NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, April 2011
Your Computer's Health, Part 1
By Art Gresham, Editor, UCHUG (Under the Computer Hood User Group), CA
January 2001 issue, UCHUG Drive Light

1editor101 (at) uchug.org (click to email author)

At the start of this new year the UCHUG Drive Light is going to present a series of articles on the general topic of Your Computer's Health.

You say you are doing most of those things recommended to keep your body healthy: annual physical, dental checkups, good diet, bathe regularly, stay physically active. And you do what you must do to keep your auto healthy like oil changes, tune ups, check the tire inflation and tread depth, wash it occasionally, and use good quality gasoline. Even in your home you take out the trash, wash the dishes, vacuum the carpet, change the heater air filter, flush the toilet.

But are you as regular about the same kinds of things with your computer? Like other areas your life, your computer has several facets that you should care for with some regularity, from weekly, or monthly. Some areas are software, or data based, to help keep the computer running at full speed. Others like simply opening the case and removing the dust accumulated on the cooling fins and fans that will help it stay cool and functional for more years.

Maybe you already have a plan, and actually do make data backups (we all do have Acronis don't we?) but what are you doing to be sure your computer stays alive so that you never have to actually use one of those backups? Have you actually complained recently about how much slower your computer seems to run than it used to do?

We want to present some ideas to help you form a plan, or get started. We each have a wide variety of things that we do, some are very common and widely known. Others may be very unique, much deeper, or something you simply never thought of doing. What you choose to do will, of course, depend on how you use your computer. But the important thing is that you know that your computer's health is your responsibility and if you “take out the trash” occasionally then something is likely to become, well.... trashed! Let's start with the basics. Here in Part 1 we want to look at basic hard drive-OS-data cleaning. For this article I am using XP, so your newer Vista/Win7 will have some slight differences. Windows includes a number of good basic tools that you can, and should be aware of and using. For starters, how full is your hard drive (or hard drives) and how much space can you free up so you can download more of the great utilities (more ideas about those soon) and photos from all the holiday parties and family gatherings. I always like to start by noting the free space, and after all finished I can see a measurable improvement there. Other areas will be a lot harder to note accurately (did the system start/shut down faster this time? Did that program seem to load faster?). So to start Open My Computer, Right Click your hard drive (usually labeled "Local Disk (C:)"), and click Properties. Note how much space is used and free, then close the dialogue box. Repeat for each hard drive. Note that you can probably run the Defragmentation program from the Tool tab on this dialog window, but resist the urge for now, we have miles to drive before we are ready to do that step.

Before defragmenting you should delete as much of the unneeded, unwanted, unused files and programs as you are comfortable removing. While I am primarily thinking of temporary internet files, useless log files, and other truly worthless stuff, you may also have duplicate copies of data (photos, important files) that have been leftover from other activities. While there are a number of tools for finding and deleting those 'clones' we will leave that to a much later discussion. But you say your drive is so large you don't even know where to begin?

Well, start with the 'biggies' first. Why waste 20 minutes hunting and deleting 50 tiny files that save you two megabytes of disk space when there may be two or three directories you can delete in 30 seconds and save 5 gigabytes of space. But how do you find them? Use a tool!!

My first tool choice is OverDisk (Freeware) http://users.forthnet.gr/pat/efotinis/programs/overdisk.html which was featured in the January 2007 Drive Light. Open a disk letter and see the folders and files as a series of concentric rings, as if you were looking down onto the disk itself and seeing the files laid out below. The neat thing is that the biggest folders and files are graphically displayed and you can quickly zero in on the folders that are the biggest. It may be your email folders that have grown out of control and need to be archived. Perhaps you will see a folder for a program you have long since forgotten about and no longer use. By starting here you will have an idea where the big fish are hiding. Check each drive letter or partition and see what sticks out.

Now that you know a little more, generally, about what and how much is on your drive let’s get down to getting rid of those pesky junk, temp, trash and other files. The problem is that they are tucked away in folders nested 6 levels deep, or under names that appear self-important, or downright mysterious. Don't be tempted to just dive in with Explorer and manually delete them helter-skelter. Use a Tool!! Actually for this I use several different tools because each seems to catch a few files that the others miss. You may want to try these and then just use the one that gives you the best results. I recommend, and use these the end of every month (usually after I finish the Drive Light as that is one of my major monthly milestones - sorta like smoke detector batteries and DST!

First, and one of the fastest is CCleaner (Freeware) from http://www.piriform.com/ which was mentioned in the August 2009 Drive Light. In addition to quickly finding all those useless files, it contains a very good registry cleaner.

My next tool is very similar, called CM Disk Cleaner. Although it does not appear to be being updated it is available on several download sites including http://www.scanwith.com/download/CM_DiskCleaner.htm Next is the very advanced Advanced System Care (Freeware) from IOBit. This is probably one of the most complete, and easy-to-use tools. A very good review and download is available from download.cnet.com

Now that you have a nearly automated way to find all those files, deleted many, cleaned up the registry, and feel you have made some good progress, go back and look at those drive properties and see if you have saved any space. You probably have, especially on your C: drive and perhaps your primary data drive. NOW is when you can run your defragger. Either use the one supplied with Windows, or use a free tool also from IOBIT called Smart Defrag. But you say defragmenting takes so long and your time is so valuable.

Well, I have mine setup to automatically begin defragging each time my computer is inactive for five minutes, and Deep Optimize every weekday at 7PM (which is when I am usually eating supper, or watching TV). Now I can relax knowing I have cleaned up and defragged with very little effort.

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