Five ways to avoid PC crashes
Feb 07, 2013 (St. Joseph News-Press - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
First, you notice your computer struggling a little bit. Then, your screen freezes and your machine starts making some funny noises. And, suddenly, a modern-day image more frightening than Attila the Hun or Jason Voorhees appears: the Blue Screen of Death.
You furrow your brow, and your forehead starts to perspire. You try to convince yourself that it'll be all right, but you know what happened. Your computer just crashed. And as you reach down to unplug the power cord and swiftly stick it back in the outlet, you can only sulk and hope that the crash wasn't fatal.
If you're one of the 92 percent of computer owners who use Windows, you've probably witnessed this frustrating experience before.
Believe it or not, there are a few fairly easy ways to avoid this awful scenario. While some computer crashes are unavoidable or require professional assistance, others can be prevented with some routine maintenance. Here are five ways that you can stop the Blue Screen of Death from taking over your PC.
Beat the heat
Everything inside a PC generates heat, and too much heat can cause those delicate components to become unstable.
Computers are designed to crash as a last-ditch effort to protect their own internal components from permanent heat damage, so if you suspect your PC isn't correctly dispersing enough heat, start by checking your fans. If one isn't spinning or appears to be moving slowly, check its connections to make sure it's properly powered. If not, have a professional replace it.
Next, clear your computer's vents, grates and filters of dust, pet hair, paper shavings or anything else that could prevent proper ventilation.
"We don't see computers that crash because of dust too often, but if they have a lot of pets in the home, it'll happen," says Steven Smith of Prolific Technologies in St. Joseph. "That dust and hair will clog the vents and cause some problems."
If you find any especially horrid areas, use a can of compressed air to clear the airways. Mr. Smith recommends that dog and cat owners do this every two or three months. For laptops, make sure that the machine sits on a hard, flat surface that won't smother the chassis around its vents.
Alex Cocilova, assistant editor for PC World, recommends monitoring the temperature of your computer with his favorite free monitoring tool, PC Wizard. In addition to other helpful uses, it will show you the real-time temperature of all your system components.
Update your hardware
Many computer crashes are a result of hardware and installation conflicts. All of your system's components consume IRQs (interrupt request channels) when installed, and every device requires its own channel to function properly.
"When two devices share the same channel and are used simultaneously, a crash can occur," Mr. Cocilova says.
This may sound confusing, but the fix is pretty simple. In your Windows Control Panel (which you can find in the start-up menu), select "Device Manager." This feature provides you with information about how the hardware on your computer is installed and configured and how the hardware interacts with your computer's programs. Once you're there, look for any devices marked with a yellow exclamation point. These are the ones with issues, and those usually can be fixed with a driver update. Just search your device manufacturer's website for the latest driver software, or re-install the problematic hardware itself.
A computer's hard drive becomes more and more fragmented every time a file is saved, a file is deleted or a program is installed. Unfortunately, fragmenting slows down the hard drive and also can give the operating system trouble when trying to find the necessary files to function. Eventually, the system will give up and crash.
To cure this fragmenting issue, select the "Disk Defragmenter," which can be found in "System Tools" under the "Accessories" option in your Windows start-up menu. Mr. Smith says this isn't much of an issue with computers running Windows Vista, Windows 7 or Windows 8, but owners who are still running Windows XP should do this on a weekly basis. Your computer won't let you save anything while the defragmenter is running, so it's recommended that you run it before going to bed or work.
Clean your registry
Your PC's registry is basically a vast library of system settings, and even when programs are uninstalled, their registry settings can stay behind. The settings are useless to the daily operation of your computer but can nonetheless bloat your system because the PC slows everything down to scan these error-ridden registry entries.
Mr. Cocilova says a good registry cleaner, such as Free Wise, is the perfect tool for clearing away the clutter. Free Wise will scan your registry, find the problems and exterminate them, leaving your registry free of obstructions.
However, Mr. Smith says people should exercise caution when using registry cleaners because some of them automatically delete things you might need to start your computer. If you do use one like Free Wise, make sure you always know the ins and outs of the program and examine what will be deleted.
Download a good anti-virus program
Malware is the most common and significant cause of The Blue Screen of Death, but the remedy for these infections usually isn't too hard to grasp. Simply start up your trusted anti-virus program, make sure it's up-to-date, and give your system the most expansive scan possible.
Mr. Smith recommends downloading the free program Malwarebytes Anti-Malware, which has been the most trusted anti-virus program at Prolific Technologies for years now.
"It grabs some obscure things that most programs don't pick up," he says.
If the virus has disabled the ability to start up your anti-virus program, restart your computer in safe mode by pressing F8 before the Windows logo appears. Safe mode will disable any extraneous programs and drivers from launching, and allows just the core operating system to load.
"Once in safe mode, you should be able to run your antivirus program, and complete a thorough scan from there," Mr. Cocilova says.
Shea Conner can be reached
Follow him on Twitter: @stjoelivedotcom.
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