Preventative vs. Reactionary Maintenance: How to Save Your Computer from Breakdown


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Often times, throughout the forum, in videos, and in documentation, we find ourselves discussing complex methods of solving seemingly irresolvable computer problems. Throughout these exchanges, much technical data and “geek-speak” is often used to solve an outlying technical problem that is specific to a computer user’s computer. But there are ways, in many instances, to prevent the constant blue screens and other maladies that plague a computer that has gone unmaintained.

The first way to look at the issue of modern computing is to recognize that fact that computers, much like any other device, or even a domesticated animal, do depend on maintenance. A computer is, in many cases, limited only to what the person in front of it is capable of. With that thought in mind, we can look at ways to prevent computing issues before they happen.

Among the changes that have come with the revolutionary operating system that is Windows 7, is the Action Center, whereas the operating system, in this case Windows 7, does try to notify the person sitting in front of it that there are problems that need to be addressed. These notices can consist of anti-virus warnings, firewall warnings, backup warnings, amongst other things. The notion of the Action Center is to make it easy for a person using a computer to realize that they must take action to secure their computing environment, and to prevent problems before they happen.

When we look at the area of information technology, we see that it has evolved significantly since Windows XP. But certain concepts will always remain the same. Among those concepts is the idea, that in order to avoid a system-wide catastrophe on a computer, proactive, or preventative maintenance can be performed, and maintained, to protect the system. Harkening back to an older blog entry, Fundamental Ways to Maintain Your System, protecting your computer from harm can seem costly, time consuming, and unnecessary. But the reality is that it is very necessary.

When we look at the advancements of Windows 7 and Windows Vista that exist under the hood, we can take certain things for granted. But these changes can prove to be invaluable, and combined with the right hardware, these changes promise to prolong the life and usability of your computer before having to restore from a backup. Unlike its predecessor, Windows XP, Windows 7 will automatically defragment the hard drive when it can, without complex scripts or Scheduled Tasks being programmed in. It will also, as stated before, try to warn you when there is a problem.

If we can acknowledge that the computer sitting in front of you is partly your responsibility to keep safe and secure, and if we can acknowledge that it is also an investment that you have purchased, whether for entertainment, business, or all of the above, then it becomes clear that you have a vested interest in keeping your computer safe.

But how can you accomplish this goal quickly, efficiently, and without difficulty? This is the essence of pro-active and preventative maintenance, as opposed to reactionary attempts to fix a computer that has already bit the bullet.
Among the ways to protect your computer have been outlined on this site very specifically:

  • Full Backups Required: Make liberal use of Windows Backup, and if at all possible, use a 3rd party commercial backup product like Paragon Backup & Recovery or Acronis True Image to secure 100% images of your system. Invest in removable, high-speed, digital media to connect into your computer to protect your data in the event your hard drive fails. Do not even consider the possibility of setting up full backups, consider it a 100% necessity.
  • Solid State Factor: Consider using a solid state hard drive to hold your important files, as opposed to a standard, moving hard drive. Standard SATA2 (and soon, SATA3) hard drives have advanced greatly over the years, but on laptops, they still lack the shock resistance needed for constant use and mobility. Most laptop hardware failures are the result of either broken LCDs (screens) or damaged hard drives. A solid state hard drive has no moving parts, and is similar to having a USB flash drive built into the computer. With a solid state hard drive, you are statistically unlikely to have a mechanical failure of the hard drive, and read/writes/bursts have now met or exceeded that of SATA2 drives, making your computing experience faster.
  • Anti-malware: Make use of the free anti-malware program Malwarebytes Anti-malware. This program, combined with a good, unpublicized anti-virus, such as ESET NOD32 or Kaspersky, are invaluable tools to protecting a system and preventing problems. A bi-weekly scan with an anti-malware tool like Malwarebytes is highly recommended. Furthermore, by using anti-virus software with high detection rates, and not high resources consumption, you have the ability to fully protect your computer. While the price may seem steep, you should consider the fallout were you to lose all of the data on your computer. This forms the basis of what could be considered a cost basis analysis. Does the price to secure your computer warrant the protection of the data on it?
  • Online Data Retention and Synchronization: Another option to look at is the advent of online data backup programs. Among the leader, we have found Dropbox to be one of the most easy and conventional to use. Dropbox stores a folder in your Documens. It is completely free. This contents of this folder is hosted and stored on the Amazon Elastic Cloud. Any files you place in this folder (up to 2GB) will be backed up on your account, ready to download again on any computer you see fit, and directly from the website. This program also allows for full file synchronization. Microsoft Corporation has caught onto this concept with attempts such as SkyDrive, as well as new online file backup features incorporated into Microsoft Office 2010. However, Dropbox is simple, easy, and efficient to the point that it can be used on any type of computer – Windows, Mac, or Linux. While Dropbox won’t let you backup everything, it is another layer of security that you can rely on just in case that disaster does strike.
When looking at the issue of preventative maintenance for computers or groups of computers, it becomes clear that some effort is necessary. Among these efforts we have covered:
  • Enhanced reliability in Microsoft Windows 7
  • Full backup programs
  • Anti-virus programs: ESET Smart Security or Kaspersky
  • Anti-malware: Malwarebytes Anti-malware
  • Online file backup: Dropbox
  • Microsoft Update: Daily, automatic install
One other issue we want to look at is the idea of self-diagnostics. There are several ways to perform self-diagnostic tests on a Windows 7 system. The most common ways are by opening the command prompt properly. To open the command prompt with Administrator privileges, go to Start -> Search -> cmd.exe

