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Tech maintenance tasks everyone forgets about, but really shouldn't

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August 13, 2014

Here's technology tasks we often forget but really should do

Here's technology tasks we often forget but really should do

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With so many tech devices in our lives these days, it's important to stay on top of maintenance that needs to be done periodically on your Windows computer and other devices to keep things running smoothly. Here's a look at some tasks that are often put on the back burner, but should really be carried out regularly.

Update your Wi-Fi router

If you're experiencing slow Wi-Fi speeds, spotty connections, or trouble with technologies like AirPlay, updating the firmware on your router can help. Router manufacturers update firmware on a regular basis to fix issues and improve performance.

Usually you'll need to connect to the router via a browser from a computer on your network and download the the latest firmware version from the manufacturer's website.

The process for updating a router's firmware is generally pretty simple but varies between brands, so it's best to check the user manual or online documentation.

Update your Wi-Fi router for best performance

Keep Your operating system and other software updated

While Windows defaults to downloading and installing updates without you having to think about it, the programs and apps on your computer and other devices needs to be updated as well. It's a good idea to manually check for Windows or OS X updates too.

Sometimes security patches come "out of cycle," meaning if the vulnerability is serious, Apple or Microsoft will release a patch for it as quickly as possible. Windows update will also check for new drivers for your PC's hardware i.e., graphics cards or display drivers, chipsets, network cards.

Windows update provides security updates and bug fixes

If you have the latest version of Android, iOS, or Windows Phone, it should be set to automatically update the apps by default and notify you when OS updates are available. However, that's not always the case with your PC's software. A great utility that will check to make sure all of your apps and other programs are updated on Windows is Secunia PSI. It's free for personal use and will scan the programs on your computer for updates and automatically install the latest ones for you. There's also a version for Android.

Secunia PSI checks for outdated software

Clean up disk space

Over time, there ends up being a bunch of old files that you no longer need. Windows has had the Disk Cleanup utility for years, although it's often overlooked.

To run it, right-click on Computer ("This PC" in Windows 8.1) and select Properties. Then click the Disk Cleanup button and wait while the utility scans your drive for temp files that are no longer needed. After the scan is complete, you'll see how much space you can save. Not all of the items it finds will be checked, but you should go ahead and verify what they are, and then check them on the list. Doing that can usually save you even more space, sometimes gigabytes of it. Click OK and the files will be permanently deleted.

Use Disk Cleanup in Windows to free up disk space

To find out which types of files are taking up your disk space, check out the free utility WinDirStat. This gives you a nice graphical view of which file types are taking up drive space. Of course, the largest files are typically video and other media files, but once you get an idea of what's taking up the most space, you can delete the files or transfer them to an external or network drive.

WinDirStat gives you a graphical view of file types taking up hard drive space

Backup data regularly

Backing up your data regularly is one of the most important tasks to do, but remains one that many users rarely do. That is, until they lose a file or precious photo or video, at which point it's too late.

I recommend taking a three step approach to backing things up; by having a local backup of your important files on an external drive; a backup of your most important files to a cloud service like OneDrive or Dropbox; and a full system off-site backup using a service like Crashplan or Backblaze.

Most of the popular off-site backup services will work on Windows and Mac, are easy to use, and back up your data in real-time.

Backblaze is an example of a quality off-site backup utility

Uninstall old unused programs

When you uninstall programs via Windows' Programs and Features, it doesn't do the greatest job of completely removing everything, leaving a lot of leftover junk that just takes up space. Revo Uninstaller is a great tool for uninstalling programs completely by getting rid of the leftover temp files and registry entries. There is a freeware version that should be enough for the average home user, and a pro version (US$39.25) for office and power users.

Revo Uninstaller completely removes programs on Windows

Keep your drive and Windows file system healthy

If you've had a PC for several years, it's always a good idea to give your hard disk a periodic checkup. Windows has a utility you can run from the command line or the user interface that checks the disk for errors and attempts to repair them. The error checking feature has been around since Windows XP and has been available in each version of Windows since, including Windows 8.1.

This tool will inspect all of the important system files on your computer, including Windows DLL files. If it finds an issue with any of the protected OS files, it will replace them.

To run it, launch the Command Prompt as administrator and type: sfc /scannow then hit Enter. A system scan will begin and give you a report of what actions were taken. Do keep in mind it will take a while to run, the time it takes will vary depending on the size of your drive and your computer's hardware.

Run a full file system scan via the command prompt

To make sure your hard drive is healthy, run a disk error check via the user interface. To do this you'll need to open Computer ("This PC" in Windows 8.1), right-click your local drive (typically C:) and select Properties. Click the Tools tab, and under the Error Checking section, click the Check button.

Disk error checking in Windows

Along with checking your local disk for errors, you'll want to make sure to optimize it. After months of use, the files on the hard disk get scattered around the drive, making it more difficult for Windows to find the files so that pulling up documents and loading programs takes longer. Optimizing or defragging a hard drive will take all of your files and make sure they're in contiguous order on each sector of the drive, which in the end, means faster loading times. On Windows 7 and higher, Disk Defrag is set to run weekly by default, but you can change it to monthly or run it manually.

Optimize your hard drive using disk defrag

However, you don't want to run Disk Defrag on a Solid State Drive (SSD). There are ways to optimize the SSD with utilities developed by the SSD's manufacturer. For example, in the image below, I'm using the Samsung Magician utility which provides a straight-forward interface for making sure the SSD is optimized for best performance.

