Take care of your computer

By Oliver Rist for MSN Tech & Gadgets


Get your operating system on CD and create recovery CDs/disks

Most Windows PCs are sold without giving you the Windows operating system on a disk—unless you request it, either from the manufacturer or Microsoft. Make the effort and get that disk, either by contacting Microsoft support after the sale or (considerably more convenient) making sure the seller gives it to you with the purchase.

Many PC-makers include a small "recovery disk" application that makes it even easier to reinstall a system. The difference between a Windows operating CD and a recovery CD is that the Windows CD simply reinstalls the operating system. That's it. A recovery CD is configured to reinstall not just Windows, but all the current hardware drivers in your system as well as specific custom applications. If your computer has a recovery disk application, use it. Typically the kick-off application to create the recovery CDs either comes up every now and then when you reboot the system or it's located off the Start Programs menu where it will be located under the heading of the manufacturer's name (HP, Dell, Gateway, etc.).

Do backups regularly

Just go through one bad crash and you'll find out just how necessary backups are. Besides, creating them only takes a few mouse clicks and even fewer minutes. You can simply copy-paste to external storage device, use Windows Briefcase, use Windows Vista's built-in backup/restore feature, or use an external software like Norton Ghost.

Run your disk defragmenter

Like everything else, hard disks get sloppier the more they're used. Data becomes spread out over wider areas on the disk and accessing it gets slower and slower. You can buy third-party disk optimizers that work faster, but Windows includes its own that gets the job done. Just head over to Start  All Programs Accessories System Tools and click Disk Defragmenter. When the program pops up, highlight the "C:" drive and hit Defragment. Then walk away because this will take a while. But the down time will be worth it in improved disk performance and reliability. Do this once every two months.

Keep your computer clean

Computer cases have air vents, so dusty areas tend to fill your computer with that dust over time. That means it's a good idea to keep your work area as clean as possible.

Then open your PC once every three months and clean out the accumulated detritus. Buy a can of compressed air at any computer or electronics store and gently blow the dust away with a few strategic gusts. Most home cases today have a couple of thumbscrews on the back that require no tools. Unscrew them and you can simply slide the case open, do your compressed air thing and slide it closed again. Keep the can at least 20 centimeter away from any circuitry. While you're at it, clean your keyboard and monitor with a few puffs. Stick with compressed air, as liquid is just as bad for your keyboard and display as for your motherboard.

For displays, you might try some of those eyeglass lens wipes you get at the optician; the kind that are pre-moisturized with glass cleaner. Don't do this too often, however, just once or twice a year. The rest of the time a few good compressed air puffs will do you nicely.