Windows

Preventative maintenance for PCs: Four favorite utilities

Whether it's a visit to the MD or the auto mechanic, periodic check-ups are necessary to make sure things keep working the way they should. When the work at the help desk slows down enough to allow for non-emergency maintenance, here's what I pull out of the tool box.

Here in Chicago, it's time to start thinking about getting the car winterized. Since driving in our winter snows can sometimes be pretty hairy, that auto check-up isn't really optional. Working at the help desk can be a little different, though. We can get so busy dealing with the emergencies that come up, it can become all too easy to postpone routine maintenance -- "Oh, I'll get to that tomorrow." There's nothing that I can do to keep you from postponing your preventative to-dos. I can, however, offer some suggestions for utilities you can use to keep your PC in working order.

  • Run Aida32 for a system report. I like having recent documentation of all the things going on in my machine. Aida32 is a great freeware app for Windows that will return every possible detail you might need to know about your PC, from installed software to chipset information. Checking out this system report reminds me to remove applications I'm no longer using and can be used to determine which bits of hardware might be ripe for an upgrade. Development on Aida32 has been abandoned, but recent versions can still be found on various download sites. If you'd prefer to use something that's being actively updated, you might look at Belarc Advisor or System Information for Windows. Those programs, though, are free only for non-commercial use.
  • Clear hard disk space with JDiskReport. Working for the help desk, I'm always downloading files. There are software packages to test, and log file archives to analyze. I find myself running low on disk space pretty often, especially when I'm trying to build custom Windows install disks slipstreamed with the current updates. When I want to clean my drive of those space hogs I don't need, I turn to JDiskReport. A free cross-platform utility built in Java, I like the way that JDiskReport clearly highlights the most egregious space offenders on your disk. If you don't have Java on your machine, SequoiaView is another option for Windows users. I'm not a fan of its "treemap" method of displaying disk allocations, though.
  • Test your system memory with Memtest86+. Memory faults can be difficult to troubleshoot, since the symptoms can be so varied. Head off crashes before they start by testing your PC's memory subsystem. Open-source Memtest86+ boots from removable media and puts your machine's memory through its paces so you can detect faulty hardware before it starts contributing to system instability.
  • Verify your hard disk's integrity with SpinRite. We should all be making regular back ups, but wouldn't it be nice if we could have some warning before our hard disks failed? That's the promise of SpinRite. A DOS-based disk maintenance tool, SpinRite uses block analysis techniques and a disk's built-in error checking circuitry and to diagnose and repair storage problems before they become critical. SpinRite can even occasionally resurrect drives that won't boot, as long as the problem is not due to a fault with the drive mechanism. It's also worth noting that SpinRite is file system agnostic, and has been verified to work on drives formatted for Linux and Macintosh OS.

Preventative maintenance isn't sexy, and it can be hard to find the time for it. These tasks don't have to be done every week, though, and I'm convinced that making time for them every few months helps keep my PC working for me.

65 comments
jdclyde
jdclyde

Would be very interested to see which of the listed tools you are still using, and what you have added to the tool box.

nbushey
nbushey

"Preventative" isn't a word. Look it up.

Joe_R
Joe_R

And a great discussion -- lot's of good stuff in here.

JCitizen
JCitizen

I'm playing with Window XP 64 bit Edition on my laptop; and with the exception of TI PCMCIA drivers I like the way it runs on my HP. However finding utilities has been a "fun" process. So far I have only trusted running Avast 64 bit(which I think must me some kind of emulator version) and Agnitum Outpost, which I am working with Agnitum on some email bugs there. And CCleaner which seems to be working fine. Avast seems to work well, so far, but I notice Task Manager lists it with a *32 entry with each process; thus leading me to believe it must be an emulator version. Any non-Vista utilities out there? Server 2003 drivers and applications work on my copy of XP64. Looks like I am with everyone else on the 32 bit side of things; I like the same utilities. Although I must say I have had trouble with Diskinternals defrag utility; probably because of an old hard drive ready to crater.

melekali
melekali

I like your short list. Here are some others I use frequently to keep drives working in tip top condition: - ERUNT (Registry backup) - NTREGOPT (Fix Registry errors) - Pagedfrg - SDelete - FreeRAMPro - Speedfan - Cpuz - Diskeeper (not free but without a doubt the best disk optimization software I have ever worked with in Windows after years of a manual diskcheck/defrag combo) Cheers!

bret.miller
bret.miller

Since AIDA32 is out of development, I found LanSweeper (www.lansweeper.com) to be an excellent alternative for network-based PC inventory.

