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Archive for January, 2009

RAMping up

When it comes to speed and performance, the amount of RAM your computer has is absolutely essential. In today’s fast paced world 256 MB ( that’s megabytes) is pretty much the bare minimum amount of RAM that you can get away with, and a new computer today will boast much more than this ( 4 gigabytes is now considered almost standard). To check out how much RAM your PC has, just click on the System Information tab in your Control Panel. If you run a lot of graphics or are a gamer and you have less than 1 GB of RAM, my suggestion to you is to get yourself some more.

What RAM does

RAM or Random Access Memory is a stick of solid state circuits with no moving parts that is able to perform task at lightening quick speeds.  If your PC does not have enough of this memory available then it needs to use its virtual memory cache that is kept  on your PC’s hard drive. While virtual memory is helpful, the problem is that your PC needs to poke around in a movable drive in order to access it and this ends up taking time and consequently leading to “page file” errors which will make you computer seem slow and unstable.

How to RAMp it up

Adding more RAM to your computer may be one of the simplest operations that you can perform on your computer. It only takes a few minutes and it will make you feel like a genuine professional computer geek type. RAM can be found in most electronic goods stores and comes in 128, 256, 512, and 1024 MB sizes. There are  different types of RAM ranging from RD RAM (a pair with metal casings), SD RAM ( has two notches and is being phased out, DDR SDRAM (the most popular type of RAM with two notches).  The RAM modules are green with black tubing and are located on the Mother Board. RAM also comes in two speeds (233 or 266) and this is usually written on the side of the RAM chips.

Once you purchase your new RAM (most likey the DDR SDRAM) you sill need to unplug your PC and take off the removable panel. After making sure you touch the metal casing to discharge any static electricity, locate the RAM Modules and remove the RAM your are going to replace. Line the new RAM with the slots and press down firmly.

Once the RAM is snug, the clips that hold it should snap into place.  Now plug your PC back in and check your system information. If everything was done correctly, your PC should show an increase in RAM (this might require some addition and subtraction capabilities on your part in order to determine this). If your PC does not show a bigger amount of RAM, make sure that the chips were properly set in place and that you bought some that was compatible with your PC. Once you get everything in good working order, you should experience a much faster PC.

Spring cleaning

While cleaning your hard drive and registry is an extremely important step in keeping your PC running fast and smooth, a process that is often overlooked by the more casual PC users is the actual physical cleaning of their computer. Most people seem to think that since their computer is an electronic appliance, cleaning it is not really necessary. This is a wrong train of thought. Computers have a lot of different components within and one of the main reasons that computers fail, is that these components can overheat due to the accumulation of dust. Others may be just be too afraid to open up this mysterious biege box and tinker around inside. While, opening up you PC to do some maintenance is serious on some levels, you really do not have to be some bonified expert to do a good job.

Cleaning supplies

Here is a short list of stuff you are going to need to clean your PC…

1. A can of compressed air ( this can be found at most electronics stores)

2. A small paint brush

3. Q-tips

4. A Phillips screw driver

5. A flat head screw driver

6.Paper Towels

7. Glass cleaner

8. A flash light

9. A pencil wrapped in some insulating tape

10. A vacuum with a nozzle ( if you happen to have one)

Okay, so this list is not really that short, but I imagine that you already have most of this stuff laying around the old homestead with the exception of the can of compressed air. Please note, whie you may be tempted to haul the compressor out of the garage instead of spending a few bucks on a can of duster from Office Depot, please do not, since compressor air contains moisture which will corrode the innards of your PC.

Static Electricity

The main thing that you do need to be worried about when monkeying around the inside of your computer is static discharge that may happen if you come into contact with the more sensitive part of your computer. Try not to wear any synthetic clothing while cleaning your PC, opting instead for the cotton. Also, you might want to get yourself a static strap, which you can attach to wrist and the metal chassis of your PC to insure that nothing bad happens. If you do not want to use a static strap, make sure that you touch the outside metal of your PC before opening it to discharge any built up static charge that you may have.

Getting Started

Okay now first unplug everything from your PC (except for the main power cord), making sure to not where all the plugs go for easy assembly later on and haul your PC to a well lighted and well ventilated work station with a surface covered with some old newspapers.


