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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Assembling a PC first-aid kit

When it comes to computers, there's really only one certainty: at some point, difference between being trouble will strike. The only question is whether you'll be ready.

If either your livelihood or your sanity depends upon having a computer up and running when you need it, you owe it to yourself to have on hand the parts you need to get your machine back up to speed as quickly as possible once trouble does occur.
Here's a rundown of some items that could mean the difference between being without your PC for a week or more and being back in business in no time flat.


Tools
If you ever have to pop open the case of your computer -and most of us do at some point -you need to have the right tools on hand. First, gather together both Phillipshead and flathead screwdrivers. Both are needed when working on a PC. You'll need a Phillips-head screwdriver to remove the screws that hold the cover on most desktop computers, and once inside, an assortment of Phillips-head and flathead screwdrivers will likely be required to remove parts. It doesn't hurt to have screwdrivers with magnetized tips, either.
These are perfect for fishing out screws that have become lodged deep down inside a PC.

Notebook computers require especially small screwdrivers of both types. You'll probably find a kit of miniature screwdrivers at your local electronics or computer store. In fact, if you don't have any tools on hand at all, your best bet might be to purchase one of the "pc repair" tool kits -complete with screwdrivers of all sizes, as well as tweezers, cable ties, and magnetised instruments designed specifically for retrieving screws that you've lost control of.
The good news is that most of what you'll need to do inside of a computer can be handled with a screwdriver of some sort.

Extra bard drive
Upgraded your hard drive lately? If so, don't throw away or sell that old hard drive. Keep it around, either for use as an external hard drive or simply as a spare. Old hard drives don't bring much on the used market, anyway, and they'll be far more valuable to you if you suddenly begin to hear the steady "click, click, click" sound that often precedes the premature death of a drive.
Swapping out a hard drive is easy, too just put the cables back into the new drive the way they are inserted into the old one, and you should be good to go. You'll need a backup of your data, of course, and you'll need to know how to restore it, as well.

USB flash drive
USB-based flash drives -sometimes called thumb drives -are less expensive by the day and capacities of 32GB and higher provide a respectable amount of storage. So there's every reason to keep one or two on hand.
They can be indispensible as a way to transfer files, store essential drivers and utilities, or even to boot your entire computer. Should you ever have to reinstall your operating system from scratch, for example, having all the driver files you need on a USB drive is just about the fastest way to get everything running the way it used to. You might even use an ISO creation tool such as Magic ISO or Ultra ISO to create copies of your installation CDs and DVDs on a USB drive. That way, you can install all of your applications in a hurry from one source.

Boot Disk
Imagine this: your operating system is rendered useless by an errant application or download. What will you do? The answer is probably "panic" -unless you are able to boot up your PC with a boot disk or rescue disk. You can create any number of boot disks for free from a site such as BootDisk.com (http://www.bootdisk.com), or you can use your original Windows CD as a boot disk. Whichever method you choose, make sure you have a bootable CD or DVD on hand.

Oil-based markers
Of course, creating a boot disk or other CD to hold files or drivers won't help you much if yours ends up lost in a stack of unlabelled CDs. That's why you need a good supply of oil-based magic markers on hand -the kind that can write easily and legibly on the non-data side of recordable disks. Standard pens and pencils won't do.
You can find these markers at any computer or office supply store. In some countries, the brand name Sharpie is synonymous with CD labeller. They come in assorted colours and sizes.

Vacuum cleaner
Believe it or not, excessive dust can really foul up a computer -in more ways than one. Over time, not only will dust clog air vents on the outside of a computer. It can also literally bring fans inside the computer to a near standstill, causing sensitive parts to overheat or even die.
That's why a versatile vacuum cleaner with an attachment hose that can reach into the depths of a PC -is an invaluable part of any computer first –aid kit. Your best bet is to use the vacuum cleaner on a regular basis -once a month, for example -both inside and outside the PC. Doing so will help you rule out what is always one potential cause of system shutdowns: overheating.

Installation disks
Imagine that you had to reinstall everything on your computer from scratch within a matter of hours in order to be able to finish an important report. Would you be able to find all of your installation disks and serial numbers? If not, you could be in for days or even weeks of downtime rather than a few hours.
If you don't routinely create ISO copies of your installation CDs, assemble them in one place, and keep them handy. And don't forget the other pieces of information that you'll need at hand in order to get up and running: passwords for your most frequently used websites, important technical support numbers, and even warranty information.
Disaster always seems to strike at just the wrong time -and to those least prepared to face it.

That's why the time you spend assembling the components of a good PC first-aid kit will be amply repaid if the unthinkable ever happens to your computer.

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