by Darryl Budge
Like everything, computers collect dust and dirt and need a good clean.
BLOW DUST AWAY: If you have a tower computer, shut it down, disconnect the power cord and rest it on a table or a floor without carpeting or rugs. Static electricity can build up on a rug and accidentally short out your computer. For the same reason, stay away from dusting pads.
If you have a vacuum cleaner with a small hose attachment, use it to suck the dust on the outside of the fan slots. Never use a vacuum cleaner on the inside of a computer or laptop as you may short circuit the parts.
Then open the side of the computer case and use only a can of compressed air to blow the dust out of the case. Compressed air cans are available from your local computer shop or Officeworks. The same method applies to laptops: blow the dust around the fan away from the inside of the machine.
CLEAN YOUR SCREEN: Next, wipe your display with an ultra-soft microfiber cloth – like one that cleans your television screen or glasses. Stay away from paper towels, tissues or T-shirts as these leave lint behind and can create small scratches. Use a light touch to avoid causing dead pixels and do not use Windex or any cleaning product containing ammonia or alcohol.
You can buy a specific 'screen cleaner' spray for displays or make a mixture of equal parts distilled water and white vinegar. Never spray directly on the screen as this may leave permanent spray marks or leak into the edge of the display.
CLEAN KEYBOARD, MOUSE, PRINTER: Now banish dust and crumbs from your keyboard. Turn your keyboard over and shake it vigorously over a bin. Then spray between the keys with a can of compressed air.
Laptop users can turn their machine off, gently shake loose particles from their keyboard, and spray the keyboard with compressed air.
You can also clean between the computer keys, the touchpad and your mouse using vinegar-mixture-moistened cotton buds. But don't oversaturate the cotton buds if cleaning a laptop keyboard.
TIDY UP YOUR HARD DRIVE: If you haven't used a program in a year, get rid of it. Mac users, sort the Applications folder by date to examine what you haven't used. On a Windows PC, click on the Control Panel and choose "Programs and Features" or on Windows XP "Add/remove programs". Change the view to details and click on the Installed On column to arrange by date.
Try filing away old files (especially desktop files) and moving photos and videos to at least two backup drives rather than filling up your computer's drive.
UPDATE SOFTWARE: Check your programs are running the latest version, and your operating system has the latest security updates. Make sure your antivirus software is updated.
KEEP BACKUPS: Buy or connect a blank external drive to your computer, and set up Time Machine (on the Mac) or Backup and Restore (on Windows 7/8). These programs will automatically keep regular backups of your computer when the drive is connected. As this process does slow your computer, perhaps schedule one evening a week to leave your external drive connected so the automatic backup can occur with minimal inconvenience.