Break The Sleeping Habit

Whether Mac or PC, part of keeping your computer secure means always keeping it updated with the latest official patches. Both Apple and Microsoft regularly release free updates that address bugs and security holes that can be easily exploited if left unpatched. Every time you take your unpatched machine online, you are essentially a vulnerable sitting duck as soon as you connect that machine to a WiFi or wired network.

It’s easy to keep your machine updated if you turn on automatic updates, but what you may not realize is that some of those updates aren’t actually applied until the next full reboot. Putting your computer to sleep doesn’t qualify as a full reboot, so if you’re in the habit of just closing the lid, you need to develop a new habit: the daily reboot. If restarting your computer daily is too tedious, then at least do it weekly.

As a bonus, there are performance benefits in addition to the security benefits of a daily reboot. Problems due to buggy applications and hung processes can oftentimes be cleared out with a simple reboot.

A properly configured system should be able to perform a full restart in less than a minute and should only take longer when it’s applying a patch update. If your machine is consistently taking too long to restart, you may be in need of a startup analysis, OS upgrade, hard drive upgrade or hardware upgrade.

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When The Dust Hits The Fan

Dust is one of a computer’s worst enemies. Not only does it cause static electricity buildups that can short out electronic components, but when dust bunnies start blocking ventilation ducts and clogging up fans, dust effectively undermines the entire cooling system which leads to an even worse problem: heat buildup. Heat is another mortal foe of computers, causing slowdowns, lockups and possibly worse damage if things start physically melting down.

The internal guts of all computers and laptops must periodically be cleaned of damaging and dangerous dust buildups at least once a year and more frequently when operating in high dust environments. I recently had a client whose PC would no longer boot up; no display and not even a single POST beep. The PC was several years old, had never been cleaned out and was located in a shared business space with a high-traffic laundromat. Laundromats are probably the worst environment for any computer because of the extreme dust and static buildup. This client’s PC tower was chock full of about a gallon’s worth of dust. Every internal fan and vent was completely clogged up. I could have knitted an ugly Christmas sweater with the amount of dust that had to be cleaned out of that PC. Sure enough, with the cooling system rendered useless, the heat buildup inside the tower had caused the PCIe cards and even the memory modules to become gradually unseated from their slot connectors. The client was lucky that the damage wasn’t worse. After a thorough cleaning and reseating of all internal connectors, the PC booted up fine.

Dust isn’t just a problem for PC towers. Dust can be just as damaging for laptops because laptops also need proper ventilation for cooling. Another recent client had an early 2011 MacBook Pro suffering from slowdowns and lockups. AHT Apple Hardware Diagnostics reported an error with the main exhaust fan (4MOT/4/40000002:Exhaust-0) so I opened up the assembly to get a better look. The pictures below reveal the culprit: dust clogging the fan and exhaust vent.

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Cleaning out dust from a computer or laptop must be done carefully. Vacuum cleaners are not a wise choice because the static buildup created by the vacuum air flow can cause further damage. Cans of compressed air without any added chemicals are unfortunately the only way to go. It helps to blow out the dust in an outdoor environment, and since the cold compressed air creates some moisture and condensation, the electronics need to completely dry out before powering on. Any debris that stubbornly remains can be cleaned with a Q-tip and isopropyl alcohol, but again, let it sit for enough time to completely dry out before powering on.