Cheat Sheet

Fix Your Own Computer For Seniors For Dummies

Updating software and performing computer maintenance can make your computer last longer, and it isn't difficult. Update software to get the latest security updates and bug fixes. Physically clean your PC. Watch for error messages. And if you can’t fix your computer yourself, find help online.

Perform Windows Computer Preventive Maintenance

Fixing your own computer is less necessary if you perform computer maintenance. These tips for maintaining your PC can help you prevent computer problems before they happen and can keep your computer running smoothly and efficiently.

Be aware of hygiene and updates

  • Keep your computer cool and dry. Avoid direct sunlight on all computer components. Don't block fan and ventilation openings. Be careful with food and drink around the machine; a spill can ruin a machine in seconds.

  • Keep your computer clean. Wipe the monitor, keyboard, and computer case periodically with a soft cloth. Keep handy a soft, clean paintbrush or a can of compressed air to clean out the keyboard and ventilation ports on the computer case and monitor. You can also gently vacuum the parts.

  • Keep your software up to date. Microsoft regularly updates Windows. Other software manufacturers keep their applications current with updates, too. Check manufacturer Web sites.

Be aware of sights and sounds

  • Cooling fan. The computer’s cooling fan should make only a soft whir, but some machines automatically speed up the fan when temperatures start to rise. Is the computer in direct sunlight? Have you inadvertently restricted airflow in and out of the box? Is the power supply overheating?

  • Hard drive. A louder-than-usual hard drive may mean an impending failure; listen for clicks or erratic speedups and slowdowns. Back up your data and run diagnostic programs provided by the hard drive manufacturer or your computer maker.

  • Lag time. Notice how long it takes to launch a program or retrieve data. If things start taking unusually long, you may be seeing a hard drive about to fail, or it just may be cluttered. Run diagnostics and use a defragmentation utility Also, keep an eye out for error messages or alerts.

How to Update Windows Automatically

Setting up Windows to update automatically is easy, though the steps to automatic updates depend on your operating system version. If you don’t know how to perform software updates, you won’t benefit from application improvements, bug fixes, and new security defenses, including ones to prevent virus and malware attacks. Follow these instructions and get new versions of software online.

Windows XP and Vista

  1. Choose Start→Control Panel.

  2. Double-click the Automatic Updates icon.

  3. Check Automatic.

  4. Specify how often and when to check for updates.

Windows 7

  1. Choose Start→Control Panel.

  2. Click System and Security.

  3. Choose Turn Automatic Updating On or Off.

    This option is in the Windows Update section.

  4. Choose Install Updates Automatically.

    This option is in the Important Updates menu.

How to Update Applications Software

If you don’t know how to perform software updates, you won’t benefit from application improvements, bug fixes, and new security defenses (including virus and malware attacks). Follow these instructions and get the new software versions online. These steps show how to manually update applications, but you can set up your computer to automatically update.

  1. Check the File and Help menus for update instructions.

    You should be able to find the software version number also on the Help menu.

  2. Choose Start→Programs→All Programs.

  3. Look for the install directory of an application you want to update. Look for an update program option.

  4. Point your Internet browser to the software manufacturer's Web site and look for update instructions.

  5. Download a newer version than the version you’re running.

  6. Install according to the software directions.

  7. Run diagnostics and use a defragmentation utility, which differs depending on your operating system:

    Windows XP:

    1. Choose Start→All Programs.

    2. Select Accessories→System Tools.

    3. Click Disk Defragmenter.

    4. Select the drive you want to defragment.

    5. Click Defragment.

    Windows Vista or Windows 7:

    1. Choose Start→Control Panel.

    2. Click System and Security.

    3. Choose Defragment Your Hard Drive in the Administrative Tools section.

    4. Choose the drive you want to defragment.

    5. Click Defragment Disk.

Get Help with Computer Problems

Having trouble with your PC? Computer help comes from many sources: the manufacturer and local computer stores are just two. The Windows Remote Assistant lets a friend or trusted expert control your machine and attempt repairs; remote assistance is available from hardware manufacturers and software companies.

  • Contact the manufacturer. For hardware problems and software that came installed on your computer, the manufacturer is the best place to start. Write down the computer model, serial number, and date of purchase; then check your documentation or the manufacturer's Web site for contact information. Choose Start→Programs→All Programs and look for a folder named for your computer or manufacturer. Some manufacturers include complete user manuals or even videos to help you learn about your machine and troubleshoot it.

  • Find local experts. Many computer stores and big stores offer in-store repair. Make sure you are clear on the services they will provide and what it will cost before agreeing to service. Ask friends and co-workers for recommendations or references.

  • Use Windows Remote Assistant. Know somebody who might help, but they aren't nearby? Microsoft includes a useful utility called Remote Assistant in current versions of Windows. (Your machine has to be able to run Windows and connect to the Internet; some antivirus or firewall utilities may interfere with its use.) To use Remote Assistant, follow Microsoft’s instructions.

Windows XP

  1. Choose Start→Help and Support.

  2. In the Ask for Assistance section, click Invite a Friend to Connect to Your Computer with Remote Assistance.

    Windows Remote Assistance opens.

  3. Click Ask Someone to Help You.

  4. Type an e-mail address in the Use E-mail section.

  5. Click Invite This Person.

  6. Type your name in the From field of the next dialog.

  7. In the Message windows, type a message explaining the problem and the reason for this e-mail.

  8. Click Continue.

  9. Type a password and confirm the password at the bottom of the dialog, then click Send Invitation.

    You need to call or e-mail your helper beforehand to arrange the session. Tell your helper the password you chose; it will be necessary to begin the session.

  10. Leave the Remote Assistance window open.

    You’re notified when your helper has logged onto your computer.

Vista

  1. Choose Start→Windows Help and Support.

    The Help and Support Window opens.

  2. Locate the Ask Someone section, and click the Windows Remote Assistance link.

    Windows Remote Assistance opens.

  3. Click Invite Someone You Trust To Help You.

  4. Proceed with Step 4 of the Windows XP instructions.

Windows 7

  1. Choose Start→All Programs.

  2. Click Maintenance, then Windows Remote Assistance.

    Windows Remote Assistance opens.

  3. In the first Remote Assistance page, click the link titled Invite Someone You Trust to Help You.

  4. Click Use E-mail to Send an Invitation.

    Your e-mail client opens with an automatically generated message in the body asking for help. After you send the e-mail, a dialog box opens with the password for the helper to log into your machine.

Computer Update and Maintenance Web Sites

Updating your computer and performing PC maintenance is made easier at the following Web sites. These update and maintenance sites offer support, advice, and information that can help you keep your computer safe and healthy.

Web Site URL What You’ll Find
www.microsoft.com Get Windows updates and more.
http://support.microsoft.com Take the express route to Microsoft support.
www.microsoft.com/security/malwareremove Get Microsoft Windows Malicious Software Removal Tool.
www.symantec.com Get Norton antivirus and other security.
http://mcafee.com/us Get McAfee antivirus support.
www.speakeasy.net/speedtest Test your Internet connection speed.
www.mozilla.com Download the Firefox Web browser.
www.microsoft.com/protect/yourself/password/create.mspx Create a safe password.
www.grc.com Conduct a Shields Up! firewall test.
www.dummies.com/go/newsletter Subscribe to Dummies.com newsletters and tips.
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