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How to prepare your computer for the start of the school year

Back to school is just around the corner. How do you give your computer a facelift to start the school year off right? Here's a handy guide for teachers and parents.

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ATTENTION! The English translation is automated - Errors (sometimes hilarious!) can creep in! ;)

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By Saad Sebti, Marketing and Development Coordinator at INSERTECHa social economy enterprise (NPO) specialized in computer science.

When your computer comes out of the store, everything runs smoothly. But over time, if it's not properly maintained, it collects dust, gets saturated and becomes slower and slower. How do you give it a facelift to start the school year off right? Here is a practical guide for teachers and parents.

Slowness can have many causes, but fortunately, there are solutions! Here are some tips and tricks to speed up your computer, and at the end of the article, some references for more detailed tutorials. Let's see how to prepare the family computer for the beginning of the school year, but also how to maintain it throughout the year so that it lasts longer and doesn't let the kids down in the middle of an assignment! 

First of all, a good physical cleaning

1. Cleaning of dust

It is the #1 enemy of your computer, as it can overheat components or cause short circuits. That's why it's important to:

1. use your computer in a place where air can circulate easily;

2. dust the inside of your machine once or twice a year.

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So, for a laptop: use a vacuum cleaner with a flattened tip to suck the dust through the slots and the fan grill. For a desktop or tower computer, open the case and spray a canister of compressed air to blow away the dust.

Attention, SAFETY TIPS. First, make sure the computer is turned off and unplugged. Touch metal before touching the inside of the device, to avoid a static electricity shock that could cause damage.

Then, we also clean up the system by freeing up space

2. Housekeeping in the files 

We do some filing, we delete useless files, and we archive those we no longer use, preferably on an external hard drive. We can also put some in a storage space on the Cloud, but with parsimony, because the environmental impacts of cloud computing are very important.

In short, we free up space! And while we're at it, we also get into the habit of making backup copies.

3. Hard disk cleaning 

We will free up storage space. There is a tool in the system for removing unnecessary files from the hard disk: it empties the recycle garbage can, and it also deletes temporary system files, temporary web files, residual installation files, etc.

4. Uninstalling unnecessary programs 

Every new program slows down the computer. Conversely, each removed program speeds up the computer. To free up even more space on the hard disk, you can uninstall unnecessary programs or programs that were installed without your knowledge (for example, during the installation of another program, you did not pay attention to the box already checked "Do you also want to install program XYZ?").

Other tips and tricks to speed up your computer 

5. Unclogging of the RAM 

We often just put the computer to sleep instead of turning it off. In the long run, this clogs up the RAM and exhausts the device. So from time to time, it's a good idea to turn it off or restart it. It usually solves a lot of problems!

Sometimes, if the computer "slows down", it may be because there are too many programs open simultaneously. We close the ones we don't need, otherwise they will continue to take up system resources. This is also true for the Web browser: if too many tabs are open, it also takes up resources.

6. Browser optimization 

Speaking of browsers, we can also optimize them to be faster and more secure. It can happen that while surfing the Web, or when installing certain programs, add-ons or extensions are added without our knowledge. They take up resources and can even pose a security threat. Let's remove the suspicious and useless extensions!

7. Improved system performance 

In the settings of the operating system, you can disable features and visual effects that are a bit decorative, but not very useful (for example, transparency, the way menus open and close or the display of shadows). This frees up system resources and consumes less energy, and wears out the computer and the battery less quickly if it's a laptop.

8. Optimization of the start-up 

Publishers often design their software to start automatically and open in the background invisibly for the user. This is useful for heavily used programs, but not for others, because it wastes resources and slows down the whole computer startup. So, we disable their automatic start.

9. Hard disk defragmentation 

Attention: the following is only valid for standard mechanical hard disk drives called HDD (Hard Disc Drive), those with mechanical platters and a read/write head that moves to collect information on the disk.

But it is strongly discouraged for SSDs (Solid State Drives) that have electronic chips inside, as they are limited in the amount of writing and rewriting, as well as for Apple devices (as their system is designed to avoid fragmentation), with some exceptions.

In short: as you use the computer, files and programs are added, deleted or modified on the hard disk. They are fragmented into small blocks and scattered all over the disk surface. In order to gather the pieces and read the data, the disk has to keep spinning and the read head has to make many movements. The more scattered it is, the more it slows down the system and causes wear and tear.

Disk defragmentation allows to gather blocks, and to optimize the access to files. Thus, the disk reading head moves less, data access is faster, and premature wear of the hard disk is avoided.

10. Protection and updates 

When a computer is slow, it may be because it is infected with a virus or malware. This is one of the most common symptoms of an infection. It can come from anywhere: surfing the web, opening an attachment, clicking on a link in an email, installing suspicious software, a USB key, etc.

In short, we update the system, and we protect ourselves with a firewall and a good antivirus. By the way, an antivirus always slows down the computer a little, but you don't want it to be the main cause of slowness. So, it is necessary to choose it well (examples : ESET, BitDefender, Intego, etc.).

When software optimization is not enough, we open the hood and put our hands in! 

11. Increase in RAM 

To gain speed, you can replace or add RAM chips. It's easy, you just "clip" them into slots inside the computer.

12. Add an SSD hard drive 

If the computer is running with a mechanical hard disk (or HDD), it can be replaced by an SSD, which stores data on electronic chips that are instantly accessible. The difference is spectacular: it goes four times faster! Moreover, the SSD is more durable, because it is not sensitive to shocks like the mechanical disk.

13. Replacement of the graphics card, if necessary 

Last but not least, if the screen display is slow and jerky, it may be a sign that you need to change the graphics card, and then you will gain in display fluidity.

Resource

All this requires a minimum of dexterity and knowledge of computer components. Some operations are very simple to do, others are a bit more delicate. You can try to do it yourself at home if you feel comfortable. The Web is full of tutorials and video clips to help you. You can also consult the guide Extend the life of your computer on the Insertech website, as well as the numerous tutorials on francoischarron.com, iFixit, or WikiHow. There are also the Let's repair and Repair CafésThere are free repair events where you can get help from volunteers. If you don't feel comfortable with all this handling, it's best to call in someone who does it for a living to avoid damage.

Why is it important to extend the life of your computer? 

With preventive maintenance, optimization and repair, you keep your computer longer, it's more economical, you don't waste time reinstalling everything on a new device, and you fight obsolescence!

Keeping your device longer avoids serious environmental and social problems related to the production of new devices, and reduces technical waste.

What if you want to buy a computer? 

Consider getting a professionally reconditioned device.

Large companies rotate their computer equipment approximately every 3 to 4 years. Instead of destroying devices by sending them for recycling, reuse extends their useful life and meets the needs of families.

Corporate equipment is more robust, durable, repairable and of better quality than many new "consumer" devices. Plus, it's often much cheaper! Buying reconditioned equipment is a practical, ecological and economical choice.

GOOD TO KNOW

Warranty: in serious shops, you will be offered a warranty of several months on refurbished hardware and authentic software.

Reliability: check if the company is certified and approved by theARPE. This way, you can be sure that she does things professionally, according to the rules of the trade, and you won't have any unpleasant surprises.

(Original illustrations by Insertech)

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