It’s that time of year again: when you put away your winter clothes, realize you haven’t gone to the gym nearly enough to be ready for swimsuit season — and clean out your computer? Yes, that’s right, now’s the perfect time of year to get your system up and running at its fastest and most efficient again. Here’s how.
Backup files. You’ve got a lot of important files stored on your system and if it crashed you could lose a lot of data. Back those files up to an external hard drive (or two), and make sure those backup drives are stored in secure locations — and even separate locations like your office or parents’ home.
Clean the system’s registry. Your system picks up a lot of temporary files over the course of its life — particularly through Internet surfing — and you’ll speed it up by deleting them. There are several tools you can use to clear out old registry entries (in PCs) and empty recycle bins and that can delete temporary Internet files, cookies, and browsing histories. CCleaner is a popular free tool that can do this, but robust security platforms like Kaspersky’s PURE 3.0 contain PC cleanup tools that will do the same thing and are just one part of a comprehensive suite of tools that will keep your system safe going forward.
Defragment your hard drive. This is a utility on Windows systems that will increase the speed and efficiency of your system. In Windows 8 you’ll find this by searching ‘defrag’ under Files, on older Windows systems go to ‘Program Files,’ ‘Accessories,’ then select ‘System Tools.’ Running the Disk Defragmenter takes a while and your system will be unavailable for use while this is happening, so its best to run this if you’re going out for a while or when you go to sleep. The iOS equivalent of defragging the hard drive is to run the system’s built-in Disk Utility app.
Remove programs you don’t use. It’s likely that the longer you’ve had your system, the more programs will be on it that you don’t use. But those programs still take up disc space and slow your overall system down (especially if they run in the background or while your system boots up). So now’s the time to assess which programs you use and need, and which ones you don’t.
In Windows, go to the Control Panel, then select ‘Add/Remove Programs.’ Peruse through this list — select programs you haven’t used in a year or more for removal. On Macs you can open LaunchPad, then drag and drop the icons of your unused and underused programs into the trash.
Change your passwords. This is an important step to make on a regular basis, and as long as you’re bringing the rest of your system up to date you should do this too. Remember to make them long — 18 characters is a good target to shoot for — and complicated. Don’t use any word found in the dictionary or any names. Mix up letters, numerals and non-alphanumeric symbols. That can be a lot to remember, so you might want to use a password manager to help you.
Install program updates. Make sure your operating system and all software programs are updated to the latest versions available, as these updates include the latest security patches. Older versions are more at risk of being exploited by attackers who have found weaknesses in these outdated programs. On Windows systems, navigate to ‘Go to Start,’ then ‘Control Panel,’ ‘All Programs,’ and ‘Windows Update.’ Here you’ll see what updates are needed. It will tell you what updates need to be installed on your computer. Make sure you click the “Check for updates” link to see if the computer is up to date. On iOS systems, click on the app store, then the ‘Updates’ icon at the top of the window.
Boost your security. Download the latest version of a potent security suite like PURE 3.0, then run a deep and full system scan to remove any harmful files. Just to be safe, scan any external backup drives too.
Actually clean it. Your system gets dirty over time from the oils on your fingers, crumbs, dust and so on. Wipe off your monitor with a damp cloth, shake out and/or spray your keyboard out with compressed air, and scrub the keyboard with a damp, mildly soapy solution.