5 ways to spring clean your PC or laptop
If your PC or laptop is running slower than you'd like, try these five easy ways to speed it up. Think of it like a spring clean: clearing out applications you no longer use, removing temporary files which are taking up room on your hard drive are chores you'd probably rather not do, but they can make a big difference to any PCaor laptop. We've explained the tips in detail for Windows computers, but the principles apply to any computer, so if you wanted to tidy up your Apple MacBook Pro or Windows gaming PC: read on.
(In fact, if you have a gaming PC or laptop, you should also read: How to make your games run faster: improve fps)
5 ways to spring clean your PC: Clean out duplicate and junk files
As any PC or laptop ages, data will fill up the hard drive. This in turn slows performance, as your PC has to go further and work harder to find the files and programs it needs to access. Removing as much junk as possible will help to restore your PC- or laptop's zip. We'll start with duplicate files. Typically these will be music or photo files. There's no downside to removing such junk, and the free Easy Duplicate Finder will speed up this process. Install it and follow the simple instructions.
Now you can use Windows' built-in cleanup functions to create more space: they do so by emptying the Recycle Bin, and removing temporary and other files you no longer need. In Windows 8 go to the Search Charm and type in Disk Clean-up. Click on the result for 'Clear Disk Space by deleting unecessary files'. In Windows 7 Go to Start, All Programs, Accessories, then choose System Tools, Disk Cleanup.
The wizard will identify the files it thinks you can delete, also telling you how much hard-drive space it will free up. Click 'View files' if you aren't sure which files it's pointing to. If it offers to delete a file you want to keep, simply remove the tick in the box beside it before clicking 'Clean up system files'. For more on this, see: How to clean up your PC for maximum performance.
5 ways to spring clean your PC: Delete programs you don't use or need
Next, remove any programs you don't use – again Windows has its own tool for this. In Windows 8 head to the Search Charm and search 'Uninstall'. You'll see an entry for 'Uninstall programs to free up Disk Space'. In Windows 7 head to Start, Control Panel, Programs and choose 'Uninstall a program'.
In each case you can see a list of programs and the space they take up. Scroll down the list and select the program you want to remove, then click the Uninstall button at the top of the window. Remember you want to delete only programs you don't use.
It isn't always possible to completely remove all traces of a program using Windows' utility. For this, you need a third party tool such as Revo Uninstaller. In Revo's interface, double-click a program's icon to remove it. You can then scan for and remove leftover files or Registry entries. (See also: 'Should I Remove It?' helps you choose which programs to purge and How to uninstall programs on your PC)
5 ways to spring clean your PC: Defrag your hard drive
Once you have removed uneccessary files and programs from your PC, a good next step is to compact the remaining data so that your PC can access data in as efficient manner as possible.
Defragging or defragmenting your hard drive is a way of speeding up your PC or laptop in Windows - in principle, at least. The idea is that as data is saved and resaved to the spinning disc in your hard drive, small packets of information are deposited in random places all over the platter. This then takes longer to read, when Windows calls upon your hard drive to find out information.
By defragmenting or compacting that data the operating system removes the gaps between packets of data, moving it all closer to the middle of the disc. This in turn makes each access of the hard drive quicker, by a tiny amount. It should improve the speed of your PC or laptop, even if it does so by only an imperceptible amount.
The only exception to this is if your PC has an SSD. Defragmenting an SSD will only wear it out more quickly - don't do it!
To defrag the drive in Windows 7, click the Start button. Select All Programs, then Accessories. Choose System Tools, and then select Disk Defragmenter.
You'll probably have to put in your administrator password. Then hit Defragment Now.
In Windows 8 your PC, laptop or tablet will defrag itself by default every week, thanks to the scheduled task: Optimize Drives. So if you haven't changed any settings, you shouldn't need to defrag. But if you aren't sure and you want to check the status of- or manually defrag your drive open Search and type in 'Defragment'. One of the results will be 'Defragment and optimize your drives'. Select this.
You'll see a dialog featuring a list of the hard drives in your PC or laptop, their media type, when they were last defragged, and how fragmented they are. You really need to defrag only if the drive is more than 10 percent fragmented. If you can't see a figure in Current status, to find out if a particular drive needs to be optimized highlight it and hit Analyze. Then confirm your choice. This will update the Current status column.
