Archive for 'PC Maintenance'

Scheduled Maintenance

Many of us take our computers for granted, we turn it on, and expect it to be ready to do our bidding. Although there is no way to guarantee that your machine will never fail, there are a few things you can do on a regular schedule to help assure that your computer will be ready when you need it. This post discusses the things you can do to keep your machine safe, secure, and in top operating condition.

Before I begin, all of the utilities referenced below are included in Windows or are available for download, free of charge, on our Free Downloads page: PC Personal Support Free Downloads


The single most important thing you can do is backup your personal data. If you do not own an external backup device, buy one! Most of the commercial external backup hard drives sold today come with some sort of software to help you backup your personal data. Personal data can be defined as anything you have created or is created and stored by the programs you use regularly. Examples include email, spreadsheets, text documents, business data, accounting information, and even something as simple as web shortcuts. While this is not a comprehensive list, it will give you an idea of what you can lose if your hard drive fails or your machine falls victim to destructive malware.

If you do not have an external hard drive, one brand I have experience with and personally own comes from a company call Clickfree. Their intelligent hard drives come with built-in software that will back up each of your computers simply by plugging in the device to the computer. Be sure to check their site for “Hot Deals” and refurbished units.

The name Clickfree comes from the fact that if you do nothing but plug the drive into your USB port, it will automatically run the built-in software and backup all your personal data. These drives are widely available from major retailers like BestBuy or BrandSmart, and on the web directly from the manufacturer, or from If you already on an external hard drive, Clickfree also sells the software in a plug-in device that connects between your hard drive and your computer and provides the same automatic backup. The device is called the Clickfree Transformer and sells for about $40.

How often you backup depends on the value of your personal information and how often it changes. I strongly recommend that you backup at least once a week. If your computer contains business data that you can’t live without and changes daily, you should consider backing up every evening.


Disk cleanup is the process of removing unnecessary temporary files from your computer. These files take up disk space, but offer little or no benefit. Examples of these files are temporary internet files created by your browser, temporary files created by Windows, or files created by applications such as Microsoft Office products. Whenever you defrag your hard drive or scan for malware/viruses, these files have to be defragged/scanned and take additional time for those programs to complete.

There are many utilities available to perform the cleanup task. Windows provides a utility called the Disk Cleanup utility in the Windows Accessories folder. There are also some excellent free utilities that go beyond the Windows application and also address unused entries in the Windows Registry, unnecessary Startup programs, browser history and cookies.

The simplest program, Glary Utilities has a one-click interface that addresses the most important temporary information without the user having to know the technical aspects of disk cleanup. I recommend this program for most users.

A program requiring a bit more technical savvy, but offering more options is CCleaner. This program is very powerful, but unless you are confident that you know what data is expendable, I only recommend it to technically strong users.

Disk cleanup should be performed weekly, and always before defragging or scanning for malware unless you believe there is active malware on your system. In that case, scan first to prevent any delay in removing malware from your system.


Defragmenting is the process of reconnecting pieces of files (fragments) that have become physically separated by Windows during normal read-write operations. Although files are fragmented, Windows knows how to find all the fragments and reconnected them when a file is accessed. The problem with fragmented files, is that it takes more disk read/write operations (e.g. time) to access the fragmented files. Once a file is defragmented or reassembled into one contiguous file, it can be accessed in a minimum of disk operations. This speeds up the operation of your machine significantly.

Windows provides the Disk Defragmenter in the Accessories Folder, but there are a couple of free products that can perform the same task faster, and in many cases, more efficiently. Smart Defrag from IoBit and Auslogics Disk Defrag both do an excellent job of very fast defragmentation and provide the ability to defrag in the background when the computer is idle.

Defragmentation should be performed weekly to keep your machine running quickly and efficiently. Smart Defrag provides a Deep Defragmentation option that should be run monthly. This option attempts to move the files to the “top” of the disk and free up more contiguous empty space to slow down Window’s tendency to fragment files.


Do not confuse malware scanning with the scan that your anti-virus program performs. Less than one percent of the “bad” software on the internet is truly considered viral. The vast majority is classified as malware, a catch-all term to describe spyware, adware, trojans, and yes, viruses. Malware exists to attempt to sell a product, steal personal information, damage data, or just to annoy the user. Most virus scanners are geared to find viruses, and may not find all of the different types of malware.

