NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, June 2008
The Computer Corner –
Spring Clean Your Computer March, 2008

By Joe Shipley, Treasurer, Phoenix PCUG, Arizona
joeship(at)cox.net (click to email author)

Obtained from APCUG with the author's permission for publication by APCUG member groups.

While you’re cleaning everything else around your home and office at this time of year, don’t forget to clean your computer. There is truth to the saying, “A clean computer is a happy computer.”

With the time we spend creating and working on our systems, we should do all we can to keep them running smoothly and give them long, healthy lives. So here are some things we can all do to prolong the lives of our systems. As a cautionary note: backup all your important items before doing any maintenance on your system. If you don’t feel comfortable opening your system or editing the Registry, then don’t do it! But what I intend to discuss here is not rocket science. These items are the same ones I perform when I clean my clients’ systems.

Blow the Dust Out!
Dust is your computer’s enemy! So get rid of it. The electronic components in a system generate heat. Heat is bad for a system. The more dust in a machine, the hotter it will run. When motherboard components get overheated, they “take a powder” and just shut themselves off until they can cool down. By keeping the insides clean your system will run cooler, thus letting it run longer.

Most generic systems have 4 to 6 screws that hold the case cover on. If you have a Dell, HP, Compaq, Gateway or other major brand system, look in the owner’s manual or online to find out how to open your case. By removing the sides of the computer you’ll gain access to its guts which is where the cleaning can be done. I use a small hand-held vacuum to suck up the dust balls. I use the crevice tool, that’s not the one with the brush. You can also use canned air or air from a compressor to blow the dirt out. Be careful not to bump or touch any components on the motherboard while cleaning. Keeping one hand on the metal case while you clean should discharge any static electricity that might have built up.

With the vacuum, don’t forget to suck out the dust that has accumulated in the power supply. There are usually vents on the side opposite the circular fan. I vacuum out from both the fan-side and the vent side. Note: if you are blowing rather than vacuuming, don’t blow air into the floppy drive or cdrom/dvd units. Unless they are filthy and already don’t work, you don’t want to risk getting dust on the optics inside. And remember, blowing air into a computer really just moves the dust from the computer to somewhere else! I suggest you do it outside, if possible.

If you have a mouse that has a ball, think about getting a mouse that uses laser light instead. But if you want to clean the mouse, open it up, wash the ball with warm, soapy water, and gently scrape the gunk off the three rollers inside. Your mouse will act like new after a good cleaning.

You can also vacuum your keyboard. You’d be amazed at how much junk you’ll find if you just turn it over and shake it up a bit. I have even gone so far as to wash the keyboard to get rid of spilled soda. An hour or two in the Phoenix sun and the keyboard is ready to go!

Cleaning the Software
Before running software cleaners such as Ad-aware, Spybot Search & Destroy and a good antivirus program (I like the free AVG), it makes sense to delete unneeded files and programs. Might as well not clean any more than you have to! This might be the time to use System Restore to create a Restore Point before you eliminate something you shouldn’t. Better safe than sorry.

In the Documents and Settings area, look for the Local Settings folder for each user. If you can’t find it, you may need to turn on the “Show Hidden Files and Folders” option on your system. To do this, open up Explorer, from the menu bar at the top go to Tools-Folder Options-View-Show Hidden Files and Folders.

Under Local Settings, I delete everything in the Temp folder. I also delete everything in the Temporary Internet Files folder also. Once that’s done, I go to the Windows folder, and delete everything in the TEMP folder. Caution: some of you create your own Temp folders into which you may put things you might not want to delete. Check that out before doing a mass deletion.

Open the Registry
Again, if you’re not comfortable editing the Registry, don’t. You can back up the Registry (entirely or just specific keys) before proceeding. I mention this item in order to delete the “Compress Old Files” key before proceeding to the next step. You can either search for this key using the Find feature, or go to: HKEY_Local_Machine\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\VolumeCaches . The second key down should be the CompressOldFiles key, if it hasn’t already been removed. If it’s there, RIGHT click on it and delete it. You don’t need it. Close the Registry and proceed.

Clean Up Drive
To clean up your drive further, go to My Computer. For each hard drive, RIGHT click on the drive, left click on Properties, and then click on Disk Cleanup. If you didn’t remove the CompressOldFiles key earlier, it may take a long time before the system responds. If you did, shortly you’ll see files which may be deleted from your system so you can recover space. After cleaning these up you may see an increase in available disk space.