If any of your drives is fragmented by 10 percent or more, highlight it and hit Optimize. Confirm your choice. (See also: How to defrag in Windows 7 and Windows 8: should you defrag your Windows PC or laptop?)
5 ways to spring clean your PC: Remove programs from launch
You don't even have to completely remove a program from your PC to speed things up. You could just remove them from the startup process. Many programs autoload at startup, so you don't need to wait around when you later want to use them – but you don't always want to use them. You know how your older Windows PC takes an age to boot up? Removing startup programs will help.
We'll do this process in Windows 7 and then in Windows 8.
In Windows 7 type msconfig in the Start menu Search bar. Click the Startup tab in the System Configuration window and deselect any programs you don't want to launch at startup. Press Apply, Ok.
Free boot-analysis tool Soluto offers advice on which programs can be safely removed from the startup process. This handy utility improves on the System Configuration tool's functionality by also letting you defer certain items to load just after the desktop becomes responsive.
Services can also be prevented from running at startup, but be careful: Windows will require some of these to function properly. Enter services.msc into the Start menu Search bar to display a list of startup services, then head to Black Viper to identify which of those services can be delayed or disabled.
It is easier to stop programs launching when Windows 8 boots. As with many great innovations in Windows 8, this one requires you to launch the revamped Task Manager. There are several ways to do this.
Via search: hit the Windows Key and Q, or bring up the Charms bar and click the search icon, then type 'Task Manager' and hit enter. Then select the Task Manager icon that appears. Alternatively, within the desktop you can right-click on the taskbar, or hit Windows Key and X to bring up the secret Start Menu, and select Task Manager. Finally, you can use Ctrl+Alt+Delete and select Task Manager.
Once you have opened Task Manager, you need to select the Start-up tab. This lists all the programs that launch when you boot your Windows 8 PC, laptop or tablet. It also tells you each app's publisher, and the impact on startup performance listed as either 'low', 'high' or 'medium'. Now simply click on the programs you don't want to start with your PC, right-click, and select 'Disable'. Or highlight a program and click 'Disable' in the bottom righthand corner of the window. You can reverse this process at any time by clicking on the item and right-clicking, then selecting 'Enable', or hitting 'Enable' in the bottom righthand corner. (See also: Speed up your PC: stop programs starting up when Windows 8 boots.)
5 ways to tidy up your PC: Clean up and organise your desktop
Finally, here are some tips to make your life easier when using Windows. They'll help you find files and folders quicker, regardless of the state of your PC- or laptop's hard drive.
If you need to find a file in a hurry, enter its name into the Start menu Search box or, Windows 8, the Search Charm. Windows 8 search is great, and in Windows 7 the Windows Search Assistant is useful. But the latter is no match for a desktop-search engine such as Copernic. This free program indexes your entire hard drive to make finding the file you're looking for much faster. Install and use it in Windows y.
Digital documents should be stored in relevant folders, not on the desktop. Create a folder by right-clicking the desktop and choosing New, then Folder. Named 'New Folder' by default, you can rename your archive simply by typing over the highlighted text. Drag-and-drop relevant files into your folder.
Remove unused shortcuts from the desktop – this won't uninstall the programs they link to, but it will help to keep things tidy and organised. Next, right-click the desktop and choose View, 'Auto arrange icons'. This will force your remaining shortcuts into a neat grid on the left side of the screen.
You should be able to identify a file's content from its name, without needing to open it. Adding the location to holiday photo filenames is a good example. It can also be useful to include the date. If you've got lots of similar files to rename, copy and paste the common information into each file being renamed.
Get a better view of what's in your folders: click the 'Change your view' icon at the top-right corner of a folder and select Details. File size, creation date and other information will now appear next to a list of your documents. Reorder the list by date, file size and so on by clicking the various tabs at the top of the window.
Keywords, which are visible when you right-click a file and choose Properties, make a file easier to search for. In Word, go to File, Properties, fill in the Keywords field and press Ok. For photos, tags are the equivalent of keywords; click the Tags field at the bottom of a Windows Explorer pane to add them.