12 Ways to Destroy Your Computer

And what you can do to stop the destruction

Nobody wants to destroy their own computer, but you might be unintentionally plotting its grave. While hardware failures are one thing, there's a host of other reasons (in addition to age) that a computer could be on a downward trajectory.

Fortunately, you're in control of most of it. Below are several common ways people destroy their own computers, and what you can do right now to drastically cut down on the chances that you'll be one of them.

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You're Not Backing Up Continuously

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One of the biggest threats to your computer files is data destruction, something you can avoid by backing up your data. Your computer should be creating backups as often as possible, preferably continuously.

Your data is the most important stuff you own. They're your irreplaceable photos and videos, your expensive music, your school paper you've invested hours and hours in, etc.

While it's possible to use traditional backup software to back up continuously to an external hard drive or a network drive, it's easier to get started with (and safer on several levels) an online backup service.

We review dozens of these online backup services and take a fresh look at each one again every month. All are great choices and prevent just about any chance of you losing your important stuff.

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You're Not Updating Your Antivirus Software

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Those nefarious malware authors out there make new viruses every day, change how they work, and find new ways of avoiding antivirus software. In response, antivirus software has to respond just as quickly.

In other words, your antivirus software only worked 100% the day you installed it. As unfortunate as that is, there's great news: you just need to keep it updated.

Most antivirus programs, even some of the free ones (there are lots to choose from), automatically update their virus definitions, the term used to describe the set of instructions the programs use to identify and remove malware.

These "out of date" alerts are easy to avoid, but try your best to address them. Your antivirus program runs at all times in the background to keep your files safe, but it can't do its best job if you don't let it.

If you think you might be running your computer with a significantly outdated antivirus program, learn how to scan for malware for help making sure nothing slipped in while your computer's defenses were down.

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You're Not Patching Software Right Away

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Similar to antivirus software needing updates, so too does your operating system. The majority of software patches these days, especially the ones Microsoft pushes for Windows, correct "security" issues. One worst-case scenario of avoiding these is that you could inadvertently provide someone remote access to your computer!

Once these vulnerabilities in Windows have been discovered, a patch has to be created by the developer (Microsoft) and then installed (by you) on your computer, all before the bad guys figure out how to exploit said vulnerability and start doing damage.

Microsoft's part of this process takes long enough, so one of the worst things you can slip up on is avoiding these fixes once they're provided. Fortunately, Windows can install them for you automatically. If you're not a fan of Microsoft automatically doing things on your computer, you can change Windows update settings yourself.

It's the exact same situation with your Mac or Linux computer, your tablet, and your smartphone...just different details. However you're notified about the update, promptly apply it.

Other software and app updates are important, too, and for similar reasons. If your Microsoft software, iPad apps, Adobe programs, etc., ever ask you to update, consider it a requirement.

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You're Not Using Strong Passwords

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We all use passwords. Most of the devices and services we use require that we do. What can't be said is that we all use good passwords. It's remarkably easy to pick something simple so that you remember it, but simple isn't the best practice when it comes to account security.

This is a hard tip to adopt because sticking with an easy password means you won't forget it, but it also means it's easier to guess/crack. See what makes a password weak or strong if you're not quite sure how great, or not-so-great, your passwords are. If they don't meet that "strong" criteria, there are tips in that article to help you make something better.

So what's the answer here? Maybe you've heard of password managers. They let you store hard-to-remember passwords to all of your accounts in one place. All you need to do is remember a single password for the manager itself. It's like a skeleton key to all your account passwords, and it's the perfect solution to strong passwords that you'll never forget.

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You're Not Running the Latest Windows Version

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A common theme that you've no doubt picked up on is that updates are important. Microsoft doesn't keep all of their past operating system up to date forever, so it's vital to be running the latest OS so that you'll always get the most current and relevant patches.

Windows 11 is the newest edition that will receive updates for longer than any other current version of Windows. If you're running something older than Windows 10, it's time to think about upgrading. It's clear that ancient versions like Windows XP have been outdated for quite some time, but even Windows 8's 2023 end-of-life isn't that far off.

When Microsoft ends support, it means that those critical security holes that are patched every month on Patch Tuesday, aren't being applied anymore.

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You're Downloading the Wrong Stuff

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Something extremely common that many computer users fall prey to is downloading the wrong types of software. Doing this, especially when coupled with an outdated antivirus program, is the quickest way to install malware and adware on your computer.

As you probably know, there are tens of thousands, maybe more, completely free software programs and apps out there. What you might not know is that there are different levels of free software. Some are completely free, often called freeware, while others are only "sort of" free, like trialware and shareware.

Free software is relatively easy to distribute, so it's just as easy to get something bad with those downloads, like a virus. It's therefore important to know how to safely download software to your computer.

If you think you might have downloaded some suspicious software, get some good antivirus software and use it regularly.

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You've Left Junk Installed...and Probably Running!

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A remarkably easy way for a computer to be set up for failures is to install, or leave already-installed, junk software on it, the worst of which is the kind that runs in the background all the time.

The bulk of the blame for this one is with your computer maker. Part of the reason some companies can sell their computers at such a low cost is by taking money from software makers to include trial versions of their programs on your brand-new device.

