It’s been a while since I offered you the benefit of my extremely limited knowledge of computers. Actually, I say that, but, as a freelance writer, novelist, researcher, etc, my computer has been the primary tool of my trade for many years, and I think I’ve learned a fair bit. I have never had to call in outside help for any computer problems. The worst mishap was a Google redirect virus that was, by all accounts, so tough to cure that I ended up doing a destructive recovery of my computer.
All other problems have been rectified by searching for answers on Google, and there is no shortage of good information out there if you spend enough time looking. That, or I have taken my computer apart and had a little tinker with the insides. I have to say, though, that’s not recommended unless you are at the point of throwing it out in disgust. A couple of months back, my DVD/CD writer was failing to open and was grinding nastily, so I took it out of the casing, took it to bits, cleaned out the dust and sprayed the internal mechanisms with WD40 (I’m not kidding), then dried it and put it back together. It’s perfect now.
Most recently, I became weary of the sluggish operation I had been putting up with for years. For freelance writers who may need to swap between various pages of Google for research, while using Word and perhaps listening to some music, the smooth and fast operation of your primary tool is essential. My computer had been freezing and generally lagging in everything it did. It was virus-free, with an ordered registry, a clean cache, and fully defragmented, yet it was behaving like a retard.
If you hadn’t already guessed, I’m still on Windows XP. After the debacle that was Windows Vista, I decided that until something positively proven came along, I would stay with what is a perfectly friendly operating system that doesn’t stick its oar in at every opportunity. I don’t need my computer second-guessing if I really want to perform the simplest of actions. I have a human brain. A human brain designed the computer. Ergo I am more intelligent than my computer. (I accept that theory sort of breaks down at the point where I start spraying WD40 at its highly sophisticated mechanism.) And, yes, I know Windows 7 is very good, but that’s not taking into account my reluctance to part with any money.
If computers were really that smart, they would not offer just two alternatives – yes or no – when checking if you really want to do something. There would be a screen, much like in Windows Messenger, and I would type in “Yes, why d’you ask?”
I particularly dislike computers when they get all melodramatic. “A fatal error has occurred.” Oh, shit, am I going to die or is the computer? Then there’s the ominous message that reads: “Your computer has performed an illegal operation.” What the hell? Has it skipped off to surf Texas Bob’s Gun Emporium while I wasn’t watching and ordered me up a Mac-10 submachine gun? It’ll never get through Spanish customs. (It probably would, actually.) On the whole, us freelance writers are an artistic, gentle bunch; I don’t need the Guardia Civil crashing through my window at 3 o’clock in the morning. Of course, for a computer, “illegal operation” usually just means a conflict between a program and a software driver. Whatever it means, the less I’m aware of my computer when I work, the happier I am and the earlier I finish.
So, back to the plot. The bog-standard XP is pretty slow, and it’s all down to RAM – Random Access Memory. Basically, this is the computer’s capacity to multitask. Small RAM means that when you want to perform several actions at once, it starts behaving like a hillbilly who’s been asked to do more than play Duelling Banjos and dribble saliva.
My RAM was 500 MB. Modern computers are anything from 3 GB upwards. Being a tight-wad, I opted not to splash out hundreds upgrading to a Windows 7 machine. Instead, I searched online for extra RAM modules, bought a couple of 1GB modules from an online shop (you need the exact match for your computer), stuck them in the spare RAM slots and effectively gave myself a new computer. The whole process took two minutes, including taking the side panel of my machine. I expect Windows 7 is still faster, but my XP is now every bit as fast and glitch-free as I need it to be. And it cost me £40 not £500.
If, like me, you are a miserly freelance writer with an old machine, just upgrade your RAM.