By Larry Seltzer, Ben Z. Gottesman, Jay Munro, and David Lidsky
Top 10 Tips for Tinkering with Your PC
Back up. Backing up your entire hard disk might be impractical, but make sure all your data files, customization files, Registry, and application configuration files are backed up. Don't just do it once -- make it a regular habit.
Make sure you have up-to-date Windows startup disks (Control Panel > System And Security > Backup And Restore (Windows 7) > Create A System Image ). Be sure to have copies of all your device drivers handy as well.
Store your user names and passwords on paper and keep them somewhere safe. If you forget your Windows password, having it in a file on your PC won't help you.
The Windows Registry is not something to be fooled with unless you have some experience using it already. Even if you are familiar with the Registry, you should be extremely careful not to stray from the task at hand or you'll risk severely damaging your system.
Did we mention that you should back up your PC?
Partition your hard disk. Put your data files on a separate volume from your operating system and programs. Put a copy of your operating system on a separate hard disk as well: It will make backups and re-installation of software much easier. (Also see An Easy Backup Strategy below)
Paste a copy of each program's serial number to its CD jewel case, or use a permanent marker to write the number on the CD itself (on the label side!).
If you're on a network, keep a copy of all your network settings (IP address, DNS, gateway, network card settings, and so on) handy.
If it ain't broke, don't fix it. If you have no compelling reason to open the case or upgrade your operating system or applications, don't.
No kidding, we really mean it: Backup is important.