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Fall cleaning

So, the birds and squirrels out back are almost done repairing their nests and collecting winter supplies.   We've moved all the deck furniture back into storage, picked up leaves, caulked the drafty windows and done some household repairs.   Every time the seasons change, we all get a bit busy making the necessary preparations and when we're done, everything just feels good, doesn't it?

But wait?   Did we forget anything?   What about our computers? After a long season of use, they probably need some repair or cleaning too.   Sure, nobody wants to be stuck in front of their PC when everything outside is fresh and changing, but this is important.   When you need it, you really need it and it doesn't take much maintenance to make sure everything stays running smoothly.   It also doesn't take much time to do basic preventitive maintenance, so let's just get this done, OK?

[Hardware]   [Software]   [Defrag]   [Software Updates]   [Spyware/Virus]  

1) Hardware cleanup.
Most of your computer was designed and assembled in a FS209E Class 100 clean room. That's one of those places where people wear what look like space suits and work in a near vacuum with no dirt or dust to be seen.   In contrast to this, your computer has been operating in your home/office: a sea of dust, hair, skin and food debris.   While a PC can survive in this environment for a long time, the cleaner the environment, the cooler and more reliable your machine will run.
  • Shut down Windows, turn your computer off and disconnect the power.
  • Check that all the wires in back are solidly connected.
  • Wipe the case down with a damp (not wet) rag. Cleaners should not be needed, but mild soap is fine.
  • Vacuum the rear fan grating (where the power plug connects) to suck dust out of the power supply.
  • Vacuum any other openings where dust has gathered, taking care not to push dust back into the case.

  • If you see a lot of dust around the fan gratings, the inside of your PC should be cleaned by a professional. Yes, you could do this yourself, but there are many things inside your PC (memory, CPU, drives) which are very easily damaged if handled incorrectly or put into contact with static electricity or other harmful forces. This may also void your warantee (if you still have one), so please don't open your computer case unless you know what you are doing.

    2) Software cleanup.
    In one word: efficiency. Every program you install takes up some space on your PC's hard drive. Programs which run at startup also use system memory when running. Since both memory and drive space are limited resources, you really don't want to keep things around which you know you will never use.
  • Run Windows 'Add/Remove' to uninstall software you don't use. (Start -> Settings -> Control Panel -> Add or Remove Programs)

  • Use Windows 'Disk Cleanup' to remove old files no longer in use (Start -> Programs -> System Tools -> Disk Cleanup)

  • Remove temporary internet files (Start -> Settings -> Control Panel -> Internet Options -> Temporary Internet Files): click the "delete files" button.

  • Remove unused startup items from your START folder (Start -> Programs -> Startup ). If you see something from a program you know you don't use, remove the shortcut to prevent it from loading at boot. If unsure, ASK someone first. Note: Some programs are loaded from a 'Run' key in the Windows registry. Unless you are familiar with registry editing, seek professional help.

  • 3) Defrag
    As you use your computer, data is stored in various places on the hard drive. As you fill up a drive over time, there is less and less 'contiguous' space available to store large files. When this happens, large files are cut into pieces and spread out over available space ("fragmented"). It is like taking large books off your bookshelf and putting smaller books in their place. Then, when the large books no longer fit on the shelf, you tear them into pieces to fit in the available spaces. While your computer is very good at re-arranging all those torn pages back into a book, the more fragmented your data becomes, the more time it takes for programs to read and write to the hard drive and the more work it is for the hard drive to read and write files.
  • Start -> Run.   Type "dfrg.msc"   Click 'OK'.
  • Click on your hard drive in the drives window (likely "(C:)")
  • When the drive is highlighted, click the "Defragment" button
  • Leave it running for as long as it takes (could be several hours)

  • 4) Software updates.
    Software is not perfect. Hackers find "holes" in software all the time and bugs in software could cause system problems leading to crashes and loss of data. Keeping software up to date can help fix such problems as they are found. Not keeping software up to date is asking for trouble at some point.
  • If you have a full time internet connection, you should have Windows Update set to automatically update your machine. Go to Start -> Settings -> Control Panel. Open "Security Center" and click on "Automatic Updates". Set this to the first (Automatic) setting.

  • Other programs may also have updates available. Open the programs you use most often, check the "help" or "updates" menu for update options. If those options are not available, go to the software vendor's web site and check for downloadable updates there.

  • 5) Spyware/Adware/Virus scan.
    Viruses, Spyware and Adware are programs which get installed on your machine without your knowledge and for purposes which are not beneficial to you. They may collect information about your web surfing habbits, display annoying pop-ups or even "take over" your computer for the purpose of sending spam or hacking other people's computers. Obviously, these are not good things and you don't want these programs on your system.
    Every PC should be equipped with both Virus and Spyware scanning software. If your PC is not, you need to get them. While many system vendors like installing products by Norton/Symantec or McAffee (primarily due to ad dollars), we find those products tend to be not only bloated resource hogs, but relatively innefective in contrast to their price. We use and recommend Microsoft Security Essentials and Malwarebytes Antimalware.