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Rejuvenating Your PC for Free: Freeing Up Disk Space

Is your computer barely crawling by? Are you running out of space for files and programs? Don't throw out your PC yet — you can get it running faster and healthier without spending a cent. Eric Geier gives you techniques for removing your files and applications, keeping your PC organized, and making more room on your hard drive, all with your computer's health in mind.
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Is your computer barely crawling by? Are you running out of space for files and programs? Don't throw out your PC yet, you can get it running faster and healthier—without spending a cent. You might not be able to double your speed, or even increase it by 25 or 50%, but you can make sure you're running as close to peak performance as possible before laying down hundreds or thousands of dollars for a new system.

Upgrading your PC, for example by adding more memory (RAM) or adding another hard drive for more disk space, may not require taking out a line of credit, but you have many ways to squeeze out the performance of your PC for free.

Owning a PC can in some ways be comparable to owning an automobile: both require routine maintenance, system checks, and preventative services. If you don't keep up with the maintenance and services, they may blow up and you'll be throwing a heap of metal to the curb.

When it comes to increasing performance, you see another similarity: not just one service or upgrade to your car or PC can greatly reduce gas mileage or speed up your computer; the key is to use several techniques in order to see a difference in performance.

However there's one major difference, at least for most of us: maintaining your PC is much easier than working in the garage. As you'll soon find out, computer maintenance typically only requires some time and clicks of the mouse.

This tutorial series will show you exactly how you can increase the speed and optimize your PC. In this first installment, you'll discover numerous techniques to make more room on your hard drives.

Aside from being able to install new programs or games and download more files, freeing up disk space can help your overall system performance. When your available disk space gets real low, you may receive errors from Windows, experience lock-ups and slowness, and run the chance of not being able to download important security updates.

Backing Up Your System and Files

Before embarking on any maintenance duties or before making any other major change to your computer, you should always make sure your system is backed up. That way if you accidentally delete an important document, system file, or program, you can just restore it from the backup. You can purchase backup software off the shelf or online, but Windows provides enough backup functionality for most home and small-office users.

You'll want to use two different Windows features to ensure a full backup of your system. System Restore backs up the Windows system files, registry settings, and programs installed on your computer. The Backup or Restore Wizard of XP or the Backup Files Wizard of Vista safeguards your personal files and documents.

Before making changes to your PC you should do what is called by Windows as Creating a Restore Point with the System Restore feature; here's how:

  1. Click Start and choose Control Panel.
  2. In XP, click the Performance and Maintenance category. In Vista, click the System and Maintenance category.
  3. In XP, click the System Restore icon/link from the See Also pane on the left of the window. In Vista, click Backup and Restore Center, click the Create a restore point or change settings link on the left Tasks pane.
  4. In XP, choose the Create a restore point radio button and click Next. In Vista, click the Create button (see Figure 1) on the bottom of the dialog window.
  5. Enter a description or name for the restore point (for example, before deleting files) and click Create.

Now you should follow these steps to back up your personal files and documents:

  1. Click Start and choose Control Panel.
  2. In XP, click the Performance and Maintenance category. In Vista, click the System and Maintenance category.
  3. In XP, click the Back up your data link under the Pick a Task section. In Vista, click Backup and Restore Center and then click the Back up files button (see Figure 2).
  4. Follow the wizard's directions to complete the backup. Make sure that all the files you want backed up are in the locations that Windows is backing up.

Now that you have your entire system backed up, you can start making changes to your computer. If you find you make a mistake or if a file disappears mysteriously, remember you can use the backup to restore files later. In this case, you should return to the same location in the Control Panel and follow the instructions to restore files or to apply a saved restore point.

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