Windows 7 Cleanup

Logan Albright – Windows 7 Cleanup

Speed is vital in computing. Older PCs remain in use throughout the world and can still prove effective long beyond their expected lifetime if regular housekeeping tasks, such as those covered here, are performed.

Systems using Microsoft Windows 7 have a tendency to accumulate digital junk, in the same way that their physical casing builds up dust. Thankfully, simple housekeeping cleanup tasks can keep a computer running smoothly and quickly without any need to reinstall the operating system or upgrade hardware components.

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1. Disk check

Before performing any file checks, it’s worth running the built-in Windows 7 disk scan to verify that all is well. The basic scan takes only moments to complete and can automatically fix any simple errors on the computer’s hard drives.

Open ‘My Computer’ and, for each hard disk: select the disk, choose Properties from the File menu, click the ‘Tools’ tab in the information window that pops up and click ‘Check now’ in the Error-checking section.

Note that marking the option to automatically fix errors may require a restart of your system (Windows cannot fix errors on a disk that is in use, such as the system disk).

Note also that marking the option to scan for bad sectors will cause the scan to run for much longer. A basic check only takes moments but a sector scan can take hours, depending on the size and state of the disk.

2. Virus check

Every modern computer system needs an anti-virus program. Before performing any tasks to clean up digital junk, it’s worthwhile spending some time ensuring that the system itself is clear of infections. Commercial (paid) anti-virus software is generally better than free equivalents, but there are some very good applications available for download at no cost.

Virus scans can take a long time to run. A quick, basic scan usually only checks system files but can still take fifteen minutes or more to complete. A full system scan can take hours, depending on the amount of used storage on the computer and the number of files. Compressed file archives add to the scan length, as most applications will unpack these to check the contents for problems.

Suggestion: AVG Antivirus is free and has gained widespread recognition since its release as a reliable alternative to bought software. Download, install, update to the latest virus definitions and run a full system scan.

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3. Malware check

Malware (malicious software) and its sub-category spyware consist of programs, scripts and code designed to ruin a computer owner’s day. Their effects range from disrupting operation to gathering personal data (such as credit card numbers, passwords and software keys) that can be used to exploit the user’s finances or other resources. Malware includes viruses but most software developers separate the two.

Malware is the tool of choice for organized crime on the Internet. It’s much more flexible than a simple virus, can be distributed easily through applications, adverts or any other coded content and comes in so many variations that it’s almost impossible for security companies to keep up with disinfection programs.

Malware scans, like virus scans, can take a long time to run. A basic scan of essential system files can take anything from five to fifteen minutes. A full system scan, which checks every file, can take many hours, especially if the computer has a lot of used storage and a large number of files.

Suggestion: Malwarebytes produces both a free and commercial anti-malware program that can scan an entire system. Download, install, update to the latest malware definitions and run a full scan.

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4. Take out the trash – Clean out Windows 7

Every computer system creates temporary files that it uses to perform everyday activities. Unfortunately, a lot of programs don’t clean up after themselves very well and leave a lot of those files lying around. Internet browsers are often the worse culprits, as they download every item needed to reconstruct every web page visited and “cache” them for quick recall if a user goes back to the page within a certain amount of time. The number of files grows very quickly as users browse from page to page, especially if the sites visited contain large numbers of advertisements or graphics.

Caching and maintaining temporary files for every program uses valuable disk space, slows your computer down and can even cause errors in certain circumstances. The increased usage of scripting languages like JavaScript and Flash on web sites exacerbates the problem.

Junk cleaners can take seconds or hours to run, depending on their criteria for detecting unwanted files. Most basic checks take less than a minute.

Suggestion: Piriform’s Ccleaner deletes temporary files, internet caches, recycle bin contents and a lot more digital junk that’s otherwise left clogging up the system. It’s simple to use, with a check-box list of rubbish it can clean. It also has an ‘Analyze’ button that can preview deletions before they are made, for extra security. Download, install, select which types of junk to clean, click ‘Analyze’ and (once comfortable with the results) click ‘Run Cleaner’.

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5. Registry mop-up

The Windows 7 registry is a more dangerous place when it comes to cleaning up. Deleting or adjusting values in the registry without understanding the consequences can cause programs (or even the entire system) to stop working. Users who are not comfortable cleaning up their registry should skip this step.

While registry problems rarely cause actual errors, they can slow down a computer by a surprising amount. These problems also accumulate over time, as programs are installed and removed from the system. It’s not unusual to find several thousand registry errors in a single scan.

The majority of registry scanning software carefully avoids making changes that could damage your system. For the most part, they concentrate on cleaning up old references to programs, folders, entities and icons that are no longer present on the system. Scans generally take a few minutes.

Suggestion: Auslogics produce a free registry cleaner that separates the simpler, safer changes from the advanced, potentially disruptive ones. Download, install, mark the types of error to fix and run a scan. Select the items to repair (or leave them all selected) and click ‘Repair’.

6. Shuffle the fragments

The final step in basic housekeeping is to ‘defragment’ the hard drives. This sounds drastic but it’s really very simple. Whenever a new file is created on the computer and stored on the disk, the system tries to find an empty space in which to save the data. Normally, this is simple but if the file is very large (such as a video, sound or game resource file), there may not be a single gap that’s big enough. In this case, the system looks for other spaces on the disk and splits the large file into ‘fragments’, saving bits and pieces all over the place.

Of course, the user never sees this – it’s all handled behind the scenes – but when the file is required, it takes the system longer to access. Rather than just finding one file, it needs to find all the pieces and skip between them or stick them all back together in memory, as required.

Defragmentation software analyses the contents of a disk and reports on the fragmentation level. Many applications will also recommend whether defragmentation is needed.

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If the user requests defragmentation of a drive, the program tries to put all the pieces of fragmented files back together, thus reducing access times. Most applications also provide an option to ‘optimize’ the disk’s contents as well, which not only glues large files back together but sorts the disk’s contents into an order that is quicker to search. The system can then find files faster, as well as accessing them quicker.

Suggestion: Auslogics produces a free drive defragmenter that can handle one or multiple drives and optimize on request. Download, install, select the drives to defragment in the list at the top of the screen, then either click ‘Defrag’ or choose ‘Defrag & Optimize’ from the drop-down list.

With these six steps done, most computers will run smoother and quicker. Regular housekeeping is a great way to extend the effective life of a system and catch potentially disruptive problems before they occur.

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