Tuning up your computer

Copyright Dr Alan Solomon, 1986-1995

If you've been using your computer for some time, you've probably
noticed that it's getting slower.  This is because it needs a bit of
tuning, but don't worry, you can do it yourself quite easily.

One of the commonest problems is caused by the clock getting out of
alignment, and this causes the CPU to slow down, and miss an
occasional beat.  It's nothiong to worry about though, and very easily
cured.  To realign your CPU, all you have to do is switch on the radio
and wait for a time signal, for example 1 pm.  Type TIME, and you'll
actually be able to see the misalignment that is causing the problem -
type in 13:00:00 and wait until the pips go on the radio, then press
Enter at exactly the right time.  Now your CPU will be perfectly
aligned, and you should notice an immediate improvement.

Another common problem is with the screen.  When you're in DOS, you'll
see that characters scroll off the top of the screen.  They are
removed into a kind of electronic collection area up there, and as the
area fills up, scrolling can take longer.  You're supposed to manually
clear the area by typing CLS (CLear Screen) every now and then, but a
lot of people don't bother.  Most people put a CLS in their
AUTOEXEC.BAT, which fixes the problem permanently.

Diskettes get old data building up on them.  As you read and write the
diskettes, data is written over old data, and it gradually builds up
the thickness, making it slower and slower.  Many books recommend that
you should reformat your diskettes now and then to cure this,
especially if you are using the same diskettes again and again for

You get the same problem with hard disks, only worse, because it is
not advisable to reformat your hard disk every few weeks.  Eventually,
your hard disk will choke on all the old data that hasn't been cleared
away.  Luckily, Microsoft have provided a utility that fixes the
problem, but they did a poor job of explaining it in the manual.  You
have to run CHKDSK (ChokeDisk), and that removes the old data, by
grounding it to earth.  This is why it is so important to have an
earth in your computer.

If you use your floppy disk drive a lot, you'll find that it no longer
runs at the spritely pace it once had.  There really is no need to
replace the unit when this happens;  it is caused by the drive
constantly rotating in the same direction.  All you have to do is
"unwind" it, so to speak, by making it read the disks anticlockwise
instead of clockwise.  You do this by using the Floppy-Wind command
(FIND) which is on every DOS disk.  FIND A:  will reverse the A drive,
and if you have a B drive, you should do FIND B:  as well.
There's no point in doing FIND C: because hard disks automatically
unwind themselves.

The memory chips also come in for a lot of wear and tear, but instead
of replacing them every year, you can try cleaning them out with a
small Basic program that Pokes zero into every location.  Here's the
program you should enter and run:

10 DEF SEG &9000
20 FOR I = 1 TO 65536
30 POKE(I,0)

This will work just as well as commercial programs costing a small
fortune.  Another good tip is to ground yourself before touching the
computer.  You can do this by touching anything that is connected to
the water system, such as a radiator or a tap.  This will prevent
static from building up to an unacceptable level, which could
potentially damage some of the delicate circuitry inside your
computer.  Another way to defend your computer against static is to
make sure you have a sheet of aluminium foil underneath it.

If your printer seems a bit slow, you should first check that the
problem isn't the paper.  We see a lot of printers that are trying to
print onto paper that is simply too heavy, and it slows them right
down.  Proper printer paper should be light and fine.  If the paper is
not the problem, then you should make sure that the ribbon is flowing
freely - a ribbon that sticks can slow down the whole printer when it
tries to pull the ribbon through.  If you have a dot matrix printer,
the problem could be the nozzles through which the ink squirts;  if
they have become slightly clogged, then the print head will have to
stay longer at each position.

You've probably found that if you use a modem, communications have
been slowing down, and perhaps getting noisier.  The primary cause of
this is dirty cables;  many people never clean their communications
cable, and then wonder why it doesn't work as well as it used to!
All it needs is to be run down with a dry tissue, and you'll be
surprised at the amount of dirt that will come off.

Speaking of cables, you should check that there isn't a kink in your
printer cable, as that is another source of printing bottlenecks.  The
keyboard cable is important too, and if that starts getting tangled
then the all-important data pathways become more tortuous, and you'll
start getting typing errors.

A lot of nonsense is talked about radiation from VDUs, but many people
forget about the emissions that you get from the main computer.
Happily, the answer is simple - all you have to do is wrap the main
unit up in aluminium foil and all the radio waves will be reflected
back inside, where they will disperse harmlessly.

Many computers have a 110/220 volt switch on the back.  Switching this
to 110 volts will NOT make your computer run twice as fast - indeed it
could run considerably slower.  The 8088 chip is not designed for the
lower voltage - leave this switch well alone.

Laser printers need special treatment.  After they've been running for
a while, the light begins to build up inside, as laser light is
obviously more persistent than ordinary light.  Happily, all you have
to do is open up the printer to release the light, but you should be
sure to close your eyes as you do so, otherwise the bright laser flash
could damage your eyesight, as the trapped light escapes.

As you can see, there are lots of ways you can tune up your computer,
without it costing you a fortune and without very much effort - do
these little chores every six months and your computer will stay as
efficient as the day you bought it.