A PC needs a little preventive maintenance to ward off sluggishness and errors. Here are three simple steps that you can take to help keep your PC working smoothly. The following tips work for Windows XP and Vista.
Get rid of clutter by running Disk Cleanup. You will find Disk Cleanup in your System Tools folder which you can reach by going to your Start menu, All Programs, Accessories, System tools. Once you click the Disk Cleanup tool, you will need to select the drive you want to clean up. Choose C and wait while the program scans your drive. Once it finishes scanning, a window will come up that shows you how much space you can recover by deleting certain files. I usually put a check mark on everything except Compress Old Files. There is no longer a need to Compress Old Files because newer hard drives are much larger and don't usually run out of space. If your hard drive is almost full you can put a check-mark on that option but next time you need those older files it may take a little longer to access them since Windows will need to decompress them. Once you're done choosing the files you'd liked deleted, just click OK and the cleanup will begin.
If you'd like in-depth information about Disk cleanup and it's options, you can see the Disk Cleanup entry at The Elder Geek (an awesome Windows resource).
Run Chkdsk. The simplest way to run Chkdsk is to go to My Computer (you can get to it from your start menu). Choose your main drive if you have more than one (it's the one with the letter: “C”) and right-click it. Choose properties (at the bottom), and you will be presented with the properties for that drive. Click on the Tools tab (top of window) and click Check Now for the first one: Error Checking (see screenshot below).
A smaller window will appear with two checkboxes and you will add a check-mark to automatically fix file system errors (If you want a thorough check, also choose put a check-mark on Scan for and attempt recovery of bad sectors (adding this option will make chkdsk take longer).
When you click start you will get a warning that the disk check could not be performed because the drive is in use, just click yes to schedule the disk check when Windows starts up and restart (reboot) your computer. Once your computer reboots, you will see a message similar to the following on your screen:
Let the Chkdsk run through. Once finished your computer will reboot and you will be taken back to your desktop. It might take a little longer for your desktop to appear right after you run Chkdsk, don't be alarmed, that is normal and will only happen right after Chkdsk runs not at every boot up.
Defragment your hard drive. Windows Defrag is started by going to My Computer, right-clicking your hard drive, clicking Properties and then clicking the Tool tab at the top of the window. From there you will choose Defragmentation (see screenshot above). After clicking Analyze, you will see a summary with the suggestion to Defragment or the message that you do not need to defragment at this time. Click Defragment. Once the tool finishes defragmenting your drive you can close it. note: In Windows Vista, defrag runs on a regular schedule, therefore this tip can be ignored by those running Vista.
For most people Windows Defrag works just fine, but Windows Defrag is a limited (basic) version of the Defragmentation Software Diskeeper. Aside from Diskeeper, there are other paid defragmenting programs and all of them offer more options than the Windows (free) version. The defragmenting program that I use on all my PCs is called PerfectDisk by Raxco and I feel it's a great value at $39.99.
I recommend running Chkdsk, Defrag and Cleanup at least every few weeks. I like to run mine once a week before I create a backup of my system.