How to keep your computer running longer

Everyone wants their computer to last forever. But the reality is the average life span of a computer is 3-5 years. Allot of times you can get a computer to run for over a decade with common sense and regular maintenance. Here's how to keep your computer running longer.

How to keep your computer running longer

Keep your computer clean

As the saying goes "A clean computer is a happy computer!" and it's true. A system that is dust-free will run cooler and has a less chance of creating a short circuit (dust is a conductor of electricity). Visually inspecting your computer every month or so and cleaning as needed can extend its life. If a fan fails to cool, the extra heat could damage the hardware.

A while back, I wrote an article on how to clean the dust out of your computer that covered basic dust removal from desktops. The same holds true for laptops too. But there are just a couple of areas on a laptop that you have to pay attention to, the air vents. Since the cooling vents are normally on the bottom, they can and will draw in lint, fuzz, pet hair and other debris. If they get clogged up, your laptop could over heat and damage the system.

How to clean a laptop CPU fan
How to clean a laptop CPU fan

In the article 'How to clean the dust out of your computer', I talk about using non-metallic rods (plastic, wood) to hold the various fans in-place while cleaning then with compressed air. Since the vents on laptops are smaller than desktops, you will need to use a thinner rod to hold the CPU fan in-place. I normally use a tooth pick, but if the holes in the vents are really small, I have to use an un-folded paper clip. Remember to blow compressed air in both the inlet and outlet vents.

Stay away from static electricity

The placement of your computer will also have an effect its life span. I always recommend placing a desktop computer at least 18" off of the floor to prevent issues with static electricity. I personally have had problems with static electricity in my house. The dry climate in Arizona and wool carpet does create allot of static electricity. To resolve the static electricity issue, I have a spray bottle full of tap water. Whenever I feel the static building up on the carpet, I just spray a light mist of water on the high-traffic areas of the carpet and the static just dissipates.

Liquids and computers don't mix

The last item on my list seems like a no-brainer, but it really does bears repeating, liquids and computers don't mix. Your cup of coffee or soda should never be placed on the same surface as your computer. If you need to have your computer on top of your desk, then at least elevate it above the desktop. With a laptop you can use a stand or riser; with a desktop you can use a stand, a couple of 2x4's cut to size or even an 8x16x4 CMU block. That way, even if you do spill some liquid, it won't be able to get into the case of your computer.

Inside the Windows 10 Technical Preview

Coming on the heels of the Windows 8.1 Update, Microsoft recently released the Windows 10 Technical Preview. With this new version of Windows, Microsoft is combining elements from Windows 7 and Windows 8 / 8.1 to better enhance the keyboard / mouse user experience. Let's take a look at what's new in the Windows 10 Technical Preview.

The Start menu returns in the Windows 10 Technical Preview
The Start menu returns in the Windows 10 Technical Preview

With this version of Windows, we are seeing a shift in the focus from touch-based devices to keyboard / mouse systems. The biggest change by far is the return of the Start menu. And it is kind of a hybrid now, with elements from Windows 7 (Start menu (left-side)) and Windows 8 / 8.1 (Start screen Tiles (right-side)). But if you like using the Start screen, it's still there too. It's just a check box and restart away.

You can switch in between the Start menu and the Start screen in the Windows 10 Technical Preview
You can switch in between the Start menu and the Start screen in the Windows 10 Technical Preview

But let's be honest, the Start screen concept might work on a tablet or phone, but it fails miserably on a laptop or desktop computer without a touch screen. I have even been told by customers that they have returned brand new Windows 8 systems because they could not stand the Start screen.

Using multiple instances of the Desktop with Task view inside the Windows 10 Technical Preview
Using multiple instances of the Desktop with Task view inside the Windows 10 Technical Preview

Along with the return of the Start menu, Microsoft has also built-in the ability to run multiple instances of the Desktop called Task view. With Task view, you can have different sets of programs running in separate desktops. This feature is kind of cool if you're using a single display.

The Windows RT / Metro apps from Windows 8 / 8.1 have also under gone some changes. Thier name has been changed to Universal apps and they now run in completely re-sizable windows. You still need to use the Store to install universal apps and can still sync them across multiple devices using a Microsoft account.

There is also small change here and there too. One change is with the way you copy and paste with the Command Prompt. You can now use the Windows keyboard short-cuts (Ctrl + C for copy, Ctrl + V for paste) for these tasks.

The Windows 10 Technical Preview is available for anyone who wants to give it a try. Remember; do not install the Windows 10 Technical Preview on a production system. Use only a system that can be reformatted after the preview expires (4/15/15). For this article, I used an Oracle VirtualBox virtual machine.

For more information on the Windows 10 Technical Preview, check out the links below.

Windows Technical Preview
Windows Technical Preview FAQ's

The correct ways to shut down your Windows based computer

Doing computer repair, I see allot of different issues. But there is one problem I am seeing over and over again, start up corruption. This most commonly occurs when the computer is not turned off properly. And it appears that laptops are more prone to this issue than desktops are. So here's how to properly shutdown your Windows based computer.

