Is your computer ready for school?

Question

My daughter is about to go to her first year of college and I want to make sure my 2 year old laptop is good enough for her to use. She wants me to buy a new one, but I think the old one will do fine, but how do I know?

- Rachel

Answer

This question was answered on August 9, 2007. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.

The technological consideration for students of all ages has become a ritual for parents during the annual back-to-school preparation process.

Book; check…pencils; check…backpack; check…flash drive, laptop, wifi…huh?

Students of all ages are routinely expected to have access to computers and the Internet in order to do their homework, so this information applies to any computer that is going to be used for any grade of school.

Despite your daughters plea to get her a new laptop, the likelihood that your 2 year old system is more than adequate is very high

Your first step is to see if the school she is attending has published their recommended minimum system requirements for attaching to the school’s network.

In the vast majority of cases, if you have Windows 2000, XP or Vista, Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint, Internet access and an e-mail account, you have everything she will need to be productive (Don’t forget that Microsoft offers a special Student edition of Office that is much less expensive and can be installed on 3 different computers – check with your local computer store for details.)

The big question: Is your computer in shape for the new school season to avoid computer repair and data recovery?

What I mean by that is, has the unit been tortured and abused all summer long with heaps of games, screensavers and file sharing programs that are popular with teens? Does it take forever to boot up? Is it a little sluggish once it does finally get to your opening screen?

If so, having it cleaned up can rejuvenate virtually any computer that has excessive processes running on it (and save you money!) The easiest way to tell if things have gotten out of control is to open the Task Manager (press Ctrl-Alt-Del in Windows 2000, XP and Vista) and look at the bottom left corner of the window that comes up.

The “Processes:” section will have a number that represents the number of processes you currently have running If that number is in the 50 to 70 range, your system will likely perform much better if you eliminate the unnecessary processes that are being forced on Windows every time you start the machine.

In the computer repair service business, we like to see desktop computers leave our tech bench with between 30-38 processes and laptops between 40-45 processes.

These excess processes tend to sneak into your computer from adware, spyware, software programs that like to heap on trialware and silent “drive-by downloads” from malicious websites that typically target users that like free stuff, potentially resulting in viruses and the need for computer repairs and data recovery services.

Figuring out what each process is and how to remove them is a little more complicated, but I will give the do-it-yourselfer some tips for getting started (or contact a Computer Repair Specialist at your nearest Data Doctors location if you are not up for the task - http://www.datadoctors.com/contact )

Open your Control Panel and remove old programs that you no longer need, anything that looks like a third party screen saver, a toolbar that you did not install and especially file sharing programs like Kazaa that could get your child into legal trouble at school or possibly cause a need for data recovery.

Make sure your anti-virus and anti-spyware programs are up to date and then run a “deep” virus and spyware scan (which means all files which can take several hours each).

Once you have done the initial cleanup, take a look at the specific entries on the “Processes” tab of the Task Manager Any of the items that do not have “SYSTEM” under the User Name heading were likely added by a user.

Use Google (search for the actual process name – ex:AcroRd32.exe) to learn more about each process that is running so you can figure out if it can be removed from your startup or uninstalled (The “End Process” button in this window will only temporarily remove the process, which will restart the next time your boot up.)

You may also want to consider adding extra RAM (Random Access Memory) which is commonly referred to as the best bang for the buck when upgrading a computer.

One final suggestion: Make sure she has a portable flash drive for backing up and transferring her important files to minimize the risk of losing data and needing data recovery I would recommend at least a 1Gb of storage and a stern discussion about the importance of backing up her homework!

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Posted by Ken of Data Doctors on August 9, 2007