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Basic Monthly Computer Maintenance Guide

By Alan Morris

Far too many people only worry about their computer maintenance when it stops working or becomes so painfully slow they have to do something about it, but just like your car your PC needs regular maintenance to keep it running well.

 

However, unlike your car its free and easy to run some basic maintenance tasks yourself. If you are a reasonably heavy user I would recommend running some basic tasks at least once a month.

Notice:
None of the tasks below should cause any problems to your system. However if there are underlying problems such a viruses, spyware or disk errors running these checks and updates can sometimes tip the balance. However, I perform these tasks on my own, and my customer’s computers on a regular basis.

Top 6 tasks

  1. Check you have Space
  2. Run Windows Update
  3. Check Disk state
  4. Run a Antivirus Check
  5. Run a Spyware Check
  6. Defragment the hardisk


 

Check you have space

In order for Windows to run correctly you must have at least twice as much free space as memory. Therefore if you have 256MB ram then you need to have atleast 512Mb of free space on your C drive.

To check go to My Computer and right click on the C drive. Choose the General Tab and you should get a pie chart showing the free and used space. Most computers will show something like Free Space 12.3GB. If you have GB after the figure then this is good. If you have MB after the figure then you have very little spare.

Free up some space by emptying your recycle bin, deleting temporary files and uninstalling any software you no longer use. If you are very low on diskspace do not run the next steps as these may deplete your space further.

Run Windows update

Newer versions of windows may do this automatically however its always worth running Windows update manually to check for non critical updates like driver updates. To run Windows update either find the icon in your start menu or go to http://www.microsoft.com/windowsupdate.

You will want to install all critical update, optional updates are just that. Have a quick read and install anything that sounds like you might use it.

Check disk state

Goto MyComputer and right click on the C drive. Choose properties from the menu and then select the tools tab.

Tick the top box for automatically fix system errors. If you belive that the hard disk may have physical errors then also tick the second box to scan for and attempt recovery of bad sectors. Ticking the second box requires that windows must do a disk check on the next startup. This can take quite a long time depending on disk size so don’t tick it if you are in a hurry.

Click start and let it do its thing.

Antivirus check

If you don’t have antivirus software on your computer then you need to get one installed quickly. There are plenty of different versions available to buy from any PC shop. However if you are a home user and want a good free antivirus program then I would recommend AVG Antivirus.
Goto http://free.grisoft.com/doc/1 and download your free copy. I’ve been using this for several years and would highly recommend it.

If you have antivirus installed then well done. Now you need to check that a it’s virus definitions are up to date and perform a system scan to check than no new nasties have got in.

Each Antivirus system is different but generally there will be an icon in your system tray (the little icons down by your clock) double click on your antivirus icon there and it will usually launch a window where you can check for updates and run systems scans.

 

Spyware Check

Spyware can be just as bad if not worse than as viruses. (sometimes also called adware and malware). Spyware is basically nasty little programs than reside on your computer which track usages or perform other functions often without your knowledge. One or two items of Spyware whilst unwanted and potentially dangerous will have little effect on the running of your computer. However as this number grows on an unprotected system the more unstable and unusable the system will become.

Using an anti-spyware package alongside and antivirus packages in a must today. Again you can purchase any number of antispyware / adware packages from your local PC store. However I would recommend Spybot. I’ve been using this package for many years now and it keeps me out of trouble.

Download a copy from http://spybot.com
For detailed instruction on how to run Spybot, read their online manual at http://spybot.com/en/tutorial/index.html

Once you have antiSpyware software. Make sure its up to date, there should be a check for updates in one of the menus. If its like Spybot and includes a protection or immunization system then also run that and then run a scan of your PC to check for an Spyware.

 

Defragment your C Drive (Windows XP)

If you think of your computers hard disk as a great big library and all of the files on your PC as books then you can get an idea of what defragmenter does.
Every time you open a program or read a document, Windows goes to the Library and pulls out hundreds of books. When you are finished, windows puts them back, but it puts them back as quick as it can on the nearest free shelf and not necessarily in order. The next time you request those files windows spends longer looking for the books as although they are all indexed they are out of order. As time goes by your hard disk slowly gets further out of shape and becomes slower to access.

It generally takes a long time for de-fragmentation to affect your computers performance to noticeable levels, but its still worth keeping on top of it.

To perform a disk de-fragmentation simply go to ‘My Computer’ and once again right click on the C Drive, choose properties and then click the tools tab. Now click on the ‘Defragment Now’ button.

You will be shown the defragmenter tool where you can choose Analyze Now or Defragment. I just click the Defragment button and let it work through the disk. This can take some time, possibly several hours so worth setting off just before the end of the day / dinner / lunch / bed time.

And that’s it, basic service completed. A little effort once a month should help keep your PC running well for years to come.

 

Alan Morris works as a software developer and systems support officer. He also manages his own Internet Beginners website Startfrom (http://www.startfrom.co.uk)