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"Cyber–Clean" Your PC:

Improve performance by scanning for errors and purging old files

Is your computer opening files at a glacial speed, taking forever to boot, freezing on a daily basis, or flashing "out of memory" error messages?

If any of these problems describe your PC experience, don't assume it's time to buy a new computer. More likely, it's time to perform overdue maintenance. Follow the simple tips below and your computer just might run as though it were new.

Scan the hard drive

Perform: Twice a month if you work full time at your computer. Otherwise, once a month.

Scanning the hard drive corrects minor problems that may be affecting the files and folders stored within it. Here's how to run the scan:

  1. Double–click on the My Computer icon on your PC's desktop.
  2. Right click on the hard drive (usually Drive C:). Scroll down and click on Properties.
  3. Click the Tools tab, just to the right of the General tab in System Properties.
  4. Check box marked Automatically fix errors, then click the Check Now button.
  5. Click Start. Your PC's ScanDisk will check for errors. This may take several seconds or a few minutes.
  6. Follow on–screen instructions to correct any problems. At the end, you'll receive a summary of the detected errors.

Check for viruses

Perform: Once or twice a month.

Poor system performance can be caused by viruses that have penetrated your computer system.

To activate your virus detection software, click Start in the lower left corner of your desktop, scroll up to Programs, then select the virus program (usually Norton or McAfee) that appears in the drop down menu.

Once your antivirus dialogue box opens, select Scan computer and check the box marked "My Computer". If a virus is found, follow the removal instructions. Turn off the PC for at least 30 seconds, then start it up again and scan once more for the virus.

Once scanning is complete, click the Live Update button in the main window of your virus program's dialogue box. You can sign up to have your virus protection software updated whenever you're online.

If your virus protection program is five years old — or doesn't have a live update button in the virus scanning dialogue box that let's you enroll in automatic updates — consider purchasing new antivirus software. Read an article about protecting your computer against hackers and cyber–attackers.

Defragment the hard drive

Perform: Once a month

This essential piece of maintenance is frequently overlooked. Whenever you work, your files are fragmented and stored into small bits throughout the hard drive. This is a normal process, but over time it slows the time it takes your PC to fetch these pieces and cobble them together into a complete file.

Defragmenting your hard drive clears these scattered files without deleting them and improves hard drive performance. Here's how to defragment:

  1. Double–click on the My Computer icon.
  2. Right click on the hard drive (usually Drive C:) and scroll down and click on Properties.
  3. Click the Tools tab, just to the right of the General tab in System Properties.
  4. Click the Defragment Now button. Click Start or Defragment.
Important note: Defragmenting takes a long time — one hour, sometimes more. Start this process before a very long meeting, a long lunch, or in the evening when you don't need to use your PC.

Check hard drive space, back-up files

Perform: Once every few months.

To check how much space is available in your hard drive:

  1. Double–click on My Computer.
  2. Right click on the hard drive and select Properties.
A two–toned pie graph will appear in the dialogue box, showing how much hard drive space is free. If less than 5% or 10% of hard drive space is available, then you'll definitely experience a performance improvement by removing unnecessary files.

Before moving on to the next step (deleting unnecessary files), you should first back up your entire hard drive. To back up your hard drive:

  1. Double–click on the My Computer icon.
  2. Right click on the hard drive (usually Drive C:). This will open System Properties.
  3. Click the My Tools tab, just to the right of the General tab in System Properties.
  4. Click the Backup Now button and follow the instructions.

Purge useless files

Perform: Once every few months.

Keeping irrelevant files on the hard drive is a sure way to slow hard drive performance. To delete them:

  1. Click Start in the lower left corner of your desktop.
  2. Select Programs, Accessories, System Tools, and, finally, Disk Cleanup. (You might be prompted to select your hard drive. If you are, just click "OK".)
  3. Check the boxes of those files you wish to delete.
Note: The types of files that will appear are temporary Internet files (which can be deleted without affecting your bookmarked sites), downloaded program files (such as Java applets — also deletable), items in the recylce bin or trash can, and temporary files

Temporary files are supposed to disappear after you've run a program, but stray ones gather over time — usually because you've logged off your computer while a program is still running. The general rule of thumb is that temp files that haven't been modified in eight days can be dispatched.


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