How to fix your own computer

You know, you won’t always have an IT man to kick around and fix your computer problems for you, so I thought I’d take the time to put together this little guide to computer troubleshooting. Bookmark this post for posterity (or print it out — you never know with this Internet business!) and give it a scan next time your PC is acting funny. It’s basic, but comprehensive. I hope it helps! Q: My computer is acting weird.

Reboot. If that doesn’t work turn it off, then back on (it’s different than rebooting, I swear). If that doesn’t work, boot into Safe Mode (tap F8 during boot time), then shut down and reboot normally again. If that doesn’t fix things, try the next tip ...

Q: My computer is running slow.

This is inevitably a natural yet unfortunate problem with almost every Windows computer. The more it is used, the more digital detritus builds up on your hard drive and in system memory, since many applications install little programs that you may not be aware of but are always running in the background. The longer a PC is in service, the worse this gets.

Best fix: Uninstall programs you don’t need, and be liberal about it. If that doesn’t help, your best bet is to reinstall Windows. Most computers come with a mechanism (disc or hard-drive partition) to return them to their factory state. You’ll likely be shocked by the results.

Q: I tried that and my computer is still running slow.

Install more RAM. 4GB is good these days.

Q: What about registry cleaners?

It probably won’t help and could do more damage than good. Some people swear by them, but honestly the benefit is minimal at best.

Q: And disk defragmenting?

Most users won’t notice a lick of difference after defragging and shouldn’t bother wasting the time.

Q: I have a virus.

Are you sure? If your computer is behaving erratically, make sure you’ve rebooted and allowed the system to fully load all its apps, then try to re-create the behavior. If it doesn’t happen all the time, it’s probably just Windows instability, best solved by removing apps and/or reinstalling Windows. And most malware apps are designed not to be noticeable by the end user; that’s the whole idea, to go undiscovered.

If you do have a virus, most anti-malware software will do a credible job of cleaning up your system these days. Try Norton, Kaspersky, or Avira if you’re broke. System Restore can also be invaluable in cleaning up a virus attack, if the virus hasn’t disabled it.

Whatever you do, make sure you install a security application and keep it up to date — before you have a problem.

Q: My computer is hot and/or loud.

This is often a dust-accumulation issue. All computers should be dusted regularly. Get a can of compressed air and blast out the fans, vents, and any other orifices, including a full interior spray if you have a desktop.

Q: Any special rules for laptops?

Turn your laptop off — all the way, using “Shut Down” — when you move it farther than a few hundred feet. And never block the cooling vents.

Q: How should I backup my data?

I don’t care, as long as you do it and do it regularly. Using an external hard drive to copy all your important documents is an easy and cheap way. Online backup services like Mozy are even easier and require virtually no thought on your end, but they can slow down your computer and Web connection. (Christopher Null)

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