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Your computer needs regular care and maintenance in order to operate trouble-free.  Monthly maintenance should include making sure your backups are working, your antivirus software and virus definitions are up-to-date, and that critical operating system patches have been installed.  On an annual basis we recommend cleaning the dust out of the inside of the computer.

Look here for our recommendations on buying a new computer.

If there is a particular area you are interested in, click on the item below to see the solutions we recommend, or just browse to get some general ideas.

  1. Backups! 

  2. Lightning Protection

  3. Virus and Hacker Protection

  4. Memory and Disk

  5. Second Computer

  6. Network

  7. Computer Maintenance

  8. Printers

  9. New Home / Existing Home Wiring

Backups

Visit our page with backup strategies.

Backups are necessary!!  It is only a matter of time until you have a hardware problem and lose files, or mistakenly delete something you need.  Our preferred method of backup for home systems is:

  • Keep all your operating system and installation disks

  • Backup data files only

You can recover individual data files from your backup.  To do a complete restore to your existing computer, or to a new computer, restore the operating system and programs using the installation disks, and then restore you data using your backups.

We find it convenient to backup files from one computer to another over the network.  This is good for regular backups because it can be setup to run automatically.  Periodically you should create backups on removable media and store it outside your house - at work, someone else's house, or a safe deposit box are all good ideas.

You need to test your backups!!  When you need your backup it's too late to realize the backups you were making were insufficient or not working.

Finally, in addition to your local backup strategy, we recommend Carbonite backup in addition.  It is good offsite backup, and if your onsite backups fail for any reason you always have that.

Lightning and Power Protection

We know so many people who have had their computers zapped by lightning.  The lucky ones have had their modems fried; others have had more extensive damage.  We recommend an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) with phone line protection.  Even when you are networked, you often connect at least one computer to the phone line for dial backup and to send faxes.  We are often asked about unplugging equipment during an electrical storm - while that is no-doubt "safer," we do not unplug any of our computers, and most surge protector manufacturers will will pay to replace your equipment if it is damaged while connected to their surge protector.

A UPS is nice because it provides power from a battery when you have a power failure.  We recommend getting a small UPS - it is not meant to allow you to keep working when the power goes out.  But if the lights blink you will be able to continue working without losing everything, and if the power goes out you will have a chance to save your work and power down the computer.

A UPS is a MUST if you have phone service through the internet!!  Make sure your cable modem and any other network equipment is on a UPS so when the power goes out your phone line will still be active.  It is not like the phone line from AT&T that does not require power from your house to operate.

Virus and Hacker Protection 

If you are reading this because your computer is infected with a virus, or has been hacked, call us - we can help.

The internet is a rough, mean place.  Sad, but true.  Connecting your computer to the wild unknown can be deadly, but some simple precautions will let you connect with little worry.

You need virus protection and a firewall.  Virus protection will stop files and programs which contain viruses and worms from infecting your computer.  A firewall will prevent hackers from gaining access to your computer through the internet.

We recommend using antivirus software available from your Internet Service Provider - Optonline, Frontier, and AOL all provide antivirus software with your subscription.  You should periodically check that you are receiving virus updates, and run scans on your disks just to double-check.

For a firewall, we recommend both a hardware firewall and the Windows software firewall.  Most home-use routers (network device that creates your home network and connects it to the internet) are very good firewalls.  Even if you have only one computer, we recommend installing this device for it's firewall features.  Essentially the router is the device that is visible on the internet - not your computer.  If you want a software firewall, ZoneAlarm base version has the necessary features and is free.

Just like with power protection, people often ask us if they should power off or disconnect their cable or DSL modem when they are not using their computer.  Again, while that would be "safer," with proper protection there is minimal risk - our computers (at least some of them) are always on and connected to the internet.

Memory and Disk

Don't skimp!  Windows like lots of memory, and memory is as important to the speed of the computer as the processor speed.  4Gb is a minimum, and 8Gb or more is recommended.  Disk space does not affect speed, but you don't want to run out of space or worry about having to cleanup old files all the time.  We strongly recommend solid state drives (SSD) which are more reliable and faster that conventional mechanical hard drives.  If you have lots of data, we suggest having both a SSD for Windows and your programs, and a conventional hard drive for your large data.  Our specific recommendations on a new computer is here.

Second Computer

If you live alone, you probably don't need a second computer.  If you are a family, you probably do!  Even though your current computer is still working ok, there are many advantages to buying a new computer and keeping your existing computer.  Here are a few:

  • Backup.  If your computer broke, could you do without one for a week?

  • Contention.  Fighting with the kids over using the computer?

  • Segregation.  Are the kids always installing games and messing up the computer?

  • Security.  Are your finances and other important documents on the computer the kids are using?

  • File Backups.  Copying files to a second computer over your network is a good way to backup data files.

Network

If you have more than one computer, you want a network to share your internet connection, printers, and files.  View more about networks here.

Computer Maintenance

Computers need periodic care and maintenance.  Updating your operating system with patches from Microsoft and checking on your backups and virus software are all things you should do monthly.  Put a reminder in your calendar so you don't forget.  Also clean the inside of your computer and defragment your hard disk annually - more often if you have pets.

In addition to making sure your backups are working properly, we recommend you install Belarc Advisor (free download) and run it monthly to get a report of your computer.  Check the report for the following:

1.  Virus protection is up-to-date.
2.  Microsoft security patches are up-to-date.
3.  Under "Drives" check how full your hard drive(s) are.  Should be less than 80%.

If you have several computers in your small office, I suggest assigning someone responsibility for going to each computer the first workday of each month and running Belarc Advisor.  Print the results (just the first page), circle the computer name and each item indicated above to indicate it has been checked, and put them in a binder.  If the computer name is not descriptive, also write the name of the primary user or some other information that will identify the computer on the report.  Any item that has a problem should be addressed.

Printer

We are often asked about which printer to buy.  Generally, we like the low-cost color inkjet printers.  HP, Brother, Canon, and Epson seem to work well.  For printing digital photos, consider using a local printer (CVS, CostCo) or internet service to make nice prints from your images.  Same thing if you have large volume or high-quality printing needs - consider using a local printer.

The all-in-one scanner-printer-copier-fax devices are the standard.  If you have need for these devices, particularly in a home or home-office setup where space is a premium, you should consider one of these.  One or two models up from the low end have received the best reviews.

New and Existing Home Wiring

Building a new home?  Doing some renovations?  Adding a new room?  While the walls are open is the ideal time to get your house wired for telephone, video, and network.  We recommend home-runs to a central location; two locations for a large house.  Each wallplate should have two or three runs of CAT-5e cable, and one or two runs of quadshield RG-6.  One CAT-5e run is for phone (up to 4 lines).  The other CAT-5e is for network - one or two depending on the anticipated needs for that room.  RG-6 is for television.  One is usually enough, but if you have multiple TV providers (cable and satellite) or other video needs you may consider two runs for certain rooms.

It is never too late to start wiring the "right" way!!  When you need to put in a new network, phone, or video outlet - put in a single wall plate with all services.  Once the electricians are snaking a cable, it is not much more effort to pull multiple cables.  Same thing when you are doing renovations or additions - wire the new part the right way.

Please make backups!  We are not responsible for data loss under any circumstances!! 
A hard disk can fail at any time and there is nothing we can do about it.  Please make backups before your appointment, before you bring your computer to us, or ask us to make backups before working on your computer.

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