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This section is designed with the intention of helping to keep your system running in tip top shape. As a computer consultant I am often called to sites where the solution is very simple. There are also some things people should be aware of while operating the Win 95/98 Operating System. There are some misconceptions and myths that need to be addressed as well. Hopefully, you will find this page useful.

I. Some basic things you need to know about your computer
II. Techniques for keeping your system cleaned and running in tip top condition
III. Problems to expect and what to do about them
IV. Myths and laying them to rest

I. Some basic things you need to know about your computer
I see a lot of confusion in people with their computers. Some of this confusion and the ideas that are generated from the confusion are harmless to your day to day usage of your computer. Others can lead you to problems with the functionality of your machine. While fixable you may find yourself in a state of FRUSTRATION.
A computer consists of TWO main categories of components. One of these is HARDWARE and the other is SOFTWARE. The first confusion that can hinder the understanding of why your computer may act quirky at times is the tendency of computer owners to think that the HARDWARE is the complex part of a computer and the root of all evil for computer problems. In fact, the hardware follows some strict guidelines and for the most part is fairly straight forward. Software exists in multitudes of styles and infinite variety. Some software may function flawlessly but, it is a certainty that if you work with your computer enough you will run into a glitch here and there. Keep in mind that if your system is up and running smoothly your hardware is probably fine. However, if it starts having illegal operations, page faults, and other erratic behavior it likely stems from some known flaws in OPERATING SYSTEMS and/or some contention between two or more programs. Page Faults and Illegal Operations typically occur when one program attempts to access an area of memory that another program has marked as its territory. Imagine this as trespassing. This is a SOFTWARE problem and does not reflect a hardware problem. Sometimes these are EXTREMELY easy to fix.

COMPUTER = HARDWARE + SOFTWARE (Operating System (e.g. Windows 95) + Programs)

Where do most of the problems occur? Software.

II. Techniques for keeping your system cleaned and running in tip top condition
Anytime your system acts strangely or has errors you have not seen before when doing the same thing you were just doing you will want to use this house cleaning technique. You probably will want to do this at least once a month unless you are a heavy user of the machine in which case you will want to do this more frequently than that.

While items inside your recycle bin are unlikely to cause illegal operations and such they do sometimes slow your machine down substantially when they increase in number and size. Therefor, it is recommended you empty your recycle bin whenever you are certain there is not a deleted item in there that you are thinking you will need to recover.

Temporary files are much like sticky notes we use to remind us of things. Ideally, these should be deleted by the program that creates them when it is done using them. Unfortunately, this does not happen and is a known problem with Windows 95. It has been known to cause enough problems that Windows 98 incorporates a utility that is designed to clean them up (but, this program does not always run). Typically, you should only have a very low number of files ending in .TMP. As this number increases your likelihood of quirky things such as a printer not printing, and illegal operations increases. Therefor, the following steps can be one of the most important cleaning steps you can do on your system.
(For purposes of instructions in this document CLICK always refers to the LEFT mouse button unless otherwise specified)

1. Click on the START button
2. Click on FIND
4. In the field titled NAMED type "*.TMP" do not include the quotation marks.
5. Make sure LOOK IN has (C:) or (ALL LOCAL HARD DRIVES) some where in the description.
6. Click FIND NOW
7. A list of files should begin to appear if it finds any files. A normal fairly clean system should probably be running with 25 or less TMP files but, on a couple occasions I have seen even 2 files cause problems. If you have more than 100 then you have likely been having problems that these instructions will help you with.
8. Click on the EDIT menu
9. Click on SELECT ALL
10. Hold down the SHIFT key on your keyboard and press DELETE on the keyboard.
11. When it askes you if you are sure that you want to delete N number of files make sure you typed in "*.TMP" in the NAMED area and if you did then click on YES. This is important because, if it has found files other than those ending in .TMP then you DO NOT want to delete them.
12. At this point you have cleaned out the temporary files and can click on the X or exit FIND FILES AND FOLDERS using your prefered method.

Hard drives are much like a chess board or checker board. Certain programs take up 3 squares, others take up 1, and some may take 10. So, these programs will seek to be stored so all of the squares are next to each other. After awhile you may have enough programs in there that when you add a 3 square program it cannot find 3 CONTIGUOUS (next to each other) squares. So, it fragments the program and puts 2 squares in one location and the last square in a different location. This HAPPENS on your hard drive. As a hard drive begins to get more and more fragmented files it begins to slow down. This is most noticable as a speed decrease or as your hard drive working harder than it used to. The drive needs to be defragmented which is the process of organizing all your files so, as many contiguous files as possible are arranged and that the free area is consolidated into a larger contiguous section. It is a good idea to defragment your hard drives occasionally.

