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Tips for Keeping Computers, Peripherals Working

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A preventive-maintenance program can decrease the number of times a computer breaks down--and thus the amount of time teachers, students, or administrators must work without their machines, experts say.

But, they add, because computers are relatively recent fixtures in schools, many educators do not know how to keep their computers and peripherals--such as printers, modems, and disk drives--in good working order.

"Because their performance is primarily electronic rather than mechanical, microcomputers are less likely to malfunction than many other types of equipment," reads a maintenance "checklist" published by the Educational Products Information Exchange, a nonprofit organization that evaluates educational materials.

"Nevertheless," the epie newsletter continues, "certain maintenance procedures--some dictated by the very fact of these machines' electronic constitution--have been demonstrated to delay or obviate operational problems."

Information gathered from epie, several school officials, and computer experts yields the following advice:

Consider temperature when choosing a location for your microcomputers.

The temperature range comfortable to humans, between 60 and 80 degrees farenheit, is also ideal for computers. But, the epie newsletter warns, "such factors as continuous operation over a period of time, the presence of a large number of people in a room, or location near an unshaded window admitting sunlight are heat-building conditions that can shorten the life of a microcomputer's electronic components."

Both hard and floppy disks are affected by heat and cold and should be stored at the same temperatures as the computers in which they are to be used. epie recommends a 24-hour delay for disks that have been exposed to winter cold and a delay in the use of computers until temperatures have equalized in buildings where heat or air-conditioning systems have been turned off overnight or over weekends and vacation breaks.

Position microcomputers so that their air inlets and outlets are not obstructed. epie further recommends that the ventilation outlets be inspected and cleaned every three or four weeks, preferably with the kind of miniature vacuum cleaner used to service typewriters.

Do not plug other electrical machines--such as film projectors or electric pencil-sharpeners--into the same outlet a microcomputer uses. Doing so, epie warns, could cause "fluctuations in power feed that sooner or later may precipitate malfunctions."

To avoid electromagnetic interference, epie recommends that com-puters and their storage devices not be placed near such magnetic equipment as "audio- and video-taped degaussers, library security systems, and even ordinary telephones."

Consider training for staff members so they can conduct simple, technical maintenance procedures.

At the St. Paul's School in Brooklandville, Md., which has 65 Apple computer systems, two trained employees regularly clean the school's disk drives, keyboards, and "motherboards"--the chips and other components of computers that are attached to special plastic boards--with a camel-hair brush and a can of condensed air. The intent is to remove dust, which attracts static, which in turn can prevent the proper functioning of the computer system.

They also adjust disk-drive speeds, check alignment of the read/write head, which records and retrieves information from disks, and lubricate the nonporous stainless-steel rods over which the read/write head runs.

Check the warranty before attempting to repair a computer. "If you're not a certified technician and you start pulling the computer apart and screw something up, then your warranty has been voided," said Mark S. Curtis of the St. Paul's School.

Combat static electricity--the number-one enemy of computers. Pick rooms with concrete or tiled floors, install static-free carpeting, or use an ion-free liquid or spray on the carpet surface once or twice a day. Consider having students and teachers wear leather-soled shoes, not rubber-soled shoes.

If there is no carpeting, have students and teachers "ground" themselves by touching a piece of metal before handling computer equipment or software. The "shock" that normally occurs is capable of damaging a microcomputer's integrated circuits and erasing information on a disk.

Do not allow food or drink in the vicinity of computers. Besides causing sticky keyboards, the crumbs and liquid attract insects and mice, which, one school official explains, love to chew through computer cables.

Also, do not allow smoking in computer rooms and do not place the machines in dusty areas, such as those near chalk blackboards.

Incorporate computer "dos and don'ts" into the computer-literacy effort. Revoke computer privileges of students who break the rules.

Limit the number of times a computer is turned on and off during the day.--lck

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