Friday, April 4, 2014

Maintaining Your Computer

More often than not, I find a lot of computers running slow despite being new or recently upgraded. Whether it be a Windows or Mac install, even came across a rather bogged down Ubuntu computer. The cause of such things tends to be a PEBCAK error (Problem exists between chair and keyboard; aka the user). The problems will get pushed so far that most just backup some data then do a fresh install, or upgrade some stuff, or even get a new system all together.

With any luck, I might be able to help you squeeze a little more time out of your system, possibly enough time to save up for a better upgrade when it really is time to do so. So let's take a look at some common problems that people cause to their own system.

One annoyance is "power users." People claiming to be power users like to overload their system with absolutely useless extras often displaying information that you don't need to know. For example, monitoring the CPU, memory, disk space, and temperature through graphic gauge widgets crammed on your desktop may look nice, but do you ever do anything with that information other than when trying to do things like benchmark or check to make sure your computer has what it needs? More often than not, that stuff is covered up or in the background being ignored by the user just wasting resources. I knew someone that claimed to use a CPU monitor constantly, but when asked why, there was no real answer. I use monitoring programs, but built in ones like task manager and system monitor, and that is only when trying to identify a problem or just to check on how everything is going. The main key is that these are periodic checks and there is little reason to get this information streamed in a GUI to you when most lighter weight tools would suffice and not add to the overhead.

Installing every tool, video player, addon, widget, etc. as possible is another problem I have seen. People install tools that half the time they don't even know what they are for or how to use them. Then they forget about all these little things and leave it there. Sometimes they do remember to uninstall, but never look for any left over files that can be left behind. I have gone through some long lists of programs that when I ask if the user needs or uses them, I get met with confusion as they don't even know what half the things do. Granted some programs like to install their own extras like toolbars which can cause this as well, however it's the stuff they obviously knew about that is the real annoyance. I'll also see multiple tools that do the same things, like video players. This occurs because they do things like download a codec the player they use can't read. So then they download a new video player, maybe a converter or two. Little do they know is that with a little research, they could add codec support to their player or get a single player that plays all the codecs they have.

People run too much shit at once. I try to avoid swearing in my blog, but I feel the need to swear to emphasize how stupid it is. I've seen browsers open with double digits of tabs. You can't look at all the tabs at once, learn to use bookmarks. Tabs are a convenience to switch quickly between pages and avoid reloading. If reloading the page doesn't matter, don't feel the need to keep it as a tab. Also, if you are not going to use a program for longer than it takes to close it down and start it back up, consider closing it. Don't waste resources on something you are not using unless it needs to stay open.

Getting upset and spamming key presses and mouse clicks. User input takes up resources. Adding more just increases the load, not to mention can launch actions not originally intended. Give it some time, sit there, shut up and let the computer get work done without the extra angst. All it does is add to the problem and upset yourself. I will often get up and do something else if whatever I'm doing is taking long enough. It's constructive and keeps me from getting a hammer and smashing the computer to bits, and believe me I've gone so far as to get a hammer out.

Restart the computer once in a while. Windows computers especially need to be restarted to clear out certain problems. Unix based computers like Linux and Mac don't always need to be restarted, but it shouldn't hurt anything to give it a chance to reload everything. I see people leave their computers, even laptops, on for days. Laptops especially were not designed to stay on forever. My server is on basically 24/7, but I still take time to update and restart it every so often.

People never seem to understand what cache is, so it builds up. Things can also hide in their on a Windows system. While temporary files are cleaned up by the OS, cache files are often at the discretion of the program using them. Most tools with caches have ways to limit the size allowed, however there are many tools built in to clean them out. On Windows, you can use a built in program called Disk Cleanup. I personally use CCleaner, which does a few other things I'll mention next. Mac and Linux can simply be manually cleaned, just google where to look as it is not guaranteed to be in the same place for any system.

A Windows specific problem is what is called the registry. The registry contains a lot of information that basically lets the OS know how things are configured. Restarting can help keep this tidy, as broken registry keys can cause problems. Sometimes this may not be enough. A tool like CCleaner has a registry cleaning tool to help fix up the registry. There is a chance it can break the system, but I personally have not had that happen.

So let's go through a basic list of how to keep your system maintained.
  • Don't overload your computer with pointless widgets you don't need (unless you really really want to, but keep it slimmed down)
  • Don't install tools you don't need or don't know what they do
  • Research what you need before you install every video player and converter just to watch your pirated shows
  • Don't run everything on your computer, only what you need when you actually need it, then close it down when you can and won't inconvenience yourself
  • Close the internet tabs, the internet is not going anywhere and I promise you it will still be there when you return (if it's really important, you can save it for offline reading *HINT *HINT)
  • Don't get upset and go clicking crazy on your computer when it is going slow, walk away and let it do its thing, computers may be fast but they don't work instantly
  • Relax
  • Restart once in a while and let the laptops rest and cool down
  • Caches take up space, clear it out once in a while
  • Try to use built-in tools instead of installing new stuff that does the same thing, the built in ones often work really well
For Windows, a program like CCleaner can also be helpful. It can clear the cache even with secure deletion options (we all know you're paranoid enough to want this). It can also fix some registry problems. It can even securely wipe blank disk space. I personally install it on every Windows computer and it more often than not will help get rid of some pesky small problems.

Now this is not a complete list of everything that can be done, but by remembering these pointers on a fresh install, you have the potential to keep your computer going strong for longer than most might think. My laptop is over six years old as of writing this and has outlived quite a few computers newer than it. The only problem it had was a faulty motherboard (got fixed and caused the network card to need replacement). Oh, and the webcam doesn't like to cooperate, but I believe that's due to the cable being in a hinge.

In conclusion, it is my findings that the reason computers often run slow or have problems is the result of something the user has done or is doing. Not always the case, but when fixing someone's computer, that is the general idea I start with when looking for the problem. These tips are just general thoughts on how to work on a computer and run with few resources, they are not guaranteeing anything. So if doing all of this still does not help, then maybe it's time to upgrade, especially if you're a gamer.

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