Protect Your PC: System Maintenance

It’s time to start thinking about spring cleaning. But how often do you think about spring cleaning your computer? Just like vaccuming, dusting and taking out the garbage, your PC also needs to be clean of old and useless files. Hopefully, this article will point you in the right direction for a more optimized system.

CLEANING THE HARDWARE

PC cases, monitors and keyboards get dirty, especially if you have smokers in the house (which is my case). The yellow tone doesn’t look so good. First, use a disposable cloth (like a Swifer) to remove the dust. Then grab a cloth with some alcohol or multi-purpose cleaner (Fantastik works well for the smoke stains) and get to the surface wiping.

I personally prefer using a glass cleaner on my monitor, though I’ll need to wipe it a few times before it’s fully clean (but when it’s clean, it’s really clean!). Don’t spray the liquid directly on the screen though, spray it on a cloth instead.

Flip your keyboard upside down and shake it gently to remove any dust and crumbs (and whatever else you may find) from the inside. Alternatively, you can also vaccum it. If you’re picky and like a spotless keyboard, grab some q-tips, dip them in alcohol and clean in between the keys (I do it from time to time).

Check the bottom of your mouse. If it’s an optical, remove whatever dirty build-up there may be with a q-tip. If it’s a ball, open the mouse and wipe the ball and the slot where it fits.

I usually vaccum the ventilation slots for my case as well, especially the back because of the fan, since all kinds of dust and cat hair (we have two cats) like to accumulate there. The best way to clean the inside of your computer is to use a compressed air spray can and blow the dust out. Just don’t hover over it while you do it.

SPEEDING UP YOUR SYSTEM

Clutter happens everywhere, and a computer is no exception. Temporary files, old files and programs, useless cookies, recycle bin, things that you don’t need or use anymore should be removed. They slow down your system and affect its overall performance. Where to start though?

There are several tasks that you should consider doing regularly to keep your PC in top shape:

  • ScanDisk
  • Disk defragmenter
  • Delete internet history
  • Cookies and Temporary Internet Files removal
  • Temporary files removal
  • Emptying recycle bin
  • Windows and driver updates
  • Update antivirus protection
  • Spyware and adware scans
  • Registry repair

ScanDisk
ScanDisk can be found in your Start menu under Accessories/System Tools. It scans your hard drive (s) or removal drives for errors and tries to repair them. Errors usually happen from incorrect shutdowns, that’s why ScanDisk will always try to run when that happens.

Disk Defragmenter
Also in the Accessories/System Tools menu, this is a disk space optimization tool. What it does is move the position of the files and groups related files together, so that you can access the programs you use more often faster. Depending on the size of your hard drive and how much is in it, it’s a process that can take a really long time but it’s worth it in the end. Your best bet is to leave it running overnight.

Internet History
All those sites you type in the address bar stay stored in the history folder. Cleaning it up now and again is a good idea. Open your browser, click Tools on the top menu bar, click Internet Options and Clear History. You can also set it to keep things in history for “0 days”.

Temporary Internet Files and Cookies
Each site you visit is stored as a temporary page for faster access in future visits. You can get rid of these temporary files (mostly images and scripts) in the same Internet Options window where you cleaned your History. Sites you visit also leave bits of information behind, stored as cookies. Cookies are used for user authentication, user tracking, and keeping user-specific information such as site preferences or shopping carts. Just click Delete Files and Delete Cookies and let your computer do the rest.

Recycle Bin
Don’t let stuff pile up in your Recycle Bin. Browse it every now and again to see if you mistakenly deleted something, but empty it. You don’t leave your garbage laying around the house, so why should you preserve files in the Recycle Bin? They’re only taking up space.

Temporary Files
Temporary files are usually deleted after use. However, a lot of them stay behind cluttering up the respective folder, usually from improper shutdowns, badly written software programs or random crahes. You can use your Maintenance Wizard in the Start Menu/Accessories/System Tools to remove these files for you (and do other tasks) but it will still leave files behind. You can also delete files manually by going to the C:\Windows\Temporary Files folder, highlighting the contents inside and hitting “Delete”.

Now technically, all temporary files should be in the temporary folder, but that’s not always the case. In the Start Menu use the Search option and insert this EXACTLY (copy paste if you must) in the search box:

*.tmp, *.chk, ~*.*

Once the search has found all files and folders, select them all (ctrl+a) and delete. They are ALL safe to delete. If they don’t, then you have a program running that is using them.

Occasionally, a temporary file will find its way into the root directory of your C drive. These errant files can interfere with your system’s performance. Now and again remember to click on My Computer, click on the C: drive and delete any .TMP files.

Windows and Driver Updates
If you don’t have the automatic windows update installer, you should check periodically to see if there are any new critical updates (since these are the bare essentials). Also check for video card and sound driver updates sporadically to keep everything up to date.

Antivirus Protection
Make sure your virus protection is up to date. Run a full scan to make sure everything is working properly or to remove any “intruders” from your system.

Spyware and Adware Protection
Once you have removed all temporary files and cookies from your system, you should run a spyware program since there will be less to scan through. Please refer to our Spyware and Adware article for more information about problems, tools and solutions.

Registry Repair
The Windows Registry stores a bunch of information about your computer’s settings and options. Large registries can slow down your system, so even that needs a little maintenance. I don’t recommend manually touching the registry, but I can recommend a few tools that can repair it and make it more functional. Registry Patrol, TweakNow RegCleaner and Registry Mechanic do the trick for cleaning, repairing and optimizing your registry. Registry Mechanic and Registry Patrol have a trial use, and they cost $29.95 and $27.95 respectively. TweakNow is free for personal use and I’ve been using it for a couple of years.

With all this said and done, you should be well on your way for a better and cleaner system.