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Jim Rossman: The dust settles on best way to clean a computer

Updated:
By Jim Rossman / The Dallas Morning News


Q: My husband and I disagree on the best way to keep our computer clean. I want to vacuum it, but he says to blow it out with air is better. Which do you do?

– R.Y., The Colony


A: I have to admit I am a blower, but a combination of blowing and vacuuming is best.

At The Dallas Morning News, we have a compressor we use to blow out really dusty computers, but we take them out of the offices and down to our shop for cleaning.

I have also been known to use canned air in a tight spot where it is not easy to remove the computer.

I suppose I would vacuum if it were easier to do. Blowing gets a tremendous amount of dust in the air, and that dust has to settle somewhere.

Dust accumulating in your PC makes it run hotter, which isn't good. So if you see the vents of your computer starting to show dirt, it's time for a cleaning.

In your house, keep the computer off the floor. Always turn it off when you are doing any kind of cleaning. The fans spinning in your computer can force dust into places you don't want it to be.

You can disconnect all the wires and take it outside or to the garage. If you are brave enough, remove the screws and open up the case to do the job right. Be careful not to bump the components with the vacuum.

You should use a grounding strap to keep from discharging static electricity on the components. These straps go from your wrist to a grounded source. Just follow the directions. You can pick them up at Radio Shack or your favorite computer store.

If you don't have a strap, be sure to touch the metal of the power supply before you touch anything else. This will also discharge static electricity from your body. And don't stand on carpet when you have an open computer. That is begging for trouble.

Vacuum where you can see dirt, and blow out the fan, power supply and areas you can't get to with the vacuum. A small brush also helps.

If you use a compressor, be careful that water or oil are not in the air stream from the compressor tank.

This should be done about every six months.

Losing time

Q: My Windows 95 will no longer keep the correct time. I reset it in the control panel and within days it loses time – or gains it (I'm not sure which) – until it is 12 or more hours out of sync. What could cause this, and what can I do to fix it?

– B.J., Austin

A: All PCs have a battery on the motherboard to keep the correct time and other settings in the computer's CMOS.

CMOS stands for complementary metal-oxide semiconductor, which is a type of chip that uses almost no power while the computer is off. Your computer's CMOS holds date, time and system setup parameters. To be safe, change your battery every three years.

For a good article on CMOS batteries, what they do, and when and how to change them, go to pcsupport.about.com/compute/pcsupport/library/ weekly/aa041700a.htm?terms=CMOS+battery.

Comparing DSL, cable Net access

Q: Is there a side-by-side comparison of digital subscriber line, or DSL, and cable modem services? I have the @Home service but sometimes get frustrated when the service is running very slowly or not at all.

I have talked to the phone company about DSL, but the different speed ranges available, with a nominal and guaranteed speed in each of those – and each at a different price – is nothing short of confusing.

An ad that says "Up to 50 (or 100) times the speed of a 28.8 modem!" doesn't really mean much.

How about a comparison chart showing the speeds and costs of cable modem service vs. the different DSL nominal/guaranteed services?

– D.L., Frisco


A: You can do a search at your favorite search engine for "DSL and cable modem compare" (without the quotes).

At Google.com, the results show many comparisons. Read these with a grain of salt, however, because most are trying to sell you one or the other.

There are independent Internet consultants that audit these connections. Keynote.com is one such company. Its most recent comparisons showed that DSL was slightly faster than cable modems during times of peak usage. You can read a review of its test at www.infoworld.com/cgi-bin/ displayNew.pl?/odonnell/990524od.htm. This test was done in 1999, but the research seems pretty sound.

I advise you to do your homework. Read all you can and decide for yourself. No chart or article can tell you how fast the DSL or cable modem will actually be in your house.

You may be on the fringe of the limits for DSL service and see a performance slowdown. Generally, you have to be within three miles of the phone company station. With cable, you may be online with 800 other people on your node of the cable. In other words, the more people in your neighborhood who are using their cable modems at the same time, the slower your connection will be.

When I had DSL put in my home, the installer attached an instrument to the line to test the speed of the connection. He told me my speed to the phone switch was 1.6 Mbps. My particular DSL package was for 1.5 Mbps download and at least 384 Kbps upload, so I know all is right with my connection.

