When somebody contacts us with a serious computer hardware problem, the first thought that pops into my mind is, “Wow, I wish s/he would have called us for computer maintenance before this catastrophic event happened, when we had a chance to stop it!”
If you’ve ever had a hard drive or motherboard fail, you have likely felt the pain of losing all of your data and programs, having to pay a lot to get your computer back in working order, or having to replace expensive hardware -- maybe all three! The good news is that you can prevent most of these painful incidents by performing some simple maintenance steps, and keep your computer running its best at the same time.
Just like the tires on your car reach the end of their lives, the parts in your computer won’t last forever. There are also hazards your computer can run into, like nails through your tires. Finally, there are things that need to be maintained, exactly like you need to change the oil in your car periodically. You would never ignore that maintenance requirement for your car -- why do it with your computer?
One caveat here: you can be a responsible car owner and take care of your car’s maintenance needs without actually doing it yourself. We perform this kind of maintenance on computers every day, generally for $40, and I’m sure there are other repair shops and in-home technicians near you that charge reasonable rates for this service. There is no more shame in paying someone else to do this work than there is in having your oil change performed by your local mechanic. Just make sure to get it done, one way or another!
In case you want to do it yourself, or you’d like to know what you’re paying for, let’s talk about the basics of computer maintenance. We're going to start with the primary hazard for all computer components: heat.
HowToGeek has excellent articles on computers and computer repair. Read more about the effects of heat on your computer in their article "How to Tell If Your Computer Is Overheating and What to Do About It"
Excessive heat can dramatically shorten the life of all of the following, in both laptops and desktops:
Heat damage to some of those things might cause intermittent problems, but chances are too much heat will make your computer stop running -- sometimes for good. A few simple steps can reduce the heat and make your computer run better for a longer time.
Congratulations! You’ve just finished the hardest part of computer maintenance, and I’ll bet it wasn’t as hard as you thought. The next step is checking other components.
First of all, component failure usually gives you plenty of hints in the days or weeks (or maybe even months) leading up to the actual death of a hard drive or other part. If your computer goes from completely trouble free operation in July, to having one blue screen or spontaneous restart or file that can’t be opened in August, to two or three of those telltale signs in September, you probably have a hardware component that’s getting ready to fail. New noises from your computer can also be clues to active hardware issues, as we discuss in one of our FAQ. Click on the link in the right sidebar if you want to know more about that.
Unfortunately, the warning signs might not be so clear. Blue screens and other malfunctions certainly can indicate hardware problems, but they might also signal software problems, like corrupted operating system files, malware/viruses, or registry corruption. Good computer hardware maintenance, therefore, always includes making a good backup and running a disk test. The Check Disk utility that is available in every version of Windows is perfectly adequate. NeoSmart Technologies has an excellent article about finding and running a disk check in all Windows versions here. Be warned that it doesn't always work -- it's more reliable with newer operating systems, like Windows 10 -- and you might need professional help to find and run an appropriate utility if Check Disk fails you.
Finally, for checking the rest of the hardware in your computer, try Microsoft’s Reliability Monitor. It’s a utility in your Control Panels folder, inside the Security and Maintenance control panel, that gives you a history of the overall stability of your computer on a scale from 1 (unstable) to 10 (very stable). You can read more about this utility at HowToGeek’s website. If you’re seeing your stability trend downward, it might be time to start thinking about replacing some hardware or your whole computer -- or at least making an appointment with your favorite technician to get some professional help!
As usual, please use our contact form below to email me with any questions you have about this or any other computer-related topic. If I don’t know the answer, I guarantee I can help you find it!
Mighty IT Computer Repair & Training
We have at least one FAQ that might help you catch computer problems before they become catastrophes: "Why is my computer making a noise, and what can I do about it?" Click the button below to read more about it.