In honor of “Clean Out Your Computer Day,” February 10, we’re walking through the process of squeezing every drop of performance out of your PC – and more importantly, help you have a more stable and secure machine.
As an IT guy and gamer, I take pride in how my PC performs under a myriad of conditions. Whether I’m over-clocking a CPU or installing a new set of LED lights in the chassis, I’m always afforded opportunities to evaluate the hardware and software performance. Like many IT professionals, I’m often cornered by family members or colleagues and grilled on why their computers are slow. I’m always amazed how poorly some PCs are maintained. Amazed, but seldom surprised.
Each of the eight helpful tips below can be done in just five minutes or less:
1. Turn off unneeded widgets: Many background programs – such as widgets on your desktops like the clock and weather – are often guilty of bogging down all but the most robust systems. Desktop widgets are notorious memory gluttons, and can slow your system down substantially if your system is older. If you don’t need it or don’t use it, turn it off.
2. Clean your hardware: You’ve seen how dusty your house gets, just imagine what your machine looks like inside. Open up your physical tower (not applicable to laptops) and hold a can of compressed air in an upright position and proceed to blow out the inside of the case with special attention to the fans. Take great care to open a window first or take the machine outside to avoid breathing in the fumes. Clear the heat sink fan, as well as the PC’s intakes where air is sucked in. Make sure to pay attention to the vents and cooling fans that create airflow through the PC. They tend to be the most clogged.
3. Get rid of desktop clutter: Clean up your desktop by deleting unneeded documents and icons. Or better yet, get rid of every non-essential icon on your desktop and put them in a folder. Your PC will accelerate some, no longer having to refresh all those icons.
4. Check for and remove unwanted programs: Use the Programs and Features (newer) or Add/Remove Programs (older) control panel in Windows. Highlight a program to see available options, and click to completely uninstall it. Mac users may typically drag unwanted programs into the Trash.
5. Clean out junk files to recover disk space: Windows 7 users should go into the Start Menu -> All Programs -> Accessories -> System Tools and run Disk Cleanup. It will list all the junk files you should remove. If you have Windows 8, type "disk cleanup" in the user interface to find the application. Disk Cleanup will identify and prompt you to remove files that are no longer of any use such as temporary Internet files, temporary Windows files, setup log files, Downloaded program files and your recycle bin.
6. Check for adware and malware: Adware, malware and spyware refer to programs that can compromise your computer's performance and create security holes. There are specialized free programs designed to find and erase adware and spyware. Two of my favorite free ones are Malwarebytes Anti-Malware and Piriform's CCleaner. CCleaner has the added benefit of clearing out cookies and bloated files from your Internet browsers, and can also scan for registry issues.
7. Ensure your virus protection is up to date: There are many options available to protect your PC, including paid and free Antivirus programs. One of my favorite antivirus programs is AVG Free Edition. Cybercriminals and identity thieves thrive on accessing PCs without dated or no Antivirus protection installed. While no precaution is ever full proof a robust Antivirus is enough protection for the typical user with normal online activity. Remember it is best to run the program on an automated schedule to ensure routine updates and scans to keep your system safe and secure.
8. Defragment your hard drive: It’s a great help if it fits your hardware, but never run a defragment utility on a solid state hard drive. Over time, as you add and delete files on your system, you may not realize you are creating a giant mess on your hard drive. As you first begin to write files, they are stored in a single area of available space. As those files are deleted, they leave holes of available space that will eventually fill with new files. Over time, your machine will have to seek your entire hard drive for pieces of a file which may have been spread across the platter to fill these holes. The result is a system that is much slower in retrieving information, booting up, starting programs, etc. Defragmenting your hard drive allows your files to avoid being scattered and improves your system performance substantially.
And finally, some advice: Back up your data on an external hard drive, a USB drive, or better yet, store your data in the cloud. Much like an old VHS cassette that ages and decays, a typical hard drive has an expiration date. Generally speaking, there is a 5% chance your hard drive will fail each year; after three years, that increases to 12%.
With these tips in mind, you can tackle one Spring Cleaning task early. You’ll really notice the difference.