Tips on tuning up your PC for computer novices

How much did you pay for your computer? What about all the software on it? And what's the value of the information on your PC or Mac? It's quite possibly well over a thousand pounds. That's an expensive investment, which is reason number one you should want to maintain the machine properly. In the same way that you have to tune up a car (change the oil, check the tire pressure) or even a bicycle (grease the chain, check the brakes), you have to tune up a computer.

If you learn how and why it's important to maintain your computer, you can implement a pretty efficient system for making sure it happens regularly.

This article is for people who don't know what it means to "tune up" a computer (and if that description does not fit you, then perhaps this is an article you can share with your less technical friends and family). I'll make it simple to understand and give a few options for products and services that will do the tune up for you, making it all as easy as possible.

Next week, we’ll look at a more complex manual tune up process for those who aren’t PC novices.

What does it mean to tune up a computer?

Out of the box, a new computer, whether it's running Windows or Mac, usually seems downright sprightly. However, after a while – perhaps a year or so – you might notice a drop-off in performance, which can sometimes worsen further as time marches on.

So what causes a PC to become sluggish? In most cases, the root problem isn't one thing alone. It's a lot of little things that have built up, like duplicate files, unneeded downloads, and the remnants of programs that never uninstalled properly. Tuning up a computer cleans out all this garbage and tidies up a few other areas that help the machine run smoother and more reliably.

Most tune ups do the following (don't sweat it if you don't know what all these things mean):

  • Defragment the disk
  • Repair the system registry
  • Delete unnecessary files and duplicate files
  • Uninstall and remove programs that did not properly uninstall previously
  • Check for driver updates
  • Remove data that you don't need from your Internet browsers

My colleague Neil Rubenking notes that keeping sufficient space free on a hard drive is likely more conducive to computer speed and efficiency than defragging. While the next article – the one I mentioned in the introduction – will discuss this point in more detail, the gist of it is that keeping at least 10 per cent of your hard drive free is a good idea, and ideally a bit more than this.

What do you get out of a PC tune-up?

As mentioned, tuning up your PC usually makes it peppy and helps it run efficiently. Regular maintenance of this kind can also extend the life of the computer, mainly because people will sometimes dump an old machine and replace it with a new one if the older machine seems unresponsive. Just like with cars and other complex machinery, if you don't perform the basic upkeep, it wears down quicker.

In many ways, tuning up a PC keeps it internally organised. Essential data is filed away appropriately, junk gets tossed, and parts of the system that were starting to get messy or torn apart (fragmented) are patched back together again.

How to tune up a computer

Advanced computer users sometimes prefer to do their own tune-ups, but beginner and intermediate users shouldn't mess around and try to do it manually. Instead, invest a few quid in a tune up utility, a software program that will do all this work for you automatically.

My colleague and software expert Jeffrey L. Wilson, who has reviewed many of the tune up programs, recommends looking for an application that goes the extra mile for your needs. His foremost recommendation is Iolo System Mechanic (£25), which boasts top-notch tuning capabilities, and has a raft of extra features such as a Program Accelerator which boosts the speed of installed software.

If you’d rather not spend any money, then SlimCleaner is a free download which does a very good job of basic PC maintenance. Mac users can try CCleaner, another quality free offering.

Whether you choose a free option or a paid product, be sure to set aside about ten to thirty minutes the first time you install the program to read through the options carefully and set up regular automated tune-ups. If you do it right the first time, you'll rarely have to think about it again.

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