With so many tech devices in our lives these days, it's important to stay on top of maintenance that needs to be done periodically on your Windows computer and other devices to keep things running smoothly. Here's a look at some tasks that are often put on the back burner, but should really be carried out regularly.
Update your Wi-Fi router
If you're experiencing slow Wi-Fi speeds, spotty connections, or trouble with technologies like AirPlay, updating the firmware on your router can help. Router manufacturers update firmware on a regular basis to fix issues and improve performance.
Usually you'll need to connect to the router via a browser from a computer on your network and download the the latest firmware version from the manufacturer's website.
The process for updating a router's firmware is generally pretty simple but varies between brands, so it's best to check the user manual or online documentation.
Keep Your operating system and other software updated
While Windows defaults to downloading and installing updates without you having to think about it, the programs and apps on your computer and other devices needs to be updated as well. It's a good idea to manually check for Windows or OS X updates too.
Sometimes security patches come "out of cycle," meaning if the vulnerability is serious, Apple or Microsoft will release a patch for it as quickly as possible. Windows update will also check for new drivers for your PC's hardware i.e., graphics cards or display drivers, chipsets, network cards.
If you have the latest version of Android, iOS, or Windows Phone, it should be set to automatically update the apps by default and notify you when OS updates are available. However, that's not always the case with your PC's software. A great utility that will check to make sure all of your apps and other programs are updated on Windows is Secunia PSI. It's free for personal use and will scan the programs on your computer for updates and automatically install the latest ones for you. There's also a version for Android.
Clean up disk space
Over time, there ends up being a bunch of old files that you no longer need. Windows has had the Disk Cleanup utility for years, although it's often overlooked.
To run it, right-click on Computer ("This PC" in Windows 8.1) and select Properties. Then click the Disk Cleanup button and wait while the utility scans your drive for temp files that are no longer needed. After the scan is complete, you'll see how much space you can save. Not all of the items it finds will be checked, but you should go ahead and verify what they are, and then check them on the list. Doing that can usually save you even more space, sometimes gigabytes of it. Click OK and the files will be permanently deleted.
To find out which types of files are taking up your disk space, check out the free utility WinDirStat. This gives you a nice graphical view of which file types are taking up drive space. Of course, the largest files are typically video and other media files, but once you get an idea of what's taking up the most space, you can delete the files or transfer them to an external or network drive.
Backup data regularly
Backing up your data regularly is one of the most important tasks to do, but remains one that many users rarely do. That is, until they lose a file or precious photo or video, at which point it's too late.
I recommend taking a three step approach to backing things up; by having a local backup of your important files on an external drive; a backup of your most important files to a cloud service like OneDrive or Dropbox; and a full system off-site backup using a service like Crashplan or Backblaze.
Most of the popular off-site backup services will work on Windows and Mac, are easy to use, and back up your data in real-time.
Uninstall old unused programs
When you uninstall programs via Windows' Programs and Features, it doesn't do the greatest job of completely removing everything, leaving a lot of leftover junk that just takes up space. Revo Uninstaller is a great tool for uninstalling programs completely by getting rid of the leftover temp files and registry entries. There is a freeware version that should be enough for the average home user, and a pro version (US$39.25) for office and power users.
Keep your drive and Windows file system healthy
If you've had a PC for several years, it's always a good idea to give your hard disk a periodic checkup. Windows has a utility you can run from the command line or the user interface that checks the disk for errors and attempts to repair them. The error checking feature has been around since Windows XP and has been available in each version of Windows since, including Windows 8.1.
This tool will inspect all of the important system files on your computer, including Windows DLL files. If it finds an issue with any of the protected OS files, it will replace them.
To run it, launch the Command Prompt as administrator and type: sfc /scannow then hit Enter. A system scan will begin and give you a report of what actions were taken. Do keep in mind it will take a while to run, the time it takes will vary depending on the size of your drive and your computer's hardware.
To make sure your hard drive is healthy, run a disk error check via the user interface. To do this you'll need to open Computer ("This PC" in Windows 8.1), right-click your local drive (typically C:) and select Properties. Click the Tools tab, and under the Error Checking section, click the Check button.
Along with checking your local disk for errors, you'll want to make sure to optimize it. After months of use, the files on the hard disk get scattered around the drive, making it more difficult for Windows to find the files so that pulling up documents and loading programs takes longer. Optimizing or defragging a hard drive will take all of your files and make sure they're in contiguous order on each sector of the drive, which in the end, means faster loading times. On Windows 7 and higher, Disk Defrag is set to run weekly by default, but you can change it to monthly or run it manually.
However, you don't want to run Disk Defrag on a Solid State Drive (SSD). There are ways to optimize the SSD with utilities developed by the SSD's manufacturer. For example, in the image below, I'm using the Samsung Magician utility which provides a straight-forward interface for making sure the SSD is optimized for best performance.
Clean up your equipment
If you have a desktop computer, it ends up collecting a lot of dust internally, so it's a good idea to blow it out with a gas duster, commonly known as canned or compressed air. This will help make sure all of the connections aren't compromised and keeps your CPU from overheating. Unplug the power cord before taking off the case cover and clean it up. When blowing it out, make sure not to point the canned air too close at internal parts as it can make some of them come loose.
Blowing out a laptop is more difficult and not for the faint of heart. Most modern laptops aren't meant to come apart easily, but you might be able to take the screws out of the bottom, unplug the power, remove the battery first, and get at the internal parts with canned air. If you're not sure how to take the laptop apart, check the service manual or manufacturer's site for instructions. Also note that cracking open your laptop case can void your warranty. It's unfortunate that laptops are more difficult to clean out, but if you suspect it's overheating and needs a thorough cleaning, take it to a tech professional.
Other simple tech tasks to keep in mind
Following these simple tips can help ensure your devices are running at optimal performance with fairly minimal effort. Keep in mind that you'll need to carry out most of the tips listed above on a regular basis so it's good to get into the habit of performing them.
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