The Ultimate PC Tune Up Guide

November 10, 2008 by chengrob in The Pit Blog

Welcome to the Ultimate PC Tune Up Guide. It will keep your PC running fast and great. As I discussed in a prior article, the more you use your PC, the more your PC requires maintenance. Every email you read, every web site you visit, and every document you create, leaves little bread crumbs on the hard drive. Over the space of days, weeks and months, these thousands and thousands of bread crumbs ultimately slow down your PC. Fortunately, there are ways to keep your PC like new and in some cases better than new. Let's get started.

Do a backup

First do a backup. Whether we want to admit it or not, all hard drives fail, and furthermore, hard drives never crash at a convenient time. So before we start doing anything, let's back up your hard drive. I use an external hard drive connected to a USB2 port and I try to back up at least once a month. I only back up my critical data, which is essentially the My Documents directory and my email folders. The entire process takes about half an hour.

Delete your junk mail folder

Did you know that junk mail slows down system performance? Every time you receive an email (good or bad), that email is written to your hard drive. Not such a big deal, but 90% of the email that I receive is actually spam, and it just eats up hard drive space, and further fragments my hard drive. Usually before deleting my junk mail folder, I try to take a quick skim to see if it accidentally classified a good email as bad (the dreaded false positive). In the course of a month, I usually find about 1-2 good emails marked as spam.

Empty the recycle bin

When you delete a file, it really is still on your hard drive in the recycle bin, out of sight, out of mind. Although it is handy to be able to find an accidentally deleted file, over time, gigabytes and gigabytes of junk accumulate and should be erased. Note: this also poses a security risk because it makes it easy for people to find the things you really wanted permanently deleted. At PC Pitstop, we have seen systems with more than 50GB's sitting in the Recycle Bin.

Clear out temporary system files

What happens when you open an attachment from your favorite email client, or when Word is doing an auto save on your new novel? All of your data and much more is being stored in temporary system files throughout your hard drive. Just like your recycle bin, it can be handy, but over the course of days and weeks, it only serves to clog up your hard drive. You should reclaim all of that space, and sometimes it can be a lot!

Clear out internet cache

Whether your browser is FireFox or Internet Explorer, both have an internet cache with tons of information about each and every web site you visit. In the short term, these caches speed up web browsing, but over the medium term, if you browse the web a lot (who doesn't?), then these caches get big and unwieldy. At PC Pitstop, we actually have seen more than one PC with an internet cache of more than 100GB.

Uninstall any unused programs

It has happened to all of us, we download 4-5 software applications, looking for a solution to a particular problem. That's great, but your hard drive now has quite a few applications that you never intend to use. Or perhaps, you downloaded/bought something a long time ago, but you no longer have a use for it. If this is the case, then uninstall any and all programs that you no longer have a use for. There are three big reasons why you should uninstall programs you don't use. 1) Programs take up hard drive space, 2) Many programs install background processes that use up processor cycles and memory even if you are not using them, and 3) All programs create entries into your Windows Registry. By uninstalling unwanted programs, you are also uninstalling unwanted registry entries.

Check start up items for unwanted items

This is a pet peeve of mine. Many good and perfectly legitimate programs leave behind tray icons. These tray icons serve no purpose other than to use up memory and processor cycles. Also, if you are ever wondering why your PC takes so long to reboot, it is usually due to excessive tray icons. The solution is simple. Microsoft has a utility called MSCONFIG that allows you to manage your start up items. Also, PC Pitstop's Optimize has automated the process of weeding out these pesky tray icons.

Clear out personal temp files

We are our own worst enemy. Lord knows I am trying to change. I keep a folder on my desktop called temp, and I put all of my temporary work there. Throughout the course of a month, there are many times I need to save something to the hard drive temporarily. Now I have a place that I can easily delete on a monthly basis all my temporary work to avoid hard drive clutter.

Do a malware scan and clean

It is always a good idea to do a malware scan on your PC as a proactive measure. Even if you are a safe surfer (as I am), it is still a good idea to do a malware scan and clean. Todays scanners not only detect the big and bad viruses and trojans, but also hundreds of little problems. It is a good practice to keep all of these cleaned up.

Delete large files

This is a key piece of advice that I have discovered over the years. It is not healthy to have really big files on your hard drive. I am not talking about MP3's or normal files. Let's call a big file anything over 1 GB. On my system, the only large files are my email folders. However, from time to time, when I am working on video, sometimes I need to leave the video in raw format before compressing for YouTube. If there is anything that slows down your system fast, it is a 40GB file sitting on your main system partition. If you have some large files, it is much better to put them on an external or secondary disk.

Do a registry clean

Perhaps one of the most complicated and cumbersome files on your disk is the Windows Registry. Not a second goes by that Windows is not writing, deleting or modifying something in the Registry. Has your hard drive light suddenly begun flashing and you are not doing anything on your PC? Windows is probably writing to the registry. I use a registry cleaner about once a month to keep the registry as lean and mean as possible.

Check drivers

Check your drivers at least once a month. You don't need to update all of your drivers once a month, but you should check to see what's new. Drivers fix pesky problems and add new features. As a rule, I try to keep my wireless drivers on my portable up to date, because it usually helps my range, and they also add more security features.

Do a chkdsk

Run a chkdsk. To be honest this one almost didn't make my list but I did it today and I was shocked! I had a few minor problems. If left unchecked, minor problems can blossom into major problems. For the beginners, chkdsk is a free Windows utility that checks the integrity of the files stored on your hard drive.

Clean out keyboard

I was talking on the phone the other day, and I noticed a little fuzz under one of the keys on my keyboard. I took a business card, and dug out the fuzz. But then I realized that underneath the keys was a forest of hair, fuzz, and dust. With just the edge of a business card, in the space of 20 minutes, I had dug out a pile of debris. Now my keyboard is typing much faster, and I am not worried about some gunk getting stuck in the key mechanism. Note: when cleaning out your keyboard, take your time. The last thing you want is the business card stuck under one of your keys!

Clean off screen

Just take a damp cloth or some Windex and less than 20 seconds, your screen looks amazing. Be sure to add Windex to the cloth and not the monitor. (For LCD's use water ONLY!) The little things sure make a big difference.

Defragment

Last but certainly not least is defrag. In my view, there is nothing more important than doing a good and thorough defragmentation. Before beginning a defrag, close all applications. In particular, do not browse the web or do email when performing a defrag. The reason is that our research shows that the most fragmented files are email archives and browser caches. You are defeating the purpose of the defrag.

Conclusions

I did the above steps on two PCs this weekend, and the performance difference is unbelievable. There is a night and day difference in my two primary activities: email and web browsing. Furthermore, boot times are much faster, and in general the systems seem more responsive. I actually feel like my PC is working for me, and not vice versa.

Lastly, these issues are not Windows unique. Whether you are an Apple or a Linux user, the basic principles still apply.