Which power button do you use to shut down your computer?

Logic dictates that if you use a button to turn on a device you should also use it to turn it off (button on / button off). You use a button to turn on and off your TV, audio / video components and smartphone. But this is not necessarily the case when it comes to your computer. It is always recommended that you allow the operating system close down all applications and turn the computer off itself.

Using the Start menu / Start screen to shut down Windows

This may seem like a no-brainer, but you would be amazed how many people don't use this method. It's mainly laptop users who just instinctively reach for the power button. But if you don't watch how long you hold the power button down, you could perform a hardware shutdown. It's just simpler and recommended to use the shut down button on the Start menu / Start screen.

Windows Vista

Shut down button location in Windows Vista
Start button > Power button > Shut down

Windows 7

Shut down button location in Windows 7
Start button > Shut down

Windows 8

Sign out button location in Windows 8
1. Start screen > Sign out
Shut down button location in Windows 8
2. Sign in screen > Power button > Shut down

Windows 8.1

Shut down button location in Windows 8.1
Start screen > Power button > Shut down

Or

Power users shut down button location in Windows 8.1
Power users menu (Windows logo key + X) > Shutdown or sign out > Shut down

Using the power button on the computer to shut down Windows

This method is acceptable for turning off your computer, as it performs the same shutdown command as the shut down button on the Start menu / Start screen. But you have to check and make sure that the power options inside the operating system are configured to shut down the system when the power button is pressed.

Power button options inside of Windows 8.1
Power button options inside of Windows 8.1

The power button can be configured to put the system into sleep or hibernate. And if your system loses power while it's asleep, you will get an error when you restart it. This happens quite often with laptops when they are not using the ac adapter the battery runs out.

Using the power button on the computer to force it to shut down

So how do you turn off computer when it freezes up and you don't have a reset button? This is where the Advanced Configuration and Power Interface (ACPI) specification comes into play. This spec has been built into every computer for well over a decade now. It mandates that when the power button is held down for 10 seconds or more the system performs a hard shutdown, turning off power to all components. This will most likely cause an error upon restart.

Managing Virtual Memory / Pagefile in Windows 8

Your computer has two types of memory, Random Access Memory (RAM) and Virtual Memory. All programs use RAM, but when there isn't enough RAM for the program you're trying to run, Windows temporarily moves information that would normally be stored in RAM to a file on your hard disk called a Paging File. The amount of information temporarily stored in a paging file is also referred to as virtual memory. Using virtual memory, in other words, moving information to and from the paging file, frees up enough RAM for programs to run correctly.

The more RAM your computer has, the faster your programs will generally run. If a lack of RAM is slowing your computer, you might be tempted to increase virtual memory to compensate. However, your computer can read data from RAM much more quickly than from a hard disk, so adding RAM is a better solution.

If you receive error messages that warn of low virtual memory, you need to either add more RAM or increase the size of your paging file so that you can run the program on your computer. Windows usually manages this automatically, but you can manually change the size of virtual memory if the default size isn't large enough for your needs.

There is a formula for calculating the correct pagefile size. Minimum pagefile size is one and a half (1.5) x the amount of memory. Maximum pagefile size is three (3) x the minimum pagefile size. Let's say you have 2 Gb (2,048 Mb) of memory. The minimum pagefile size would be 1.5 x 2,048 = 3,072 Mb and the maximum pagefile size would be 3 x 3,072 = 9,216 Mb.

How to change the pagefile size in Windows 8

  1. Open the System Properties, press the Windows logo key Windows logo key + Pause or use the Power User menu (Windows logo key Windows logo key + X) and select System.
    Managing Windows 8 virtual memory 1
  2. If you are going to use the formula above to configure your pagefile, make note of the amount of installed memory under the System category.
    Managing Windows 8 virtual memory 2
  3. In the left pane, click Advanced system settings. If you're prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.
  4. On the Advanced tab under Performance, click Settings.
    Managing Windows 8 virtual memory 3
  5. Click the Advanced tab and then under Virtual memory, click Change.
    Managing Windows 8 virtual memory 4
  6. Clear the Automatically manage paging file size for all drives check box.
    Managing Windows 8 virtual memory 5
  7. Under Drive [Volume Label], click the drive that contains the paging file you want to change.
  8. Click Custom size, type a new size in megabytes in the Initial size (MB) and Maximum size (MB) box, click Set, and then click OK.

Note: Increases in size usually don't require a restart for the changes to take effect, but if you decrease the size, you'll need to restart your computer. It is recommended that you don't disable or delete the paging file.

Modifying the default locations of user files and library properties in Windows 8

Did you know that Windows 8 has some great ways of managing your user files? From adding additional folder locations in the Libraries to completely moving your user documents to another location. You can do all of these and more. Here's how to modify the default locations of user files and library properties in Windows 8.

