Lifehacker

The Guide to Working Smarter, Faster and Better


Chapter 11

Hone Your Computer Survival Skills

Computer disasters happen, but when they do, you don't have to pay the local computer repair shop hundreds of dollars to recover from them. Whether you delete an important file by accident, get infected with a computer virus, face the "blue screen of death," discover your hard drive is dead, or find that your computer has slowed down over time, plenty of free, easy, do-it-yourself fix-it options are available to help you get back to a speedy, secure, and stable system.

Hack 102
Rescue Your PC from Malware

Level: Medium
Platform: Windows

The scourge of personal computing is malware: malicious software that installs itself without the user's consent and undermines the computer's operation for nefarious purposes, from identity theft to aggressive advertising to common vandalism.

Hack 103
Protect Your PC from Malware

Level: Medium
Platform: Windows

Most PCs ship with a preinstalled antivirus tool — one that usually starts nagging you to pay for a subscription after the 3-month trial is over. Pay-for antivirus solutions do a fine job, but you can set up strong Windows security without a price tag.

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Hack 104
Clean Up Your Startup

Level: Easy to Advanced
Platform: Windows

When it comes to computer slowdowns that get worse over time, one of the biggest culprits is software installations that plant themselves in your PC's login sequence and start up automatically with your computer.

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Hack 105
Undo System Configuration Changes

Level: Medium
Platform: Windows

You installed unstable software or made a configuration change to your PC that broke things left and right. Don't worry - all is not lost.

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Hack 106
Truly Delete Data from Your Hard Drive

Level: Medium
Platform: Windows/Mac

The only sure way to securely and permanently delete sensitive files — like a customer database, secret company documents, or personal photos you don't want the guy who buys your hard drive on Ebay to see — is to overwrite them several times with new data.

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Hack 107
Compare and Merge Files and Folders with WinMerge

Level: Medium
Platform: Windows

When several people work on the same set of files — making changes and copies — multiple versions can blossom out of control. Figuring out what's been updated on which version and merging it all back together can be a gargantuan task, but it doesn't have to be.

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Hack 108
Firewall Your Windows PC

Level: Medium
Platform: Windows

A home PC connected directly to the internet—especially with an always-on broadband connection like cable or DSL — is a prime target for malicious software attacks.

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Hack 109
Firewall Your Mac

Level: Easy
Platform: Mac OS X

Surprisingly, your new Mac doesn't ship with its firewall turned on by default. That's not a problem if your Mac accesses the Internet through another device that has a firewall on, such as a wireless router. But if you connect your Mac to the Internet at public wireless hotspots, or plug it directly into your broadband Internet connection, you should enable the firewall to avoid unwanted connections from other computers.

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Hack 110
Speed Up Windows with a Thumb Drive

Level: Easy
Platform: Windows

The best way to make a computer run faster is to add more system memory, or RAM. But not all computers have expansion slots available for additional memory, and installing internal memory sticks can be an intimidating undertaking for those who've never opened their computer and faced its silicon innards. That's why Microsoft introduced a new feature into Windows called ReadyBoost, which lets you add memory to your PC with a regular USB flash drive.

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Hack 111
Free Up Hard Drive Space

Level: Easy
Platform: Windows/Mac

Hard drive space is cheap and plentiful, but you don't have to run out to buy a whole new drive the minute you start pushing your current disk's space limits.

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Hack 112
Resurrect Deleted Files

Level: Medium
Platform: Windows

When you delete files from your computer's hard drive, the data is not actually erased. In reality, the space it occupies is marked as available for your operating system to overwrite with new data.

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Hack 113
Hot Image Your PC for Instant Restoration

Level: Medium
Platform: Windows

Over time and with heavy usage, your PC can become slow and unstable, bogged down with programs you don't use and victim of system changes that make it behave in ways you never intended. If you've ever encountered the "blue screen of death" — that is, had your Windows PC crash entirely — you may know what a tedious job rebuilding your computer can be. Reinstalling the operating system and applications and restoring your documents can take time you don't have.

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Hack 114
Hot Image Your Mac for Instant Restoration

Level: Medium
Platform: Mac

If your Mac's system drive were to fail, reinstalling OS X and restoring the operating system to its previous state — including all your must-have apps and preferences — is an incredibly time-consuming process. Freeware application Carbon Copy Cloner creates a bootable backup of your entire system that you can restore to a new hard drive if something goes wrong with your system.

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Hack 115
Recover Files from an Unbootable PC

Level: Advanced
Platform: Windows/Linux

Few moments in computing are as heartbreaking as when you turn on your trusty PC only to receive that bone-chilling message: Boot sector corrupt. Config.sys missing. Disk cannot be read.

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