Before clicking on cmd.exe, right-click on the icon and choose “Run as Admnistrator”. From here you will see a black command console, similar to what was once called MS-DOS. From here you can run several system saving functions:

Full filesystem scan with repair and surface scan: chkdsk /r /f
(Requires reboot)

Windows File Integrity Check with Repair: sfc /scannow

These simple steps, when done carefully, on a reliable basis, can prevent the loss of a tremendous amount of data on home and small business systems. For larger enterprises, computer and IT maintenance is relied upon by an IT department, which is often, like the home user, stuck deciding how much money to spend on security, reliability, new systems, and new software.

Often times, the decision is not so clear cut for these organizations, but with the application and implementation of full backups, anti-virus, anti-malware, and regular system checks. If even one of these modes of operandi are taken in protecting the computer, computer users could be sure to avoid some nasty and quite expensive consequences of letting their system slide into obsolescence.

Registry Cleaning: One other option is the ability to use commercial and non-commercial registry cleaning software, as seen in the ability to use RegistryBooster from this site. RegistryBooster provides professional level cleaning and protection of the system registry: the direction upon which most program files and Windows system settings are embedded.
Free Alternatives: It is difficult to recommend that home and small business users use free alternatives, because in many cases this software can be far inferior to programs that have been quality tested and ready for prime time. However, these programs, like their commercial substitutes, are, for the most part, geared towards ease of use. For example, CCleaner is another, very popular registry cleaner, but one of the most useful features in CCleaner is the ability to remove software applications from starting up automatically through an advanced feature in the Tools area of the program. While CCleaner may lack the very essential and strong registry cleaning that programs like RegistryBooster provide, some of its additional freeware features could significantly speed up a system that lacks sufficient memory, or has many software applications loading in the system tray on boot-up. Many computer users go years with these programs loaded into resident memory 24 hours a day without realizing they are on. In the anti-virus realm, Microsoft has released Microsoft Security Essentials as freeware. Although it will often detect false positives, it is not bad software given the price (free). And again we see that some of the best tools for preventing malware and securing online data may already be free, in the form of Malwarebytes and Dropbox. Both of these products allow for the user to upgrade to a commercial version. While using nothing but freebie's may seem like a good idea to protect your system, it may just be a method of buying time before you will need to go all out and get serious about both computer reliability, security, and sustainability.

It is hoped that in reviewing this article, you will gleam some useful tips into keeping your computer in top condition. It could prevent hours and hours of complex attempts to repair your data, or perhaps worse, taking your computer to a store where they will charge you hundreds to reclaim lost information.

From what I have read Microsoft Security Essentials is not known to have many false positives. All-in-all, this was a very good article.

And from the hardware point of view make sure your box can "breathe" easily - clean filters, fans and airways periodically, replace bad/noisy fans. Good air throughput is very important for your hardware.

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