Ten Commandments to keep your computer healthy

Your computer is a fine-tuned piece of equipment that can find itself running into trouble fairly easily. Here are our 10 best suggestions to keeping your system running in top form.

Scan your system for viruses.

There are a lot of viruses out there that hope to do a lot of harm to your system. Free anti-virus scanners like AVG
and Avast are a cheap and secure way of keeping your computer virus-free. A paid program like Kaspersky
is well regarded, and also a good bet. These programs will update themselves to detect new viruses, and automatically scan your computer daily. Installing any one of these programs will ensure your doesn’t catch any of the nasty viruses on the Internet.

Scan your system for Adware/Spyware.

In addition to viruses, Spyware and Adware can slow down or damage your system. These tend to be more annoying than harmful, but will slow down your computer while spawning ads from what seems out of nowhere. Toolbars, free cursors and smilies are common culprits for loading this stuff on your computer. These programs will steal your browsing habits, change your homepage, or flood you with ads that you can’t stop. Windows Defender, Ad-Aware and Spybot - Search & Destroy are all still free and effective, while Uniblue’s SpyEraser 2 and Webroot’s Spy Sweeper are very affordable paid options.

Keep your hard drive clean.

Too much junk on your hard drive slows it down. Your computer relies on the hard drive when it gets low on RAM, and if it’s full of junk, your system may slow down or crash. Deleting unneeded files helps keep your computer running smoothly, not slowing down. Windows XP and Vista have a Disk Cleanup Wizard built in. Just right-click your hard drive in My Computer (or just Computer in Vista), and select Properties. The button for disk cleanup will be about halfway down. Click it, follow the instructions, and delete anything you can. You’ll be surprised how much room is wasted on junk.

Defragment your hard drive.

Everyone seems to know this needs to be done, but few actually do it. As data is written to the drive, the computer tries to write all the pieces together in one big group. But as files are added and removed, free space on your hard drive starts to look like Swiss cheese. When you add new data, the computer writes it wherever there is room. Instead of writing large files as single pieces, the files are scattered all over the drive. This slows things down a lot when it comes time to access these files again. Defragmenting finds all of the file pieces and rearranges them into single pieces again, while making the holes in the free space bigger for future data. Consider getting O&O Defrag Pro. With everything back together, the computer will run a lot faster.

Reduce the number of items that load with Windows.

When your computer starts, it loads files essential to its operation. But many programs you install also want to load up with your computer. Many mean well. They just want to help you run them faster, but when you have 20 different things all running at the same time, they are bound to get slow. Almost all of the programs you’ve installed don’t need to run at startup. Antivirus programs and many printer drivers are exceptions to this rule. But programs like QuickTime, Real Player or any instant messenger applications do not need to be running if you are not using them. Most have options to uncheck the Start with Windows setting. Do so with just about anything that loads in your system tray by your clock. If you find that a device or program stops working afterwards, then set it back to load with Windows. Otherwise, enjoy the speed boost. You can use an application like XP Startup Cleaner or Startup Faster!.

Keep your default programs limited to one.

You may be tempted to download and install every picture editor or music player you can get your hands on. But resist this temptation. Variety may be the spice of life, but too many similar programs on your computer can cause quite the train wreck when it comes time to use them. It’s best to have just one program to do the specific job you need your computer to do. This means one music player, one photo or video editor, one antivirus program, one e-mail program. Too many similar programs will cause all sorts of conflicts and headaches. Feel free to try several different kinds of applications, just have one installed at a time. Find the one you like best and stick with it.

Uninstall programs you’re not using.

It’s best to have as few programs on your system as possible. When a program is installed, it places files all over your system. Some might load with Windows without being noticed. Any program that you have installed on your system is a potential source of problems. If you’re not using it, uninstall it. Two applications to help you accomplish this are Your Uninstaller! 2008 and Absolute Uninstaller.

Clean the registry.

Even if you’ve done everything listed above, there may be little pieces of old programs gumming up the works. These old files were supposed to be deleted when you were getting rid of the old program, but they often leave little bits behind. One of the most common places to find this junk is in the registry. This is a dangerous place to tinker with, which is why it’s best to leave the cleaning of your registry to a program like RegistryBooster 2. This program will go in and find dead registry entries and delete them safely. If an entry was deleted and it was still in use, CleanMyPC Registry Cleaner will allow you to put it back. This will ensure that your computer doesn’t have to wade through piles of dead entries just to run.

Tweak your system.

When your computer shipped, it was set up with nice middle of the road settings that are both common and safe. But many times, there are programs or services running that your computer doesn’t need, or there are settings that are way too slow for what your computer can really do. Again, unless you really know how to tweak the guts of your system, leave it to a good program to help you out. SpeedUpMyPC is a good option for those looking to wring out that last bit of power from their system.

Reformat and reinstall.

When your computer gets infected or corrupted badly enough, there’s often very little you can do. Sometimes, you just can’t put Humpty-Dumpty together again and you have to start all over from a clean slate. Most store-bought computers come with restore disks that will take your computer back to the way it was when it was new. Other systems can be reinstalled with the Windows Vista or XP disk that the computer had come with. Installing Windows is fairly easy in theory, but it is often best left to professionals. For example, a beginner will find it rather difficult to find the right drivers. Partitioning and formatting the hard drive can also tough for the novice. But once Windows is reinstalled, it’ll run as fast as it can. And following the previous nine steps will go a long way to keeping it running well for a long time to come.

  1. Be sure to check our Windows Reformat and Reinstall section.