Mobile Computing: Spring Cleaning
Feature: Spring Cleaning Tips
As I write, I'm in the park on a sunny day, my notebook resting on a disposable toilet-seat cover.
It must be getting close to spring.
There's a park with outdoor picnic tables and public restrooms near my home office. On a nice afternoon, I'm liable to take my notebook there and work for an hour or more. On this particular outing, the picnic table was covered in pollen and dirt. So I went into the restroom, fetched a toilet-seat cover, and placed it between my notebook and the table for protection.
The typical notebook, when used on the road, is exposed to more dirt and dust than your average desktop PC. And so, with spring arriving soon, it's a good time to clean up your notebook--outside and in. Here's how.
Cleaning the Outside
Wipe the Screen. A notebook's LCD is a magnet for dust and smudges. For that reason, I keep several packets of Bausch & Lomb's Sight Savers Pre-Moistened Lens Cleaning Tissues in my notebook bag. In addition to notebook screens and eyeglasses, I've used the tissues to clean PDA and cell phone displays. (Never squirt a liquid cleaner on your screen. It can trickle down into the keyboard and damage internal components, and when you wipe it off you can scratch the LCD.) You can find a box of 16 packets for under $2 at Drugstore.com.
De-Crumb the Keyboard. As you travel with your notebook, you'll inevitably drop a crumb or two through the keyboard keys. How to get them out? Turn the notebook upside down and give the keyboard a blast with a canned, compressed air cleaner. Kensington's Air Duster is $7 at Staples. A more convenient (but less effective) option for travelers is a keyboard brush. The Staples Keyboard Brush ($3) is one example.
Keep the Air Vent Clean. Most notebooks, like desktop PCs, have an air vent to allow heat (from the microprocessor and other internal components) to escape. Unfortunately, these air vents also attract dust. Every month or so, use a handheld vacuum to remove the dust. Or invest in a compact, portable vacuum designed especially for PCs. I've not used the Metro Data-Vac PC Personal Cleaner, but the 110-volt device looks like the tool for the job. You can use it to clean your keyboard, too. TigerDirect.com sells it for $20.
Protect Your Screen From Scratches. My Hewlett-Packard Dv1000 portable shipped with a thin piece of black microfiber material between its screen and keyboard. The material is designed to protect the LCD from scratches, and I use it every time I take my notebook on the road. ShaggyMac sells similar screen protectors for notebooks ($11 to $16).
Cleaning the Inside
It's likely that your notebook's hard drive could use some spring cleaning, too. Here are some easy ways to keep your portable running at its best.
Clean Out the Cache. Microsoft Internet Explorer's cache can get bloated over time, too, which can slow your Web surfing. To flush out the cache, open Internet Options (use Start, Control Panel or Start, Settings, Control Panel and then choose Internet Options or Network and Internet Connections, Internet Options, or open Internet Explorer and choose Tools, Internet Options) and on the General tab, click the Delete Files button under "Temporary Internet files."
By the way, if you click the Settings button, you can decrease the amount of hard disk space dedicated to caching temporary Internet files. In general, cache sizes above 80MB waste disk space and can slow your system's performance. If your default setting is higher than that, type a smaller number into the "MB" field. Caution: Don't make the cache too small (say, 5MB), or the browser won't have enough temporary storage space--which can slow you down, too.
Erase Your History. Internet Explorer's History is a record of the sites you've visited and should be cleaned out periodically, too. Erase your history by clicking the Clear History button in the History section on the General tab in the Internet Options dialog box. While you're at it, reduce the number of days to keep pages in history to, say, 10, and then click Apply.
Organize Your Favorites. Until I recently switched notebooks, my Internet Explorer Favorites were about as organized as a kindergartner's closet. Now, I've grouped my once-scattered Favorites into subject-related folders for quick access. To tidy up your Favorites in Internet Explorer, click Favorites, Organize Favorites and use the buttons (Create Folder, Rename, and so on) to get organized.
However, if your Favorites are as messy as mine, you may want to open My Computer and navigate to C:\Documents and Settings\[your name]\Favorites (in Windows 2000 and XP) or C:\Windows\Favorites or C:\Windows\Profiles\[your name]\Favorites (in Windows Me and 98); a large Windows Explorer view and the ability to drag Favorites into folders can make a big job more manageable.
Note: Microsoft's browser may be the most popular, but it isn't the only one around. If you use Opera or Mozilla, you'll want to read "Cut the Clutter and Add Power to Your Browser" for tips.
Delete Temporary Files. Over time, temporary files reduce your hard disk space and increase the time Windows requires to boot, print, and access the hard drive. But deleting them is easy. Close any open applications. In Windows, select Start, Programs, Accessories, System Tools and then choose Disk Cleanup. When prompted, select C: from the drop-down list of drives to clean (C: is usually your notebook's main hard drive). The Disk Cleanup utility lets you delete many file types, such as Office Setup Files. But you might want to restrict your deletions to Temporary Files and Recycle Bin, unless you understand the other file types and are sure you don't need them.
Defrag Your Hard Drive. The Disk Defragmenter utility in Windows groups all the bits of data that get strewn across your hard drive. By regularly defragging your hard drive (at least once a month is recommended), you reduce the amount of time required to access files and programs. To run the utility, close all open applications, click Start, Programs (or All Programs), Accessories, System Tools, Disk Defragmenter, and follow the instructions.
Check for Errors. System errors and bad sectors pile up on your hard drive and can slow performance. Get rid of them using the Windows Error-Checking tool. You'll find it by opening My Computer and right-clicking your notebook's hard drive. In the pop-up menu, select Properties. In the Local Disk (C:) Properties dialog box, click the Tools tab, select Check Now, select the desired "Check disk options," and click Start.
Your Housecleaning Tips?
Do you have a tip on keeping your notebook clean and happy? Send me e-mail.