Podcomplex PC Guide | Computer System Maintenance

introduction Maintaining Your System

Particularly when using the Internet, PC systems tend to accumulate a myriad of tools, utilities and programs (which may be used once and then forgotten about) - as well as the usual complement of spyware, adware, viruses, trojans and so on - all of which can contribute to a significant decay in performance.

To minimise unwanted infections, make sure you have a Firewall and Antivirus software enabled at all times. For more information about virus protection, see the section on Internet Usage and Virus Protection.

This section covers a few things you should do on a regular basis to keep your machine running smoothly.

Windows Updates Check for Windows Updates

Go to Microsoft's Windows Update site to get Windows security updates.

Antivirus Software Update your Antivirus Software/Run a Virus Scan

Visit your antivirus software website to get regular virus protection updates. See the section on Internet Usage and Virus Protection for more details.

Adware scan Run a Spyware/Adware Scan

There are a number of Spyware/Adware/Malware removal products available - here are some you should try:

Ad-Aware CCleaner Spybot Search & Destroy Microsoft Windows Defender

A-Squared Trojan Removal Browser Hijack Prevention

There are a huge number of programs which claim to remove spyware or other rogue items, but which are either poor imitations of decent programs or actually contain spyware/malware themselves. For a guide to suspect programs, check out the 2-spyware website.

Uninstall unused programs Uninstall Unused Programs

Over time, you will inevitably install programs that you try once or twice, but then forget about. You should periodically ensure that nothing is installed on your system that you don't actually need - go to Add/Remove Programs in Control Panel and uninstall anything superfluous.

startup group Clean Out Startup Group

This step should be performed in conjunction with step 4 above. Many programs configure themselves to start automatically when your PC boots up, and will therefore be consuming processing resources in the background even when you are not using them. The icons in the toolbar at the bottom right of your screen indicate programs that are currently running - if you don't know what they are, the chances are you don't need them.

There are a number of ways to clean out your startup group - step 4 will take care of some items straight away. However, to view the Windows startup manager, go to Start>Run, type in 'msconfig' (without quotes) and hit enter. Here you can view and uncheck any startup items you don't need to start automatically with Windows.

There are other, more powerful, tools you can use to sort out your startup programs, such as Autoruns.
To make sure you don't disable any essential Windows components, go to the 'Logon' tab, select 'Options' and click the 'Hide Microsoft Entries' box. You can then go and uncheck any third-party programs, which means they won't start up automatically with Windows.

Defragment hard drives Defragment Hard Drives

As time goes by, the files on your hard drive inevitably become fragmented - that is, different portions of the same file are stored at different locations on your hard disk, rather than in contiguous sectors. This means that your hard disk will have to work harder to stick the file together - moving from one end of the disk to the other - which slows down your access times.

Therefore, you should periodically defragment your drive. You can do this using the Windows defragmenter - right-click on your hard drive, select 'Properties' and go to the 'Tools' tab. Select the defrag tool to clean up your drive. Remember that this may take a while (depending on the size of your drive) and you shouldn't use your PC for anything else whilst the defrag is underway.

Another thing worth trying is PageDefrag which will defragment your pagefile (a file used by Windows as 'virtual memory' - sometimes referred to as a swap file). This pagefile needs to be defragmented separately to the rest of your drive.

Although the built-in defrag is the best free tool for the job, you may want a more advanced defragmentation program such as Diskeeper. You can download a 30-day trial from the website, and it is well worth a look if you are serious about keeping your drive in optimal condition.

Backup Back Up Your System and Important Files

This is something you should do as often as possible. Remember - no matter how careful you are in maintaining your computer, your hard drive could just die at any moment with no warning and all your data would be lost.

That is, unless you have a backup on a separate hard drive, or a separate PC, or, ideally, in a completely different physical location altogether (remote server, data storage unit)!

For most people, having a remote file server dedicated to backing up their vital files is not really a viable option. So, you should at the very least have a second hard drive in your system for backup purposes - you can buy a large external FireWire/USB hard drive and use that if you like.

For creating an image of your system (a complete copy of every bit of data on your hard drive, including the operating system) you will need to use some decent imaging software. The most popular choice here is Norton Ghost.

If you want a simple but effective (and free) backup solution, try Back2zip.

Also, Windows XP Professional has its own built-in backup solution which can be accessed by right-clicking on your hard drive, selecting 'Properties' and then you will find the backup option in the 'Tools' tab.