Patch, fix, troubleshoot, reboot. CTRL-ALT-DELETE. It's like a foreign language to most of us.
And if these words aren't part of your computing vocabulary, it's just a matter of time because eventually your luck will run out.
While most problems that occur with personal computers may best be left to professionals, there are some things that can be done at home to prevent troubles or fix them when they happen.
"Always back up your computer on an external storage device," said Tim Page, corporate IT manager at Lexington Precision Corporation in Vienna.
External storage devices are available for about $150 at many major retailers. How often back-up should be done depends on the way the computer is being used. Working on income taxes, an important work project or a big paper might require back-up every time the project is opened.
Freezing or locking up may mean the computer is starting to go bad. These symptoms are very general and are difficult to diagnose but one cause might be corruption in Windows drivers or system files, according to Page.
Several issues need to be taken into consideration when deciding whether to fix or replace the computer that's in trouble. The processor, RAM (random access memory), and hard drive are the most important areas to take into account.
As a general rule, an older computer with a processor slower than 1GHZ should probably should be discarded.
If the decision has been made to purchase a new PC, buy a dual core processor with a speed of 2GHZ or higher. If the computer will be used primarily for gaming, get an upgraded video card with more video RAM and also more RAM.
To even consider fixing a computer, it should have, or have the capability to have, more than 1GB of RAM. If you have a computer with WindowsXP or higher, to determine how much RAM your computer has right click on "My Computer," then click "Properties." This will tell you what speed the processor is and how much RAM the computer has available.
The hard drive is the easiest and least expensive to upgrade. If the computer meets the above two parameters (faster than 1 GHZ processor and more than 1 GB of RAM) the hard drive could be upgraded for about $100. A bigger hard drive is necessary if the PC stores a lot of pictures or music.
Purchasing a PC from a store with technical support might be a wise choice for someone who is not "tech-savvy" according to Tim Page, IT manager at Lexington Precision Corp.
Don't throw your old PC in the garbage. Lead, cadmium, and mercury are just a few of the toxic chemicals contained in most computers. Electronic equipment and computers can be recycled at the Geauga-Trumbull Solid Waste Management District's Household Hazardous Waste Recycling Facility (HHWRF), 5138 Enterprise Blvd., Warren.
The facility is only open to residents of Geauga and Trumbull counties. Identification is required.
One possible fix could be to run Windows Repair from the original disc that came with the computer or un-install and re-install Windows. That's called a "format and reload" in computer language. Remember to back up all of the information first or everything will be lost.
Freeze-ups could also mean the computer is short on memory and may be resolved by increasing the memory on your computer. Page says many computers don't come with enough memory for the new software that's out today.
"Memory is cheap and easy to install and almost anyone can do it," he said.
Cleaning out the inside of the computer is another preventive maintenance suggestion that should be done on a regular schedule.
Dust, pet hair, and even cigarette smoke leave behind residue that clogs the cooling system and traps the heat inside your PC. Hot parts tend to have shorter lives, use more power, and run more slowly than they do when it's cooler.
To clean the PC, shut down your computer and unplug it. Remove the side panels and front panel. Smart Computing magazine recommends using compressed air in short bursts to clean the inside of the PC. Move the cleaning session outdoors if there is a lot of dust inside the case.
Power surges can be another cause of trouble.
"We've had trouble with power surges at work," said Page. He recommends a good quality power strip and even a battery back-up called a universal power supply, or UPS.
Notebooks have an even more difficult life. Bumps, drops, and collisions can damage the motherboard, hard drive, or monitor.
Continual shutdowns might mean the battery is damaged or dying. Slow or erratic behavior may signal a damaged hard drive or memory, according to Smart Computing. Opening the laptop's case may void the warranty so know what the warranty covers and for how long before attempting any repairs.
Network problems are another source of frustration for the home PC user. Obvious as it may sound, check the plug to make sure it's plugged in. Unplug your router or cable or DSL modem, leave it unplugged for a minute and plug it back in, suggests Page.
If your system is wireless, check your security settings to make sure you have the correct username, password, and security type. Firewalls can also interfere with the network. Temporarily disable the firewall and see if the network connection works in an attempt to diagnose this problem at home.
If you ultimately decide to seek professional help with your computer, keep in mind things such as pricing, how long repairs might take, shipping costs, and the guarantees the service provides.