JBNForeman
JBNForeman

Thanks, Bill -- good recommendations

Jaqui
Jaqui

e2fsck or, if I have a reiserfs instead, reiserfsprogs e2fsck will also work with ext3 filesystems. I can check the status of the filesystem, if it is showing signs of going, copy the data to a different partition, remake the fs completely, then copy the data back. But, yes, the new journalised filesystems for windows still need defragmenting, MS has not gotten the non-fragmenting filesystem technology down well enough to not defragment the disks yet.

williamjones
williamjones

I'd love to hear what you use to keep systems in good working order. What are your feelings, for instance, on regular disk defragmentation? I didn't include that tactic in my post, because I'm not sure it's all that necessary with modern file systems. Do you feel differently? Any Mac users out there? Feel free to chime in with your favorite tools, too. I'm always on the lookout for more Mac utilities.

raylinkz
raylinkz

Informative, concise, and extremely helpful in today's world of systems which seem to become constipated with time if they aren't medicated often. I don't know if this is a record but it is very refreshing; 44 responsed with no backstabbing, kicking, gouging or 'mealymouthing; (sic) Don't have a clue what that word means but my Mom used it frequently if someone tried to belittle others. Thanks Guys (and Gals), I'm archiving this one for future reference.

Oktet
Oktet

I don't know if this is what you where looking for; however, I was dual booting XP 64 with XP 32 and got bored of it. I decided to use the XP 64 partition for Linux instead of XP 64, but this link proved very beneficial in my little XP 64 fun-run. http://www.planetamd64.com/

Dumphrey
Dumphrey

fragments badly, part of this is due to temp files and the pagefile, but even taking that into account, it needs regular defraging. defrag c: in a bat file scheduled to run once a week is enough if on a budget, otherwise, Diskeeper is your friend, and money well spent.

jamesdtuttle
jamesdtuttle

I purchased Diskeeper to defrag my mirrored server system drive. I was fairly happy with it, although I got a bit tired of the time and "stages" of offline defrags. I was impressed by the "safety" claims and practiced being patient. Until it crashed and trashed several installations. On TWO machines. One, a simple EIDE drive, the second my mirrored SCSI system drive(s). I've since purchased PerfectDisk, flushed Diskeeper and not looked back. Not only is it faster, but files and free space are arranged more to my liking. And no crashes. Diskeeper was not my friend.

BWoody
BWoody

I found a very helpfull analysis database to handle with aida32 and everest too. It's free to use - but the page is only in german. aida32-inventory[dot]netboom[dot]de The full projekt includes scripts and extra-tools (scripts,csv importer, minisql,...) but the database is only available too. The database offers: realtime-analyses about software, clients, printer and user with reporting und print function - many overviews and extra-detailed - information for each client - a licence-module - an inventory-module (which client is in which building/rom with which monitor, printer, , username, invent number..., and so on) - a netsend module - detail-module - a barcode label creating option - 2 extra endless reporting moduls - change manager - listbuilder - option to check clients about new installations/deinstalltions - option to compare reports ... The database (backend/frontend) ist multilingual-ready. You can work directly with German and English reports ? for a use with English reports only just delete/rename table ?IIDs? and rename after the other table ?IIDs (english)?into ?IIDs? (table is placed in the backend). Only thing ? the frontend is in german ? but all text, messageboxes, tooltipps can be modified. (ini-file) the use of the database is self-explaining. Needs office 2000 (word, excel, access) or higher. just a tip. aida32-inventory[dot]netboom[dot]de/indexe[dot]htm It?s free to use! greets

melekali
melekali

I have noticed Windows become fragmentation almost the instant it is used. I recommend defragging every day. If you use Symantec, defrag twice as much or just break down and buy diskeeper.

