We change the oil, rotate tires and add wiper fluid to our cars each year but what do you do to keep your computer running smoothly? Sadly, most people just run their computers each day hoping it will take care of itself. Like anything man-made, it really needs a bit of maintenance every now and then to keep working at its peak level. I am going to briefly cover several of the things you should be doing and what kind of schedule you should be using to help save you the frustration of a crashed computer.
Step One: Uninstall old programs – if you go to your programs menu under the control panel, you will find a list of all the programs that have been installed on your computer. Many of us have installed things that we never used or finished games/projects and never went back to uninstall them. This is important to do, because it frees up space on the hard drive. When your computer memory gets full, it then uses space on the hard drive as temporary storage. If you do not have enough space, it can cause your computer to slow down. I recommend checking your programs list and cleaning this out at least twice a year.
Step Two: Antivirus – Hopefully you have an antivirus program on your computer. If you do not already have one of these programs, there are free ones on the download page of my free virus scan page listed at the bottom of this article. Many people make the mistake of not updating their antivirus program and others never run a full scan. Most antivirus programs only scan active files being used but viruses like to hide so full scans are necessary. I recommend running a full scan every Monday evening. You can schedule a full scan to run when it works for you, for me, I have it set to run at 6:00pm on Mondays because that is when I eat dinner and my PC is always on in the evenings.
Step Three: Malware – A virus, Trojan, or worm behaves in a certain way and can be identified by antivirus programs. Unfortunately the bad software these days fits into many other categories which cannot be called a “virus.” Instead, it gets the generic name “Malware”. Some malware gets its own sub-category like the recent FBI virus that is not a virus so cannot be found by antivirus software. It is called “RansomWare” because it holds your computer for ransom until you pay some money. This is why you need a second program to fight these threats, the things your antivirus does not find. The best one out there is called MalWareBytes and it is free. You can find it on my download page of my free virus scan site below. Just like your antivirus, update it each week and run a full scan on Mondays. I run the antivirus scan and MalwareBytes scan at the same time, while I eat dinner on Mondays.
Step Four: Windows – Every week someone finds a new hole through the security of Microsoft Windows. Microsoft is pretty good about fixing these and releases software updates. You should make sure you have all the recommended updates for your version of Windows. Just click on “Start” then “All Programs” and look for “Windows Update”. All Windows programs have an updater that takes you to the Microsoft website and will patch your computer. I do this once a month but you can schedule it to run by itself so that you don’t miss any updates.
Step Five: Windows Registry – The Windows operating system has a giant table of contents known as the registry. As new programs get added, the registry is used to help windows find all the files needed to run the new program. If the registry gets corrupted or stale from old records that have not been removed, it can cause you computer to respond slowly. There is a great FREE program that keeps the registry all fixed for you, it is called CCleaner. Just run it twice a year and the registry should be renewed and in perfect order.
Step Six: Defrag – Your hard drive works like a series of small boxes. When new files are added, they are placed in the first empty box. As other files are added, they are placed in the next boxes and then you go back to add updated or changes to the first files, those are stored in the next empty box. In simple terms, you may have a program that is spread across the entire hard drive. Since the hard drive is a spinning disk with a little arm that moves across it like an old-fashioned record player, this can cause the entire disk to be read in order to open your program. The defrag will clean this up and bring all the parts together in order so they can be accessed faster. I recommend doing this twice a year; more if you are a gamer who is always installing or removing games and files.
Step Seven: Backup – Make sure you are creating a Windows restore point each month and if you have pictures or files, back them up to a removable hard drive. The little flash drives that plug into the USB ports only last for a few years and are easy to lose, have stolen or drop and step on. I cannot tell you how many of my friends call me over to fix their computers and when I ask them for their backup they look at me with that “deer in the headlights” look. You can get a good sized USB hard drive under $70 and it will last you 10 years. Don’t trust your kids pictures to a CD that can be scratched or a flash drive that can get destroyed in the laundry.
One More thing – Most of us will spend a great deal of money on parts INSIDE the computer but forget about the things we touch to actually USE the computer. The new Keyboards and Mice have many great features and can ease hand and wrist strain. If you are on the computer most of the day like I am, dropping $60 for a new keyboard and mouse can make a huge improvement in your comfort level.