Maintain your PC

There’s much more information out there on the Web about maintaining your computer. See the links in “More on the Web” for some that I found useful.

The tools

With Windows XP, Microsoft has done two things to make it easier to maintain a PC. It’s easier to find the tools to do it with, and “Help” for using them is much better. There are two easy ways to find the tools. I recommend using “Help & Support” the first time you use the tools. The Windows Explorer route will be quicker after that.

From Windows Explorer
Open a Windows Explorer window. Right-click the “disk” (hard drive) you want to maintain. Choose “Properties”. The properties dialog-box will open at the “General” tab. Click the “Disk Cleanup” button to get the “Disk Cleanup” tool.
With the properties dialog-box still open, click the “Tools” tab. You’ll see the “Error-checking” and “Defragmention tools” right there.
From Help & Support
Click “Start”, then “Help & Support”. Enter “disk” and click the green arrow. You’ll find “Using Disk Cleanup”, “Using Disk Defragmenter” and “Detecting and repairing disk errors” in the left hand “Search Results” pane. Each of them will tell you how to access and use the corresponding tool.

1. Back up your files (and system)

The maintenance tools you’re going to use are going to do some very “heavy lifting”. You never know what’s going to get dropped. Do yourself a big favor. Back up your critical files, and preferrably, back up your entire system first.

2. Clean up your hard drive

Start your maintenance work with Disk Cleanup. It will make error checking and defragmenting go better and faster, because there’s less junk for the tools to deal with. You might want to go further and do some basic cleanup before you start the rest of your maintenance. PC World has two good articles on this topic. [one] [two]

Deleting program files is an error that neophytes often make. Programs should always be uninstalled, which is quite different. To uninstall use: “Start” > “Control Panel” > “Add and Remove Programs”. Find the program in the list and delete it. After you’ve done that, some files may remain in the program’s folder, which is usually in C:\Program Files\Name (name of the program you just installed). It’s OK to delete the files and folder now.

3. Detect and repair disk errors

Disk error checking was called ScanDisk in Windows 98. It’s a good idea to check for errors about once a month to keep your system running well. The tool can find and fix errors in the file allocation table, the file system structure (lost clusters, crosslinked files) and the directory tree structure. It can also detect and isolate sectors that have gone bad because of damage to the surface of your disk.

When you click “Start” the tool will tell you, “The disk check could not be performed… Do you want to schedule this disk check to occur the next time you restart the computer? Click “Yes”.

If you begin to see defective sectors in the report, especially a growing number, you may want to replace your hard drive before it crashes and dies. At the very least bad sectors should motivate you to be very disciplined about backing up your work.

4. Defragment your hard drive

You should defragment your hard drive on a regular basis — every three months is good — to keep your system running well. In the course of normal usage, files are constantly changed and written or rewritten to the hard drive. The file system tries to pack the files tightly. It breaks them into pieces to fit where it finds space for them. Over time these pieces get scattered all over the drive. It begins to take a lot of head movement (and thus time) to read and write files. As a result, your computer’s performance suffers, and worse yet, it’s easier for errors to creep in.

Before you defrag
  • Clean out any junk files that you don’t need. Empty the recycle bin, delete the contents of C:\Temp\ and C:\Windows\Temp, and delete your temporary internet files [“Tools” > “Internet Options” > “Delete files…”]. You might want to use Disk Cleanup to clean out more junk.
  • If you have a virus program, turn off “auto-protect” or close the program. Otherwise it will very likely interfere with Disk Defragmenter.
  • Disable your screensaver Right click the Desktop > select “Properties” > click the “Screen Saver” tab > select “none” > and click “OK”.
  • You may need to disable, or exit other programs too. (Use the “3-fingered salute” — Ctrl+Alt+Delete — to shut down unnecessaryprograms.)
  • It’s a good idea to check your disk for errors just before you defrag. The defrag tool will look for disk errors but it can’t fix them itself. If there are errors, you’ll end up using the error checking tool, and trying defrag again.

Do not run defrag if there’s a chance that electrical power will be interrupted — for example, during a thunderstorm, or when construction could cause an outage. Defrag will be unable to complete what it was in the middle of and your hard drive will probably be scrambled.

Don’t use the automatic mode to defrag a laptop. Some day you’re going to forget to plug it in, defrag will start, the battery will run down, and you’ll lose all your data and get to reinstall everything.

5. Good housekeeping

Cleaning your PC is part of the maintenance job. Computers aren’t big enough for dust bunnies, but they collect a lot more fuzz than you might imagine. It can eventually cause overheating, which is a nemesis for anything electronic. The page on cleaning your PC will help you with this and other “housekeeping” chores.



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