My laptop was my best friend. Purchased in 2008 and installed with Windows Vista, it was lagging, and I replaced it at the end of 2014. I was faced with installing all my most-loved programs and transferring all my files to a new machine. I have in-house support (Rom is an IT Guy) but I pride myself on not needing it too much!
Even though I take good care of my electronic friend, the old laptop still needed a cleanup, so I wouldn’t transfer its problems to a new home. For those who don’t do computer clean-ups, regular or otherwise, I will share some tips.
Before we begin: You have time for these little actions! It’s not serious restorative work: it’s just a bunch of settings (and habits) to keep things humming along.
My new PC also has Windows. Don’t judge me! The following list will be only of selective use to Mac users.
- Highest Priority: Turn on Windows updates! I know, I know. They always want to install themselves at inconvenient times, and they make us do a restart. Do them anyway! They are meant to fix problems including serious security concerns. We need them.
- If the computer is running perfectly, get assistance to set a restore point now! Then, if a nasty computer failure occurs, it can be reset to this lovely point.
- Computers go to sleep when not in use. Shut them down completely sometimes – I would recommend once a week. This will help identify serious boot-up issues long before the machine completely fails. If we avoid this because we’re afraid the computer won’t come back on – we need to face reality and get help now, before it’s too late!
- How important are your files? If all of your photos are on Facebook and your resumé is in your email somewhere, you may not care about your data. But power-users will want to back up everything. I have 80 GB of music and 52 GB of photos I’d be devastated to lose! At our house we have a network drive with an automatic backup. In the past I made manual backups onto a portable hard drive. Of course you can use free or paid cloud services like Google Drive, OneDrive or iCloud. Also good for additional storage if your hard drive is filling up.
- Make sure there’s a firewall and an antivirus program. Windows Defender is fine. No need to pay for Norton or McAfee – free products are available (such as AVG and Avast), and safe if installed carefully to avoid bundled products. Now here’s the hard-to-accept part: we should be doing regular scans of the whole system. Go into the program and click “Scan Now” or set it to run once a week, overnight. For extra safety, you can enable a link checker, like the one from AVG. It checks all the links on a page and lets you know if any might be unsafe to open (great for kids and anyone who’s recovering from a computer virus!)
- We all know not to click links in spam email, or let our kids download hundreds of demo games. Just as problematic is when we install a trusted program like Java or Adobe, and we let them add an extra toolbar to our Internet browser. Lots of them are invasive and require professional help to remove. Sadly, whenever we install a program, we can’t accept the defaults. It’s necessary to uncheck the free crapware that is bundled in, or use a tool like Unchecky to do it for us.
- Clean up mistakes. If we do accept a program and later realize it is garbage, we need to remove it. Follow this path for Windows 8: PC Settings > Control Panel > Programs > Programs and Features > Uninstall a Program. When you see the (shockingly large) list of all your installed programs, you can look for the names that have been bothering you like the evil toolbars (Ask, Delta, Snap.do) and iLivid. But use with care: you don’t want to accidentally delete your graphics driver or your wireless adapter! Similarly, if a new or new-to-you PC comes with a bunch of trial products you don’t like, turf them.
- Look in the Download folder. Every time we open an email attachment, save an online photo, or install an online program, a copy goes to the Download folder. To keep those files organized, they can be renamed and moved to better homes like a Documents or Pictures folder. When no longer needed, they should be deleted. Recently I downloaded a photo that appeared in my Downloads folder as img73091.jpg and months from now, I will have no idea what it is.
- Unclutter the Start Screen or Desktop. Our virtual home should be as tidy as our actual home. No, wait – I mean “tidier than”! If any tiles or icons don’t work, delete them or reinstall them. Anything not used for months or years? Get rid of the shortcut, and the original program if you’ll never use it again. Move your tiles or icons into groups that make sense to you – most used, or one for each family member. I know I’ve got it right when I can go to all my favourites without thinking.
- I never mess with my computer beyond my understanding. For example, I know that when I remove a program, sometimes traces of it are left in the registry. I don’t have the ability to find them and to know if they are shared with other programs I’m keeping, so I leave them alone. Likewise, if a computer whiz were to tell me, “You should just run Linux,” I know better. I can just walk up to any Windows computer and use it. I don’t want to learn another system right now.
- If you have a problem with a device – for example, uploading photos from a camera, or printing a document – and your Windows updates are all current, you may need to update your device or its drivers. For instance, you may have the latest version of iTunes running, but maybe your iPhone needs a new version of iOS. It’s best to go to the manufacturer’s website and check for updates there.
- If the computer is in a space with dust and pets – or worse, if a laptop is regularly used on a sofa or bed – fluff has to be cleaned out with compressed air before it solidifies and seals up the vent. Otherwise it will overheat. I have seen one send out puffs of smoke (an impending fire!) and one significantly melted (neither were mine).
- More advanced: To make your machine run faster, never click on a pop-up that says Make Your PC Run Faster! Use a reputable product like CCleaner. However, the average computer user will need help with this. It blasts out the cache, temporary files, browsing history, cookies, and so on – some of which you may actually want. Worth doing, but proceed with caution.
- Rom would say: Know what operating system you have – such as Windows 7 Home Premium or Windows 8.1, 64-bit. You can find out here. Don’t upgrade your Windows operating system. If you bought a Vista machine like I did, don’t try to upgrade it to Windows 8.1. The machine itself (including the BIOS and other firmware) was built for the old operating system, and probably won’t run the new OS well. When it’s time, get a new machine.
I haven’t talked about protecting privacy or the hundreds of other computer topics that can arise. I figure 14 steps are enough for now. But I would like to post about privacy later, if there is interest.
What is on your list of essential PC maintenance? (Other than: Buy a MacBook!)
Not a compensated post. All opinions my own…ask for a professional opinion if needed!