Ask LH: What Kind Of Maintenance Do I Need To Do On My Windows PC?

Dear Lifehacker, You guys recently talked about Mac Maintenance, but I'm frankly still a little lost when it comes to Windows. Should I be defragging, cleaning my registry, and running programs like CCleaner? What do I actually need to do to maintain my Windows PC? Sincerely, Wringing Out Windows

Dear Wringing,

You're right, people talk a lot about ways to "speed up Windows" or keep your system well-maintained, but Windows has evolved a lot, and some of those are outdated. Even worse, some of them are just downright wrong, so here's our short list of the maintenance tools you do and don't want to run.

Maintenance You'll Want to Do

Update Windows: We've said it before, and we'll say it again: Don't neglect Windows Update. Install updates when it gets them, and restart your computer if necessary. This will keep your computer safe and stable, and really takes no effort on your part.

Run Microsoft Security Essentials: It's a sad fact of life, but if you're using Windows, you'll probably want some form of antivirus software running in the background. There's no need to pay for antivirus, though — Microsoft Security Essentials is pretty great on its own. Of course, the best defence against malware is safe browsing, so the more responsible you are, the better off your computer will be — antivirus or no antivirus.

Back Up Your Hard Drive: Whether it's the simple Windows Backup or an automated, offsite backup tool like our favourite Crashplan, backups are essential tools for any PC user. It isn't maintenance, per se, but it can get you out of quite a few binds, so we can't recommend it enough.

Clean Temporary Files with CCleaner: Windows can leave a lot of clutter and temporary files lying around your hard drive, and it's a good idea to clean these up regularly. We've sung the praises of CCleaner many times before, and with good reason. Just set it up to run automatically on a schedule, and you'll keep your computer free of all the temporary clutter.

Uninstall Programs with Revo Uninstaller: Windows' Add/Remove Programs dialog is OK, but Revo Uninstaller is even better. Not only does it remove every trace of an application from your computer, but it also helps you uninstall apps you can't find, as well as manage your startup processes which will help you boot up faster and run smoother once you do.

Maintenance You Don't Need to Do

Defragment Your Drive (Unless You're On Windows XP): One of the maintenance operations people always talk about is defragmenting your hard drive. Times have changed, however, and this isn't actually necessary. Windows Vista and 7 automatically defragment your drive, so there's no need to do it yourself. If you're on XP, however, you'll still want to defragment, and you can just set Disk Defragmenter to run on a schedule. Note that if you have a solid-state drive, you don't want to run Disk Defragmenter — whether you're on XP or not. SSD's don't need it (but they will need TRIM enabled).

Clean Your Registry: You've probably also heard about registry cleaners before, but the fact of the matter is that they probably won't do much to help your computer. They won't cause harm to your computer, but you're very unlikely to get any kind of results. Leave these ones alone.

Mess with Windows Prefetching: You may have seen a few articles around the net on cleaning out Windows' prefetching to speed up your computer, but it's pretty much a myth. Not only will you not see any performance gains, but you could actually cause more problems instead of solving them. Just leave prefetching alone; Windows has it there for a reason.

Regularly Reinstall Windows: Sometimes it's unavoidable, but as long as you're responsible about what you install, there's no reason you need to reinstall Windows every six months. Be careful about what you download, test new programs in a virtual machine, and run the maintenance tools we mentioned in section one, and you should be able to save yourself a few hours every month.

That's our short list of Windows maintenance tools, but it should get you started. We've gone through a much more detailed list of Windows maintenance tips, but these are pretty much the essentials here, so they should keep your computer running in tip-top shape for awhile. Check out our more detailed list for an in-depth look.

Cheers Lifehacker

P.S. You guys probably have some of your own favourite maintenance tips and tricks, so if we haven't mentioned them already, be sure to share them in the comments!


Comments

    ccleaner also has a nifty uninstaller, which combined with the registry cleaner, does a very good job.

      ^ This. CCleaner is like your one stop maintenance software. Registry cleaner that has fixed numerous tiny little errors of mine, an uninstaller which works just as good as the default one (doesn't really add much else except the ability to export your list of programs into a text file which is useful for reinstalls). And then a cleanup tool which probably gets rid of a 500-1000mb a month for myself. Furthermore its got a startup manager as well, which saves another program open with msconfig.

      The only other thing I really run is Malwarebytes, and that keeps my computer running fine for the past 3-4 years with little to no problems (had a hdd failure once, not exactly software related aha).

    Defragging a drive still matters if you regularly fill a drive with large files.
    For example the other month I'd filled my 500GB media drive with my cd/dvd collection, and copies to/from the drive had gotten ridiculously slow, a quick defrag check showed new files were starting to have thousands of fragments.

    In my case I deleted 50GB worth of data, manually moved the worst offending files then let the defrag run some time during the night.

    Defragging still matters if a traditional platter drive gets filled up (both for speed and drive health), but if people have never deleted anything and still have space free then it will make zero difference.

    I like that you've included what NOT to do here. Great article.

      Do you mean the section marked "Maintenance You Don’t Need to Do"?

    after you do a "clean" install of windows, Ninite is a must to install all you common apps.
    it will save you time and money!

      I know this comment was posted a while ago but I second the Ninite recommendation. Running one program gets me Foxit Reader, Steam, iTunes, VLC and Google Chrome installed and ready to go. So much time saved!

    In my position, I am always installing, testing and uninstalling software, which unavoidably leads to rogue code and general gunk being left behind that ultimately clogs up the performance of my OS. RevoUninstaller is the best for removing as much of a program's footprint as possible, but inevitably it becomes impractical to keep running the OS as is.

    When one is forced to fully reinstall an OS (just to start with a clean slate again), the obvious annoyance is simply the many hours it takes just to get it back to some raw-level that you're happy with, which may not include any of your favourite apps & utils that make life so much more pleasant.

    In short, there is one ideal solution that will reduce that half-day's worth of work into literally minutes ... Drive Imaging (or what used to be known as "ghosting" when Norton provided their version of this facility).

    This way, when you have installed your OS exactly as you want it to be (my preference is to keep it as minimal to base-OS as possible), then run your favored DI program (eg Powerquest, Acronis, Norton) to create the Image File to another storage partition (ie NOT onto the same C: drive that you are copying) and ... voila! The next time your OS feels like it's in quicksand, don't forget to first copy over any extraneous data files from C: (like email/favourites etc), format C:, restore the DI file and you're back in business within 5-15 mins.

    One word of warning, I've found lately that more and more of my favourite DI programs are starting to fail their ability to restore their previously stored image files for no apparent reason, so it would pay to do a complete save and restore to make sure this works properly.

    It might seems like a lot of extra effort to prepare this scenario (for each computer) the first time around, but just think of the many extra hours you'll save each time over when you're forced to reinstall your OS again. Hope this helps.

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