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Maintaining Your Computer

by Dian D. Chapman

I've Got Problems!

Having computer problems?

Are you getting not enough memory errors, but you just bought a new computer with tons of RAM? So why the problems? Are your print jobs coming out whacky? Does your monitor freeze up? Lots of the bizarre errors you get on your computer can be caused by not properly maintaining your computer. From freeing up your TEMP directory to updating your drivers, I'll tell you about some fairly simple things you can do to help you make sure your problems are kept to a minimum.

Steps to Better Computer Resources

You may not realize it, but your computer has a TEMP directory, or at least it should! This temporary directory is a place on your hard drive where applications can place working files while you're using them. Say you open Microsoft Word, and then open Excel. While you're in Excel, those operating files in Word can hang out in your TEMP directory waiting for you to get back to them.

However, should you crash your computer while you have those programs open, the working files don't have the opportunity to properly close out. So they get locked up in there and start to accumulate. This can cause memory problems because your computer gets confused when it finds too many similar files all hanging around. "'s getting crowded in here and I can't concentrate!"

Also, if you use email and open those fun EXE files that all your friends send you, where do you think they go to open? Your TEMP directory, where else! And guess what? They're probably still sitting in there, eating up resources and taking up space, even after you thought you deleted them.

Time to Clean the Closets!

Okay, you've never cleaned out your TEMP directory. Geez, you didn't even know you had one! So let's get after it now. Close all your applications first to make sure nothing you have running is using that space. Then right click your Start button to open the mini menu. Click Explore. This is an easy way to get to your Windows Explorer to see the directories and files on your hard drive. (Or if you have a Windows key on your keyboard, you can just hit Windows + E to open Windows Explorer.)

Now scroll down your directories under your main 'C' drive. You'll be looking for a directory called TEMP, which will usually be found either under c:\temp or c:\windows\temp.

WinXP Users...Note! If you are using one of the newer operating systems, such as Windows XP, you'll have to go to your real temp directory, which is found under c:\documents and settings\[your name]\local settings\temp. And if you don't see this path on your computer, there's a good chance that you still have the default settings on your computer that hide these folders. See this article to learn how to change these settings so you can more easily work with your computer: Why Does Explorer Think I Only Want to See My Documents.

When you open your TEMP directory, you'll probably see lots of files. Any files starting with a tilde ( ~ ) and/or ending with TMP are dead crashed files and you can feel free to delete them. You may find lots of other stuff in there, but this directory should be clean! Most likely, the other files are duplicate copies of files you opened via email, docs and exe files. Until you have time to go through them all to make sure you don't need them any longer, it's a good idea to move them out to some other personal directory.

Also note! Microsoft Word tends to put most of its temp files in the current active directory—the one where the document you're using is located. So you might also want to search your hard drive for files with ~*.tmp. The ~ (tilde) will locate all files starting with a temporary tilde designation. The * is your wild card that covers whatever the files could be called. And the .tmp assures that these are actual temp files. You can then feel free to delete these files.

Once you get used to checking the contents of your temp directory more often, you'll become familiar with the stuff you'll find in there and you'll begin to notice a lot of the same stuff reappearing. By that time, you'll also feel more comfortable just hitting Ctrl/A to select all, and hitting the ol' delete key to trash all the junk in there—without fear!

You Mean There are MORE Closets?

Yes. You've cleaned out your TEMP directory and that's great. But there are other things you should do to clean up your hard drive. Delete any old files you no longer need. Now that doesn't mean that you go into your directories and start ripping out any files you don't recognize, because' chances are they're important program files! I'm talking about your own doc files and images you know you no longer need.

There are also others that you may not realize are accumulating. When you go on the Internet and surf a page with your browser, all those pages and images are being cached [pronounced cashed] on your hard drive. This is a good thing, because it saves you time when you're on the Internet, by more quickly retrieving pages you've visited before.

Your cache is where temporary copies of files are saved. Depending on the space settings your browser defaults to, you may have lots of files eating up your hard drive space. So open your browser and look for preferences or options settings. You may have to dig into advanced preferences/options. You're looking for a setting for your cache or temporary Internet files. Once you find that setting, you might want to not only delete the stored files you have accumulated so far by clicking the delete button, but you can also lower the space allocated to your cache with the Settings button.

Should I Delete my Cookies?

Some people hate computer cookies. These are files put in your cache while you're surfing the net. They contain a small amount of code that, when you return to that site, can tell the site who you are if you registered with them or visited them before. This can be a good thing, or it can be a bad thing. I guess it depends on who you are and what you do while online.

If you do banking, shopping or have to register with a special site in order to return again without reregistering, you've got a cookie for that site on your computer. When you clear your cache, you'll most likely be asked if you'd also like to remove all your cookies. I'd suggest you don't! This may cause you to lose registration on sites that are important to you.

A better suggestion is to go into your browser cache manually after you've removed the basic junk and check for your cookies. You can fairly easily read them because they'll have your name or computer name and the address to the site. If the site is something important, leave it. If it's junk, delete it. It's that simple.