glitteringsky
glitteringsky

Avast Zone Alarm CCleaner Advanced WindowsCare Pro Regcleaner Spybot S&D Adaware Disk Keeper DiskMD (pcpitstop) Acronis True Image Everest Home ed PC Wizard 2008 Process Explorer Saved several times by Ultimate Boot Disk, Active@ File Recovery and Killdisk. Easy and effective software.

arnie6760
arnie6760

I run: 1) Ad-aware 2) Glarysoft Registry Repair 3) CCleaner 4) Auslogics Registry Defrag 5) Auslogics Disk Defrag I run these weekly sometime bi-weekly of I have been doing alot of surfing or have alot of internet actvity. And once a month, I run Acronis True Image Home ED. This is for HDD backups. I send everything to a slave HDD-G: drive. I also keep a complete copy of all programs on an external HDD-I: drive in case I lose one or both internal drives. Hope this helps!!

Paul W.
Paul W.

For basic maintenance and system upkeep I use: AVG Anti-virus Grisoft Virus program (Use in place of not in conjunction with other anti-virus Programs) http://free.grisoft.com/doc/28415/lng/us/tpl/v5 AVG Anti-spyware Grisoft Removes spyware/malware http://free.grisoft.com/doc/28415/lng/us/tpl/v6 AVG Anti-rootkit Grisoft removes rootkits http://free.grisoft.com/doc/28415/lng/us/tpl/v7 Adaware Lavasoft removes spyware/malware http://www.lavasoft.com/ Spybot S&D Safer Networking Removes spyware/malware http://www.safer-networking.org/en/download/index.html Ccleaner (crap cleaner) Piriform LTD. Removes temp files, cookies, log files, i.e. history, and empties recycle bin. Also checks and repairs registry problems http://www.ccleaner.com/download/ All the above are free programs which is a great thing because my customers and I usually run on very tight budgets, but, that is not the only reason I use them. After many years of use I have found these programs to be safe and reliable. For diagnostics I also use MemTest 86 in conjunction with the manufacturer's Hard drive diagnostics programs. I do use MS defrag because even with the newer file systems defragmentation on a somewhat regular basis improves performance. This especially true if you install or uninstall a lot. XP's built-in defrag is not the best it is adequate and best of all it is free.

townsendsebay
townsendsebay

i use someting as simple and effective as CCleaner I works as a dead file cleaner, reg cleaner and an uninstaller. I have it on my Vista and XP machine Scott

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

AVG - my currently prefered AV software installed on any desktop I get hands on. ClamAV - virus scanning from the comfort of my own flashdrive to confirm whatever AV is isntalled on the system directly. Adaware - remove adware and ad releated spyware spyware search/destroy - remove other types of spyware outside of Adaware's catalogue. (I pull out Bazooka and the big guns if those two don't find and squash everything) CCleaner - remove cruft and correct registry issues. The first use regularily, the second use from time to time (I still don't trust "registry cleaners" fully). Windows Disk Cleanup - remove cruft files and compress irregularily used files. Diskkeeper - a real defrag utility for after you've cleaned the drive cruft. Usualy in that order. Granted, that's all drive related but helps with efficiency and practicing safe hex. (briliant frase that hex bit, cheers to the person who used it first) For memory, I use a trusty liveCD with memtester on it. System Rescue Disk works well though I have a few different ones.

royhayward
royhayward

I use this when I visit sick computers and to check up on what has snuck in to my system when it starts to run slowly.

nbushey
nbushey

William, you're right. I apologize to you and the community for not checking my facts before posting. I just assumed that "preventative" was one of those non-word words like "irregardless" that people use without thinking. Upon review, my copy of the Oxford English Dictionary does not label "preventative" as erroneous (as it does "irregardless"). However, by way of definition it refers the reader to "preventive", remarking that "preventive" is "the preferable formation." In any case, my post was off the point of your article (not to mention being rather ill-mannered), and I apologize for that as well.

JCitizen
JCitizen

now that I think about it. Maybe it is like the mountain top - I've noticed the higher you climb the less trash, graffiti, and vandalism you encounter. Speaks volumes for the integrity of the individual obviously! If Techrepublic could find the formula for flame repellent we could get a lot more done on this site! Okay I'm way off topic and out on a limb here; I'm back to reality now! :)

williamjones
williamjones

This discussion has been really great, and you've pointed me toward some interesting utilities!

