Monday, 28 January, 2008

How To Protect Yourself Against Computer Crashes

To prevent crashes, you need to look at your whole system. Here are key areas to look at.

Operating system. If you have a wintel (Windows/Intel) machine, you have a choice of two operating systems. Those are DOS (which is the underlying OS of WinCRASH--oops, I mean Windows 95, Windows 98, and Windows Me) and Windows NT (NT, 2k, XP).

There is no reason to run Windows 9x on any computer that is less than 2 years old, unless you are running the older game CDs or a laptop that is low on RAM. The false argument that NT costs more conveniently ignores many things, such as the fact you must buy quite a few third party programs to put the missing pieces into Windows 9x, while with NT these pieces are built-in.

RAM. Anything less than 64 MB of RAM, and you'll be dipping into your "virtual RAM," which runs about one 1,000 as fast as your RAM. This means longer execution cycles, timing problems, logjams on your bus, and more crashes.

Bad RAM. Hey, it's always possible. Pay attention to that RAM test when you boot up.

Hard drives. It's best to have your program files on one physical drive, your temporary files and pagefile on a second, and your data files on a third. However, dual-drive machines are far more common than triple-drive machines, and single-drive (ugh!) machines are even more common, still. If you have a single-drive machine, buy an extra hard drive, and partition it so you can devote 1 GB to temp files and another GB to your page file. This will dramatically speed up your machine, and it will reduce crash frequency, too. Keep your hard drives defragmented. How often should you defragment? Run defragmentation at least once a week. If you recently deleted many files, run it again.

Run Scandisk or some other similar hard drive utility to check for bad sectors on your drive(s). These cause crashes, too. Scandisk will also check for lost clusters. Choose the delete option.

Drive organization. Tons of temp files, too many files in your root directory, and the default "keep my frequently-changing files in the same folder as my operating system files" all cause crashes. Relocate your user Profiles, Favorites, Temp, Temporary Internet, and other such files to their own partition or at least their own folder. Go into regedit and change from C:\WINNT or C:\Windows as the default to something like C:\Mystuff or C:\0me.

Long filenames for folders or directories. Microsoft won't tell you this, but they don't support long filenames, even in NT, as seamlessly as they would have you believe. Go beyond 8 characters, and you increase the likelihood of a crash because the resources required to read even one extra character are more than what it takes to read the first 8!. Change Program Files to Programs, and you are on your way to better computing. This can be a hassle, though, because not all of your shortcuts, macros, etc., will respond to Explorer's name change utility. So, this is a "choose your poison" strategy that you should employ only when you want the ultimate in speed an reliability from your machine.

Cheap parts. Buy parts that carry NT certification. Period.

Screen savers. These don't save your screen, but they do induce crashes by hogging resources. You can choose between cute and functional--it's your computer. However, screen savers and crashes go hand in hand. If you are just dead set on a screen saver, at least avoid the kind that allow you to run text banners. These use highly complex algorithms that place a huge drain on your system.

Power glitches. What? You don't have a UPS? I'm not talking about one of those $12 surge strips. Get a battery backup unit, like the kind made by APC, Best Power, or other major names. I use a 1 kVA APC unit for my PC, but a unit a fourth of that size is sufficient. The cost is not much. Make sure you provide surge protection for data lines (such as phone lines going to your modem).

What to do about frequent crashes. Keep notes on what you did just before a crash. If a single program makes you crash, manually uninstall it (run regedit), and then see if your crashes go away. If they do not, then it may be because this program loaded in DLLs that aren't quite right for your system. To cure that, you may have to do a repair reinstall of your operating system and the latest service pack. Good luck.

If your computer makes a clunking sound and then crashes, you have hard drive control or physical hard drive problems. The cure is to reload your operating system, minus any service packs, and disable all TSRs (terminate and stay resident programs, such as screen savers and various utilities). Then, over a period of several user sessions, add in service packs and utilities. Forget the screen saver.

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