Elementary Computer Maintenance

This article is available at http://www.heurtley.com/richard/maintenance.html and was last updated on 2003-10-20.

Also see the author's other article:

Elementary Computer Security: http://www.heurtley.com/richard/security.html

Location and Power Protection

A computer should be put either on the floor or on a sturdy desk or table. The surface should be level, the computer should not be tilted or wobbly. There should be room on all sides of the computer (except the bottom) for ventilation. Computers should not be located right next to heaters or heater ducts, or in places where they are likely to be bumped or kicked.

A computer and all things plugged into the computer (monitor, printer, scanner, DSL modem, etc.) should be plugged into either a surge protector or an Uninterruptable Power Supply (UPS), except for laser printers which should not be plugged into a UPS. Most UPSs and surge protectors designed for computers have phone line jacks into which the phone line going to the modem or DSL modem should be plugged.

If the room that the computer is in is prone to static (ie. you get shocked when touching something after walking around in the room) then try to be very careful to touch something other than the computer, or any of its parts, before touching the computer. Modern computers are less sensitive to static electricity than older computers but it is still a danger, particularly when plugging and unplugging components from the back.

Turning a Computer On and Off

Generally, everything that is plugged into a computer should be turned on before the computer itself is turned on. This is so that the computer will detect the existence of all its components as it boots up. This means that, generally, a computer should be turned off before any of its components are turned off.

It used to be that monitor and printer were the only things you could turn on and off (or plug and unplug) from a computer while the power was on. The Universal Serial Bus (USB) that modern computers have was designed specifically to allow anything with a USB plug to be connected while the computer is on.

It is a good idea not to try to make the computer do anything until it's completely booted and settled down. The best way to judge the computer's state is to watch the hard disk drive light. If the light stays off for more than 15 seconds then the computer is probably done booting. Some computers require that you log in. For these computers you should wait for it to settle down twice. Wait for the computer to settle down before you log in and then wait for it to settle down again after you log in.

Media Storage

Nothing but air or specially designed soft cloth or paper should ever touch the data side of music CDs, data CD-ROMs, and video DVDs. CD media plastic is soft and scratches easily. CD players can fill in the missing sound caused by a light scratch on a compact disk and this has given people the idea that scratches don't matter on CDs and that they can be handled roughly. This is not true. It can be very difficult or impossible to recover the data on a badly scratched data CD-ROM and software vendors will not replace scratched CD-ROMs.

A CD-ROM is best kept in a plastic jewel box. Next best is a plastic sleeve with a soft cloth-like back. If no appropriate container is readily available then it's OK to put a CD down somewhere temporarily as long as the disk is data-side up (label down) and nothing is touching the surface.

Transporting a Computer

If you have to move a computer in a car, unplug everything from the computer first, put it on a cushioned surface (either on a seat or on some thick foam on the floor or in the trunk), and make sure the computer is "motherboard" side down, which means a tower computer should be laid on its side. The motherboard is the part of the computer that the keyboard and mouse plug into in back. The keyboard and mouse sockets should be closest to the seat or foam.


Low cost color inkjet printers are really great when they work and extremely annoying and expensive when they don't. By far the best way to keep an ink jet printer working is to print something in color on it every day. You'll spend less money by printing something in color every day than you will by throwing away an expensive ink cartridge because it got gummed up from lack of use.

Inkjet print heads are made with very small holes and very fine tolerances. If a printer is loaded with paper and then sits around for awhile, the dust on the paper could scratch and damage the printhead as it goes back and forth. If a printer has been sitting around for awhile, take out the paper and blow the dust off before printing something.

The paper-feeding mechanisms of printers often don't work well if the paper is damp. If you live in a damp climate try storing your paper in an air tight container or plastic bag.

Hard Disk Drive Maintenance

The hard disk drive is the part of the computer that stores directories, files, programs and data. Along with fans, disk drives are practically the only mechanical parts still used in modern computers and are the most likely part to fail. There are certain things you can do to extend the life of your hard disk drive:


The author assumes no responsibility for the use of the programs and utilities referred to in this article. Follow this advice at your own risk!

Copyright © 2003 Richard Heurtley.

Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permited in any medium, provided this notice is preserved.