Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Beginners' Guide to computer maintenance

Cleanup is a must step in the maintenance of anything. Computers are no exception. Yes, it is very important to clean up your hardware in order to keep everything running as new. But it is also equally important to clean the computer from the inside, i.e. the software. There are many steps in maintaining a computer. I outline the main things, also mentioning recommended software and why it needs to be done. Read on...


Cleanup? What does that mean? Well, by this, I mean cleaning up all the gunk your software creates as you normally use your PC. Some beginners will go "What? I use my computer everyday, like all people do. Why will that create junk?"

Well, it does. And we need to keep things clean to maintain peak performance. One of the most common ways is using your web browser. This does not mean that you should not surf. The problem is that browsers cache all the data you see online for some time. Most browsers allow you to set the amount of hard drive space to allocate for the cache. When you see something, the browser downloads the content on the webpage, and it stores it in a temporary folder so that it can display it quickly if you visit it sometime soon. Other things may include small titbits that are saved by other applications you use. Even the thumbnails that are shown for images in a folder are saved, taking up disk space.

Doing it:

There are many ways to clean the junk files up. You can use the Disk Cleanup program that comes included in Windows. It's a simple program that does just what it says. You can start it from the System Tools folder in Accessories inside the Start Menu. It is safe to delete the following things:
  • Temporary Files
  • Recycle Bin contents (unless there is something inside which you may need later).
  • Thumbnail files
  • System error memory dump files
  • Queued Windows Error Reporter stuff
  • Temporary Internet Files
Disk Cleanup does a pretty good job. But it does not have everything. I recommend using the free CCleaner (and others do too) because it is easier to use, and does a better job. More than that, it can clean up your registry, which we will discuss later in this post.


Defragmenting the hard drive:

This is one concept very few people know about, though they have heard of it and know that it is useful. So, here's the lowdown...

Your hard disk organizes data on it in sectors. The round disk inside it is divided digitally into portions called sectors. The data on the drive is stored in these sections. But, that doesn't mean that long chains of data are clunked up altogether. A large program that you have may be sprawled up around the entire drive. When you add new things, and especially when you remove things, some sectors may get pockets of empty space in them. Imagine air bubbles in a clear film of liquid. Thus, the drive is fragmented. Thus, to maintain peak performance, you need to clean the drive up. This will help the computer to find data more easily, making it run faster. You may also get some free space as a feather in the hat.

Doing it:

For this too, you get a program pre-installed with Windows. It's called (very aptly, and minimalistically) Disk Defragmenter. You can do a pretty good job with it. It is located in the System Tools folder, just where Disk Cleanup is. You just run it and it analyzes the hard drive. In Windows Vista and 7, it does not graphically show you the fragmentation as it did in XP. But it tells you if you need to defrag the drive. I don't like it so much, though, and I recommend using the free Defraggler from the makers of CCleaner. It shows you all the things you need to know, including a graphical fragmentation graph. It also tells you the percentage of fragmentation and more.

Registry optimization:

The Windows Registry is a place that will give you nightmares. It's a place where all the settings for many programs and other little things are stored. If you do a lot of installing and uninstalling and still go without cleaning out the junk from the registry, you sacrifice much of your computer's real speed.

Unfortunately, Windows does not come with a registry cleaner. You have to download a third party app for the job. Again, my recommendation is the free, light and reliable CCleaner (did you know that it can be carried around in a flash drive too?), though you have a lot of free options available online. Oh, and if you want a glimpse of the Windows Registry, type in 'regedit.exe' in the Run... box (or in the Start Menu search box in the newer versions of Windows) without the quotes and run it.

Doing it:

It is always good to have a backup of the entire registry once you are ready to clean it up or if you're modifying it. Though it is recommended, I never do it, and I have never gotten any kinds of problems. CCleaner can back the registry up for you, anyway, so no problem. You tell the app to clean it up and you'll be done. You don't need to remember anything else.

Uninstalling unused apps:

This one is a no-brainer. You are recommended anyway to delete the programs you're not using. This will free up some hard disk space, your computer will have less things to take care of, and you won't have any kind of clutter on your computer.

Doing it:

There's nothing to explain here. You just go to Control Panel, and go to Add/Remove Programs in the Classic View. You then mercilessly go on deleting apps you do not use. You can use some other uninstallers available out there to clean up more persistent programs, or to clean up more properly.

Checking for malware:

Your computer may not run properly or run slower than usual if you're infected with malware. This may include all kinds of adware, spyware, trojans, worms, viruses and other stuff. At times, some of them may even send out your personal data to the owners, and some may use your computer to send out spam emails. You can use one of the many paid and free anti-virus apps to scan and remove such software.

Doing it:

These things are generally not worth the brouhaha as some people might think and they can be removed fairly easily. I recommend using one of the following programs for the job:

Norton AntiVirus
Norton 360
Norton Internet Security
McAfee Anti Virus
AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition (FREE!)
Avast! (FREE Available!)
Avira AntiVir (FREE Available!)

So, these were the basic things one must do regularly to maintain their computer, and keep it running perfectly, as it was when new and shiny.