28 pieces of computing advice that stand the test of time
Technology never stops moving foward. Hardware gets faster, and operating systems gain new features and (we hope) finesse. This is natural computing law.
But just because computers are one big exercise in evolutionary progress, that doesn't mean certain computing maxims ever go out of style. Take, for example, the nuggets of wisdom in the following list. All of these things are as true today as they were 2, 5, and in some cases even 10 or 20 years ago.
Below, we give you the best pieces of computing advice we've ever heard. Have we left anything out? Share your suggestions in the comments section of this article.
When in doubt, punch out
If something isn’t working on your PC, don’t wring your hands and yell at the screen. Just restart the system. That simple act alone will fix many of the problems you may be experiencing. When your PC restarts, it clears out all the temporary files in the RAM and relaunches the operating system. This wipes away any files that may have been giving your PC fits—and the operating system starts fresh and unfettered by whatever was affecting it. If you want to do these things without restarting, click Start, then Run, and type
%temp% into the command line.
Expect your battery to let you down
It's simply Murphy's Law: Your laptop or tablet will poop out the moment you need it most. That is life. Always bring your power cables with you on the road, and if possible invest in backup and secondary battery options.
Crowdsource your troubleshooting
Chances are, the help resources at your device manufacturer’s website won’t address your exact headache, but if you type an error message or problem you're having into Google, you'll inevitably find helpful information from poor souls who have encountered the very same issue.
Back everything up
Never get caught with just one copy of anything that you want to keep. Always back up your data, and then back up your backups. Consider backing up both to an external drive and to a cloud storage service. It’s a good idea to keep separate system and data partitions—back up your data partition daily, and back up your system partition (Windows as well as your installed programs) at least quarterly.
Remember that thumb drives are your friends
It’s very easy to lose track of the recovery discs that come with a new PC, so keep a USB drive with recovery software on it in case something goes wrong. Store it away in a safe, easy-to-remember place. And in that same safe place, keep both electronic and print copies of all your software keys.
Look to last year’s model for a better value
Tech manufacturers always charge a premium for the latest and greatest hardware—and typically you don't really need the world's fastest processor, graphics card, or I/O technology. So do yourself a favor and consider buying hardware that was best-in-class during a previous manufacturing cycle. It will likely be heavily marked down, but still wholly capable and packed with performance.
Skip the extended warranty
Don't be a sap. Extended warranties are designed to prey on your fear that the hardware you just purchased is already on its death bed. From a return-on-investment perspective, extended warranties almost never pay off—except for the companies that sell them.
Read the manual
You might be surprised at what you can learn by reading user manuals. It’s natural to just jump right in and begin doing the things you expect a device or application to do, but I've found that by reading the manual I can learn about features and functions I didn't know existed. Reading the manual can increase the benefit you derive from your device, and make you feel a whole lot better about buying it.
Consider the total cost of ownership
This maxim mostly applies to purchases of printers and subsidized phones. If you intend to do a lot of printing, pay close attention to the cost and efficiency of consumables, namely the ink or toner. And if you're investing in a new smartphone plan, consider what you'll be paying month to month...to month...to month...
Resist the urge to impulse-shop
A tech geek is never more dangerous than when perusing the aisles of a brick-and-mortar hardware store. If you absolutely must purchase a new toy in person, make sure to do your research beforehand. Don't be swayed by the razzle-dazzle of salespeople, and arm yourself with deep product knowledge before you enter a store. Also, always ask the retailer to match lower Internet pricing, if you can find it. (You'll want to bring your smartphone with you.)
Keyboard shortcuts: Use them, love them, live them
You can work far faster (and look way cooler) by mastering keyboard shortcuts for the programs, services, and operating systems you use every day. To learn these shortcuts, check out PCWorld's numerous articles containing keyboard shortcuts for every major OS and many popular applications. Get started with Windows 7 shortcuts.
Build your own
In many cases, building your own PC can be a less expensive proposition than buying a prefab system—and even when it isn't cheaper, building your own ensures that you get the precise configuration that fits your needs (this is especially true for gaming PCs). PCWorld frequently publishes building guides, so you'll never be able to claim we never showed you how!
Keep your software up-to-date
The message windows reminding you to update your software can get annoying, but it’s a good idea to stop what you’re doing and click the 'Update now' button. You'll get the all the functionality the software has to offer, and you'll also obtain vital security patches that can protect your system from software crashes and data loss.
Use an ergonomic keyboard and mouse tray
You might not realize how much time you spend at your desk. Hours can fly by when you’re “in the zone,” and those hours of typing and mousing add up. Carpal-tunnel syndrome and other repetitive-stress injuries are a real risk for the information workers of today, and they can cost you dearly in pain and missed work. A small investment in adjustable, ergonomic keyboard and mouse combos, coupled with some research on correct positioning, can save you a lot of trouble.