It goes without saying we all need to have current Microsoft Windows updates and virus protection running on our systems. But what else do we need to do to keep our computers running at optimal performance levels, while maintaing security and protecting our valuable data? Below are several things you should be doing that could ultimately save your computing butt.
Create A Disk Image
What is a disk image and why do you need one? A disk image is a sector by sector copy of your current hard drive that you can quickly and easily restore. Unlike tricky recovery disks that always seem to fail, disk images are pretty reliable. Ideally, you would create a disk image from a freshly setup computer–one with all of the Microsoft Updates, all applications installed, all tweaks made. You would then create this pristine copy on an external hard drive using a free program like DriveImage XML.
Embrace Cloud Computing
You hear about cloud computing all of the time, but like real clouds the topic can be as ethereal as those floating in the skies above us. The “cloud” is represented as such on network diagrams. You have an internal LAN network, for example, that leads out from your computer, through your router and exits from your modem–into a cloud-shaped icon we also refer to as the Internet. Cloud servers reside on the Internet and are provided by companies such as Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and Google. These servers allow you to sync data from one device to another, or simply store data offsite.
So how does this help you?
You can use programs like Google Drive, Microsoft Skydrive and Dropbox to backup important data in case your home computer ever fails. The best part is, these services are completely free. Read our choice for the best cloud computing solution.
Create A Power Scheme
Most newer computers are already setup with some type of power scheme. A power scheme allows you to automatically power down devices when not using them for a certain period of time. For instance, you can have your hard drive power down after twenty minutes of non-use and you monitor shut down after ten minutes. The benefit? The less your hard drive works, the longer it is likely to last. Same goes with your monitor. In addition to saving money, you’ll prolong the life of your computer’s most valuable components. Here’s an article on how to create a custom power scheme for your laptop or desktop computer. Play with the setting to see what works best for your computing needs.
Protect Your WiFi
It’s hard to find a router that does not come out of the box with some type of encryption automatically running. But drive down any street in your neighborhood with a smartphone with WiFi enabled and you’ll likely find a dozen unprotected networks in your area. Does this mean these people are going to be hacked? Most likely not. It could, however, mean neighbors are probably either intentionally or unintentionally connecting to and using their Internet connection. Never mind the impact this is having on your download speeds as neighbors stream Netflix over your connection. Imagine the consequences if these neighbors are also pirating movies and music and the IP address tracked by prosecutors leads directly to your house, not theirs.
To change your wireless encryption setting you will need to login to your router. In most cases you will do this by typing in either http://192.168.1.1 or http://192.168.0.1 into your web browser’s address bar. Type in your router’s admin username and password and then proceed to the wireless section. You might see options for WEP, WPA and WPA-2. Select the latter. Enter a passphrase, save it and your router will restart. Going forward, whenever you want to connect to your local router, you will need to enter that passphrase when prompted.
If you are unsure how to access your router and have a router supplied by your ISP, it’s best to contact them for assistance.
Perform General Computer Maintenance
A monthly Disk Cleanup and Disk Defragmenter are essential for keeping your bits in order. While performing general maintenance is important, performing a defrag too frequently will cause unnecessary stress on the hard drive that could result in failure. You’ll want to adjust that monthly schedule based on how you use your computer. Are you constantly creating and deleting large files? Are you constantly installing and uninstalling programs? Or do you mostly surf the web and check email? If you do the latter, you can decrease the disk cleanup and defrag to a quarterly schedule.
Here is an article on computer preventative maintenance that might help.
Use A VPN When On The Go
Virtual Private Networks are not just for major companies. Users that find themselves sitting in coffee shops or hotels a lot should consider a VPN service to shield their personal data from prying eyes. So what is a VPN, exactly? Think of a VPN as a secure tunnel between your home computer and your laptop while you’re on the road. While sitting at that coffee shop, you login to your home computer and work directly from that connection, not the “free” connection provided by the coffee shop. Because this is a secure connection, “hackers” sitting around you will not be able to capture username, passwords and other important data a packet-sniffing tool could easily see.
If this sounds like something you need, a VPN service such as Hamachi.
Create Standard User Accounts
It is recommended to create a standard user account in Windows, rather than continuously run as an administrator. When working as administrator, programs have virtually unrestricted rights to your system. Under a standard account, programs–such as viruses–do not have free reign to change security settings and alter system files.
To run as standard user, do the following:
- Create a NEW admin account. Give it a username and password you will remember.
- Log out of your current account, and then log into the new admin account.
- Go into the User Account settings and change your old Administrator account to a Standard user.
- Log out of your admin account and then log into the Standard account. Your desktop, favorites and other files will still be there because this is the same user profile you had always been using. The only difference now is you no longer have admin rights.
Whenever you need to install a program or make a change to the system, simply log into the admin account you were originally using. When done with your admin tasks, log out and switch back to your standard account.
Document Your Computer Information
While it may not seem important, you should keep detailed records of your computer’s serial numbers, date of purchase and any important license keys for software you have purchased since buying your PC. If you ever need to have your system serviced, you can easily check your warranty information based on your records, or if your laptop is ever stolen, you will have the information you need at your fingertips. But software license keys are also importnat. If you just paid $600 for Photoshop, you will want to keep track of your license keys.
We have provided a method for documenting your computer serial numbers here.
As you can see, there are a lot of things to consider when owing a computer. Some of these may seem like a lot of trouble, but once you set up that maintenance schedule, that power scheme and that WPA2 WiFi password, you will not have to worry about it again. Take a few moments to assess your current needs and apply these tactics if you feel they will benefit you and your family. If you have any question, please join our forums and ask our talented members. Or feel free to provide your very own tips to save your computing butt in the comments section below.