A lot of clients have been asking about how they can best maintain their hardware and keep it running efficiently. Many have noticed that their computer that they purchased a year ago doesn't quite work as well as it did when they first installed it. If this applies to you, this article may be helpful.
It is true that over time computers tend to become slower and things just start going bump in the box. This happens with all systems. One of the primary reasons for this is that computer hard drives simply become fragmented over time.
Computer hard drives store information in what is called sectors. This is how computers keep track of what's where. The computer stores each and every character (letter, number, spaces, etc) as a byte. Basically 1 byte equals 1 character. If you wanted to save a patient name such as GENNIFER ADAMSON, the computer would take the letters of the name including the space and it would end up taking 16 bytes (15 letters and 1 space). For technical reasons in actual reality a patient name would take even more bytes. This is due to the fact that in a program like ours, we have made the maximum number of characters for a first name up to 25 characters. The computer will take up 25 characters whether you use all 25 or not. Anyway, when you consider how much information a patient file holds, one patient alone could take up almost 1,000 characters or 1,000 bytes. If you have 11,000 patients that then translates to 11,000,000 bytes or characters just to store it. When the numbers get that big they come up with different names. Just like the metric world, 1,000 bytes is called 1 kilobyte (KB). Then 1,000 kilobytes is 1 megabyte. Therefore 11,000,000 bytes can be 11,000 kilobytes or 11 megabytes.
When the computer stores such vast amounts of information it needs some way to keep track of them, plus how much space it takes. Just like when you take a large parcel of land and subdivide it into smaller lots, the next step is to give each lot its own address. Without addresses we would have great difficulty finding the house with the party going on. Computers are the same. They sub-divide the entire hard drive into addresses that it calls sectors. Each sector is exactly the same size, (ie; 1,024 bytes). A file of 11,000 patients taking up 11,000,000 bytes needs 11,000 sectors at least just to store it. Find and dandy if they're all lined up in a neat row. But computers tend to place the files all over the place. Wherever there's room it will stuff information there. So the 11,000 patients could be scattered all over the hard drive. Luckily the computer keeps addresses on where it puts everything. It's handy, but as things get scattered (fragmented) it gets harder and it takes longer to find things. That's what's meant by fragmented hard drives.
In the meantime, hard drives get older and some addresses (sectors) get run down like some derelict slum properties. In essence they become unfit for information to live in. Computers then have to keep a track of these bad sector crack houses so they don't accidentally put good information there.
Over time, it just gets worse and worse. New programs are installed, uninstalled, deleted and added to. Information is all over the map.
In order to keep things nice and fresh, you can keep your information properly ordered. This is done by de-fragmenting a hard drive. Your Windows operating system comes with some handy dandy utilities to do just that. It finds all of the information stored and then reorganizes it, putting everything together in neat rows. It bulldozes the bad sectors and makes sure that no information ever gets stored there again.
Now de-fragmentation takes a little bit of time to do. So normally people run this after hours. However, de-fragmentation is just one of many maintenance routines that you can run from time to time.
What's recommended is to get a really good utility program like Norton Utilities or Norton System Works. This program has lots of handy utilities that clean up tons of stuff including:
Many of these routines can be easily run by any average user. It's a bit harder when maintaining a server or doing a complete overhaul of a computer.
- De-fragmentation of hard drives
- Cleaning up Windows (yes Windows gets all messed up too)
- Scanning hard drives for problems
- Checking the computer for viruses
Here's what we recommend:
Real hard core computer buffs even reformat their computers and reinstall all software periodically (once a year). Don't even attempt this unless you know what you're doing.
- Get some good utilities programs like Norton System Works
- Get an anti-virus program, like Norton Anti-Virus with Internet Security
- Run basic maintenance on a regular basis. I would de-fragment once a week. Run virus scans once a week and clean out Windows once a week. Note- always back up your data before doing any of this stuff.
- At least once a week reboot your computer. This includes servers.
Another item is to have the computer maintained and cleaned out. Open the computer box and clean out the dust periodically.
One of the major problems with computers is bad power. All power is essentially noisy. It goes up and down in spikes that we can't even perceive. However computers do perceive them and react accordingly. A decent uninterruptible power supply (UPS) goes a long way. Well worth the $150 expense to protect a $3,000 computer.
Finally, DO get a hardware maintenance contract. Good hardware vendors will set up regularly scheduled on site visits to do maintenance on your computers. This is well worth the cost and will save you in the long run.