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Spring clean your computer

The spring cleaning bug is upon us, but it doesn't have to stop at old clothes and couches…. You might want to spring clean" your computer.

I don't mean wiping down your keyboard, mouse and screen - which isn't a bad idea - but rather squeezing some additional life out of your existing computer.

Spring-cleaning your PC or Mac can speed up performance, free up hard drive space and ensure you're protected against the latest cyber attacks.

1. Back up important files

The first thing is to back-up all your important files and store them in a safe place. A spare USB thumbdrive in your desk drawer should do the trick for documents, but you might consider a free "cloud-based" online back-up solution, such as Windows Live SkyDrive (25GB of free storage, per account), which you can access from virtually any computer in the world.

2. Clean up the desktop, hard drive

Decide what programs you no longer need. This should be pretty simple.


Don't just delete the desktop icon, but for Windows users, click Start (bottom-left corner), Control Panel and finally Add/Remove Programs (or simply Programs) and uninstall old or unused software one-by-one. You should clear up a lot of hard drive space, and also clean up the icons on your desktop, so you can see your wallpaper again.

You can also right mouse-click on your C: drive (in Windows Explorer) and click Properties, followed by Disk Cleanup. Now check off the desired boxes -- such as "Temporary Internet Files," "Recycle Bin" and "Downloaded Program Files" - and it will tell you how much space it can free up.

3. Use the built-in system tools

"Degfragging" is another way to help your computer operate faster with more stability. Click on the Start button, find All Programs, select Accessories, then System Tools and finally Disk Defragmenter. Run the program on your hard drive to give your PC maximum efficiency.

It might take a while but you should notice a marked performance improvement when it's done. Because it's not recommended to use your computer while you're defragging, perhaps you'll want to start the process before you go out for lunch or before you go to bed (but turn off your monitor to conserve electricity).

4. Update your operating system and other software

The second-last step to spring-cleaning your PC is to download the latest free software updates for your operating system (Start>All Programs>Windows Update) as these updates plug security holes and add functionality.

I have Windows 7 scheduled to download and install new updates whenever they become available so I don’t have to manually do it. On a related note, be sure to download all the updates to your favourite programs – such as a web browser, media player and computer games – as they usually fix issues (like technical bugs) or add new features.

A quick way to see if there's an update is to go to the About, Help or Settings section of your software and you should see an option to check for updates. There are often new updates for hardware accessories, too, such as a printer, monitor and webcam, so you can also look for that online beginning with the official website for the product.

5. Install anti-malware software for real-time protection

Finally, it's always recommended to have good antivirus and antispyware programs. The former refers to software that can detect and remove online threats (such as viruses or worms that can propagate through your address book), while the latter are tools that can protect your PC from sneaky programs that hide on your hard drive, monitor your web surfing behaviour, hijack your browser home page and slow down your computer's performance.

Collectively, these threats are called "malware" (malicious software). And if you've read the news lately, Macs aren't bulletproof, either. Many free antivirus and antispyware tools are available from Download.com – check out the Top 5 downloads on the main page – and once you start using one be sure to regularly check for updates (if it doesn't do it automatically) to ensure you're protected from the latest online threats.

 

Posted: Sunday, April 22, 2012 8:10 PM by Oleh and Natalie Korchuk
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