Friday, October 26, 2007

PC Mythbusters

Q. My hard drive bit the dust recently. I suspect it may have been because my son has been downloading stuff and got a virus. Is that possible?

A. No, this is a myth. Software cannot harm hardware such as hard drives or motherboards except under some very special, very unlikely circumstances. I hear lot’s of myths like this one from Shoals area computer users. Let’s examine and debunk a few other myths.

Myth: “Save your computer by always leaving it on.” Reality: Turn your computer off when you’re done with it unless there is a reason to leave it on. The root of this myth appears to be something called “thermal expansion” where hardware supposedly wears out after many warming and cooling cycles from repeatedly cycling the power. Perhaps the myth had some merit long ago when computers were the size of Donald Trump’s ego but modern electronics are much better now. Help save the planet and turn the thing off when you’re done.

Myth: “Don’t yank your flash drive without ‘stopping’ it first.” Reality: This is mostly myth. If you are not reading from or saving to your flash drive or MP3 player, you can safely yank your USB flash drive with no harm whatsoever. However, if you are transferring data to or from the drive, yanking it out can destroy your flash drive. So don’t yank it while it’s working.

Myth: “Defragging speeds up your computer.” Reality: Some of you seem to think defragging is a cure-all for whatever ails your computer. It’s not. Defragmenting finds scattered or “fragmented” data on your hard drive and arranges those fragments in a contiguous line that can be read by the hard drive quicker. Large, modern hard drives simply don’t need to be defragmented like drives from a few years ago. Defrag once a year and you might see a very slight increase in performance.

Myth: “Magnets and X-rays destroy your data.” Reality: Old floppy disks were susceptible to damage from magnets but that was then, this is now. CD ROMs and thumb drives don’t store data magnetically so are immune to magnetic damage. Hard drives actually have a high-powered magnet inside them that moves the read/write head. X-rays have absolutely no effect on any sort of data storage device. I would not recommend you use your laptop during an MRI scan but, short of that, don’t worry about it.
Myth: “Run your laptop battery down once in a while or it will die.” Reality: Old-fashioned nickel-cadmium (NiCad) batteries did lose their ability to recharge if you failed to drain them periodically. Modern lithium-ion batteries have been used in laptops for years and don’t suffer from this “memory” issue. You should still run newer batteries down occasionally to recalibrate the fuel gauge indicator within Windows but that has no effect on battery performance.

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