Computer Basics – Keeping Your Computer Clean and Efficient, Part 1

OK, so after another hiatus… Here we go again.

This is Techie Beginners, so let’s take a moment to stop toying around with blogging and image editing; let’s get back to basics.

That said, one of the most basic things that many people may not know is how to keep their computer clean and efficient, in general. Often people know how to get on the web and read/send emails – but not much else. As is the theme here, why pay someone to do it for you (or constantly hound friends and family) when you can easily do it yourself?

Many people catch me off guard because they’ll know their way around a computer decently well, but won’t know basic maintenance. It’s like knowing how to drive your car, but not knowing how to change your oil… that’s me, by the way. You can be the best driver on the planet, but if you don’t know how to maintain your car, it will eventually lead to problems.

Same goes for computers, although I must admit that computers nowadays need less maintenance than the ones several years ago. Back when we had very little space on our hard drives, we had to constantly clean them. Every other day you risked having a full disk drive.

These days, not so much. Disk drives are now regularly sold in unimaginable sizes. But – especially depending on what you do with your computer – maintenance never hurts. Especially if your computer is a little older – they do still exist!

We’ll start by cleaning off unnecessary files.

Temporary Files

Temporary files are often created when installing a new program, but programs create them for other reasons too. They may be removed when installation of the program has finished, but some programs don’t clean up after themselves very well.

Additionally, browsing the internet saves files to your computer that are called “temporary internet files” (ingenious, eh?). Temporary internet files allow your computer to load websites faster by loading the files that create the website from your computer, rather than having to download them from the internet. Depending on your settings, temporary internet files are likely downloaded every time you visit a new site, and held for a specified time period.

Temporary internet files were much more useful in the days of dial-up internet access (though a few still use it) because download speeds over dial-up were extremely slow compared to DSL, cable, and fiber optics. Temporary internet files were used so that a person could browse a website without having to re-download all the files from that website, unless he or she wanted to.

Unlike temporary internet files, temporary files may not be needed once a software program is finished installing, or even just closed out of. But all these files can take up space on your computer and sometimes you may need that extra space.

Disk Cleanup

The first, and most widely recognized method of cleaning off unnecessary files is to use Disk Cleanup. Disk Cleanup is a program built into Windows to clean up files that you don’t need. In Windows XP, Vista, and Windows 7, it can also compress files and clean out other temporary files that may be lurking in unfamiliar areas.

Generally speaking, Disk Cleanup rounds up all the files that you can safely delete (or compress) and allows you to handle them as one task. Some files you could easily find and remove yourself (such as emptying the Recycle Bin), others not so much. It’s easiest and safest just to let Disk Cleanup handle it.

Disk Cleanup is easy to find on virtually any Windows Computer:

The Windows 7 Start Menu Icon Windows 7 or Vista

  1. Click the Start button – the glowing circular orb with the Windows flag icon in the bottom, left-hand corner of the screen. (See above.)
  2. Click “All Programs”
  3. Click “Acccessories”
  4. Click “System Tools”
  5. Click on “Disk Cleanup”

The Windows XP Start Menu Icon  Windows XP

  1. Click the “Start” button in the bottom, left-hand corner of the screen. (See above.)
  2. Click on “All Programs”
  3. Click “Accessories”
  4. Click “System Tools”
  5. Click on “Disk Cleanup”

Running Disk Cleanup

Using Disk Cleanup is easy, but if you have a lot of files to be compressed/deleted it may take a little while to run. If looks like it’s taking awhile, feel free to walk away and check back on it later. (This is a good rule of thumb for most computer maintenance procedures – let it run and come back to it later.)

This is the Disk Cleanup window (shown from a Windows 7 computer):

Windows 7 Disk Cleanup ToolAs you can see in the image, this computer only has about 380MB of space that would be cleaned up if I ran Disk Cleanup with the current default settings.

By default, Disk Cleanup is currently set to remove the following: Downloaded Program Files, Temporary Internet Files, (empty the) Recycle Bin, and other Temporary Files.

There are many other choices that can be selected, or some of those could be deselected if I didn’t want to remove them (such as emptying the Recycle Bin).

If you open Disk Cleanup and see files listed that you don’t recognize you can click that line and a description will be displayed explaining those file types. In the example above, “Downloaded Program Files” is currently selected. As you can see, Disk Cleanup provides a description of what “Downloaded Program Files” includes, so you know what is being removed.

For the most part, all of these are safe to be checked and removed. However, before you press “OK”, be sure to either uncheck the “Recycle Bin” or click on “View Files”. Once you click “OK”, any files in the Recycle Bin will be permanently deleted (technically there are ways to get them back, but better to check first instead).

I’ve known of people to save files in the Recycle Bin – which isn’t safe. For the record, neither is saving your emails in your “Deleted Items” folder, which I’ve also seen done, but that’s another story.

Once you’re ready, click on “OK” and let it run. In the example image above, 380MB is all the space that the computer would be cleaning. This isn’t much, so it would only take a few minutes. If your computer shows a number of GB to be cleaned off (especially 5GB or more), you may want to walk away for a few minutes.

Now you’ve gotten rid of some extra files you don’t need and freed up a little bit of space on your computer. Purging your unnecessary files can sometimes help other issues too. If you have a weird problem with your computer (websites not loading right, maybe a program not running normally) – Disk Cleanup can sometimes be a surprising solution.

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4 Responses to Computer Basics – Keeping Your Computer Clean and Efficient, Part 1

  1. Pingback: Computer Basics – Keeping Your Computer Clean and Efficient, Part 2 | Techie Beginners

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