Making resolutions for the New Year? How about including some essential computer tasks that we all know we ought to do but often don’t. Gizmo’s readers are pretty savvy PC users so you may already practice these good habits. But it’s a good bet that many of your friends and relatives do not. Pass these tips along to them and you may save somebody a lot of future computer misery.
1. Make a system restore or recovery disk
A restore or recovery disk is a copy of the restore partition that comes with most PCs. Few manufacturers provide a Windows installation disk or even a restore disk with a PC these days so you have to make your own. If your hard drive ever fails, you’ll be glad you did. How to make a restore disk in Windows 7 is described here and for Windows 8 in this article. Also, many PCs come with OEM software for creating a restore disk from the restore partition. It won’t replace an up-to-date full backup but it’s a lot better than nothing.
If you are more ambitious, you can periodically create a new drive image with all your latest files. You can use one of the free disk imaging programs reviewed here. Making an image of an entire hard drive should be done on an external hard drive.
2. Back up your data
This may seem like stale advice but it has to be repeated. Everybody knows they should back up but they don’t. “Back up” seems to rank in popularity with the advice to “get more exercise and eat more vegetables”. Neglected it may be but backing up personal data and files is a must. Look what happens over and over. Somebody’s hard drive crashes or they lose their personal data to some malware infection and there go all those precious photos or other important files. Don’t let that happen to you.
Data backup is a simpler and quicker process than imaging a full disk so it can and should be done frequently. Personally, I use several external hard drives in rotation but a USB flash drive is also a convenient place to put data backups. Free software for creating backups is reviewed here.
3. Write down the Windows product key
It seems to happen all the time. People’s system gets bollixed and they need to reinstall Windows. Then they discover that they do not know the product key for the original installation. On laptops, it may be on the bottom of the case but often is not or is undecipherable. So record your product key in a safe place somewhere. If you don’t know what it is, this article gives some ways to reveal your Windows product key.
4. Make an emergency Windows boot or startup disk
Sometimes it happens that a PC won’t boot or load Windows when you turn it on. An emergency repair disk that can be booted can be a lifesaver when that happens. Both Windows 7 and Windows 8 provide for the creation of a CD or USB key to be used to repair a Windows installation that has corrupted system files and won’t boot. This is a much smaller disk than a full installation or restore disk and is just a set of tools to help repair the Windows system. Instructions for Windows 7 are in this article and for Windows 8 are here.
5. Make a bootable rescue disk with anti-malware programs on it
If you are unlucky enough to get a malware infection that keeps your system from booting or that your installed anti-virus program is not removing, an external bootable disk with anti-malware program or programs on it may be able to save you. By working outside of the infected system, an anti-malware program has a better chance of dealing with an infected PC. The major anti-malware programs provide for a way to create a bootable disk so check yours out and create a live CD for running your particular antivirus program. Major antivirus vendors also provide free downloads of iso files for creating rescue disks. Here are three of the many that are available:
And there you have it – five essential steps that will prepare you to deal with big Windows problems. Don’t wait for disaster to strike.
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This tips section is maintained by Vic Laurie. Vic runs several websites with Windows how-to's, guides, and tutorials, including a site for learning about Windows and the Internet and another with Windows 7 tips.
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