Samsung Magician makes sure your SSD is optimized

Clean up your equipment

If you have a desktop computer, it ends up collecting a lot of dust internally, so it's a good idea to blow it out with a gas duster, commonly known as canned or compressed air. This will help make sure all of the connections aren't compromised and keeps your CPU from overheating. Unplug the power cord before taking off the case cover and clean it up. When blowing it out, make sure not to point the canned air too close at internal parts as it can make some of them come loose.

Make sure to clean out your desktop occasionally with canned air

Blowing out a laptop is more difficult and not for the faint of heart. Most modern laptops aren't meant to come apart easily, but you might be able to take the screws out of the bottom, unplug the power, remove the battery first, and get at the internal parts with canned air. If you're not sure how to take the laptop apart, check the service manual or manufacturer's site for instructions. Also note that cracking open your laptop case can void your warranty. It's unfortunate that laptops are more difficult to clean out, but if you suspect it's overheating and needs a thorough cleaning, take it to a tech professional.

Other simple tech tasks to keep in mind

  • Restart your computer: Some programs and apps hold onto system resources they are no longer using, like memory or disk space. Shutting down or restarting your computer every few days will free up these resources and keep your computer running smoothly.
  • Reset your modem: Every few months it's a good idea to reset your cable or DSL modem. Sometimes your ISP will increase your internet speeds and you might not know it. For example, near the time of this article, ComCast doubled its customer's speeds across four states. To reset your modem, simply unplug the power cord for a few seconds and plug it back in. That will trigger the update and you can enjoy the faster speeds.
  • Check for updates on set-top boxes and game consoles: Usually your set-top box and/or game console will either update in the background or let you know that an update is available. But you might want to manually check for updates on occasion so you know you're getting the best performance from your entertainment device(s).
  • Following these simple tips can help ensure your devices are running at optimal performance with fairly minimal effort. Keep in mind that you'll need to carry out most of the tips listed above on a regular basis so it's good to get into the habit of performing them.

    About the Author
    Brian Burgess Brian Burgess resides in Minnesota. A technology enthusiast his entire life, he worked in IT for 10 years before pursuing his passion for writing. In addition to contributing to Gizmag, he’s the Editor in Chief at groovyPost.com and has written for other notable tech sites Byte, InformationWeek, and How-To Geek. Away from the keyboard, you're likely to find him listening to heavy metal, playing guitar, or watching Star Trek.   All articles by Brian Burgess
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    7 Comments

    Also, do NOT ever use a vacuum cleaner to clean out the dust inside. The static WILL kill the machine. Ask my mate how he knows.

    asdf
    13th August, 2014 @ 09:55 pm PDT

    As an ex IT consultant, I can say that advising people to install 'handy little pieces of software' to do jobs that the operating system can do itself is counter productive....

    The most simple way to keep your machine smoothly is to remove any manufacturer bloatware and unused software and keep your disk clean and defragged as you say and make sure windows update is set to automatic.

    Jeremy Davies
    14th August, 2014 @ 01:26 am PDT

    I notice this advice is very windows centric with only two things that really matter - make sure you backup your data and keep it clean inside.

    I also notice that there is no mention of Linux based systems, or any other Operating System. Is that because users of those OSs are more knowledgeable or because the base OS is better designed?

    ivan4
    14th August, 2014 @ 10:34 am PDT

    To add to this, a lot of applications that run in the background don't need to be running and removing them from startup (was msconfig, now task manager under windows 8) provides a nice performance gain. It's worth going there once in a while to weed out stuff that should be a shortcut or run manually when you need it.

    It's probably also worth mention that nothing you do to optimize a hard drive will put its performance anywhere near the ballpark of using even a slow SSD. SSD is probably the most noticeable system upgrade you can make. You can always skimp on cost by running windows and some core apps on a smaller SSD and using a HDD alongside it as cheap mass storage and large/non-essential applications.

    Daishi
    14th August, 2014 @ 11:36 am PDT

    If you have an old Wi-Fi router, make sure you're not using the default user name and password, and that you're using encryption. Encryption should at least be WPA or preferably WPA2. If WEP is the only option available then junk the router and get a new one.

    You should also disable WPS. A four numeral password doesn't cut it for security.

    For disabling unwanted startup programs, download the free Autoruns program.

    For getting rid of junk files, CCleaner is a trusted option.

    Wombat56
    14th August, 2014 @ 03:41 pm PDT

    A good one would be to invest in a secondhand thermal camera.

    we've adjusted and replaced numerous components on our servers that looked fine to the naked eye but lit up in infrared.

    Things like fans with failing bearings, borderline power supplies, CPU fan assemblies,

    And it can certainly point to when your airflow design is inadequate of where thermal pockets reside, or where a fan is no longer doing its job.

    My personal favorite was picking out an intermittent Ethernet cable fault that had been damaged by being pinched in a door. The pinch point stood out. Nobody would have believed that.

    Nairda
    14th August, 2014 @ 06:33 pm PDT

    This is such weird stuff to read, like advice on wearing goggles, a leather helmet and a waterproof coat when driving your automobile. Why not just buy a Mac. Then you can forget all this baloney and go surfing or something. What on earth is antiquated advice like this doing on a site dedicated to innovation. It's laughable.

    Dirk Scott
    15th August, 2014 @ 10:22 am PDT
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