loses time is one indicator of a dying CMOS battery.

Looking for Trouble?

Adding and removing system components leaves orphaned entries in the Windows Registry. This can increase the time your PC takes to boot and can slow system performance. Many shareware utilities are designed to clean the Registry, Give your PC a periodic checkup with a good hardware diagnostic utility. Two excellent choices are Sandra Standard from SiSoftware and TuffTest-Lite from PC Diagnostics.

Disk Defragmenter in Windows XP

Defragging your hard drive is one of the most overlooked PC maintenance tasks, yet one of the simplest ways to keep your PC running fast. When your files are organized, your hard drive has to work less to retrieve data, which speeds up the computer and potentially saves the hard drive from premature death.

The way you defrag the hard disk is determined by the Operating System you have. In XP you can navigate to the defragmenter utility by going to Start>All Programs>Accessories>System Tools and then Disk Defragmenter. You can also open My Computer and right-click the hard drive, then click Properties and look under the Tools tab.

You will select the hard drive you want to defragment and click Analyze to see the state of the drive. The computer will take a moment to test the hard disk and then show you a graphical representation of the drive. Mostly blue bands indicate a healthy state on contiguous files. Scattered red bands indicate fragmented files. If you have a lot of these, Windows will prompt you to defrag and you should accept when ready. You will want to plan this operating in advance as you will not be able to use the PC while this utility is running. Writing to the disk as the disk organizing files will cause an error.

You should consider doing this before bed, as it could take a few hours to complete depending on the size of the drive. If defragmenter produces errors, consider running defrag from within Safe Mode, where most services are stopped and nothing is using the drive.

How often should I Defrag My Drive?

How often you defrag the hard drive depends on your usage. If you are constantly adding and removing large files, you will need to do this often. For general PC work, you will only need to perform this task about every two months. Disk Defragmenter won't defragment the file on your hard drive that holds overflow data from system memory (also known as the swap file). Since the swap file is frequently accessed, defragmenting it can give your PC more pep. You can defragment your swap file by using a utility such as the SpeedDisk program included with Norton SystemWorks 2004. There is a way to reset it in Windows. In Windows XP, right-click My Computer and choose Properties. Click Advanced, and then choose the Settings button under Performance. Click Advanced again and the Change button under Virtual Memory. Select another drive or partition, set your swap file size, and click OK. If you have only one partition and no way to create a second one, and you have at least 256MB of RAM, disable the swap file rather than moving it: Select No paging file in the Virtual Memory settings. If you have trouble booting, start Windows in Safe Mode and re-enable this option.

Hard-Drive Checkup

Windows XP offers a rudimentary evaluation of your hard disk's health with its error-checking utility: Right-click the drive's icon in Windows Explorer and select Properties, Tools, Check Now. Windows can fix errors and recover bad sectors automatically if you wish. If the check discovers a few file errors, don't worry, but if it comes up with hundreds of errors, the drive could be in trouble.

Visit Microsoft Update

Unless you update your version of Windows continuously, you run the risk of your PC being vulnerable. There are occasionally instances when a Windows update plugs small security holes in the Operating System. So unless you are a fanatic about keeping your installation of Microsoft Windows XP up to date, consider allowing Windows to automatically do it for you.

To enable this feature, click START, then CONTROL PANEL, then SECURITY CENTER. You can then select AUTOMATIC UPDATES.

Stick with the Automatically Download and Install option. Otherwise, you may download the updates when they are available, but either forget or neglect to install them.

Registry Cleaner

You can safely clean, repair, and optimize the Windows registry with a registry cleaner. Problems with the Windows registry are a common cause of Windows crashes, slow performance, and error messages. By using a registry cleaner regularly and fixing registry errors, your system should not only be more stable, but it will also help improve your system performance without expensive hardware upgrades.

Article provided by Synux Technologies. Synux Technologies provides world-class PC and computer repair services to the greater Reno-Tahoe area, including Northern California. Synux has been providing expert computer services since 2002.

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