If Benjamin Franklin had a computer, he’d probably say, “A minute of computer maintenance is worth an hour of computer repair.” It’s true—occasional computer maintenance will save you considerable time and money down the line. We have many computer maintenance tips and even a computer maintenance checklist, however these tips are about entire computer maintenance, not just the internal files system.
Here are the top 10 computer maintenance tasks everyone should perform:
Computer Maintenance Task #1: Scan For Viruses
Your virus scanner tries to catch viruses before they infect your computer, but the people who make anti-virus software can’t detect viruses until the viruses infect somebody’s computer—so even the most secure computer in the world is vulnerable.
The people who make anti-virus software know this, so they give your anti-virus software the ability to scan your disk drive for virus infections. Get in the habit of running a “Full Disk Scan” every month (or more frequently if you use your computer to manage important information or financial accounts).
Also run a full-disk scan if your computer starts acting strangely. Many viruses try to hide themselves in legitimate programs, causing strange behavior. Only a full-disk scan can detect these viruses.
Computer Maintenance Task #2: Clean Your Registry
Programs store important information in the Windows Registry—information like their license key or how many days your free trial has left. But when you remove programs from your computer, this information often gets left behind. That leaves you with a registry full of useless information.
Since almost every program on your computer uses the registry dozens or hundreds of times a day, purging your registry of unneeded information can speed up how fast applications load. It can also help prevent old registry entries from interfering with newer registry entries and the programs that use them.
A quick search on Google for “Registry Cleaner” turns up several registry cleaner programs for every budget. Run one of these programs once a month or once a quarter as part of your regular computer maintenance.
Find registry errors with a free scan from PC Matic
Computer Maintenance Task #3: Create a “Disk Box”
Back when everything—including Windows—came on floppy disks, I created a disk box to store all of my program and driver disks. Keeping everything together saved me from tearing the house apart looking for a lost disk when something went wrong.
Today my “disk box” is really an old CD-R spindle that holds all of my driver and software CD-ROMs. It takes up almost no space, and I haven’t touched the CDs on the bottom of the spindle in years, but I still use it frequently to find some elusive driver or program that can’t be downloaded from the Internet.
If you ever get in trouble on your computer, you don’t want to have to search all over for your old discs. Start keeping a “disk box” today so everything you need is in one place.
Computer Maintenance Task #4: Clear Out Dust
It amazes me how many people who can’t stand three days of dust on their furniture will never even think of clearing out the dust from their computer. With their vents and fans, computers are practically designed to be dust traps—but dust is really bad for computers.
Dust is a highly effective insulator, so it traps heat inside your computer. That heat makes metal and other parts on your computer expand, causing wear and tear on the moving parts—like the tiny ball bearings inside your disk drive. The heat also prevents electrical parts from working the way they were designed.
Cleaning the dust out of your computer is easy, if a bit tedious. Buy a can of compressed air from your local supermarket or office supply store, turn off your computer, open your computer case, cover your eyes and mouth, and spray until all the dust is gone. I suggest you “dust out” your computer once a year, or twice a year if someone in your house smokes.
Computer Maintenance Task #5: Defragment
Imagine you had only five minutes to clean your house before guests arrived. You’d probably do a few quick “hacks” that weren’t really cleaning—like throwing junk into the closet and sweeping dust under the rug. Windows does the same thing every time you save a file—in order to save the file quickly, it doesn’t pay close attention to putting it on the disk drive in a nice, neat way.
That’s why you should defragment your disk drive about once a month. This is one of the easiest computer maintenance tasks on this list: simply start the Defragmentation program from the Windows Control Panel before you go to bed one night and you’ll have a well-ordered disk drive when you wake up the next morning.
Computer Maintenance Task #6: Get S.M.A.R.T.
The Self-Monitoring Analysis and Reporting Technology (S.M.A.R.T.) checks your disk drive for wear and tear so that it can warn you before your disk drive fails. Not only can this tell you when you need to buy a new disk drive, but it can let you know that you need to make a through backup before it’s too late.
There are numerous programs on the Web which will help you read and interpret S.M.A.R.T. data—just search Google for “S.M.A.R.T. drive test”.
Computer Maintenance Task #7: Trash Duplicate Files
I frequently forget to delete photos from my camera before I take new photos, so when I download the new photos to my computer, the camera also creates duplicate copies of the old photos. Other processes on your computer also create duplicate files, and all of these duplicate files waste your disk space.
Removing duplicate files is another easy computer maintenance task. Search Google for software to “remove duplicate files”. Almost all of this software works the same way: it reads every file on your computer and compares a mathematical representation of each file (called a checksum) to every other file on your computer. The process takes time, but it’s highly accurate, and every duplicate file remover will let you choose which files to remove.
There are some programs that will perform computer maintenance, clean your registry, and remove duplicate files.
Find registry errors with a free scan from PC Matic
Computer Maintenance Task #8: Install Upgrades
Most of the fastest-spreading viruses exploit a flaw in a specific program, whether it’s Windows or an application. The programmers who write these programs usually issue a “patch” for these security flaws as soon as they discover them.
Programmers even issue patches for flaws that haven’t been exploited by viruses yet, so installing the latest patches can help protect your computer and your personal data.
How do you install these security patches? Simply install the upgrades for the programs on your computer. Most important are the programs on your computer that access the Internet or that you use to open files from the Internet. For example: Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Adobe Acrobat Reader, Microsoft Office, OpenOffice.org or LibreOffice, and all multi-player games.
Most programs have an option in Tools or Help to check for updates. I suggest you run the “Check For Updates” option once a month or more frequently as part of your regular computer maintenance.
Computer Maintenance Task #9: Remove Startup Programs
Most new computers startup in 20 to 40 seconds. Most computers over a year old can take 2 minutes or more to startup. What changed? It’s the startup programs.
Many programs today install a startup program that will either make it easier to start the main program by putting an icon in your taskbar or will make the main program start faster by “pre-loading” it. Unfortunately, both of these things mean that your computer will boot up much more slowly. For laptops in particular this can be quite annoying.
In less time than it takes for your computer to boot, you can disable these pesky and unnecessary startup programs. See our previous article for instructions on how to disable startup programs.
Computer Maintenance Task #10: Make A Backup
A backup isn’t strictly part of computer maintenance. It won’t help your computer work better or live longer, but it will absolutely help you survive computer failure with the minimum level of stress.
We’ve written about backups extensively before, so I won’t belabor the point. Please make a backup at least once a month—although more frequently is recommended. See our articles about making easy secure backups for great backup options that won’t even prolong your normal computer maintenance.