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Cheat Sheet

Upgrading & Fixing Computers Do-It-Yourself For Dummies

When you’re planning to upgrade or fix your computer, this Cheat Sheet helps you remember the big stuff. It explains how to remove your computer’s case, for example, as well as essential tips for keeping your computer and data safe. When you want to upgrade or repair a computer part, check out the tips for finding the best price when you shop for computer parts online and the steps that explain how to install a new computer part.

How to Remove a Computer’s Case

When you’re upgrading or fixing a computer, you may need to take off the computer case to take parts out or put in new parts. The following steps walk you through the process of removing the computer case:

  1. Turn off the computer, monitor, and peripherals. Make sure that everything normally attached to your computer is turned off and unplugged. Your computer is easier to move around that way.

  2. Unplug your computer from the wall or uninterruptable power supply. (Unplug the power cord from the back of your PC, too.)

  3. Remove the screws from your PC’s back or outside edges. Many PCs use two large thumbscrews along one edge. Others use Phillips head screws. Some new models have sides that simply flip down when you depress a release.

  4. Remove the PC’s cover or side panel. On some computers, the cover slides toward the front; others come out the back. You may need to pull pretty hard.

  5. While the case is off, take your computer outside and use a can of compressed air to blow out all the dust from inside. Clean away the dust balls clinging to any outside vents, as well.

    To replace the cover, reverse these steps.

How to Protect Your Computer and Data

If you do some regular computer maintenance and check a few settings, your computer will last longer and your data will be protected. The following tips can help you protect your computer and all the data it holds:

  • Always install the Critical updates listed by Windows Update.

  • Use System Restore to repair problems caused by damaged settings or software that doesn’t install correctly.

  • Install a new driver to fix problem parts.

  • Make weekly system image backups using Windows 7’s backup program (or the backup program associated with the software version you're running).

  • Make sure Windows 7’s Firewall is turned on. (Click Start→Control PanelSystem and Security →Windows Firewall.)

  • Unleash a compressed-air blower on your computer’s fan area and vents often to clean vents and prevent overheating.

How to Add a New Part to Your Computer

You can often upgrade your computer so that it will last longer or do a new trick simply by adding or replacing a single part. Whatever part you want to add, follow these steps to insert it safely inside your computer case:

  1. Copy any important information on your hard drive to a safe place for safekeeping. (To be really safe, back up the entire hard drive.)

  2. Read any instructions that came with your new part.

  3. Exit any running programs, turn off your computer, and unplug it from the wall.

  4. Clean off the desk or table space next to your computer.

  5. Put your tools next to the computer.

  6. Remove your PC’s cover.

  7. Touch an unpainted part of the computer’s case to discharge any static electricity that may have built up. This keeps static electricity from damaging your computer’s sensitive internal parts. (If you work in a particularly static-prone environment, buy a wrist strap or grounding mat from your computer store to help discharge static.)

  8. Remove the old part and insert the new part.

  9. Plug in the computer, turn it on, and carefully test the new part to see whether it works.

  10. Turn off the computer, unplug it, and put the case back together.

  11. Plug in the computer and put away your tools.

Tips for Any Computer Upgrade or Repair

Whether you’re upgrading or fixing a computer, a few basics apply no matter what. The No. 1 thing is to turn off your computer before you start tinkering with its parts. Check out these tips for any computer upgrade or repair:

  • Turn off and unplug your computer before taking off its cover. Please. This one’s the most important step before a computer upgrade or repair. You can damage both yourself and your computer if you forget to turn off and unplug the computer.

  • Install computer parts one at a time. Always make sure the first part works with your version of Windows before installing the next computer part.

  • The red (or colored) wire is positive. The red (or colored) wire often plugs into the pin or socket marked by a little + sign.

  • The positive/red wire connects to Pin 1. When you upgrade or repair to a computer part by swapping an old part for a new one, you may need to connect a wire to a pin. Look for little numbers printed along the edge of a socket. Can’t see the number 1? Then push the plug into the socket with the red wire facing toward the low numbers on the socket.

Buy Computer Parts via Mail Order to Save Money

After you’ve researched what computer part you want to buy from the Internet, head to Amazon.com or NewEgg.com to buy it. The part will cost less than it does at your local computer store; plus, they’ll have it in stock, unlike the gaping holes on the shelves of many computer stores.

While you’re online shopping for computer parts, spend plenty of time reading the user reviews. They’ll often alert you to inconsistencies between the advertised part and what arrives in the box, so you’ll be prepared.

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