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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

5 Tips for Basic Computer Maintenance

If there is one question that I am constantly asked, this has to be it:
"Bill, what are some of the ways I can clean up my computer and keep my data safe?"
There are a few other questions that I am asked for expertise on but this particular question comes up a lot. So, I have decided to share what I always suggest be done on a regular basis. If you happen to have a Mac or Linux based computer, this may not be of any use to you. If you have no clue of what I've just said, keep reading.
As you may already know, during the normal course of using your computer you will aquire files such as pictures, office documents, music, programs, cookies (these save information about web pages to your computer), and other temporary files. These files over a period of time will start to take up hard drive space and slow down a computer. With a few house cleaning tasks, you can avoid running into future problems. Here are a few things that should be done on a regular basis along with links to resources I tend to use myself:
#1) Run Disk Cleanup
If you are running Windows 2000/XP/Vista/7, this is a relatively easy task to accomplish. My favorite way to do this is by using the computer management console, but the easiest way to do this is to click on Start> All Programs> Accessories> System Tools> Disk Cleanup . The Disk Cleanup wizard will open and ask you to select what you want to cleanup. If you have Windows 2000/XP, you will be asked what drive you want to cleanup along with what to cleanup. I recommend that you cleanup C:\ (which is the default) and select all of the options in the list. If you have Windows Vista/7, you will be prompted with a choice of All Users or My Files. Once you choose, you will then be prompted with the same choice as with previous versions of Windows. There is also a nice little program called CCleaner (formerly known as 'Crap Cleaner') that works great and takes care of the junk that accumulates on a PC. This program can be downloaded from here: Get CCleaner@

#2) Run A Defrag Utility
Think of your hard drive as a big filing cabinet that is constantly being opened up, file folders being jammed into it with no regard as to where or in what order it's put in the cabinet. One day, you decide you need XYZ file and it takes you a long time to locate it. After a while you start to run out of suitable space to put files in. That's what we call fragmentation. Now, you are probably thinking to yourself that its time to organize it so you can find files faster and reclaim some space right? That's where running Defrag utility comes in. Windows has one built in that works okay, but there are easier and faster utilities out there. One that I especially like is IObit's Smart Defrag utility. It's a really small download, a snap to install and even comes in a portable version. To run the defrag utility in Windows XP, double-click "My Computer" then right-click the drive you wish to defrag and select "Properties". When that windows opens, click the "Tools" tab and then click the "Defragment Now" button. This will start to defrag the selected drive. By doing this on a regular basis, you will keep your computer running smoothly and efficiently. Also, be sure to run the Scan Disk utility after running this to be sure your hard drive is error free. This can be done by pressing the "Check now" button in the same window. Let the defrag finish and reboot the computer.

#3) Keep Your Software Up-To-Date
This is a must do for any system, especially for Windows based computers. I can't stress this enough, update your computer regularly! Do not leave your system vulnerable to buggy code in the software you are running, a Denial-of-Service attack or virus that comes around. For Windows, just visit the Microsoft Update website to check for the latest security patches and bug fixes that are released for Microsoft Products. There is one little product I like to use called Personal Software Inspector from Secunia.com. This little utility scans all the software you have installed, and has links to a direct download to the latest version. I use this product regularly too while doing system checkups for clients of mine. To get the software, visit Secunia.com

#4) Back Up Important Files Regularly
I always say have backups of your backups of your backups. Did I mention to have backups? This is something that I have often witnessed people have happen to them. Something happens to the PC they are working on, and it stops working, they get delete happy, or they click their way to glory, destroying their files in the process. With no backup in hand, well, you see where this is going. It's bad. It will make you cry. It can get you fired. Worst of all, it's expensive to recover files that have been destroyed. That is why you always want to have a backup copy of anything that is important to you, or anything that you are working on so you can reverse any changes you make. There are too many methods to list here that you can use to backup files. I will list ways to do so in a future post.

#5) Update & Run Antivirus Software Regularly
Always update and run your antivirus application regularly. Doing so ensures that you are free of viruses and other nastier things. See my previous post for a list of software available for free if you do not have a antivirus application on your PC.

That's it for my basic PC maintenance recommendations. Doing these five things will help ensure that your PC runs smoothly and error free. Also, it may save you a lot of money and give you peace of mind in the long run.