Q: Since February 8th was supposedly ‘Clean Out Your Computer Day’ (I missed it), what should I be doing to clean out my computer? — Irene
A: This event was clearly a PR stunt by someone in the computer business. Performing routine maintenance on your computer is always a good idea but I would recommend that you do it more frequently than once a year!
While managing your files is important for organizational purposes, getting rid of files because someone created a national day to remind you to do is a bit disconcerting to me.
There is a major misconception amongst non-technical computer users that deleting files from your computer will somehow improve the performance.
A computer that has 100 data files will run no faster than a computer that has 10,000 data files stored on it purely based on the number of files. The only impact that a large volume of files will have on a computer is that it will fill up your computer’s hard drive. Think of it like your refrigerator; it stores the ingredients that you use for cooking, but has little to do with how fast you can prepare a meal.
If your computer’s hard drive is getting close to full, then getting the ‘urge to purge’ makes sense but don’t expect any tangible performance gain (unless your hard drive is completely full and out of operating space).
You can easily check to see how full your hard drive is by opening up My Computer and right-clicking on the C: drive, then selecting Properties.
A pie chart should come up with the blue section representing your data and the purple section representing your free space. If the purple section is a tiny sliver, then it’s time to start removing unneeded items; if not, don’t get too concerned about deleting old files.
The quickest way to free up large quantities of disk space is to uninstall unnecessary programs, which take up lots more space than documents and spreadsheets. Pictures, music and especially video files are the most common ‘data’ files that can take up significant space only if you have large quantities of them.
To remove unneeded programs, start by looking for an Uninstall option in the Programs section of each application from the Start menu. If you don’t find an option there, you can open the Control Panel and click on the Add/Remove programs option.
A Word of Warning!
Removing items just because you don’t know what they are is very dangerous. We constantly see customers in our stores that are suffering from ‘self inflicted deletion wounds’ because they started mass deleting files and programs that they didn’t recognize.
A more relevant cleanup process that can improve performance is built into the Windows operating system and should be performed at least every couple of months.
The Disk Cleanup utility (Start / Programs / Accessories / System Tools) will track down lots of extraneous files that build up as a natural course of using your computer and get rid of them all at once.
Beware of companies that may try to take advantage of any press that ‘Clean Out Your Computer Day’ receives by trying to sell you a magical program that will clean up your computer for you.
Windows based ‘Registry’ system is extremely complicated, so these ‘cleanup programs’ must guess what needs to stay and what it thinks it can remove. If they guess wrong, you end up with a much bigger problem that can be very costly to fix. All too often, we see folks bringing in crashed systems that say ‘everything was working fine until I installed XXX cleanup program,’ so be very mindful of any third party programs that claim to perform miracles for $29.95!
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