There are many excellent malware scanners available, but my two favorites are Malwarebytes and SuperAntiSpyware. Both of these programs are available for free, and should be installed and updated right after you finish reading this post. Many malware infections prevent the download or installation of anti-malware programs once your machine is infected. If you already have the anti-malware programs installed and updated, there is a good chance that you can run them and clean the machine before the infection requires a professional’s attention.

You should perform a quick scan weekly, and a full scan monthly, if you are not having any symptoms of a problem. If there is anything suspicious happening on your machine, close all programs immediately and run a full scan with one or both of these scanners. If you have working internet connectivity, be sure to always update the scan definitions with the “Check for Updates” button on the program first. This assures that the program has access to all the latest varieties and variations of malware before the scan.

I hope this post has given you some food for thought (and action). Performing regular maintenance on your system will help keep it in peak performance condition. If you have questions about the information presented here, post your questions here and I will be glad to address them in future posts as time permits.

Note: Microsoft provides recommendations and information on using Windows built-in software for scheduled maintenance here: Microsoft&#39s Scheduled Maintenance web page.

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Cleaning your computer and accessories

As I stressed in my last post, dust (and pet hair) are problems that need to be addressed. Since almost all computers have fans which draw in room air and circulate it over the computer components to cool them, these same fans suck in all the loose pet hair and dust into your machine. It is good computer hygiene to periodically remove this material from your fans, vents, and heat sinks in the computer.

If you have a vacuum with a hose (and brush attachment), the first thing to do is vacuum the front, back and sides of the machine, clearing as much accumulated dust as possible. Before you ask, no, it is not the same to use a can of compressed air to blow out the fans and vents. This simply forces the detritus into the computer! Next, if you feel comfortable opening the case, you should use the hose with a crevice tool to remove as much caked on and loose dust as you can without pressing against any fan blades or heat sinks.

After the majority has been removed you can use a jet of compressed air to clean out the fans and heat sinks. It is advisable to gently hold the fan blades while blowing them out rather than spinning them at excessive speeds with the compressed air. Any clumps of dust loosed by the compressed air can be vacuumed out now. Reassemble the case cover.

For monitor cleaning, you should always follow the manufacturers recommendations and use the recommended cleaning method. If there is excessive dust on the screen, loosen it with compressed air or GENTLY wipe with a damp cloth before final cleaning. For many years, I have simply used a good streak-free glass cleaner (like regular Windex) on a lint-free cloth (like a diaper) or a good paper towel (DO NOT SPRAY ANYTHING DIRECTLY ON THE MONITOR!)

Desktop keyboard keys can be cleaned the same way as the screen, and if there is stuff (technical term) inside the keyboard like crumbs, the keyboard can be turned upside-down and shaken or gently blown with compressed air. Do NOT use compressed air on laptop keyboards because you can dislodge the keys and on most keyboards, this is irreversible. They just don’t go back on.

Next time we will look at scheduled maintenance to keep your machine in top running condition.

Physical Environment

Believe it or not, where you keep your PC can affect its lifespan. If you keep your PC inside a closed cabinet the lack of ventilation allows more heat to build up than the fan(s) can disperse. This can damage vital components from the processor to the motherboard. Be sure to prove proper ventilation. Do not block any of the vents. Air needs to be able to reach all sides and the top. Additionally, if the machine is placed too close to the wall behind it, hot air from the exhaust may not have any place to go.

With good ventilation, comes another problem: Dust! All homes and offices have dust. It is inevitable, but you can do your part to see it does not clog vital components or block vents. The first thing you can do is raise the CPU 6 to 10 inches above the floor. As people (and animals) move through the room, dust and hair from the floor or carpet is constantly stirred up. The additional elevation keeps the CPU above most of the particles.

Another environment issue to consider is power. Unless your office has filtered uninterruptable power available at the wall receptacle, you should purchase an Uninterruptable Power Supply (UPS). These devices provide always on, filtered power to your PC and monitor and will keep them running long enough for a graceful shutdown in the case of a full power outage. Most modern UPS devices have the ability to tell the PC (via USB cable and software) that the power has failed and the PC should automatically shut down to prevent data loss or damage to the OS. A UPS is rated in watts and should provide enough power to run your critical components for 15 to 20 minutes. Most home users will find that a 550 to 750 watt device should suffice. Check the rated power draw of your PC’s power supply from the back panel of the supply and the power usage of your monitor. You need enough power to supply at least these two devices and your DSL or cable modem if they do not have built-in battery backup.

In the next installment, I will address care of your computer case, monitor, and accessories.

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