One of the things that I hear frequently when working with clients is: "Why is my system is running slow" This can be caused by a wide range of issues from old or faulting hardware to viruses and attacks.  It leaves the user or technician with a time-consuming task of finding the root of the performance issue and getting it back to an efficient state.  Proper maintenance of your system can help prevent this from becoming a reality. Below, I’ll cover several options that one can do to help keep their system running efficiently, as well as help quickly recover from performance issues on their system. You will find a monthly PC maintenance checklist at the end of this article

Backup your data:

As part of your monthly PC maintenance routine verify backups are being completed successfully.

Many times, I have heard the story of how people do not realize the importance of backing up their data until it is too late. They become victim to a dead hard drive, crashed computer or some ransomware attack and all their valuable data is now unrecoverable. Backing up you system is probably the most important item on this list which is why it tops the list.

Depending on the importance and how often your data is changed, it is recommended to back up your data monthly at a minimum.

There are a lot of available options for backing up you data, some free, some paid, and some built into your computer's OS. Consider looking for a backup solution that has a scheduling option so you can set it to back up your important data automatically and save it to an external drive, Network area storage or to a cloud base storage.

Your company may already provide the above and you may not know it. Network shares are a great option as servers are a central location used for many of your business’s networking services. It is the core of the network and almost always being backed up. With ample storage space, users can store important documents on a share and use the server’s backup solution to back up your data.

(Server storage is a good option for business data, but personal data should not be stored on the server for backups)

NAS storage for small business by Synology - DS218J -

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Set up system restore points:

Check that system restore is turned on and creating restore points for you.

Similar to backups are system restore points. System Restore is a built in utility for Microsoft Windows that saves a state in time and allows you to revert your system back to that restore point. Very useful if your system becomes corrupted, is unbootable. Sometimes it can undo the ill effects of locked ransomware files. Be sure to check restore is turned on, some malicious software/attacks have been known to disable restore points so be sure to check them.

It is a quick and easy step to do, I usually suggest any time you run updates, install or uninstall software make a new restore point just before and right after the changes. This feature can be handy when used with base-lining.

Update your Antivirus:

Check that you have an antivirus installed on your system, verify it is running, it is up-to-date and that it has run a full or complete system scan within the last 7 days.

Many antivirus software have automatic updates and scheduling as a feature. Be sure to check that this is enabled and scheduling is set up.

If you do not have an antivirus installed, I highly suggest you find one and install it before you do anything else. Antivirus is essential to keeping your computer protected. Everyday new viruses, Malware and other malicious content is created and discovered. Virus definitions are files that help your antivirus to recognize malicious content and behavior of files.  Keeping your definitions up-to-date will help your antivirus to better defend your computer and keep it healthy.

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Baseline your system

The term Base-lining is when your computer is just the way you need it if it was newly installed and set up for the first time for you to start working, (all software installed and configured, printers, background, updates, Etc.).  Once you are at this point you do two things before you do anything else, you create a system restore point and you create a full system backup. This way you have a starting point you can get back to if you have a disaster and you will not have to spend all those hours locating, tweaking and personalizing all those settings again. You'll already have them, you just need you restore them.

If your system settings and software rarely change, it is a good idea as part of your monthly PC maintenance to take your system back to baseline as this was the point where it was at its best performance.

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Run windows updates

Similar to Virus updates, Windows updates are essential to keep your operating system updated and patched protecting it from exploits, security vulnerabilities and in good condition. Windows operating systems has an update scheduler (automatic updates) which will run automatically for you, however sometimes it can get stuck with a failed update, of a service that did get started. It is highly recommended to check windows is updating as part of your routine PC maintenance plan.

Check for updates on your other software

Windows automatic updates is good for your operating system as well as other Microsoft products. What about all the other software you have on your system, (adobe (reader/acrobat), Java, flash, your backup software, you accounting software Etc.). All of these other software need to be checked as they get routine updates to patch issues and security holes just like your OS. Some may have automatic checks while others do not. Be sure to check for and install new updates on the drivers for accessories as well (wireless keyboards, monitors, mouse, cameras, etc.).

Remember to create restore points prior to updating.

Remove old/unused programs

Scan your programs list and uninstall old programs you don't use from "Add or Remove Programs"

Many times when a new computer is purchased, there is a pile of extra pre-installed trial software commonly known as "Bloatware". Most of the time it is ignored left on the system to take up resources in the background effecting your systems performance. Other times there may just be software you installed long ago and stopped using.

If you don't know what a program is, don't delete it, ask someone or look it up and determine if it is required by a system or other used product. Once you have determined it is safe to remove, then you can uninstall it.

Remember to make your restore point before you remove it in case something goes wrong.  

Defrag your disks

Use windows built in defrag or another tool like Defraggler to defragment your disks.

For conventional hard disk drives (HDD), files will become fragmented as they are modified and re-written to a disk making the system spend more time going from place to place gathering all the data to process. Defragmentation is a process in which your computer will physically re-organize your data for more efficient use of space and helps to improve performance.  

In the case of Sold State Drives (SSD), they NEVER need to be defragged. SSD’s use special internal procedures like Trimming and Garbage Collecting.

Defraggler is a tool that can be scheduled, you should schedule your system to defrag your disk/s on a monthly basis.

