CeePrompt! Computer Connection 

Originally published Monday, Feb 23,1998

A little preventive maintenance goes a long way

When's the last time you checked the tires, changed the oil or tuned the engine on your computer? Not literally, of course, but routine maintenance is just as important to your PC as it is to your automobile. On a regular basis, you should back up your work, scan the hard disk for errors and insure that it's not fragmented. Windows 95 provides a few simple "tune-up" utilities to keep your PC in tip-top shape.

These utilities, called System Tools, can be accessed in Windows 95 by clicking the Start button, choosing Programs, Accessories, then System Tools. Additionally, you can click the right-mouse button on the C:\ drive icon, in the My Computer window, choose Properties, then select the Tools tab to locate these same commands.

Your very first step before each maintenance session is to back up your work using the Microsoft Backup utility. This is a "must do" in order to recover your precious files in the event of some unfortunate mishap. Stuff happens!

It's only necessary to back up your entire hard disk once. Later, you can backup only those files that have changed since the last full backup routine. This is called an "incremental" backup. From an Explorer-style window, you can choose specific files and folders to include in your backup data sets. These "sets" can be saved to expedite easy backups in the future.

The Wizard guides you step-by-step through the process of backing up selected files to either a tape drive or floppy diskette. Critical data files should be backed up daily and incremental backups should be performed every two weeks.

The ScanDisk utility identifies and repairs either physical or "logical" errors on your computer's hard disk. The hard disk is the primary storage location for all your programs and data files and is very delicate.

Logical errors include lost clusters or cross-linked files that Windows accidentally creates while physical errors are actually damaged sectors or partitions on the hard drive. Computers, like automobiles, periodically breakdown, and ScanDisk can often troubleshoot these problem areas in advance.

A "Standard" ScanDisk test should be run at least weekly. This process usually takes only a few minutes as ScanDisk peruses the hard disk and automatically fixes any errors it encounters.

Monthly, you should run the "Thorough" test that takes longer, but is more diligent as it scrutinizes the surface of your hard disk, hunting for errors. Intermediate and advanced users can achieve additional optimization by tweaking the "Advanced" options, such as freeing lost file fragments, as opposed to converting them to files.

The Microsoft Defrag utility optimizes the use of free space on your hard disk. When programs and data are saved to the hard disk, they take up residence at the most convenient, available spot. It may not be the most ideal location for your computer, but it's handy at the moment.

Defrag works like the game of Tetris, moving clusters of data around your hard disk to accommodate open, unused areas. When the hard disk is optimized, your files will open more quickly. While Defrag is usually a safe utility, be sure to back up your work before executing this operation, since it literally reorganizes hard disk.

Each of the aforementioned utilities, Microsoft Backup, ScanDisk and Defrag are all included with Windows 95. Realize, however, these applets aren't nearly as comprehensive as third party applications, such as Symantec's Norton Utilities. Serious users prefer the extensive options that Norton offers, but the bundled Win 95 tools are certainly adequate for the average person. The upcoming Windows 98 operating system will feature enhanced tune-up features that alone will justify the upgrade.

System tools are no substitute for good file management practices and disk housekeeping, which also promote PC fitness. Empty the Recycle Bin regularly and check your hard disk for extraneous programs and old files that can be uninstalled or removed. Take an occasional peek at the C:\WINDOWS\TEMP folder and delete all files with dates older than one week.

Sort the files by date, and view the file details to accomplish this task. Treat your computer system as you would the other major appliances in your home or workplace. Preventive maintenance and regular check-ups will insure a healthy, long-lasting personal computer.

Cathi Schuler owns a computer literacy training/consulting company, Cee Prompt! She is a co-author of computer textbooks and can be reached by e-mail at cschuler@uop.edu or cschuler@ceeprompt.com or by mail c/o The Record, P.O. Box 900, Stockton, CA 95201. She is on the Internet at: http://www.ceeprompt.com. Click here for past archived columns.
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