Maintaining the computer
running Windows XP

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For those who are afraid to upgrade to Windows 8.1, I have good news. Just click on the following link and check it out yourself.

WINDOWS 8.1 HELP

Just like you have to do routine maintenance work to keep your car running like new, you have to do some routine maintenance work for your computer too to improve its performance and prevent it from slowing down. You have to do the same three basic things to maintain your computer in a tiptop condition as you have done in previous versions of Windows. The only difference is the Scandisk that checks for errors in your hard drive is not called Scandisk anymore, and it hides in a different location. Also you can use the disk defragmenter to first analyze if defragmentation is necessary at this time. Let us go to the three steps one by one.

1. We will begin with Disk Cleanup to free up wasted disk space. To do this click on Start, then click on All Programs, then point to Accessories, then point to System Tools, and finally click on Disk Cleanup.

The following dialog box will open.

Disk Cleanup is calculating how much space you will be able to free on your hard drive
Figure 1
Disk Cleanup is calculating how much space
you will be able to free on your hard drive.

After Disk Cleanup finishes its calculations, you will be presented with the following dialog box.

Disk Cleanup is telling you how much space you will be able to free on your hard drive
Figure 2
Disk Cleanup is telling you how much space
you will be able to free on your hard drive.

In this dialog box disk cleanup tells you how much total space you will be able to free up on your hard drive, and also itemizes how much space it can free up from where. You can click to highlight each item and read its description on the lower part of the dialog box. If you do not want to delete an item, you can click on the checkmark in front of it to uncheck that box. Generally, unless you are a pro and have your own special reasons, it is safe to OK what Disk Cleanup is suggesting to remove from your hard drive to free up wasted space. So just click on OK.

When you click on OK in the previous dialog box, Disk Cleanup seeks a final confirmation from you before deleting the files permanently. That dialog box looks like what is shown below.

Disk Cleanup is seeking your confirmation before deleting files
Figure 3
Disk Cleanup is seeking your
confirmation before deleting files.

When you click on Yes on the previous dialog box, Disk Cleanup utility goes to work and starts deleting your unnecessary files. This may take a few minutes depending on the amount of files it has to delete and it shows a progress bar as shown below.

Disk Cleanup is deleting files
Figure 4
Disk Cleanup is deleting files.

When finished, the above dialog box closes automatically and you are all done. If you have more than one hard drive, you have to clean up each one individually listed in My Computer.

By the way, like many computer things, Disk Cleanup utility can be accessed from My Computer too. To do this, click on Start, then click on My Computer. When my computer opens, look at Hard Disk Drives. If you have more than one hard drive, they will all be listed there. Right-click on the drive you want to cleanup (or see how much free space is available on that drive). On the resulting menu, click on Properties. The following dialog box will open up.

Local Disk Properties dialog box. Under General tab, you can see total disk capacity, used space, and free space.
Figure 5
Local Disk Properties dialog box.
Under General tab, you can see total disk capacity,
used space, and free space.

If you need to cleanup that drive, you can just click on the Disk Cleanup button as shown in the above figure.

I strongly suggest, you use the Disk Cleanup utility at least once a week if you use your computer everyday. Temporary Internet Files can build up very fast, especially if you visit sites like YouTube (videos) or Flickr (photos). I clear my Internet cache everynight before closing my computer.

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2. The next thing to do for maintenance is to use the Disk Defragmenter utility from time to time to reorganize all those fragmented disks which slows down your computer. How often you should use this utility depends on your computer use. For an average home user, I would guess once in every 2 or 3 months should be enough. The good thing in Windows XP is it can analyze and tell you whether you need to use the defragmenter at the time or not. I really like this. Because unnecessary and frequent use of the defragmenter can damage your drive.

Start your Disk Defragmenter, the same way you started Disk Cleanup by clicking on Start, then clicking on All Programs, then pointing to Accessories, then pointing to System Tools, and finally clicking on Disk Defragmenter.

