Keep your PC running efficiently with these routine maintenance items.
1. Operating System security updates
Microsoft constantly releases updates for Windows and the Microsoft Office Suite to fix security issues and to improve performance. These updates fall into 3 categories: High Priority, Suggested and Drivers.
At a minimum, you must install the High Priority updates. I can’t stress this enough—ignoring these updates is not wise! High Priority updates include security patches and major bug fixes that are critical to keeping your PC secure and running well. If you have a slow Internet connection and the update file is large, you can order a CD and have Microsoft mail it to you, or leave your computer online all night to download it.
Suggested updates are optional and can improve performance, but are not as critical. Feel free to update these if you’d like. Driver updates can sometimes cause headaches; unless you know you need the update or you’re having trouble with the device the update is for, I wouldn’t install it.
After you have applied any update, always go back to Windows Update to make sure that there isn’t another patch that you need to download. I know it sounds silly, but it’s true—often there are patches for patches, so keep returning to Windows Update until it tells you that you have no High Priority updates left to install.
Save yourself some trouble—Operating System updates can easily be done automatically by having Automatic Updates configured on your computer.
2. Anti-Virus Software
When was the last time you updated your Anti-Virus software? If you can’t remember, then chances are you are out of date.
If you want to keep your computer free from viruses, it’s not enough to simply have an anti-virus program. New computer viruses are created all the time, so it’s important to update your virus definitions regularly and run scheduled scans on your computer. Your anti-virus software company may charge an annual fee to keep your virus definitions current.
Again, you can often set these tasks to run at a time when you are not working on your machine (like in the middle of the night). There are a number of quality programs available, and some are even free.
3. Spyware Prevention Software
Believe it or not, one of the biggest plagues to hit personal computers aren’t viruses, but spyware. There hasn’t been a PC I’ve touched in the past year that wasn’t plagued with some form of spyware. Spyware is a general term for a program that secretly monitors your actions. While they are sometimes malicious, like a remote control program used by a hacker, software companies have also been known to use spyware to gather data about customers.
To get rid of it, download and install software that will remove spyware from your system. There are a number of free quality tools available that aid in removing this unwanted or malicious content. Like anti-virus software, you must keep these programs up to date and run a computer scan regularly. Check to see if your anti-spyware software has options for automatic updates and scans.
4. Disk Cleanup & Defragmentation
These two maintenance items are used together. The Disk Cleanup tool helps you free up space on your hard drive to improve the performance of your computer. The tool identifies files that you can safely delete, such as temporary Internet files and items you’ve placed in the trash, and then lets you choose which files to delete.
Once you’ve removed the temporary and unnecessary files from your computer, you can run the Disk Defragmenter to increase the overall performance of your system. When files are fragmented, the computer must search the hard disk when the file is opened to piece it back together. The response time can be significantly longer. Disk Defragmenter is a Windows utility that consolidates fragmented files and folders on your computer’s hard disk so that each occupies a single space on the disk. With your files stored neatly end-to-end, without fragmentation, reading and writing to the disk speeds up. So, after a disk cleanup has been done, do a defragmentation of your hard drive afterwards.
5. Backup Your Data
After all this hard work of keeping everything up-to-date and secure, it would be a shame if your hard drive failed and you had to start all over. Hardware problems are more common than you think, so having a reliable backup system in place is a must. Should something go wrong, you’ll be thankful for a handy backup.
- How do I make a backup?
If your computer comes with a CD or DVD burner, they can make for a good backup medium. You could also use an external hard drive, or back up your data online if you have a broadband connection.
- What do I back up?
The most important thing to backup is your data—Word files, photos, Excel spreadsheets and the like. You don’t have to backup your entire hard drive, just the items you can’t replace. There’s no need to back up your software since it can be reinstalled using the original CDs or re-downloaded. If you find that your data is scattered in a bunch of directories, look into migrating it over to your “My Documents” folder so that you only have one folder to backup.
- When To Backup
Regardless of how you backup or what you backup, the most important element in having a reliable backup system is that you do it regularly. Depending on how often you use your PC, once a month may be sufficient. If you use it more frequently or rely on it for work, you may want to back up weekly or even daily. In many cases, it’s possible to automate the process so your computer will create your backups without any extra effort on your part.
BONUS TIP: Want more speed?
If you want a faster computer without purchasing a new machine, look into upgrading your machine’s memory. You may be able to double your computer’s speed for less than $100! Read more about making your computer faster by upgrading your RAM →