Instant Reference Guide to PC Maintenance

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The Tools You Need

Having the right tools makes maintaining your PC easier and safer. Here are the tools we think every user should have--from screwdrivers to the software you ought to run every day--and the Web sites that can help you out when problems happen.

Online

McAfee FreeScan: You don't have to purchase and install antivirus software to see if anything harmful is lurking on your computer. McAfee's FreeScan works online and doesn't cost a dime.

ShieldsUp: Steve Gibson's ShieldsUp will scan your system to see if any ports are open, and if they could be used by a hacker to get access to your personal data.

BroadbandReports.com broadband tools: Check the speed of your connection and pin down problems with your ISP with this excellent collection of utilities for DSL and cable Internet users.

PC Pitstop: Worried that your hard drive is dying or that your floppy drive will fail? PC Pitstop (a PC World partner) offers a huge range of online tests for your hardware, software, and Internet connection.

Online backup: You don't have to use a rewritable DVD drive to back up your data. Services such as Xdrive and IBackup provide secure online storage for a monthly fee. You can even access your data from another PC.

PCWorld.com Downloads: Don't forget to check out our list of the most popular utilities for testing and fixing your PC.

Hardware

Hardware: An antistatic wrist strap can help protect your PC from shocks.
Hardware: An antistatic wrist strap can help protect your PC from shocks.
Photograph: Kevin Candland
Screwdrivers: A set of screwdrivers with Phillips, standard, and Torx heads will prepare you for every eventuality.

Pliers and tweezers: Needle-nose pliers and tweezers make getting to those hard-to-reach parts easy.

Compressed air: Your PC is a dust trap, but you can gently blow the dust away with a can of compressed air.

Handheld vacuum: Carefully remove the dust, hair, and gunk that collect inside.

Antistatic strap: Static electricity can kill the system's sensitive internal components, so never open the case without using a wrist strap.

Software

Software: ZoneAlarm warns you when programs try to access the Internet.
Antivirus: A comprehensive program such as Norton AntiVirus 2004 can protect your PC; good free alternatives are available, as well.

Utility suite: A good utility suite can help secure your machine and fix problems quickly and easily.

Firewall: Lots of bad people lurk out there, but a firewall such as ZoneAlarm can keep them at bay. Free firewalls are adequate for most users.

Boot disks: Windows XP doesn't come with a boot floppy, but Microsoft does provide a program to create bootable floppy disks if you can't start from a CD.

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