We use computers on a daily basis and like automobiles or other machines they need to be maintained regularly for optimal performance. This is a handy guide for Microsoft Windows XP users. By no means is this exhaustive, just some things I follow to keep my machine healthy and updated. As the saying goes, your mileage may vary. Granted, some of the older Windows machines and operating systems may not benefit from the suggestions, but it's worth a try. If you need more help on this or other topics, go to Wikipedia or use any search engine, preferably Google. If you have other ideas, be sure to drop a line.
Here, then, are some steps to follow:
1. Space Management: Hard disks prices have fallen considerably over the past few years and you should have a fairly large hard drive. Nevertheless, as we add more and more multi-media content such as movies, MP3s or pictures, our machines get sluggish. Consider partitioning. In my case, I have a 160 GB hard drive partitioned into 2 drives (60 GB primary C partition and 100 GB D secondary). The way to do it is to put the operating system and program files (from installing software) on the C partition and use the D partition for all data. This also makes recovery easier should your machine die (more on that topic later). You only have to do this once or twice when you rebuild your machine or upgrade your operating system. It's well worth the effort.
Another thing to do is to organize your files into logical folders, so it becomes easier to search for your stuff. This also helps later on when you want to only selectively scan folders for viruses and such. By all means use an external hard drive if you have one.
2. Memory and RAM Management: Today's machines typically come with at least 512 MB of RAM, more commonly 1 GB. Nothing kills performance like a low RAM, so add as much as the configuration of your machine can handle or your pocketbook allows.
Associated with this issue of RAM is virtual memory. This is typically a multiple of your memory. To manage this, go to My Computer -> Properties (right click for this) -> Advanced -> Performance -> Settings -> Advanced -> Virtual Memory. Choose Custom. To avoid defragmentation, simply set the minimum and maximum the same. In my case, I've set both to 4095 MB.
3. Disk Management: As you add more and more files to your computer, the way the computer stores the files becomes more inefficient (larger files are spread all over the hard drive) leading to fragmentation and hence slower performance. Use Windows XP's built-in Disk Defragmenter. Go to Settings -> Control Panel -> Administrative Tools -> Computer Management. Click on Disk Defragmenter and follow instructions. Ensure that you are not doing this while working, because it can take 6-10 hours depending on the extent of fragmentation or amount of data. By the way, I do this once a month.
Another useful tip is to compress the files on a regular basis to save space. Go to My Computer -> C: drive (or another drive) -> Properties (right click) -> Click on Disk Cleanup. Ensure that "Compress drive to save disk space" check-box is checked. Again, do this when you are not going to use your computer for a few hours.
4. Security (protection): As we surf the web for all sorts of reasons, we've got to protect our computers from spyware, viruses, malware, worms, hacking and what not. Some simple things to do are:
- Avoid all web browser toolbars. Some of the providers use this for tracking and also inadvertently employ Trojan horses. More about safe browsing in the next post.
- Ensure Windows firewall is on. Check this at Start -> Settings -> Control Panel -> Windows Firewall.
- Install AdAware, Spybot, Norton AntiVirus (check the exact version and name), ZoneAlarm and PestPatrol (now called CA Anti-Spyware). And, of course, ensure that you run them periodically. There is not a single best product for eliminating all viruses and spyware. Run a combination of them to be secure.
- Do get CCleaner and learn how to use it. It's one of the best tools out there for keeping your machine clean and also to recover space. As an example, I used it on my nephews' machine and recovered 6 GB hard drive from a machine that was almost full, and of course sped up the machine considerably.
5. Backup and Recovery: This step requires a little bit of experience working with Windows XP, but nevertheless important enough if you need to use your computer for a long time. Of course, if you are already use Ubuntu or another Linux distribution, you are way ahead of the game.
Do not use Windows XP's System Restore. Although somewhat easier to use, it needlessly chews up your hard drive. Use instead something like Norton Ghost, which is superior and has a somewhat steeper learning curve. For brevity's sake, I'm leaving out all the details. You will not regret it.
6. Automatic Updates: Turn off Automatic Updates on your machine. Instead go to Windows Update periodically and download the necessary updates. Use caution though, because you will be updating all kinds of crap. Always use the Custom update option and only update the ones you absolutely need.
7. Startup Services Management: Please refer to CNET or Arstechnica for better suggestions and techniques.
8. Power Management: Do your little to save the environment by shutting down your computer when not in use. Alternately, you can set your computer to hibernate mode so that you can quickly power up your computer without having to reboot.
That's all for now. Be safe and happy computing!