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1. Treat your PC right: Check your PC case every couple of weeks for dust buildup at the vents and fan holes. Also open the PC at least twice a year to clear out dust and debris that inevitably gets sucked inside. You'll prolong fan life and greatly reduce the risks of overheating your PC.

2. Back up your data: Invest in a rewritable DVD drive or a second hard disk--it'll let you back up data conveniently and fast. You can also use Microsoft Backup to create System State backups with all your Registry and system settings. Someday, you'll thank us.

3. Do routine disk maintenance: Windows' built-in utilities can perform routine surface scans and file defragmentation. You'll catch potential problems early, protect files from errors, and even improve performance.

4. Don't fly blind: Use Motherboard Monitor; it can read the input from temperature sensors built into a computer's motherboard, CPU, and hard drive to warn of an impending meltdown. It also monitors fan activity to alert you if a cooling fan fails.

5. Activate Windows System Restore: This terrific utility for Windows Me and XP (98 lacks a similar program) takes a complete snapshot of your system's state before every significant Registry change. Should a software or hardware upgrade go bad, System Restore acts like a time machine to return Windows to its last working configuration. You can also perform manual or scheduled restores. Click Start, Programs (All Programs in XP), Accessories, System Tools, System Restore, and follow the wizard. For Windows 2000, use Backup (on the System Tools menu) to create backups, and if necessary to restore System State information (click the plus sign under 'What to restore' to find the appropriate System State check box).

6. Get an uninterruptible power supply: A UPS (about $60) acts as a backup electrical supply, allowing your computer to weather power outages. It also serves as a surge suppressor and line conditioner to shield components from spikes and dips in current.

7. Play it safe: Beta drivers (beta meaning "not yet final") can create all sorts of problems. If you opt to get the latest leaked beta driver for your graphics card, you should also download and store on your hard disk a Microsoft-verified driver.

8. Keep Windows updates coming: As ridiculous as it may seem to patch Windows every three days, some updates are critical for keeping other people out of your PC. Check updates as they arrive, and be sure to immediately install any that resolve a significant security issue.

9. Buy an antivirus program: The app runs in the background to screen incoming/outgoing traffic and clear infections. Download the latest virus profiles to keep protection current.

10. Use common sense: You can avoid a lot of potential virus exposures simply by being careful. Don't open every e-mail attachment you receive. If an attachment from a known source seems odd or suspicious, verify the message with the sender before you open it. Also be wary of Web sites you visit, since malicious sites can attempt to run nefarious Java, HTML, or ActiveX code on your computer. --M.D.


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