JCitizen
JCitizen

I only need two that I could do without but I am picky about that. Thanks for the link, but they are way limited at that site. I should have mentioned that I had been there already. I've had better luck strong arming the hardware vendors for information. Just can't get excited about Vista, and want to end run for my clients who don't want to switch but want to stick with XP. The boost in performance is more that enough to justify it in my view; if the client just won't switch to Linux. I try to encourage them to do just that, but am only successfull one third of the time; for those wanting to upgrade, that is. I would think most 64bit ready machines would have even fewer issues than mine; especially if they are workstations..Server 2003 drivers are a saviour 9 times out of 10.

melekali
melekali

I got DK online for $29.99 and opened a credit card and got $30 back, so they paid me a penny for it. :o)

Jaqui
Jaqui

my linux only network doesn't suffer from fragmentation anywhere near the same level. [ 2% fragmentation after 6 months, when there has been problems causing hard power off ] With the swap partition instead of a page file, the data secton(s) of the drive don't get fragmented, and with the /tmp folder [ partition often ] then even the temp files don't cause issues on the data section of the disk. The *x method of slightly over allocating space per file allows for some file growth without spreading it around the filesystem, MS seems to try to allocate the exact amount of space needed, which promotes scattering setions of files around.

spudman
spudman

I put a shortcut to defrag on the desktop, Most of my customers are small businesses and don't keep their PCs on (power is .14/kw) 24/7 so a schedule during off hours is not always possible. It definitely makes a difference. I have seen AV databases with 1000s of fragments. Imagine what that does to performance.

JCitizen
JCitizen

I just assumed I had an old hard drive; but I am still using that drive. I'll have to check PerfectDisk; Thanks!

JCitizen
JCitizen

images. But the Partition Magic application that came with it is dangerous to hard drive integrity so I have my doubts about Ghost too! It works fine as a boot utility but the install app blew up my hard drive once. I am becoming prejudiced against all things Symantec anyway!

JCitizen
JCitizen

I have been using/testing a lot of paid for utilities in the last 9 months that just don't stack up to the free stuff lately. Plus the fact that they are so bloated there is no room in the RAM or CPU cycles to run anything else! Have you tried any of the paid versions of AVG or Adaware? I never got to let Lavasoft's "adwatch" do its job, in the past because it conflicted with Symantec. Well Symantec is history now - I don't know if Adwatch would be any better than Spybot S&D's "Tea Timer" or not.

normhaga
normhaga

Reg cleaning (4 tools) TweakNow, Tune up Utilities, System Suite 6 and CCleaner. All have many uses and I use them in sequence. Perfect disk for defrag. Paragon drive backup for back ups. Paragon Partition manager for repartitioning. Ad-Aware and Spybot for adware. Zonelabs System Suite or Kapersky 7 for general virus and firewall. Data recovery, R-Studio solutions. Proccess control Sysinternals Autoruns and Whats Running. Rootkit detection Sysinternals Rootkit Revealer. For more serious problems, I boot from a Knoppix Live CD and work directly from the files.

amurray
amurray

Anyone use the TUB CD? TUB (The Ultimate Boot CD) a must for any techie's CD case.

LeProf
LeProf

I use almost the exact same utilities as Neon Samurai, and in the same basic order. I do toss in "RegScrubXP" and "EasyCleaner" for a little extra tidying up. I install everything on every PC I build for friends, family, and customers, then I lecture them on the critical need to use them religiously to maintain their hard drive. I want to thank Joe and everyone else for the suggestions. I'm going to check out all of the recommended appz from the article and your comments, since the only two I recognize are Memtest86 and Sysinternals. Cheers!

grewcockd
grewcockd

I run: Defrag Disk cleanup Adaware Spybot CClean CacheClean Antivirus Scan Delprof (on network workstations) They seem to do a reasonable job of preventative maintenance

nbushey
nbushey

Point taken. Irregardless is a word because some number of people use it. I think it's also correct to infer from your citation that the editors of Webster's believe there is such a thing as standard English, and that irregardless (because it is "nonstandard") is not a part of it.

Paul W.
Paul W.

