You can perform a regular computer service to tune up your computer by following these steps. Most computer repair businesses offer a computer ‘health check’ or ‘tune up’ or ‘service’ – just like a car, computers benefit from checks to keep them running quickly, up to date, secure and warn of major problems on the horizon.
Such a service is often done annually but, if you don’t follow up with regular checks yourself, within a few months your computer may again become sluggish, insecure and prone to errors. It’s like getting your car serviced every 2 years but never cleaning the screen or checking the tyre pressures in between…
You can do a regular service yourself – we have recommended how often each should be done and you can omit a step if you do not feel confident. To save space, this article contains links to our other articles which discuss some steps in more detail.
1. Backup Your Documents And Files – Every week if possible
It is not nice watching someone cry because they lost years of irreplaceable pictures, documents and files when their hard drive died or their computer was stolen. Sadly, most people don’t give two hoots about backup of files – until they lose them. Flash drives and external USB hard drives are now so cheap and easy to use that there really is no excuse not to backup your files on a weekly (or at least monthly) basis. If you can copy a file from one folder to another you can backup your computer.
2. Update Java, Flash Player, Shockwave Player and Adobe Reader (if installed) – Every month
These common programs (you likely have them installed) are used by many websites and are particularly subject to virus attack so they have frequent security updates. See our following articles on why/how to update Java, Flash and Reader.
Tip: before installing a new version of Java, check in your list of installed programs if you have more than one version of Java already installed.
If you do, first uninstall the older versions e.g. if you have 4 versions, uninstall the oldest 3 of them before installing the new version.
3. Clean Temporary Files – Every month
See our article on using Ccleaner to clean temporary files, erase browser history and recover hard disk space.
4. Check/Update Your Web Browser – Every 3 months
Updating your web browser is vital for security, performance and compatibility – it is also likely to be the software you use most often. If you use Internet Explorer (IE) open it and click Help/About Internet Explorer to display the current version – if you have XP you should be using IE8 but if you have Windows 7 or 8 you should be using IE11. If your IE is not up to date, go to Microsoft’s website here and download/install the latest version for your version of Windows. Note: to install IE9 you must have internet access at the time you install it.
If you use Firefox open it and click Help/About Firefox to display the current version. If Firefox is not up to date, download/install the latest version from Mozilla here.
5. Stop Unwanted Programs From Startup – Every 3 months
Every time you start your computer, unwanted programs also start up in the background so your computer is slowed down – the problem becomes worse the more programs you install. See our article on using MSconfig to stop them loading.
6. Check Windows Is Set To Update Automatically – Every 3 months
See our article on keeping Windows up to date.
7. Uninstall Programs No Longer Required – Every 3 months
Especially applicable if you share a computer with children who happily download/install anything that moves! Look through the list of installed programs and uninstall any that you no longer use – but only if you know what they are! Don’t start uninstalling unknown Microsoft programs… Typical culprits are software from old printers/webcams/broadband providers/games that you no longer have/need, and internet toolbars that you may not remember installing anyway.
8. Optimize Internet Explorer – Every 3 months
Follow our article on fixing IE – the advice there can make IE quicker and more stable, stopping it from crashing in future even if it doesn’t now.
9. Check Your Security – Every 3 months
Make sure that you have good antivirus software installed, set to perform regular (daily or weekly) scans and up to date. This is especially important if you have a paid antivirus suite (or trial installed on a new computer) – if the subscription has run out you have very little (if any) real protection from viruses and you must renew it or uninstall it and buy another package.
You can check how your current antivirus software compares to the best in our comparison of 24 popular antivirus programs.
If you do not have safe web browsing software installed (e.g. as part of a paid security suite) download and install WOT (Web Of Trust) as discussed in our review here.
10. Test Your Hard Drive – Every 3 months
See our article to check if your hard drive is failing – a hard drive can just die suddenly with no warning but often they do give advanced notice of their impending doom :-( These checks will indicate if there are any major warning signs that should have you rushing to backup your files immediately – whilst you still have time.
11. Check If You Need More Memory (RAM) – Every 6 months
A computer will slow to a crawl if it does not have enough memory (RAM) to handle all the programs running on it – as you install more programs and updates over the years you may need more RAM. Test your computer by following the guide here. RAM prices are cheap at the moment so this is a good time to consider adding more if required.
12. Check Windows Service Packs Are Up To Date – Once for XP/Vista, every 6 months for W7
See our article on updating service packs. Note that the last and final service pack (SP) for XP is SP3 and for Vista is SP2 – there will be no further service packs for them so if you already have the latest SP installed you do not need to check again. For W7 the latest is SP1.
13. Defragment The Hard Drive – Once A year
Unless you have an old XP computer which has never been serviced, manually defragmenting the hard drive is no longer essential – modern hard drives are so large and fast they don’t need defragmenting often and Vista/7 defragment in the background if required anyway.
14. See Step 1 Again!
We never get tired of saying it – backup your important documents or risk losing them.
Even if you buy a new computer don’t stop backing it up because ‘it is new so will be alright’ – there is no guaranteed minimum time a hard drive will last. I bought a new one in March and it dropped dead in May – unlucky, yes but not unheard of. How lucky do you feel?