- Alex -
Back up your Data!
To quote a friend of mine, "There are only two kinds of hard drives: the ones that have already crashed and the ones that will eventually crash." This is a very true statement. If this hasn't happened to you yet, don't worry - it will. To be prepared for a disaster like that, you should back up your data - ALL you data. To make this process easier, you should have your data well organized on your hard drive. That My Documents folder in Windows is there for a purpose. You should keep all your files in that folder, no matter if they are Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, pictures, whatever. That way you can simply backup just that folder instead of having to go hunt on your hard drive trying to remember where you put all your files. You can actually set up almost every decent program to save its files into a folder you specify. Take a few minutes to do that, you will be grateful later.
You probably noticed that I said earlier "most of your data". Most people forget that there is more than just your Word documents. What about your bookmarks that you accumulated over the years? Your e-mail addresses? The saved game of Quake that took you three months to get to that level? Unfortunately, this type of data cannot be stored in the My Documents folder. So be sure that you don't forget to back up that information as well.
If you don't have much on your PC, you might get away with copying a few files to a few floppies. Chances are though, that you need a lot more space. Thankfully there are several options that make it easy.
You can find out more about backup alternatives in our Removable Storage Options article.
You can find out more about how to back up your data in our Data Backup tutorial.
Back up System Files
You should also consider protecting yourself against corruption or loss of important system and configuration files to save yourself from having to reinstall Windows if this ever happens.
Make an Emergency Disk
If your hard drive crashes or your PC won't boot anymore for whatever reason, you need a bootable floppy disk. You can create this easily in Windows 98 by going to Start/Settings/Control Panel/Add Remove Programs/Startup Disk/Create Disk. This will create a bootable floppy with CD ROM support that will be very valuable to you when that moment comes.
In Windows 95, this process is a little more complicated as the floppy will not automatically support the CD ROM drive. You need to manually copy the drivers to your boot disk.
You can find out more about how to create a emergency boot disk with CD-ROM support in our Boot Disk tutorial.
A very important factor that is often neglected is the supply of power to your PC. If you live in an area with frequent power outages, regular brownouts or in a house with bad wiring, this could cause data loss on your PC. To prevent this, you should consider getting an uninterruptable power supply, or UPS. It will alert you when the power drops or completely disappears, and provide you with 5 to 10 minutes (depending on the model) of battery power to give you time to save your data and shutdown your PC properly.
You can find out more about how to protect yourself against power problems in our Uninterruptable Power Supply tutorial.
There is a lot of heat produced inside your PC, mainly by the main processor, but also by other devices like CD drives, hard drives, video cards, etc. If the temperature gets too high, your PC will start behaving very oddly including crashes. Make sure that you have proper cooling inside the case, preferably one fan that blows cool air into the case and another fan that pushes the warm air out. Your PC should have some room to breathe, don't cram it into a tight corner. Check that the fans are not cover by dust.
You can find out more about how to keep your PC cool in our PC Cooling tutorial.
Every time you download a file from the Internet, get a floppy from a friend, bring a file home from work, you expose your PC to the risk of getting a virus. Viruses can be very devastating on your PC, including corrupted files, deleted files and erased hard drives. To protect yourself, you should install professional anti-virus software.
You can find out more about how to protect yourself against viruses in our Antivirus tutorial.
If you are running old programs that were designed for Windows 3.x you should see if there is a newer version available that was designed for Windows 95/98. Also, about once a year you should make a list of all the hardware that you have installed on your PC, such as video card, printer, sound card, etc. and visit the manufacturer's web site to see if there are newer drivers available.
You can find out more about how to keep your drivers current in our Device Driver tutorial.
Keep it clean
The more programs you run, the higher your chances for crashes are. Don't install programs without doing some research first. If you don't use a program anymore, uninstall it. If it is a beta version, it does not belong on a PC that has important data on it. Be especially careful with little unknown or custom written programs that you download from the Internet. It could contain a virus or could be written by a hobby programmer with good intentions but bad QA skills.
You can find out more about how to troubleshoot conflicting applications in our Troubleshooting tutorial.
Third Party Utilities
Be careful with all those third party utilities out there, such as uninstaller, diagnostic, optimization and other programs. A lot of them are very intrusive on your system and cause more problems than they fix - and the few they actually fix, are often caused by themselves. The only party benefiting from them is the manufacturer who rakes in your cash. Windows 98 already comes with many diagnostic tools that make most of the third party utilities redundant. The only two tools that don't come with Windows and that have proven to be invaluable for me are Norton Antivirus and Partition Magic.
- Alex -