Winterizing Your Computer

Your computer probably didn't even cross your mind when you started thinking about winterizing. But that little machine that you've come to rely on more than you've ever imagined is vulnerable in the winter months, just like your engine. And like your car, there are simple, proactive things that you can do to protect it. Winterizing your computer can save you hundreds and hundreds of dollars in repairs or lost revenue in the long run, money better spent on a season pass, new pair of skis or, if you're a business owner, Christmas bonuses.

Check computer location
Is the CPU for your desktop computer on the floor near a heater or the fireplace? Do you have books piled around your laptop? Is it surrounded by dust, hair, dirt, or stuff? If you answered yes to one of these questions, you could be setting the stage for your computer to overheat, which can cause irreparable damage.

Both laptop and desktop computers traditionally have an internal fan designed to keep the computer's processor cool. When the fan is working too hard, because it's blocked by dust, pet hair, books, or shag carpet, your machine may begin to malfunction. Intermittent, random, system freezes and a general slowing of your computer are both signs of overheating. But it's more likely you won't know your computer has overheated and your processor is fried until it's too late.

Luckily, there are super-easy steps you can take to prevent problems:
1) Keep your computer away from heat sources; electric baseboards, floor heaters, and fireplaces can all wreak havoc on your machine.
2) Keep the area around your computer clear; make sure there is nothing blocking the fan's ability to circulate air.
3) Keep your fan clear of debris like dust and hair by cleaning it periodically with compressed air.

Have uninterruptible power & back up your data
Blackouts do occur. While one like the one on the East Coast a few years back is unlikely, power surges and brief outages are a fact of life the mountains. From epic storms to hungry squirrels, many things can cause a power outage.

Here in Tahoe the outages are usually short and the ramifications are more inconvenient than anything--unless you're a computer-user. Then the consequences can be devastating. The most common aftereffect of power interruption is data loss. The simplest way to prevent data loss is to frequently back up your computer. Home users and small businesses need to back up their data on removable, burnable media like CDs or DVDs.

Unfortunately, we all know that hardly anyone backs up their data as frequently as they know they should. In this case, valuable data can be spared a power failure or surge by having an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS). There are two kinds of UPS devices, a stand-by unit and a line-interactive unit. The stand-by switches to a battery backup when there is a power failure; the battery provides juice to your machine until you save your data and properly shut it down.

A line-interactive unit provides the same kind of back up in the case of a power failure and also provides automatic voltage regulation (AVR), which guards against power surges and drops.

UPS units can cost as little as $100 and might be your savior the next time the power goes.

Guard Against Malware
Holiday shopping can be a drag. It's especially a drag when you drive 45 minutes into Reno to get every toy on your kid's wish list. But today there is online shopping. With sites like, all you have to do is wait until the kids go to bed, flip on the computer, point and click, and the toy will be delivered in inconspicuous brown wrapping to your P.O. Box.

The convenience of online shopping is immeasurable, but it has its drawbacks, too. With so many people shopping online during the coming holidays there will be the inevitable increase in online predators; they are responsible for all sorts of scams, viruses, spyware, and adware.

Guarding against what collectively is called "malware" is probably the best, single thing you can do to "winterize" your computer this season, particularly if you plan to spend time online. Malware can cause a whole host of issues including a substantial loss in system performance (upwards of 50 percent with bad infections), stability issues, and difficulty connecting to the Internet. A virus can corrupt data and make your computer inoperable. And the even more pernicious spyware programs use tactics to steal sensitive information like credit card and social security numbers.

Studies by Earthlink and Webroot show that 90 percent of all computers connected to the Internet are infected by malware. To prevent fraud and system problems, be sure you have a comprehensive security program on your computer and that it's up-to-date. Panda's Titanium program not only offers virus protection, but also has an anti-spyware component, a firewall, and an anti-phishing (online fraud) component.

So before the snow starts to fall and the shopping rush begins, take the time to take care of your computer. In the end, it will take better care of you.     --by Leah E. Greenstein.

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