From the time I was 'knee-high to a grasshopper' my father drilled into me the importance of proper automobile maintenance. "Oil is cheaper than steel" - Always change your oil!
But today I'm not really a 'car person' - (as many people have noted by the types of cars I drive) - but I am a 'computer person'. The same adage holds true with respect to computers. (not the oil thing... but the importance of regular maintenance)
Over the past 15 years I've worked out a method of maintaining my computers - it's not for everyone... but it works for me.
No less than once per year you need to totally 'clean out' your computer.
- Backup your personal files
- Write down all your customization of the standard interface
- Find all your applications original CD/DVDs
- FDISK the Drive
- Format the Hard Drive
- Re-install the Operating System
- Re-install all the applications
- Re-customize the interface to your specs
- Restore your personal files
It might be because of all those viruses and worms you get by double-clicking on e-mail attachments and 'cool' web pages. Or just that the hard drive gets filled with all sorts of useless stuff... but you NEED to do this!!!
To make these steps a little easier, I've produced a DVD with all my installation files in one place. A little DVD case with all the Operating System and Application Installer DVDs - plus my personal installation DVD - all in one easy-to-find place. I've also made a document that has all the software installation keys and codes in one place. (I've also made this into a USB stick so I can always have these with me if I need to startup a new computer while on the road or visiting friends/relatives)
A small portable Hard Drive - you can get one of these at Costco for under $100 - will allow you to keep FULL backups of all your personal files (My Documents if you keep them all in one place it will be much easier) - and do this full backup at least monthly - weekly would be better. Perhaps a reminder... each time you change the oil in your car you should do a full backup of your computer!!It's not a matter of 'if' your computer will fail... only 'When' - so backup as often as you'd NOT like to have to loose data.
My solution is a bit easier for me. I just get a new laptop at least once per year. Then instead of doing the same steps on maintaining my old laptop... I just do the same steps and am rewarded with getting to play with a new laptop! (it really takes the same amount of work - but its just more fun this way)
My Dad likes to play with cars - getting new little items on them, and if he had the chance he'd be buying a new car every year or so because it is 'fun'. My 'issue' with buying new laptops is just a cheaper 'addiction' than cars. ;-)
All joking aside... this IS a very important bit of maintenance for computers. All computer and network professionals I know do this all the time. But you might not feel comfortable doing this work on your own. Then just like you take your car into the shop... take your computer into the shop for this same type of regular scheduled maintenance!
Somehow it is 'alright' to take cars into car maintenance people (mechanics), our bodies into body maintenance people (doctors), our teeth to teeth maintenance people (dentists), but we think computers are something 'different' and either we try (and fail) to take care of them ourselves, or think that any old neighbor should be able to help out...