Spring cleaning is for computers, too

Just as spring cleaning helps keep a tidy home, decluttering computers can ensure they are running at their best.

Spring is also a good time to perform other routine computer maintenance, like taking stock of your data backup situation and checking if any inexpensive hardware upgrades are available.

If your computer is cluttered or its performance could be better, consider these spring cleaning tasks to increase its efficiency:

Clear out old files

Over time, most computer hard drives become saturated with miscellaneous files, multimedia and programs.  This isn’t necessarily bad in and of itself, but if not properly maintained full drives and registries can slow a computer down.

To free up drive space, users can simply delete files and programs.  The most straightforward way to do this is going through the desktop and main document folders and clearing out unwanted files.  Also check where your primary web browser is storing temporary internet files; depending on your browser settings you might have a lot of temporary files taking up space.  Some adware programs, like Malwarebytes (http://www.malwarebytes.org/) and Spybot (http://www.safer-networking.org/) have options to get rid of cookies and other stored internet data.

Go through your programs list and see if there are any unused programs that you can delete, especially games.  Some programs and games will keep your settings and saves intact when uninstalled, so you won’t lose progress or configuration options if you put the program back on.  If the program you want to get rid of doesn’t do this, save the main config files or save games to a USB stick before uninstalling.

Some users also prefer using an automated “cleaning” program that will clear out junk files, like temporary internet files) and clean up the system registry.  On Windows, CCleaner (http://www.piriform.com/ccleaner) often gets good reviews.  Be wary of what program you use, though, since some are definitely better than others.  You’ll probably still have to get rid of your personal files manually, but a cleaning program can do much of the deeper work for you.

A more drastic file clearing method is formatting your system drive, reinstalling the operating system and starting fresh.  This will delete all files that you haven’t backed up, but will restore your computer to a clean, starting state.

Backup plan

Are you backing up critical files?  If not, use your spring cleaning to set up at least a rudimentary backup solution.

One of the easiest ways to back up files is to use an external drive of some sort.  For smaller files, like word documents, backing up to a flash drive will suffice.  If you need to back up photos, videos or other larger files, consider a external hard drive.  External hard drives are more expensive, but they can hold much more data.

Some users like the idea of backing up, but they forget to do so.  These users could look into a cloud backup service.  Instead of storing files on a physical drive, which can be lost, corrupted or broken, these services store files in the cloud.   Data transfer takes place over the internet, so there is no physical drives to connect or worry about.

Dropbox (https://www.dropbox.com/) is a great small-scale backup service.  It allows users to store up to 2GB for free, with paid options available for those that need more space.  A good alternative for users that want to store more data is Crashplan (http://www.crashplan.com), which offers unlimited storage for under $60 a year.

Check for hardware upgrades

With the popularizing of web services, even old computers can keep up with modern innovations.  However, sometimes computer components wear out or aren’t up to task with the latest games and programs.

Upgrading single computer components is relatively inexpensive and might give you computer an extra boost.  Some prebuilt computers are more limited as to what parts can be upgraded, but possible upgrade components include the processor, video card, RAM and primary hard drive.

RAM can be a particularly effective upgrade point if the system is acting sluggish with core tasks, while most systems will see a great performance boost by switching to an SSD as the operating system drive.  Processor and video card upgrades are mostly for users that need more power in games and specific applications, like video editing or rendering.

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