Computers running Microsoft’s Windows operating system do require regular maintenance to help ensure optimal, reliable performance. The good news is that the bulk of this work can be done by the user, with tools that are free or of minimal cost. Below is a graphic (courtesy of Windows Secrets) that gives a rough idea of what you should be doing to your computer and how often, and I follow that up with a description of the recommended tool(s) for each category:
- Anti-malware: Microsoft’s Security Essentials (Windows Defender in Windows 8, and it’s built in) is a good choice for antivirus. It’s free for all use and does a good job with moderate resource usage. MalwareBytes is still my favorite on-demand scanner, and is also free for home use.
- Firewall: My current recommendation is Private Firewall. It’s very light on the system and fairly easy to use. Don’t use any 3rd-party firewall, however, unless you are an experienced Windows user.
- Change passwords: It’s a good idea to have many unique passwords and to change them on a regular basis. LastPass is a tool that can help accomplish that.
- File Backups: Windows 7 (and beyond) has the ability to restore earlier versions of files. Cobian Backup is free software that makes a reliable backup of user chosen files/folders. Google Drive and LogMeIn’s Cubby are excellent choices for saving files in the “cloud”.
- Disk Imaging: I recommend Macrium’s Reflect. They offer a free (for home use) edition as well as paid versions. This software makes a disk image, which can be used to restore a system to a perfect copy of what it was at an earlier date. Great for drive crashes and system-glitching bugs.
- CCleaner is free (for home use) and does a great job. Note that it needs to be run separately on each user account, but it can handle every chore in this category.
- Defragment: Windows Vista (and later) will defragment themselves. Leave the computer on overnight to ensure these jobs get run on a regular basis. A good choice for an on-demand defragmenter is UltraDefrag, which can do a traditional defragmenting as well as disk optimizations.
- Disk Health: Using HDDScan to check self-test (S.M.A.R.T) scores as well as run regular disk read tests (for bad sectors). Follow the instructions on this page to run file system integrity checks (chkdsk).
- BIOS & Drivers: Check your manufacturer’s support website for recommended (and critical!) BIOS and driver updates.
- Cleaning: Clean out a desktop case twice a year, and clean the cooling ports on a laptop monthly. Do not use a compressed-air can — they contain too much moisture. Use a shop vac to alternately blow and draw air, but don’t linger over a laptop’s cooling ports — you will damage the fan bearings by spinning it too fast.