Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Importance of Regular Maintenance

Welcome back to another week of technical fun. This week, I wanted to talk about regular maintenance you should be doing on your machines (besides that of system backup). The first of these is a disk scan (when I say "disk", I am referring to your hard drive).

First, what is a disk scan? Well, a disk scan checks your disk to see if there are any errors that need to be fixed. It checks each file on your disk, indexes (which basically make it easier for the computer to find files) and sectors (which are specific locations where data are stored) to see if any of these need to be addressed. If it finds any issues or errors, most of the time, the disk scan can take care of them.

Now, why do we need to a disk scan? Just like any other piece of metal, the disk can begin to deteriorate over a period of time, especially with how much action it gets just by turning on your computer. You also have dust that collects inside your computer, which itself can cause some issues. Sometimes part of the disk degrades and needs to be fixed.

Once the disk scan has finished, you've only done part of your maintenance. The other part of disk maintenance is defragmenting the disk. What is defragmenting, you ask? Well, let's first cover what a computer does when you create a file.

Let's say you create a Word Document and you are ready to save it to your hard drive. When you actually save the file, the computer attempts to store the file on your disk, but because of the way computers work, the file can't always be saved in one place on the hard drive (because of size limitations, which is a new discussion in and of itself). So you may see one file spread across multiple sections of your disk. This spreading of files is called fragmentation and can cause a slow down in your system, if left alone long enough. So, defragmenting the disk does just the opposite: it takes the files on your disk and puts them in order and together as best it can. Thus, you can speed your computer back up.

Disk scan and defragmenting your disk are pretty simple tasks to perform. If you open Windows Explorer (go to your Start menu | All Programs | Accessories | Windows Explorer). From there, you should be able to find your C drive, which you should right click and select Properties. You will then see a Tools tab. The first option is "Error Checking", which is your disk scan. Click on "Check Now", and check the two options you see ("Automatically fix file system and errors" and "scan for and attempt recovery of bad sectors"). Then you will be asked if you want to schedule this scan for your next restart (since the disk can't be checked while you are using it). Click ok and then restart your machine. Windows will take care of the rest.

For the defraging of the drive, you will want to go to the same Tools tab, and under Defragmentation, click on Defragment now. In any operating system earlier than Windows Vista, you will click on Defragment in the new window, while with Vista and Windows 7, you will click on Defragment now.

Performing these simple tasks regularly (disk scan once a month and defragment once a week) can greatly increase the performance of your computer and avoid issues in the future.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Importance of System Backups

This last Friday was one of the most interesting and infuriating days for me at work. When I walked into the office, I noticed my computer was off (which is odd, since I usually leave my computer on in case I need to connect to it remotely). I chalked it up to a power outage, since it wouldn't be the first time we experienced that at this office. I pushed the on button and sat down at my desk, watching it load the hardware. It then went to start up Windows XP, but restarted again.

I went through this process again and again until I finally gave up and realized something about my computer was shot. I tried grabbing another computer tower to put my hard drive into (thinking maybe something got fried on the motherboard of the other computer). Still no luck in another tower. After trying a second computer tower, I knew I was doomed: all my data was gone. But wait, my machine was set up to do a system backup on a weekly basis. All I need to do was check the network drive my backup was stored on and I would be completely fine. Except, my system backup hadn't run since late February. Now, I was really doomed.

Now onto the purpose of this story: Always run a system backup on a schedule, and check the backup regularly.

For those running Windows XP and earlier (yes, there are still people out there running earlier than XP), you go to Start | All Programs | Accessories | Backup. Here you click on the Backup Wizard and select all of your options. For those running Vista and Windows 7, go to Control Panel | Backup and Retore. The great thing about Windows System Backup is it not only creates a backup of your files, but also of your software. So, for instance, if your hard drive goes down (ahem, for your sake, I hope this never happens), you can use the system restore on a new hard drive and it was like your first hard drive never crashed in the first place.

Lastly, you need to make sure to store the backup on an external drive. If you leave the backup on the same drive, then you are not doing yourself any good.

I hope this has helped you in some way. Let me know if you have any questions on how to create your system backup or how to restore it.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Welcome to the Lantz Tech Cave

Welcome to my Tech blog. Let me start by introducing myself and giving the purpose of my blog.

My name is Bill Lantz and I'm currently the IT Manager for a small telecommunications company. I spend most of my day at a computer, trying to figure out answers to questions and fix technology issues. Most of the time, when I have a question (mostly for SQL Server), the web is insufficient in giving me answers. This means I have to piece-meal different answers together to actually get the solution. I'm hoping this blog can give you answers to some of your questions, while maybe entertaining you a bit.

Please feel free to leave a comment or ask any questions you may have.