With the school year just around the corner, students across New York are gearing up to ship out to colleges, some going back to a familiar haunts and others just getting ready for a new adventure. And while some students are lucky enough to get a brand new computer, in this tough economy a lot of students and their families have to cut back on expenses and make old laptops and other devices stretch just another year or two. With that said, there are a couple of tech tips and tricks that can give new life to old equipment and make it stretch through one more year away from home.
Cleaning a computer or laptop sounds like a simple thing, but it can actually add years to your device. Laptops and desktops have to move a lot of air through their innards to keep cool and not overheat. Since overheating is the number one cause of failure in computer equipment, this function is crucial. Unfortunately, over time the fans that move the air through your laptop or desktop can get dirty and clogged. Opening up your computer and giving it a good cleaning before heading back to school can insure it runs smoothly all year long.
Speaking of keeping your computer cool, if you want a low-cost way to extend the life and functionality of your laptop, a good place to start is a USB-powered laptop cooling system. These generally run $10-20 and will not only extend the life of your laptop, but will make holding your laptop for a prolonged period of time significantly more comfortable for you. As far as cheap solutions to complicated problems go, you can’t beat this one.
External hard drives are dirt cheap these days. And for the money, nothing will help you keep your sanity better than knowing that even if the worst were to happen, your data is safe. Back everything up to your external daily. It’s fast, it’s easy, and in fact most external drives come with software that will let you set up automatic backups of certain folders at predetermined times. As an extra measure of protection, upload all of your school documents to a Google Docs account once a week. That way, even if your desktop or laptop fails, you don’t lose any work.
If you have a small budget for upgrades, the most noticeable upgrade you can give your machine is a more RAM. RAM, which stands for Random Access Memory, works as a buffer, storing pieces of data and other information that gets used on a frequent basis, so that the computer doesn’t have to keep pulling it off the hard drive. Because RAM is so much faster than the hard drive, the performance gains from upgrading the amount of ram you have are massive and instantly noticeable. You will be able to multitask with less obvious lag when opening new programs and have multiple browser tabs open with no problem.
If you plan on playing some games or watching High Definition videos between hitting the books, you might think about investing a little in a new graphics card since most entry level machines don’t have one and instead rely on a built in graphics processor. These range from about $100 to $600+ each, and can give a very sharp boost to your computers ability to cope. There are a couple of things to watch out for, though: First, make sure that whatever you get is actually going to be better than what you already have. Second, not all laptops allow you to put in an aftermarket graphics card, so check if you’re not sure. Third, adding a high powered graphics card will increase the power consumption and temperature of your computer, so you might need to upgrade your power supply (don’t worry, they’re fairly cheap) or your cooling system (see #2 above).
With these 5 easy tips, you should have no problem making it through another school year with your computer, and sanity, intact. Now if you could only manage to schedule all your classes after noon and get Fridays off, this year would be perfect.