I.) Cleanliness Is Important!!
Dust and dirt can cause severe decreases in the performance of your computer, and in a worst case scenario, cause a literal meltdown of key, delicate components. What follows are some general guidelines for keeping things clean and tidy.
A.) The Mouse & Keyboard
When I took my very first computer course in college, one of the first things that the instructor told us was, "No food or drink allowed in the computer lab!" Food can drop crumbs into your keyboard, eventually gumming up the works; liquids, if spilled on the keyboard or mouse, can have disastrous effects. I know what you're thinking - a keyboard or mouse can be replaced very inexpensively. I would counter that argument with a question: Why spend money that you don't have to spend, no matter how little it might be? Furthermore, there are some very expensive gaming keyboards out there, and I'm sure you'd hate to have yours fall prey to some old twinkie crumbs.
If you use an optical mouse, there is very little maintenance needed to keep it clean. You may need to blow accumulated dust from the optical lense on the bottom of the mouse, but otherwise, your mouse requires little upkeep.
If you use the older style mouse that has a ball on the bottom, you may need to occasionally open it up, remove the ball, and clean out any dirt and dust that has built up inside, as well as cleaning the ball itself. Never use chemicals to do this, a damp soft cloth is sufficient.
Your keyboard is a dirt trap. Dust that is floating in the air, pet hair, crumbs from that bag of Doritos that you were munching on while playing World of Warcraft all get trapped and accumulate under the keys. (Shame on you! Take a break from the game, and go eat in the kitchen!) If you feel comfortable with disassembling the keyboard, then by all means go ahead and do that, using compressed air to blow out the dust and debris. If you're not comfortable taking it apart, then first, turn the keyboard upside down and give it a good shake to get out the loose bits hiding in there. Then, using compressed air, blow out the spaces between the keys.
B.) The Dark Tower
The inside of your computer tower needs to be cleaned on a regular basis. If you have pets, if you smoke (which you should not be doing in the same room with your computer anyway), if your tower is located on the floor, cleaning becomes even more important. With the fans in your tower constantly circulating air to keep components cool, dust, dirt, animal hair and smoke are pulled through your computer constantly. If you've had your computer for more than a couple of months, you'll probably be shocked if you open the case and take a look inside. There is a very good post by about how to go about cleaning the inside of your computer, located here. Rather than repeat what posted about this process, I'll just refer you to that post via the link above.
As a rule, I clean my tower out once a month. The accumulation of dust and dirt can cause overheating problems, which will lead to a decrease in performance. Getting into the habit of cleaning your computer out on a regular basis will avoid this problem.
C.) Through A Glass Darkly
With LCD monitors coming down in price, more and more people are switching to them, and abandoning the old CRT monitors. While LCD monitors are not prone to "screen burn" in the way that the old CRT monitors are, screen savers are now more a matter of aesthetics than good hardware upkeep. But LCD monitors do need some basic care. We'll look at both kinds of monitors here.
1.) CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) Monitors
CRT monitors, those old monitors with the really deep case that takes up half of your desk space, need to be cleaned with caution. You should first try to remove dust with a dry microfiber cloth. If the monitor needs more cleaning, use a microfiber cloth barely dampened with water, followed by wiping with a dry microfiber cloth. Water should always be your first choice if a solvent is needed. Chemical cleaners can damage any antiglare or antistatic coatings on the screen.
To remove dust from the vents, use a vacuum cleaner. Never use compressed air for this purpose, you'll only force more dust into the case. Unless you are very sure of what you're doing, never open the case of your monitor. Monitors can discharge electricity even if they're not plugged in.
2.) LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) Monitors
If you have fingerprints and smudges on your LCD monitor, they should be removed with a soft, dry cotton cloth, applying as little pressure as possible. If a solvent is needed, the most common is a 50/50 mixture of isopropyl alcohol and water. Cleaning fluids that are sold for cleaning CRT monitors can damage the more delicate plastic LCDs.
Never use any cleaning solution with ammonia to clean an LCD monitor, or a CRT monitor, for that matter. Ammonia can erode the plastic of the LCD screen and cause the surface to become yellow and brittle.
II.) Oh, What A Tangled Web We Weave!
Cable and cord maintenance has never been an issue for me. My husband is a master electrician, and he has this OCD thing going on when it comes to wires or cables of any sort, so he keeps all of my cables quite neatly organized. You should never, ever allow your cables to become a twisted and tangled mess. Not only will they wear out faster, but you may also cause a disruption in the performance of the devices that are attached to those cables.
Every cable connected to your system has an electrical signal passing through it. Eventually, those twists in your cables can easily turn into a sharp kink. This can cause a change in the electrical resistance of the wires, and all of your devices are designed to run on a certain amount of current. When you increase the resistance, the electrical signal passing through that wire decreases proportionately. If you want your devices to run at their optimum performance levels, you should take care to keep your cables as neatly organized as possible.
