Spring-cleaning: My Laptop


Image by sxc.hu user tryout0

Image by sxc.hu user tryout0

It’s a lovely spring-like day here in Bristol today, which has inspired me to do some cleaning. But I’m not cleaning my apartment (which is spotless, of course); I’m tidying my laptop, getting it into tip-top shape so that it keeps running as smoothly as possible. As a web worker, having a machine that’s running optimally is critical.

My laptop is a Dell XPS M1210, a traveler-friendly, highly portable old warhorse that’s getting long in the tooth (the model has been superseded by the Dell XPS M1330). As it’s getting a little old, some maintenance every now and again helps to make sure that it’s not getting bogged down with accumulated junk.

The procedure I describe in this post is straightforward and specifically for my Windows XP machine, but you could adapt it for any platform. Note that some of these processes can take a considerable amount of time, and you should make a backup before starting.

1. Remove any applications that are no longer required.

As I play with a lot of software, I do have a tendency to install apps and never use them again. This is bad because they not only take up space, but some of them have components that launch automatically, using up valuable memory and increasing boot-up time.

Even if you have a brand-new computer, it’s worth having a look to see what’s installed on your machine, as quite often vendors will “helpfully” install a bunch of useless software on your machine when they load the OS (I’m looking at you, Dell).

2. Tidy up documents and desktop.

Though I have a filing system, sometimes, if I’m in a hurry, I’ll file documents in the wrong place. So I go through everything, moving files into the right folders and deleting those that are no longer required. I also file or delete any documents that have been left on the desktop, and delete any desktop shortcuts that are no longer needed. I also use this opportunity to archive any old projects that I don’t need any more, freeing up more space.

3. Empty the trash.

It’s amazing how much space can be wasted by not emptying the trash. I always have a peek to make sure there’s nothing important in there before emptying it, though!

4. Run Disk Cleanup.

Windows Disk Cleanup (available under System Tools) is useful for freeing up space on your hard drive. It reclaims space by deleting unneeded files, like temporary Internet files, and compressing older ones.

5. Tidy up registry and startup programs.

Over time the Windows registry tends to accumulate a lot of entries that aren’t in use (a problem probably exacerbated by my tendency to play with a lot of software) and needs to be tidied. You could do this manually but it’s much easier to use a free app like the excellent Glary Utilities , which can automatically fix most problems. Back up the registry before making any changes. I also use Glary Utilities to check which programs run automatically on startup, and disable those that I don’t need.

6. Run full anti-virus and anti-spyware scans.

You can never be too careful. I use AVG Anti-virus and Malwarebytes’ excellent Anti-Malware on my machine. Both are free of charge for personal use. Make sure to update both before running the scans.

7. Defragment the hard disk.

Now that the machine is in a reasonably clean state, the next step is to defragment the hard disk. Windows Disk Defragmenter is available under System Tools. A fragmented disk can really slow a machine down so it’s important to run a defrag every now and again.

8. Clean screen, keyboard and trackpad.

As the defrag might take some time, I use the opportunity to clean my monitors (TheAppleBlog has a great post on monitor cleaning), get rid of any crumbs from my keyboard and clean the trackpad and mouse. Apparently, the average keyboard has more germs on it than a toilet seat, so it’s worth cleaning it every once in a while.

How do you keep your computer running as fast and as free of junk as possible? Share your tips in the comments.



If you are not cool enough for a Mac,you can use linux and all you have to really worry about it the physical cleaning.

The Ubuntu beta for the upcoming release of version 9.4 is just wonderful.

Simon Mackie

@Mike, yes, but I don’t have one. Don’t rub it in ;-)

@Chris I’ll make sure to do this next time. It’s not been a problem for me before, though.


it’s a really good idea to run diskcheck before defragging; otherwise you may write data to a bad section of the drive during the defrag. note that this will occur on next boot & could be time-consuming.


Simon Mackie

@Dan yes, you should only compress old files if you need the space.

@Billw that’s a good point. No-one should assume their machine is safe just because they don’t run Windows. Thanks for the defraggler suggestion, I will try it.

Stefan / intuitiv


CCleaner and revoUninstaller (both available as portable apps) are great stuff for cleaning up Windows. But having a very small notebook for 2 years now and having done the cleaning every 2 or 3 months I have now switched to XUbuntu – great stuff, lightweight, easy to install and delivered with all stuff for the daily work.

cheers, Stefan


Editorial comment: Linux isn’t immune at all to viruses or malware; that’s why there are Linux firewalls beyond iptables. Just like Macs, there is plenty of stuff out there affecting non-Windows machines. If you’re not an infosec pro, you may not be aware of how wide the threat horizon and risk vectors actually are. For most folks, Ubuntu Linux is excellent and you can try it from the live CD or use the Wubi installer to run it istalled as an application under XP/Vista.

For disk defragging on Windows machines, I like ‘Defraggler’ from Piriform Software (http://www.defraggler.com/). defraggler lets you choose which files to defrag, e.g., swap file only, most frequently used, largest, etc., which the Windows defrag utility doesn’t.

I also use an alcohol wipe pad on my keyboard keys and mouse from time to time. Don’t use it on any monitor though!


I don’t think doing the compress part of the disk cleanup is a good idea. It now takes up less space sure but when those files are accessed it has to uncompress them again.

Simon Mackie

@Mikey when I finally decide to retire this machine from active duty, I’ll install Linux. Till then I need a Windows machine.


I took mine one further: I did a full format on the C: drive and I am currently in the process of reinstalling everything. My only issue so far is that whereas Mozy recognized the 4.5GB of data I had on my C: drive, realized that it was there before the format, and decided it did not need to back it up again, it is currently backing up (again) the 11 GB of music I have on my D: drive, which was not modified in any way in the process.

Incidentally, I am also using an XPS M1210 and I gotta say I love it!


Use Linux and you don’t have to worry about viruses, malware, registry crap and defragging.

Much easier, much cleaner and free.

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