Top 10 PC Mistakes And How To Avoid Them

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Using technology isn't always a smooth ride. We outline some classic computing mistakes and explain how to avert future disasters

Computers are extremely useful but it's not always clear how best to use them. It's hard to believe that Microsoft ran Windows Vista past a user-focus group and still introduced absurdities such as User Account Control to confirm that you actually want to install the program you've gone to the trouble of downloading. And who on earth thought using the key combination Ctrl +Alt +Delete to log onto a PC was a good idea?

Using technology isn't always a smooth ride. We outline some classic computing mistakes and explain how to avert future disasters

Since Microsoft doesn't always make it obvious how to use the world's most popular operating system, it's little wonder its users sometimes have trouble doing so. The web, too, has many fine features that seem to exist specifically to trip us up. In fact, most of us have at least one anecdote involving grappling with a PC problem and accidentally doing exactly the wrong thing - sometimes with disastrous or comical consequences.

Here's our roll call of the 10 biggest PC mistakes and our tips to ensure you don't get caught out by them.

1.    Defragmenting your hard disk all the time

Years ago, computing experts would recommend frequent hard disk defragmentation as a means of improving everyday performance. But defragging a disk can take hours and leave you without the use of your computer or laptop while Windows rearranges itself. These days the benefits don't justify the time wasted, Hard disks can retrieve data incredibly fast and we tend to have plenty of hard- disk space across which our files can scatter. This means you'll barely notice an improvement in performance after you've defragmented that disk.

Defragging a disk can take hours and leave you without the use of your computer or laptop while Windows rearranges itself

The fix: For more effective performance gains try adding more memory. Also, use a less cluttered web browser such as Chrome instead of Internet Explorer or Firefox, You may want to use a less resource-hungry office suite too - LibreOffice 4 ( default) is a good, free choice.

2.    Accidentally downloading spyware or Ransomware

Spoof ads can look very convincing, but hovering your mouse over a web link sometimes reveals where the site really goes to. Software to clean your PC of malware you didn't know you had is a favorite trap.

The fix: If in doubt, type the site address into the search field at Web of Trust ( Don't search for a suspect site in Google as you may end up at a malware site that offers false reassurances about it. One such site that tries to trick you is

3.    Installing a power-hungry graphics card

Upgrades usually provide welcome performance improvements, but if you install a beefy new graphics card that requires more power than your PC's power supply unit can supply it may prevent your computer starting up at all.

A power-hungry graphics card

The fix: Power down the PC, disconnect it from the mains and earth yourself by touching something metal. Now unscrew the computer case and carefully remove the graphics card. Reinstate the old one. Check the power requirements for the new graphics card and buy a PSU that can provide the necessary power. Fit the new power supply unit and ensure it works with your PC. You can then go ahead and install your powerful new graphics card.

4.    Installing more than one antivirus program

Antivirus programs will compete with each other rather than making your PC more secure.

Antivirus software will resist attempts to be manually uninstalled via the Add or Remove Programs menu

The fix: Antivirus software will resist attempts to be manually uninstalled via the Add or Remove Programs menu. Instead, reboot your PC, press FI2 as soon as it restarts (and before the Windows screen appears), then use your arrow keys to boot into Safe Mode. You should be able to delete the security program you don't want. Restart your PC normally. You should find order has been restored.

5.    Jamming friends' inboxes with huge attachments

Of course you want to share those adorable photos of your baby grandson, but the 2MB original photo won't be anywhere near as welcome as a 160KB version that opens in seconds. Most people's email accounts have less than 5MB attachment limits, so your hefty photo may only get as far as the email server anyway.

Jamming friends' inboxes with huge attachments

The fix: Click the photo, open the image-editing tool and reduce its resolution to an inbox-friendly 72dpi. Press 'Save as' or email it from the photo editor. In Picasa you can an image size for sending photos by email. If you must send a large photo file, compress it by right-clicking it and choosing Send to, 'Compressed (zipped) folder'. Flickr (, Photobox (www.pfiotoboxco.ufc) and Microsoft SkyDrive ( all support photo sharing via web links.

6.    Allowing programs to set themselves up as the default

Many web browsers, search engines, music managers and photo editors come with freebies that want to install themselves as your default viewers and search tools.

The fix: Always use the custom install option and deselect everything except the program itself.

7.    Using obvious passwords across multiple sites

It's not easy to remember multiple passwords, but using the same one at several websites or accounts isn't the answer. A hacker need only work out your password at one site to be able to access all your others. Since so many of us double- up on passwords, having broken into one account a hacker will often check what other accounts the password unlocks.

The fix: Use a password-encryption tool such as KeePass 4.2.2 ( This stores all your passwords in a single database, accessible only by a master password.

KeePass 4.2.2

8.    Treating the search bar like the address bar

Typing a web address into the search field often yields a 'domain not recognized' error. It's a mistake some readers make when typing our Snipca links into Google, instead of the address bar.

The fix: You confused the search field and the web address one. Type anything that starts with 'http' or 'www' into the bar at the top, not into Google.

9.    Storing important files on a USB key or SD card

USB keys and SD cards are conveniently tiny - and extremely easy to lose. They aren't meant for permanent storage and can often be unreliable.

Storing important files on a USB key or SD card

The fix: Copy the contents of your media drive to your PC and/or backup the files to an online archive as soon as possible. Set Windows to automatically scan external media for infection to be sure you aren't spreading malware (see All-New Secrets, page 64).

10.  Ignored advice to back up and lost lots of files

Hard disk failures happen. Laptops get stolen. Many people still don't ever back up their computers. We'd hate you to lose all your work and favorite photos.

The fix: set a backup schedule to run when you aren't using your PC. Go to Control Panel, choose 'Backup your computer' under System and Security. Click 'Set up backup' and select a destination. Weekly backups at 7pm on Sunday are Windows 7's default. Click 'Change schedule' if this doesn't suit. If your PC is set to back up overnight, remember not to shut down when you finish using it. If you are backing up to a USB drive, ensure you plug one in.

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