14 August 2009

After You buy a new Computer..

Many people experience problems with their Personal Computers sooner or later. Properly setting up and configuring a new Windows XP computer gets you off on the right foot and goes a long way towards insuring a trouble-free experience with it.

95% of the class applies to any Windows computer, not just new ones.

The first time you turn on a new Windows XP computer you are asked a whole host of setup questions. The class helps you understand these questions and offers advice on answering them.

Next we inventory the computer to make sure that it is exactly what you were expecting. For example, your computer was supposed to have a 40 gigabyte hard disk but Windows says the hard disk is only 34 gigabytes. Or, the machine came with 512 megabytes of RAM memory but Windows says there is only 484 megabytes. Understand why this is and whether it is a problem.

Then we cover adjusting the monitor. Considering that your eyes are more important than any computer, this may be the most important topic. This is followed by demonstrations of running the hardware through its paces; testing the ram, hard disk and other hardware with free diagnostic programs. If anything is wrong, you want to know while the warranty is still in effect.

All too often, Windows gets fouled up to the point that you have to start over. The class covers the various schemes available for returning your computer to a like-new state and some up-front preparation that may be necessary before trouble strikes.

To prevent problems, the class covers the usual defensive armor needed by any Windows PC: setting up and choosing a firewall program, installing bug fixes (a.k.a patches) and configuring your anti-virus program to provide the best defense (and testing it).

Then we cover customizing both Windows and Internet Explorer. Many default settings were poorly chosen by Microsoft and should be changed. This topic helps make the computer yours (by, for example, changing the desktop background image). We also discuss setting up email, your Internet connection and my suggestions on free software needed on every Windows computer that is never pre-installed. This includes Firefox, anti-Spyware software and more.

Technical support from computer manufacturers is often poor. The class includes a number of questions that you can ask your vendor to both learn useful information about your computer and also test the quality of their support.

Underlying Windows is the BIOS. I briefly explain what the BIOS does, why you might care and how to modify it.

No computer should be directly plugged into an AC outlet. At the least, it should be plugged into a surge protector. The class tells you the features to look for when choosing a surge protector (there is more to it than simply Joules). Computers used for important purposes should instead be plugged into a Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) and suggestions are offered on choosing a particular model.

For students that have an old computer, the class handout covers transferring files and settings to the new computer, securely deleting files from the old computer and recycling or donating the old computer rather than throwing it in the trash. Time usually does not allow these topics to make it into the classroom discussion. Many links about recycling an old computer are further down this page.

There is an 85 page handout, so students can learn without having to take notes. The class runs about four hours.

Pre-requisite: The only pre-requisite is experience using a Windows computer (the class is not for Apple Macintosh users). Note that this is not a class on how to use Windows.

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