1. A Short Guide to Trouble Free Computing

When you buy a personal computer you expect it to work and continue working for a long time. While this is true for many people, sadly there are all too many cases of machines failing. 

Since computers have a nasty habit of failing two days after the warranty runs out and a day before your dissertation paper is due in anything that can be done to prolong the trouble free life of your PC  is good news. 

In the same way that your car or bike works better given regular servicing, computer systems are also a good candidate for some care and attention. 

1.1. Top Tips for prolonging your computers life (and maybe your own!)

  • Try not to place your computer in a dusty environment - if its in your bedroom, dust around the fan inlet at the back regularly. Wipe the machine with a damp (not dripping) cloth - it is better to do this with the machine off!
  • Is the electricity supply to your home/room prone to surges or spikes (do your lights flicker a lot)?  If so, it may be worth buying a surge protecting plug for your computer - these are about £20 and are available from high street electrical stores (a good one has a light to tell you it is working) and will protect your computer from sudden increases in mains voltage.
  • Much electrical energy in today's latest computers is burnt off in heat so it is important  to ensure that the air vents of your system are not blocked and that there is enough space above the monitor for the heat from the screen to escape.
  • Many problems are caused by the heating up and cooling down of components inside the system. If possible try not to locate the computer near radiators/heating vents or in direct sunlight during the summer. 
  • Leave the computer on for as long as possible rather than switching it on and off throughout the day - most of the stress in a computer's life comes in the first few seconds after the power is turned on.
  • TAKE REGULAR BACKUPS -if your hard disc fails, then strangling your supplier will not rescue your thesis!
  • Use the disc tools supplied with your operating system (eg Defragment and Scandisk for Windows 95) regularly (eg once a fortnight) to keep your disc in an optimised state - this can help prevent disc problems and alert you to impending hard disc failure.
  • If you want to transport your computer any distance use the original packaging - computers can take knocks and bumps but just like you they would prefer not to!
  • Register your equipment with the University PC Maintenance Scheme - for a small annual charge you have peace of mind if the machine breaks down.

1.2. Laptop Care (Keeping it running for longer....)

When travelling abroad pack the machine well and do not place any hard objects in the same case or pack the case over tightly. A common cause of screen failure on laptop machines is the crushing of the lid of the laptop (which forms the back of the screen casing). This may leave no visible damage but can render the screen unusable. In the worst cases seen by OUCS micro consultants the screens have been cracked due the to external pressure of an over packed suitcase on an aircraft.
The battery life of many portables can be greatly increased by following the manufacturers instructions for battery cycling.  For most modern laptops this means running the battery flat  (leave the machine on and play games etc.  - don't run it flat while you are working on your dissertation!) and then fully charge the battery again.  Perform this AT LEAST once every two weeks (read the instructions for the machine to find out the recommended interval - older machines may require once a week) and this should prolong the useful life of your battery.
Almost all latop power supplies are auto-sensing. This means that you don not normally need a voltage converter to plug in your laptop (you may need an adapter to make the plug physically fit) BUT CHECK FIRST. An auto sensing power supply will be marked 100~240VAC  50/60 Hz; if only a single voltage and frequency are shown (for example 100VAC 60Hz) then DO NOT plug in the equipment outside its country of origin/purchase without checking first!!IF IN ANY DOUBT CHECK WITH A QUALIFIED ELECTRICIAN

1.3. Help! My Machine is broken.......

Sometimes, even following all the above is not enough, so what do you do? 

Firstly DON'T PANIC! - many calls to support personnel are the result of very minor problems or misunderstandings  - yours may be too.  There are a few simple checks you can  make yourself before calling in the experts:
  • Is the machine plugged in - make sure by following the lead from the plug to the system unit - if it is plugged into an extension lead is that also plugged in - has your spouse/child/cleaner etc. unplugged it ? Do other things work in the same socket? (if not check the fuse or get a competent electrician to check the socket for you).
  • Ok - so its plugged in - is it switched on ? Check! 
  • Is the whole system dead ? If only the monitor is dead, does it have a separate power switch ? Is this on? 
  • Are the brightness/contrast controls adjusted correctly or has someone turned them right down?
  • Is it just sleeping - some machines will go into a deep sleep if they are left running and not used for a long time - try pressing keys on the keyboard or moving the mouse to wake it up.
  • Are all the other connectors firmly pushed in at the back of the machine - if your are seeing nothing on the screen but the monitor power light is on check the video lead from the monitor to the system unit is firmly connected at both ends.

These may sound silly and obvious but think how silly you'll feel if an engineer calls and discovers your roomate unplugged the computer to plug in their kettle. You may also have to pay if an engineer is called and there is no fault with the equipment.

If none of the above has helped why not try your supplier (for equipment under warranty), contact your IT Officier or if they are unable to help, visit the OUCS Help Centre for further advice. If it is a hardware problem and the machine is registered on the University PC Maintenance Scheme then instructions on calling an engineer will be with the registration documents or can be obtained from OUCS. 

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