Unfortunately, most people have little to no use for these programs. What the majority of new computer users will do, at most, is just delete the shortcuts to these programs. Out of sight, out of mind.

What some people don't realize is that these programs are still installed and wasting space, just hidden from your daily view. Worse yet, some of these programs start up in the background when your computer starts, wasting your system resources and slowing down your computer.

Fortunately, this problem is easy to fix, at least in Windows. Head to Control Panel, then to the Programs & Features applet, and promptly uninstall anything you know you don't use. Search online for more information about any programs you're not sure about.

If you have trouble uninstalling something, check out these free uninstaller programs, full of great, completely free software that can help you get rid of other ones you don't want.

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You're Letting Needless Files Fill Up the Hard Drive

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No, it's certainly not the most important thing that contributes to a failed computer, but letting needless stuff fill up your hard drive, especially with today's smaller solid state drives, can impact how quickly some parts of your computer work.

In general, having "stuff" on your computer that doesn't do anything but take up space isn't anything to worry about. When it can be an issue is when the free space on the drive gets too low.

The operating system needs a certain amount of "working" room so it can temporarily grow if need be. System Restore comes to mind as a feature that you'll be happy to have in an emergency, but that won't work if there's not enough free space.

To avoid problems, we recommend keeping 10 percent of your main drive's total capacity free. You can check free hard drive space in Windows if you're not sure how much you have.

Having hundreds or thousands of extra files also makes it harder for your antivirus program to scan your computer and makes defragmenting more difficult.

In Windows, a really handy included tool called Disk Cleanup will take care of most of this for you. If you want something that does even more of a detailed job, CCleaner is also excellent and completely free.

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You're Not Defragging On a Regular Basis

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To defragment or not to defragment...not usually a question. While it's true that you don't need to defrag if you have a solid state hard drive, defragging a traditional hard drive is a must.

Fragmentation happens naturally as your computer's hard drive writes data all over the place. Having a bit here, and a bit there, makes it harder to read that data later, slowing down how quickly your computer can do a lot of things.

Nothing will crash or explode if you never defrag, but doing it on a regular basis can most certainly speed up pretty much every aspect of your computer use, especially non-internet related tasks.

Windows has a built-in defragmentation tool, but this is one area where other developers have gone the extra mile, making easier-to-use and more effective tools.

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You're Not [Physically] Cleaning Your Computer

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First off, don't dunk any part of your computer in a sink full of soapy water! That image is for illustration purposes only!

Not properly cleaning your computer, however, especially a desktop computer, is an often overlooked maintenance task that could eventually cause something more severe to happen later.

Here's what happens: 1) your computer's many fans collect dust and other grime, 2) said dirt and grime build up and slow down the fans, 3) the computer parts cooled by the fans begin to overheat, 4) your computer crashes, often permanently. In other words, a dirty computer is a hot computer, and hot computers fail.

If you're lucky, your operating system will warn you that certain pieces of hardware are overheating, or you'll hear a beeping sound. Most of the time, you won't be lucky and instead your computer will start to power off by itself and eventually never come on again.

It's easy to clean a computer fan. Buy a can of compressed air and use it to clean the dust from any fan in your computer. Amazon has tons of compressed air choices, some as cheap as a few dollars a can.

In desktops, be sure not to miss the ones in the power supply and in the case. Increasingly, video cards, RAM, and sound cards have fans, too. Tablets and laptops usually have fans as well, so be sure to give them a few puffs of canned air to keep them running smooth.

See the many ways to keep your computer cool for lots of other ways to prevent overheating, from computer placement to water cooling kits.

Yes, keyboards and mice need cleaning, too, but dirty versions of those devices usually don't cause serious problems.

Do be careful cleaning that flat screen monitor, though, because there are household cleaning chemicals that can permanently damage it. See how to clean a flat screen computer monitor for help.

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You're Putting Off Fixing Problems You Can Probably Fix Yourself

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You really can fix your own computer problems! Well, the huge majority of them, anyway.

It's common to hear people say that they've been putting up with a computer problem for days, weeks, or even years, because they didn't think they were smart enough to tackle it or couldn't afford to have someone look at it.

We have a secret that your techie friend you rely on might not tell you and that the women and men that work at that big computer repair service most certainly won't: Most computer problems are pretty easy to fix.

No, not all of them, but most...yes. In fact, probably 90 percent of the problems you run into these days can be fixed after trying one or more super-easy things. See these five simple fixes for most computer problems. No doubt you're familiar with the first one, but the rest are almost just as easy to try.

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You're Not Asking for Help When You Need It

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Last, but certainly not least, and very much related to the one above, is not asking for help when you need it.

If you think you might be able to fix a problem that pops up yourself, you run to your favorite search engine for help or find tech support from the company in question. Maybe you ask a friend on Facebook or Twitter, or maybe your 12-year-old is a wiz and fixes everything for you. All of those things are great. Consider yourself lucky that they worked out.

What if, on the other hand, you're not quite sure what the problem is, so you're not even sure what to search for? What if you don't have a 12-year-old computer genius living upstairs? What if none of your social media friends are techie types?

Lucky for you, there are plenty of places to get free computer help, such as tech support forums like Bleeping Computer, Tom's Hardware, or Tech Support Guy.

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