Welcome to Part One of this three part series on maintaining your computer to keep it running smoothly and keep it protected from the worries of the Internet. The common factor in this series will be that the methods will cost you very little money or, in most cases, be completely free.
Part One will deal with basic maintenance of the actual hardware of the computer. There are some differences in desktop cases as well as differences in laptop computers. The differences are far too numerous to break down here so I would suggest that almost every computer manufacturer maintains a great support site on the web that should supply you with a manual to show you how different components to the system come apart. Be sure to follow a few precautionary tips if you decide to do the maintenance yourself. Properly ground yourself using a ground strap, be sure that any static electricity is discharged from your body and use the proper tools.
There are three main elements that are harmful to your computer; dust, smoke and food/liquids. The best advice here is to keep the computer in a well ventilated area free from tobacco smoke and avoid eating or drinking around the computer to avoid accidental spills.
To clean the case, remove the side covers of the desktop and if the computer is a laptop, remove only covers recommended by the manufacturer. Using a can of compressed air (available at most electronic or computer superstores) in a sweeping motion, blow the dust and dirt out of the machine. Pay special attention to the heat sink and all fans in the case because this is where dust really gathers up. You can also spray the air through the slots of the power supply unit to move the dust out of the back side thus keeping the electrical components inside dust free. Use the same technique by opening the CD drives and spray in them as well as any floppy drives that you may have.
Next, using electrical wipes, clean only the metallic surfaces in the case (for example the bottom). Use the wipes to clean the entire outside of the case as well. Finish up by using a vacuum with a brush attachment to gently vacuum the crevices, grills and other fine areas to get any hidden dust out. When completed, put the case back together or return the covers of the laptop.
This is a good first step to maintaining the computer. As with any electrical device, keeping them free of the dangers of elements will help them last longer and operate more efficiently. The recommendation is to clean your computer case a minimum of once per 6 months. If you have pets or feel that your home or office generates more dust than usual, feel free to do this more often. Watch out for Part Two of the series which deals with Anti-Virus software and Firewalls.