Install security software.
Oftentimes a notebook will become unstable because it has become infected with a virus or other malware, so you need to shield your machine from potential damage. BitDefender Total Security 2011 ($79.95;www.bitdefender.com) combines anti-malware protection with PC tune-up tools—not to mention online backup and parental controls. This lightweight suite also has an intuitive, customizable interface. For Macs, we suggest Intego Internet Security Barrier X6 ($79.95; www.intego.com). Want malware protection on the cheap? Try Ad-Aware Free Internet Security (www.lavasoft.com).
Make sure your drivers are up to date.
Download the latest drivers for your video card, wireless radio, and other components. You can find these drivers on your PC maker’s support website. Usually, there’s a section called “drivers and downloads,” or something to that effect, where you can find drivers by specifying what laptop model you own. The drivers are usually broken down by category (e.g., audio), though you can choose to see all available downloads. Click “Download” and follow any on-screen instructions, just as you would if you were downloading a piece of software. Restart the computer as soon as you’re done to ensure that these drivers take effect.
Download any updates for your operating system.
You’ll also want to update other software that you use most frequently, such as iTunes, browsers, and photo editors. With each update, software should become more stable. To do this, go to Control Panel > Windows Update > Check For Updates. Then click “Install Updates” when your PC is done searching.
Reinstall the operating system.
Note that we only recommend this step if all else fails. To start, insert the disc containing your Mac or Windows operating system and factory settings. This disc should have come with your PC or Mac. Then, follow the on-screen directions. Before you do this, though, make sure that you back up all your programs and files to either an external hard drive or an online backup service. The length of the backup will depend on how many gigabytes you are backing up and how much time has passed since your last backup.