Starting the new year off on the right foot means addressing your personal computer(s). Whether you have a laptop or a desktop, here are some routine steps you should take to keep your computing experience at the top of its game. Although most of these fall into the monthly or quarterly category, the beginning of a new year year is a great time to revisit these and determine your schedule moving forward.
BACK IT UP!
I know, it is the most common bit of computer advice out there. But so few of us actually back up what we need and when it’s gone, we kick ourselves and say it will never happen again. The goal is to make sure that you have anything you would need on hand in the event that your hard drive crashed.
There are a few ways to approach this –
- Image your PC – Acronis is a great tool for creating a complete image of your hard disk drive.
- Back up your important files – Make sure you copy pictures, music, documents, and other media to a USB drive or an online backup site.
- Use traditional backup software – Whether you use Windows backup or a more robust application, set a schedule and test your backups!
I like to think of the operating system, applications, and data as three separate components of a system. If my system died today, I would reinstall a fresh copy of the OS, re-install my core applications, and finally copy over any data (music, pictures, videos, documents) that I needed to access with those applications. If you logically sort your computing components before a disaster, recovery is a lot quicker and smoother. Remember to make backups of any installation media for applications you need and keep those safe as well.
Before proceeding with your spring cleaning, make a backup!
Uninstall what you no longer use
As time goes on and we install things, clutter is created. Very rarely do we uninstall an application that we no longer use, so take this time to go through your list of programs and remove what you no longer need. You will absolutely benefit from this exercise. Revo Uninstaller does a great job of removing traces of a program from the nooks and crannies of your computer. It will also create a restore point prior to removing anything!
Clean up after yourself
After backing up your system and uninstalling applications, reboot now if you haven’t already. A lot of programs require a reboot after you uninstall so that they can remove files that were in use at the time of the uninstall process. Plus, I like to reboot several times during the cleanup process just to make sure everything is working as expected. It also helps keep the list of changes short if you do have an error after rebooting.
The next thing I would do is to run a battery of tools that help clean up temp files, folders, registry entries, etc. I really like Glary Utilities as an all-in-one application to help with this process. This free application has a one-click screen that will run about 6 tests at one time. It also includes about 20 other critical system maintenance utilities in one neat little package.
Run security scans
Make sure your security products are up to date and working. Having updated products is just one step to maintaining a safe and non-compromised PC, but nonetheless critical to its protection. With all of the fantastic free tools currently available, there is no excuse for not having tools appropriate for the job. Practicing safe browsing and using common sense when opening e-mail attachments and downloading things will help you protect yourself reasonably.
Some of my favorite and trusted security tools include:
|– AVG Free
|– SpyBot S&D
|– Norton Internet Security
The best way to scan your PC is to remove your PC from the network and the Internet (unplugging your Ethernet cable is the best way to ensure your PC cannot communicate with anything else) and then reboot into Safe Mode (you can get there by pressing “F8” during the Windows boot process. Choose, “Safe Mode”. This method will provide one of the best environments for detecting malware from your machine. I still adhere to something I learned years ago when I was cleaning up a major outbreak for a client of mine – once a machine becomes infected, the safest solution is to format the drive and rebuild it from scratch. Virus/Spyware scanners are good at cleaning up what they know about a particular virus, but you can never be 100% sure that you have removed everything.
Once you have updated your security applications and run Safe Mode scans, set or verify routine scans. I recommend no less than a monthly full system scan. Weekly scans are appropriate if you scan a broad range of websites and/or download from sharing sites like Limewire or bit torrent files.
Once you have backed up your system, cleaned temporary and obsolete files/programs, and secured your PC from outside intrusion, I would back it up one more time. I would create a new, clean, restore point and then run a full backup. I don’t know if this is advisable or not, but once I tighten up my system and am confident that I didn’t break anything, I like to remove all old restore points (you have to disable/re-enable system restore to do this) and create a new one. This will get you back potentially gigabytes worth of free space. Make sure you create a new restore point once you turn it back on!