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June 16th, 2009

Along with death and taxes, you will also have computer problems, too. However, a few simple maintenance steps taken every few weeks, as well as some good daily work habits, will keep your PC running smoothly. (Note: The advice is for computers running Windows XP or Vista. For Macintosh maintenance, see a previous two-part blog entry.)

Depending on how your PC is configured, a basic maintenance routine should take only 10-30 minutes and can be done by any level user. With simple instructions, and a few low- or no-cost downloads, you will experience a measurable improvement. Let’s break the routine down into the five steps that resolve the most common reasons for degraded performance.

1. Remove unused applications

Don’t waste space by overfilling your drive. If you’re like the majority of users, you have games, freeware or utilities that you’ve forgotten about or never used. Go to the control panel to manage programs installation and removal—Add/Remove Programs in XP and its predecessors, Programs and Features in Vista—and remove (“uninstall”) whatever you do not use. If you don’t use it, simply lose it, after confirming that you don’t need it.

2. Delete unneeded files

A common problem for most users is the proliferation of space-stealing files. Your hard drive is continuously adding, deleting and modifying the files on your hard disk. A rightly famous tool for getting rid of temporary files and other garbage is CCleaner. Download, install, run it and be done with it. This freebie has been downloaded over 285 million times and has an excellent safety record.

3. Dump invalid registry entries

Tweaking the registry is vastly overrated as a means of enhancing PC speed, but the area does get bloated with invalid references that can cause problems. Since the registry is a spot the average PC user should avoid messing with, it is best to use a trusted utility. CCleaner (see above) has a safe, solid registry cleaner built right in, so you can clear out the invalid entries safely and thoroughly. Do so!

4. Manage your startup items

Startup items are a major culprit on the average user’s PC. The icons that march across the lower right edge of the task bar on startup are items being loaded as you watch, and use up memory just by sitting there. Although removing unneeded startup files takes a little more know-how, you are certainly capable of doing it, especially with CCleaner. Because startup routines load drivers and other programs your PC may need, you must be very careful about removing items you don’t know about.

5. Defragment your hard drive(s)

When drives are fragmented beyond a certain point, the reading and writing of data is slowed down due to the time the disk heads need to move among fragments on the media’s surface. Microsoft included a disk defragmenter in Windows, but the consensus is that it’s not a very good one. However, various good (and free) alternatives are easily available, such as IObit SmartDefrag, a freeware program that has many happy users. JKDefrag offers a basic, one-click defragmentation routine without as many customizable actions.

Computers rented from CRE,  of course, have been maintained in top working order. In Part 2, we will get into malware scanning, virus protection and the anti-spyware battle.

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