Reader Questions - Issue #1
Last week, I asked readers what technology questions they wanted answered. Since I only received one response this week, I am going to answer a few of their questions.
Question 1: Is it safe to plug a computer directly into a wall outlet with no surge protection?
Technically speaking, it all depends on how viable the electrical wiring is. Frequent power interruptions (outages) are hard on computers. So are major voltage fluctuations (especially voltage spikes, which can damage or even destroy your computer).
However, plugging your computer directly into a wall outlet (with good electrical wiring) is rarely ever a problem. The only issue is that that the computer won't be protected from unruly power fluctuations.
Question 2: What can you tell me about UPS units?
A good surge suppressor will protect your computer from voltage spikes, but won't stop it from going off (powered off). A good Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) with surge protection, in contrast, will not just protect your computer from voltage spikes, but will also keep your computer running during short term outages or brown-outs. The battery inside the UPS will provide or supplant the computer with enough power to keep it running properly until power is fully restored. If short term outages become long term problems, then you should save any unsaved work, and power the computer off.
The amount of surge protection and battery uptime largely depends on the capacity and capability of the UPS and on how much power your computer uses. A good battery will provide you with an average of 45 minutes or more.
If you're interested in purchasing a UPS unit, it might be wise to search the Internet for more information, as well as professional and user reviews which will help you determine which UPS will give you the right protection within your price range.
Question 3: Should I turn my home computer off when I'm gone for a few days? Should I unplug it?
While most computer technicians will agree that turning your computer off during long periods of inactivity is a good thing, many will differ on actual time frames. I turn my personal (home) computer off if I am going to be gone more than a day or two, and put it into "suspend" mode (often called "standby") at night when I am home.
Unplugging a computer won't hurt anything, and will guarantee voltage spikes (caused from lightening or other causes) won't cause damage. However, if you have a good surge protection, you can probably get away with leaving it plugged in, if desired.
Question 4: Is dial-up still safer from viruses and other attacks than broadband?
In many ways, yes. Broadband connections, like DSL or Cable are more prone to malicious network attacks than dial-up because of the major increase in bandwidth (perceived by the consumer as "download speed") and connection availability (which tend to be on 24/7), which make them a greater target for attackers.
However, most broadband connections can be greatly secured without much effort. For example, buying a Cable/DSL router and/or firewall software can add a great deal of protection to your home network (in fact, many security experts would not recommend a broadband connection without such a device).
Take note, however, that no Internet connection will protect you from any viruses or malware that are downloaded to your computer via an email you're received or a web page you have viewed.
Question 5: My computer runs really slow despite having many precautions advised against (viruses, etc). How can I speed up my computer?
A computer can be slow for many reasons. If you have noticed a recent slowdown in performance, you might want to consider the following:
1- Do you run Disk Defragmenter or Scan Disk regularly? Not doing so can cause performance decreases.
2- Do you have enough memory and/or free hard disk space to run your applications? Modern computers should have at least 256 MB of total memory (RAM) and at least a few gigabytes (GB) of free (available) hard disk space on your local "C:\ drive."
3- Have you installed any new programs recently? Newly installed programs could be running components that are utilizing memory and slowing your computer down. For starters, check your system tray (the set of small icons on your taskbar by your clock) for any unfamiliar icons. If you find some suspicious ones, some online research will help you determine if it is necessary, and if not, how to turn it off.
4- Have you made changes to your computer's system settings (options you will typically find in the Control Panel)? Such changes could change the behavior of your computer in such a way that slows many applications down.
5- Are you sure your computer meets the minimum hardware and software requirements to run your applications? Sometimes consumers will fail to check these requirements, and are surprised when the application doesn't run like anticipated.
6- Has it been long since your operating system (typically some variation of Microsoft Windows) has been installed? Over time, system files on the hard drive accumulate and configuration files get bloated with loads of extra information, which slows the system down.
If it has been more than a year or two since the last re-install, you might want to consider re-installing Windows and your applications (starting over with a clean slate, so to speak). If the computer is running Windows 95, 98 or ME, there is even more potential for problems.
Be sure to note, however, that if you are planning on "starting over" and re-installing, you will want to back up any inportant files you have stored on your computer. Blank CDs (if you have a CD burner) are great for doing such backups.
7- Have you scanned your computer with a spyware scanner, or alternate virus scanner? Just because you have protection doesn't mean something bad (virus, malware) can't slip by undetected. Spyware, in particular, has a major tendency to drastically slow a computer down.
8- Consider the age of the computer. Components age, and become less responsive and less reliable over time. If your computer is more than 5 years old, you should seriously consider upgrading to a faster and more capable model.
Again, please send your technology questions to me, and I will do my best to answer them! If I find a lot of requests for the same topic, I may dedicate an entire article to the subject, so I can cover it in more detail.
Have comments about this article, or suggestions for an additional Tech Tips article? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.