1. Click on START
2. Click on PROGRAMS
4. Click on SYSTEM TOOLS
6. Select the drive you want to DEFRAGMENT
7. Click START

This is undoubtedly one of the most misunderstood aspects of a computer. It is also one of the most likely ways to resolve a problem in Windows 95/98. When you shutdown your system or restart it Windows does a lot of cleanup. When you restart it is running cleaner. One of the biggest things it does is reclaim lost memory due to MEMORY LEAKAGE. When a program is executed it requests a chunk of RAM to work in. Ideally, when that program is done it should give all this memory back. This does not happen. It gives back most of it but, typically a small amount of memory is not reclaimed. This is known as memory leakage. Memory leakage is a known problem in ALL operating systems, and some programs are designed poorly and leak memory even worse. Basically, it adds up to the fact as you continually open and close programs throughout the day the amount of memory leakage adds up to a larger and larger amount until eventually your system will become unstable, lock up, and possibly crash. This is more common in the machines that are left on continuously and never shut down over night. To fix memory leakage problems restart your machine occasionally. Many people prefer to leave their machines on as they have heard that turning them off and on is actually harder on them. This is true... You don't need to turn it off to fix the memory leakage though... just RESTART it. Do this at least once a day and you will probably see the memory leakage problems go away.

1. Click on START
2. Click on SHUTDOWN
3. Click on RESTART
4. Click on YES (or OK)


Steps to fixing your computer: Try these before paying a technician
1. Restart your machine
2. Still does not work - Clean TEMPORARY FILES, EMPTY RECYCLE BIN, and Restart
3. Actually go through the shutdown process and turn off your machine. Wait 10 seconds and reboot
4. Still does not work - Defragment Hard Drives and Restart

More advanced steps will be covered in the following sections. You can try any of these that seems like it may work. The following techniques can be tricky for some people and should only be attempted with an understanding that your system may crash and you might even lose some data. This is okay though as long as you are prepared for it and take steps to backup critical data such as your word, excel, database, pictures, and quickbooks files...

III. Problems to expect and what to do about them
Every system no matter who the manufacturer is has the problems that are described and fixed in section II above. This is due to the fact that they are ALL software related. How long it will take for them to raise their ugly heads depends on how much you use your computer, and how many differing programs you use. The more programs you have and move between frequently, the more memory leakage, and temporary file related problems you are sure to have. Therefor, a user owning a DELL computer who uses it primarily for WORD PROCESSING will work much longer without seeing a problem than another user with the same computer who uses it for ART, WORD PROCESSING, INTERNET, GAME PLAYING, DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY, SCANNING, and more. They are working with a lot more programs which means a lot more likelihood of programmer error, potential memory leakage jumping between programs, a larger REGISTRY (explained later), and an increased likelihood for more TMP files being generated. Thus, comparing computers is very difficult to do unless they are two different machines used in identical ways with the identical software. DELL, and GATEWAY who are the makers of some of the better computer systems do not manufacture the parts that go into their systems. Anyone, can buy the same parts and build their own systems. If your system boots and all your devices are functioning then the remainder of your problems are likely software related... Some of these problems are easily resolved as in section II above. Others are more difficult.

WHAT MIGHT CAUSE THIS: You installed a program that made alterations that effected a previously installed and functional programs. The REGISTRY has become corrupt (software). A bad sector has occurred on the hard drive and corrupted the program. A program bug may have set off corruption.
THINGS TO TRY TO FIX THIS: try in order until fixed
1. Reinstall the software and restart machine
2. Uninstall the software (backup data related to it first), restart machine, install software, restart
3. Go online to the support site for the software and look for patches.
4. More advanced steps later in this section.

