In addition to the standard school supplies -- pens, pencils, erasers and notebooks -- computers are a big consideration for many students, teachers, and parents. Particularly for students at the middle-school age or older, a computer can be a huge asset -- even a necessity.
While useful, and indeed necessary for many students, computers are still quite expensive, and can't be treated like a set-it-and-forget-it appliance. Rather, a computer is more like a tooth that requires regular cleaning and expert care to keep it healthy and happy. Here are a few things every student, parent, and teacher can do to protect their new Windows-based investment.
Defragment the hard drive(s) regularly. Disk fragmentation is one of the primary causes of performance degradation for a computer. Fragmentation occurs when the operating system cannot find a single area on the hard disk large enough to store a file in one piece, so it is broken into smaller pieces and stored in the nearest suitable places.
Disk fragmentation causes slower computer performance because the hard disk is a moving object, and to access data that has been fragmented to various locations, the disk must physically spin itself into the correct position to align the disk reader with each piece of a file; sort of like an old-fashioned label maker. For computers that are older or have less free hard drive space remaining, fragmentation can have an exponentially negative effect on performance.
Windows operating systems include a disk defragmenter. It is recommended that all other programs be closed during disk defragmentation. The process takes about one hour and should be done at least every two to three months.
A host of software applications that include disk defragmentation programs also are available, and those can be programmed to run automatically on a schedule specified by the user. Good ones come at a small price, and can be very useful, as they are able to perform several other important tasks simultaneously to maintain and optimize a computer.
Remove unused files and programs. Even though a new computer's intended purpose might be work and not play, digital media (music, movies, pictures, and so on) and program files -- not documents -- take up a majority of a hard drive's free space. Computers also come with programs that never get used, but still take up lots of space; and installing new programs will take up even more space.
No one really enjoys cleaning their room, but once all the clutter is gone, theres no arguing that its easier to find things and move around. The same goes for computers. In general, the less clutter there is on a computer, the faster it can access files and programs, as there is simply less stuff to sort through and fewer background tasks are wasting processing power and memory. Cleaning out unused files and programs on a regular basis will keep a computer running more smoothly, make it easier to find files you're looking for and even reduce disk fragmentation.
To remove unused programs, use the Add/Remove Programs tool in the Control Panel, accessed through the Start menu. Do not remove programs by locating them on the hard drive and deleting them. That will not fully remove the programs and can result in registry errors.
A disk cleaner program is the best way to remove unnecessary files, as it will identify and remove those files automatically, relieving you of manual searching and guesswork. Windows includes a Disk Cleanup tool.
Also available are third-party software programs with disk cleanup and defragmentation tools that automatically run as a single process -- some with just one click.
Use a Windows-certified utility to keep your registry in shape. The registry is the heart of your PC -- a central database of the Windows operating system. All settings and installed programs are filed here -- information relied on for just about every operation a computer performs. That means any registry discrepancies can impair the speed of the computer and cause programs to stop functioning correctly.
In basic terms, registry complications come from leftover or unnecessary junk from programs. Often, programs create extra -- unnecessary -- registry entries during installation, and uninstalling those programs doesn't clean the bits of code from the registry. Many programs even manipulate the registry so they automatically run when Windows starts up -- without ever asking users if they want to use the program. Additionally, many other programs also have dozens of hidden settings that sap speed from the computer, and can only be tweaked by directly accessing the registry.
So, you'll want to clean all that up. But how?
Unfortunately, manual registry optimization is a bit like dentistry; youll need to know a whole set of new terminology just to know what's what. And because incorrect editing of the registry can cause irreversible damage to the operating system, it's a job you should really only trust a professional to do properly.
Don't think, however, that you have to spend money on an expensive, in-house visit from some Techies R Us outfit. For reliable registry optimization, the best -- and least expensive -- option is to use an expert-developed, Windows-certified optimization utility to clean your registry of unnecessary junk and solve performance problems. Windows-certified products have passed rigorous testing program requirements for reliability, security, compatibility with Windows operating systems, and installation and removal. Certified products are marked with a logo describing which Windows operating system they are certified for. Registry optimization takes less time than disk defragmentation and should be performed every one to two weeks.
A couple of final things to consider: Other things that can have a big impact on a computer's performance include Internet connection settings, visual appearance settings and system settings. Nearly all those settings require new vocabulary, and in many cases, optimal manual adjustments can be as difficult and time-consuming as getting your degree in orthodonture.
To minimize effort, use maintenance and optimization utilities that have passed certification standards for your operating system. Most utilities suites can be set easily to automatically run optimization and maintenance tasks at regular intervals, which is really the key for keeping your whole system healthy. Good ones even can help explain which programs are safe to turn off or remove without negatively affecting performance.
The most important lesson is to treat computer maintenance like oral hygiene -- make it a regular routine, and you'll make your life easier.
Article by Tibor Schiemann
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