In my case, if you multiply 28,800 by 50, you get 1.44 Mbps. This is more than 50 times faster than a 28.8 Kbps modem. The upload speed of 384 Kbps is 13 times faster.

Now this was just the test speed on that day from my house to the phone office. Once there, the line goes into a router and is connected to the phone company's pipe to the Internet – the same bottleneck with everyone else. Remember, your high-speed connection is only half the battle in viewing Web pages. The other half is the capacity of the server hosting the Web page you want to see.

I suggest you find neighbors with each type of connection and ask them about their experiences. See if they would go to Microsoft's Bandwidth Test Web site at computingcentral.msn.com/topics/ bandwidth/speedtest.asp.

My 1.6 Mbps connection fell to 600 Kbps in that test. This is the speed to Microsoft's server, which to me is the more valid test because it involves the other half of the equation – a real-life Web site.

At the test Web site, you will also find good information and charts on high-speed connections.

Sifting through photo discs

Q: I have a digital camera and three discs that are full. I want to copy all the files to a CD, not do one picture at a time to a floppy that holds only four pictures.

I can't find a service that does this, and it seems that I need to buy a CD burner and software to do this.

If I need to go this route, is there software to do just this? I wonder what the pros do because it seems they wouldn't have time to go through hundreds of photos.

– J.C., Allen

A: Yes, the pros go through every picture. They shoot their pictures onto storage cards or discs and download the images to their computers. They look through all the frames to pick the winners. The good frames get transmitted back to the office or burned onto CDs.

At The News, all the digital work is burned on CD.

Some cameras store their images on a floppy disk, and some use smart media or compact flash, two types of memory on a small card. Still others have memory built in or use a PCMCIA card for storage on a small hard drive.

All of these storage methods ultimately need to be downloaded to a PC for printing or to be inserted into a Web page or newsletter. You need a big hard drive to store photos, and if you want to store hundreds of them, you'll do good to get a CD burner.

The nice thing about digital files is not having to save the lousy ones. You are free to archive only the ones you like.

If you get a good CD burner, it will come with software to get your files onto the CDs. Mine came with two types, both by Adaptec.

EZ CD Creator lets you add files and folders into CD layouts for burning. Direct CD enables the blank CD to show up on your PC like a hard drive. You can drag the files to it or save them directly.

I recommend both highly.

Full of cookies

Q: I am absolutely swamped with requests to "set a cookie" on my computer while attempting to use the Internet in Netscape Navigator.

I have tracked the source of these requests to a program called Cookie Setter by Netscape, but I am unable to make them stop. These requests are most annoying and necessitate leaving my pointer over the area where the Cancel button appears until they finally stop popping up. Whenever I try to go to another Web site, they begin all over again.

Help!

– S.B., Fort Worth


A: Cookies are part of life on the Internet. They are small files put on your computer by Web sites that identify you to the site.

I've gone over cookies before, but if you need a refresher, go to www.cookiecentral.com.

Almost every Web site uses cookies on almost every page, which is why you are inundated with requests. Some people dislike cookies because of privacy issues.

Fortunately, Internet browsers let you choose how you want to handle cookies. You can choose to let them all in, keep them all out or be asked each time a site wants to give you one. You obviously have the last option set.

In Netscape, go to Preferences under the Edit menu. Click on the Advanced settings in the list and you'll see the cookie options. You will find a box there to warn you before accepting a cookie. If you choose, go to this option and change it.

For Internet Explorer, select Internet Options from the Tools menu. Click on the Security tab, then click on the Internet icon and choose to set a Custom Level of protection. There you will find the cookie preferences.

In either program, you can call up the Help menu and do a search for "cookie" if you get lost.


Can you spell s-o-r-r-y?

Q: I am using Outlook Express for my e-mail but don't have Microsoft Word installed on my PC. I have WordPerfect 8, and I would like to know how I can get the spell checker on Outlook to accept WordPerfect as my default?

– C.M., Dallas

A: Outlook Express uses Microsoft's spell checker from Word. This is an internal thing between Microsoft programs. In fact, if you look up this problem on Microsoft's Web site, it will tell you to install a Microsoft program with a 32-bit spell checker such as Word, Excel and Powerpoint.

I don't think Microsoft will allow you to link to the spell checker of a competitor's word processor.
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