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What Can I Do To Protect My Computer?
There several things to worry about when you have a computer, not the least of which is powering it safely. Now I’m sure all of you have a surge protector on all of your computer equipment. You know, one of those little power strips with a little circuit breaker that pops out if you get a spike of power. You’re protected, right? Not really. A surge protector does just that. It protects against a power surge; something over 120V or so. But what happens when the power drops down to 40V, then bumps up to 90V and goes back down to 60V and then finally getting back to the 120V we all know and love? You probably need a new computer.
So, what you need to get is something called a UPS/Battery Backup. UPS stands for Uninterruptable Power Source. This is a device about the size of a breadbox that contains a little lead-acid battery (basically a little motorcycle battery.). This device will stop surges, but will also filter the power from the wall socket so you always get 110V regardless of what is happening to the power company or the transformer that feeds your home or office. There will be several places to plug devices into. A lot of units have 3 plugs that say Surge Suppression, and three others that say Surge Suppression/Battery Backup. Plug your computer and monitor (or laptop) into the sockets that say Surge Suppression/Battery Backup. Use the Surge Suppression sockets for other things.
One word of warning! Do NOT, I repeat NOT, plug a laser printer into the UPS unit anywhere. When the laser engine powers up, it will immediately use up all of the power that the UPS unit is trying to provide to you, and it will pop a little circuit breaker. Everything will crash. I learned this the hard way.
Now these UPS units will even keep your computer running if you have a total loss of power. You will have about 5 to 10 minutes to close out all programs and shut Windows down. How long you have depends on how powerful the UPS unit is. You also have to make sure that the battery is already plugged in on the inside of the UPS unit. Some manufacturers ship the UPS unit all ready to go; others require you to connect a lead or two to the battery. It’s usually a simple process; there will be one or two screws on the bottom or back of the unit. Unscrew them and you’ll see what you have to do.
These devices are relatively inexpensive; around $40 – $60 for a descent UPS unit for your home or office. You can get them at any big box electronic, computer or office supply store as well as many local computer shops.
Most UPS units will actually shut your computer down if there is a prolonged power loss. There will be a CD and a cable with the UPS unit; follow the directions to plug the cable between the computer and the UPS unit and doing the installation of the software. If you suffer a total power loss in your home or office, the UPS unit will send a signal to shut down the computer a couple of minutes before the battery is totally drained.
This brings me to the biggest question about computers, “Should we leave them on all the time or turn them off?”. Let me ask you a question in response, “When does a light bulb blow out?”. Most of the time it is when you turn it on. Putting electricity into cold metal is when you have the greatest chance of failure. Now the UPS unit will protect you from surges, but sometimes electronic and electrical components just blow out.
What works best for a computer is to leave it on all the time, but make sure you have the UPS unit on it, and the software and cable installed to shut it down in case of a power loss. When you are going to be away for the computer for more than just a few minute, shut the monitor off. Monitors can handle power cycling better than a computer can. As for laptops, I keep mine on all the time for the same reason. The only problem is you can’t really shut the monitor off.
Now, there are a few different ways to deal with your monitor or screen without having to shut it off.
- Screen Savers
- Hibernation Mode
- Standby Mode
Screen Savers are little programs that run when you are not using the computer. They display colors, shapes, words, even pictures, in a slide show. You set the screen saver program to come on after so many minutes of idle time on the computer. Some of them are quite cute. These programs were developed in the early days of computing when there were no LCD Flat Panel monitors. The old CRT monitors were just like old televisions. There was an electron gun guided by a big magnet that would paint the image on a phosphorous coating on the inside of the screen. After a few months or years you would get something called “Burn In”. You would see an image of what was on your screen even when the monitor was turned off; the phosphorous coating will have been etched with the information. Screen savers would prevent this by displaying an image that would move around the screen. This would prevent burn in. These days, with LCD monitors all over the place, screen savers have become more of a personal statement, like vanity license plates.
Hibernation Mode is a Windows feature that will take a snapshot of what is running in memory, and store it on the hard drive. The computer then becomes dormant. You can restart the computer just by pressing the power button.
Stand By is a different sort of critter. It just freezes what is in memory and blanks out the screen. Everything is there and the computer is running, but nothing is active. You can restart the computer just by pressing the power button.
Here is how to set the computer up to use either Stand By or Hibernation modes
- Click on Start, click on Control Panel.
- Double-click Power Options, and then click the Advanced tab.
- In the When I press the power button on my computer box, click Standby or Hibernate.
One word of caution: Stand By and Hibernate can cause problems. Lots of computers lock up when trying to recover from these modes. I do not recommend them.
Another really big killer of computers is heat. Lots of people have these nice computer desks with this wonderful little closet in them to put the computer in. That way you don’t see any nasty wires or a big, clunky box. When you close the door, all you see is a nice wooden door. Therein lays the problem. Computers give off a fair amount of heat; it could be as much as a couple of 100W light bulbs. If that heat has no place to go, the computer heats up and can start having problems. There are fans in the computer, usually at least two. One is a general purpose cooling fan that draws air into the computer, and the other fan is usually sitting on the processor to directly cool it. They try their best to remove heat from the inside of the computer, but you can help them. Have the computer sitting in an open area of your desk. Mine is sitting on my desk. If you insist on keeping the computer in that nice little cabinet, please put a small fan inside of it to help circulate the air. That will help remove the hot air that the computer is generating, and allow the internal fans to work better. Many people have their computers sitting on the floor under their desk. That helps with heat dissipation.
Something else to consider: “What else are the computer fans pulling into your computer?”. How about dust, smoke, pet hair & dander and anything else that is suspended in the air? In my work, I have seen many computers just loaded with dust and other junk. I don’t mean a little dust covering the inside; I’ve had to pull this stuff out in big chucks. I mean double handfuls of stuff like dryer lint. This causes heat to build up and also can damage the computer fans by getting into the spindle of the fans and drying out the bearings. One indicator of this is if your computer has a whine or a drone when it is running.
There was one computer in particular I will always remember. This person brought me in a computer to fix. It had stopped working. When I opened it up, there was a coating of a black waxy substance on everything, including the processor and memory. When asked about this, the person replied he was a smoker, and kept a scented candle in the room to cover the smell of smoke. Guess where he had the big candle? Right on top of the computer, in the back. The fans had pulled all the waxy smoke into the inside of the computer. End result? He needed a new computer. See? Smoking really is hazardous!
In order to alleviate the problem of dust build up, you need to vacuum your computer at least every two weeks. No, you don’t have to open it up to vacuum it out. Just turn the computer off and vacuum the back where the fan and the air vents are. Some computers have air vents in the front, also. Clean them out the same way. If you have a floppy drive, hold open the little door and vacuum that also.
Laptops have the same issues. On the bottom of the laptop there will be fans vents. There also might be some vents in the back or on the sides. Make sure the laptop is shut down and vacuum all of them.
One other thing to be careful of with laptops; many people love the convenience of having their laptop on their kitchen table, couch or bed to name a few places. Remember that the fans for the laptop are normally on the bottom. When you place your laptop on a fabric surface, the fans do not get enough air. They are pulling against the fabric and not enough heat is being removed. Not to mention dust or lint on the fabric gets sucked right into the laptop. If you notice, wherever your laptop has been, the surface is hot. Keep your laptop on a hard surface. The little feet on the bottom of the laptop case are made to create airspace between the bottom of the case and the surface it is sitting on. Fabric can bunch up and block the fans entirely.