Fred Langa recommends taking advantage of the slower pace of the holidays to perform three essential tasks.
Make Your Old Files Compact And Snoop-Proof
In any operating system and on any system, you can save a lot of space--and improve your data security at the same time--with some live, on-disk end-of-year archiving of your old data files, E-mails, documents, and such. The trick is simple: Use data compression to shrink the files' sizes, and encryption to make them snoop-proof.
Your operating system may offer built-in file and folder compression and/or encryption (XP does), making this an easy task. But it's still not hard even if you have to use external tools. I personally like WinZip for compression, and the free File2File tool for quick-and-dirty (but reasonably secure) encryption. We discussed many other encryption options in "Easy Encryption"; and you can find many other compression choices via any Web search.
In practice, you simply compress either individual files or entire swaths of your folder structure, preserving the arrangement and relative positioning of the files, but squeezing the files down to (typically) only half their former size. Once compressed, encrypt the stored files so that only you (or other authorized users) can access them.
When you're done, you'll have a safe, compact, and readily accessible archive you can get to (say, for searching or recovery of old data) with very little hassle, and at speeds far greater than digging out an old backup tape or disk, or calling down to the data center for it.
The H Word--Hardware
Once a year or so, it's wise to consider the purely physical part of computing--your hardware. For example, most PCs today have two, three, or more fans whirring away inside. Over time, an astonishing amount of airborne debris gets sucked into your PC case and deposited on the interior components. Eventually, the accumulating dust can act as insulation, preventing proper cooling of your CPU, video card, or other high-temperature items. At best, this shortens their life. At worse, it may lead to erratic behavior, unexplained shutdowns and hangs, and myriad other problems.
It takes literally only a minute or so to fix with today's tool-less (or mostly so) cases: Turn the system off, remove the cover, and gently blow out the accumulated grunge from inside the system case. Pay special attention to the CPU fans and other fans mounted over chips or heat sinks: The heat sink fins and crevasses are especially prone to dust build-up.
While the case is open, take a moment to ensure all cards are seated firmly, all cables are tight, and any socketed chips are solidly and evenly set in their sockets. (Use caution; you don't want to cause a static electric discharge anywhere inside the case.) Make sure all cables to your peripherals are tight, too. Before you turn the system back on, take apart your mouse and clean the ball and the rollers inside the housing.
It's a very simple thing to do, but this basic hardware maintenance can prevent a world of trouble--including even premature death of your system!
As Deep As You Want
These three steps are very basic, of course, sort of a minimum requirement to keep things running. There's lots more you can do, and the relatively slow holiday period is often an ideal time to do it. To go beyond the minimums and get your PC honed to perfection, try these sources of information:
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