Recently I’ve been asking people to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with things that they would like to see covered in this section. I’ve had a few requests, and the most common one is for advice on how to maintain a PC to keep it running well or how to speed up a slow computer. Since both of these can be achieved by maintaining a PC properly, that subject is what I will cover in today’s blog.
If you’ve had your PC for a while and haven’t maintained it, I have good news and bad news for you:
The bad news about maintenance is that the longer you leave it, the longer it will take to get your PC back into shape. Fairly recently I defragged the hard disk of a 3 year old laptop that was constantly in use and had never been defragged before. The 750GB disk was found to be 80% full and 91% fragmented and it took more than fourteen and a half hours for the defrag software to complete.
The good news is that once you’ve run all the maintenance tasks a few times, keeping it maintained is fairly quick and easy. The second time I ran the same defrag on the same laptop, it was still 80% full but only 1% fragmented and that defrag completed in less than 20 minutes. The client also reported that since the initial defrag had been done, her laptop performance had improved significantly.
Most of the other tasks in this blog will be the same. If you’ve never performed a disk clean-up, the first time you do it there will be hundreds of megabytes or even gigabytes of junk to be removed and that might take a while, but if you do it regularly you’ll only be removing a few MB each time which will be done in moments.
Note: In the 10 steps below, I’ve given some examples of utility software that you can use to perform certain tasks. As they like to say on TV, ‘other products are available’ so these are not recommendations over the competition, just examples of programs that I have personally used to do the maintenance tasks in question. I’ve also given an indication of how often each task should be run. This is just a suggestion, not a hard or fast rule to stick to.
1. Audit your system
Before you start on your maintenance schedule, do an audit of your system. If your intention is to maintain your hardware and software, it helps to know what it actually contains. There are a number of free auditing software utilities, including siw and Belarc Advisor that will analyse your system and let you know what’s inside the case. Once you have that, it’s time to start maintaining your system.
How often: Audit your PC now and then do it again whenever you make a hardware change.
2. Backup your files.
Your data is probably the most valuable thing on your computer and the only way to protect your data from being lost is to back it up. There are lots of ways to back up your data, including to an external hard disk, to a networked drive, or to a cloud based service. It’s not that important which one you pick, as long as you pick one and do it.
How often: Daily or weekly.
3. Update your software.
Windows Update can be set to run automatically or you can run it manually. Keeping your operating system up to date protects you and your computer. Your antivirus software should also be updated every day. Other software, such as utility software and drivers should be checked periodically to see if a newer version exists. If your software doesn’t do this automatically, checking once per month should be sufficient.
A word of caution regarding hardware drivers: Keep the previous driver that you were using before the update. It’s not that uncommon for a new driver to fix one problem but cause another, which is a real pain if the original problem didn’t affect you but the new one does. If you keep a copy of the original driver, you can always uninstall the new one and reinstall that one again.
How often: Daily, and monthly.
4. Clean out your temporary and junk files.
All versions of Windows are junk file magnets. Log files, dump files, temporary internet files, cookies, clipboard files, etc, there is a constant source of unnecessary files being generated and stored by your PC that you’ll almost certainly never want or need. For that reason, running a disk cleaning utility is an important part of maintaining your PC. There is a built-in disk cleaner in every version of windows, and also a number of cleaner utility programs available, including Piriform Ccleaner, PC Decrapifier, and Clean Up! 4.5.2
How often: Daily or weekly.
5. Get rid of any spyware and malware.
In addition to an up-to-date antivirus program, you should also run an antispyware and antimalware program – or one of each – on your PC. These programs can slow your computer down significantly and expose you to hackers, spammers or other undesirables. There are a lot of utilities available to remove spyware and malware, including Spybot S&D, Malwarebytes Antimalware, and SuperAntiSpyware.
How often: Weekly or monthly
6. Keep your disks defragmented.
Unless you are using a Solid State Drive, defragging your disks should be an important part of computer maintenance schedule. Badly fragmented disks are not only less responsive, they also make your PC work harder than it needs to and decreases it’s useful life-span. In addition to the built-in defragmentation program, there are a number of good defrag utility programs out there, including myDefrag, Auslogics Defrag, and Piriform Defraggler.
How often: Weekly or monthly.
7. Check what programs are starting up when your PC does.
Lots of programs have the option to start when your PC starts, or to check for updates when your PC starts. Quite often, these options are enabled by default so they are starting up and checking for updates without you realising they are doing it. While your PC may not be affected by one or two programs doing this, by the time you have a dozen or more programs running in the background or checking for updated versions of themselves, the performance of your PC is going to suffer. You can check the list of programs that start when your PC does by using the MSConfig program on your PC. Alternatively, you can use a start-up manager utility program like WinPatrol, Gizmo’s Autoruns, or Codestuff Starter.
One note of caution in doing this: Just because you don’t recognise the name of a program doesn’t mean that it’s useless or unwanted. CLIStart.exe, for example is a program used by some ATI graphics adapters, and RAVcpl64.exe is the utility program used by many sound adapters. If in doubt, check online to see what a file is before disabling or deleting it from the start up list.
How often: Monthly.
8. Uninstall stuff you don’t use anymore
Most people have programs that they never use on their PC. These might be programs loaded on by the manufacturer that are never used, or programs that were required previously for something but will probably never be required again. If the program isn’t needed, all it’s doing is taking up unnecessary space on your hard disk. Windows Control panel has a program that lists all the programs on the computer and gives you the option to delete them. In addition to this, there are many utility programs available that will show you a list of the installed programs on your PC and give you the option of deleting them. MyUninstaller, Revo Uninstaller, and GeekUninstaller are just three free utility programs that can do this.
As with the start up manager, double check any program you don’t recognise online to see what it does before uninstalling it.
How often: Monthly
9. Clean the dust out of your PC.
Depending on the type of PC you have, it might be fairly easy to remove the side and clean out the dust with some compressed air, or it might be a more complex procedure. If it’s not straight forward for your model, Youtube has many videos showing you how to clean the dust out of most models of PC and laptop so my advice would be to go there and watch someone do it.
A few pieces of advice with regards to cleaning computer equipment. Don’t ever use a cloth or a vacuum cleaner (even a low-power handheld one) to remove dust from computer equipment. Use compressed air cans designed for cleaning computers, not just some random can of general purpose compressed air. Use specific LCD screen cleaners for your LCD screen/monitor, never use glass cleaner or cleaning solutions for CRT monitors. Never use any kind of domestic cleaner inside a computer. Don’t use DW40 or similar lubricants on computer fans, it will end up doing more harm than good.
How often: From time to time.
10. Decide on a maintenance schedule.
Now that you’ve finished running all the maintenance tasks, your next step is to come up with a schedule to keep your PC running properly. This doesn’t mean drawing up a hard and fast schedule that you stick to (unless that’s how you want to do) it’s just making sure that all of the maintenance tasks are performed regularly enough to keep your PC working well.
Many of the tasks, such as backups and updates can be fully automated and run in the background, while others can be started manually and left to run while you are not using the computer. A few of the steps, such as removing unused programs or start up items will require a bit of time to be set aside each month, but once you’ve started doing them it’s just keeping on top of things which shouldn’t take too long. The important thing is to keep doing maintenance regularly.
I hope that you found this blog useful, if you have any questions or comments you can submit them using the box below.
Thanks for reading.