My Daddy done told me that regular Preventive Maintenance (PM) is a Whole Lot Cheaper than repairs caused by neglect. Daddy is always right. Just ask anybody who had their car engine blow up because they neglected to spend less than a minute checking their oil occasionally!
Computers need tune-ups just like cars. A tune-up will not guarantee you will never have problems, but in general, will keep your car, and your computer, running smoothly a lot longer. I call my computer tune-up routine Monthly Maintenance, not because you need to be a slave to running it every month, but so you’ll at least do it every once in a while. How often you run these steps also depends on how much you use your computer. If you use it all day, every day, monthly is about right. Also, monthly corresponds to Microsoft’s usual Windows Update cycle, so whenever you get that notice that “Windows needs to install updates,” that’s a good time to think about maintenance. Here’s what you should be doing:
- Security Check: Make sure your antivirus is up to date. To do this, find the icon for it on the Taskbar (The area, usually at the bottom of your screen, where the clock is), double-click it, and you should get the main program interface. This will tell you if you have any problems. Don’t know if you have antivirus or what kind you have? Find out. Hover your mouse over each icon one at a time (Don’t forget to click the little arrow to the left of them to show hidden icons), until you see one that says “Antivirus,” “Security,” or something similar. If you don’t have any, or it’s expired, fix it now. (Be sure to uninstall any old, expired antivirus first!) AVG is a good free antivirus that you can download here. Also, if you’ve had any unusual events recently, run a scan.
- Spyware Check: This is a different step because Antivirus programs don’t always find Spyware. The best programs I’ve found for dealing with spyware are Malwarebytes and Super Antispyware. Install both of these (They’re free), and update and run them manually whenever you notice any strange behavior, or monthly.
- Update Check: Type “Windows Update” (in the search box in Windows Vista and 7 or directly from the start screen in Windows 8), and make sure there are no updates available that are rated “Critical” or “Important.” If there are, get them installed.
- Action Center Check: Same as above, except this time type “Action Center,” and take care of any items found there. If you regularly back up your stuff (And you should be doing this!), this is a good time to check whatever backup system you’re using. Nothing is more heartbreaking than thinking your backup needs are covered and finding out your daily backup hasn’t happened in six months!
- Disk Defragmenting: If you compare your hard drive to a filing cabinet, physical filing cabinets get disorganized after a while. Stuff isn’t in the right folder, some files are probably crumpled in the bottom of the drawer, and it’s harder to find things. Your hard drive is the same way. Files get “Fragmented,” that is, bits of them might be scattered all over the drive, making it harder and slower for Windows to access them. Defragmenting puts all those pieces back in order so the computer doesn’t have to work as hard to get them. Auslogics disk defrag works much better than what’s built into Windows, and is highly recommended.
- General cleaning and junk file removal: This is the equivalent of vacuuming. Windows generates all kinds of temporary files in normal use, and all kinds of noncritical errors as well. Two programs that do a very fine job on these items are Glary Utilities and CCleaner. (Formerly known as C**p Cleaner, now a more family-friendly name.) If you use these, do not mess with the settings unless you know what you’re doing! They are very safe at their factory default settings, but they do allow you to get more aggressive, which can cause much grief.
- Uninstall anything you don’t need or are no longer using: Again, be cautious here. It’s possible to uninstall something that makes a part of your computer work. Anything with the name of a computer component (Modem, Mouse, Network, etc.) or the computer manufacturer’s name on it, or the name of one of your peripherals (Printer, Scanner, External drive, etc.) should be left alone. Anything that says “Toolbar,” on the other hand, can go. If in doubt, don’t uninstall it.
Once you know where everything is, you can do all this in a few minutes. Virus scans and disk defrag takes longer than that, but you don’t need to babysit those processes, and you can still use the computer while they are going on.
You can also put shortcuts to all these things in a folder on your desktop and label it “Monthly Maintenance,” so you have everything all in one place. This is what I do when I service a customer’s PC.