Radiogurl a la Carte

Saturday, Aug. 28, 2004
Basic Computer Maintenance

As before, if you click on the thumbnail, you can open a larger picture. This is my online public service announcement, so to speak. It's how to resuscitate your computer when you think it's on its last leg.


If you own and operate a computer and go online, you've probably heard of computer viruses, but you hope you don't get any. You use your computer all the time, you only go to trusted sites, so you should be safe, right? You might have downloaded a file or two, but they were just one or two little files... or three.. or ten...

The fact is, everyone who is online runs the risk of viruses and spyware. Hopefully you have an antivirus program on your computer, one that guards your computer in the background while you surf happily along. If not, get one. In my opinion, Norton is the best, but there are several good paid antivirus programs out there. But if you're broke like most of us in the world, there is also a free version or two. There's a pretty good program called AVG (you'll find it at http://free.grisoft.com/freeweb.php/doc/2/). It is not infallible, but it's vastly better than nothing at all. Think of it as your computer's bodyguard against the bad guys.

Just having an antivirus program running in the background is a good insurance program. However, in addition to letting it do its thing, you should also manually run a scan at least once a week. Always check for updates first, and tell the program to scan your whole computer. If you use AVG, about every other week you should also use one of the free online scans, too. They often catch things that AVG misses. My two favorites are Houscall Antivirus (http://housecall.antivirus.com/housecall/start_frame.asp) and Panda Scan (http://www.pandasoftware.com/activescan/). Occasionally there will be a virus you can't delete using the online programs, though they will identify the problem. Housecall offers step-by-step instructions on removing them, but you must follow them EXACTLY, especially if you're editing your computer's registry. A bad mistake there can kill your computer.

But not all bad things on the Internet are viruses. If your computer is moving v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y and the antivirus program comes up empty, it's probably spyware, also known as scumware and any other number of unsavory, choice terms. It's little tracking cookies and other subprograms that suck up your memory. You don't agree to download them, but they sneak in through back doors and open windows. (Pun intended.) But more than that, they are an invasion of your privacy. Depending on the specific program, they track where you go online and target you for spam; they can feed you endless pop-ups; they can even track your passwords and possibly financial information. Bottom line, you do NOT want spyware on your computer.

There are several paid programs out there that kill spyware but there are also two very good free ones. SpyBot is exceptional (http://www.safer-networking.org/en/download/index.html) but LavaSoft's AdAware is also very, very good (http://www.pcextreme.net/downloads.php). I use both, since they're free. Keep them updated and use them a minimum of once a week. SpyBot also has an 'immunize' feature that blocks nearly 2000 types of spyware automatically. Use it, it's worth it.

There is more to maintenance than antivirus and anti-spyware, though. After you run those programs, you should perform a scandisk/checkdisk. If you have Windows 2000 or Windows XP, pull up your start menu. (I have pictures from XP, but it's the same basic idea on Windows 2000. If you can't find it on your start menu on Win2000, just double-click on the My Computer icon on your desktop.) Click on My Computer to open it, then right-click on the icon that represents your hard disk and choose Properties.

That will open a new window with several tabs across the top. Select Tools. The first option at the top will be Error Checking. Bingo! Tick both boxes (Automatically fix file system errors and Scan for and attempt recovery of bad sectors) and press the Start button.

It will pop up with a new message that tells you basically, Tough noogies. I can't do it because the disk is busy right now. You want me to run the check at next reboot? Ignore the stupid design that offers to check something it can't do right now and tell it yes, that you want it to check at reboot. Then reboot and go have a burger (or if you're on Atkins, steak and salad.) It will go through a very prolongued check at reboot. Depending on your system and the size of your hard drive, checkdisk can take upwards of two hours. Let it. It's worth it.

Once it finally does boot up again, you have one more step to take.

Imagine you've got a deck of cards, all shuffled. If you are looking for one specific card, it's going to take you thumbing through for a while, isn't it? HA! Now take the whole deck and fling them into your back yard, let the dogs carry them around and gnaw on them a bit, and THEN go find that specific card.

That's what you're asking of your computer if you don't defrag regularly. Your computer won't like it and neither will you. Defrag. Go back to your start menu, only this time go into Programs... Accessories... System Tools... Disk Defragmenter. Let the system run. Chances are if you either haven't done this in a while or if you've never done it, where you see blue in this picture, it will be red on your computer. Those are all those files flung pell-mell in your yard and being chewed up by your dogs. Chances are they'll be a bunch of skinny red lines, a few fat red lines, and they're wreaking havoc with your computer's ability to function properly.

