Working as an IT professional, I have found that the common lament of most PC users is trying to figure out why their computer is so slow. There are several possible reasons for this phenomenon, everything from your computer being out of date after five years to cool new websites sometimes require cool new hardware to run. That being said, there are three basic things every computer user can do to make sure their computer is running as well as it can. These include running an updated anti-virus program, maintaining regular back ups, and paying attention to computer messages.
Have and Run an Updated Anti-Virus Program
The simplest thing anyone can do is make sure they have an anti-virus program running. I do not care what you use your computer for; if you have an internet connection on the PC, you need an anti-virus program. This can be anything from the free Windows Defender to something more complex like NOD32 or Kaspersky. I am not saying one is better than the other, many just offer more or less features than others. Find something you are comfortable using and stick with it.
The two most important things are that you keep it up to date and run regular scans. An out of date anti-virus program is as effective as no anti-virus software at all. Of equal importance is making sure you use the program to scan your computer. I suggest running a scan at least once per week, and most anti-virus programs these days will allow you to schedule a time to do this. I cannot stress enough how important it is that you do not try to use the computer while it is scanning. You can use it, and it will be safe, but it will be so very slow it will frustrate you. I have spoken to people who complained how slow their computers were only to find out that their computers were scanning for viruses all day long slowing things down. Leaving your computer on one day a week so the scan can run while you are away will not seriously impact your power bill.
Create Regular Backups
The next thing you can do to maintain your computer is create regular backups. System problems happen, it is as unavoidable as having your car break down. If your solution is to reformat your PC or to buy a new one, either way you will want your data back. The hope would be that your old computer is not dead, just not so great, so you still have access to it. There will still come a time when you will not be able to recover your data, so why not prepare ahead of time? Creating regular backups is the easiest way to be prepared.
There are several options for backing up your data. Small USB memory sticks are cheap now. You could simply copy your data onto one of these and call it good. Chances are your cool MP3 player has the ability to work like an external drive, why not use it to back things up. Try automated remote backup software like Cougar iVault. This will automatically back up your data to a safe remote storage server that you can access wherever you need it as long as you have an internet connection. Take all those family photos you are attached to and never look at and save them to a CD or DVD, then hand them out to friends and family. The digital age is here and digital backup solutions are cheap and easy to use, so make use of them.
Pay Attention to Messages
The last and most important thing that you can do to make sure your computer runs well is to read the messages that come up on your screen. I know this sounds simple, but how many times have you installed a new screensaver that someone sent you to melt your eyeballs with its coolness and you completely ignored all of the install screens other than to click OK or Next to get it done? The truth is that these kinds of “free” software support themselves by advertising. “How do they get advertising on my computer?” you ask. They install a dashboard along with their software that keeps you up to date with all the latest and greatest ads. Some of the more common culprits are the Yahoo search bar, the Google search bar, and the Ask.com search bar. You thought these things just appeared on your PC? Nope, they are there because you installed them.
Next time you install something, try reading all those screens that flash by while you click. Most of them will give you a prompt at some point that says it will also install something else, like a search bar, and to uncheck the box if this is not okay. Unclick this box. Please. If you insist on installing this kind of “free” software, which I do not suggest as some can be very unreputable and open other doors they don’t tell you about, do not install the “crapware” along with the software.
Along these same lines, read any messages that pop-up on your screen while on the internet. If you travel to BobsHappyFUNTime.com and suddenly see a message pop-up, read it before clicking OK. In fact, don’t even click any of the buttons that show, they are all bad and full of lies, click the red X in the top corner instead and force it to close. If it won’t close or just reopens, then it is really bad and you should try to kill the task or just shut off your computer. If that window pops-up and says something wants to install, do not install it. It will be bad, oh yes, it will be bad. I admit, there are some exceptions to this, such as Java or Adobe Flash requirements for some content, but let’s face it, you are just trying to play some cheesy online game that you don’t really need to be playing. Just close the window and get back to work or read a book instead.
If you turn on your computer and get some message saying your PC is infected and to click here to download a program you can pay for to clean it off, this is a lie. Your computer is infected, but clicking on the link will just make things worse. The window you see is the infection. If it is a window for any program other than the anti-virus software I told you to download earlier and become familiar with, it is a lie and will ruin your day if you click on it. Instead, just run your trusted anti-virus program and hope it will clean things up for you. If it does not, contact your local family IT person or get some professional help. You are still at the point where things can be saved, don’t click the link or things will get worse and may not be recoverable.
So remember, get some anti-virus software, backup your important files, and read the messages that show up on your screen. Following these things will make your computer better for longer and make sure your bad day of PC breakdown will not be any worse than it has to be.