Wednesday, 21 March 2012

A Wash And Brush Up

We referenced maintenance briefly in our Keeping Up post, so let's talk about that for a second. Boring huh? Not half as boring as waiting for a machine that has slowed to a crawl because it hasn't been maintained.

There's some basic IT truths that makes the need to maintain a computer easier to understand. Software is like doughnuts, the more you take on the bigger and slower you're going to become. A hard drive full of 'stuff' has no room to manoeuvre. Apart from not being able to take on new software, it also cannot serve as virtual memory. Explanation? Sure.

To function, a computer uses its memory, the RAM that we make such a big deal about. If there is so much information being processed that the memory becomes full, then it drops back into virtual memory. That involves reading and writing what it would normally send and receive to the memory to your hard drive instead. It's slower, but it works. If, however, your hard drive is so full as to not have enough room for the computer to read and write to, then the information queues up waiting for space. Your computer has no option but to stop accepting new input until it clears the backlog. So there is a direct correlation between how much space is on your hard drive and how fast your computer will go.

Making space varies in simplicity. The first and easiest port of call has to be Add/Remove programs. Scroll through the list of installed programs and look for anything that you don't use. Windows updates are generally good, keep them. But if you have five different CD burning programs but only use one, ditch the other four. That process should hopefully clear you some space.

I've also found a program called TreeView invaluable (I know, installing a program to make more room. Just go with it.) It gives a graphical representation of your hard drive and lets you quickly identify what the big space-takers are. Many will be valid, but you may find an old test video you'd forgotten about taking up 1GB of space that you can readily delete. Or documents and photos that you can burn to a disk. You'll be amazed what you'll find as part of this process, although do be sure of what you are deleting. Pagefile.sys is probably huge, but necessary.

There's one more trick that can give you a significant amount of space back, but comes with some potential dangers. First, the method. Right-click your hard disk drive and select 'Properties'. Click the 'Disk Cleanup' button. Talk amongst yourselves, this can take a while to process. Once done, a new window will open. If you don't see a 'More Options' tab then you should have a 'Clean up system files' button. Click that, then you should get the tab. Select it. Now, before the next stage you should understand what you're about to do. Recent versions of Windows have a System Restore function. It takes a snapshot of your system at regular intervals so that if you have major problems you can roll your Operating System back to a happier time. That takes a lot of space. What you are about to do will delete all of those snapshots except the very latest one. If you're machine has basically been running OK, that should be fine. But after this your recovery options will be limited. If you're happy to carry on then press the bottom 'Clean up...' button. Are you sure? Delete away.

These are just some of your options to get a roomier hard drive. Feel free to comment on our Facebook page if you'd like some more advice.

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