The keys to trouble-free computing
Apr 18, 2009, 13:54 GMT
Washington - Let's say you're looking forward to your first long weekend in ages, or even a much-deserved vacation.
The, on day one, some computer glitch occurs, forcing you to spend hours - perhaps even days - figuring out how to get this most essential appliance back in working order before you need it again.
Sound familiar? Most of us have spent far too many hours trying to fix thorny problems with computers - and the problems occur, typically, always at the most inopportune times.
That's precisely why you need a plan in place to ensure trouble- free computing - long before trouble strikes. The penalty for not having a plan in place is time - lots and lots of lost time. So let's not waste another minute. Here's a checklist.
--- Know your computer
If trouble strikes, you're going to need to know some details about your computer - general details and, most likely, some specifics about the components inside of your computer. If you're not tech savvy, though, don't sweat. It's easy to take inventory of your system, both outside and inside.
Start by noting the make and model number of your PC - as well as its serial number, service tag, or other identifying number. Typically such numbers are printed on a tag on the back of your computer if you bought it from a major vendor. You'll need these numbers if you go hunting for drivers or support at the manufacturer's Web site. Without them, you could be hunting for hours while trying to figure out the exact model of your PC.
Finding out what's inside your PC is not that difficult and, usually, does not involve popping open the case. And you'll need this knowledge should you ever have to describe to a service technician what's wrong with your computer - or hunt down a solution on your own. Point your Internet browser to the Belarc Advisor Web site (http://www.belarc.com/free_download.html) and download the free Advisor tool.
Install it, and in no time you'll have a detailed profile of the hardware and software in your computer - as well as some suggestions regarding what's up-to-date on your system and what's not.
A word of warning, though: follow the 'leave well enough alone' rule of computing. If Belarc tells you there's an update to some piece of software on your computer, there's no need to download and install it if everything is currently working to your satisfaction. Remember, the aim here is preventative. If it's not broken, don't fix it.
--- Back up everything
You probably have some type of backup of the files that are most important in your life - those you create with your finance program, your word processor, or spreadsheet, for example. But that's not enough - not if you hope to be able to recover from a truly time- sapping computer mystery or outright meltdown. To recover from that, you need a complete disk image. Nothing else will do.
A disk image differs from a traditional backup in one important respect: with an image, everything on your drive is backed up - operating system files, applications, and application data. And the backups are structured so that you can restore an entire system in one operation.
If your hard drive crashes, for example, or some intransigent installation totally hoses your computer, you can turn to a system image to get your computer running again, in just a fraction of the time that it would otherwise take you to reinstall your operating system, driver, applications, and restore all of your important files.
Acronis True Image (http://www.acronis.com/homecomputing/products/trueimage), Paragon Drive Backup (http://www.drive-backup.com), FarStrone Drive Clone (http://www.farstone.com/software/driveclone.htm), O&O Disk Image (http://www.oo-software.com/home/en/products/oodiskimage/index.html), and Norton Ghost (http://www.symantec.com/norton/ghost) are all proven winners in the disk imaging arena. There are free alternatives as well, which you can find by doing a standard search on the Internet using 'free disk imaging,' but you may be well advised in this case to spend a bit of money to purchase a tried-and-true imaging application.
--- Have a recovery disk
No matter what type of backup you rely upon, it will do you no good if you do not have some type of disk from which you can boot your PC in order to access your backup files and restore your computer to a working state.
Most disk imaging programs come with a utility or option that will create a recovery disk for you. All you need to do is use it! Typically a recovery disk is simply a writable CD that you insert into your computer and onto which a backup program writes the files necessary to initiate the program that will recover your files. The only weak link in the process is often the person who takes the time to create a backup or image but doesn't take the time to create the recovery disk. Don't be that weak link.
--- Assemble your drivers
If you need to rebuild your computer from the ground up - reinstalling the operating system and all of your applications - the first things you'll need to install after the operating system will be your drivers. Drivers are those essential little applications that allow the parts inside your PC - and those attached to your PC - to communicate with your operating system. Printers, scanners, cameras, USB devices, and more - all need drivers.
Hunting down drivers after a disaster can take you forever - and it's an exercise in frustration. Often you'll want to go online to download the latest drivers, but without a driver for your wireless card or LAN port, you'll be out of luck.
So get your drivers now. Typically you need drivers for your video card, motherboard chip set, sound card, printer, scanner, LAN card, wireless card, media reader, and anything else that is connected to your PC. Assemble these drivers on a USB stick or an external drive, and keep them at the ready in case of an emergency.
--- Get organised
Trouble-free computing is not just about recovering from complete system meltdowns. It's also about undoing mishaps with the files that you create and work with every day. So you need to know where on your hard drive those files are kept. In Windows, most data files are stored under Documents and Settings (XP) or Users (Vista and Windows 7) on the C drive. Keeping everything else you create under that folder will allow you to back up all of your important files simply by copying that folder and all sub-folders beneath it.
--- Use System Restore
If you're a Windows user, you may not have to resort to a full image backup to get your malfunctioning system back in order. You may be able simply to revert to an earlier system state. To do so, you'll have to call the System Restore utility into action. It's in the Start menu under Programs, Accessories, System Tools. Make sure the utility is turned on and taking snapshots of your critical system files on a periodic basis, and then, when disaster strikes, don't forget to try System Restore first.
Your PC survival toolkit is really as much about knowledge and process as it is about software or recovery utilities. Keep things organised, know what you have on your computer, keep your drivers at hand, and develop a backup and recovery plan. If you do, those hours or days lost to getting your PC back in gear will be a thing of the past.