Computer Preventative Maintenance: A Little Can Go a Long Way

    November 4, 2004

When it comes to computers and networks, a little preventive maintenance can go a long way. There are enough computing pitfalls and potential attacks these days to humble even a veteran computer user. With some practical measures, you can greatly increase the protection of your valuable data and computer assets.

Virus Protection

Don’t start up your computer without virus protection. There are literally thousands of viruses, worms, and Trojan horses making their way through computers everywhere, and it is no longer a matter of if, but when, one will make its way onto your computer. Symantec’s Norton Antivirus and McAfee are the leading antivirus products. For networks, there are corporate editions of these products which provide an effective way to keep all computers on a network up to date.

Remember, having an antivirus program installed is not enough. You must update it continually to retain its effectiveness. Most antivirus vendors provide updates weekly, sometimes more often depending on the need. You need to have Internet access to receive these updates. And if you have an Internet connection, the need for antivirus software is even greater!

Broadband Internet Connection

DSL lines, cable modems, and T1 circuits fall into the broadband category of Internet connections. Dialup connections do not. If you have broadband, you should be using some kind of firewall hardware or software to protect your computer(s) from hacker attacks. There are some very affordable solutions on the market to provide protection. Having a computer without security protection is like leaving your door or window open when you’re away. It is an invitation for unscrupulous hackers to come in and take things!

Microsoft’s Retiring Products

Did you know that Microsoft is planning to retire several products that you may be using? Windows 95 and 98 will soon no longer be supported by Microsoft. What this means is that they will no longer be offering security or bug fix patches, or “service packs” for these products. Nor will they offer any phone support. This also goes for Windows NT server operating systems.

It is important to be able to get security patches for the products you depend on, to keep you safe from hackers and attacks. For this reason, it is a good idea to start thinking about upgrading your version of Windows, if you run any of the products above.

Microsoft Window’s Tools

Microsoft’s Windows products have a number of built-in tools to help you keep your computer running at peak efficiency. Like almost anything, a computer can and will become sluggish and slow without taking measures to keep it running well.

Among the most important of these procedures are disk backup, disk integrity checks, disk defragmentation, and the removal of temporary files. All of these issues can be addressed fairly easily with tools you already have on your system, or can easily install.

  • Disk Backup

    Disk backup is extremely important if you cannot afford to lose the data you have stored on your computer. If your critical data is on a file server that is backed up regularly, you’re all set! Otherwise, you should routinely copy important data to backup media (floppy disk, Zip disk, and tapes are a few of these) to protect against a hard drive crash, or other computer mishap.

    Most people find that floppy disks just don’t have enough capacity to be effective as backup media any longer. Zip drives (and similar devices) are very popular and affordable, and you can fit quite a lot of data on them these days.

  • Disk Integrity

    Disk integrity checks are accomplished by running a process called SCANDISK or CHKDSK (depending on your version of Windows) on your hard drives. This process scans the disk and identifies any errors or problems and will correct them for you. It’s a good idea to make SCANDISK part of a weekly maintenance program. To run Scandisk, click Start, Programs, Accessories, System Tools, Scandisk. Or, in later versions of Windows, open My Computer, right click on the hard drive, click Properties, select the Tools tab, and click Check Now.

  • Disk Defragmentation

    Disk defragmentation is a process that consolidates all the little pieces of files on your disk into contiguous (all in one block together) sections. This makes disk accesses more efficient and can have a dramatic impact on the speed of your system. To run disk defragmenter, click Start, Programs, Accessories, System Tools, Disk Defragmenter.

    This process can run a long time (several hours in some cases) if you have not run it before or if it’s been a long time since the last defragmentation. It is good to run this weekly, or at least monthly, on all your hard drives.

  • Temporary Files

    Temporary files can take up large amounts of disk space and can slow down your system as well. There are typically 3 places where temporary files are stored. The Recycle Bin, which is where files you have deleted reside until you empty the bin. The TEMP or WINDOWS\TEMP folders, where programs put temporary files, or in Temporary Internet Files folders, which are files that web browsers keep on the disk.

    If you are running Windows 98 or later, there is a system tool called Disk Cleanup that will scan all of these areas and offer to clean them up for you. Earlier versions of Windows or Windows NT, need to have these areas cleaned up manually. To run disk cleanup, click Start, Programs, Accessories, System Tools, Disk Cleanup.

  • Many of these processes can be scheduled to run automatically if you leave your computer on at night, using the Task Scheduler or Maintenance Wizard in Windows. Otherwise, you need to set aside some time regularly to keep your system in top shape.

    Dave Borowiec is a Senior Network Engineer with ICS Advantage, LLC. Dave is a Microsoft Certified System Engineer and has experience in Microsoft Small Business Server, Microsoft Exchange Messaging platform and related products, such as Fax Servers and Unified Messaging products. Dave is ICSs residing preventative maintenance expert.