Never kink your cables. If there is more cable than you need for a given device, then you should either try to find a shorter cable that will work with the device, or, if that's not possible, then roll the excess into a fairly large coil, like a cowboy's lasso. Secure that coil with velcro wraps, electrical tape, or zip ties.
When possible, don't let cables hang freely under your desk. It's too easy to catch your foot on one of them, and damage the device it's connected to. You should secure the cable to the underside or back of the desk, again using ties or tape. Small pieces of duct tape work very well for securing cables to the underside of your desktop. When you need to turn, for example, to run the cable from the underside of the desktop, then down one leg or the back of the desk, don't make the bend a 90 degree angle. Instead, form a gentle curve with the cable. A good test is to place a softball against the cable after you secure it to both surfaces. If the cable stays in contact with the softball all the way through the curve, you won't be affecting the resistance of the wire. That is what you want.
III.) The Heart Of The Matter
Let's move on now from the harware end of things to the software end. Just as the physical components of your computer need regular maintenance and cleaning, so too does the software that makes everything run. This is by no means a comprehensive guide to OS maintenance. It's just a basic list of things that everyone should do to make sure that their computer runs smoothly. I won't attempt to get into the BIOS (Bais Input/Output System) in this post; there are most certainly some in depth explanations of BIOS settings somewhere else in the forum. I will also only be speaking of the Microsoft Windows operating system here, because I have no experience with Linux or Mac operating systems.
A.) The Brains Behind The Brawn
The operating system (OS) is the brains behind all that power contained within your computer. Without your OS, you pretty much have a pile of electronic components that aren't much good for anything. Just like your hardware, your OS needs to be regularly maintained.
Unlike the old magnetic tape that was once used to store data, the hard drive of your computer does not necessarily store each file in a single place. Your computer will look for free spots on the disk, and deposit pieces of information here and there until the entire file has been stored. This is called fragmentation. The more times that files are saved and deleted on your disk, the more framented your data can become. As fragmentation increases, the computer slows down incrementally when opening files, because it has to look for the data for each file before opening it.
For an explanation of how to deframent your drive(s) under Windows 7, CLICK HERE.
For an explanation of how to deframent your drive(s) under Windows Vista,CLICK HERE.
For an explanation of how to deframent your drive(s) under Windows XP, CLICK HERE
2.) Disk Cleanup Utility
The MS Windows Disk Cleanup Utility helps to improve performance by removing temporary files, emptying the Recycle Bin, and removing an array of system files and other items on the the drive that are no longer needed.
For an explanation of how to use the Disk Cleanup Utility under Windows 7, CLICK HERE.
For an explanation of how to use the Disk Cleanup Utility under Windows Vista, CLICK HERE.
For an explanation of how to use the Disk Cleanup Utility under Windows XP, CLICK HERE.
3.) A Little More "OOMPH"
In addition to Defragmentating and using the Disk Cleanup Utility, there is a really nice little application that is available as freeware that will help you clean up those temporary files that somehow seem to hang around forever, until you decide to manually get rid of them. Microsoft's own utility doesn't seem to always get rid of everything. Temp File Cleaner, or TFC, is a program that I was told about here at BC. It is an amazing little tool for getting rid of those pesky temporary files. You can download TFC at no cost by CLICKING HERE.
4.) Putting Up The Storm Windows
As anyone who has any experience with Windows can tell you, the OS is in almost constant need of updates. Depending on your unique habits and situation, some of these aupdates are of negligible importance. Some of them, however, are considered to be important or critical no matter what you may do with your computer. Some fix vulnerabilities to attack that may exist in the OS. It's a very wise idea to always download and install these important updates, as well as any optional updates that may apply to you.
For an explanation of Windows Updates under Windows 7, CLICK HERE.
For an explanation of Windows Updates under Windows Vista, CLICK HERE.
For an explanation of Windows Updates under Windows XP, CLICK HERE.
IV.) Minding The Kids
Just as your OS needs regular maintenance and updates, your other software, peripheral devices, and internal components may need regular updates and patches from the manufacturers. Drivers are frequently updated, software patches and updates are issued, firmware updates become available.
Driver updates can often be obtained directly from Microsoft. This is usually the most convenient method of updating many drivers.
For an explanation of updating drivers under Windows 7 and windows Vista, CLICK HERE
For updating drivers under Windows XP, it is usually more effective to obtain the driver(s) from the manufacturer(s) and manually install them.
Software updates, patches, and fixes, as well as firmware updates for various components, are also best handled by obtaining the necessary updates from the manufacturer.
V.) Wrapping It ALL Up
To summarize, while all of this may seem at first glance to be slightly overwhelming, once you've done it a few times, you'll find that it's far easier than you might think. You'll also find that your computer performs better and lasts longer if you keep up with these basic maintenance tasks.
If I've overlooked anything in this post, please feel free to point it out to me. I hope that this might be of some use to the novices who may have found their way here.