Computer basics

We cover some basic topics for new computer users.

New Computers

The impulse when you get a new computer, is to plug it in, turn it on, and just start using it. That is perfectly fine, however there a few things to consider, and there are a few steps to take to insure your new computer stays running like new. If it is a laptop be sure to let the battery get a full charge. Then take a few minutes to update all the installed software. Depending on when you bought it, the computers software could be really out of date. Leaving your new computer vulnerable to all sorts of problems, such as it could have exploitable weaknesses to viruses, hardware connectivity issues, in general a myriad of problems that could possibly be avoided by updating the operating system and included programs. When updating start with the Windows operating system by clciking on Start, then select Settings, then select Update & security, Windows Update will open, after it does select Check for updates. If your new personal computer came with preinstalled applications simply opening the application can trigger automatic updates if not go to Help and look for check for updates, or updates. The verbiage varies by application, but in general they all use the word update. With some programs opening About will initiate an update. With all applications simply follow the prompts and update everything.


It is also a good time to check and see if your new computer came with an anti-virus application pre-installed or not. If it came with anti-virus installed that's great, just be sure to check the subscription length. Letting your anti-virus expire is like not having any protection at all. Updating your anti-virus is very important. With Windows 8, and Windows 10 Microsoft has included Windows Defender which works fine, just be sure to update it as well. If your Windows operating system, or anti-virus is out of date visiting one malicious website can ruin the whole new computer experience. For more information on anti-virus see our article Windows virus help.

What is the right way to use a computer?

This is a common question and the simple answer is there is no right or wrong way to use a computer. For many they simply do what they do, and that is that. That is all they need to do. Meaning if they read email in their application of choice and that is all, then that is all they need to know how to do. These users may desire to know more but may lack the want or desire to actually learn something new, so for them I always recommend that they just do what they do, and if they feel they need to learn more than consider reading a book.

For those whom want to learn more it is best to poke around Windows, and look at settings. Rather than just start making changes, go online and search the setting your are interested in, and I am sure you will find someone has covered the topic. That is not always the case, but once you find a good source bookmark it for easy reference. Another step that is worth doing is copying the website information and keeping it in a program like Microsoft's Onenote which works well and is free. Using Onenote to save the website is a good idea because there is no guarantee the web site you enjoy reading will still be online tomorrow.

For those new to computers these recommendations would mean learning something and these suggesting may require searching or exploring your computer, but don't worry that you can make a mistake just be willing to try and you may find simple things like book marking websites easy.

The reality of Internet security

For some the internet is a treasure trove of knowledge, and others it is a scary place that has lots of privacy issues that cannot be controlled. While both are true, the Internet will never be a perfectly safe place to visit and the information will never be 100% accurate. When it comes to securing your personal computer the situation is the same you can never truly secure it as long as you are connected to the internet.

Battery backup

One of the worst things you can do to a computer is plug it directly into the wall. Most modern utilities are pretty reliable, however unforseen events can cause serious damage to sensitive electronics. At the very least you should use a surge protector. If you have valuable data that you can not afford to lose consider a battery backup. Battery backups or uninterruptedly power supplies are a convenience item not necessary for all, but very useful if the power goes out.

Battery Backups don't tend to last very long, so it is important to regularly test a battery backup to insure it is working as it should. Most batteries last 1 to 3 years, so it is best to plan for battery replacement, or complete system replacement every few years.

To increase the lifespan of the uninterrupted power supply it is important to have a personal computer shutdown routine set and running. Having a battery backup that keeps the computer running until the battery dies is bad for the battery. This is a problem for older devices, yet it is still worth noting. A lead acid batteries lifespan is significantly reduced if it drains completely, so it is important not to let that happen. Some battery backup are using more modern batteries but the sealed lead acid battery is very common.

Computers have sensitive electronics and are easily damaged by low quality electrical power sources, in situations like these use a line conditioning uninterrupted power supply. Use of a line conditioning uninterrupted power supply helps to smooth out the flow of electricity. Line conditioning units can also extend the life of your hardware by providing a higher quality electrical current. This all depends on the quality of the uninterruptedly power supply, there are true sine wave deices and lower cost square models. The true sine wave units cost much more than the generic, and may or may not be of any real value. This depends on your knowledge and concerns when it comes to electrical quality.

Surge protectors

If a battery back up is to expensive or just more than you need, then be sure to use a surge protector with a high joules rating. In general the joules rating is the electrical absorption capability of the device. The higher the joules rating the higher the protection.

However, manufactures play with this rating and add multiple connection types to increase the overall rating seemingly to mislead consumers into thinking wow this one has a rating of 2000 joules and that one is only 900. In reality both may offer similar protection because the higher rated device also protects telephone lines and coaxial cable connections. Manufactures add these numbers together, when they should be listed separately.

There are other aspects to consider, but a simple rule of thumb is to look for surge suppression rating of around 300V. Less expensive models are 400V to 450V and these will work if a lower rated model is not available. Many people use multi port extension cords believing they are surge protectors, be sure to confirm the strip states that it has suppression capabilities.