Disk defragmenter dialog box
Figure 6
Disk defragmenter dialog box.

If your computer has more than one hard drive, first click on the drive to highlight it. If just one drive, there is no need to highlight it. Then click on the Analyze button. The Disk Defragmenter will start anayzing the extent of defragmentation on the drive and will tell you whether you need to defragment this volume or not.

After completing the analysis, the Disk Defragmenter might tell you "You do not need to defragment this volume", in which case you can just close the utility. Or it may tell you that "You should defragment this volume" as shown in Figure 7 below.

After analyzing Disk Defragmenter recommending defragmentation of the hard drive
Figure 7
After analyzing Disk Defragmenter recommending
defragmentation of the hard drive.

If the utility tells you to defragment the volume, just click on the Defragment button as shown in the above Figure. Defragmentation will begin. It usually takes quite a long time to complete defragmentation. It depends on the size of your hard drive and also on the severity of fragmentation. Disk Defragmenter will show you a progress bar as shown below.

Defragmentation in progress
Figure 8
Defragmentation in progress.

As you can see from Figure 8, at this time you have the option of either putting the Defragmenter in Pause or Stop it all together. You should not use the computer while disk defragmentation is being done. And for defragmentation, always choose a time when you can leave the computer alone for a few hours.

When finished, Disk Defragmenter will notify you. See Figure 9 below.

Defragmentation is complete
Figure 9
Defragmentation is complete.

If you are curious, you can click on View Report to view a detailed report. Otherwise, just close the utility. You are done.

If you have more than one hard drive, you have to defragment each one individually listed in My Computer.

Just like the Disk Cleanup utility, you can also access Disk Defragmenter utility from My Computer. Click on Start, then click on My Computer. When my computer opens, look at Hard Disk Drives. If you have more than one hard drive, they will all be listed there. Right-click on the drive you want to defragment. On the resulting menu, click on Properties. Local Disk Properties dialog box as shown on figure 5 will come up. Click on the Tools tab. Under Tools tab, click Defragment Now. See Figure 10.

Local Disk Properties dialog box. Under Tools tab, you can click on Defragment Now.
Figure 10
Local Disk Properties dialog box.
Under Tools tab, you can click on Defragment Now.

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3. The third maintenance task is checking for disk error. In all previous versions, Windows provided an utility for this called ScanDisk. For reasons not known to me, Windows XP do not have ScanDisk which used to be listed under System Tools.

Though it is not called ScanDisk anymore, Windows XP does provide an utility for error-checking. You should run this utility once in a while when you are doing routine maintenance work.

For details on how to find and how to run this utility, please see the next section, What happened to ScanDisk?

I cannot overemphasize the fact that perhaps the most important part of your computer maintenance is to download and install Windows updates from Microsoft as and when they become available. Fortunately, this important thing can be done automatically (I highly recommend automatic Windows updates) as has been discussed here. Windows updates protects you and your computer from outside threats and also helps to run your computer smoothly. These days you can also sign up for automatic updates of Windows based products from Microsoft, such as Microsoft Office.

Finally, don't forget to check regularly for virus, adware, spyware and other malware infections using a good software available for this purpose, such as Norton Internet Security or McAfee. If you use your computer a lot, you should do a quick scan everyday before shutting down the computer or whenever anything suspicious is noticed, or if the computer suddenly starts behaving in an unusual manner. A complete scan of the whole computer should be done about once in two weeks or less. While on the subject of virus and other malware, let me mention that a personal firewall is absolutely essential to protect your computer from unauthorized intrusion from outside. If you use products like Norton Internet Security or McAfee, they come with a built-in firewall. But if you use, separate programs for protection from virus and spyware, you must use a personal firewall separately. Zone Alarm is a good program which you can download for free.

If you do all the maintenance work regularly as discussed above, and remove all the programs from your computer that you do not use, and delete all unnecessary files and folders that you no longer need as discussed under suggestions, you can keep your computer running like new forever.



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