WHAT MIGHT CAUSE THIS: Usually this is caused by REGISTRY corruption. The REGISTRY consists of two files USER.DAT and SYSTEM.DAT and its backups USER.DA0 and SYSTEM.DA0. These files are CRITICAL to the operation of Windows 95 and Windows 98. They contain a lot of information about the devices (hardware), and the software of your system. They are basically the organization and governmental agency for your system. Over time it is common for the REGISTRY to become corrupted. If this happens your system can become unstable and might not boot at all... This is a fairly serious problem.
THINGS TO TRY TO FIX THIS: try in order until fixed
Backup and personal non-reinstallable files you may have created if possible (provided you can still boot and system is stable enough to do this). Files to keep in mind are Quickbooks, Quicken, Word (Documents), Downloads you do not want to have to redownload, favorites/bookmarks, email stored, pictures, excel files, web pages you are working on or other works in progress, or anything else YOU created and did not come pregenerated off of a CD. If you have TWO hard drives but, do not have a backup device such as a ZIP drive, CD-RW, or TAPE drive then backup all critical files from your C: drive onto one of the other drives such as D:. This technique is good for partitioned drives as well.
1. If you have a recent backup of your REGISTRY files reboot into DOS mode and copy them into your windows directory and reboot.
2. Reinstall Windows 95/98 by running the SETUP.EXE program for Windows 95/98. Make sure you run the same program you ran when installing your system or off of the CD that came with your system. (this may be successful in rebuilding the registry). Sometimes, this program to run can be found in a WIN95 or WIN98 directory at the root of your hard drive.
3. REIMAGE the machine. You will need a bootable floppy disk with CD-ROM drivers. The Floppy Drive should also have a copy of your AUTOEXEC.BAT, and CONFIG.SYS files with all the programs and drivers referenced in those two files. You will also want the FDISK, FORMAT, and EDIT programs if they are not already on the floppy drive. Follow these steps to reimage a machine.
A. Reboot the machine off of your floppy. If it will not boot off of the floppy make sure you have the A drive as the first boot device in your BIOS.
B. Make sure the CD-ROM is working with your driver by looking at the contents of your Windows 95/98 CD. If it is not working DO NOT PROCEED until you have gotten it working.
C. Format your C: drive with this command "FORMAT C: /S"
D. Once it is formated type the following commands in sequence pressing ENTER/RETURN after each. "C:", "MD WIN9x" substitute the X for 5 or 8 depending on which OS you are installing. "x:" substituting the drive letter of your CD-ROM drive for X. "CD WIN9x" you know what to do with X by now. "C:", "CD WIN9x", "COPY x:*.*" substituting the drive letter for your CD-ROM drive for X again.
E. Copy files needed by autoexec.bat and config.sys onto your C: drive. Copy the autoexec.bat, and config.sys files you want for C: onto the C drive. Make sure they do not contain A: drive references but, in fact reference files on the C: drive.
F. Reboot off of the C: drive this time instead of the floppy.
G. Gather together your device driver disks and CDs that came with your machine
H. Type "CD Win9x:" substituting 5 or 8 for the X depending on which OS you are installing. "Type SETUP" Follow the instructions. You will need your driver disks to correct any problems you may find in DEVICE MANAGER. (if this step does not work and gives you an error that you already have an OS installed it will not work with then it is likely due to another hard drive in your system or a partition. If it is a partition you will need to copy important files from it to your C drive and then delete the partition... and retry setup. If it is another drive just temporarily disconnect the IDE cables from the second drive and try SETUP again. Reconnect IDE cables after setup has completed).
I. Resolve any device conflicts, install devices not present.
J. Install software as desired. Go easy though and only install ones you actually think you need as the problem you are fixing could have been created by installing a large amount of programs and increasing the potential for REGISTRY corruption, and such.

Reimaging a system usually resolves most problems. If you understood all of the instructions then you should easily be able to get your system running and should never need a technician.

If you run into driver problems with a device you can't find a driver for try

See the description directly above but, in addition it should be noted that the more programs you install on your system the larger the registry will become and the increased likelihood of corruption. This is especially true if you frequently uninstall and install various programs to make room for other programs.

If you are a heavy user you should prepare to reimage your machine at least once and possibly more times per year depending on the type of activities you are doing. If you go in with the attitude you are going to have to do this then here is a suggestion.
Have either a 2 drive or a partitioned drive so, that your personal files are stored on a drive other than C: this will negate the need to backup data before reformatting C: and needing to reimage. It is recommended you have at least an extra 200MB of space on your C drive to accommodate virtual memory.

IV. Myths and laying them to rest
Hardware is difficult to troubleshoot - not so, it follows strict guidelines and is easy to isolate and replace defective parts. In fact, software problems are far more difficult to fix.

Dell, Gateway, Compaq and others have something special about their hardware - not so, they buy their parts from companies such as Western Digital, 3COM, Lucent, IBM, Creative Labs, and others and put them into their machine. The only thing unique about any of these companies will be their customer service, and warranties. The parts they use can be obtained by anyone. It is true that in some cases a company such as Packard Bell, or HP may have a card or keyboard unique to their system but, it is my experience that these devices usually are not as nice to use as a standard off the market device and may in fact have some quirks that are better done without. The HP keyboards for example have tended to use a chunk of system resources that could be better utilized elsewhere.

One machine is better than another: comparing machines is very difficult to do unless both machines were used in identical situations with identical software.

One machine should be bought over another because it is cheaper - This is not always the case. You must keep expandability in mind. It is possible to buy a machine for cheaper that is using a less expandable motherboard or is using the minimum part needed to support the machine. What this means is YES the machine is cheaper but, when it comes time to expand that machine... FORGET IT. This occurs in Gateways, and Dells too....

Build your own machine - NO, not unless you know a lot about what you are doing and can support any problems on your own. If you have a support person nearby that you trust then have them build you one and offer you support otherwise buy a name brand with a warranty, and support. When you buy DELL, GATEWAY, and others that is what you are buying... their support and warranty. If you are in a remote location this may not be the ideal situation.

- Written by Deva Winblood, Future Wave Computer Solutions 4/29/1999