And just for your information, there are some really cute little programs that you're urged to download and enjoy. They're fun. They're great. And they can and will crash your computer.

My Hall of Shame of truly horrible programs to download:

  • Comet Cursor Just visiting their page, accidentally, one time, downloaded over 200 spyware programs that crashed my computer hard. Took me two days to get it cleaned out completely.

  • Bonzi Buddy This little monster is annoying as heck and an extreme waste of your resources. Bypass him. And if you have him, uninstall the program. You have to shut down Bonzi Buddy and all of its peripheral programs before uninstalling or it will keep coming back. My daughter worked for a computer tech shop and she said this program was one of their biggest complaints. She said there were times the only way to get rid of it entirely was to re-install Windows, and lose all saved work in the process. Not something I want to do, how about you?

  • Smiley Central This is right up there on par with Comet Cursor. You download this, you are downloading gobs of spyware that can crash your computer. Not worth it.

  • Kazaa (also goes for other file-sharing systems) Okay, there are some people who use this just to thumb their noses at studios that say they can't. But peer-to-peer file sharing is notorious for sharing viruses right along with those MP3's and so on. It also feeds you an alphabet soup of spyware, tracks you right and left, and feeds you pop-ups. Don't do it. Even if you don't care about the very real risk of being sued for copyright infringement, what good is it if your computer is dead in the water?

Those are only the top offenders in my book. There are plenty more out there. When in doubt, just say no until you have time to check it out. There are generally lots of people online who can steer you away from the things that can harm your computer. If you do download something and decide to get rid of it, be sure to turn off your system restore, or it will keep them in memory. (Right-click on the My Computer icon and choose Properties. It's a tab in the window that pops up. Click the check-box that says Turn off System Restore.) Many thanks to Cosmicrayola for reminding me of that!

If your computer is shutting down at random, your processor fan could be malfunctioning. If the fan has become noisy, it's probably bad and should be replaced, but sometimes it shuts down completely and makes no sound, or sometimes it's simply inadequate to cool your system. Whatever the cause, it is an inexpensive part but if it's not taken care of promptly, it can destroy your computer.

To check your computer's internal temperatures, you will need to go into your computer's BIOS. Sorry, can't get screen shots there, so you should print these instructions out if you plan to check out this area.

Reboot your machine. The instant you see it's on its way back up, and your screen is black, you should hit the DEL key (your computer may vary - some require the CTRL-DEL combination). That will take you into the BIOS. Trust me - you don't want to mess with settings in this area if you're a newbie. All you want to do is check it out. In the BIOS, you will need to find your PC Health Status. Use the up and down arrow keys to navigate the menu, enter to go into the area, and use the ESC key to escape. There are three crucial elements you should check, beginning with the CPU Fan Speed is it 0 RPM? If so, Houston, we have a problem. The fan isn't turning. If that's the case, shut down your computer IMMEDIATELY and get it to a reputable tech. If you try to run it like that you will destroy the processor in no time flat.

Next, check the CPU and System Temperatures. They generally show in both Fahrenheit and Celcius temperatures. If your CPU temperature is below 40C (104F), you're in excellent shape. If you're around 50C (122F) you're a bit warm but still operable. It might be wise to invest in a case fan in addition to your CPU fan. Again, check with your tech. If the temperature is upwards of 70C (158F) or higher, you could be on your way to a CPU meltdown. Take it to your tech and tell them what you found, including the temperature. More than likely you will only need a new processor fan and possibly a case fan, but you can't afford to put it off. If you do, you will find yourself without a computer in a little while.

Once you have that information, back out of the BIOS by using the ESC button repeatedly. Don't save any changes along the way, just back out. The computer will automatically reboot: once it goes through the process, just shut it down and get it to your tech.

Before - After

In the grander scheme of things, no soul can truly be replaced. Each one of us has a place in the universal tapestry. We each contribute our own color and texture. When one thread is snipped too soon, it distorts all the threads around it. Other lives can unravel and tear. If the wrong thread is ripped away, the whole fabric of life becomes dangerously fragile.
- LeiLani, aka Radiogurl aka Bright Opal (1957 - )