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12 easy PC tasks you should be doing

HComputers may have become a lot more user-friendly over the past decade, but they’re still far from perfect—PCs require a certain amount of configuration and maintenance to operate at their full potential. Unfortunately, because we humans are also far from perfect, we frequently don’t put in the work we should, and we end up with a slower, sloppier, less secure machine as a result.

No more excuses! Whipping your PC into the best shape it can be requires but a dozen simple tasks. None are complicated, most take a matter of minutes, and all will have a major effect on how well your computer works for you. Even better, by the time you’re finished you’ll never have to worry about doing many of these tasks again.

Clean the case, keys, and display

The first task is the most basic: Are you keeping your computer clean? It’s not just important because a dirty PC looks gross, or is less pleasant to use. Simply put, a clean computer can last longer. Dirt and dust buildup in and around your computer can clog the fans and air intakes, causing your hardware to run hotter, which lowers its expected life span. So if your PC is looking a little musty, take the time to clean it.

To do so, you need to have only a few things on hand: a Phillips-head screwdriver, a can of compressed air, paper towels, and rubbing alcohol.

Once you’re ready to begin, shut down your computer, unplug it, and move it somewhere with a little open space in which to maneuver. Look on the back panel, and find the screws that hold the case’s side panels in place. Unscrew them—making sure to put them someplace safe—and remove the side panels, usually by sliding them backward and then pulling them away. If you haven’t cleaned the computer in a long time, you should immediately see some areas where dust has collected.

You’re likely to find the most dust bunnies on the fans inside the computer and on the vents outside. You can remove a lot of dust simply by wiping the fans gently with a paper towel, and by using a lightly dampened paper towel on the vents. Once you’ve wiped away any piled-up dust, use the can of compressed air to blow the dust out of the inside of any heat sinks, such as the one attached to the CPU or the graphics card. Use the air to clean out remaining dust from the system’s various fans too, but be careful: A sustained blast of air can overspin the fan, damaging it. Either use short bursts of air or hold the fan with your finger to prevent it from spinning. Afterward, clean out any other dust you see inside the case.

Your keyboard is next. Start by clearing out as many crumbs as possible: Simply turn the keyboard upside down and give it a good shake or two. Unless you’re interested in seeing a disgusting reminder of why you shouldn’t eat Ritz crackers at your desk, you should perform this step over the sink or a trash can. Use the compressed air to dislodge any crumbs that may still be stuck under the keycaps, and then repeat the flip-and-shake procedure. If you have a mechanical keyboard, you can also pop out individual keys to remove particularly stubborn debris.

If your keys have gotten grimy, lightly moisten a paper towel with rubbing alcohol and scrub the tops and sides of the keycaps. While you’re at it, use the rubbing alcohol to give your mouse a thorough rubdown. Pay special attention to the areas where your fingers make contact, as they tend to become the oiliest and grimiest. Flip the mouse over and make sure that the sliding surfaces (where it makes contact with the desk or mousepad) aren’t dirty, and that dust isn’t collecting in the optical sensor.

Finally, wipe the monitor. Although paper towels are useful for most other PC cleaning tasks, I don’t recommend them here as they can scratch your screen. Instead, use a microfiber cloth—the kind that comes packed with most glasses, sunglasses, and computer monitors. You can also find them in the cleaning section of just about any store. Give the screen a quick, light wipe, and see if any dirt persists. If it does, dampen the cloth with water, or a fifty-fifty mixture of water and vinegar, and wipe it again.

Back up your data

The 12 tips we describe in this article aren’t necessarily ranked by importance. If they were, however, this tip would be first, followed by about seven blank pages, and then everything else.

Your computer is not invulnerable. Hard-drive failures happen, as do floods, fires, earthquakes, thefts, and other calamities. The hardware in your computer is replaceable, but the data inside—whether critical business documents or precious family photos—might not be. If you don’t want to face the gut-wrenching realization that you’ve lost something important, you need to have a backup plan. Here’s how you can protect yourself, right now.

First, and safest is to have software do scheduled backups. another option is to copy all your important information to another drive (not another partition on same physical drive) or cloud storage.

Guard against malware

If you’ve been using computers for a long time, you might be tempted to think that you don’t need to run antivirus software. “I never open suspicious email attachments, and I stay away from sketchy websites,” you might say, “and I haven’t gotten any malware in years.” And yet, you’re still vulnerable.

As the Java breach in early January shows, you don’t have to do anything stupid to get a virus, and it takes only one infection to make you wish that you had spent a few minutes to set up an antivirus suite. If you haven’t done so yet, do it now.

UPDATE: Windows 10 comes with “Windows Defender Antivirus” so make sure you do regular windows security updates.

Update your software

Unlike fine red wine, software does not get better with age. Rather, software is like chocolate milk: Great when you first get it, but more and more likely to make you sick the longer it sits. In other words, old software is a security risk, often containing vulnerabilities that an attacker can use to get into your system. Plus, failing to update apps means missing out on any cool new features that the programs’ creators may have worked in.

