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Dell XPS M1210, a traveler-friendly, highly portable old warhorse that’s getting long in the tooth (the model has been superseded by the Dell XPS M1330).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.

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