Clean Up Internet Explorer and Firefox
One of the easiest things you can do to keep your computer clean is to get rid of Temporary Internet Files that are stored on your computer. Here’s how to do this for immediate relief:

§ Internet Explorer - delete Temporary Internet Files:

1. Open Internet Explorer.
2. Select the Tools menu.
3. Select Internet Options.
4. Select the General tab.
5. In the Temporary Internet Files section, click the Delete Files button.
6. Do not check the clear Offline Content box. Click Ok.
7. Click Ok to close the Tools window.

§ FireFox (Mozilla) - clear browser cache

1. Open FireFox (Mozilla).
2. Click the Tools menu.
3. Click Options.
4. Click Privacy.
5. Click the Clear button for Cache.

If you use Internet Explorer, go to Tools-Internet Options-Advanced and almost at the end, put a check mark in the box that says “Empty Temporary Internet Files folder when Browser is closed” and IE will automatically delete the files when you close the browser.

Add/Remove Programs
In the Control Panel, you can add and remove programs you no longer need or use. If you are not sure, Google the program in question and then decide. You might want to opt to leave in any program you are not sure about. But if you still have games or programs you have not used in years, toolbars you don’t want or need, or other items of no significance to you, clear them out. As I’ve said before, Google first, then if you’re still not sure, leave them in. Often programs will have their own Uninstall feature. If you decide to remove a program, first go to Start-Programs and find the menu item of the program you want to delete. If it is there, check to see if there is an Uninstall menu choice and if so, I’d start with that before using the Add/Remove programs feature.

Spybot Search & Destroy and Ad-Aware
These are two FREE programs that do a great job cleaning up malware, spies, and other things that slow your system down. You can find them on the Internet at http://www.download.com , or just Google them. After installing them, make sure you use the update feature before doing a scan. These programs are updated almost daily, so it pays to take advantage of the latest updates.

Get Rid of the Language Bar
Control Panel, Regional Settings, Languages, Details, Languages, Uncheck the “Show Language Bar” box to get rid of the Language Bar at the bottom of your screen. If you use the Language Bar, by all means don’t get rid of it.

Keep Your Antivirus Updated!
Whichever AV program you use, if it is not updated you’re not getting full protection! Security suites slow systems down! I don’t use them. Google “AVG Free” to get a free antivirus that does a good job, and then configure it to have it updated and run it daily.

Task Manager
Quite often slow performance is directly related to the programs that are running. RIGHT click on the Taskbar to open and look at duplicate program entries under Processes – click on the title of the Processes tab to sort alphabetically. If you see multiple instances of the same program running, for example, outlook.exe, odds are you’re having some kind of problem. If you’re not sure about what a process is, Google it to find out or leave it alone. If you click on the CPU tab twice, you’ll see which programs are using the most memory. Find the memory hogs, check them at Google, and then begin to end processes you don’t need. If a process is critical, Windows won’t let you close it.

Go to Start – Run and type in “msconfig” (don’t type the quotes) and click on “OK” and look in the Startup and Services areas to check to see what programs might not need to start. If you know they are not needed, uncheck them. If you have a problem after restarting, then re-check them. If you’re uncertain . . . Google the file names and learn about them.

Defrag Your System Regularly
Go to http://www.auslogics.com/en/software to find free software to defrag your hard drives. I recommend defragging at least monthly to keep your system running smoothly. This is a nice program, FREE, and it’s pleasant to watch. Keeping your hard drives defragmented will add life to your system and speed up performance when saving and retrieving files.

The suggestions above are based upon a system running Windows XP Pro. With Vista things may be in different places. The operation should be very similar, however, so doing a search in the Help & Support area may provide the answers you’re looking for.

For a PowerPoint slide presentation with screen shots of locations referred to in this article, please visit http://www.phoenixpcug.org/articles and look for the link.

Joe Shipley, Owner of SMART IDEAS!, is a computer consultant, independent network administrator, builds custom computers, trains users on software, and sells software and hardware in Mesa, AZ. You can reach Joe at (480) 831-8332 or by email at joeship(at)cox.net.

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