When was the last time that you backed up your data? Not when was the last time you thought about it, or when was the last time you told someone how important it is, but when was the last time you actually backed up your data? And how much will you lose if your current hard drive fails right now and you have to rely on that backup?

Think about that for a second. Now, go create a backup.

If you don’t know how, don’t have a regular plan, or just want to see what’s new in the field, Consumer Reports has a good overview of the most common options. Personally, I have very little media on my computer, so I burn my files to CD once a year or so, and copy files to a flash drive in between. It’s quick, inexpensive, and secure enough for my needs.

Another decent solution is to use a program like Foldershare to synchronise your files between two computers (even better, two locations).

If you have the opportunity, make a full disk image (a ‘snapshot’ of your entire hard drive) immediately after reloading the OS and all your programs. This gives you a clean starting point to go back to if you need to reload everything again, and will be much faster than redoing everything manually. Acronis True Image 11 is good for the job.

2. Clean dust from your computer.

Computers are some of the most efficient dust collectors known to man. Aside from looking gross and possibly being an allergy hazard, a dusty computer will trap heat, which can reduce its performance and lifespan. The easiest way to clean it is with compressed air – open up the case, take it outside, and blow the dust out. The exterior of the case can be wiped down with a damp cloth. Be careful about using household cleaners, as they can easily destroy circuit boards. For most computers, cleaning once every year or eighteen months should be adequate.

Beyond just getting the dust out, here are some other steps to consider: Dust often collects inside the CPU and video card heatsinks, consider disassembling and cleaning them if youÂ’re comfortable doing so, or at least using compressed air to specifically blow them out. While the case is open, plug in the computer and turn it on long enough to make sure all the fans are still spinning. Replace any that are dead or noisy (a common sign of a worn-out fan). If there is sticky residue or dirt on the circuit boards, it can be removed with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol, which will evaporate cleanly. (Make sure the computer is unplugged first!) If youÂ’re not comfortable with working inside your computer or suspect your computer has chronic overheating issues, Puget Systems or another professional repair service can help you out.
3. Clean up your cabling, and everything else too.

There are probably two things behind your computer: a mess of cables, and dust bunnies. If youÂ’re moving your computer, take the opportunity to clean your desk and floor as well. While I canÂ’t claim that a clean work area will improve your computers performance or lifespan, it will certainly improve your peace of mind, and clean cabling will help prevent snags and stresses on your computer ports. If you have a lot of peripherals, consider using cable management of some type. Twist ties work fine, or make a trip to any large office supply store. You can use a full out cable solution, but even a five dollar cable wrap can neaten up your desk considerably.

While you’re wiping down your desk, wipe