February 8th is Clean Out Your Computer Day, an event which aims to raise awareness of the need to maintain your computer to get the most out of it. While the day is largely aimed at physically cleaning it, digging out the dust bunnies and wiping down the mouse and keyboard, it’s also important to consider the health of your software. A computer that’s crammed full of junk files and unneeded applications isn’t going to run at its best no matter how squeaky clean the case might be. Matt Powell from Broadband Genie came to tell us how best the inside of your computer can match the shiny exterior.
Delete the junk
Every computer that’s been used for any length of time will have a collection of useless files cluttering up the hard disk, whether it’s stuff you’ve put on there or data that’s been left behind by the operating system or old applications. These can take up a surprisingly large amount of space so clearing out them can recoup lots of useful storage.
First stop is emptying the Recycling Bin, or Trash if you’re using Apple Mac OS. This is where deleted files go, and if it’s not been emptied for a while there could be many gigabytes of data.
Other common culprits are personal folders where you may keep pictures, video and music. Video in particular can take a huge amount of space. Remove any old files you no longer need. If it’s stuff you still want but you desperately need the hard drive space, consider investing in an external hard drive or a cloud storage service.
Empty out your web browser download folder too. These can easily accumulate a collection of unneeded digital detritus. Same goes for email, if you use a local email client and it downloads every message.
Uninstall any applications which are no longer in use. Pay particular attention to software that starts when your computer boots as this can be a major cause of performance loss.
On Windows you can view and control startup applications using either the Task Manager in Windows 10 or the msconfig tool in older versions of Windows (access this by hitting Win+R and typing msconfig). For Apple Mac, head to System Preferences > Users & Groups and click Login Items.
You need to take care not to disable essential applications, but if you see anything that’s running at boot that isn’t needed, disable or uninstall it. If you want to keep on using the software but don’t want it running automatically it’s best to check within the software’s own preferences first to see if it has a ‘start on boot’ option which can be switched off.
Do you need to defrag?
Defragmenting is the process of reorganising a storage drive so the files are in a more logical order, making it easier for the drive to find what you’re looking for. Years ago this could be a problem as drives which weren’t defragged regularly could run significantly slower, but it’s far less of an issue now.
For one thing, operating systems are better at automatic maintenance so it’s unusual for the user to have to manually defrag a drive. You can use a disk utility (either built in or third party) to analyse the drive and check, but most likely Windows or Mac OS are doing just fine by themselves.
It also unnecessary if you have a modern Solid State Drive (SSD). These do not rely on physically reading magnetic storage like a Hard Disk Drive (HDD) and can access all data at the same speed. In fact, defragging an SSD is not recommended because it can theoretically shorten the life of the drive.
There is an extreme step you can take to freshen up your computer: wipe the hard drive and start again. This can make it feel like a new computer, particularly if you do it at the same time as some minor upgrades like a new operating system or SSD.
But you will need to make sure you have a backup of all important data, so use either a secondary internal hard drive or an external disk to save copies of your files. If they’re really important you should also have a backup in case anything goes wrong. It’s not a bad idea to make a clone of the functional drive either, so if you run into any problems the entire system can be restored to its previous state.
It’s also important to check you have a copy of the operating system. Many computers will have a recovery partition on the hard drive which contains a fresh install of the OS. Check the manual to see how to access it. If you’ve got an OS installation disc this will need to be used to boot the computer and run the setup of the operating system from scratch.
There’s loads of software out there for keeping your PC fresh and safeguarding files. Here’s a few of the best.
Help prevent clutter before it starts with WinPatrol, which will warn if it detects a change to your system such as a new startup application or file association change.
SpaceSniffer (Windows) or Daisy Disk (Mac OS)
Running out of space and not sure where it’s going? These applications analyse a hard drive and provide a graphical overview of files and folders, making it easy to see what’s taking the most space.
This utility scans your drive looking for common junk data, which can then be cleared with a single click. This is so easy and quick it’s worth having to hand all the time just to give your drive a quick cleanup on a regular basis.
EaseUS ToDo Backup Free (Windows)
An easy to use backup and cloning tool which can create a copy of an entire hard drive for recovery later on. Really handy when you’re either wiping or installing a new drive.
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