How to Perform Routine Computer Maintenance
Does this sound familiar?
Old, cranky, and slow, and if you ask it to do too much at one time, it crashes.
Well, I’m talking about me. But it could also apply to your computer.
This article will walk you through some essential routine maintenance on your Windows PC so that you can keep it running as long as possible. Some of this may or may not apply to Macs.
The fact is that software improves every year, and most of those improvements require more resources. It may be memory, storage, graphics processors, or hard drive speed, but the more you ask of your computer, the older it will appear.
But it may not be the fault of the software. Just like a car, computers require regular maintenance. Otherwise, you will have to pay some cranky old guy like me to come to fix it. Or plunk down money for a new computer.
For the most part, I will be talking about free maintenance here, although some good paid apps are out there. And the first piece of software we need to talk about is Windows itself.
But before we get to that, let’s look under the hood. Back in the day, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, you had to remove about 118 screws to open the cover of your PC. Now, it’s usually a couple of thumbscrews, if that.
Turn off your computer and unplug all the cables, especially the power. Now, follow the instructions that came with your computer (yes, it did) and open the case.
Wow. Look at all those electronic gizmos. Okay, next take out a soldering iron, three feet of red wire, and some silly putty.
Just kidding. The thing I wanted you to see and deal with is all that dust. Your computer has a fan that blows air across the motherboard to keep the components from overheating. The fan will also suck in any nearby dust, which will coat the components, defeating the fan’s purpose.
The best way to deal with it is to get a small vacuum made for this purpose. You can also use a blower, but not one with too much force, and you need to make sure any canned air is safe for electronics. Some canned air uses a propellant that can spray moisture into the computer.
If you’ve ever talked to tech support, you have been told two things.
- Turn it off and back on (reboot)
- Delete your cache and cookies.
Rebooting can solve a lot of problems. If you are the type that never reboots, you need to start. Make it a habit to reboot at least once a week. We’ll get back to more on that in a minute.
The other thing they always say is clear your cache and cookies. Clearing your cache will rarely solve a problem, and any problem it does solve would probably also be fixed by rebooting.
Deleting your cookies rarely fixes a problem but will cause you some headaches. Malware products will cause these ‘trackers’ and make them seem evil. And that’s possible, but they also do a lot of good things. Every time you go to a web page, and it remembers your preferences, thank a cookie. But again, we’ll get back to this in a bit.
Mostly, I wanted to make a reboot the first line of defense if you are having problems. It will clear your computer’s memory, shut down random programs that might be running in the background, and solve memory leaks. Just do it.
Malware and Viruses
There is a fine line between malware and viruses, but for this article’s purposes, just consider them both bad. Despite the proliferation of hackers, phishing schemes and other issues, computer viruses and malware isn’t as destructive as it once was.
Part of this is because Windows does a better job of staying ahead of them. Also, the built-in virus protection is pretty good. Personally, I rely on it 90% of the time, as long as I…
Keep the System Updated
Windows updates have gotten a bad rap over the years, and with good reason. They have been notorious for releasing buggy updates. I think they have gotten much better than that in recent years. Besides, unless you have enough technical expertise that you don’t need this article, not updating has its own consequences.
Some of these have malware and virus protection but are primarily for ‘cleaning up your computer.’ This covers various things, and they don’t do anything you couldn’t do for yourself, but again, if you know how to do that, you’re not reading this article.
If you do the research, you can find good and bad reviews on all of these, but I think the best two are the free versions of CCleaner and Glary Utilities. The paid version of both doesn’t add enough value to make them worth the expense. While we’re on the subject, I feel the same way about virus software. Malwarebytes leads the pack on that.
The Home Run
Okay, so we are going to combine these four things. Any time your computer is bogging down, or once a week, whichever is first, do the following:
Run your virus, malware software, and computer cleaner. Whichever products you go with, if any, read the docs. But most of them make it very easy. There is usually a button on the main screen that is obvious.
So, run whatever third-party programs you have downloaded. Note: don’t run two of the same type of programs; they will just interfere with each other. Also, most virus software will disable the Windows native app. So if you uninstall any virus software, make sure you turn Windows Defender back on.
If you want to stick with Windows Defender, and I would unless you need more, just click the Windows start button in the lower left and click on Settings. In Settings, choose Update & Security, then Windows Security. On the next screen, select Virus & threat protection. Finally, on this page, click Quick Scan. If you are still having problems, click on Scan Options, and choose Full Scan.
While any or all of that is running, go to the Windows Update option under Settings/ Update & Security and click Check for Updates. Allow Windows to run any updates it feels necessary. If you get a reboot prompt, hold off on that until everything is finished running.
