Many of us make resolutions to take better care of ourselves this time of year – we resolve to eat better, to exercise more, and to stress less. We may resolve to take better care of our homes – replacing the gutters or the roof, making much needed repairs to the exterior, or painting that room that’s been needing it for several years. Prevention, whether to protect ourselves, our homes, or our cars, is essential and worth, as Benjamin Franklin said, “a pound of cure”. So how about your computer? Are you completing scheduled preventive maintenance to protect your investment – or, more importantly, your data? Basic preventive maintenance for your computer should include completing data and system backups, external cleaning, antivirus definition updates, operating system and software updates, and cleaning out and defragmenting your hard disk drive. Over the next few months, we’ll use this newsletter to discuss each of these components of your computer’s preventive maintenance. Let’s start with backups.
Creating and maintaining a current set of backups is the first and most critical part of your computer’s preventive maintenance. Without backups, data recovery can be very expensive and, unfortunately, in some cases impossible. The primary storage component for your operating system, programs, and files is your computer’s hard disk drive or solid state drive (which is becoming more common). Hard disk drives provide magnetic storage of your data and are relatively robust. Most hard disk drives have life spans of seven years or better but all those moving parts, from stepper motors to read/write heads, can fail at any time leaving your data locked in a proverbial steel tomb. Additionally, there are malicious programs, often delivered through email attachments, which can encrypt your pictures, documents, and files, leaving them completely inaccessible. Solid state drives, propelled by the technological advancements, are small light-weight devices with no moving parts. Like a flash drive (or thumb drive), solid state drives rely on transistors situated on a thin oxide layer to store your data. Voltages exceeding the thresholds of these oxide layers, including static electricity, can cause catastrophic damage to the layers destroying the flash memory devices. Unlike hard disk drives which often emit growls and death rasps before their failure, solid state drives tend to just stop working.
Backups can be completed to local external drives, cloud-based storage facilities, or both. Windows operating systems offer a File History utility that allows you to schedule backups to a local external drive and recover or restore files at any time. Most external backup drives also come with their own software that can be used to create and schedule backups. Lastly, several companies offer cloud-based backups that store your data files off-site in a storage facility for a monthly subscription fee.
Next Month, we’ll discuss the second component of preventive maintenance, external cleaning.