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Saturday, 31 March 2012

How to Speed Up, Clean Up, and Revive Your Windows PC

Flowers are blooming and birds are chirping, which means it's time to start your yearly spring cleaning extravaganza. While you're emptying your closets, decluttering, and getting rid of the bloat in your life, why not do the same for your computer? Here are some simple, easy to follow tips to give your trusted Windows PC a little spring cleaning of its own.

Clean Up Your Hardware

We'll start with the outside of your machine, since you probably have all those cleaning products out for your household cleaning anyway (right? right?). Turn it off, unplug everything, and find an open area where you can easily reach everything. Whether you have a laptop or a desktop, your main priority is probably going to be the keyboard and mouse or trackpad. Luckily, you canclean them pretty easily with just a few household objects. If they're looking a little greasy, you can always clean them up with a Mr. Clean magic eraser, too.
You'll also want to get inside your computer's case and clean any dust out of the fans to keep everything running cool and quiet. We've shown you how to do this on a desktop before, and all you need is a little compressed air to do a pretty thorough job. Laptops, unfortunately, usually require a lot more work. You'll have to refer to your computer's instruction manual for more information on how to take it apart.

Tame Your Cable Clutter

As you head back to your desk to replace your newly-cleaned computer, take some time to organize your cables first. We've shared a number of ways to do this, fromsimple cable shortening techniques to full workspace solutions. I can personally vouch for both the rain gutter method and theIKEA Signum cable manager, though you can experiment with your workspace to see what works best. If you're using a laptop,slapping a couple binder clips on your desk is just about the greatest way to save them from falling on the floor whenever you go mobile, too.

Get Up to Date

Alright, so you've plugged your machine back in at your pristine workspace, and now it's time to get down to the good stuff: software. Before you do anything else, head to Windows Update and make sure all your software is up to date—drivers, service packs, security updates, and so on. Unlike our Mac guide, I don't recommend you upgrade to Windows 7 if you aren't already on it. WithWindows 8 on its way for an October release, upgrading to Windows 7 now just seems like a waste of money. If you're on 7, great—you're running the best version of Windows yet—but if you're on XP or Vista, hold off for just a few months. Even though Windows 8's metro interface isn't that great, it contains a number of other improvements (like speed increases) that are worth waiting for.

Uninstall Unnecessary Apps

If you've followed our advice about being conservative with the apps you install, you shouldn't have too many unnecessary ones floating around—but no matter how careful you are, it's bound to happen. Skip Windows' built-in Add/Remove Programs dialog anduse something like Revo Uninstaller for quicker, more thorough uninstallations. This is also a great time to de-crapify your printer or scanner setup, as it undoubtedly contributes a few unnecessary apps to your hard drive.
You might also want to take a look at your startup items in msconfig and uncheck options you don't need. This'll decrease your computer's boot time significantly, not to mention free up a few resources. If you're having trouble deciding what to disable, we highly recommend checking outpreviously mentioned Soluto, which will help guide you through the process.

Reclaim Hard Drive Space

How to Speed Up, Clean Up, and Revive Your Windows PCIf you're starting to run out of space on your drive, it's time to take a really good look at what might be causing it. That means ditching Windows' built-in Disk Cleanup app (which is fine, but probably won't net you a ton of space savings) and check out something like WinDirStat or Disk Space Fan. They'll show you exactly what's taking up so much space on your machine, organized by folder, file type, and more. Armed with that information, you can start deleting stuff you don't need and getting some of that disk space back. For more information, check out our feature on how to analyze, clean out, and free space on your hard drive.

Do Some Maintenance and Optimize Your System

Now it's time to really dig in and start cleaning up the cruft that can slow down your machine. If you don't already have the fantastic CCleaner maintenance tool, download it now and run through its cleaning process. This should clean up some of those extra caches, temporary files, log files, and other things strewn about your system. While you're at it, set it to run on a schedule so you don't have to worry about it ever again.
Apart from that, the only maintenance you need to do (besides the other things mentioned in this post) is keep your antivirus program turned on and up to date. We recommend Microsoft Security Essentials: It's good at killing viruses, and dead simple to use. Most users shouldn't have to do much more than this—Windows 7 users don't need to defragment, clean their registry, mess with Windows prefetching, or do anything else you've been told to do over the years. Check out our guide to Windows maintenance for more info.