You can also set an option in your browser, somewhere under your option settings, depending on what browser you use, to notify you when some site is attempting to save a cookie to your computer. Then you can either write down the site to delete that cookie later...or refuse it while you're there.

Important Notes! If you refuse a cookie while on a site, the site will most likely kick you out. Also note that...more recently, many cookies have now become a problem due to the fact that many sites now try to use tracking cookies, or Spyware to track your movements in an effort to track marketing trends. There are many anti-spyware programs available that you can run to remove these more intrusive cookies. Many of these programs are free, such as AdAware. Or you can download this free program that I found to be quite useful in allowing me to manually inspect/delete cookies on my computer. See these two articles for details: Crushin' Cookies and Hey, Who’s Peeping Through My Windows?

Now What?

So you've cleaned out your old files, you've cleared out your TEMP directory, and you've cleared your browser cache and crushed a bunch of useless cookies. Very good! There are a couple other things you can do, but so far, you've done the most important ones that will help free up resources and help eliminate errors.

If you have time, you should also run a scandisk to check for errors on your hard drive. When applications crash, you can have pieces of files left on your hard drive—file bits scattered around! So it's helpful to check for those every few weeks or months, depending on how much you use your computer. And it's a good idea to also defrag your computer to reorganize those pieces to help your system run more efficiently.

Is Today Trash Day?

First, before you do the internal checking, it's a good idea to take out the garbage. Right click your trash can and empty it! This will save you time because you won't be checking all the files you assume have been deleted.

Now locate the scandisk utility. You can either search Help off your Start menu, or right click on your C drive and choose Properties/Tools.

Cleaning Your Bytes!

You're doing a wonderful job! Now there's one last clean up. However, realize that this step can take a long time, maybe a few hours. So if you don't have a program that allows you to set these tasks at a time when you're cozy in bed, then plan it for a time when you don't need your computer. Also very important—although newer versions of Windows won't allow you to run a Defrag before you run a Scandisk to check for errors. Trust me! I learned the hard must run a scandisk BEFORE you Defrag your hard drive! Otherwise you run the risk of trashing projects. You can tear their file structure up and destroy them. Been there!

And newer versions of Windows helps you bypass all those resident programs that cause the Defrag and Scandisk to restart, by setting up requests for these tools to run the next time to restart your computer. This allows them to run before all the excess applications are loaded, which saves time and helps avoid hard drive corruption.

See this article for more details: What the Heck IS Defragmenting Anyway and Why Do I Need To Do It?

I Thought *I* Was My Computer's Driver?

Yes. I guess in a way you are the person driving your computer. But there are also drivers in your computer that help your computer talk to various components, such as your printer and your monitor. Inside your computer, there is a video card for your monitor. But you also need a video driver to make things show up on your monitor. HA, you choose the wrong video driver and you'll see just how important they are, because you won't see much of anything! Video drivers can get old. Manufacturers regularly put newer models on their web sites which you can download, free of charge, to upgrade your video driver. If you get a new application and it's doing strange things, especially freezing up, most likely you need to upgrade your video driver.

You can try a test to see if your video is the problem. Either click Start/Settings/Control Panel/System/Performance/Graphics and slip the hardware accelerator down two knotches. See if that helps. If so, upgrade your driver and later reset your accelerator.

Note! On newer versions of Windows, you may have to dig around to find the Hardware Accelerator. Try checking the Control Panel/Display settings. Particularly under the Advanced and/or Troubleshooting tabs. It's in there—somewhere! It may also be on some advanced tab in the Properties for your video driver.

The same is true for your printer. Printers need print drivers to tell your printer what the applications are trying to tell it so your pages print properly. If your print driver is old, your pages can print out whacky! Programmers keep up with the latest technology when they create new programs. If you're still using that old print driver from when you first got that printer, chances are it won't know about the new technology and it can cause pages to print incorrectly. So it's important to update this driver, as well.

You simply need to find the manufacturer of your devices (video card or printer) and locate their web site. Search out the specific model number you need, download the new version and usually just double click the file to start the install. Most sites will give you instructions, too.

To discover what type of video card you have, click Start/Settings/ControlPanel. Then either open your Display icon for Video info or your Printer icon for printer details and follow the next paragraph for your device...

For video, once you open the Display icon, click the Settings tab. Depending on your operating system, you'll see another button called, Options, Device, Adapter or Advanced. Somewhere in there, you'll find lots of information to write down about your video card. The make, model, version, etc. (See the image below for an example of what info you can find.)

For printers, once you open the Printer icon. You'll see all the printers you have installed listed. Right click on the printer you need to investigate, then click the Properties choice from the mini menu that'll appear. Now here you'll have to play detective because most printer dialogs are different. But ferret around and search for a button that says About. Click it and you'll see the details about the driver you're running. Write that info down!

Now you just need to go to the web and find your manufacturer and see if they're offering a newer driver. You can go to a search engine (I prefer Google for the best hits.) So go to and type in the name of the company you need.

Well, there you have it. Keep that puppy clean and in good order, and you'll experience a lot less problems. Now get in there and rip up that hard drive!

If the troubleshooting techniques above didn't solve your problems...see this article for other ideas and articles links:

Troubleshooting Computer (and MS Word) Errors

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