I hate to tell you but irregardless is a word, not one I would use but a word nonetheless according to Webster's: irregardless One entry found. irregardless Main Entry: ir?re?gard?less Pronunciation: \ˌir-i-ˈg?rd-ləs\ Function: adverb Etymology: probably blend of irrespective and regardless Date: circa 1912 nonstandard : regardless usage Irregardless originated in dialectal American speech in the early 20th century. Its fairly widespread use in speech called it to the attention of usage commentators as early as 1927. The most frequently repeated remark about it is that ?there is no such word.? There is such a word, however. It is still used primarily in speech, although it can be found from time to time in edited prose. Its reputation has not risen over the years, and it is still a long way from general acceptance. Use regardless instead.

Dumphrey
Dumphrey

Diskeeper since version 7, wait, I'm still using version 7 =) As far as improvments in defragging go, I really don't need them on my home XP box. But, Diskeeper is one of those programs I have never regretted even a penny of the cost.

sancretor
sancretor

It's precisely for these non-techie users who don't know about defragging regularly and those who cannot be bothered for reasons of time/effort that automatic defragmentation is becoming popular in the corporate segment. There are automatic defraggers that run on their own and defragment the workstation in the background during idle (only if necessary), without disrupting the user's activities. Very convenient solution as opposed to asking users to defrag their own PCsor the admin spending friday nights defragging on a schedule.

JCitizen
JCitizen

didn't actually do anything for NTFS folders on a logical partition anyway. Encouraging news! I will definitely look into this; I better google it now and save the URL or I will never remember to set it to a project. Thanks!

Dumphrey
Dumphrey

I do not doubt the possibility of conficts between DK and other programs, and like I said, I have been using version 7. For the large video files you may want to look into contig from sysinternals. It can derfag a single file or all the files in a directory, or all the files ona disk. Its not a free space consolidation program, or even a "disk defrag" program (can be used liek one), its really just a file defrag program. Defragging large files (video) etc makes them more responsive when editing etc (or so I hear.

JCitizen
JCitizen

it in my notes; sorry. Maybe Diskeeper 10 Pro - I'm getting sloppy about my projects anymore. If I am trying a new version that I know is a trusted source I don't even bother with the paperwork. I was really only using it because the bloat was slowing me down and I thought it would help speed things up. Getting rid of the bloat worked so well I probably won't need a disk utility again until I start getting huge video files on 250Gb disks. I believe it was the next version older than the one they are sending me in their email promotions. (2008) Like I said before - I think it was a hard drive problem; the old thing has been horsing along for almost five years; sometimes 24/7. And cheap Maxtor drives probably aren't known for longevity. Could also have been a compatibility issue with SpyDoctor, which I was evaluating at the same time. It was just too old a unit to be using modern software. I've gone back to lightweight solutions on that machine and in the process am discovering a lot of better AV solutions out there that don't hog all your RAM and CPU usage. The old Maxtor is still horsing along; without Diskeeper. I haven't had any anomalies since - Yet.

Dumphrey
Dumphrey

I have been using version 7 since its release (3 years now?) on the same hard drive, in the same motherboard, same cpu with no glitches. My computer reboots for updates and is turned off never...Disk Keeper is the company M$ licenses the built in defrag tool from. I am sorry you all had bad experiences, I find that odd, but understand where you all are coming from. I would ditch it in a heart beat if I thought it was causing problems. I have not installed any auto defrag program here at work, since management feels they are a waste of money. Instead I use a simple defrag c: batch file that runs every Saturday morning. Perfect disk is a good program as well. I have used their 30 day demo, but thats the extent of my experience with them.

Dumphrey
Dumphrey

=) Sharing info is what this site is about, and if that info happens to be about sweet, free utilities, all the better =) I am getting fairly good at finding free ways of doing many things, since my company prefers to not spend any money unless absolutely necessary.

JCitizen
JCitizen

imaging for G4U. I've always wished I had purchased Acronis, and have always read good things about it as well. Once again I am in your debt Dumphrey; I hope my continued thanks doen't wear you out. I do sincerely appreciate your time and input.

