Thursday, January 28, 2010

Weekly Maintenance To Keep Your PC Running Like New

Computer users need to think of their computer like it was their car. Users have no trouble going every three months for an oil change and performing other routine maintenance. After long term use, a PC will start to show signs of fragmentation and corruption. An eventual format and reloading is inevitable if you don't take care of your machine. And, when it comes to PC maintenance, the sooner the better.

You need to start out by being realistic with yourself and set aside at least a half-hour each week just to run diagnostics, etc. on your machine to keep it running smoothly. If you have had the machine for some time and have not been keeping up with it, the first few times you follow these steps, set aside more time.

Let's start simple.

Before we do anything, you may want to save a system restore point so if anything goes wrong, you can put your computer back to where it was at before you ran any utilities.
-- Windows XP can learn how to save a restore point here.
-- Windows Vista & Windows 7 can learn how to save a restore point here.

- Remove any programs that you don't use. Every program that is loaded on the machine uses system resources in one way or another. And, some of the software you do use, may install other software during the installation. This would be a good time to train yourself to read the messages during an installation. Often times, it will ask you (with the box checked of course) if you would like to load some other software package. Just read the instructions and realize, it is ok to say no to certain software being loaded.

- Update Windows. Unfortunately, it isn't a secret that Windows Operating Systems are the most attacked by malicious software (while doing my best to bite my tongue on my opinion of the reasoning of this, we will just move on). For that reason, Microsoft is forced to constantly update Windows with new security patches, etc. You should have 'Update Windows' to automatically update when a new update is available. However, if you don't, you should take time at least once a week to make sure you are up-to-date. Generally, you do this simply by clicking 'Start' or the Microsoft logo and choose 'All Programs' and then 'Windows Update'.

- If you removed a great deal of software or have loads of Windows updates, reboot your machine.

Next, let's take a look at the registry. The registry is one area that will slow a machine down greatly. Not because there is anything wrong with the machine's hardware but with Windows itself. Removing old registry items will help to keep your machine running at its peak performance.

NOTE: We are about to make changes to the registry. It would be in your best interest to backup the registry before running utilities on it. You can learn how to back it up here.

- Download and install iObit Advanced System Care. You can download it for free here:here. Once installed, run it. Click 'Maintain Windows' and then 'Scan'.

Don't be surprised if you see a lot of things that need to be fixed. Especially if you have never run a scan like this before and you have had the machine for some time (registry's can get real fragmented). Click 'Repair' and fix the issues.

- Download and install CCCleaner (download here). This is a nice little tool to remove cached data. Also has a registry cleaner to pick up anything that Advanced System Care may have missed. Word of warning, it does want to install a Yahoo! toolbar during the install. NOTE: This will want to remove a lot of temporary files so, for example, if you only remember how to log into your e-mail because Hotmail remembers you, you may want to skip this part and just use the registry cleaner. That being said, that is a HORRIBLE security practice and you shouldn't do it to keep yourself safe.

- Run a virus scan. I use AVG Free (download here) but whatever anti-virus you use will be fine. Remember to update the definitions before you run the scan. Anti-virus software is useless if you don't keep it updated, kind of like your refrigerator is worthless if you never go shopping.

- Run Anti-Malware/Anti-Spyware/Anti-Adware scans. There are a TON of programs out that run these kinds of scans. I use these two. While they all claim to do essentially the same thing, I have found that these together give a nice blanket of protection.
Malwarebytes - Anti-Malware (download here): Malware is simply short for malicious software and Malwarebytes is one of the best and finding it and removing it.
Ad-Aware Free Anti-Malware (download here): The grandfather of anti-malware and anti-adware. It still holds up as a good software tool. The only downside is it is now enormous, almost 90 megs, ugh.

- Defrag your hard drive. Windows comes with a disk defragmenter. Basically when you add or remove files, it leaves little fragments on your drive. Run defragmenter will boost your drive's performance. The one that comes free with Windows is located at 'Start'/Microsoft logo, All Programs, Accessories, System Tools. What I use is a program called 'Smart Defrag' which runs a defrag whenever the computer is idle so, you would be able to skip this step since your computer is constantly defragging throughout the day. Smart Defrag can be found (here.

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