Use your screwdriver to remove the screws that hold the cover and put them aside. Carefully remove the cover and put it aside. Now touch the metal chassis with both hands and then remove the power cord. Now, if you have a vacuum with a nozzle, run it over the power supply unit ( that metal block located at the top of your PC) and get all the dust out. Now use the pencil to hold the blades of the PSU cooling fan and blow some compressed air through the PSU into the fans, pushing out all the dust that has built up.

Now it is time to clean the CPU fan and heat sink….


This is the most important part of the PC when it comes to maintaining temperature and a lot of dust and dirt can get trapped here especially if you are a smoker or have pets. Use the brush to clean the vents and then use the pencil and compressed air trick to blow all the dust out of the heatsink. Now use the Q tips and cleaning solution to clean the individual blades. After you finished with the heat sink and CPU Fan use the compressed air to clean the RAM Sticks and expansion slots and then clean the other case fans using the pencil and compressed air ( it is important to keep the fans from spinning to prevent damaging static build up from a dynamo effect)

Once you are done blowing out all the dust, replace the cover and then wipe down the case using the paper towels and glass cleaner. Then put your plug everything back in. Cleaning your PC  is important thing that should be done every couple of months to insure optimal performance.

Bells and whistles

So, you got yourself a registry fixer and used it to clean up your registry, defrag your hard drive, tweak your start up menu and eliminate spyware and adware, and your computer is still running kind of slow.  Well, do not worry, there is one trick that is still left that might boost your speed. However, this trick will leave you without any visual bells and whistles, and could make a your computing experience a little bit drab.

Changing the visual settings

To make your PC a bit more visually stimulating, Windows has incorporated a pretty slick set of visual effects into their interactive interface. You have shadows under the pointer, icons that fade, animated windows and other cool features whose only values happen to be of an aesthetic nature and are really completely unnecessary when it comes to your PC’s overall performance. Windows does allow you the option to turn some or all of these features off you would rather have your processor’s power focused on more important things.

To change visual effects…

Go to the Start menu and click on the Control Panel. Click on the Performance and Maintenance Category then on the System Icon. The Windows System Properties menu should slide neatly into view replete with a nice outline and shadow underneath it. Now click onto the Advanced tab. Click on the Settings button underneath the Performance heading and this next window should pop neatly into view….


Now unless you were previously tinkering with your computer’s visual settings, most if not all of these options are probably checked, giving your Desktop a nice slick look. If you think such nifty visuals are pointless, then I recommend that you click on the the “adjust for best performance” option. This will pretty much turn off all the cool visual features and free up a ton of processing power for other, more important things.  If you want to keep some of these features, but not others (like who needs shadows anyways) then you should click on custom and then pick and choose which options you want to stick around and which can go away.

Kinda Dull

After trying this on my own PC, I found the result rather drab and dull. While the PC seemed to run a little bit faster, I found myself missing the bells and whistles that I once took for granted. While these visual effects are unnecessary when it comes to getting the job done, they do help make your desktop feel a bit more visually inviting and I found myself missing the look. I think that this option is for people who have a really weak processor and need to squeeze all the juice that they can get out of it and not for people with a decent power who repair their registry on a weekly basis, defrag their hard drive and keep their PC free of viruses, spyware and adware.

Turning back time

One of the most important things that you can do is make sure that the information on your computer is safe. This is especially important if you are about to install or uninstall programs or you are about to attempt to tweak your system by cleaning your registry or  changing your start up programs. There are several different ways that you can save your information, each one depending on what you are trying to do. Let us look at several of more common ways you can back up your PC.

Create a Set Point


Windows has a feature called system restore that can be found in the system tools menu. Unless you choose to disable it to save hard drive space, this feature takes a periodic snapshot of your hard drive, allowing you to revert it if something goes horribly wrong and you need reverse time. The nice this about system restore, is that using the application does not spell doom for any documents that you may have saved since the last system check point. The only problem that I found with system restore is that it does not always have a recent check point and you might find yourself backing up your system to setting that are several weeks if not months old. However, it does allow you to create your own check points, which is something I strongly recommend that you do if you are about to do something major like clean your registry or install new hard ware or software.  To get started on creating a check point, simply click on Start, go to your system tools menu and click on System Restore.