Power saving surge protectors are an interesting concept. On one hand you have a device that can save you power when you turn off you devices. The surge protector is capable of turning of the ports not in use to prevent ghosts from using unneeded electricity. However, these units have in our opinion proved to be a nuisance. Often they simply fail and do not turn back on or they turn off ports and those ports are never powered again. Our recommendation is to avoid automatically switching power strips or surge protectors.

Writing on CD or DVD discs

When using disks for archival backup or for videos be sure to use a pen designed for CD's and DVD disks. At one time these pens were common, but as CDs and DVD disks are being removed from the marketplace, so are these types of pens. Permanent markers can potentially ruin the disk over time due to the use of solvents, so they are not recommended on disks you want to last. If you can't find a CD pen using disks with printable surfaces can reduce the risk.

Another thing to note about DVD and CD disks is that they are manufactured with or without stacking rings. Disk with stacking rings have a slightly larger center to protect them from surface scratches when stacked. Disks that do not have a stacking ring should be placed in jewel boxes or protective pouches. Putting two disks that do not have stacking rings will damage the disk on top.

Flash drives

Flash drives have become very inexpensive and make CD or DVD disk backup something someone would do years ago. That is true since flash drives are now large and so commonly available they make for a great storage medium. However, they are prone to fail and unlike a DVD disk when you pull it out of a drawer and see that it looks good you won't know for sure until you plug it in. Yet in the future you will have the problem of finding a DVD player. This is like the famous ZIP drives and ZIP disks that were so popular back when.

Free software

Free stuff is great. There is no denying that. However, why would someone take the time to create a program and give it away for nothing? Free programs developers are making money some how and since most people just want the free application they don't pay attention to the installer. When installing a free application the applications installer can be loaded with multiple applications called PUPS or potentially unwanted programs. These PUPS can be harmless or they can be malicious. The companies get paid for the installation and could care less what happens after. Read our article Windows virus help for more information.

Kids & computers

Our number one tip is for home computers is that you don't let kids use your computer. This is especially true if you use your computer for business. Find a way to get them there own. If you must let them use your computer don't let them install every game they want, or use it with their friends. Kids seem to learn all sorts of places on the internet that only other kids know about, and these sites tend to be full of viruses and malware. It is better to let them learn the cost of repair, and be subjected to a bit of downtime when they corrupt a computer by carelessly surfing the internet.

Batteries can last longer

Rechargeable batteries come with lots of our modern devices, and many cannot be replaced, or are not user replaceable. Therefore, it is best to try and make the battery last as long as possible. When you first get a new device a full charge is always best. Then a full drain, and again a full charge without using the device.

When charging turn off the device and do not continue to charge the device after it has reached 100%. Turning off the device helps ensure the charge is consistent and not fluctuating, not charging the device over 100% ensures that the device won't be over charged. Most devices have built in circuitry to prevent over charging, but this may not always work. Charging the battery in very high heat conditions can cause the battery to overheat, and definitely shorten its usable life. An example of this is leaving your device charging in the car on a hot summer day. It is also a good idea never to leave any battery operated device in a car because of the high heat.

Laptops that are always plugged can benefit from regularly being unplugged, and used until the battery runs down and turns itself off. This requires proper power management settings, Windows 10 users should select Balanced under Power Options. Running the laptop until it turns off and then fully charging it without using the laptop will allow the built in circuitry to more accurately calculate available battery runtime. It is always nice to know how long a device will last between charges.

Back up your data

No matter how much data you have select a way to back it up. May it be the cloud, DVD, Flash drive, internal, or external hard drive. Having a backup is a must. This has nothing to do with the value or quantity of your data, but it is just a simple convenience when your computer fails. It is easier to move on to a new device when you have all your data. A few word documents that were well written and now need to be rewritten would take more time than it would take to set up a back up. For more information on backing up your data visit data backup tips.

DVDs for backup purposes

DVDs are still good for reasonably large data file back ups even though they are being fazed out by manufactures trying to prevent software piracy. CD and DVD Burners are still being included with most desktop computers so for the time being we recommend them as affordable options for data backup. However, they do take much more time and in order to conveniently backup software might required. Basic burner capability comes built into Windows 7, and newer Windows operating systems, but it is very basic and sometimes to generic and confusing to get a reliable backup.


Taking the time to care for your computer is an important step to increasing it longevity. Start by using programs to clean your PC such as Windows built in Disk Cleanup application. Be sure and check to see that Disk Defragmenter and Optimize Drives is set to automatic. Some security applications take these setting over, so be sure to poke around in their settings and be sure it is running. Other then that most maintenance is taken care of for you automatically by Windows.

Printers & refillable ink tanks

Printer ink is expensive and manufactures want us to use their ink, and try to prevent users from using refillable ink tanks. There are a number of trade-offs when it comes to refillable ink tanks. They are usually messy, and the ink can stain your hands for days if one does not wear gloves. The ink tanks can be the incorrect model and could damage the printer. The ink is usually a much lower quality, may produce, lower quality images, and may take longer to dry. The ink could simply let go and dump all of the tank into the printer. This is true for ink from the manufacture as well. For many though the price is alluring and the savings can be so substantial that if the printer is damaged they saved enough to buy a new one.