Five Essential PC Performance Tasks

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How to Set Up Your New Windows Computer

A brand-new Windows PC, fully updated and unsullied by crapware, is a wonderful thing. Sadly, very few people ever get to experience it—but you can!

Over time, you’ll inevitably notice your Windows PC getting slower and slower. While a professional performance tuneup might be in order every couple of years, there are lots of things you can do to get better daily performance from your PC and, quite possibly, extend its useful life. Here are five regular maintenance tasks every Windows PC user should perform periodically.

Defrag your disks

Why: Reducing the number of fragments your system files are scattered across on your hard drive makes your hard drive have to do less work to retrieve them.

When: At least quarterly, if not monthly. This task is best run overnight after all other programs can be shut down.

How: Shut down all other applications (including, if possible, anything running in the System Tray in the lower right-hand corner). In Windows XP and 7, click the Start button and, under All Programs, go to Accessories | System Tools and choose Disk Defragmenter. The first time you run this may take several hours (hence the overnight suggestion above); this task becomes both hassle-free and more effective if you run it on an automatic schedule. Just be sure you leave your PC on the night it’s scheduled.

Disk Cleanup

Why: The fewer of those temporary system files you have hanging around on your system, the less Windows has to deal with.

When: At least as often as defrag, and preferably just before each defrag.

How: In Windows XP and 7, click the Start button and, under All Programs, go to Accessories | System Tools and choose Disk Cleanup. Windows will show you some suggested areas in which temporary files can be cleared out. You’ll be surprised at how much disk space can be recovered.

Run malware scans

Why: All that Internet browsing you’re doing is picking up heaven only knows what (cookies and worse). While not all of it is truly malicious, none of it is doing you any favors performance-wise and, left unchecked, could even cost you a day or more of downtime (and that’s if you’re lucky).

When: Antivirus scans should be scheduled at least once per week, and the virus profiles should be updated automatically every few hours. Anti-spyware scans should be done at least monthly.

How: The steps depend upon the specific antivirus software you use. Some antivirus programs are free; most charge a modest annual fee to cover their cost of continually scanning for new threats and updating the software’s databases. Many of the Internet’s highest rated anti-spyware tools are free.

Reboot

Why: Windows performs important tasks during shutdown. At the very least, you’ll benefit from better memory usage on a fresh boot.

When: If you’re not rebooting every night, then for heaven’s sake do it at least once a week.

How: I’m assuming everyone knows how to turn their PC on and off. However, do note that Shut Down can sometimes be more beneficial than simply using Restart to reboot.

Limit startup programs

Why: Anything that loads at Windows startup is taking up memory and processor time all day long. If you don’t need it first thing every morning, take it out of Startup.

When: It’s probably good to review this twice a year.

How: Hit your Windows Start button and take a look at what’s under All Programs | Startup. If there’s anything there you really don’t need, right-click on the program name and, from that right-click menu, choose Delete. You won’t be losing the program itself, just stopping it from loading right at startup.

Get more memory (or even an updated processor)

Why: Software is becoming ever more memory intensive, and anything involving audio or video is usually a memory hog. Maxing out the memory in your PC could delay your computer’s replacement by a year or more.

When: Preferably right after a full system backup. (You are backing up your hard drive regularly, aren’t you?)

How: Although installing memory is not a difficult task, it can be a bit tricky and requires some care to avoid accidentally zapping your system with static electricity. This may be a task best left to a professional. While you’re at it, you might ask your designated geek whether your motherboard could take an updated processor as well. (And here’s a tip for your next computer: when you have your next PC custom-built, make sure they leave a little room for these kinds of upgrades. You might not be able to afford the latest and greatest processor or the full complement of memory now, but if you can get the next one down and your motherboard is configured to accommodate upgrades later, you may save some money down the road by not having to buy a whole new PC so soon.)

Sure, you could do lots of other performance-enhancing stuff like installing a solid-state hard drive, but the above are what I consider the low-cost basics (and arguably the stuff you should be doing even before you start experiencing performance problems). What’s worked for you?

Featured image: “angry businesswoman looking at negative statistic” from Shutterstock.

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  • Dan Sherman

    A few thoughts.
    Defrag – less important if you have an SSD, and possibly harmful if done wrong. Try MyDefrag. It has daily/weekly/monthly routines and it’s free!

    Disk Cleanup – CCleaner is a great tool that goes beyond the basic windows utility. Again, free.

  • Deb, thanks for this – I realize it may be basic for some people, but I had been getting some warnings from pc that C Drive was low on memory. I did the disc cleanup – it took a while but it definitely cleared up space.