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Ten top tips for getting the most from your computer

Keeping your PC healthy and up to speed

Although a detailed in-depth health check is beyond the scope of a top tip sheet, there are a few things that you can do to prevent your computer slowing down to a crawl - or, worse, crashing and becoming unusable. It pays to learn good practice!

Top Tip 1: Install anti virus software and keep it up to date

A computer virus is a program that could have a devastating effect on your computer and there are thousands of virus threats which exist today. They can be spread by swapping files by floppy disc or over computer networks, but by far the most common method of transmitting a virus is by e-mail. Many spread themselves by targeting the address books of the more common e-mail systems. Install one of the well known anti-virus software packages. To keep your system virus free you will need to update regularly as new threats come out every day. Updates can usually be downloaded via the Internet and your software should contain instructions on how to do this.

Top Tip 2: Don't load unnecessary software

Adding a lot of software onto your PC slows it down and takes up valuable space on your hard disc. Regularly remove any software you don't really want. Better still don't load unnecessary software in the first place - even if you remove it afterwards some software packages leave files behind which can have a detrimental effect on your system performance.

Top Tip 3: Delete unnecessary files

This sounds obvious, but it is surprising how a little housekeeping can keep your computer up to speed. When your hard drive becomes full your computer will slow down. Delete any unnecessary files, particularly graphics files which can be very large.

Top Tip 4: Run the inbuilt health check on your hard disc

Many versions of Windows have a program called 'scandisk' which provides checks for a number of problems on your hard disc and fixes them. Get into the habit of running it regularly (say once a month) to check for problems. You can access it from the Start menu in Windows: Start > Run > scandisk

Top Tip 5: Tidy up your hard drive

Windows isn't a particularly tidy system when it comes to storing files on your hard drive. Files are often split and stored in fragments in many different locations. Thankfully many versions of Windows have a program called 'defrag' which tidies up your hard disc for you and assembles these fragments together. You can access it from the Start menu in Windows as follows: Start > Run > defrag

Top Tip 6: Look after the system's most vital component

You! Comfort and awareness of the correct sitting and viewing position is important. After all you are the most vital component of the system! Gel-filled mouse and keyboard wrist rests can help avoid discomfort and repetitive strain injury. Above all, don't spend too long at the computer - take regular breaks.

Top Tip 7: Use a safer browser

Download and install firefox, opera or chrome, which are often faster and safer then Internet Explorer.

Top Tip 8: Save money on printing

The costs of running laser or inkjet printers can get quite expensive, especially in the case of inkjet printers where the cost-per-page for even black cartridge printing is relatively high. Configure your printer to print in draft mode which uses a lot less ink. You may find that the results are acceptable in many cases. Once you are happy with this method, alter the default (standard) settings for your printer to print out in draft mode – your printer manual will be able to tell you how to do this.

Prepare for the worst

Many people don't really believe that disaster will strike them, but somehow technology has the knack of failing when you least expect it or in the middle of something urgent!

Top Tip 9: Back up all your files

Many will have invested in a system with a DVD writer which is an ideal way of storing large numbers of files. Other storage devices are on the market which are fairly cheap are large external hard drives. You also need to prepare for your software crashing (or stopping) - nothing is more frustrating than loosing an hour's work because you haven't saved the file. For those who use Microsoft Office or OpenOffice, make sure that the auto recovery feature is enabled to save, say, every five minutes. This means that as you have a document open, it will save itself every five minutes.

Top Tip 10: Store all your system discs together and somewhere safe

If the worst happens and your system needs to have all the software loaded onto it again, you will need access to ALL the discs that came with it. This will include: - The original Windows disc (if applicable) - All the driver discs. A driver disc is a program that allows part of your computer (e.g. monitor, mouse or printer) to work with the system - The software applications you use (word processor etc) Keep all the discs together and somewhere safe where you can easily access them if there is a problem.

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