I wonder if this sounds familiar: taking a very long time to get up to speed in the mornings, failing memory, can’t be relied on to complete a task, occasional blank moments? If so then perhaps you, like Fairfield resident George P, may need to upgrade your laptop to a newer model. Here are his tips.

Whenever I replace a laptop I have a light-bulb moment: it’s not the machine that really matters, it’s the data that’s stored on it. The machine is replaceable, the data isn’t. In my case, the thousands of pictures and video clips of my children growing up – I never want to lose those. So here are a few tips that I’ve picked up over the years, to help you keep your precious data safe.

Covid isn’t the only nasty virus

Computer viruses are a very real threat, and like Covid you don’t always know when you’ve been infected. Did you know that your Windows laptop has a free anti-virus package built in? It’s called Windows Security (and older versions were known as Windows Defender or Microsoft Security Essentials). This free package provides perfectly adequate virus protection for most people – so, believe it or not, you don’t have to pay for virus protection.

 A new laptop will typically come with a pre-installed free trial of some-or-other third-party anti-virus package. When the trial ends, you’ll start getting bugged to pay a subscription. At this point, I uninstall the free trial and turn on Windows Security – and remain protected completely free of charge.

Also, whenever I plug in a new USB memory stick I use the ‘Custom Scan’ feature to run the anti-virus software over it before I open any files. It only takes a few seconds.

Image is everything

One of the first things I do when I buy a new laptop is make a ‘System Image’ of it. This is a ‘supercharged’ backup of your whole computer onto a USB memory stick, including the Windows operating system and all the applications and data files – the whole kit and caboodle! With a System Image you can, in the future, re-create an exact clone of your machine as it was at the moment the image was taken. This is really useful if your hard disc packs up completely (yes, it’s happened to me twice!).

The System Image function is a standard, but little known, feature of Windows 10. It’s probably sensible to use it once a year, so you can recover from a fatal hard disc failure without having to buy a new laptop. If the worst happens, just replace the hard disc, restore the ‘image’ and bingo – everything is exactly as it was!

Regular backups

A backup is a copy of the data that you create (documents, spreadsheets, pictures, music files, etc). This data is, of course, far more important than the machine, so make frequent backups to minimise your losses if there is a serious problem. Unlike a System Image, a regular backup won’t copy applications (like Microsoft Office), it will only copy data (like Word documents and Excel spreadsheets), so use both for comprehensive protection.

The ‘User Account’ trick

This is a really neat trick. When you set up user accounts on a Windows computer, each account is either an ‘Administrator’ or a ‘User’. There has to be at least one Administrator; all the other accounts can be either an Administrator or a User. As you can imagine, an Administrator account is all powerful and can make changes anywhere, install new programmes and wreak general havoc. Lowly Users have no such rights, and lack the permissions needed to do serious harm.

So, actually, it pays to be a lowly User – and for normal daily activities you should log on to your computer using only the User account. This will help to prevent you from unintentionally installing malicious applications or damaging the Windows operating system, because you will always be prompted for the Administrator password first. If you know that what you are doing is safe, then just tap in the Administrator password and off you go. If the prompt pops up unexpectedly, then congratulations – you just dodged a bullet.

The relatively small effort involved in following these few tips has paid off many times over, saving me, and my family, from a number of otherwise catastrophic data losses from both mechanical failure and virus attack. I hope you find them useful too.

George P