Dumphrey
Dumphrey

Ebay or elsewhere and find a copy of Ghost 2003. I used it exclusively when imaging boxes (until recently). I also purchased a copy of Ghost 10. Its pure junk. It does "live imaging" which trans lates into it creates a back up which can be used for bare metal restore if you boot off the recovery disk. What ghost 10 does not do, is create a bootable dvd that contains a clean image for a computer, and a limited use/restore only copy of the ghost exacutable. An install of XP Pro, drivers, and many utilities will fit on a dvd, and restores to bootable in under a half hour. Ghost 2003 undterstands fat, fat32, NTFS, ext2, ext3, swap, and I think reisers. Also ghost 2003 has gdisk, a command line partition program and disk cleaner. Lately though I have been using G4U, a linux based disk cloning program. What I like about G4U over ghost 2003 is the simple way G4U allows you to back up an image to a tftp server. G4U is slower then ghost, but its doing a bit level copy of the disk (front end commands for dd?), and as such, does not shrink or compress partitions. but that can be managed with qparted before imaging. http://www.feyrer.de/g4u/

Paul W.
Paul W.

I've never felt the need to use the paid versions of AVG or Adaware because the free versions have always been more then sufficient for my customers and my family. Although if the budget ever improves I will definitely be getting the paid versions so that I can support them, at least a little.

michael.s.wells
michael.s.wells

Would you care to share more specifics? Like what apps are on the cd.

melekali
melekali

We created something far better than the ultimate boot cd. I have used it a liked it which is why we burned a mini dvd (1.2 GB) with other stuff like ERD Commander.

Dumphrey
Dumphrey

and the UBCD for Win, a variation on BartPE which I had been using until UBCDW came along.

JCitizen
JCitizen

even with Agnitum Outpost; so far anyway. You suppose they will change the name to NOD64? HA! I had always heard it was hard to set up; I don't know what they were talking about. Perhaps tweaking may be challenging, but the default settings are good in my first impression. Of course I am just using the antivirus and not the full-suite modules. Still waiting on Outpost firewall support issues with web mail though.

Dumphrey
Dumphrey

version of NOD32 would be nice. Thanks for pointing the trial out J.

JCitizen
JCitizen

I had previously checked and didn't see a 64 bit version but I did one more look and there is a ESET Smart Security BETA-2 release out now. I think I shall download it immediately if trials are still going.

melekali
melekali

I'm partial to ZoneAlarm used in conjunction with VisualZone.

spudman
spudman

I bought Spinrite to rescue a disk and it got almost to the end and the disk died. But I kept it rather than asking for my money back and it has rescued several systems since. I wish Steve Gibson would finish it with an option to copy the recovered data (sector by sector as recovered) to a new disk. He said he might but that was over 2 years ago so don't hold your breath.

Dumphrey
Dumphrey

version of Jetico firewall do you use? They have an older version for free and a newer, paid version. The free version seems to be of an age with Sygate.

Dumphrey
Dumphrey

With some minor variations. I use NOD32 for my AV instead of AVG. The rest of my ?protection suite? is Ghostwall as a firewall, SnoopFree (resident) for key logger/snoopers, Asquared (resident) for Trojans, Filemap for knowing what?s new, and DiskCheckup for keeping an eye on my hard disk health. In terms of maintenance, I manually run Spybot S&D and AdAware about once every two weeks (if I see no real slowdown), Diskeeper runs every night on all 4 disks, of which 2 are archives and are rarely touched...I also run Asquaredcmd about once every two weeks. After the scans, I run RegscrubXP, and in the last 4 months I have added CCleaner. And Sysinternals Autoruns and Process Explorer get the occasional peek to see if anything suspicious has popped up.

drdosus
drdosus

Hi, Spinrite v6 is only $89.00...well worth the money.

andybard
andybard

Since I a working on a tigt bidget can anyone reconnend a good free alternative to Spinrite? sorry abot typo glitces i tink i ave a troan virs

andybard
andybard

Since I a working on a tigt bidget can anyone recconend of a good free alternative to Spinrite? sorry abot typo glitces i tink i ave a troan virs

Stubby
Stubby

I agree - a personal firewall should be a must have for newer / novice users of windows based PC's. My personal favourites are jetico and comodo. On top of this just wanted to add the Spinrite is not free and not particularly cheap but I have been using it since version 1 in 1986 and it is a superb tool.

Oktet
Oktet

I use roughly about the same tools that everyone here uses; however, every PC I come in contact with also gets a free software firewall. I like PC Tools Firewall Plus, as an added layer of security to an existing hardware firewall.