Create a Back up File

The other option you have is to create a backup file.  This feature will allow you to create a file that contain all of your PC’s relevant information to be used in case of a major computer failure. Even if you choose to use system restore, a back upfilelike this could be handy and I recommend that you create one every several months (or weeks) to ensure your information is safe.   This back up feature can also be found in your System tools menu.


When creating a backup dick, you are given several different options. You can create one that saves all of your documents and settings, which will allow you reinstall all of your documents as well as your favorites, desktop and cookie items.  If you happen to share your PC with another user, you can also create a disk of everyone’s documents and settings. Thirdly, you have the option to make a backup disk of everything that is on your computer, but be aware this could end up being a backup file of gargantuan proportions. Lastly, you can pick and choose which items you want to back up. This is a good idea if you know which specific files you want to save for posterity.

Choosing where to back it up

For some reason, Windows XP still believes that it is 1996 and floppy disk drives can still be found everywhere and has drive A as the default storage site. If you happen to be knee deep in these little square disks, then by all mean I encourage to try to save all of your information on them. However, most people might want to click on Browse and choose to save their back up information either somewhere else on their hard drive ( if it happens to be partitioned)  or on another type of removable media such as an external hard drive ir a USB flash Drive.  do not ask me why, but this feature will not allow you to burn a backup CD ( at least I cannot get it to).

Related Blogs

The need for back up

Although I know that I must have mentioned it before, I think it is important for me to reiterate the importance of backing up the contents of your hard drive before you decide to try to make any changes to your system. Taking the time to back up your information before you run a registry cleaner, reformat, or defrag your hard drive could possibly save you a ton of time and headache if something should go wrong.

computer horror story

Okay, now gather around people and let me tell you a little story about how trying to tinker with your PC before making a back-up disk can go horribly wrong. Several years back, around the dawn of the new millennium, I had myself a Gateway PC with Pentium II and a whopping 10 Gigabytes of storage space, which was considered a large amount until a little thing called Napster came around. After several years of using this machine, I had pretty much filled the hard drive to the brim with semi legal music and needed more space. Lo and behold, a former roommate of mine just happened to have a 40 GB Western Digital internal hard drive that was still in its original box that he was willing to sell to me for a pretty decent price. Since I did not want to erase any of my ill gotten Mp3 files, I bought it with plans to figure out how to install it on my own.

When I tried to install it, the Gateway’s BIOS system refused to recognize the new Hard Drive, and I ended up accidentally formatting my original hard drive instead. I pretty much ended up erasing everything in my hard drive, and had no way to get it all back since I had not even thought about making a backup disk. To make matters worse, I had some misplaced my Windows 98 installation CD, so I ended up having to buy the full version of Windows ME in order to get my PC running again.  The good news was, that my squeaky clean computer now ran better then ever, but I had to start my Mp3 collection from scratch.

How to backup your data


There are several different ways to back up your data: You can create a back up CD, you can save a back up version to an external hard drive or you can create a safety check point right on your Hard Drive. A back up CD is a good way to transfer your profile from one computer to another, and having a boot from CD back up is a good thing if you are deciding to mess around with your hard drive like I did. You can find the tools to make a backup CD/DVD in your Window’s system tool bar.   If you have an external Hard Drive where you like to store all your legally obtained media, you should also be able to save a snapshot of your computer to it (Sometimes, with just a push of a button). This is also a good option if you plan to open up your PC and tinker with it

Windows also has a system checkpoint option that is a good way to reverse any undesirable changes that you have made while trying to tweak your PC’s speed ( like accidentally disabling your sound card). If you do want to reverse the changes you made, simply go into your Window’s System Tools menu and click on the System restore option. One thing that you should know about the Windows system checkpoint option is that it might not have a current system checkpoint available unless you took the time to create one before you started to make any changes. Created a system checkpoint is pretty easy, and it should be done every time you decide that you want to tweak with your system.