RESCUECOM Part of Seattle Times Technology Column
Special to The Seattle Times
A little upkeep goes a long way
We know computers sometimes abruptly quit, slow down, refuse to cooperate or any number of other problems, and they tend to break down at just the wrong moment.
Most of us also know there are maintenance programs designed to help prevent such breakdowns. But do we actually buy them and use them?
Of course, if you work in an office with tech support, you can probably get help with your computer problems, but if you also have a computer at home, its maintenance and repair issues belong to you.
My mission today is to persuade you to take a few basic steps ? while your computer is healthy ? to monitor and maintain its good health.
First task is to do basic housecleaning on your computer. Uninstall programs you never use and trash old files you no longer need, for example, and update the software you use regularly.
Next task is to get a reputable software suite of programs that can monitor your system and keep it functioning well. It's sort of like having a physical exam with various tests and accompanying measures to keep your body healthy.
Two popular choices are McAfee Total Protection (Windows, $60 a year) and Norton SystemWorks (Windows, $70 a year).
Total Protection is designed to keep a PC healthy and secure. It can protect you from intruders, identity theft, spam and predators, as well as keep the system free from viruses, hackers and spyware.
SystemWorks 2006 protects the computer from viruses, spyware and other threats, restores the computer from system crashes, removes clutter, fixes problems and optimizes performance.
For my Macintosh, however, I recently started using Micromat TechTool Pro ($98), which also diagnoses problems, fixes them and generally watches over the system.
After installing the software, I decide to do a complete diagnostic check of my system. Some of the tests can be done with the installed software ? including those that check the cache, clock, main memory, network, processor and other components.
However, to do a full system check as well as fix detected problems, I need to start the computer from the TechTool Pro disc, so it can examine how well the computer is functioning from the "outside."
I try several times to start TechTool Pro from the disc by pressing the C key (as the directions say), and then realize that my wireless keyboard doesn't activate right away, so my computer isn't getting the C key's message to let the disc start-up, rather than the system. Finally, after pressing C a few times during start-up, it works. Next time, however, I'll plug in the Mac's standard keyboard and press C to boot from the disc.
With the TechTool Pro disc now running the computer, I go through the standard diagnostic tests, and the results indicate my Mac is healthy. Whew!
My next step is to defragment and optimize the hard drive. Defragmenting is said to be particularly important for those of us who work with multimedia files to keep the audio and video running smoothly. Optimizing rearranges and groups data that's been saved in different places on the hard drive, and consolidates the free space. It's kind of like organizing all the papers and folders in a file cabinet.
I start the Defragment/Optimize function just before lunch, and it takes until dinnertime for the optimizer to finish the job. Next time, I'll have TechTool Pro do the job at night while I'm asleep.
Anyway, it's done now, so I start my Mac the usual way, and it looks like all is well.
A few hours later, I haven't noticed anything working faster or better, but it feels good to have a tidied-up system. Plus, I'm grateful that the cleaning process didn't throw anything important away, or change anything that would make it hard for me to work as usual. Feels a little like the Merry Maids just finished cleaning my house and I've got a tidy place to work, until it gets cluttered again.
So far, so good. Still, there is, and probably always will be, a chance that something will go very wrong with my computer, even if I maintain it with TechTool Pro or any other reputable maintenance program.
Indeed, over the past year, Americans have spent billions on computer repairs resulting from four major online hazards ? spam, viruses, spyware and phishing ? according to the Consumer Reports State of the Net 2006 report (www.consumerreports.org/cro/electronics-computers/online-protection-9-06/state-of-the-net/0609_online-prot_state.htm. However, most victims probably weren't using up-to-date protection software.
It doesn't happen often, but when I do have problems with my Mac (that neither the system's Disk Utility software nor TechTool Pro can fix), I either call the AppleCare help phone number (I've paid for this ongoing product support), take the ailing piece of technology to the Apple store, or bring it to another computer store that does repairs.
Other possibilities include contacting the Geek Squad, HelpMeRemote, and Rescuecom, among others. I haven't yet tried any of these, but can describe what they offer, mainly for Windows PC users.
- Rescuecom (www.rescuecom.com)prides itself in being able to get to your house or office within an hour for emergency repairs. However, that depends on whether there is a Rescuecom technician nearby. To locate the closest repair person, go to the Rescuecom Web site and click the "Find a Tech" link at the bottom of the page. Interestingly, its motto is: "We fix it or it's free." Sounds like a pretty good deal. However, the Web site does not display pricing, so it's hard to get an idea of how much the repairs will cost.
- The Geek Squad (www.geeksquad.com) announces on its welcome page that its agents will fix any PC problem anytime, anywhere. Besides middle-of-the-night disasters, it can help with installations, upgrades, repairs, spyware, viruses and more. Plus, it's willing to give lessons on how to use the technology you just got and can't figure out yourself.
Geek Squad has more than 700 locations nationwide and offers this guarantee: "If you're not completely satisfied with our service, the problem is remedied fast and free."
If you are satisfied, the charge is a flat rate and depends on the size/scope of the repair, and whether you have an agent come to your home or office, take the computer to a Geek Squad location, or get help via the Internet.
HelpMeRemote (www.helpmeremote.com) is an Internet repair service that fixes problems by having the PC owner remotely yield control of the PC to the repair person who can then diagnose and fix problems.
Click to the Web site, register, choose a payment plan and describe the problem and/or service you want. Your PC is then remotely connected to the assistance center for diagnostic tests, repairs, checks and updates to your virus protection or whatever is needed.
Service costs run from $30 for 15 minutes to $75 for 45 minutes.
Write Linda Knapp at firstname.lastname@example.org; to read other Getting Started columns, go to: www.seattletimes.com/gettingstarted
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company
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