Even if it doesn’t prompt you to reboot, do so anyway once everything is finished. If you run updates, go back to that screen and look for additional updates. When it says, “You’re up to date,” everything is done.
That sounds like a lot, but it shouldn’t take more than twenty minutes from start to finish on a newer computer. Again, go through that if you are having problems or once a week anyway.
Backup Your Data
There is nothing more heartbreaking than having years of data wiped out. It doesn’t matter the cause if it’s gone. Ideally, your data should always be in three places at all times. As the SEALS say, two is one, and one is none. The easiest way to accomplish this is to combine an external drive with a cloud backup system.
External drives are cheaper than ever, but if you need one, look into getting an SSD (Solid-state drive). This simply means it doesn’t have a spinning plate-like older hard drives. Especially if the hard drive inside your computer is an SSD. This will make the process much faster.
Windows has backup software, but any drive you buy will come with its own. Follow the instructions to set up your backup. Run this once a week before you do the maintenance above. Just in case.
Cloud backups are subscription services and run in real-time behind the scenes. This means that everything is backed up almost continuously. The best combination of features, price, and ease of use is Backblaze. Follow their instructions to set up, and it’s running all the time your computer is. One of the good things about Backblaze is it will back up your external drives as well, as long as they are connected at least once a month.
Take Out the Trash
Are you a packrat? Eventually, you have got to get rid of stuff. Uninstall old programs, delete unused data, including emails, and clean your disk. Again, Glary and CCleaner have utilities to help with this, but whether you use them or Windows utilities, you have to make some decisions on your own.
If you are running a local email client like Outlook, those files can get massive. Go through your email and delete things you don’t need, especially those with large attachments.
Go to Settings and Apps to look for programs you don’t need and delete them. Many you won’t recognize, and you won’t be able to uninstall them. These are apps that came with or are part of Windows. But if you find an app you downloaded two years ago and never used, zap it.
Clean Your Disk
Programs and websites leave a lot of crap behind on your computer. If you are using a program like CCleaner or Glary, they can take care of this. If not, you need to do it yourself. How often will depend on your use. Or just make this part of your weekly maintenance. Under Settings/System/Storage, you can configure Storage Sense to handle this for you, but I still like to run the old school Disk Cleanup.
Click your Windows Start button, then scroll down to Windows Administrative Tools. Click on that and then Disk Cleanup. It’s okay to accept the defaults, but make sure Temporary Internet Files and Recycle Bin are checked. Click Okay then again and let it run.
Defrag Your Hard Drive
Or not. If you have an SSD, you no longer need to defrag it. But if not, after doing a cleanup, run Defragment and Optimize your hard drive. It can be found under the same menu as Disk Cleanup. Note: This can be a long process, so run it overnight if you haven’t done it in a while. Or ever.
Update Your Software
You know those pop-ups you keep ignoring about updating your software? Quit doing that. Ignoring updates will eventually cause problems. Of course, updating good software with a buggy update isn’t fun, but the good usually outweighs the bad.
And I hate to sound like a broken record, but CCleaner and Glary have modules to help with this. Did I mention they are free?
Drivers also need updating. Windows is supposed to check this, but I haven’t found it to be too reliable. The best and most accurate way is to determine each component’s name that needs drivers and visit their website. Huh?
Yeah, again, if you could do that, you wouldn’t need this article. One piece of software I have used in the past is Driver Support. But, you guessed it, also CCleaner and Glary.
One other thing you need to keep updated is your web browser. If you use one of Windows built-in browsers, Internet Explorer or Edge, it’s taken care of. But if you use Chrome, Firefox, or one of the other third-party browsers, make sure you update it. Don’t worry; it will let you know when it needs updating; just don’t ignore it.
And while we’re here, let’s get back to that cache and cookies thing. Somewhere in your browser’s menu will be the option to delete your history, cache, and cookies. History is up to you. Cache, you should do it periodically. Cookies, I wouldn’t do unless all else fails.
Check Your Startup Programs
There are several ways to check your startup programs, but the easiest is from within Task Manager. Right-click the status bar at the bottom of the screen and click on Task Manager. This utility is good for a lot of things but is outside the scope of this article. Click on the Startup tab at the top and check all the programs in the list.
But don’t just Disable things willy-nilly. If you know what it is and that you don’t need it, go ahead. But disabling something if you don’t know what it is can be dangerous.
Is That All?
No. But it’s most of it, and it’s all we are going to go through today. I know it sounds like a lot of work, but it will do a lot of good. And once you get used to it, it won’t take that long.
And it can add years to your computer’s life.