Even modern computers require some care to stay in tip-top shape; here’s our straightforward guide to keeping yours running like new and problem-free.
In this guide we’ll review tasks that should be run on a regular basis including file backups, software updates, malware scans, hardware health and computer cleaning. Performing these regular maintenance items will improve your computer’s health in the long run and have the added bonus of helping make you aware of any problem areas before they become a potential show-stopper. This guide is organized by time period: daily, weekly, monthly and yearly.
Before You Start…
This guide is aimed at users of Microsoft Windows 7/8/8.1 based computers. You, the reader assume all risk of following this guide.
Task: Backup files
The largest concern on a daily basis is making sure your files are backed up. Data loss can occur for any number of reasons – hardware failure (either from manufacturing defect or an accident, such as spilling water on your notebook or dropping it); losing the computer (or worse, having it stolen); and the hardest to prevent, accidental deletion.
The good news is that you can back up your files for free using a downloadable utility from Microsoft called SyncToy, available to download here.
Use our easy-to-follow guide to install and setup SyncToy. This guide also shows you how to choose and buy an external storage device if you don’t already own one. It’s important to have an external storage device because a backup isn’t really a backup unless you’re storing your files independently of the computer.
Once you have SyncToy installed and setup, simply plug in your external storage device, open SyncToy and run it once daily (or more often as needed; personally I back up my files each time I create or modify an important document).
For this part, we’ll use Piriform’s CCleaner, a freeware utility designed to clean up temporary and unnecessary files on your computer. This can positively affect performance and free up storage space. Download the software here.
Open CCleaner once it’s installed; leave all settings at default and click the Analyze button to get an idea of what CCleaner will do. My example above is a particularly bad case; I have over 13GB of space being used up unnecessarily. If you’re satisfied with what you see, click Run Cleaner. The software’s default settings are generally safe but you might want to perform a backup ahead of time just in case – see how to do this under the Daily section of this guide.
Task: Restart computer
This one’s simple: fully restart your computer. Theoretically the computer should be able to run for more than a week without issues but a full restart on a regular basis has the positive effect of freeing up memory space and improving stability. Close all open programs and files prior to doing the following.
Windows 7: open the Start menu; click the arrow next to the Shut down button and click Restart.
Windows 8/8.1: open the Charms (press the Windows Key + C keys simultaneously or swipe in from the right side if you have a touch-enabled display); then click Settings; finally click Power and then Restart.
You’ll need to have an antivirus product installed to perform this; see our software reviews if you’re in the market. Note free software is available. Open your antivirus program and perform a full system scan. You’re best off scheduling this to be done automatically if possible (nearly all modern antivirus solutions can do this).
Task: Check for Windows updates
Windows 8/8.1: open the Control Panel by opening the Charms (press the Windows Key + C keys simultaneously or swipe in from the right side if you have a touch-enabled display); then click Settings and then Control Panel; click Windows Update from the list of items that appear.
Click the Check for updates link from the left side of the window that appears to see if any important updates are available. Note you can have these updates installed automatically by clicking the Change settings link right below it.
Modern storage drives are designed with technology to give early warning of failure so you can arrange for replacement and to back up your data – see earlier in this guide under the Daily section for instructions on doing so. We’ll use a freeware utility called HDTune, downloadable here. The non-Pro version of the software works just fine for our purposes.
Once you download the software, install and run the program. Click the Health tab; more or less you’re just looking at the Health Status in the bottom right to make sure it says Ok. Finally, click the Error Scan tab; check the Quick Scan box and then click Start. This can take a few minutes to complete. This goes over each sector of the drive; you’ll see all green blocks if everything is working fine.
See our step-by-step guide to replacing a notebook’s storage drive should you need to replace yours at any point.
There are functional and aesthetic reasons for doing this. First consider that nearly all notebooks are air-cooled; that mechanism becomes clogged over time by dust and other debris. Next, the aesthetic side: a dirty keyboard and palm rest are both unsightly and potential health hazards; keyboards especially are typically crawling with germs.
Use our functional guide on how to clean a notebook computer; this guide details everything from recommended supplies to the specifics of how to clean various areas including the keyboard, display, input/output ports and chassis.
This one’s simpler than you think; check (or remember) how much battery life your notebook was advertised with and compare it to what you’re getting now; if it’s lower than 50-60% of that, consider purchasing a new battery. Notebook computer batteries generally last two to three years depending on usage; naturally it’ll wear faster if you use your computer on battery often.
Note: always buy an original replacement battery as opposed to generic; it’s best to take as little risk as possible when it comes to feeding your computer power. Call your notebook maker to order.
In this article we detailed steps every Windows user can take to keep their notebook computer running in a reliable and high performance fashion. We broke it down by daily, weekly, monthly and yearly tasks which included backing up your data, cleaning up unnecessary files, updating Windows, ensuring your storage drive is in good health, cleaning your notebook and checking to see if your battery requires replacement.