Moving your personal folders has become more common place when you have two (2) or more disk drives in a computer. By moving the user files to another drive, you're freeing up space on the drive with the operating system. This can be extremely beneficial if your operating system is installed on a Solid State Drive (SSD). When you move a folder to a new location, you change where the folder, as well as the files in the folder, are stored. However, you'll still be able to access the folder the same way you did before you moved it.

Also, instead of moving a folder, you might want to consider including another folder in one of your libraries. For example, if you have a large number of pictures, you can store those pictures in a location other than your primary hard drive and then include that location in your Pictures library. For more information, see below.

How to change the location of user files in Windows 8

There are six (6) user folders in Windows 8 which you can change their locations. They are Desktop, Documents, Downloads, Music, Pictures and Videos. You will need to create folders with the same name in the new location prior to moving any of these folders.


How to change the location of user files in Windows 8

How to move a user folder to a new location

  1. From the desktop, left-click on the File Explorer icon on the Taskbar or press the Windows logo key Windows logo key + E.
  2. Navigate to This PC and expand it. If you don't see the Navigation pane go to the View tab, pull down the Navigation pane toolbar and place a check mark next to Navigation pane.
  3. Right-click the folder that you want to move, and then click Properties.
  4. Click the Location tab, and then click Move.
  5. Browse to the location where you want to move this folder. You can select another location on this computer, another drive attached to this computer, or another computer on the network. To find a network location, type two backslashes (\\) into the address bar followed by the name of the location where you want to redirect the folder (for example, \\mylaptop), and then press Enter.
  6. Click the folder where you want to store the files, click Select Folder, and then click OK.
  7. In the dialog that appears, click Yes to move all the files to the new location.

To restore a folder to its original location

  1. From the desktop, left-click on the File Explorer icon on the Taskbar or press the Windows logo key Windows logo key + E.
  2. Navigate to This PC and expand it. If you don't see the Navigation pane go to the View tab, pull down the Navigation pane toolbar and place a check mark next to Navigation pane.
  3. Right-click the folder that you previously redirected and want to restore to its original location, and then click Properties.
  4. Click the Location tab, click Restore Default, and then click OK.
  5. Click Yes to recreate the original folder, and then click Yes again to move all the files back to the original folder.

Note:
If you don't see the Location tab in a folder's Properties dialog, then the folder can't be moved. If you see the Location tab but can't edit the folder path, then you don't have permission to move the folder.

How to modify library properties in Windows 8

We are all familiar with files and folders, but when Windows 7 came out; we got another way to manage them, Libraries. Libraries are where you go to manage your documents, music, pictures, and other files. You can browse your files the same way you would in a folder or you can view your files arranged by properties like date, type, and author.

In some ways, a library is similar to a folder. For example, when you open a library, you'll see one or more files. However, unlike a folder, a library gathers files that are stored in several locations. This is a subtle, but important, difference. Libraries don't actually store your items. They monitor folders that contain your items, and let you access and arrange the items in different ways. For instance, if you have music files in folders on your hard disk and on an external drive you can access all of your music files at once using the Music library.

Windows 8 has four default libraries: Documents, Music, Pictures, and Videos. You can also create new libraries. If you don't see the Libraries in File Explorer, go to the View tab, pull down the Navigation pane toolbar and place a check mark next to Show Libraries.


How to enable the Library view in Windows 8 File Explorer

Here are some ways you can modify an existing library:

  • Include or remove a folder. Libraries gather content from included folders, or library locations. You can include up to 50 folders in one library.
  • Change the default save location. The default save location determines where an item is stored when it's copied, moved, or saved to the library.
  • Change the type of file a library is optimized for. Each library can be optimized for a certain file type (such as music or pictures). Optimizing a library for a certain file type changes the available options for arranging your files.

How to add a folder to a library

  1. From the desktop, left-click on the File Explorer icon on the Taskbar or press the Windows logo key Windows logo key + E.
  2. Open the library you'd like to change.
  3. On the ribbon on top select Manage library.
  4. In the Library Locations dialog box, click on Add, navigate to the folder you want to add to the library and click on Include folder.
  5. Click OK.

How to change a library's default save location

A library's default save location determines where an item will be stored when it's copied, moved, or saved to the library.

  1. From the desktop, left-click on the File Explorer icon on the Taskbar or press the Windows logo key Windows logo key + E.
  2. Right-click on the library you'd like to change and click Properties.
  3. Select the library location that you want as default and click on Set save location.
  4. Click OK.

To change the type of files a library is optimized for

Each library can be optimized for a certain file type (such as music or pictures). Optimizing a library for a certain file type changes the options that are available for arranging the files in that library.

  1. From the desktop, left-click on the File Explorer icon on the Taskbar or press the Windows logo key Windows logo key + E.
  2. Right-click on the library you'd like to change, and then click Properties.
  3. In the Optimize this library for list, select a file type, and then click OK.
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