How to Maintain and Extend the Life of Your Computer
When it comes to computers, replacing a poorly maintained system isn’t cheap. Computers are an investment, and like any investment it is important to protect. These easy-to-use tips will help extend the life of your PC.
BLOW OUT AND CLEAN YOUR COMPUTER REGULARLY
Your computer is made up of many moving parts, and these parts get hot during use. This causes the metal to expand and then contract when it cools down again. This promotes unavoidable wear and tear and will cause parts to fail after so many uses.
All hardware will fail eventually, but making sure your system is as cool as possible is an integral part of extending the life of your computer. Dust and debris can clog fans and ports which reduces air flow, forms a “blanket” on internal components that traps heat, and prevents hardware from maintaining a solid connection.
Desktops are generally very easy to clean. Most have a removable side or front panel that comes off with just a few screws. Once off, take a can of compressed air or a vacuum that blows air outwards and have at the inside. As long as you’re careful not to knock out any cords or damage internal components, there is no danger in doing this yourself.
Laptops can be more challenging. Most people will use a can of compressed air to blow into the vents and keyboard every now and then. This works to a point as it is near impossible to remove all traces of dust and debris by blowing into the air vents – whatever doesn’t make it out gets blown right back even deeper into the laptop. For this reason it is recommended for a thorough cleaning to take apart the laptop and clean the components in the open.
There are many tutorials on how to do this online which you can usually find by searching “how to disassemble [your computer model]”. Learning how to take apart and reassemble your laptop can come in very handy when cleaning or changing parts. If you're not comfortable doing this, it's always recommended to take your computer to a professional.
DON'T SMOKE OR EAT/DRINK AROUND YOUR COMPUTER
At Techvera, we see countless computers that are ruined or need an expensive repair because of spilled liquids or smoke residue. When liquid is spilled on a laptop keyboard, it can be devastating. In a laptop, all the important components sit right underneath that keyboard and unless your computer has a spill guard, any liquid will seep down into the hardware (usually the expensive motherboard) and short it out. Food debris easily gets stuck in a keyboard and causes keys to become unusable.
Smoke residue causes internal and external damage, turning your case a sickly shade of brownish-yellow and causing tar/residue (to which dust sticks like glue) to layer itself inside your case and components. And if you’ve ever had the pleasure of catching a whiff of a computer in this condition, you know that the awful smell is another unpleasant factor.
Costs to repair issues that stem from eating/drinking/smoking around a computer can range from replacing a motherboard (easily $300+) to having to replace the entire computer and migrate your data. Clearly, it’s not worth the risk.
DON'T SHUT DOWN YOUR COMPUTER TOO OFTEN
As stated in the first entry about cleaning your computer, components heat up during use and cool down when the system is shut down. The less this happens, the longer the computer life you can generally enjoy. However, it is also not recommended to leave your computer running 24/7 (servers excluded). General users should find a happy balance between the two; many decide to shut the computer down every other day or every two days to give it a chance to configure updates and settle down.
Along the same lines, you should always perform a shut down either directly from the start menu or by pressing the power button. Note that pressing the power button once (not holding it) sends most computers the same signal as from the start menu option to begin safely shutting down. Holding the power button until your computer turns off is a forced shut down. This should never be used unless the system is unresponsive and can’t be shut down normally.
DON'T LEAVE LAPTOPS PLUGGED IN ALL THE TIME
The ideal charge rate for laptop batteries as stated by Battery University is to charge to 80%, then let it drain to 40%. This can prolong the life of your battery by as much as four times. The reason is that each cell in a lithium-polymer battery is charged to a voltage level. The higher the charge percentage, the higher the voltage level. The more voltage a cell has to store, the more stress it’s put under. That stress leads to fewer discharge cycles. For example, Battery University states that a "battery charged to 100 percent will have only 300-500 discharge cycles, while a battery charged to 70 percent will get 1,200-2,000 discharge cycles.”
Constant heat also puts undue stress on batteries. Some laptops come with a battery saving feature that takes most of the work out of this process. However an easy way to preserve battery life without this feature is to remove the battery once it reaches maximum power. Have your laptop run solely off A/C and save the battery for when you aren’t near an outlet.
UPDATE SOFTWARE AND PERFORM REGULAR MAINTENANCE
If you are running Windows, make sure you install Windows Updates weekly. Windows Updates contain patches, security fixes, and software/driver updates that will keep your system running smoothly. Most computers come with Windows Updates set to install automatically. But it never hurts to check that the installation completed correctly. The same should be done with antivirus software. Most are set to update automatically but you should perform a check weekly or monthly to ensure. Database updates for antivirus software contain new virus/malware definitions to catch recently released bugs identified by the manufacturer.
Two other programs that should be run regularly are Disk Cleanup and Disk Defragmenter. Disk Cleanup removes selected unnecessary files taking up space on your hard drive. This can include Recycle Bin contents, temporary internet files, and memory dump files. Disk Defragmenter recognizes the files on your hard drive and helps them run more efficiently by consolidating “fragmented” files.
According to Microsoft's website, “fragmentation happens to a volume over time as you save, change, or delete files. The changes you save to a file are often stored in a different place than the original file. This doesn't change where the file appears in Windows—only where the bits of information that make up the file are stored on the actual volume. Over time, both the file and the volume itself become fragmented, and your computer slows down as it has to look in different places to open a single file”.
Disk Cleanup and Defragmenter are generally set to run on a schedule. But again it is always a good idea to ensure it's working and manually run each program as necessary. Newer versions of Windows will let you analyze a disk first to see its level of fragmentation. Every user has their own preference, but many run Disk Defragmenter if the level of fragmentation is above 10%. Run it too often, and you won’t notice much of a difference.
For Mac users, much of the maintenance process is automated and built into the operating system. Good maintenance practice is to ensure Software Update is current for the same reason as Windows Update. Another good exercise is to uninstall unnecessary apps every now and then. This can be done by dragging apps to the trash, but if you want to make sure all traces are removed from the machine an uninstaller program, such as AppCleaner, is recommended. Disk Utility should also be employed occasionally (every few months, or as needed) to check for and repair disk errors. Head to Disk Utility, click “Verify Disk” and if you see any errors when it finishes, click “Repair Disk”. These tips should keep your system running as smoothly and protected as possible.