Back Up Your Refreshed PC

Lastly, it's time to back up your newly cleaned PC. Hopefully, you had a backup system in place before this whole thing, but if not, we recommend setting up a bulletproof, offsite backup system with CrashPlan. Once you set it up, you never really have to think about it again. Alternatively, you can always just back up to an external drive using the built-in Windows Backup—I personally use this toback up to my NAS—but we'd still recommend backing up your super important files to something like Dropbox, since this won't protect you from things like fires, earthquakes, drive failures, or anything else that could destroy your backup.

Alternative: Do a Clean Install

It's worth mentioning, since it's such a popular option, that some people just prefer to reinstall Windows every once in a while to keep everything running smoothly. This is totally fine—I do it myself, in fact, just because I'm a bit OCD that way—but youreally don't have to. As long as you take care of your computer, it should run just as quickly, smoothly, and cleanly as a freshly minted installation.
If you do want to do a clean install, then I highly recommend checking out how to customize your Windows installation with RT Se7en Lite and create the OS of your dreams. You can remove unnecessary Windows components, add Service Pack 1 to your installer, and even automatically install all your favorite apps in one fell swoop (though you could always use something like Ninite, too). As you go through the process, be sure to check out our Lifehacker Pack for Windows to make sure you get all the essential apps installed on your new machine.

That's all there is to it. Windows doesn't need quite as much maintenance as it did in the old days, but there will always be a few things you can do from time to time to keep it clean and fast. Have any spring cleaning tips we left out? Share them with us in the comments.
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If you are daring, you can install the Windows 8 Consumer Preview. I did it this weekend, and its a bit faster than windows 7. Unfortunately learning the new interface is frustrating, but so far its been worth it.
Edited by parabellum2000 at 03/28/12 1:29 PM
promoted by Whitson Gordon

AND, you'll be forced to do another clean install once the Consumer Preview expires. which is a bummer.

Learn the new Windows-Key short-cuts to help eliminate some of the frustration... and when you mouse down to the lower left corner, right-click to find some of your missing "Start Menu" links (like, easily get to control panel). There are TONS of cool short-cuts, but the problem with Windows 8 in general, is that they aren't very "discoverable".... you have to read about them or be told about them to know.

Or dual boot like a sane person. I'm not giving up my tried and true OS for a consumer preview. Windows 8 has turned out the be pretty stable, but that's not always the case.

Everything essential is backed up. It only takes about 5min to restore windows image to an SSD :)

I'm trying. You hit the nail on the head, if windows ever expects this to replace 7, every major feature should be intuitive. No one should need to hunt to shut down their computer. The app store should have a obvious search feature.
Its been dead stable and fast for me. Occasionally I see a lag opening a program that would have been instant on Windows 7.
I can't wait to see how 8 progresses.

I need an SSD so badly...

It is hard to get used to the universal charms... the search function there seraches whatever application you're in. Charms are like "the universal menu bar", whereas the right-click (touch: drag in from top or bottom edge) brings up app-specific menu options.
And people used to complain about "shutdown" being under "start"... now that it's under settings, people wish it were under "Start"! People will get used to it. Just remember that for most new Win8 tablets, shutdown will be a hard-button, just like on phones and iPads... same with "home" (or "start"). So a lot of these problems that appear on existing desktops simply won't exist on new Win8-optimized hardware.

The Dev Preview was amazing, and everything I needed to work, worked. Flawlessly.

Except... That Win8 is a desktop operating system as well as a tablet operating system. So a LARGE proportion of devices using it will not have that hard button for shutdown. But that's neither here nor there. :)

Yeah, but it's still there in settings, power options. It's, like, ONE additional click over Start-Shutdown. It's SO not a big deal to me. And it's JUST as "intuitive"... in both cases, you have to be TOLD where to look.

Oh, absolutely, I completely agree. I shut down my windows PC maybe once every 2 weeks, if that, so I don't really care WHERE they put it as long as it's not buried 15 menus deep. But saying that there's a hardware button on tablets isn't really an answer to people who are complaining about it in general :


  1. Thank you so much for this great and detailed article about how to take care of our devices.
    There are lots of good maintenance programs, but it can happen to have problems with them... there are so many bad viruses which can cause us really annoying problems.
    Personally, I asked specialized help from IT company Toronto .... it's working very slow, because of the memory.

    1. Thanks if assisted in anyway may happiness follow you.


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