Windows

Five tips for maintaining a healthy Windows system

A little preventive maintenance can go a long way toward keeping a machine optimized and problem-free. Here are some basic but vital steps to follow.

Riddle me this: What's the best way to keep a running system healthy? The answer? Unplug it from the network and never allow it online. Ah, but that is not an option for the majority of users -- especially those whose business depends upon a networked computer. So, how does one maintain a healthy system when it  must be connected to a hostile environment?

There are so many ways to ensure a healthy system, your job could primarily consist of keeping machines healthy (and it probably does). So let's narrow down the methods of keeping machines running smoothly and consider five of the most important ways to maintain a healthy system.

1: Keep antivirus and anti-malware definitions up to date

I am always shocked when I work on machine and find the very definitions that do the most to protect a system are out of date. This is only asking for problems, since new viruses pop up almost daily. If virus definitions are not set up to automatically update nightly, change them to do so. If this is not an option, at least make sure that users are made aware of the need to have those definitions manually updated nightly. If this requires the need to set up reminders for users, then so be it. But not matter how it gets done, make absolute certain that it is getting done. Outside of keeping a machine off the network, no single task can better help to ensure the health of a Windows machine than keeping antivirus and anti-malware definitions up to date.

2: Clean up the registry

Next to outdated virus definitions, a fubar'd registry can really hobble a Windows computer. The registry is a crucial component to Windows and it can become corrupted, broken, or generally dismayed easily. Removal programs, virus infections, rootkits, Trojans, improper computer shutdown... there are so many possible ways to corrupt a registry. But how to keep it clean? Plenty of tools are available to clean up the Windows registry (doing the job manually would be nearly impossible). One of my favorites is Piriform's Ccleaner. This tool allows for the quick and easy cleanup of the Windows registry. There are lots of other tools that can handle this same task, so the choice will most likely depend upon your needs and tastes.

3: Clean out temporary Internet files

People are always surprised at how much their browser saves. Between cookies, images, and other cached files, a Web browser can really clog up a user's C drive. Although drives are cheap and huge, I have come across instances where there were more than 20 gigs of cached Internet files (between browsers). This can obviously cause problems when space becomes an issue, and it can cause significant slowdown of the Web browser. Keeping these cached files cleared will help a machine run more smoothly, and it will allow for a better Web browsing experience. The browser cache can be cleared from within the user's browser. In fact, some browsers can be set to auto-clear the cache upon exit. If users tend to horde their cache, set their browser up to automatically clear the cache when they exit it.

4: Defragment drives

I hate this. I really do. I would have thought that Microsoft would have solved the problem of fragmentation somewhere in the process of creating Vista and Windows 7. But it didn't. Instead, it set Windows 7 up with an automatically scheduled defragment. That's all great, but there are some people out there still running Windows XP who do not benefit from Microsoft covering up its inability to resolve an issue that has plagued the platform for the longest time. If you (or your end users) are still running Windows XP, ensure those machines are set up to auto-defragment at least once a week.

5: Run a disk check

This one is not really for the new users, but for the administrators. Every once in a while (once a month maybe), it is good to run chkdsk X: /f /r (where X is the drive letter you want to check). The f switch tells the command to automatically fix errors and the r switch locates bad sectors and recovers readable data. Just make sure you reboot the machine right after the check. Otherwise, users might cancel the check disk run -- or worse, shut down the machine in the middle of the check.

Basic maintenance

It really isn't all that hard to keep a Windows machine healthy, but it does take a bit of time and, in some cases, a bit of patience. Be sure to follow these five tips and those Windows machines will live a long, healthy, productive life.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

13 comments
Good Old Dad
Good Old Dad

After using (and probably abusing) registry cleaners for several years on a variety of computers and Windows OS's, and reading lots of reasonably informed opinions, I am gradually coming to the conclusion that at least for newer Windows systems, registry cleaning is unnecessary and likely to do much more harm than good in the hands of a novice, or even a trusting expert. "Oh, look, it says it can clean 1465 entries if I just click here! I wonder what all those entries were for? It wants me to create a restore point - I don't know what that is, so I better not. Oh, well . . ." Click. "Hey, why isn't my [os/program/hardware] working any more?" I have never noticed (subjectively) any change in system performance after a "cleaning". So, I'm considering just simply not doing it any more. Not to completely diss housekeeping utilities like Ccleaner - they have other tools that are certainly very useful. It just seems like this whole registry cleaning thing may be somewhat bogus, falling under the same heading as RAM optimizers. JMHO.

