The belt-tightening in many corporate environments has required IT to stretch the usefulness of existing computers way beyond their original depreciation schedules. Without a conscientious effort to properly maintain these older computers, your company could be faced with the unenviable task of investing in new technology. So, to keep those older computers running like new, here’s a list of ways your support staff and users can extend the life of any PC.

Support staff tips
A PC’s longevity begins with the support staff. These basic tips should be distributed to every support pro on staff.

1. Use antistatic straps to keep you grounded
Static discharge is deadly to computer components, especially RAM. Even though the damage from static discharge is not visible and the part appears to work correctly when installed, damage may have been done that will show up in the form of intermittent problems or all-out failure. To avoid such issues, support pros should ground themselves when handling computer parts.

Antistatic straps cost only a few dollars and can be purchased at any electronics or computer-repair store.

2. Buy quality surge suppressors to protect computers
Left unchecked, a power surge could permanently damage a computer, monitor, printer, and other peripherals. You can tell if a power strip has surge suppression because it will also include outlets for a telephone, which are used to protect a modem. APC makes excellent surge suppressors, and the company also provides a lifetime guarantee to replace a system should the surge-suppressor device fail.

3. Protect computers during thunderstorms
Guaranteed protection from a surge suppressor will not cover lost data stored on the system. The ultimate protection for a computer during a thunderstorm is to simply unplug the surge suppressor from the wall outlet.

4. Keep the computer case intact
When support installs a new internal component, make sure to save the spacer that you just removed so that you can cover the slot again. When engineers design computer cases, they also design the airflow in the system. Removing a spacer will disrupt that carefully designed airflow and cause the heat inside the case to rise, damaging sensitive computer parts.

5. Check internal fans for dust
Keeping cool air flowing over the components of the computer can be a challenging task, especially with so many heat-generating devices, such as high-end CPUs and video adapters. To ensure components are kept cool, many vendors include fans on their boards or CPUs to assist in the cooling process. However, as dirt and dust accumulate inside the computer case, these specialized fans become clogged, preventing them from working as well as they should. If you find that the fans have excess dust on the blades, use a can of compressed air to blow the dust off. Replace malfunctioning fans as soon as possible to keep expensive components cool.

6. Keep the power-supply fan clean
The power-supply fan draws cool air from outside the computer into the case to keep the components cool. As a result, dust and debris can clog the air vents of the power supply and eventually prevent the fan from working. This can result in a faulty power supply or cause a system to overheat and damage the components.

Check the outside of the power supply every two months, and use a can of compressed air to remove any dust or dirt that has accumulated on the vents. You should also open the case and use the compressed air to blow out the internal vents of the power supply. Look behind the system as well to make sure nothing is impeding the airflow around the case. There should be at least two inches of space around the sides and back.

7. Keep the keyboard free of debris
To help prevent a buildup inside a keyboard, use a can of compressed air to blow out the dust and debris. Although keyboards are inexpensive these days, you don’t want users wasting valuable support time with faulty keyboards.

8. Clean the keys on the keyboard
Along the same lines as the previous tip, you should clean the keyboard keys with an alcohol wipe or cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol.

9. Clean monitors
Clean the monitor screen with a nonabrasive glass cleaning solution. Be sure to spray the solution onto the rag and not directly onto the monitor to prevent any liquid from getting inside the high-voltage monitor.

In addition to cleaning the screen, you should also wipe the monitor case off every month to prevent dust buildup from impeding the airflow of the vents on the monitor. Also, ensure that nothing is covering the vents of the monitor, because poor airflow can cause your monitor to overheat and fail.

10. Keep mice clean
To keep the mouse and mouse-ball clean, you need a can of compressed air and some alcohol wipes. Once a month, remove the mouse ball from the mouse and clean it with the alcohol wipes. Then use the compressed air to remove any dirt and debris that may have found its way into the mouse.

