BOOT CAMP 163 (22/02/01)




Spring seems to have arrived a little early this year, which is as good an excuse as any for our annual clean-up session that should leave your PC looking smarter, smelling sweeter and hopefully running a little smoother. This week we'll tackle all the bits you can touch and see; next week it's the turn of your PCs operating system and software.


Before you start make sure your PC is properly switched off and not in standby or sleep mode. If you're concerned switch it off at the mains, but leave it plugged in so the case remains earthed. After each cleaning job it's a good idea to boot the machine up and make sure it is behaving normally, that way if a problem occurs you'll know where to start looking.


We'll begin with the hand-held desktop Hoover, otherwise known as your mouse. You can muck out most models by turning them upside down; remove the ball retaining plate by twisting it a quarter of a turn anticlockwise. Take the ball out, shake and blow out any loose debris. Erratic pointer movement is almost always caused by a build-up of grime encrusting the movement rollers. This can be easily removed with a cocktail stick or sharpened matchstick, blow it out again and reassemble.


Next it’s the turn of the crumb-catcher or keyboard. Flip it upside down and give it a shake to dislodge the bigger bits lodged between and behind the keys, however, the best way to clean it is to use an 'air duster', which can be bought from your local PC or stationery store for around a fiver. Basically it's a can of compressed air or non-toxic gas, with a long thin nozzle that can get in between the keys, and blast out the remnants of a hundred coffee breaks and lunches. You can also try sucking out the gunge with a vacuum cleaner, incidentally you can get miniature battery powered models for this kind of job but in my experience they're a waste of time. You can clean the keys with a lightly moistened cloth and a dab of washing up liquid. If any water drips into the innards – and this applies to any of the parts you are cleaning -- it's best not to switch the PC back on but leave the affected component overnight in a warm place.


The high voltages flying around inside CRT-based monitors produce a powerful static electrical charge that works like a magnet on dust and airborne particles. The screen will probably need a thorough clean, especially if there are any smokers nearby as their exhalations leave a particularly sticky residue. Use one of the specially made screen cleaners as these usually contain anti-static agents that slow down the build up of dirt. Remove all of the clutter from the top of the monitor; it might be blocking ventilation holes, which could cause problems. Give the vents a quick blast with your air duster and clean the outside of the case with your damp soapy cloth.  LCD viewing screens are generally a lot easier to deal with, they run fairly cool and do not attract dust to anything like the same extent as CRT monitors so a quick wash and brush up is usually all that's needed.


Printers are best dealt with using the air duster; if possible open the top or front so you can get a good shot at the rollers and paper path. On inkjet models avoid blowing near to the ink cartridges, better still take them out first but keep the air jet away from any ink ports or tubes, it can be incredibly messy, and it probably doesn't do it any good either! Wipe the outer casing over and it's done. Scanners don't usually get very dirty, though the platen is often dotted with greasy finger marks, so give that the once-over with a glass cleaner or a screen wipe.


Our last port of call is the big beige box or system unit. Cooling fans inside the case draw in dust-laden air, which is deposited over all of the internal components and surfaces. Some say you should leave well alone and whilst it's true a thin layer of dust won't do much harm, sooner or later – sooner if you work in a smoky or dusty atmosphere -- it can build up and cause problems. If you're happy about removing the lid and taking all the usual precautions regarding static discharge (if you don't know what they are, stay out!) then you can let loose with the air duster (but not the vacuum cleaner!). Pay particular attention to the areas around the main processor its cooling fan and fins, which can get clogged with dust. Get into all of the corners and save a good long puff for the back of the metal box housing the power supply.


This step is optional but before I replace the lid I always give the plugs and sockets going to the motherboards and disc drives a little push, to make sure they're properly seated. All of the components inside a PC are subjected to repeated heating and cooling cycles as the machine is switched on and off, and this can lead to an effect known as 'contact creep' whereby plugs and microchips gradually work their way loose from their sockets.


If you're not keen on the idea of poking around inside your PC don't worry, there's plenty you can do on the outside. Good quality floppy disc and CD-ROM cleaning kits are a sound investment and should be used regularly, especially on well-used machines. If you can get to the back of your computer reseat all of the plugs – one at a time so you know where they came from – and tighten up any retaining screws. Give the case a wipe over and boot it up one more time to make sure everything is okay.


Next week – Spring Cleaning, part 2





Cathode Ray Tube – TV type video display, basically a big glass bottle with all of the air sucked out. The image is formed on a layer of phosphor coating the side of the glass faceplate, which glows when struck by a stream of fast moving electrons



Liquid crystal display – flat-screen type display; an image is made up of tens of thousands of picture elements or 'pixels' that can be switched on and off to control the passage of light



Glass plate inside a scanner or copier on which you place documents and material to be scanned or copied



The following tip may be of interest if you are using a Windows 98 PC with more than 64Mb of RAM.  It's all to do with the way Windows manages your PCs RAM and 'virtual' memory, which is space that is set aside on the hard-disc. Anyway, this tip might just make your PC do some things a bit quicker, then again it might not, but it's definitely worth trying. Open Windows Notepad (Start > Programs > Accessories) and use Open on the File menu to show System.ini, which is in the Windows folder. You may have to change the 'Files of Type' line in the Open dialogue box to 'All Files'. When System.ini appears scroll down the file until you get to the section headed '[386Enh]' and at the end add the following entry: 'ConservativeSwapfileUseage=1' (without the quotes of course), click Save and re-boot. Try it for a few days, you may be pleasantly surprised.

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