byl
byl

Good advice ... if only more users applied it! I find most users don???t do these vital actions because they take too long, especially defragmenting (you're not the only one who hates to have to do it!) If using the built-in utility, defrag can take a very long time (I recently saw a post by a guy who reported his 350 GB drive took 104 HOURS to defrag with the built-in see: http://forums.auran.com/trainz/showthread.php?s=8d9413354d8c6b5de4f4c7a9ec4d2ade&t=73369&page=2). And on top of that, you can???t use the PC while it???s defragmenting, so I always recommend using a good automatic third party program that can defrag transparently while using the PC. Disks become fragmented with use. Fragmentation is the accumulation of incontiguous pieces of files and free space randomly scattered across a disk. Writing files to such a disk takes a long time (not to mention later accessing, editing and then saving them). All this slows down the PC and wears out the disks much faster. A basic defrag program will put all the pieces together, while a good one will also consolidate the free space; the best ones can do so while you use the PC and the best of the best will prevent fragmentation (good news -- there is a solution now that makes the OS write files contiguously in the first place, preventing most fragmentation before it ever happens).. Here's a Top 10 Reviews side-by-side comparison of the best defrag programs available: http://disk-defragmenter-software-review.toptenreviews.com/ The top placers are automatic and they all offer a free trial. The gold medalist is the one that prevents fragmentation. You can get a free trial via the review or at http://www.diskeeper.com/defrag ..

martink
martink

I've been told that you should not defrag SSD's in the first place. That is not expected to improve performance. I don't know if that is true, but I've stopped. Secondly I found that registry cleaners only go so far. Recently I deleted all obsolete users on a PC and used Crapcleaner first and then Wiseregistry cleaner. When I tired to recreate one of those user the message was that the user already exists even though I can't see it displayed on any list of users. Then after all cleaning and deffragging it takes some 30 secs to shut down. After a fresh install with all the same software the shut down is only 12 secs. Apparently everything is not decrapified.

euroboarda
euroboarda

Use Autoruns and remove Invalid Entries: any with an Image Path of "File Not Found", and of course entries belonging to previously un-installed software (just look at the image path)

ranger72
ranger72

I do the same however I clean mine out every 6 months. I have woodstoves:>)

prahler1
prahler1

Every year, on a warm, dry day, I take my PCs out on the back deck (I'm a home - retired user), open them up and blow the dust out of them. JWP

SKDTech
SKDTech

The /R switch makes the /F switch redundant as it is already implied

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I actually take issue with this automated config in Win7 for the simple reason that solid state should not be defraged in the first place. The last thing I want is Windows automatically wasting my SSD's write limit. Automatically defrag my magnetic drives all you like but don't dare touch my SSD's. Especially with a non-SSD aware process which doesn't minimize moves.

gavin142
gavin142

I go every 6 months as well... it's amazing where pet hair manages to accumulate.

crcgraphix
crcgraphix

Using third party disk de-fragment software or registry optimizers unless they are certified or licensed. Sometimes hackers pass off the non-real piriform product, (just an example) as the real thing... The best thing to do is to go to the main site from Google or Cnet.com as the odds of deploying from a phony site are next to none.

Spitfire_Sysop
Spitfire_Sysop

Generally, if you have a SSD hard drive, Win7 would disable disk defragmentation, Superfetch, Prefetcher and ReadyBoost. Want to double check? 1)Open Disk Defragmenter 2)Click the Configure schedule button 3)Click the Select disks button If the disk is missing from the list then it has been detected as a SSD and will not be automatically defragmented.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

Thanks for that. I'm happy to hear that it's SSD aware having brought the first SSD/Win7 workstation in just last week.