11. Clean the inside of computers
Over time, the components inside a computer can become covered with dust. This dust can cause problems with the contacts on the motherboard and its peripherals. Take the cover off the system every three months and use a can of compressed air to blow the dust off of everything inside.

12. Keep CDs clean to prevent the drive from getting dirty
Gently wipe from the center of the CD toward its outer edge. Be sure to follow a straight line from the inside out instead of using a circular motion. If you need to use some liquid to help remove the debris, use only a little warm water. Never use any type of solvent on the disk because you run the risk of causing permanent damage to the data stored on it.

PC usage tips
There are certain things your users should know when working with delicate PC components. Make sure your users are following these three tips.

1. Use the open/close button when using the CD-ROM drive
Putting a CD into the CD-ROM tray and pushing the tray closed may be easier than pushing the open/close button, but you risk breaking the drive. Although it is a little more work to find the open/close button, you will ensure that the mechanical parts that control the drive tray are not damaged by accidentally pushing the drive tray too hard. In addition, keep the CD-ROM drive closed when not in use. A quick twist of the chair is all it takes for a user to bump the drive tray and render it worthless.

2. Power cycle the computer only when necessary
The computer’s power supply is a surprisingly fragile unit, and excessive power cycling can lead to a failed power supply. To keep power supplies working properly, tell your users to refrain from turning the computer off and on as though it were a light switch. Since the computer uses very little power when it is running, it will be much better if they simply leave it on all day long.

3. Shut down Windows before powering off the computer
For those of us who work with computers on a daily basis, it’s common knowledge that you should shut down Windows before turning off your computer. However, many users simply turn the power off when they’re finished using the computer without shutting down Windows. Let users know that the only time they should turn the power off with Windows still running is when the system is locked up and they have no other choice.

Hard disk maintenance
1. Run ScanDisk often
Users need to know that ScanDisk is not just a utility that automatically runs when a user improperly shuts down Windows. ScanDisk also repairs file system errors, cross-linked files, and other Windows-related problems. In addition, users can use ScanDisk to scan the surface of the hard disk to determine if there are any bad clusters on the disk. If it does find a bad cluster, ScanDisk will mark the cluster and prevent data from being written to it, eliminating problems before they occur.

To ensure the Windows file system is running in top shape, users should run ScanDisk at least once per week on Windows 9x systems. Running the utility will take only a few moments, unless users do the optional surface scan, which can take an hour or more. Users can get to ScanDisk by simply double-clicking My Computer, right-clicking the drive to be scanned, and selecting Properties. From there, they should choose the Tools tab and click the Check Now button.

2. Run Disk Defragmenter at least once per week
Disk Defragmenter will arrange the files on the disk so that they are all stored in contiguous clusters, making file access and system performance much faster. Depending on the size of the disk, defragmenting a drive can take quite a while. However, if you schedule Disk Defragmenter to run when users aren’t using their systems, such as at 2:00 or 3:00 A.M., they won’t have to wait for the utility to finish.

Internet connection tips
Try these tips to keep hackers out of your network.

1. Use a current antivirus package on the computer
Install a virus-prevention software package such as McAfee VirusScan or Norton AntiVirus. These programs will root out viruses on a system, preventing them from doing any damage. However, installing the antivirus software is only half the battle. You should update the definition files at least once per week. For broadband connections, you can schedule the updates to occur automatically. Other connection types will require user intervention. Regardless of the method used, antivirus software is only as good as the virus-definition files.

2. Protect computers on a small network with a firewall package
For small networks, use a firewall software package such as ZoneAlarm to prevent intruders from accessing your computers. ZoneAlarm is an easy-to-use program that will close many of the doors to systems that broadband connections open up. After installing the software, you can easily configure the program to the level of security that you desire, protecting users from all but the most determined hackers.

3. Unplug the network connection when hacked
If you think a hacker is accessing your computers, the easiest and most secure step you can take is to simply unplug the network connection. No matter how skilled the hacker, unplugging the connection will prevent them from doing anything to your computers.