Maintaining your computer

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Just like you maintain your car for trouble free running, you need to do some routine maintenance of your computer for fast and smooth operation. Have you heard anybody saying, "My computer has become very slow lately"? This simply means he or she is not maintaining his/her computer. This is really inexcusable because unlike cars, computer maintenance does not cost a single penny. Secondly, you can ask Windows Maintenance Wizard to do routine maintenance automatically on fixed days and times -- there is no need for you to be even present!

Basically, for fast and trouble free operation, three things need to be done periodically. They are:

1. Disk Cleanup: When you run a program, the program sometimes creates temporary files in the background to get the work done. Though generally, these temp files get deleted when you exit the program, sometimes they are not promptly removed from your hard drive. Some programs may not even bother to delete them. Over time, these may build up quite a bit, taking up your hard drive's precious real estate -- memory. To reclaim your disk memory, you need to cleanup these unnecessary and unwanted files.

Also, when you surf the Net, your browser saves pages from the sites you are visiting on your hard drive, for quick viewing when you go back to these sites later. These files could be quite large as they often contain lots of graphics. These pages are called cached (saved) pages and they are saved in a Temporary Internet Files Folder in your hard drive. These pages also need to be deleted at regular intervals to reclaim disk space. Additionally, if these pages are allowed to build up, they may eventually choke your browser's cache. That might lead to very slow loading of pages from the web or inability to refresh or reload a page from the web.

Windows have provided an easy way of cleaning up your disk. Click on Start, point to Programs, point to Accessories, point to System Tools, then click on Disk Cleanup. A dialog box will appear asking you which drive you want cleaned. Choose your hard drive (usually C) and click on OK. A second Disk Cleanup dialog box will appear giving you various information and options, which are all easy to understand and follow. Take a look at the screen shot below.

Disk Cleanup Dialog Box.
Disk Cleanup Dialog Box.

Just highlight the files you want to delete and click on OK. Windows will do the rest. Notice Windows also tells you how much disk space you are going to gain. Your Internet browser can also delete cached files or Temporary Internet Files. The method will vary from browser to browser and is beyond the scope of discussions here. Read the help files of your browser to find out how, if you do not know it already.

2. ScanDisk: Windows ScanDisk is available to determine if there are errors in your hard disk files and to repair any error automatically, if you have that option selected. To start ScanDisk, click on Start, point to Programs, point to Accessories, point to System Tools, then click on ScanDisk. The dialog box looks like this:

ScanDisk Dialog Box.
ScanDisk Dialog Box.

As you can see, first you have to select the drive(s) you want to check for errors. Secondly, you have to select the type of test -- Standard or Thorough. Normally you should select the Standard test which takes only a minute or two. Remember, a Thorough test takes a long time, an hour or more. Always check the box "Automatically fix errors", then click on the "start" button.

3. Disk Defragmentation: When the computer works, it basically works with various files. It has to read files, it has to write on files, and tries to do everything fast to keep you happy. These files are usually in your hard disk. Since it grabs files and puts them back quickly after use, it does not usually have time to arrange everything neatly in the hard disk. As a result, over time, the files and unused spaces in your hard drive becomes disorganized (fragmented) and it takes longer for the computer to find files when needed. This causes programs to run slowly on your computer.

That is why you need to defragment (organize) your hard disk from time to time. You can use Windows Disk Defragmenter to rearrange files and unused spaces on your hard disk so that programs run faster.

To start Disk Defragmenter, click on Start, point to Programs, point to Accessories, point to System Tools, then click on Disk Defragmenter. The first dialog box will ask you which drive you want to defragment? Select Drive C (or whatever is your hard drive), then click on OK. Disk Defragmenter goes to work immediately.

Disk Defragmenter at work.
Defragmenting drive C.

Theoretically, you can work with your computer while the Disk Defragmenter is working. But the programs will run considerably slower if you do that, and the Defragmenter also takes longer to finish. Also, the Defragmenter must restart each time other programs write to the disk. Hence it is better not to use the computer, while the Defragmenter is working. I close all programs (not the ones that run in the background), including the screen saver, before starting Defragmenter. I love to watch how the Defragmenter rearranges the files and unused spaces in my hard drive by clicking on the "Show Details" button. The screen saver interrupts this show. That is why I close the screen saver. Even if you move the mouse or press a key on the keyboard, the Defragmenter restarts and begins work from the beginning. So leave it alone. Let it do its work undisturbed. It takes approximately an hour for the Defragmenter to neatly rearrange everything in your hard drive. The time needed to defragment the entire hard drive depends on several things such as how large is your hard drive (capacity), how fast is your computer (speed), and the extent of fragmentation of the hard drive. The last factor depends on how much you use your computer and how often you run the Defragmenter.

NEWTip: Sometimes, even when you have closed all the programs and you are not using the computer while the Defragmenter is running, you may see the Defragmenter, for no apparent reason, from time to time, says something like "The drive information has changed ... reading drive information" and it starts all over again. If this happens to your computer, defragmentation may take for ever. In fact, defragmentation may never be completed. One way of getting around this problem is to run the Defragmenter while Windows is running in Safe Mode. To learn how to start Windows in Safe Mode, click here.

Run the Defragmenter once a month. Too frequent use of it may damage your hard drive.

It is a good idea to do all the maintenance work about once a month, more or less on a fixed day. I try to do all of the above on the 15th of every month, give or take a day or two. (But I clear my browser cache almost every day before shutting down my computer for the day, because I surf the Net a lot and temporary Internet files can build up rapidly. To learn how to clear browser cache click here). It is also a good idea to scan your whole computer with an anti-virus and an anti-spyware software on the same day to detect and remove any virus or spyware that may have infected your computer. To learn about protection against virus click here. To learn about spyware and how to remove them, click here.

Automatic Maintenance: The above mentioned maintenance operations can be performed automatically by telling the Maintenance Wizard when to perform each of these maintenance work. Once you set up a schedule to perform routine maintenance, the wizard will make sure each of these maintenance functions are performed routinely. Of course, your computer must be powered on at the time of scheduled maintenance work. It is a very good option for those people who never shut down their computers.

To reach the Maintenance Wizard and set up a schedule, click on Start, point to Programs, point to Accessories, point to System Tools, then click on Maintenance Wizard.

If you need help using the Internet, check out the companion site:
Internet Basics For Seniors
If you need help with Windows XP, check out the companion site:
Help with Windows XP (New)
If you are an absolute beginner in computing, check out:

ABC's of Computing

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