Perform disk cleanup

Clear off old files that are not important anymore. Delete your old unused files off your PC. Documents, pictures, music, etc. If you are a file hoarder and just fear the thought of deleting files, you can store them on a cloud storage or move and archive them to an external hard dive that you can attach to your PC if you need to re-obtain access to them in the future.

Cleaning up your disk is an easy way to help your system run smoother. Unused temp data gets added to your system all the time, working files, from programs, updates, web browsing, etc. when your hard drive reaches a certain threshold it will start seeing performance issues with its file storage. Disk cleanup is a built in tool that can help clear out those old temp files that are not needed. As well as compress old files that rarely get used.

This would also be a good time to organize your files. Those documents, emails, pictures you saved last minute to that temp location or desktop while you were busy can start to slow you down looking for stuff you need. Just taking a little time to organize your documents and files can help you save time in locating things you will need later.

CCleaner is a helpful utility to clean-up junk files from your computer, optimize the startup process and fix registry issues.

Turn off auto start programs at log on

Some programs, such as antivirus, backup and firewall software, should be allowed to start automatically, you should disable auto start of other non-essential items (such as iTunes, Adobe or Microsoft Office) and start them manually when you actually need them.

When you install a program sometimes they will auto configure to start up at logon. This will cause your system to slow, every time you log in all those auto start programs needs to launch even if you are not using them. Then they sit there and wait taking up those resources you need for your actual activities.

Clear out that dust

On the hardware side of things, make sure all your fan vents are clear of dust. Make sure the PC is turned off and unplugged, if it is a laptop remove the battery (if possible). Use a Q-tip to wipe out all the big dust particles from the vents, ports and on the keyboard as well. You can use a can-o-air to blow out the dust (AFTER you use the Q-tip) to prevent big particles from getting deeper in the PC. Don't use a vacuum directly on electrical equipment as it can generate static electricity and short out your electronics.

Restart your machine

This may seem like a weird or obvious step but you’d be surprised at how long people can go without restarting there system. I am sure you have heard the saying your brain is like an advanced CPU that controls your body. Using that same analogy your computer is a lot like your brain, it is an advanced piece of technology and like your brain, it too needs to recharge and reset. If your computer goes excessive periods of time without a reboot it can start to perform sluggish and weird perplexed things can start to occur, which is why the first thing your IT tends to ask is “Did you reboot it?”

Updates generally require your system to reboot to complete, but not all the time. So I suggest as part of your monthly routine, after you have updated your system, perform a system reboot to help get your computer in a proper state of mind.

Put it on your calendar

Monthly PC maintenance can be one of those things that easily slips your mind. A simple reminder to your self will help you keep up on the maintenance.  Perform your PC maintenance checklist steps, time how long it takes you to complete them, then put a reminder on your calendar recurring each month. With a block of time equal to the time it took to complete.

--Extracurricular activities--

For those who like to go above and beyond here are some bonus things you can do to keep that system at the top of its game.

Extend the life of your battery:

For laptop users, don't keep your laptop at 100% charge at all times, occasionally keep your laptop unplugged till you get to 30%, this will extend the battery life (a little). You’ll want to tailor your power performance profile to fit your needs for both on and off battery. There are spate settings for both, adjusting them will help your computers battery to last longer while in use.

Organize your cords:

Keep clutter away from your PC -this will prevent airflow restriction allowing your cooling vents to do their job.  As well as prevent accidental spillage into the device. Avoid eating while working at key board to prevent crumbs from getting into keyboard and causing sticky keys. I find that using small Velcro straps help to keep your cords bundled and away helps in keeping your vents clear as well as making your station more organized and less of an eye sore.

Track your software:

Keep all your software install files and associated license keys together and in an easily accessible place you can get them. This will help if this go totally wrong and you have to completely start over. By keeping your install files and licenses together in a safe place you can save time and frustration if you have to reinstall anything.  I like to use a little free software called KeyPass It is a great tool that will help you to store all your different passwords, as well as links to websites and software.

As time goes by software gets updated, using KeyPass will help you to keep links to web-pages for your software’s latest version. So if you ever need to re-install a software you can grab the link and download the latest version rather than that old one you have and then follow it up with potentially years of updates.

Storing old installers can be good as well. Say you are using an older version of office or adobe and that installer is no longer found on their website. You can store it on an external drive and save the path, license key, and log in credentials in your keypass for quick reference and ease of access. Remember to keep your KeyPass data base backed up and stored on somewhere external and safe.

If you already have your software installed, and need to obtain the license keys again, there are several different software’s available for this.

Perform as many of the above that you want from this checklist once a month and your system will be happy and continue running smoothly for you. As the saying goes, you get back what you put in so the more you do the better off you and your system will be.

A final note for you, if you take anything away from reading this, take this: At a minimum back, back, back it up! Set up and check your backups, if you do nothing else do this. Also, check that restore points are being made alongside you backups.

Monthly PC Maintenance Checklist

  • Backup you’re your data:
  • Set up system restore points:
  • Update you Antivirus:
  • Baseline your system:
  • Run windows updates:
  • Check for updates on your other software:
  • Remove old/unused programs:
  • Defrag your disks:
  • Perform disk cleanup:
  • Turn off auto start programs at log on:
  • Clear out that dust:
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