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|The Right Way to Set up Your Computer System|
Computer systems should be set up with two primary goals in mind:
1. To never lose one's critical data.
2. To be able to work efficiently, unhindered by computer problems.
To gain this degree of security and reliability here is what you'll need in addition to the usual computer/monitor/printer.
- UPS, an Uninterruptible Power Supply with AVR.
A UPS is a giant battery. If your electricity fails, instead of your computer just suddenly turning off, the system shuts itself down. Perhaps more important, a UPS with AVR (Automatic Voltage Regulation), protects your equipment from the minor surges and changes in voltage that destroy computer parts over time. Cheap UPS's don't have AVR.
- An external hard drive and software to automatically back up your critical data.
The important part of computers isn't hardware or software; it's the data on your hard drive. You never want to be in a position of losing this data. The price of CD-R media is so cheap that saving data onto disks once or twice a day is very cost effective. Unfortunately almost no one remembers to do this until after their hard drive has crashed for the first time. Thereafter, depending on how painful and costly that experience was, people will generally remember to back up their data on a weekly basis until their lives get busy, when they forget again. Automatic backups to an external hard drive solve this problem. Because I can never be sure when I'll come out with the line that rivals Shakespeare, I've set up incremental backups of my documents twice daily. It doesn't cost me anything, since hard drive space is reusable and computers are idle most of the time anyway.
- Adequate surge protector.
UPS's have surge protection too, so if you buy a decent UPS you won't need another surge protector.
Surge protectors are rated in joules. Yours should have a minimum 2000 joule rating and the more the better. Make sure it includes protection for your cable modem if you have cable and that modem lines are installed correctly, since it's pointless to invest in computer protection and then set up your system to circumvent that protection.
- A router/hardware firewall.
Routers have hardware firewalls - firewalls being the thing that keep hackers out of one's computer. Windows XP has a software firewall. It's better to have both a hardware and software firewall, since they protect your computer in different ways. Even if have only one computer it's worth investing in a router to get the firewall.
For even greater data security one can invest in a secure USB flash drive so you can carry your data along with you. Just remember to get a secure password protected encrypted drive - because if you lose it a stranger could get your data. I also put critical data onto the Internet. This can be done cheaply by getting a GMAIL account and then emailing yourself documents. I send emails right from Microsoft Word. When working on a piece I periodically send it to myself and leave these documents on the server. That way if the worst were to happen, even if my house were to burn down and my computer with it, my writing would still be up there in cyberspace.
- Place your computer equipment out of the sun and off dusty floors, up on a table where there is adequate ventilation.
- If you can afford it, your computer should be yours alone. Children and teenagers should not have access to it, nor should most other adults.
Concerning this last suggestion, one of my clients just brought in his computer again. Last time he let his nieces use it. This time an old college buddy was visiting and just wanted to look at his email. Now the computer is full of viruses, spyware, adware, and porn. That was $175 to clean it.
It's pointless to go to all this trouble and expense to protect one's data and then lend it to others in this way. If your children need a computer it's better to get them a cheap one of their own.
Computer warranties are basically worthless. There are two reasons for this. The first is because you can spend days on the phone trying to figure out the cause of a problem. This is fine if people lived forever, were independently wealthy, and enjoyed this type of experience. Otherwise it's a terrible waste of time and money. Secondly, and more important, the real value of a computer is in the data. That data on ones hard drive can easily represent tens of thousands of dollars of ones time - but no hardware warranty covers the cost of lost data nor the cost of time lost waiting for ones computer to get fixed.
Prevention is far better and far cheaper than trying to fix disasters after they have occurred. The plummeting price of new computer hardware makes this an easy choice. Since 1998 the cost of new computers has come down roughly by a factor of four. You can't buy the same computer today that you could have eight years ago, because they don't make computers that bad any more - but you can get one that's more reliable with ten times the memory, hard drive space, and CPU speed for around a quarter of what a PC cost then. On the other hand, the hourly cost of wasted time has risen steeply, at least for me. In terms of simple cost/benefit analysis it makes sense to invest more for hardware to protect one's data, one's time, and one's sanity.
An exception to this general principal concerns laptops. Since they cost more and are more fragile than desktops, paying a reasonable amount for a decent warranty can be worthwhile. For desktops I get the longest warrenty I can, so long as it doesn't cost much more.
I would like to thank my friend Steve Gold, for his suggestions in editing this article. Many of you out there are excellent writers and editors. If you have suggestions for improving this piece, anything from pointing out spelling errors to major rewrites, please email me your ideas. Thank you, Alan Silverman
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