By: Office of Information Technology
Computers at home and in the work place move very slowly because of the amount of clutter stored on the device. Feb. 9 is National Clean out Your Computer Day and a nice reminder to clean up and delete old and unused files.
Speed and Security
In order to ensure that your computer is running at optimal levels and utilizing the full capacity of its processor and memory, there are a few relatively simple measures that every user can take.
- Anti-Virus & Malware Protections – Virus and malware attacks are on the rise. As these threats spread across the Internet (web sites, files being distributed, and emails) it is important to take steps to protect your computer and the information it stores. The first and best tip on this front is to be mindful of the web sites you visit, any/all files you download and the emails you receive. Simply making sure that the web sites you visit, files you allow to download, and email messages you open are reputable and delivering the expected content/files will go a long way in maintaining your computer. Because there are people that have malicious intentions, it is a good idea to:
- Have anti-virus and malware protection software installed on your computer.
- Maintain the virus and malware definition subscriptions as new threats emerge every day.
- Set your anti-virus and malware software to perform real time and scheduled scans.
- Operating System (OS) Updates – No software is completely error proof. It is written by humans, and no one is perfect. As operating system imperfections are identified the manufacturer’s development teams work to fix them and release patches. In order to ensure that your computer is as free as possible from bugs and security vulnerabilities, you should always enable automatic patches and updates, and install/reboot immediately when prompted. You may think it is inconvenient to stop what you are doing to allow this process to complete, but when considering the downtime you could face if your computer is compromised there is little comparison.
- Defrags and Disk Utilities – Every OS manufacturer builds in tools that are designed to help users optimize their computer performance. These tools are generally called “utilities” and you should follow the recommendations of your particular OS manufacturer for which of these utilities should be run at particular frequencies to stop unused background processes and organize disk storage.
Think of your computer as your garage. Many people will frequently open the door to the garage and set whatever they may be holding wherever is most convenient at the time. It never seems like a big deal when we are doing it, but over time things pile up next to and on top of one another. Before long, the garage is a mess and you can’t find the volleyball net to set up for the weekend barbecue. Your computer is the same way and it is important to make decisions about how and where you are going to put “things” on it.
- File Storage – We all have a ton of files in our lives. We have pictures, recipes, work documents, music, videos; the list is endless. If we want to be able to find things when we need them there are two things to consider:
- File Naming Conventions – Some people use the year, file contents, file subjects, or a number of other factors as drivers for their naming conventions. It doesn’t really matter what convention you use, but it is a good idea to have one. Having and using a naming convention standard for all of your files will allow you to quickly find what you are looking for and can serve as in indicator of when you no longer need something and it is safe to delete it.
- Have a Filing System – Just as it isn’t a sound strategy to pile all of your important paper documents on your desk, it isn’t a good idea to just save all of your computer files to one directory/folder. There are many options for how to organize your files, but you may want to consider high level categories like work, family photos, music, videos, personal files, etc. From there you can create sub folders/directories that enable you to know right where to look later when you are trying to find something specific.
The other thing to consider is where those folders should be. The traditional way of storing files has been to use the desktop or “my documents” folders to create our storage systems. As computer storage capacities continue to increase, this enables us to store a lot of files without fear of running out of space, but you should always ask yourself, “what if my computer is stolen, lost, damaged by fire or water?” The emergence of cloud storage has provided some great potential for expanding storage options that allow your files to exist both on your local hard drive, but to also synchronize to the cloud. Many cloud providers have free options available that will allow you to map the storage space so it looks and works just like your “my documents” folder.
- Email Storage – Just as it is a good idea to have a system for folder storage, it can be helpful to create folders/tags/flags (depending on your email platform) to organize your emails.
- Backups – The day-to-day “to dos” of life tend to dominate our thoughts and activities. There never seems to be enough time to do everything we need to do, and consequently important things with less urgency tend to get compromised for things that may be of less importance but appear more urgent. File backups are one of these things. The urgency of today can easily back-burner our thoughts of how devastated we would be if we lost the photos on our computers or a work presentation we have been working on for months. The good news is that there are a number of ways that we can back these files up just in case. There are many options available that once setup will back-up your entire computer or individual files to the Cloud or to a secondary drive within your home network.
No computer will last forever, but there are some simple things that everyone can do to help maximize the lifespan of any workstation.
- Keyboard & Mouse cleaning – You probably use your keyboard and mouse often enough that you won’t see dust piling up on it, but consider for a moment where your hands have been. Have you ever sneezed while working? Do your kids touch your keyboard and/or mouse? For these reasons and more it is a great idea to power your computer down and wipe your keyboard and mouse down with a disinfectant wipe periodically.
- Monitor cleaning – It is a good idea to make sure that there are no finger prints, dust, or other contaminants on your computer monitor. Since monitors can be made of many different materials it is important to consult the care documentation that came with your particular monitor. Always be mindful of dust buildup near vent holes and be sure to use caution so you don’t scratch the monitor display.
- Computer Fan Vents – While you are dusting off your monitor it’s a good idea to wipe any dust off of your computer as well, paying particular attention to the fan vent holes that allow heat to escape from the processor fan. Dust buildup can impact air flow and cause the processor to overheat and diminish the lifecycle of the computer.
As we take this time to consider how to keep our computers clean to maximize their viable lifespan, it’s a perfect time to consider what to do with our old computers when we decide they are running too slow or we just need a newer, faster, better model.
Before you dispose of your old computers through donation or dumpster, you need to consider what was on the computer. It may surprise you to know that deleting a file doesn’t actually remove it in the sense that it cannot be recovered. With some very inexpensive and relatively easy to obtain equipment, deleted files can often be recovered from a viable drive. For this reason it is important to consider what files may have ever been on the computer when preparing it to be disposed of. Once you consider what was on the drive(s) you can make informed decisions about how to dispose of the computer. Perhaps a single restore will suffice. Maybe you will want to restore the drive multiple times. Maybe you need to remove the hard drive entirely and physically destroy it or expose it to a high powered magnet. Maybe you need the peace of mind that comes with sending the drive to a third party service provider that will wipe the drive completely and certify that no data would be retrievable.
Don’t forget to consider how these tips apply to the newest computers in our lives; mobile devices like iPhones, iPads and Androids that we carry around today have more computing power and personal information than many of our first personal computers.