DIY computer cleanup

I recently found myself telling someone – once again – about some great free tools that anyone can use to clean up, and sometimes speed up, their computer. So I thought I’d share them here, too.  (Sorry, no room for pictures this time.)

One of the many facets of my work life includes computer troubleshooting and answering questions, so this is something I address frequently.  I am dismayed to realize how many people give up on their computer, send it off to a repair place, and agree to pay a lot of money to lose everything on their hard drive.  Granted, sometimes a format and reinstall IS necessary, but many times, there are tools they can use to solve problems on their own.  And when that doesn’t do the job, it’s not that hard to save your stuff before you send it off for the big rebuild.  (Actually, reinstalling the operating system on a computer can be pretty straightforward as well, but there are so many variables, I’m not touching that here with a ten foot pole.)

Bear in mind that these are all things you can do on your own personal Windows-based computer.  If the computer you use belongs to someone else, or to your employer, it’s their responsibility, so don’t go messing with it without their permission!!  And you’ll have to be logged in with administrative rights to do most of this stuff.  Also, you bear the responsibility and the consequences of any actions you take.  I have never had any of these tools cause problems for me, but I can’t guarantee that there might not be some issues for you.  Got it?  End of disclaimer.

Preliminaries:  I am assuming (yeah, I like to live dangerously) that you are familiar with the usual procedures of downloading and installing software.  If you aren’t, surely you know someone who can help you.  It’s not rocket science, but it’s good to be cautious, and read before you click!  If you are uncomfortable with some procedure, stop immediately and back out carefully.  Then again, you’re probably better off than the person who rushes in where techies fear to tread.  But I’m not sending you to any of those places!  I am using Windows XP, so if you are running a different Windows version, the details might be a bit different for you.

So. Cleanup and speedup.  Start with Ccleaner. This is an excellent, reliable tool that is way better than Windows’ Disk Cleanup.  Download, install, and run the cleaner.  Besides the file cleaner, it can also clean up your computer’s registry.  They also offer a couple of other applications that I haven’t had occasion to use; Defraggler, a customizable defrag tool and Recuva to recover lost/deleted files.  I’d trust them, though, based on my experience with Ccleaner.

Be aware that you want to clean up all those unnecessary files before doing any scans!  There’s no point in scanning hundreds of megs of temporary files.

Next up, MalwareBytes AntiMalware.  ‘Malware’ is a general term that covers many types of malicious and/or annoying software that you probably never asked for.  Download MalwareBytes, install, update and scan.  This one is first on my list because it was the only one that removed a nasty browser hijacker for me a while back.  A couple of other well-known and reliable tools I would happily recommend are Spybot and Ad-Aware.  Unlike antivirus programs, you can safely install more than one anti-malware product.  So if you’re a belt-and-suspenders kind of person, have at it.  Again, download, install, update and scan.  Next time, remember to check for updates before you scan.

Defragmenting your computer’s hard disk can help speed up and optimize its performance.  You may or may not notice a difference, but it’s a good thing to do from time to time, especially if you’ve been deleting or uninstalling a bunch of stuff.  I frequently use Auslogics Disk Defrag.  It’s much faster than Windows defrag, and does a better job.  If it’s important to make sure you free up contiguous space on your hard drive (say, for example, that you need to create a new partition) go for JkDefrag.   Be sure to read the installation instructions – this one is not quite so automatic, but it’s very thorough!

If you don’t already have an antivirus program running (and if you don’t, you will soon be in BIG trouble), run, don’t walk, to get your very own AVG Free for your personal computer (not your company’s computer).  Again, download, install, update and scan.  It will automatically check for updates, so you don’t have to remember.  They also make a paid version with additional features that I like better than the other big-name antivirus programs that you buy off the shelf.

In conclusion, there’s one more built-in Windows tool that you should know about.  Click Start > Control Panel to see the ‘Add or Remove Programs’ utility.  If you see things in this list that you KNOW you are no longer using, and you KNOW WHAT THEY ARE, remove them.  DO NOT just remove stuff because you’ve never heard of it!  That way lies madness.

Now, after you’ve done all that, restart your computer.  Doesn’t it feel all nice and clean and safe?

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One Response to DIY computer cleanup

  1. Christine says:

    Thanks for the list! I was just thinking I need to do something to get my home computer all spiffed and cleaned up good, but am unsure who to use as I don’t want to put MORE spam and crud on there. 🙂

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