Living with Computers

One billion personal computers have been sold across the world, says hi-tech consultancy Gartner Dataquest. The number of computers is set to explode in the next few years, reaching the two-billion mark by 2008. Unprecedented technology growth indeed!

Evenly distributed, that will make approximately one personal computer per every three persons the world over. However, computers are not evenly distributed.

Consider computer market in our own country: it is quite small. The market is divided in segments that buy (1) refurbished, (2) local brands, or (3) branded computers. There are more computers in urban areas as compared to rural hinterlands. Many still cannot afford them. What is more, old and used computers, monitors and accessories (read e-waste) are also shipped in from developed countries and sold locally. I have seen truckloads of used keyboards and monitors being unloaded at Hafeez Centre for sale. Which is one of the reasons that the frequency with which most users experience computer system failure is very common?

Illegal operations, fatal errors, freezes or simple deaths of a computer that are usually attributed to operating systems and other software problems, many a times, may happen due to bad or substandard hardware, or simply incompatible hardware. Mismatched hardware is common in a market where computers are refurbished locally without any analyses or test. Semi-skilled technicians simply select the components to make up the systems when one is ordered. Many components that make up a computer just do not play well together. For example, a modem may not go with particular sound card. Some video card may be unable to work with certain motherboards. The list goes on and on. Vendors only look at the cost of a given part, not its compatibility, thus they often produce unstable computer systems.

Hardware can become defective while working as well. Mishandling the internal components of a computer can prematurely age them, which reduces their lifetime from years to months or weeks. Many hardware failures are smaller and will not cause the computer to completely stop working, but may add to other more serious problems. Adding new internal components to a computer, specially by under trained technicians, can cause damage to the other parts of a computer.

Is there a way to continue work when one, particularly when a home user loses a major component of personal computer system? It turns out that only a few people are prepared for a mishap. Most take their computers for granted and do not even back up data regularly and safely as a practice what to talk of backing up hardware. While I do not think all computer users should have every thing in advance, I find it practical to have some hardware component backed up and every serious user may consider doing it.

Let us start with the computer itself. A few of Pakistani home users have spare CPUs that they can pull out of the cupboards in case of main system packing up unannounced.

Some high-end users have laptops these days and they can work with small keyboards as efficiently as with desktops. Some of them have the options to hook up their laptops, directly or through a port, to the monitor, keyboard and mouse.

Users mostly sell their own systems when they want to have a new and a better one. Those who may have presented old systems to children for playing games (but gamers need rather stronger systems these days) instead of selling may get hold of them in a pinch. Such old computers are a blessing in time of dire need.

Computer users who do not have backup laptop or other machines in the house should be concerned about a hard disk failure. There are a number of external options that can save the day but who all bother with any sort of external storage or backing up their data regularly?

One typical system failure is caused by a blown up power supply. When dumping old computers, if any one does, some people retrieve a floppy and may be a hard drive, but only a few think to salvage the power supply. Check it out before disposing off old computers. It is nice to have a spare power supply handy. The rescued power supply may come handy some time. And it is not difficult to fix a new power supply.

Anyone should be able to do that. Besides, most of the users do not have an uninterrupted power supply (UPS) to prevent data loss or losing their labor of love in case of power fluctuation and outages since power supply is very unreliable in our country. I would recommend that every user should get a UPS before any unscheduled power shutdown or fluctuation gets their work of hours if not the system.

While CPU and disk failures are a major breakdown, a keyboard or mouse failure can be just as catastrophic in the short term. While it is possible to manage without a mouse, there is not much one can do without a keyboard? So consider having a backup keyboard.

Normally, the keyboard and mouse that users get with their machines are low-priced to keep the system’s total cost down. Such decision may cost much more in the longer run. If you intend to use the keyboard or mouse from older systems, make sure the connectors match your newer

Older systems often had big keyboard connectors while most new PCs are equipped with thinner connectors. Better still, get yourself a high quality keyboard and put the other one in the closet as a reserve. Do the same with the mouse. You will not regret this. It is likely that both will eventually fail.

Few users consider a modem as a vulnerable component that should be a target for backup. I have changed at least one modem per year. Luckily, I keep all old things in my junk store. Whenever I switch to a new model, I am left with an older version modem that I keep away and use as a backup when the newer one eventually dies.

The rest of the system such as the scanner, printer or even a floppy disk drive should not keep any one from working in the event of failure. The monitor might be a problem except for laptop users. Most serious computer users and techies often work with disabled systems but it is difficult for majority of users. And home users seldom consider the consequences of computer failure. So, have a contingency plan ready.

1 thought on “Living with Computers”

  1. If you think home user should have this kind of backup plan then what about Serious IT professionals 🙂 They may have multiple Computers, UPS Diesel Generator (6-8 hours break down common in our country), DSL with satellite backup links?


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