Untangling Your Computer WiresKim Boatman
Professional organizer Angela Bacon says clients see one thing after she removes the clutter in their home offices or family rooms. “When I’m done organizing and visually everything looks great, they say, ‘Look at all those cords, it still looks messy,’’’ says Bacon, who operates her business in Lawrenceville, Ga., an Atlanta suburb.
Living in a wired age means living with, well, wires. Look under any home computer desk, and you’re likely to find a tangled nest of wires. And even as more wireless technology becomes available, you still have to plug computers and peripherals into sockets at least occasionally to keep everything up and running. But all those cords and wires aren’t just messy; they can also present security and safety risks.
If you don’t manage your wires, you run the risk of plugging the wrong cord into the wrong device, tripping over loose wires and damaging your equipment or even having the family pet chew through a live cord. Cords that aren’t handled tidily might also present a temptation to your child. And if you don’t take precautions, you also risk damaging or ruining equipment and losing data during a power surge or brownout. Here are tips from experts on the best ways to manage unruly wires:
Know what goes where
Most people don’t pay a lot of attention when they’re connecting components related to their home computer. They’re just eager to get everything running. But it pays off in the long run to become familiar with the layout of connections, says David Rice, computer repair manager for Zen Computing and Support Service in Three Rivers, Mich. If you have an older system, you can take a moment to sketch where connections go, then save the drawing in a safe place. “Most new systems, once you open the box, there’s a diagram that shows you where the cords go. Keep the diagram that shows you what goes where,’’ advises Rice.
Rather than trying to sort through wires the next time you add or remove a peripheral, take a moment to label each cord. While most power cords have different size plugs for computers, printers, monitors, and so on, there is the potential risk of a shock or a shorting out if you plug the wrong cord into a device. Network administrators in Rice’s office use label-makers to make sure they know wires apart.
Options abound for organizing wire clutter, but our experts prefer what they consider among the cheapest, simplest options. Bacon, Rice and Mike Nadelman of San Francisco Computer Repair suggest using Velcro ties or wire wraps. The wraps are inexpensive, available at most office supply stores or even at Walmart. The wraps come in different colors, so you can color code wires.
Don’t be tempted to use zip-ties instead, says Rice. “You have to cut a zip-tie to put another cord in or to remove something,’’ he says.
Velcro wraps aren’t quite as tidy in appearance as cord-keepers, corrugated plastic sleeves with slits that can house multiple cords. However, the cord-keepers aren’t as easily manipulated as the wraps.
A product called a Cable Turtle, also available in multiple colors, can help you manage excess lengths of cord.
And you don’t need to be handy to take on this do-it-yourself project: Screw cup hooks underneath your desk to manage cords. The hooks help keep cords out of sight and out of the way.
If you’re trying to manage multiple small electronics at once, Bacon likes the idea of Pottery Barn’s Smart Recharge Station/Whiteboard ($129). The station, which hangs on the wall, uses one power cord and lets you charge and organize electronics such as MP3 players without the cord mess.
Protect your equipment
“We’re electricity-holics. Outlets get overloaded,’’ says Nadelman. “I had an outlet in my house over Christmas, the whole thing melted. It just burned up.’’
Smart cord management includes acknowledging the load you’re placing on an outlet and preparing for inconsistencies in the power supply. Most of us these days are aware that surge protectors can help protect equipment from damage during power surges. However, Nadelman suggests investing instead in an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS). You’ll spend more for a UPS, around $80 estimates Nadelman, than for a traditional surge protector. But a UPS will offer eight to 12 outlets and will protect your equipment from both power spikes and brownouts, while surge protectors only safeguard equipment from power surges.
Rice recommends using a UPS to safeguard your expensive TV, as well.
The most important thing, says Rice, is not to simply learn to live with a cord mess. “Sometimes, I think people just live with that,’’ he says. “If it’s sitting behind a desk where people can’t see it, it’s out of sight, out of mind.’’
But it’s worth it, Rice says, to take the time to organize and to take preventive safety measures.
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