Getting a new computer is exciting, nearly as exciting as getting a new car. Your computer is an investment in entertainment and productivity. Just like your other cool new things, you want to protect your new computer and get the most out of it. Whether you are using Windows, MacOS, Linux, or some other operating system, these tips will help you take care of your new computer.
Your New Computer’s Electrical Supply
Let’s start with an obvious point – your computer needs electricity to run. The electricity needs to be clean and consistent. Minor variations in electrical current are relatively normal and most electronics tolerate them fairly well. Persistent variations and extreme variations in the electricity can damage your new computer. This is why you need to use a high-quality surge suppressor or uninterruptible power supply (UPS).
A common mistake that new computer owners make is to go into their local hardware store or mass merchandiser and purchase a typical power strip. These usually cost between five and fifteen dollars, depending on the number of outlets and brand. Power strips do not protect your computer; although most have circuit breakers built into them, they do not feature surge protection or power filtering capabilities.
When selecting a surge suppressor, consider the device with the highest Joules rating and check for included insurance. Reputable companies like APC and Trip-lite include insurance policies for your computer equipment if damaged by an electrical surge while using their device. A proper Surge Suppressor should cost $25 to $50, depending on the features and protection rating.
Make sure that your new surge suppressor has an adequate number of outlets for your computer’s power requirements. Don’t forget about the transformer packs which usually require wider space at the outlet.
Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS)
Surge suppressors help protect your computer in the event of a power surge or spike. What they don’t do is protect your computer from power failures, whether a full blackout or a low voltage brownout. These can damage your computer also; or at least cause you to lose valuable data if you hadn’t saved just before the power failure. UPS devices will supply electricity in the event of a power failure or brownout, allowing you to save your data and gracefully shutdown your computer.
UPS devices offer a wide range of backup electricity time; naturally the more electrical time provided by a UPS, the more expensive it will be. When you select a UPS, consider the power consumption of your computer. Although extremely rare these days, tube-based monitors use substantially more electricity than an LCD or LED panel. Gaming computers use more electricity than those intended for general use and productivity.
Typically, you wouldn’t want to plug your laser printer into the UPS. Laser printers draw too much electricity, wasting battery time and may damage some UPS devices – just use a surge suppressor for these. If you expect to need to print during a power failure, consider an inkjet printer which uses less electricity.
Many UPS units have outlets that are protected by battery and they’ll have surge protection only outlets. Be careful to plan you power needs around the outlet configuration.
Turn Off Your New Computer
When you turn on your computer, go ahead and leave it on if you expect to keep using it, or return to it in a couple hours after your initial session. Although your new computer is packed with power saving features, you should shutdown your computer (or at least put in standby/sleep mode) if you are going to be away from it for several hours. This extends the life of your components and it saves energy.
If you are connecting your computer to any kind of network, especially the internet, you need to use security software to protect your computer and data from malicious software like viruses and spyware. Malicious software is designed to automatically spread from computer to computer for the purpose of stealing information or causing damage to the computer.
Norton Anti-virus and McAfee Anti-virus along with their respective full suite products are the de facto standard in security software – beware, they have also become the most bloated and slow security software on the market. What do I use? MalwareBytes Premium and Windows Defender (Included with modern Windows versions). Both products work together to protect my computer from attacks and malicious websites, while remaining light-weight and efficient.
For more information, check out my articles on system security and malicious software.
Windows, Apple, and many other operating system providers frequently update their software to fix known issues, add enhancements, and to correct security vulnerabilities. It is important to at least install security updates to ensure your system is secure. Bad actors with ill intent are always looking for computers, that haven’t been updated, to comprise and use for their malicious purposes.
Your system logon password, and especially the passwords for your web-site and application logons, should be complex. You should use a different password for each site you use. Complex passwords and not reusing passwords helps to protect your data, personal information and money from being accessed by someone that guesses or steals your password.
Don’t use a password protected spreadsheet to track your passwords – those can be easily hacked. Instead use a secure password management tool. I prefer Keeper Security.1 Keeper features a plug-in for many browsers, and apps for Android, IOS, and Windows platforms. That means your passwords are available no matter what device you use. Keeper Security monitors for password breaches and advises you if your passwords are at risk.
The first rule in computing – Save!
When working with your data, always work from your hard drive. You can protect your data by backing it up, or copying it, to another drive. An excellent choice is to periodically burn the data to a CD or DVD – then you have a permanent archive – or you can copy the data to an external hard drive. You may have noticed I didn’t mention flash (thumb) drives. Thumb drives have a high failure rate when used repeatedly, especially when not properly removed from your computer.
Keep Your New Computer Clean
To extend the life and usability of your new computer, you need to keep it clean – physically and logically.
Remove Unnecessary Software
Many software products add extra components to your system startup, so when you are not using the software it may still be using system memory and processor. Automatic update and quick launch components are examples. Just one or two will not impact your machine, but several could slow down system startup and impact overall performance. Disable these components which you don’t need to use the program, and uninstall the programs you no longer use.
Lots of new computers come with program installed by the manufacturer. Typically these programs are trial software. If your are going to use these programs, then leave them on, but otherwise uninstall them to regain system resources.
Clean the Cooling System
Computers generate a lot of heat during normal use. They rely on fans, heat sinks, and other components to help them keep cool. Over time, your computer’s cooling systems collect dust. If you have pets, or someone smokes nearby, there are more particles in the air to collect on the cooling system components; blocking air flow and preventing heat transfer.
Periodically unplug your computer and open it for a careful cleaning. Use a vacuum cleaner with small hose nozzle to clear out the dust and other foreign matter. Pay special attention to the fans and heat sinks. If you accidentally unplug a cable, be sure to put it back in its place. For your laptop, vacuum the air intake vents and gently blast some compressed air into the air output vents. This will help clear out dust that has accumulate. Be sure not to use too much pressure; the fan fins are thin and can break. (I know this latter point from personal experience.)