Tune up your computer

These techniques will allow you to perform routine maintenance on a PC.  Periodic maintenance can extend the functional life of a PC and reduce user frustration as it inevitably slows down over time and with use and abuse. 

Follow these steps to perform the routine maintenence that will keep your PC running smoothly

With any of the techniques below, close all running applications before you start.  Note that the more invasive scans can take quite a while, depending on the amount of data on the drive. 


Hard Drive De-Frag

The "hard drive" or disc is the main storage device for the PC: in a sense, its long term memory.   Files stored on a computer are not stored in consecutive or adjacent areas on a disc.  A computer will store its files in any available space, often fragmented and scattered all over the surface of the disc.  Whilst logically it makes no difference to the computer, as each chunk of information will hold the address of the next chunk, too much fragmentation will result in the hard drive having to work harder physically.  It is one of the few mechanical components in a computer and the more work it has to do, the less efficient the computer will seem.

A "de-frag" is when the disc is scanned and the file fragments are re-ordered to be physically cohesive.  This means that the hard drive's moving parts will have less demand placed upon them and the PC will run more quickly.

To run a de-frag, right click on the target drive in My Computer, choose Properties and then Tools.  Then choose "Defragment Now".

You should not need to do de-frags very often.  For a busy PC, six months to a year should be a regular enough cycle.

Anti-Virus Update

All PCs require anti-virus software.  It is a sad reality that any computer exposed to the Internet will be exposed to all manner of maladies in a matter of moments, so anti-virus protection is an absolute must.  However, new viruses are created every day.  Anti-virus software can keep tabs on all incoming data and any files opened, comparing the files with its reference library of virus definitions, but if those definitions are not up to date, then the protection becomes increasingly less effective.  

All anti-virus packages come with a method of updating the virus definitions.  The industry standard packages include for automatic, virtually painless updates over the Internet.  

Full System Scan

The full system scan is a standard feature of anti virus software, during which the entire system, including every single file thereon, is scanned by the anti-virus software.  This should be performed regularly and can usually be scheduled to run automatically, e.g. at 11:00 pm on a Friday.  

Surface Scan

A surface scan allows the computer to investigate the surface of its hard drive, testing each available block of storage space.  The scan will also attempt to rectify any errors found. A surface scan can improve performance, and can also warn of a worn out disc at the end of its life.

To run a surface scan, right click on the target drive in My Computer, choose Properties and then Tools.  Choose "Error-checking" and then make sure that "automatically fix errors" and "scan for and attempt recovery of bad sectors" are checked.  Most likely, Windows will complain that it cannot run the scan because it is using the disk.  This is OK, as you can allow Windows to schedule the scan for the next time the PC is started.

Windows Update

Windows is constantly evolving.  Quite apart from generational leaps, such as the release of Vista, all older versions of Windows have been constantly updated to fix problems, patch security vulnerabilities and improve the experience of the user. Windows 2000 and XP include "Windows Update", which will regularly check with Microsoft, over the Internet, to see if there are any new updates for Windows.  It is good practice to stay on top of updates, in order to make sure that the system remains at the peak of its health.

Startup Programs

Whenever the computer starts up, it loads dozens of different programs, or "processes" into its memory.  Each of these processes requires space in the memory, and some will demand periodic attention from the processor.  Either way, too many processes eat up your system's ability to perform the tasks at hand and leads to a sluggish system.  

So, assess what you actually need to start.  Your personal firewall program is a good candidate to have starting, but do you need Google Earth and MSN Messenger to start every time?  

  1. Right click on the start menu and choose "Explore".  You will be looking at a folder called "Start Menu".  Navigate to "Start Menu/Programs/Startup" and then have a look to see what is due to start when the machine boots up.  To stop an application from starting, simply delete the reference in the "Startup" folder.  Don't worry, you will not be deleting the application, only a signpost to it.
  2. Look down the bottom right of the screen, in what is known as the "system tray".  There will typically be a selection of icons representing different services which are running in the background.  Hovering the mouse over any of these will tend to display a tooltip describing the service.  If you find one that you wish to stop, right click on it.  Usually a pop-up menu appears.  If so, look for an option named "options" or "Preferences".  There should be an option "start this program on startup", or wording to that effect.  You should be able to change this setting.

Remove Programs

Look through "Add and Remove Programs" in "Control Panel".  You will see a list of installed applications and how often, or not, they are used.  A spring clean of old applications, games, filesharing or music downloading applications can reap rewards in terms of system resources. 

NB  Use this with caution.  Satisfy yourself that you really do not need that application before you uninstall it.  It is a good idea to make sure that you have the original discs used to install the software in the first place so that if, in six month's time, you discover that you actually need the application, you can put it back on again.

Clear out "Temp" and "Temporary Internet Files"

While Windows is performing tasks and surfing the Internet, it is busily storing files in these two directories.  They live somewhere similar to this:
C:Documents and SettingsusernameLocal SettingsTemp

Where username is your own username for Windows.  Clearing out the content of these folders is a good practical way of saving space on the hard drive and can increase performance.  Massive, bloated temporary directories can lead to system instability and loss of work.  Be aware, though, to leave any directory structure within the Temp directory alone, or you may inadvertently upset some applications!

Temporary Internet files can also bloat over time, often resulting in incorrect operation of Internet applications, or even system instability.  To clear the Temporary Internet Files, open Internet Explorer, go to the "Tools" menu and choose "Options".   There will be a section on "Temporary Internet Files", and a button marked "delete files".  Press this and check the "delete all offline content" box.  Your favourites and bookmarks will remain unaffected.{mospagebreak}

Empty the recycle bin

When you delete a file, it isn't really gone.  Right click, empty recycle bin.  Now it is.

Give Windows less to do

On a PC, Windows is the environment in which everything happens.  It is the world for applications, e.g. MS Word.  Applications exist within the framework of Windows.  If Windows is busy, the PC has fewer resources to spend making sure your application is doing what you tell it.  Therefore, it makes sense to give Windows less to do.  Three simple things that can help speed up your work are as follows:

  1. Have a look in the "System Properties".  Right click on My Computer and choose "properties".  Go to the "Advanced" tab and click on "Performance Options".  Make sure that the computer is set to deliver best performance for applications rather than background processes.
  2. Right click on a blank area of the desktop and choose "properties".  There should be an "effects" tab, which will allow you to specify which visual effect options are enabled.  The fewer effects which are turned on, the less Windows has to do.
  3. Right click on a blank area of the desktop and choose "properties".  There should be a "background" tab, which will allow you to specify the look of your desktop.  The simpler the background, the less Windows has to do to render the desktop every time a window is moved or resized.  The best option is a single colour.