HARDWARE

Reenergizing Sluggish Computers

Not every small business can just buy replacement computers when their office machines slow down. There are simple steps, however, that can breathe new life into old PCs.
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Waiting for what seems like an eternity for your computer to boot up when you’re about to deliver a presentation to a customer can cause heartburn, to say the least.

No one likes to wait, which is why many of us heap scorn on our computers every morning when we turn them on.

It’s easy for your employees to blame degrading PC performance on age (i.e., grandpa moves slower than Johnny, so it stands to reason that a year-old computer will run slower than a newbie). Yet, buying new hardware isn’t the answer, particularly for small businesses that need to amortize the cost of the equipment over a good chunk of time.

Fortunately, IT can put the zip back in computers through proactive maintenance. Taking such actions is not rocket science, but it’s easy for companies to put this off for the same reason we delay that annual dentist checkup.

Much like cars, PCs need to be periodically checked and even tuned to maintain their best performance. As employees add files, install applications and change settings, PC performance gradually deteriorates to the point when it hits the aggravation threshold (or worse). Furthermore, all this additional stuff can be the culprit behind those delightful spontaneous crashes that inevitably hit coming down the home stretch of a deadline.

Purging the TEMP folders

Here’s one simple approach that’s guaranteed to regain performance. The vast majority of employees pay no attention to the collection of temporary files. Many Windows applications create and save files in a folder called TEMP. Often, these files get deleted the moment the application is closed, but in some instances badly designed programs leave these temporary files behind in the TEMP folder.

In effect, the TEMP folder becomes a type of purgatory where unwanted files accumulate and aimlessly roam. The extra load dramatically bogs down the computer especially during start-up.

One of our employees used to complain about the slowness of her PC. She would start her computer, prepare breakfast and go back to her machine only to find out that it has not finished booting. When I checked her PC, I discovered over 3,000 files lurking in her TEMP folder.

Not good.

By simply cleaning your TEMP folder on a regular basis, you can improve PC performance by anywhere from 25 to 50 percent. The same goes for temporary Internet files, downloaded program files and fancy fonts.

Fancy fonts impact startup

Yes, you heard me right. Those fonts, particularly customized ones, impact system start-up. As your computer initiates the necessary programs when you turn it on, it also loads all the fonts associated to your printer and stores them in the memory.

So, if you find a system message warning you that your computer’s memory is running out of available space, chances are that fonts have clogged up this precious commodity.

I strongly encourage IT to keep an image file of each employee’s computer so when there are files and unwanted fonts, you can delete them and easily revert to the machine’s original settings.

Get on the defrag bandwagon

Defragmenting hard drives on a quarterly basis is also a must. It’s easy to fall off the defrag bandwagon because the task takes hours of time depending on how many files are stored on the computer. The beauty of the process, though, is that human supervision is not required. All you have to do is help employees start the Windows Disk Defragmenter before they leave the office -- or perhaps before they go to bed -- and the computer automatically takes care of the job.

I cannot stress enough the importance of defragmenting your hard drive. Consider the experience of reading a book if the pages were arranged randomly. Needless to say, making sense of such a book would take more time.

When it comes to computers, files are saved in segments which don’t usually end up next to each other. When your PC reads a file, it has to skip from one location of a hard drive to another to access the blocks of data that are part of the file you are looking for. Deleting files makes matters worse as gaps are created in the hard drive, and that makes it harder for your PC to find a file.

By defragmenting your hard drive, the chunks of data that are related to each other are moved closer to each other, thus making it easier for your computer to access files.

Other pro-active maintenance

Another action that we enforce at my company is Microsoft night, which happens every Tuesday. It’s a push strategy that leaves our employees no other option but to download new updates from Microsoft and install them in their machines.

The last thing I want to talk about is computer peripherals -- monitors, mice and especially keyboards. A University of Arizona study on bacteria in the workplace some years ago found that keyboards harbor 3,295 microbes per square inch. For context, the average toilet seat contains 49 microbes per square inch.

While I’m not a scientist, I have to say that this finding doesn’t surprise me based on seeing how much dust, bits of food, grime and other sundry materials find their way into keyboards. The solution comes in the form of shaking keyboards once in a while as a way of removing the collected materials. A few good blasts of pressurized air can also do the trick (but only do this when the PC is turned off).

Simply put, this type of proactive maintenance will extend the productive life of your company’s computers. It’s not the glamorous part of the job, but the payoff diffuses a pain point everyone experiences.

Linda Wilson is the IT director of The Hoffman Agency, a global public relations firm with 120 employees.

Last updated: May 1, 2008




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