Most newest programs will check for updates and will offer you to update, do not ignore those warnings.

Organize your files

I’m not judging you for letting your data get out of hand—it happens to the best of us. Sometimes it’s just too tempting to save time right now by dumping files and folders into your Documents folder, or your C: drive, or onto the desktop. You can always organize things later, right? Well, later is now.

Toss out the chaff

While you were organizing your files, you probably noticed a different problem: You have a lot of old and useless files, documents, and applications taking up valuable space on your hard drive. More than likely, you cleared some of them out while you were organizing, but chances are good that those were just the tip of the iceberg. Your next step should be to conduct a thorough audit of everything on your hard drives.

Encrypt your private data

How much of your life resides on your computer? Do you keep medical records, bank statements, or other files that you wouldn’t want other parties to access? I’m not saying that you shouldn’t store sensitive data on your computer—it’s one of the best ways to keep track of such things, assuming that you have a strong backup plan. You should encrypt those sensitive files, however, to make sure that your information stays safe and secret even if your data winds up in someone else’s hands.

First, find all of the sensitive files on your computer—financial and medical records, contracts, and anything else you wouldn’t want strangers to see. Place them all into a folder. You can (and should) organize them in subfolders, just as long as you have one root folder that encompasses all of them.

EDIT: in case of lost password or other crashes encrypted drives almost impossible to restore, so make backups and hide them in safe place.

Change your passwords

Performing this task is just as crucial as backing up your data. Most users, unfortunately, make several fundamental password errors that can compromise their online accounts and data, and the easiest way to fix them is to start over from scratch. When you’re selecting new passwords, you should keep the following three tips in mind.

First, create a strong password. A password that’s too short or too simple is a password that’s easy to crack. To keep yours safe, make sure that it contains at least 10 characters, and include a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters as well as symbols and numbers. A letters-only password, however, can still be secure as long as it’s at least 20 characters long.

Second, don’t use the same password across multiple websites. Even people who pride themselves on using a secure password often fall into the trap of reusing passwords. Do that, and a security breach at any site you use could compromise your most sensitive accounts. If you absolutely can’t manage different passwords for each of your accounts, at least use a unique password for your email account and for any accounts with sensitive financial information.

Finally, don’t get too attached. No security system is perfect, which is why it’s important to change your passwords regularly. If somehow one of your passwords is cracked or leaks, you don’t want someone to be able to snoop on you indefinitely. By changing your most important passwords every six months and your less-sensitive passwords every year, you can minimize the damage done in the worst-case scenario.

Optimize startup

One of the most frustrating experiences in computing is waiting for a slow-as-molasses startup to finish. You have to wait through the POST (power-on self-test) screen, then pass the Windows Startup screen, and then tolerate the most irritating part of all: when you can see your desktop but the computer is still unresponsive and too slow to use. Of course, it wasn’t always like this—when you first bought the PC, startup was a breeze. So what happened?

Software happened. You installed all sorts of applications, and they took liberties with Windows, setting it up so that any variety of programs and services now launch automatically when the operating system boots. These days, Windows is launching 30 programs every time it starts up, meaning that you have to wait an extra few minutes before you can check your email.

You need to take back control of your computer’s startup sequence.

Organize your inbox

When you’re trying to get things done, email can be your worst enemy. Sure, it’s invaluable for doing business and for keeping in touch, but it can also be a distraction and a massive time sink. You might not be able to get back all of the hours you spend on email, but you can at least reclaim the wasted time spent staring at your overflowing, messy inbox.

First, create multiple folders (‘Labels’ in Gmail) dedicated to specific topics in order to better organize your messages. An average user’s selection might include folders designated for work, bills and receipts, newsletters, and the like. Create a new folder in Outlook 2010 by selecting the Folder tab and clicking New Folder (in the New group). In Gmail, click More labels > Create new labels in the left pane.

Next, clean out the inbox. I know that the task seems daunting, but the purpose of the inbox is to serve as a temporary holding zone for new messages, not to be a permanent warehouse for every email you’ve ever received. Sort your messages into the folders you just created, ruthlessly deleting any items that aren’t worth retaining. Keep email that needs responses in your inbox, or better yet, create a ‘Needs response’ folder and sort the messages there.

Automate as much as possible.

Keeping your PC running smoothly and securely doesn’t have to be a headache. Many of the tasks that are described in this article have to be performed only once, or involve software that updates automatically. For the rest, Windows’ baked-in Task Scheduler can help you keep programs running on a regimented schedule.

Should you defrag your drives?

If you’ve been using PCs for more than a year or two, you have probably heard about how important it is to defragment your hard drive regularly. Defragmenting (“defragging,” more commonly) consolidates the data on your drive. Although modern hard drives don’t see much of a speed boost when they’re defragged—unlike the drives of yesteryear—it’s still a good idea to defrag your storage periodically to prevent heavy fragmentation from becoming an issue over time. If nothing else, the odds of recovering lost data after a disaster are increased if you defragged your drive recently.

EDIT: SSD Drives doesn’t need to be defragged.

information taken from PCWorld.com

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