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Spring-Cleaning Your Computers

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  1. Software-Based Cleaning
  2. Physical Cleaning
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While you’re doing some spring cleaning around the home or office, don’t forget about your computers! Cleaning them can help increase performance and fix issues. Eric Geier walks you through the software and physical cleaning of your machines.
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There are numerous ways you can freshen up your Windows PC or laptop. First we’ll do software-based cleaning and then we’ll work on the physical cleaning of the machine. This can help increase their performance, fix any current issues, and can help prevent future problems.

Before Cleaning, Create a System Restore Point

Before you do any cleaning, it’s best to create a System Restore point in Windows. Thus if you somehow delete or modify system files, or otherwise cause a problem, you can try to undo the changes. To create or manage restore points in Windows XP, click Start > All Programs > Accessories > System Tools > System Restore. In Windows Vista or 7, click the Start button, right-click Computer, select Properties, and click the System Protection link on the left pane.

Keep in mind, System Restore only backs up system files and doesn’t apply to your personal documents or files. For example, say you create a restore point and then uninstall programs and delete personal documents. Moving back to that restore point will bring back the programs you uninstalled but not any of the personal documents you deleted.

Software-Based Cleaning

Several programs exist to help you clean your computer. The following sections detail some more popular and effective tools you can use.

Glary Utilities

Windows provides tools to do basic cleanup. However, using a third-party tool like Glary Utilities makes the process much easier and faster. It also has additional cleaning and optimization tools beyond what Windows provides.

Here are some of the cleanup tasks you can perform with Glary Utilities:

  • Remove Temporary Files: This can help free up disk space for more programs or files, or improve performance if the disk is almost full. Click Modules > Clean Up & Repair > Disk Cleaner. Select the drive(s) you want to clean up and click Next. Then you can choose which items to delete: Temporary Internet Files from web browsing, Temporary File from software installations and downloads, and Recycle Bin to remove previously deleted files. Then click Next to proceed.
  • Uninstall Unused Programs: This also helps free disk space, reduces clutter, and may increase performance. Click Modules > Clean Up & Repair > Uninstall Manager. Click Batch Uninstall, browse through the list, and check items you want to remove. Be careful of what you select. If you’re unsure of a certain program, search for its name using Google or another search engine. When you’re done reviewing the programs, click Uninstall Checked Programs.
  • Fix Registry Issues: This can help fix error messages or performance issues. Click Modules > Clean Up & Repair > Registry Cleaner. Click Scan registry for problems. Once the scan is complete, click Repair. If you notice any issues after the repairs, open the Registry Cleaner again and click Restore Previous Repairs.
  • Remove Unnecessary Startup Items: This can help reduce the time to load Windows and help increase overall performance. Click Modules > Optimize & Improve > Startup Manager. Uncheck any items you don’t want to run when Windows loads. Be careful which items you uncheck. You can reference the company name and click the More Information link on the bottom pane for details.
  • Disable Unused Toolbars and Add-ons: This can help reduce the time to load your web browser, reduce clutter, and help increase overall browsing performance. Click Modules > System Tools > Internet Explorer Assistant. Review all the components and block or remove those you don’t want or need.

Checking for Viruses and Malware

Viruses, spyware, and other malware can significantly slow down a computer, cause instability, and potentially put your data at risk. You should ensure you have an anti-virus utility installed and run at least one virus scan during your cleaning.

If you have an active anti-virus utility installed, make sure it’s updated with the latest virus signatures or definitions. If you have a commercial product but haven’t renewed the license, or don’t have any utility now, consider free ones. avast! Antivirus is free for personal use, and Comodo Internet Security is free for both personal and business use.

If you didn’t have any anti-virus utility installed, or had one that wasn’t updated for a while, you should run a full computer scan.

Whether you’ve had an anti-virus utility installed or not, you should also run another scan with a different utility. No one utility can catch every single infection. For this second scan you can use a free product, such as Malwarebytes

Deleting Old Files and Documents

You should also take the time to review and clean your personal documents and files. Start with the user folders: Documents, Pictures, Videos, Downloads, etc. Then check each drive to see if you’ve stored files elsewhere, such as folders on the root directory (C:\). Consider deleting or archiving old files onto DVDs or a flash drive to free up space.

Keep in mind that you usually don’t want to delete anything in the Program Files or Windows directories.

Defragmenting Your Hard Drive

Hard drives essentially store data in a line, but parts of files can be spilt up in fragments across the line. When fragments exist, it takes longer to retrieve the file and write to the file. Defragmenting is the process of organizing the data. It attempts to group fragments with each other and align the free space in contiguous lines. This can help speed up accessing and writing files, and can boost the overall computer performance.

To clean up fragments, you can use the Disk Defragmenter utility included with Windows. Click Start > All Programs > Accessories > System Tools > Disk Defragmenter. Windows might have set it on a schedule to automatically run. Thus you should first analyze each drive to see if it’s currently fragmented enough to warrant running the utility, which can take a couple minutes. If you continue with defragmentation, the time it takes to run depends upon the size and percentage of fragmentation. It can take an hour or more, so just start it and come back to check on it.

Check for Disk Errors

Improper shutdowns, viruses, and other things can cause errors on your hard drive(s). These can create specific error messages or problems, or contribute to a general lack in performance. During your spring cleaning, you should run the Check Disk utility included with Windows. It can automatically scan for and repair file system errors and bad sectors. This process can take a few hours.

To initiate a check disk:

  1. Open Computer (or My Computer in Windows XP).
  2. Right-click the desired drive, and select Properties.
  3. Select the Tools tab and in the Error-checking section, click Check Now.
  4. On the dialog box, check both options, and click Start. If scanning your system drive (where Windows is installed), it will prompt you that it cannot currently scan.
  5. Select to schedule a scan at next reboot. It will also say this if you’re scanning a secondary drive and files from it are currently open or in use.
  6. Either close the files or schedule a scan at next reboot.
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