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Hints and Tips


Hints & Tips

Here are some quick hints and tips that we've discovered to help make your computer operations work more smoothly.

Power fluctuations
All computer equipment is sensitive to power fluctuations. Power anomalies such as brown outs caused by A/C or refrigerator compressors or peak power loads during the summer months, and power spikes caused by lightning strikes, shorten the life of integrated circuits and will over time manifest themselves as intermittent problems or outright failures. The best way to minimize the effects of power problems is to use a good quality surge protector. This is one product where you get what you pay for. Avoid the cheap low end products. Better yet, get a line conditioning Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS). Some UPS units have "smart" software that gracefully shutdown your computer before the battery power gets too low. Also, protect the telephone line connected to your modem. Good power protection is the first step to extending the life of your computer equipment.

Excess heat
Excess heat is a computer killer! Besides the physical environment you keep your computer equipment in, dust inside your equipment is the single worst contributor to excess heat. Dust particles coat the chips in your computer and act like the insulation in your house, trapping the heat inside the chip. You can minimize the heat problem by doing four things; 1) control the environment temperature, 2) control the dust in the room, 3) clean the inside of the equipment periodically and, 4) make sure the equipment ventilating fans are functioning properly and that they are not obstructed. If at all possible, keep the equipment in an air-conditioned environment. Change the filters on your heating/ventilating/air conditioning equipment regularly. And periodically, have a trained professional clean the inside of the computer equipment and check the ventilation fans.

Anti-virus software
A lot of new computers are being delivered with anti-virus software pre-installed. You should note that it is your responsibility to make sure that the virus signatures are kept up to date. New viruses are being developed every day. Make sure that you don't fall into a false sense of security by having signature files over a couple of months old and getting attacked by a virus that was developed only last week. Know what brand and version of anti-virus software you have and check the Web for the latest signatures. Also, you may have to update your anti-virus "engine" periodically to keep up with the latest signatures. See our Links page for the URLs of two of the more popular anti-virus software publisher sites.

Tape drive heads
Clean those tape drive heads! How much is a tape drive? For a PC, you can get them for around $200-$500. For servers, you are looking at $1000 or more. How much is a cleaning cartridge? Most are in the $10-$30 for PCs and $30-$80 range for servers. You do the math! Dust and dirt on the tape drive head can render the equipment useless, unless you clean them periodically. Most manufacturers will specify how often to clean the heads (in hours of use). Follow the guidelines, or at the very least do it once a week as part of your routine of changing tapes. Do not throw away an expensive piece of equipment for the lack of an inexpensive cleaning tape. Remember if your tape drive goes bad, you have a lot of data on tapes you may not be able to read anymore. Also monitor the "life" of the cleaning tape and replace them as instructed.

Cannot open application
One of the most common help calls we receive is when a user cannot open a software application installed on the server, a data file stored on the server, or print to a network printer. There can be a multitude of reasons for this but the most common is that the user did not successfully login to the network. We are all human and it happens to even the most seasoned professional. They forget to enter a password, type the password incorrectly, or a background application causes the computer to ignore one or more password keystrokes. Before you reach for the phone, recognize the symptoms and make sure you are truly logged in. On Windows 9.x systems, go to Start-Log Off (username). You will be logged out of Windows and be presented with the Login dialog box. Proceed to login again. When the hourglass disappears, try your application again (or opening your file or printing). If this does not solve your problem, contact your network administrator or call us.

Performance problems
Occasionally, we get calls from users who are unhappy with the performance of their computer. Over time it seems to get slower and slower. Sometimes, the system even "crashes" or will not shutdown properly. One of the more common reasons for this is that the user has been installing software and, after a while, removing it. Unfortunately, removing software from a Windows 9.x system is not as easy as everyone would like and it is definitely not as simple as erasing the directory that it was installed to. Even using the software's own "uninstall" process or the Windows Control Panel "Add/Remove Software" utility does not always completely remove a piece of software. There are a few steps you can take to avoid this issue. First, avoid installing software on business computers that is not useful to your business, such as personal software or games. If you are trying to evaluate a piece of software, install it in a test environment. This is a non-critical system that you can "trash" and rebuild quickly if necessary. If you have no choice but to install new software in a production environment, be sure to make a backup prior to the installation and select any "back-out" options the software offers (such as making backups of files that are overwritten, "uninstall shields," etc...). And if you must remove it, use the software uninstall feature first and, if not available, use the Windows uninstall as a last resort. You should also be aware that Microsoft recommends reinstalling the Windows 9.x operating system and applications from scratch about every six months to a year. You can avoid this time consuming and disruptive action by limiting the software installations to only what you truly need.

Multiple applications
Related to the performance issues raised in the install/uninstall tip, another source of "sluggish" performance is the, "since I can open all of my applications, I will" approach to computing. The ability to have multiple applications open at one time is a useful feature of Windows 9.x. However, users should understand the implications. Each open application requires a certain amount of Random Access Memory (RAM) to store the program and data while it is in a "paused" state. The more applications that are open, the more memory is required to "keep it open." When too many applications are open for the available RAM, performance degrades and can even cause a "crash." To avoid this, open only the applications you need for a specific task and then close them when you are done. If you must have a large number of applications open at one time to perform your task, consider adding more RAM to your system. Minimal Windows 9.x systems are configured with 32MB of RAM, most have 64MB these days.

Network "problems"
The question, "I use XYZ software at home, why can't I use it at work?" comes up on a regular basis. Aside from the licensing issues, you have to ask what are the implications. If you are the owner of the business, well it is your business. However, if you are an employee, you must realize that what you install at your computer can affect others on the network. Installing a computer on a network requires extra software and drivers to be loaded that are not installed on a stand-alone home computer. This extra software requires resources and generates some overhead. If you are sharing files and printers with others on the network and your system starts to behave badly, then others cannot do their jobs effectively. You could even bring down the entire network and then no one can access the network. In order for a business network to be effective, it must provide the appropriate business tools and it must be stable. The introduction of any new software has the potential to disrupt a business. Before you install, call. Ask a network professional if there are any obvious implications.

Miscellaneous tips
More from the resource hogs department: a) We do not recommend installing "After Dark" on any networked computer. It consumes too many resources and is very difficult to uninstall. b) Avoid using wallpaper on the desktop. It uses too much memory. c) If you must use a "theme," choose a simple one from the Windows CD disk. Avoid downloading themes from the Internet.


Aurora Computers • 6280 Bake Oven Road • Germansville, PA 18053 • 610.767.4900